Optimal training frequency is a hotly debated subject.
Some believe you should train your entire body two to three times per week, whereas others think this approach will lead to overtraining, injury, and burnout.
Anecdotal evidence is all over the place as well.
Skim through online forums and chat with fellow gym-goers and you’ll hear stories of fantastic progress training major muscle groups just once per week as well as three, four, or even five times per week.
Some weightlifters also mix it up, training different muscle groups with different frequencies.
For example, some say smaller muscle groups like the shoulders, biceps, and calves should be trained three or four times per week but large muscle groups like the upper legs only need one intense workout per week.
If you turn to the scientific literature for insight, you’ll get few reliable answers.
Some studies seem to show higher frequencies work best and others show you can make equally good progress with fewer workouts per week.
So, what should you do?
4:28 – What is training frequency?
5:53 – What is the best training frequency for building muscle?
17:55 – How do you figure out how frequently you should be training?
Mentioned on The Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello, I am Mike Matthews. This Muscle For Life. Welcome and thank you for being here with me to learn about training frequency, optimal training frequency that is a hotly debated subject these days. I. Some people say that you should train your entire body every major muscle group, two or three times per week, whereas others say that that is going to lead to over training, injury and burnout, and that your training should be much more minimalistic.
You know, training each major muscle group just once per week with not that many sets usually. In fewer than five workouts per week, usually in two or three workouts per week. And if you look at anecdotal evidence, that’s all over the place as well. So go Skimm through online forums and chat with some fellow gym goers, and you are going to hear stories of fantastic progress training, major muscle groups, just.
Once per week, like some people recommend, whereas other people say that they need to train major muscle groups, three, four, even five times per week to continue making progress. And some weightlifters out there. They also mix it up. Some of them train. Certain muscle groups with certain frequencies and others with other frequencies, and sometimes they say that that’s just what works best for them.
And sometimes they refer to scientific research and try to make the argument that that is the best way of going about it. So for example, some experts will say that smaller muscle groups like the shoulders, biceps, and calves, should be trained three or four times per week, but larger. Muscle groups like the upper legs and the back only need one intense workout per week.
Now if you turn to the scientific literature for insight on this, you will get few reliable answers. Some studies seem to show that higher frequencies work best and others show that you can make equally good progress with fewer workouts per week. So where does that leave you? What should you do? Should you err on the side of caution and keep frequency low?
Or should you go the other way and just be an extremist, or should you be somewhere in between? Well, the short answer is as a natural weightlifter, your optimal training frequency depends on how much total volume you do for each muscle group. Per week. In fact, you can look at training frequency more as a tool for achieving optimal weekly volume as opposed to a vital element of muscle building.
In other words, there’s actually no one size fits all answer to the question of optimal training frequency. It depends on where you’re at and what you are doing in the gym and what you’re trying to achieve. Now before we get to the show, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you wanna help me help more people get into the best shape of their lives, please consider picking up one of my best selling health and fitness books.
I have Bigger, leaner, stronger for Men, thinner, leaner, stronger for Women. I have a flexible dieting cookbook called The Shredded Chef, as well as a. 100% practical hands-on blueprint for personal transformation called the Little Black Book of Workout Motivation. These books have sold well over a million copies and have helped thousands of people build their best body ever, and you can find them on all major online retailers like.
Amazon, audible, iTunes, Cobo, and Google Play, as well as in select Barnes and Noble stores. So again, that’s bigger, leaner, stronger for Men, thinner, leaner, stronger for Women, the Shredded Chef, and the Little Black Book of Workout Motivation. Oh, and I should also mention that you can get any of my audio books for free when you sign up for an Audible account.
Which is the perfect way to make those little pockets of downtime like commuting, meal prepping, dog walking, and cleaning, a bit more interesting, entertaining, and productive. And if you want to take audible up on that offer and get one of my audio books for free, just go to legion athletics.com/audible and it’ll forward you over, and then you can sign up for your account.
All right, so let’s start our discussion with what is training frequency? Well, it is just a fancy way of saying how often you’re working out every week, and frequency could be expressed differently in terms of, I. Time periods, but usually it is weekly. So for example, most strength training programs involve a training frequency of three to five times per week.
Meaning that you are in the gym doing three to five weightlifting workouts per week. Now some weightlifters get even I. More specific than that and track their training frequency for each major muscle group. So for example, uh, an upper lower routine typically involves training four days per week and each major muscle group twice per week.
