Training Frequency and Muscle Building: Huge Gainer Round Table #1
This is the first addition of out expert “Huge Gainer” round table series. Our panel includes:
- Mark Lobliner – Marc is currently MTS Nutrition CEO, EthiTech Nutrition CEO, Wilkins Fitness Commercial Vertical Manager, Tiger Fitness Director of Business Development, Machine Training Solutions.com Owner and MachineMuscle.com Editor in Chief. You can find Marc on Youtube: Tiger Fitness, and on Facebook: Marc Lobliner.
- Faheem Chauhan – Faheem has trained for over a decade. He spent 5 years competing in Powerlifting with the BDFPA and has also competed in local Strongman and Grip competitions. He has written previously for Hardgainer magazine. You can contact Faheem via the Muscle and Brawn forum: Fazc, or at his blog: Strength UK.
- Jason Blaha – Jason is an experienced lifter who runs the highly informative and successful Youtube channel: Ice Cream Fitness. You can also connect with Jason on Facebook: Ice Cream Bodybuilding, or check out his 5×5 workout at BB.com.
- Dr. Casey Butt – Casey has been training for over 20 years. During that time he’s written for several bodybuilding magazines and trained and corresponded with national and world caliber bodybuilders, powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters. he is best know for his work on natural muscle building potential. You can pick up his ebook here: Your Muscular Potential, or visit his website: The Weight Trainer.
Q: If someone is looking to build muscle, what training frequency do you recommend during their first several years in the gym, and why?
The question of what to train and how to train when a beginner, intermediate or even an advanced trainer is a polarizing issue. While we have research demonstrating full body training to be optimal (as used in Bryan Haycock’s HST (Hypertrophy Specific Training)) a few years ago, we also have years and years of natural and enhanced bodybuilders getting tremendous results from bodypart, or “BRO” splits where you train each muscle once per week.
Bodybuilding has evolved. It started with full-body, Olympic style lifting in the Sandow days then evolved to what we see often now, the each bodypart two-times per week split, or push/pull/legs. This is actually similar to the commonly-used program in Bodybuilding’s Golden Era with Arnold and Franco. But then in the 1990’s Dorian Yates changed it again by popularizing a variation of Mike Mentzer’s infrequent HIIT style training and bodybuilders seemingly adapted to the previously mentioned “Bro” split.
Now, when beginning, I am a HUGE proponent of either a Push/Pull/Legs Split doing training either 3x per week and up to 5x per week hitting two of the three muscle grouping up to twice a week OR full body training 3x per week. But, the caveat is that in my experience, most people I have trained do not enjoy full body training (done 3x per week, or Mon, Wed, Fri).
When asked what the best training method is, I usually say, “The one you enjoy.” If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it! Thus, if you like Crossfit, bodyweight workouts, Zumba, ANYTHING, that is what is best for you!
So to surmise, when starting, Full body workouts three times per week are great, Push/Pull/Legs splits are good, “Bro” splits can be okay, but what YOU LIKE is what is optimal for you!
Instead of being concerned with inches on arms or pounds on the bar, a routine for beginner’s should satisfy a short number of very important criteria. Seen in this way the beginner routine is part of an on-going plan to take the trainee from rank beginner to intermediate and finally to advanced. Working on these three facets of training will ensure a smooth transition to intermediate status, a sport or the specific goal in this case, muscle growth.
- Form on the big lifts
- Higher reps
A good level of form is required on a handful of the most productive exercises. I am referring to Squats, Deadlifts, Benches, Overhead Press and some type of either Row or Chin. We aren’t looking for complete mastery of form just yet, that comes with time and as any advanced trainee knows it’s an on-going process. We are looking for form good enough to minimise injury and which spreads the workload across the musculature.
So deep Squats which prioritise the legs but are felt in the entire body. Benches which are felt across the entire chest, shoulder and triceps and Deadlifts which are felt evenly across the back and so on. Nothing which exaggerates any area just yet, just good generalised growth. The trainee should be able to perform each of these big exercises fluently in a way which doesn’t damage the body. The way to dial in form is reps, a lot of reps.
At this stage conditioning isn’t sled walking or cardio, it’s about developing the ability to perform the big exercises heavy and often. Building a lot of muscle eventually requires the ability to shift a lot of weight and to do that consistently over the years. Early on this means the beginner trainee performing each exercise a minimum of 2 and ideally 3 times a week. This sets them up for further gains down the line and the ability to translate that early conditioning into muscle growth later.
