Posted 4 weeks ago

Dropping from 5 training days to 4 or 3

When I first started going to the gym, I probably trained a bit too much. I wasn’t just hitting five sessions a week; instead, it was more like six or seven training days a week. In hindsight, I can see how that was not the most optimal way for me to train, and over time, I found that hitting the gym 5x a week suited me best. Not only was it effective from a time-management perspective, but I could also recover from those sessions and make solid progress in this manner.

My competitive goals have always been important to me, and as such, I would have never considered or contemplated the idea of training any less than five times a week. In fact, I would have probably shut the idea down straight away. However, life has changed a lot for me: I’m now a father and my competitive goals aren’t as important to me, and spending that extra one day in the gym per week was pulling me away from spending more time with my family. As such, I made the decision to start training 4x a week – and like many others, I did struggle initially with the change in routine! So, in this article, I’d like to discuss why I changed my training frequency, and how I structure my sessions now, should you ever want to do the same yourself too.

Go hard or go home

If you are in the early stages of your fitness journey, I can completely understand that this thought of training less seems strange and alien to you. Like I said, back in 2016, this isn’t something I would have even comprehended, because I had some big competitive goals. I wanted to compete and win, I wanted to become a British champ within a five-year time frame, and I wanted to be the guy with the biggest legs on stage.

With these goals in mind, I was in the headspace of ‘go hard or go home’, as many of us bodybuilders are. But at that point in my life, those goals meant a lot to me. I valued them highly and it brought me a great deal of happiness to be going through the process to get to them. Being young, and self-employed with non-dependants meant that training five days a week was easy. I looked forward to every session, and if I could have recovered from doing more sessions, I would have happily done them; and this way of thinking carried on for many years. But then something changed.

What happened bro?

Truth be told, I got a little older and a little wiser, and my goals in life changed. I got married and in the lead up to our wedding, we knew we wanted kids shortly after. It worked out exactly like that and my wife fell pregnant the month after we got married. This allowed me to compete one last time and tick off any personal goals that were left unchecked.

Here’s the thing, I was able to scratch that itch. I won shows, had the best legs up there and even won a British title. It left me feeling fulfilled, but at the same time, I felt a bit lost with where I would go next. I finished competing in July 2021, decided I’d take a few years off and move up to class one bodybuilding. Then my son was born in October.

That was what changed. I looked at him and shortly after, my goals to get much bigger somewhat dissipated. Being an assisted bodybuilder for a long period of time can take its toll on health, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger. Not only that, but I also simply wanted to spend more time with my son. The weekends are where I do less work and have more free time, so 2-3 hours at the gym took away from something that I was wanting to do. You could even say I began to resent that 5th session and not really enjoy it.

Reluctance

If you’ve considered training less frequently, you might also be feeling some reluctance around it, exactly like I did. I had an irrational fear that I might not make as much progress, I might not be as big, strong, or lean. Of course, this thought process was nonsense in hindsight, but what I’m getting at is that it’s completely okay to feel that way and that you’re not alone.

You might simply be fighting an internal battle and struggling to give in. You’ve trained a certain way for so long and it’s completely natural to fear change. You might not have kids; you might simply have taken a big step up in your career or competing might just not serve you the same as it did before. Either way, you now simply need to realign your values with what makes you happy and rejig your training split.

My son was born October 13th and I moved to four training days around mid-December. But I can say hand on heart, I’d never go back to training five days a week, even as he gets older. It’s the strongest I’ve been, most muscled I’ve been and the best I’ve held my current bodyweight (130kg). My recovery is better, I’m able to spend the full weekend with my family and I honestly wish I had done it sooner.

Now, eight months into training four days a week, we now have a 2nd baby on the way, and when he/she arrives, I’ll happily reduce my training frequency even further, to three days a week, if I need to. Here’s the thing, bodybuilding isn’t a sprint, you can do it as often or as little as you like. I train less but still get the same buzz and will continue to do so and it’ll always be an important aspect of my life and of who I am.

So if you are reluctant to make the change but feel like it would be beneficial to you, take this advice from someone who’s been in your shoes: just take the leap, you won’t regret it. Even if you did, it’s easy to just go back to five days if you really wanted to.

How did you go about it?

My old split was focused on bringing up the chest, arms and posterior chain so it looked like so: Pull, Lower, Push/arms, Off, Posterior, Push/arms, Off. When I changed to training 4x a week, I still wanted my split to have the same focus on bringing up those specific body parts. As such, my four-day split became: Upper, Lower, Off, Push/arms, Posterior, Off, Off.

It meant that a little bit of back volume had to be taken away from that first session to accommodate other exercises, but because I knew I’d be hitting back again in that Posterior session, I was happy to make that adjustment. This is exactly what you’ll have to do if you are thinking of changing things up, but still looking to bring up some areas. Something is going to have to give, and you’ll just need to accept some body parts will come up slower than others. But if you’re far on in your journey, you’ll no doubt have accepted this already.

There is no ‘perfect’ four-day split. For many, Lower, Upper, Off, Lower, Upper, Off, Off, might work very well. If you are a female and wanting to hit your legs a bit more frequently you could go Lower, Upper, Off, Lower, Off, Full body, Off or something similar. You’ll just have to have a chat with your coach or sit down and workout what would be best, bearing in mind that the first few weeks will be a trial-and-error process before you get it right.

In summary, there may come a time in your journey where you want to reduce your training days. When the time comes, it’ll be due to your values and priorities changing. Although you may have some reluctance at first you won’t look back once you’ve made the leap. Some body parts volume will have to take a back seat whilst others are prioritised, but you’ll still be able to progress, get stronger, bigger, or leaner just fine.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons

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