So you’re doing two upper and two lower body workouts per week. So if you bench press on your first upper body day and then you do incline bench press on your second upper body day, you’d be training your chest twice per week. Now it’s important. To look at how often you’re training each major muscle group when you’re designing a workout program.
And the reason for this is fairly obvious. So let’s say your training frequency is five days per week, but all of your workouts are upper body exercises. That’s not gonna get you the results you want, or at least it’s not gonna get the results that your Instagram followers want to see. They wanna see the wheels, bro.
Alright, so now let’s talk about the best training frequency for building muscle. This is something I get asked about fairly often and usually the people asking me have asked others as well, and they will typically get one of two answers. One, they’ll get, oh, well, you know, the traditional bodybuilding approach of training.
Each major muscle group just once per week works just fine. You hammer the big muscle groups until they are pumped, swollen and sore, and then you wait a week and you do it again. Or they will hear the opposite. They’ll hear that. That is not a viable way to train unless you are brand new to weightlifting.
And in that case, you can do just about anything and do fine. But once newbie gains are exhausted, Then you need to start training major muscle groups, two or even three, maybe four times per week to continue getting bigger and stronger. Now, who’s right here? Well, the first thing to know about training frequency is what I mentioned earlier, is there is no one size fits all solution that applies to everyone.
Under all circumstances. Instead, research shows the ideal training frequency for you depends on several factors. One review study that helps solve this mystery was conducted by scientists at the University of YouTube Borg, and the researchers performed in exhaustive search of every scientific study looking at the relationship between training frequency and muscle growth between 1970 and 2000 and.
Six. Now, the scientists also limited their search to studies that used M R I or CT scans to measure muscle growth, which are considered the gold standard methods for quantifying muscle growth. They looked for studies that used healthy uninjured people, aged 18 to 59, and papers that reported all of the key details of the study design, including how many sets and reps.
And what exercises the participants did. The researchers also smartly decided to exclude any studies that had the participants in a calorie deficit, in a, in a state of negative energy balance, because they knew that that significantly reduces muscle and strength gains. And so what they ended up. With was 44 studies to analyze, and when they did that, when the researchers compiled and then analyzed all of the data, they found that training each major muscle group, two to three times per week generally produced the most.
Muscle gain. That said, the scientists were careful to point out that this is just a rule of thumb and that you should modify your training program to suit your goals, experience level, and recovery abilities. They also pointed out that beginners can often make excellent progress using lower training frequencies, whereas intermediate or advanced weightlifters may need to use higher training.
Frequencies. So if you’re new to weightlifting, you may need to train a muscle group just once or at most, twice per week to gain as much muscle and strength as you possibly can. But as you become more experienced, you might have to up certain muscle groups to, to, or three workouts per week as it gets harder and harder to continue.
Gaining muscle and strength. Now, those conclusions, those findings are supported by a number of other studies as well, including those conducted by scientists at the University of Alabama Layman College, the Auckland University of Technology, and the National Research Institute. That said, you can also find many anecdotes of experienced weightlifters who have done well with training major muscle groups just once per week or at most.
Twice per week. So what gives, well, a review study that was published in 2018 and conducted by scientists at Lehman College provides the missing piece of this puzzle. So in this case, the researchers, which by the way, included James Krieger, who’s a member of Legion’s Scientific Advisory Board, shout out, they parsed through 25 studies that looked at the relationship between training frequency and muscle growth and the results.
Were enlightening. So unlike previous research, they found no relationship between training frequency and muscle growth. That is it didn’t matter how many times people trained a muscle group throughout the week, they gained more or less the same amount of muscle. There was a catch though. This was only true when they looked at studies where the participants in both the high and low training frequency groups did the same amount of total training volume, which was measured in total reps per week per muscle group.
So for a example, if one group of weightlifters did 30 reps of chest exercises, Twice per week, but another group did 20 reps of chest exercises three times per week. They would gain about the same amount of muscle because both did 60 total reps of the chest exercises per week. That said, when the researchers dug into the data even further, they found if one group did more volume than the other, higher frequencies usually led to more.
Muscle growth. So in other words, if you’re doing a lot of volume, if you’re doing a lot of reps every week, or another way of looking at volume is just hard sets, sets taken close to technical failure regardless of how many reps you’re doing. And so if you’re doing, uh, quite a bit of reps or hard sets, so quite a bit of volume for a particular muscle group, you will generally make.
