The optimal training frequency to induce muscle growth is a complex topic that is dependent on many variables. A lot of these variables will vary from individual to individual, thus deciding how many times per week one should train can greatly vary. These variables can include:
- Training goals
- Workout duration
- Recovery status
- Injury prone or not
So lets look at each of those carefully.
If one’s goal is strictly to bulk up and gain mass, their regime will differ from someone who also wants to stay lean. If strength gains are also a goal, then the regime will differ. Generally speaking, training each body part once a week is the absolute minimum whereas training it twice a week is more optimal (for mass gains). The lower back is the exception, as once a week training (ex. deadlifting) can be adequate; generally because the lower back is the slowest muscle group to recover.
For strength improvements, hitting each muscle twice a week is necessary to facilitate improvement.
This is an obvious one. If your schedule permits 3 days of training then that is all you have to work with. Of course, this one is relative to one’s priorities. Creating more time to train is always an option but sometimes we are capped by life’s priorities. Simply make the best of what is available.
And don’t lie to yourself about your availability…many could spend less time on social media and more time in the gym!
Although some personal trainers warn against overtraining, and recommend not training a muscle more than 1-2x per week. Many people see fantastic results, by upping this frequency to 5x per week or even more. CT Fletcher is a famous example, claiming to train his arms every day for a year (even on Christmas day). CT believes that overtraining in bodybuilding is largely a myth – and I happen to agree with him. He also has pythons for arms.
How long you train can determine how productive your session is. If you have 1 hour to train, then your situation is significantly different than someone who has 3 full hours free to train. A longer duration may necessitate a higher training frequency but that is not always the case.
Simply gaining mass is very doable if you’re training for just 60 minutes, 4-5 times a week. This is standard for a bodybuilding split. However, strength gains generally require longer sessions because the workouts often require more volume (more sets) and longer rest periods between sets. In contrast, 3-4x a week is sufficient for strength gains.
Although broscience gurus will tell you that short intense workouts are effective for building muscle, there’s some evidence to suggest marathon workouts are far superior for building muscle (than short ones).
The one day arm cure, first made popular by Charles Poliquin, is a proven training protocol, which adds up to half an inch to users arms, who spend 8 hours training them in a day. This half inch that users gain is not swelling or additional glycogen either – it’s pure muscle tissue, as this extra size stays with the person afterwards. I have personally tried this workout and can verify that it works.
This one is multifactorial and can vary for the same individual. How well you recover from a workout will gauge your training frequency and the number of rest days you need. Also, maybe one workout is more intense and therefore needs more rest days afterwards. Your total training days can decrease as a result of that. Your ability to recover is also partially a result of your sleeping habits, diet, nutrition, and recovery exercises (ex. foam rolling, stretches, cool downs etc.).
Also the more you train, the faster your body will recover in the long run. Thus if you find that the more you train your arms, the bigger they blow up – it could be worth training them 2x per week to start off, then slowly increasing this to 5x per week, if you’re still seeing gains with this high frequency. Many people do…look at gymnasts for example.
If you are someone who is always injured, a higher training frequency may not be for you. This partially includes those who accumulate minor injuries or even excessive aches and pains. You should not need ibuprofen to get through the majority of your training sessions. Thus, minimize the session frequency to 3-4x a week if injuries are an issue.
This category is broad and mainly includes one’s daily routine and their career. People who are on their feet for 12 hours a day or those who do manual labor will have a more difficult time training at higher frequencies.
The right training frequency will be one that allows the individual to optimize every one of the factors above. They need to do the right workout for their goals, recover for the next workout and stay injury free. On average, 4 times a week is sufficient to hit all of the body parts with the adequate volume. 5 times a week will be more favorable for muscle growth. Then it depends how much time you can afford to spend in the gym.