How Often Should You Train Each Muscle Group?

Being in the year 2015, we have seen some excellent improvements in the general understanding of what the better training and dieting methods entail.

Of course, we now know that it is completely unnecessary to eat 6 – 8 meals per day.

We know that the body can absorb much more than just 20 – 30 grams of protein in one sitting.

Some people even know that there is no 45 minute “anabolic window” of time where you should stuff your post-workout meal down your throat in order to achieve the best anabolic response from your training (if you didn’t know this, read this article).

That’s why when it comes to how frequently we should train a muscle group, it always stuns me when I still see people in today’s day and age say that you should only train individual body parts one time a week max.

Now, I have no idea where on Earth this absurd notion came from, but it probably had something to do with the fact that most bodybuilders train their muscle groups only once a week (study).

While it is understandably why people would follow the practices of the most jacked humans on the planet in hopes that they too would get good results, this is not always the case.

First off, what must be understood is that pro bodybuilders are extremely genetically-blessed.

While I hate to use genetics as a reason for someone’s success, it is an inescapable point when it comes to muscle gains (study).

Secondly, it should be noted that while most bodybuilders only train each muscle group once per week, it is unknown whether or not they would achieve greater results by training them more frequently.

And finally, it is common fact that most bodybuilders use steroids, therefore, extrapolating the results from their training practices onto that of a natural lifter may not be that accurate.

Some Scientific Evidence

This study by Schoenfeld and colleagues clearly demonstrates that training more frequently resulted in greater muscle growth than training less frequently did. Total training volume was equated between groups.

This study demonstrated that training 3 times per week resulted in better muscle growth and 1RM strength than training 1 time per week, even when the total volume was equal between groups.

And finally, a meta-analysis by Schoenfeld and colleagues revealed that training each body part twice a week resulted in superior gains than training them just once per week. Interestingly, there was not enough data to discern whether training each body part 3 times per week resulted in greater gains than training them twice per week.

Possible Explanations

Now, given that most training frequency studies equate volume between groups, it is curious why the higher frequency group would still experience greater muscle growth.

If I had to take a stab at it, I would say the answer is protein synthesis.

It has been shown that protein synthesis begins to plateau around 36 hours following a training session in trained lifters (study).

This is a pretty important point considering it is only when our levels of protein synthesis are elevated that our muscles actually grow.

So given the fact that protein synthesis is only elevated for a day or two after a training session, it would make sense that training each muscle group multiple time per week would spike protein synthesis levels multiple times per week, thus resulting in more muscle growth (study).

By training each muscle group one time a week, your muscles will grow for a few days before returning back to baseline for the rest of the week.

The other more obvious explanation is that training a lift 2 – 3 times more frequently than usual would clearly result in more strength gain.

Common sense tells us that by training each muscle group 2 – 3 times a week, you would be getting stronger at 2 – 3 times the rate as someone who only trained them once a week.

Therefore, if your goal is to maximize your muscle and strength gains, it appears that training each muscle group a minimum of twice per week is warranted.

Gradually increasing your training frequency over time may result in even better gains.

See you next time.

 

Comments

  1. Art pulido says:

    Training intensity is left out of your post and that is the key to making one time a week effective ?

    • Training intensity should be present regardless of whether you train once or twice a week. And if you look at the research, one study had the subjects in the 1x week group train to absolute failure on all sets. The other study (by Brad Schoenfeld) had the 1x week group train with 18 sets per body part to momentary muscular failure… sounds like adequate intensity to me.

      • I would say frequency depends s so many variables and tests are always skewed!! So, to live by the results of some geek who sways results one way or another is stupid! Go in the trenches experiment with different sets, reps, volume, frequency etc then train accordingly. Don’t follow some tests that show some clinical bs that is skewed.

        • One more thing, be result driven not process driven. If you get awesome results with two or three times a week training that’s great for you!! However, it’s not the only way to do things! I mean I can balance a broom on my nose but is that the best way to move or hold it? There are so many ways to train and get results but there is always someone who brings up some research they read about some geeks who have biased views !!! Yes they are all biased… Learn and talk from experience not from some so called researcher who compiles some bs

          • From “experience” I can tell you that training each muscle group multiple times per week produces better results than once per week. Every other lifter I have come across who increased their training frequency has told me the same thing.

            Secondly, why would these researchers be biased toward recommending higher training frequencies.. What’s in it for them? And by the way, the majority of the studies presented were conducted by Brad Schoenfeld, pretty much the top exercise science researcher on the planet. Maybe you should look him up.

            Thirdly, I’ve been training for a long time, and I would say that doing pull-ups and dips with 200 pounds attached to me doesn’t qualify as ‘really light weight’.

            And finally, the entire point of the article is to show lifters how to gain the most muscle in the shortest amount of time. Both personal experience as well as high quality research studies have demonstrated that a higher training frequency is the answer to doing this.

      • Exactly!! Training intensity should be present always!!! So how do you have max intensity training two or three times a week and recover from it?? Cutting volume, sets, reps etc and probably not going to failure on each and every set!!! Pretty weak argument for the existence of intensity!! I think we have different definitions. When I work a body part it gets hammered with a degree of mental as well as physical force!! Either u lift some really light weight or do not put enough strain into each and every repetition!!! And you follow skewed research because it is all skewed and biased!!!

        • What you are missing is that training volume is cumulative throughout the week. It is not solely based on one workout. Splitting up your training volume throughout the week while maintaining or (most likely) exceeding your regular weekly volume will most likely result in more gains. Furthermore, by ‘hammering’ your muscle groups once a week (especially by going to failure each set) is a sure-fire way to ruin your overall training volume due to muscle fatigue (I have addressed this in other posts). Therefore, WEEKLY training volume is what we are after, not the volume of your singular training sessions.

          • jim morrison says:

            Are you advocating full body workouts? If not, how do you work each muscle group more frequently? Right now I work each muscle group, say chest on monday, then again on Friday…So there is 3 days rest in between each muscle group being worked..but unless you do full body workouts, I can’t see how you can do more than 2x per week.

          • Full body workouts are ok, but certainly not necessary. I should also clarify that whether training each muscle group 3x per week is better than twice per week is unclear in the research. What is very clear however is that training each muscle group at least 2x per week is better than once per week. Therefore, I would not worry too much about hitting each body part 3x per week if you are already hitting it twice a week with sufficient training volume per session.

            Having said that, if you wanted to increase your frequency even more while maintaining a split routine:

            Monday: Chest & Back
            Tuesday: Legs & Core
            Wednesday: Chest & Back
            Thursday: Legs & Core
            Friday: Chest & Back
            Saturday: Legs & Core
            Sunday: Rest