Better progress by spreading that volume out across several workouts instead of cramming it all into one session. Now, if you’re only doing a moderate amount of volume every week for any given muscle group, you can just do it all in one workout without fear of short changing your results. And it put some real numbers to that.
So if you are new to weightlifting, you do not need to do more than. Nine, 10, maybe 11 max, 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week to make fantastic progress. I would say to gain as much muscle and strength as you can possibly gain. If you do more volume than that, you’re gonna burn more energy and you might like being in the gym for more time, but you’re probably not gonna gain more muscle and strength.
That said, After, let’s say a year or two of that, that is not enough volume to continue making progress regardless of what you do with the intensity. So the amount of weight on the bar, regardless of how you periodize your training, regardless of your exercise selection, it’s not enough work to continue making progress for that.
You gotta work harder. And really what that comes down to is doing more volume. So at that point, what you’d want to do, the. Biggest change you’d make in your programming is you would bump that up to probably, let’s say 15 hard sets per major muscle group per week. And once you need to do that amount of volume, it starts to become impractical to try to do it in just a single workout per major muscle group per week, 9, 10, 11, 12 sets.
You can do that. You could just have a chest day and do 9, 10, 11, 12 sets of. Pressing and then do a back day and same amount of volume there. And then maybe a shoulders day, because although your shoulders do get indirectly trained with your pressing, it’s mostly the anterior deltoids that are, they’re definitely taking the brunt of the beating.
And so if you wanna also make sure that the other two deltoids gets direct training, then you’d get that done on a shoulders day, add some volume to the shoulders, and then. You could do a legs day, get in some more lower body volume because deadlifting is not enough. A few sets of deadlift is not enough lower body volume to really move the needle.
And then you could do some arms, some extra arms volume too, because while your arms do get trained indirectly with your pressing and your pulling, if you want to get bigger arms as quickly as possible, you do need to add some, some direct arms training on top of that. And there you go. Pretty simple body parts.
Split one muscle group per day. One workout per week per muscle group. Plenty of volume and you can make fantastic progress like that if you are relatively new to proper weightlifting. And what I’ve just described is basically bigger than your stronger and thinner than your stronger for women. Now, if you need to be doing 15, maybe even 16, 17 hard sets per Major Moss group or.
Per maybe the, the most major muscle groups per week, and you start trying to break that down into workouts in the same fashion, just body parts split. So you go to your chest day and you’re like, shit, I gotta do 16 sets of chest. And then your back day as I was 16 sets starts with, you know, let’s say four sets of heavy deadlifting.
Now you’re supposed to do 12 more hard sets after that. 16 sets for squats, even if it’s just 12, 12, 12 sets for a leg workout, is about as much as I can take if I’m using heavy weights and pushing close to technical failure. And so this is where it makes sense to now increase frequency to start breaking that volume up into a few different workouts.
So no individual workout beats the absolute shit out of you. And research also shows that. You can only get so much muscle building stimulus out of a single workout. You can’t just do 40 hard sets in a workout and just gain more and more muscle. In fact, research shows that nine to 12 hard sets for an individual muscle group in a workout is probably about it.
Beyond that, the benefits in terms of muscle hypertrophy, muscle growth. Become vanishingly small, you are definitely into the territory of diminishing returns, and so it’s better then to limit any given workout to let’s say nine, no more than nine to 12 hard sets for a specific muscle group, and to get in more volume for that muscle group.
You then just do more sets in another workout. Put at least one day in between one or two days, depending on what it is so you can recover and then. Do more volume. I would say one day, if it’s a smaller muscle group, that recovers quicker a couple days if it’s something like your legs. Anyway, getting back to the discussion at hand, my point is optimal training frequency really depends on optimal training volume.
Hey, before we continue, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you wanna help me help. More people get into the best shape of their lives. Please do consider picking up one of my best selling health and fitness books. My most popular ones are Bigger, leaner, stronger for Men, thinner, leaner, stronger for Women.
My Flexible Dieting Cookbook, the Shredded Chef. And my 100% practical hands-on blueprint for personal transformation, the little Black Book of Workout motivation. Now, these books have sold well over 1 million copies and have helped thousands of people build their best body ever, and you can find them anywhere online where you can buy books like Amazon, audible, iTunes, Cobo, and Google Play, as well as in select.
Barnes and Noble Stores. So again, that is bigger, leaner, stronger for men, thinner, leaner, stronger for Women, the Shredded Chef and the Little Black Book of Workout Motivation. Oh, and one other thing is you can get any one of those audio books 100% free when you sign up for an Audible account, and that’s a great way to make those pockets of downtime like commuting, meal prepping, and cleaning.
