Some say that for best results, you should work each muscle group as often as three times per week.
Others will tell you that training a muscle group more than once a week constitutes overtraining.
If you want to build muscle and get strong, which approach works best?
There’s no universally “correct” training frequency that will apply to all people all of the time. But there are some principles that you’ll need to consider when planning your routine.
Here, in no particular order, is a random collection of my thoughts on the subject of training frequency and muscle growth.
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The range of effective training frequencies is a lot wider than most people think. The research out there shows that you can build muscle and get strong training a muscle group once, twice, three or even six times per week.
There’s an inverse relationship between training frequency and volume. If your training volume per workout is high, you’ll need to lower your frequency. Conversely, an increase in training frequency will require a reduction in volume.
What exactly do I mean by this?
For the purposes of illustrating my point, let’s pretend that a weekly training volume of 120 repetitions represents the “optimal” amount of volume for a given muscle.
- If you trained that muscle once a week, you’d do all 120 repetitions in one session.
- If you trained that muscle twice a week, you’d do 60 repetitions in each workout.
- If you trained that muscle three times a week, you’d do 40 repetitions in each workout.
When you look at it over the course of a week, you’re still doing the same amount of work for each muscle. But the work is being distributed differently based on how frequently that muscle is being trained.
Training volume doesn’t have to be distributed evenly. If you want to hit a muscle group three times a week, you might do 60 repetitions on Monday, followed by 30 repetitions on Wednesday and Friday. If you want to train that muscle twice a week, you could do 90 repetitions on Monday, and 30 repetitions on Thursday.
If you want bigger arms, just train them more frequently. That’s the approach I recommend in the Muscle Evo Arm Specialization Protocol, which I’ve used in the past with decent results:
If you’ve moved past the beginner stages of training and want to hit each muscle group three times a week, it’s a good idea to vary the type of training you do. As an example, on Monday you might do 5 sets of 5 repetitions with a heavy weight, a few lighter sets of 15 on the Wednesday and moderately heavy sets of 10 reps on the Friday. This varies the stress imposed on the nervous system and connective tissues while still giving your muscles the stimulation they need to grow.
Diet has a big impact on your ability to recover and grow. If you’re on a diet designed for fat loss, muscle recovery is going to be slower than it otherwise would be, so you’ll need to adjust your training frequency accordingly. As a general rule, if you’re combining strength training with a calorie deficit, lifting weights 3-4 times a week is plenty.
Chronic psychological stress can impair recovery. If you’re under a lot of pressure at work, deprived of sleep and happen to live next door to a screaming couple who have been dragged from the holding pen of The Jeremy Kyle Show, you have a lot of non-training related “stress” going on in your life. This means that your rate of recovery between workouts is not going to be all that it could be.
If you’re training to maintain (rather than gain) muscle, you can cut back on your training frequency. Lifting weights just twice a week is enough to hold on to the vast majority of your gains in size and strength.
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