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Various papers and professionals suggest that beginner lifters benefit from limiting their training. One session of training seems to be optimal for rookies, and anything more actually slows them down. But as they develop, one session of training stops being able to produce any type of improvement and adding more sessions stops being detrimental and actually becomes beneficial—even essential. It seems as though most athletes stop progressing at some point if they don't increase their volume considerably, almost to unbearable levels.

A late intermediate might benefit from training 3 or 4 times a week. And we have elite athletes who train as a profession, thereby spending considerably more time than that. Olympic Champion Shi Zhiyong trains 8 times a week for 3 hours each session! Similarly, Norwegian powerlifting champions train 6 times a week, and many Italian calisthenics champions train for over 5 hours a day.

If someone goes headstrong into a new programme with a higher frequency and more hours of training without being ready, they would only degrade and step back, thereby losing strength. Conversely, if they played it safe, they would only waste time on the same training programme, which would have become useless to them.

So if one wanted to maximise their training and waste no time trying to figure out if they were ready or not to change training frequency, how should they judge if they are a beginner or not?

  • just wanted to add, that jumping into a new program, a more advanced one when not being ready and thus losing losing strength adds a psychological factor of demoralization which eventually influences everything else and not just fitness. – Daniel Aug 12 at 18:13
  • This video should suffice until someone formats out a proper answer. youtu.be/2aYrGSPZmpk – JustSnilloc Aug 12 at 20:23
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    "...One session of training seems to be optimal for rookies..." Which sport? And one session per what, per week? Could you provide a reference for that claim? Because all established beginner Powerlifting and general strength routines I know suggest three to four sessions per week, with every muscle group targeted at least every 72 hours. – UnbescholtenerBuerger Aug 17 at 8:14
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Within the narrow focus of just strength training, the Rippetoe & Kilgore definition is useful:

Simply put, a novice, as we use the term here, is a trainee for whom the stress applied during a single workout and the recovery from that single stress is sufficient to cause an adaptation by the next workout. The end of the novice phase is marked by a performance plateau, typically occurring between the third and ninth month of training...

(From page 12, Practical Programming 2nd edition, Rippetoe & Kilgore.)

This definition is about whether someone can add weight to the bar every session. That is, a beginner can progress linearly rather than needing periodization, so you want to be a novice:

A “novice” lifter is a trainee who is so unadapted to the stress of lifting weights that he can make progress as rapidly as he can stress himself and get recovered, a process that actually takes no more than 48-72 hours.

Take care when carrying this definition outside the bounds of its assumptions.

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I love this question because it is so universally important to everyone getting into a sport requiring some form of physical fitness. Dave's answer is the specific information that you need and his sources will likely help you get into the next phase of training.

Here is a more general answer to the more general question your asking. When can I do my next workout to optimize gains and continue to improve?

Answer: Determine how long it takes to recover from a workout. (Greg McMillan)

I love and hate this answer. The quickest answer (to how long) is to join a club or pay for a coach or trainer to get the answer. The slowest and most dangerous answer is to figure it out on your own.

Myself, I run, and I chose the dumb slow way but I've learned a lot from it. One simple rule I came up with is to successfully run one easy run before the next hard one (aka the next workout), but of course even determining what is easy is tricky in its own way. Another one was to do the same workout after the recovery period and if I couldn't repeat the same performance then I didn't recover.

After you figure out how long it takes to recover then you've got to figure out how to recover faster. For me this means protein within 30 min of a workout, eating and sleeping good, doing some exercise that helps get blood flowing to the fatigued muscles, stretching the fatigued muscles at least twice a day then massaging them afterwards once a day.

Hope you find your way without injuries!

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