More interesting, entertaining. And productive. Now, if you want to take audible up on that offer and get one of my audio books for free, just go to legion athletics.com/audible and sign up for your account. How do you figure out how frequently you should be training and, and how much volume you should be doing?
Well, I started to explain a little bit. If you are new, then something around 10 hard sets per major bus group per week is gonna be good enough. And if you are. Experienced then something around 15 is probably reasonable. And if you are advanced, meaning that you’ve gained the vast majority of the muscle and strength that is genetically available to you, then you may need to go as high as 20 or even 30 hard sets per major muscle group per week.
Now, anecdotally speaking, 20 ish seems to be the general cutoff for the bigger muscle groups, like the back and the legs, maybe the pecs as well, whereas you generally see the higher numbers upward of 30, sometimes even more in the case of crazy mast. But, uh, you, you would see the, the higher volume numbers with the smaller muscle groups that can take more of a beating and that you can recover quicker from.
So, Your arms, your shoulders, your calves, simply because go ahead and try to do 30 hard sets for your legs in a week. Actually try it. If you are an intermediate or advanced weightlifter and you want to see what you are made of, you want to test your metal, try it. Program 30 hard sets for your lower body in a week and see how you feel.
Alright, so if those are optimal volume numbers, let’s talk about how to turn those into a workout routine. So if you are doing, let’s say, 10 to 12 sets per major muscle group per week, you have the most flexibility in terms of frequency you should have. No trouble doing them in one workout if you prefer that.
Or you can split them up into several workouts if that just better suits your preferences or maybe better suits your schedule or your style, what you like to do. Now, as I had mentioned earlier, if you’re doing 15 or 20 or more hard sets for any major mouse group per week, you are going to need to split those up.
Into several workouts, at least two, but maybe even three. And we discussed why you can only do so much productive work in a workout before fatigue really starts to set in performance plummets, and as a result, muscle growth just falls off a cliff. Another benefit of splitting up your volume like that as opposed to just trying to red line, uh, one.
Major muss group per workout is research shows that it reduces your perceived exertion in each workout. So despite doing the same amount of total training volume, if you use a slightly higher training frequency, it’s gonna make your workouts feel easier, which isn’t just something nice psychologically.
It actually is gonna help you train harder. It’s gonna help you use heavier weights in those individual workouts that feel easier. You are going to perform. Better. So let’s take a practical example here. Let’s take my bigger, leaner, stronger program for men. So here is a push workout from the five day program.
It starts with a barbell bench press. You warm up and you do three hard sets. Then you move over to the incline barbell bench, press three hard sets, and you move over to the dumbbell bench. Press three hard sets, and then you do some triceps push down at for three hard sets. Now in this case, you’re doing nine.
Sets of chest exercises and then three sets of triceps exercises. That said, all of the chest exercises do also train your triceps to some degree. They’re heavily involved in the pressing, so you’re really doing, let’s say, six to even 12 sets of triceps exercises. Some people will count indirect volume at a ratio of one to one, so one.
Set of bench press will count as one set of chest training and triceps training. Some people like to count the indirect adder ratio of one half to one, so they would say, okay, every two sets of bench press I do, I’m gonna record that as one set of triceps volume. Of course, two sets of chest volume. I currently.
Just track it on a one-to-one. I’m not too concerned about it. It’s more what am I seeing in the gym? Am I getting the results I want? And if I’m not in a case where I’m counting indirect volume at one-to-one, I know that all things being equal know if, if my training is set up properly and I’m eating well and sleeping well, I probably just need to do a bit more direct volume for, let’s say it is the triceps or the biceps or the shoulders.
So then later in the week on Bigger Lean or Stronger, the program calls for another three sets of chest training in the form of close grip bench press, which then brings up the total to 12 hard sets of chest exercises per week, plus a little bit more indirect triceps volume. Now in the case of other major muscle groups like the biceps, for example, on bigger than Your Stronger, at least on the five day, you’re only training them directly.
Once per week, so that’s workout five in the five day program. In reality, though, you’re actually training your biceps twice per week because they are trained indirectly by exercises like the dumbbell row and the lat pull down, which you’re doing. On workout two of the week. Your biceps also get a little bit trained when you’re bench pressing.
