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I have less than 6 months of on and off training and I've decided to stick to a workout plan for good. I'm on the fatter side.

I wanted to hit the gym 6 times per week and hit two body parts per day (PPLPPL) but everywhere I see, everyone recommends only a 3x/week full body program for at least 5-6 consistent months until you form a solid "base". What is that solid base anyway?

Question: If a novice wants to do more than 3x/week, is it detrimental to his progress? If so, why? And of course, is it wise to start with 6x/week?

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    @J... I find that most novices do want longer programs. They just typically don't want longer programs for very long. There are plenty of 4-6 day beginner training splits on liftvault and bodybuilding.com.
    – DeeV
    Jan 19 at 14:38
  • A hard first month is good experience. Nothing stopping them from going to the 3-4 day program after they do something challenging. Don't depricate others when they've actually done the work J. Someone training above standard then training at standard isn't some kind of failure wisemen and the experienced need to depricate. What's even your training experience?
    – user37464
    Jan 20 at 5:09
  • We should both agree that most 'novices' have no real drive or ambition to begin with. Fantasizing is hardly an ambition. In such case I can become one of the most ambitious people in the world in no time. Toy ambitions are meaningless. Someone actually sticking to a month of a hard 6x a week program as a novice then switching 3x a week doesn't mean they "don't know what they want" though. Let us be real here; everyone in the world is at least a beginner of physical exertion and training. Some call beginners, novices. One can claim anything they want about the world's population. (continued)
    – user37464
    Jan 21 at 7:57
  • Those with a modicum of seriousness, commitment and ambition are the novices you depricate by claiming a hard month followed by somewhat easier months means they "don't know what they want", "lack commitment" (statement made IN EFFECT), and have big ambitions that have been drastically deflated. Since you value "knowing your own mind" you get an ego boost from bringing down others by claiming they "don't know their own mind". You're transparent as glass to me.
    – user37464
    Jan 21 at 8:02

5 Answers 5

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As well as physical burnout, as addressed in Thomas's answer, a 3/week routine helps deal with mental burnout. I believe the GMB people wrote an article that's a bit more detailed (I can't access it on this computer/network), but essentially, doing three workouts a week not only gives you a chance to do other things on your off evenings, but it makes it less likely that you'll wind up quitting, or taking a long break, because you miss a session. If you're set up to work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and you wind up visiting your mother-in-law on Wednesday and don't get the workout in, it's easy to shift the exercise to Thursday and Saturday. It doesn't feel like you missed a workout at the end of the week. On the other hand, if you're exercising six days a week, every shifted workout is a reminder that you missed one, and if you miss twice in a week, then you're behind more long-term. As a result, you're more likely to drop into avoidant behavior — not wanting to be reminded that you're behind, you just don't do it at all and then one day, you realize it's been a whole week — and maybe stop completely.

When you've developed more of a solid habit, then exercise becomes the norm, and so you're less likely to fall off that sharply with a single miss, both because the exercise is an ingrained habit and because you feel more comfortable missing one session, feeling that it won't leave you behind.

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You have to find a compromise between how often you want to train, and how quickly you can recover.

There is nothing magic about a 3/week full body program. 3/week just happens to be a good frequency for managing fatigue and recovery on a full body program. It gives you one, one, and two days off between workouts, which allows for adequate workout-to-workout recovery. But there's nothing special about it.

When planning a six day PPL split, you just have to be mindful to allow for adequate recovery between days, which PPL does just fine - you have two and three days between each push workout, two and three days between each pull workout, and two and three days between each leg workout.

I've had great success adapting a traditional 5x5 3/week program to six days. The traditional 3/week 5x5 follows a ABA-BAB two week protocol, with workouts looking like:

A: Squat, Bench, Row

B: Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift

This has you squatting three times a week, and everything else thrice every two weeks. This is easily altered to be a feasible 6/week plan:

Mon: Squat, Bench

Tue: OHP, Row

Wed: Squat, Other Accessories

Thu: Bench, Row

Fri: Squat, OHP

Sat: Deadlift, Other Accessories

This gets you the same movements with similar frequency as a traditional 3/week full body split, but spread over six days with some room for accessory work.

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If a novice wants to do more than 3x/week, is it detrimental to his progress?

Possibly, yes. The main factor is not whether 6x/week hurts, but that 3x/week works. Nothing is as proven in the amateur sports field as 3x/week training plans, be it in the space of weight training, running, or basically everything.

If so, why?

Doing a physical activity once per week is usually too little to have noticeable gains (which are important for a newbie, for motivation - why do it at all if it serves little perceived benefits). Twice per week is great for things like martial art training, where it's not only about the physical aspects, but where there's also a big mental part (i.e., learning a lot of new terms and techniques and so on).

