You want more muscle than you have right now.
But you’re busy.
And you don’t have much time available to go to the gym and lift weights.
What’s the minimum amount of training time required to build muscle?
If you’re willing to work hard and push yourself, you can build muscle with a full body workout performed twice a week.
In fact, research shows very similar gains in size and strength whether you train a muscle group twice or three times a week.
Training Twice a Week: The Research
• In one study, subjects training a muscle group twice per week made around 70% of the strength gains (measured by maximal strength in the squat) compared to subjects training three times per week.
• In another, training twice per week led to around 80% of the isometric strength gains achieved by those training three days per week.
• Canadian researchers compared the same total training volume divided across two or three weekly workouts. Gains in muscle size and strength were virtually identical with both routines.
• Researchers from the University of Memphis compared the effects of a strength-training program performed either twice or three days per week in a group of adults aged over 60. The rate of progress in both groups was almost identical.
• A 2018 study shows that distributing the same amount of training across two or four weekly workouts led to roughly the same amount of muscle being gained. Although the group training twice a week spent longer in the gym, they didn’t have to go there as often.
• When a team of scientists compared studies that investigated training muscle groups once, twice or three times a week, they concluded that “the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth.”.
“All a muscle needs to grow is two workouts a week,” writes Vince Gironda in his book The Wild Physique. “This goes for champions too. Hit muscles twice a week and they will get bigger, perhaps at a faster rate than you may believe possible.”
There are several other benefits of training twice a week:
1. The first is obvious. Lifting weights twice a week won’t take up much more than a couple of hours, which is less than 2% of the time available to you over the course of a week.
That gives you plenty of time to get other stuff done.
2. If you’re into a particular sport (e.g. cycling, running, or martial arts) and want to incorporate some strength work in your program, lifting weights twice a week will allow you to do so without interfering with your other training.
3. Training twice a week will let you retain (and in some instances gain) both size and strength while you drop fat. It’s also a good fit if you’re using a carbohydrate cycling protocol where the primary goal is to get strong and ripped.
Increasing your carb intake on the days you lift weights will make a big difference to your performance in the gym while having a relatively minor impact on your weekly calorie deficit.
4. If you’re in your 40’s, 50’s or beyond, you’ll know that it takes longer for your body, especially your joints, to recover from a hard workout.
Cutting your training frequency back to twice a week is an ideal way to gain size and strength while still giving your body the recovery time it needs.
From best-selling author Dan John:
“What has always amazed me about training twice a week is how good my joints feel and how much energy I seem to have to do all the other important things in life.”
Can You Do Full-Body Workouts on Consecutive Days?
In days gone by, I would have told you to take at least a day or so before training the same muscles.
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.
When a team of Brazilian researchers compared training a muscle once a week with a full-body workout performed on five consecutive days, there were no significant differences in terms of strength or size gains between the two groups.
That is, 10-15 sets distributed across five consecutive training days delivered much the same results as the same number of sets performed once a week.
A couple of new studies out of Portugal and Singapore show that training on three consecutive days (e.g. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) works just as well as inserting a recovery day between each workout (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday).
In other words, training three days in a row then taking four days off produced much the same results as training every other day and taking the weekend off.
Here’s how the Portuguese researchers sum up their findings:
“Results from the present study show that, at least in recreationally trained men, total-body resistance training performed 3 times a week on consecutive days is an alternative with similar effects on maximal strength and body composition to the recommended workouts on non-consecutive days.”
Granted, these training programs didn’t last very long (7-12 weeks), and we may well have seen a different set of results with longer training periods.
What’s more, the “optimal” amount of time between workouts is highly individual, and will vary from person to person, based on the type of workout you’re doing. Given the choice, I’d still prefer to insert at least one day of rest between workouts for the same muscle group.
However, if you only have time to train at the weekends, and provided that your workouts are set up properly, a couple of full-body workouts on Saturday and Sunday may well do the job just fine.
So, there you have it.
If you can’t make it to the gym as often as you’d like, don’t worry.
A couple of full-body workouts twice a week is still enough to get the job done.
SEE ALSO: THE MUSCLE BUILDING CHEAT SHEET
If you're fed up spending hours in the gym with nothing to show for it, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It's a "cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to go about building muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please click or tap here to enter your email address.
ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.