They are involved in the bench press, and especially when you’re doing the reverse or the close grip bench press. So that’s a little bit of extra indirect biceps volume. Now, some people may still scoff at that workout routine as far too low frequency, but the truth is you do not. Need to train each major muscle group with more than 10 to 12 sets per week to maximize muscle and strength gains if you are a novice.
Now, if you are a guy and you’ve already gained your first 30 pounds of muscle, yeah, that’s probably not gonna be enough. You’re probably gonna have to do beyond bigger, lean stronger, which I am wrapping up a new second edition of currently. It’ll be out this summer. Super excited about it. I think it’s my best work yet.
I love the programming. I’ve been doing it for, Months now, probably close to six months, have other people doing it with me and it’s gonna be the perfect, this new second edition is gonna be the perfect book that to dovetail with the new third edition of Bigger Lean, stronger that I released, I don’t know, maybe a year ago or so.
Really, it’s gonna be someone’s gonna be able to finish bigger, lean or stronger, and then go right into Beyond bigger, leaner, stronger. And even if they’re not gonna follow Beyond Bigger, leaner, stronger yet, even if they’re gonna do bigger, lean or stronger for a year or two, they’re still gonna learn.
Stuff and beyond bigger, linear, stronger, that will make bigger, linear, stronger, more effective. And of course then they’ll be set up to address the inevitable plateau that will come correctly. ’cause eventually, any training program, if you just keep doing the same thing, especially if the volume doesn’t change and it’s not very high volume, eventually becomes a maintenance program.
So eventually beyond, or sorry, bigger, leaner, stronger becomes a maintenance program. It’s just not enough volume. To get you all the way to the finish line of what you are genetically capable of gaining in the way of muscle and strength. Anyways, getting back on track here. Uh, the bad rap, that one muscle group per day splits, body parts splits, old school bodybuilding splits, the bad rap that those types of training routines.
Yet is mainly just due to poor programming. You know, subpar exercises, subpar rep range choices, progression models and workout volume. Many low quality bro splits as they’re called, involve too much isolation work, for example, and low weights and high rep. So I’m talking about 20 plus reps per set. A lot of burnout stuff and super sets and drop sets, giant sets.
I used to do all that stuff a long time ago, and in the end, really what you have here is you just have kind of low workout intensity with excessive workout volume on inferior exercises. And yes, that does not work well. If you don’t make those mistakes though, and you follow a well-designed program like bigger, leaner, stronger, or thinner, leaner, stronger if you’re a woman.
You can do just fine training each major muscle group once per week, directly training them once per week. And you don’t gotta take my word for that either. I have hundreds and hundreds of success stories to prove that the weekly volume and training frequency in my programs produce phenomenal results in.
People who are relatively new to proper weightlifting. Again, guys who have yet to gain their first 30 pounds of muscle, and let’s say women who have yet to gain their first 15 pounds of muscle. So in the final analysis here, the key takeaway that you need to remember is training frequency is just not all that important.
What matters? A lot more is your total weekly training volume. You can look at that in different ways. A very practical way is to look at the number of hard sets that you are doing for each major muscle group with a hard set being a set that uses relatively heavy weight, let’s say. Above 60 or at or above 60 or 70% of one rep max and a set that you take close to technical failure, so you have maybe one or two reps left in the tank.
It’s a hard set and I didn’t mention this yet, but I’ll mention it here. A set that you are resting two to three minutes in between getting enough rest is is key to getting the most out of your hard sets. If you do not rest enough, you will reduce the training stimulus of that volume. That’s what matters.
Making sure you’re getting in enough volume and then making sure that you are getting stronger over time and you’re pushing yourself to add weight to the bar or to the dumbbells. And as volume increases, as you become a more experienced weightlifter and you just gotta work harder for the gains, then so should your training frequency.
But not until then, unless you just wanna set up your training that way, for whatever reason, if you just like it more, that’s fine, but it’s not gonna be more effective for muscle and strength gain. All right. Well, that’s it for today’s episode. I hope you found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, could you please leave a quick review for the podcast on iTunes or wherever you are listening from?
Because those reviews not only convince people that they should check out the show, they also increase the search visibility. And help more people find their way to me and to the podcast, and learn how to build their best body ever as well. And of course, if you wanna be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast in whatever app you’re using.
To listen and you will not miss out on any of the new stuff that I have coming. And last. If you didn’t like something about the show, then definitely shoot me an email at [email protected] and share your thoughts. Let me know how you think I could do this better. I read every email myself and I’m always looking for constructive feedback.
All right, thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.
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