Three per week is magical because it's the highest number that can be distributed over 7 days in a way that gives you a rest day inbetween each session.

Rest days are important because all the growth (muscles, endurance etc.) happens in the resting period, not during exercise. The exercises damage your muscles and other systems; in the rest periods the body overcompensates when repairing (by building a little more "stuff" in your physical systems, making you stronger).

There are also other factors at work. The central nervous system is often brought up together with overtraining - while it may seem that your muscles can take it, at some point all the other little bits and pieces of your body may fall apart if you do high intensity training daily, even though you are spacing individual muscle regions such that they get enough breaks.

Going a bit more into the mental side, newbies often start out hugely motivated. During the first days and weeks, success is immediate and super pronounced. Soon, this tends to taper off a bit, you get used to all the new activity, it becomes routine. At this point, often real life rears its ugly head - changes in the family, at work etc., and it may become harder to actually go for 6 days a week. While this may be alleviated with high motivation (at the beginning) and general discipline, it can get hard. 3 days a week is usually quite manageable.

And of course, is it wise to start with 6x/week?

I would start with 3. There are tons of proven, well-working, training plans. Something like Stronglift 5x5 (all relevant info is free, so don't take this as advertisement; some of the texts are a little opinionated but the 5 exercises employed are timeless standards) is tuned for exactly the newbie who wants to get results soon, with lots of experience on how the plan works for both well-trained and fresh people.

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  • "Rest days are important because all the growth happens in the resting period, not during exercise." - Yet a person in the gym is only lifting weights perhaps 20% of the time. Out of an hour that's 12 minutes. In a 24 hour period. Working out 7 days a week is fine but people give up. I gained the most muscle doing the same exercise every 15 - 60 minutes every day for 4 weeks. This is just how it works. Train more, more results. Often when one is training "bench every workout" or anything like that they BLOW UP, not the inverse. You give me 100 people and 100 will grow more doing more.
    – user37464
    Jan 20 at 5:04
  • @DylanSchreiner: my answer doesn't say that nothing but 3 x per week works, but that 3 x per week is effective (if the correct exercises are preformed properly, obviously, which is out of the scope of this question) for newcomers to weight training, and safely leads to a buildup of knowledge and muscle, while doing the activity in a way that is likely to be compatible with general life and so on. Of course, if you're doing 4x or 6x per week perfectly (or fulltime in the case of pro athletes), and can manage to keep it in your life long term you'll have more results...
    – AnoE
    Jan 20 at 8:00
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This has been answered already but I haven't seen anyone mention this...

I'd like to add that beginner's bodies are not adapted physically yet to training stimulus, so you only want to train just enough to cause muscular damage/stress and recover, allowing for strength/hypertrophy, etc.. Working out by using one compound movement for each functional plane of movement (bench press, squat, RDL, Rows, etc.) is plenty to workout the entire body enough to cause muscle damage. You only want to do just enough so where your body can recover and grow; doing too much training when your body hasn't adapted yet can lead to overtraining or DOMS, and will jut slow down your progress. Frequency doesn't affect a newbie, in fact newbies recover quickly because they aren't lifting incredibly heavy weights yet, and so lifting very frequently(each muscle gets stimulated 3x a week which is optimum) is key. Full body workouts allow you to build a foundation to your body, and after a year, you'll have to add more work to breakdown your muscles, which also allows you to specialize different muscle group exercises such as accessory work, or to even focus on for example, the short head of the biceps versus training the entire biceps. Advanced workouts such as 6 day workouts or one muscle group a day workouts are more geared towards people with 3-5 years of experience, as they need to do many exercises just to breakdown the muscle. You may see workouts where some people are doing 5-6 exercises for chest for example one day a week. The workout is so intense with heavy weights and volume on the chest that it takes about 3-4 days to recover, which is why generally old school workouts train just one muscle group a day.

An important tip, train for the body you have, not the body you want. Don't look up a celebrity workout or something intense and try it, start out nice and slow with just enough exercises to workout your body. you can add volume and exercises as your body gets more accustomed.

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The other thing that newbies can do is to do weight training on a M-W-F basis, and then do cardio on three of the remaining days, with one final day to completely relax.

For best results, the cardio should not rely heavily on muscles that were worked on the previous day; just get the heart up to 80%-85% of your max, keep it there for 20 minutes, and then cool down with light cardio.

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  • I actually did this and had good results (lost 26 pounds in an 18-month period). Why the downvotes?
    – EvilSnack
    Jan 24 at 3:07
  • It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me either, especially if it’s only 20 minutes. The objection may be that especially for beginners the body adapts at different paces for different people so it may not be the most efficient in general. I don’t think targeted splits are necessarily bad, either, but it depends on the person. In general, though, don’t worry too much about downvotes. Jan 27 at 0:58

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