In the past two articles, we have looked into training volume and intensity. Based on these articles, we now know that most people should train every muscle group with about 10-20 sets per week in a 5-15 rep range. If you get this right, you will experience significant improvements in muscle growth. But there is one last factor that still needs to be discussed: Training Frequency.
How you distribute your volume and intensity throughout the week is relevant for muscle growth. Say someone trains their chest with about 15 sets per week. Should this person do all these 15 sets in one training day? Or should this volume be distributed over multiple days? (e.g. 8 sets on Monday and 7 sets on Thursday).
In this article, I will go into detail on training frequency for building muscle. After reading this article, you will have a better idea of how you should organize your training to support muscle growth. As always, this article is based on the most recent scientific research and logic.
Training Frequency: The Research
Training frequency essentially refers to how you organize your volume and intensity in a training week. Training frequency is a relevant variable because it impacts how much volume you can handle and recover from.
Some people like to train a muscle group so hard once every week, that they cannot train that muscle group again until the next week. Although this may “feel” effective because you are constantly sore, there are more effective ways to organize your training. It’s generally a good idea to divide the volume you have per muscle group over multiple training days. The research supports this.
Example Study 1:
A 2015 study divided 20 trained male volunteers into two groups. Group 1 trained each muscle group 3x per week with a full-body routine, group 2 trained each muscle 1x per week with a body-part split. Training volume (defined as Reps*Sets*Weight) was matched between groups. After 8 weeks, the full-body training group gained more muscle.
Example Study 2:
A 2016 meta-analysis gathered the data from 10 resistance training studies on training frequency and muscle growth. The researchers found that training each muscle 2-3x per week is more effective than training every muscle group 1x per week.
Example Study 3:
A more recent 2018 meta-analysis gathered the data from 22 resistance training studies on training frequency and strength. In this review, it was found that higher training frequencies also generally translate into greater strength gains.
Better Performance & More Practice
The most likely reason that training each muscle group 2-3x per week is more effective is that it allows you to perform better in your training. Just think about it. Let’s say you train your back with 15 sets in a week. If you perform all of these 15 sets in 1 training day, the second half of your workout will be of lower quality.
The first 8-10 sets or so will fatigue your back for the rest of your training session and your performance will drop. This is different if you divide those 15 sets over 2 or 3 training days. You will be able to maintain a high level of performance on most of your sets since you are more recovered. As you probably know, consistently performing better will eventually lead to better training adaptations.
Higher training frequencies also work well because they allow you to practice your main movements more often. Strength is a skill that requires consistent practice. So if you want to improve a certain exercise, it makes sense to practice that exercise more often in a week. As an example, instead of having 6 sets of bench press in 1 big “chest day”, have 3 sets of bench press divided over 2 upper body days. This allows you to get more high-quality “learning” on the movement you want to improve.
Later in this article, I’ll show more practical examples of high-frequency training.
Training Frequency & Protein Synthesis
There is also another interesting theory for why higher training frequencies are more effective for muscle growth. Muscle growth basically occurs when muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. This is known as having a “Positive Protein Balance.”
Training affects the protein balance mainly by boosting muscle protein synthesis up. But the duration at which muscle protein synthesis remains elevated after training is pretty short. Research shows the rate of muscle protein synthesis remains elevated for about 48 hours after training. So the muscles you train stop growing after about 2 days. If we consider this, it does not make sense to train a muscle group just 1x per week.
Now, this does not mean that everyone should train each muscle group every 2 days. You need to be able to recover from your training as well. But this only further supports that training your muscle groups more frequently in a week is a good idea if you currently train them only 1x per week.
High-Frequency In Practice
Now that we know higher training frequencies are beneficial for gaining muscle, let’s look into some splits that fit within high-frequency training. There actually are many different ways you can divide your weekly volume to train each muscle group 2-3x per week. Popular splits that fit within our desired frequencies are:
- Upper/Lower splits (2x Upper, 2x Lower)
- Full-Body (3-5 Full-Body Workouts)
- Push/Pull/Legs (Every Workout 2x)
But these are not black-and-white routines. Remember that there is no 1 “best” training split. As long as you train with enough volume, have the right intensity range, and divide your volume per muscle group into 2-3 sessions/week, you will see great results. So if a certain split fits your preferences and allows you to hit your training targets, then go for it.
To give more examples, you can also combine the workout splits I’ve mentioned earlier:
As you can see, there are almost endless possibilities, which is good because it allows flexibility. This is why the routines of my clients look quite different on an individual basis. Based on personal preference and how you progress, you can tweak many things in your training so that it suits you better.
But if you are just looking for a simple routine you can put into practice today, you can check out my 3-day full-body routine. In the YouTube video below, I go over the entire routine and walk you through day 1 of the program.
Main Takeaways & Final Words:
- Training a muscle group 2-3x per week is more effective than 1x per week for muscle and strength gain.
- When you train a muscle group more frequently, you divide the volume you currently have over more training sessions. Don’t do the same high-volume workouts more frequently.
- Higher training frequencies allow you to manage fatigue more effectively. This results in better training performance.
- There are many different splits that allow you to train each muscle 2-3x per week. As long as you hit your volume, intensity, and frequency goals, you can make your choice based on preference.
That’s all for this article and my 3-part blog series on training programming! Now that you have a deeper understanding of volume, intensity, and frequency, I hope you can be more effective in programming your own workouts.
For Extra Help: My Coaching Service
If you still would like professional guidance on how to plan your training (and nutrition), I suggest you read up on my online coaching service. Through this online coaching service, you outsource the “thinking” work that comes with designing your training and nutrition to me. This allows you to fully focus on executing to achieve your fitness goals.
This is a 1-on-1 service in which I design your training and nutrition based on a thorough assessment. I also keep you accountable via text messages, weekly email consults, and monthly Skype calls. If this is something you are interested in, leave your name and email below and I’ll get back to you with the details.