Finally higher reps should be used. For a variety of reasons the trainee won’t be able to demonstrate anything close to a true one rep maximum. So it only makes sense to use higher reps to get more work done. More work equals more chance to work on form and better conditioning.
So as you can see they are all related and are pointing us in one very clear direction, putting this all together a routine like this would be suitable for a rank beginner:
- Squat 3 x 12
- Bench 3 x 12
- Deadlift 3 x 12
- Overhead Press 3 x 12
- Row 3 x 12
This would be done a minimum of twice a week and preferably three times a week. The first priority is learning good form. As the trainee progresses the routine would have to be changed to accommodate the added stress of the ever-increasing weights. One of the first changes to be made, for example, would be to drop the Deadlifts down to one main set and two ramping sets.
So instead of 100lbs for 3 sets of 12, the trainee might do a set at 80lbs a set at 100lbs and finally a set at 120lbs. Thereafter other changes would have to be made to allow for continual progress. But for now that is how I would begin a trainee on his first few months in the gym.
For at least the first year most novice lifters will have the greatest potential hypertrophy doing a full body program three times per week. As we known that in drug-free lifters muscle protein synthesis returns to baseline in the myofibrillar portions of the muscle within 48 hours training this allows for elevated MPS in most of the major muscle groups for 5-6 days out of the week.
Furthermore this forces very frequent focus on a relatively small number of basic lifts allowing the less experienced lifter to master and progress on them more often and training the neural pathways for those specific lifts. Faster mastery of basic lifts will produce faster progressive overload and more growth. This makes it more difficult for the novice to start adding in excessive amounts of new lifts to which they will not be able to adapt and progress on quickly as it forces them to keep the volume per body part in moderation in order to get out of the gym in a timely manner due to having to train everything in every session.
Once they have built up enough training stamina they could work into a 4 day system where everything is trained 2-3 times per week, however it isn’t essential that they do this as one could make life-long progress using a 3 day system provided they increase workload capacity and training stamina enough to do gradually higher workload and volume sessions over the years.
Practically every study done into resistance training frequency in the past 60+ years has shown that it’s better to train a lift approximately every 24-48 hours than it is to train it less frequently. This goes for strength, hypertrophy and power development in young, old, beginners, experienced, etc. and has been confirmed at least hundreds of times in the research over the decades.
Furthermore, all the available research into the subject has indicated that protein synthesis rate returns to “normal” within 48 hours of even very intense, fairly high volume resistance training. That being the case, I find it hard to endorse anything other than a person train a muscle approximately every 48 hours for their first few years of training.
What most people fail to comprehend, however, is that the human body’s response to exercise is more than just what happens inside the muscle cell. People tend to think that only their muscle fibres are what determine how often they can train heavy. This is not true. Any time the human body is stressed demands are placed on a host of physiological systems. Lifting heavy stresses the tendons, ligaments, cell walls, nervous system, endocrine system, etc., etc.
Just because the muscles have stopped growing within 48 hours after heavy training doesn’t mean the joints, connective tissues, nervous system and spine are ready to handle max Squatting weights again. It’s a fair bet they’re not – and most experienced trainees know this instinctively (or perhaps learned the hard way through injuries) but interpret it incorrectly to mean that they’re still growing. In reality, they are not. The muscles have completed the growth process by about the 48 hour mark and the rest of the time needed to recover is due to other systems – not continuing muscle growth.
The modern practice of training a muscle once a week (usually with a high work volume in an attempt to compensate for the fact that the muscle won’t be trained again for 7 days) leaves the muscle growing for roughly two days and then five days wasted (in terms of muscle growth) waiting for other systems to recover – a time further exaggerated by the high volume that was done, placing more demands on these other systems.
For beginners and intermediates the solution is relatively simple because they are not yet strong enough to so easily overstress their joints and nervous systems: Train their full body every 48 hours (or three times per week) or do a very simple split that still allows them to train each muscle about three times per week. More advanced trainees do not defy the physiological responses of the human body either, and do not “need” 7 days rest between training each body part.
What they need is a structured way of planning their training that allows them to train a muscle frequently without overstressing the joints, ligaments, nervous system, etc. – which is the main hurdle of the advanced trainee. The solution is not to waste 5 days unnecessarily.
Questions, Comments or Topic Suggestions?
Have a question, comment or topic suggestion for future round table discussions? let us hear what you have to say in the comments section below.