One, Two, Or Three Times a Week?
You probably have have gone to the gym and seen the guy that trains chest and biceps everyday! Or maybe the person that does a full body split 5 days a week. So whats the correct amount of training each muscle should get per week? Wondering what the effective approach is so your not wasting time at the gym and possibly losing gains? Well to answer this question, we are going to take a look at a couple studies.
In the first study we will be looking at, it was conducted by Schoenfeld and colleagues. They split 20 well-trained men into two different training groups. One group did a 3 day split, where day one they worked chest and back, day two was legs, and day three was shoulders and arms. This first group had trained each muscle once a week. Meaning the frequency of this group was 1x.
Now for group 2, they did a 3 day full body split. Which means that each training day they had in the week, they trained upper and lower body in the same day. Meaning they had a training frequency of 3x.
After 8 weeks of training, the study concluded. The results were clear. The group that had 3 total body workouts (a frequency of 3x) had superior results in muscle thickness growth compared to the group that only trained each muscle once a week (a frequency of 1x).
As a note, there were not significant differences between the groups when it came to increases in maximal strength.
The image above shows the measurements of muscle thickness for the largest muscle in the group of quadriceps muscles. This was one of the muscles measured to compare the increases of muscle thickness between the two groups. As shown, muscle thickness increase was greater in the 3x a week total body workout group.
Applications and Takeaways
So you may be wondering now, should you be training each muscle 3x a week then? Well, not necessarily. In a meta-analysis done by Schoenfeld and colleagues, 10 studies that looked at finding the optimal training frequencies were examined. It was shown that training frequencies of 2x a week always out performed training frequencies of 1x a week. And that whether or not training frequencies of 3x a week is better than 2x a week remains to be undetermined.
So with this information, here is what I recommend for all you beginners out there. You should at least train each muscle 2x a week. You have a couple of options in training splits to do this. You could do a 4 day upper lower split. Or maybe you prefer a 6 day push pull leg split. Or even a 2 day full body split. These splits have a 2x a week muscle training frequency. Spread your total weekly sets which should be around 10-12 total weekly sets per muscle if your a fresh beginner across each training day. The best split is the one you can adhere to the most. Pick the one you like and stick to it! If your enjoying it, you know you found a good split to make progress on!
Now for all you intermediates. I still recommend starting off training each muscle 2x a week. But volume can be a bit higher. Try somewhere around the 14-18 total weekly sets range. But what if you have already been doing this for quite a while?
This is where 3x training frequencies come in! Sometimes in order to break a plateau, total weekly sets might need to be brought up. Try a block of training where total weekly sets are brought in the 20-22 sets range. Use a 3x frequency split such as a 6 day upper lower split. This will allow you to spread your volume across more days. For example, now you can spread your 20 sets of direct quad work across three days instead of just across 2 days on a standard 2x training frequency split. You may feel that you are able to execute each set more efficiently due to there being less total sets per muscle on any given day!
Hopefully this helped and you can take this information and apply it to your training program! If you have any questions or comments or things you would like me to cover in the future, please feel free to comment below, email me, or DM me on Instagram! If you would like to get more guidance or help reaching your fitness goals, I do offer Online Personal Training! Submit a consultation form to get started!
Schoenfeld BJ, Ratamess NA, Peterson MD, Contreras B, Tiryaki-Sonmez G. Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jul;29(7):1821-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000970. PubMed PMID: 25932981.
Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8. Review. PubMed PMID: 27102172.