Doing a full body workout every day is not a good idea, particularly if you want to build muscle.
However, there’s some interesting research to show that hitting the same muscle groups 5-6 times a week isn’t as crazy as you might think.
What got me thinking about this subject was a question that arrived at Muscle Evo HQ the other day.
Here’s what it said
“I like routine. I don’t want to burn a lot of brain cells figuring out which ‘day’ it is. I don’t like to split anything. I like to go to the gym and work out every body part five (or so) days a week. 5 (or so) minutes of this. Five minutes of that. For about an hour. I figure … by the end of the week it should all add up. I reason to myself … I’m sure all the fitness gurus will tell me I am doing it wrong … But at least I’m doing it … Which is more than I can say when I try doing ‘arms’ day or ‘legs’ day. I invariably fall off the wagon when I split up days.
“Any thoughts on this? Will I gradually gain over time doing this? Or am I just exercising to no apparent end?”
What is a Full-Body Workout?
Unlike body part split workouts, which typically involve a chest day, leg day and so on, a full-body workout hits all the muscles in the body – chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves – in a single workout.
A full-body workout will normally include 1-2 upper-body pulling and upper-body pushing movements (e.g. push-ups, pull-ups, bench press, shoulder press), 1-2 leg exercises (e.g. leg press, leg curls, squat, lunge, calf raises), along with some isolation exercises for the shoulders and arms (e.g. lateral raise, bicep curls).
- Incline Dumbbell Press 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Wide Grip Seated Cable Row 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Leg Press 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Romanian Deadlift 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Lateral Raise 3 sets x 15-20 reps
- Push-ups 4 sets x 10-30 reps
- Pull-ups 4 sets x 5-8 reps
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 sets x 5-8 reps
- Squat 4 sets x 5-8 reps
- Seated Leg Curl 4 sets x 10-15 reps
In days gone by, I would have told you to take at least a day of rest before training the same muscles. Hitting the same muscle groups on consecutive days doesn’t allow for enough recovery time.
That is, if you want to do a full-body workout on Monday, wait until Wednesday or Thursday before doing the same thing again.
However, a number of studies have been published in recent years that have changed my mind on the subject.
Body Part Split vs Full-Body Workout Routine
Probably the most relevant study involved a comparison between training a muscle once a week versus five whole body workouts performed on consecutive days, Monday through Friday, with a couple of rest days at the weekend .
Over the course of the week, the number of sets per muscle group was identical.
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The split routine group did two exercises per workout for 5-10 sets per exercise, while the full-body routine group did 11 exercises for 1-2 sets per exercise.
Both workouts involved the same compound exercises and isolation exercises, using barbells, dumbbells and machines.
Each workout lasted a little over 30 minutes.
On average, the men had been training for 6.5 years, could bench press a maximum 130% of their own bodyweight and squat with around 165% of their own bodyweight. So we’re not talking about advanced strength athletes or high level bodybuilders here. But they were a long way from untrained beginner status.
After two months, there were no significant differences in terms of strength or size gains between the two groups – 10-15 sets distributed over the course of five weekly training sessions increased muscle mass and strength similarly to the same number of sets performed once a week.
In fact, the full-body group did register a slightly greater increase in lean muscle mass than the once-a-week group.
With a longer study (remember, the strength training program only lasted two months), the difference in body composition between the two groups may have been larger.
But, it’s also possible that hitting a muscle group five times per week would, over time, have become too much to recover from, leading to slower strength gains and smaller changes in lean muscle mass.
Six vs Three Day Training Schedule
In a similar study, researchers from the University of South Florida compared two training programs that involved training three or six days per week .
Subjects taking part in the study were young men in their early twenties who’d been lifting weights for at least six months.
In order to be eligible for the study, they had to be able to squat at least 125% of their bodyweight, bench press 100% of their bodyweight, and deadlift 150% of their bodyweight.
The men were split into two groups, and followed either a 3- or 6-day training schedule. The program itself comprised just three compound exercises – the bench press, squat and deadlift.
The amount of training performed by both groups in terms of sets per muscle group was identical, but was spread out differently.
For the men training three days per week, each workout lasted an average of two hours, while the men training six days a week took around an hour to complete each workout.
Everything else — exercise selection, rest between sets, and so on — was identical.
Again, there was no statistically significant difference in strength or muscle gains between the two groups.
Men in the 3-day and 6-day groups got roughly the same results, with the researchers concluding that “training frequency appears to follow the law of diminishing returns, as high frequency (6 days per week) resistance training does not appear to offer additional strength and hypertrophy benefits over lower frequency (3 days per week), when volume and intensity are equated.”
Interestingly, the high frequency group did see faster gains in muscle mass – 5.7 pounds (2.6 kilograms) versus 3.7 pounds (1.7 kilograms) in the low frequency group.
In similar trial, Croatian researchers found that training a muscle either three or six times a week, under volume-equated conditions, led to similar gains in muscle size and strength .
Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced?
The length of time you’ve been training also appears to have an impact on how your muscles respond to a higher training frequency.
In a group of untrained beginners, lifting weights once or three times a week for almost three months delivered very similar gains in muscle size .
That is, as far as muscle building is concerned, six sets performed once a week worked just as well as two sets performed three times a week. Changes in muscle strength were greater with the higher training frequency.
In fact, when scientists from Brazil’s University of São Paulo looked at the impact of training frequency in a group of untrained young men, they found no advantage to working a muscle more often than twice a week .
The lifters were split into two groups. Both groups trained their quads five times a week using the leg extension machine. The other leg was trained either twice or three times each week.
Unlike the other studies we’ve looked at, total training volume wasn’t identical. That is, the high frequency program involved 15 sets per week, while the lower training frequencies involved 6-9 sets per week.
After two months the higher volume of training didn’t lead to muscle being built any faster. Three sets performed 2-3 times a week produced the same amount of muscle growth as three sets performed five times a week.
The researchers also noticed that the rate of progression in the high frequency leg was considerably slower than it was in the legs trained two or three times a week.
The higher frequency of training seemed to impair muscle recovery. Lifters weren’t able to add reps or weight as fast as they could on the lower frequency programs.
However, the researchers also point out that these findings are specific to untrained individuals. The results may well be different if you have a few years of training under your belt.
Here’s what they had to say on the subject:
“Given that the time course of muscle protein synthesis increase after a resistance training session changes to a more rapid and specific one, it’s reasonable to suggest that trained individuals would benefit from higher training frequencies such as five times a week. This proposal is further supported by a smaller stress impact of each resistance training session as training develops, reducing the rest period required between sessions.”
In short, if you’re new to lifting weights, your muscles may grow just as fast whether your training is spread across one, two, or three workouts per week.
But, if you’re more advanced, it’s certainly worth experimenting with a higher frequency of training, to see how well it works for you.
Should you do a full-body workout every day? No. Training the major muscle groups on a daily basis is far from ideal if you want to build muscle.
As a rule of thumb, most people will be better off with a full-body training program done 3-4 days a week.
However, there’s no universally correct training frequency that will apply to all people all the time, and you’ll need to experiment to find out what works best for you and your body.
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