Game Plan: How Often Should You Work Out?

So, you want to gain as much muscle as possible, huh? Great! But what’s your game plan? The first thing you need to decide is how many training days per week you want to devote to each muscle group. Experts have varying opinions on this: some say you should train each muscle group once a week, others twice, and some even recommend three times per week. Who’s right? Well, everyone is, as long as you plan things out accordingly. To make optimal progress, you must take some precautions when planning your training frequency. These precautions will help you avoid the various pitfalls that could derail your progress.

Pitfall #1: Training Too Much and Too Often

You can either train a lot during a session or train often, but seldom can you do both effectively. If you train a body part with a lot of sets and reps, you’ll need more time to recover. So, if you like to train a muscle group twice or three times per week, you shouldn’t use the same volume per session as someone who’s only training each muscle group once per week.

Simply put, if you train with high volume and don’t give your body enough time to recover, you won’t progress. You’ll only recover enough to avoid regressing, but you won’t see significant gains.

Pitfall #2: Not Training Enough or Not Frequently Enough

If you have more than five days between workouts for the same muscle group, you need to use a relatively large training volume per session. Why? Because if you allow too much rest for the stress you placed on your body, you’ll improve initially but soon return to baseline. This is called “involution.” If you allow too much rest between two training sessions for the same muscle group, you’ll lose much of your gains.

However, the proper training frequency depends on the volume per session. If you use a very large training volume in one session (lots of sets), you won’t suffer from involution if you have five to seven days between workouts for the same muscle group.

On the other hand, if you increase the training frequency, you must decrease the volume. If you choose to train each muscle group only once per week, the volume per session must be high. During the training session, your capacities diminish only to improve during the recovery period, but then the gains are lost because of involution/detraining.

Dividing Volume, Not Adding It

For maximum progress, regardless of how many weekly sessions you have for each muscle group, you should do the same weekly training volume. For example, if you do 120 total reps per muscle group per week, you can do either one session of 120 total reps, two sessions of 60 reps, or three sessions of 40 reps. When you add weekly training sessions, don’t double or triple the total weekly volume. This will lead to stagnation.

The following illustrations show how your body will react to properly planned, once-per-week, twice-per-week, and three-times-per-week sessions.

How to Plan Volume

First, here’s a quick review of what I mean by “fiber type.” The fibers in your muscles are “typed” according to their oxidative capacities and how fast they fatigue. Typically, fast-twitch (Type-II) fibers respond best to heavy, low-rep training. Fast-twitch fibers are recruited in the performance of high-intensity, short-duration bouts of work, like heavy lifting and sprinting. If your goal is to be big and strong, then you probably want a high fast-twitch fiber makeup.

Based on that info, you should be able to choose which fiber type you lean toward. If you don’t think you lean toward either direction, just choose “mixed ratio” in the graphics below.

Step 1: Selecting the Appropriate Weekly Volume

Depending on your fiber type (fast-twitch, slow-twitch, or mixed), you’ll need to adjust your training volume accordingly.

Step 2: How to Divide the Total Weekly Volume into Sessions

For each fiber type, there’s an optimal way to divide your weekly training volume into sessions.

Step 3: Selecting the Proper Training Split

Once you’ve determined your fiber type and how to divide your volume, it’s time to select your training split.

a) If you train each muscle group once per week…

You have several options for organizing your workouts to hit each muscle group effectively.

b) If you train each muscle group twice per week…

There are multiple ways to arrange your training to hit each muscle group twice.

c) If you train each muscle group three times per week…

You can also organize your workouts to train each muscle group three times.

The Takeaway

The optimal training volume in a single session varies depending on how many times you train each muscle group per week. If you train it once, the volume per session must be very high to prevent involution. If you train each muscle group three times per week, the volume must be very low to prevent overtraining.

When properly planned, each type of frequency will yield great results. With a smart game plan, you’ll avoid the pitfalls and reach your goals!

Now, go crush those workouts and start seeing those gains!