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How often should you train with weights to build muscle?

Wie oft solltest Du mit Gewichten trainieren, um Muskeln aufzubauen?

Many people scour the internet looking for an answer to the question "How often should I train with weights to build muscle?" And if you do some research, you'll find that there are thousands of opinions on the subject.

Some people recommend training a muscle group only once a week, while others think that each muscle group should be trained two or three times a week. And then there are those who recommend up to five or six training days per week for certain muscle groups.

It's clear that there are a lot of different opinions on this topic. In this article, we will take a closer look at the scientific literature and provide a science-based answer.

The role of training volume in muscle growth

Before we can make recommendations regarding training frequency for optimal muscle growth, we first need to look at how training volume affects our results.

For those unfamiliar with this term, training volume refers to the total amount of work you perform during a given training session, week or training cycle. There are many ways to control volume, but for the sake of simplicity in this article we will talk about the total number of sets.

It is generally assumed that training volume is the primary factor responsible for muscle growth (1). If a certain amount is good, then more is better. Of course, only up to a certain point. You shouldn't start doing 40 sets for your pecs every week.

A recent meta-analysis looked at the effects of higher vs. lower training volume on muscle growth and found a direct correlation between doing more work and a better hypertrophy response (2).

The authors of the study recommended performing at least 10 sets of work per muscle group per week for muscle growth. They also recommended the following:

Consistent with an evidence-based approach, trainers should carefully monitor their clients' progress and adjust the dosage of training based on individual response.

Where the upper threshold for training volume lies is still unclear, but the authors recommended something between 10 and 20 work sets per week for each muscle group. This is pretty much in line with most recommendations found in the real training world.

Of course, individual factors such as age, stress levels outside of the gym and the work you do (physical vs. office job) are also important when it comes to judging how much stress you can handle in the gym.

A small caveat regarding training volume

Before we go any further, it's worth noting that not all sets are created equal. How demanding a given set is depends on two main factors:

  1. How demanding the exercise is (you can't expect a set of deadlifts to be as easy as a set of bicep curls)
  2. How much effort you put into the set.

The first thing you need to understand is that your training should be a combination of multi-joint exercises and isolation exercises. Performing 20 sets of bench presses will be significantly more difficult and stressful than performing the same number of sets spread across multiple exercises such as bench presses, push-ups and flying movements.

Secondly, the majority of the work sets you perform should be to near muscle failure, where you should only finish the set 2 to 4 repetitions before the point of muscle failure. Training to muscle failure is not more effective for muscle growth, but can dramatically increase the level of fatigue and lead to overtraining (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

So how often should you train with weights to build muscle?

A lot of fitness experts out there recommend higher training frequencies when it comes to maximizing results in the gym, but many do so for the wrong reasons.

Many people believe that training a muscle two or three days a week is superior due to the rise and fall of protein synthesis after a workout (8).

And while this may be a factor, we have no research to support the idea that more frequent stimulation of protein synthesis leads to greater muscle growth. The meta-analysis (1) I cited above looked at the relationship between training frequency and volume. The scientists came to the following conclusion:

The results of the presented systematic review and meta-analysis suggest a significant effect of training frequency, as higher training frequencies are associated with greater gains in muscle strength. However, these effects appear to be primarily driven by training volume, as no significant effect of training volume on gains in muscle strength was observed when volume was equalized.

Another reason is the controversial Norwegian experimental study from 2012, in which elite powerlifters were divided into two groups: 3 or 6 training sessions per week with the same weekly training volume (9).

After 15 weeks, the group with the higher training frequency had built up almost twice as much bench press and squat strength as the group that trained three days a week. And these guys were already quite strong at the beginning of the study:

  • The maximum weight for squats was between 275 and 451 pounds.
  • The maximum weight for bench presses was between 187 and 364 pounds.
  • The maximum weight for deadlifts was between 342 and 540 pounds.

This led people to believe that more frequent training would result in better progress. However, it should be emphasized that this study was never published in a peer reviewed journal. I have always wondered why this was the case.

It seems that if your goal is to increase your strength, training the primary exercises more frequently will result in faster progress. You would be able to train the execution of each exercise more frequently in a recovered state.

And since training with weights is a skill like any other, training more often can help you increase your efficiency faster.

Layne Norton has described this as follows:

"Think of it this way. If a crazy psychopath kidnapped your family and told you that he would kill them if you didn't manage to increase your maximum squat weight by 100 pounds in three months, you wouldn't train squats only once a week, would you?"

This example of a training frequency of once a week and twice a week demonstrates that the total volume per week increases when training is increased to two workouts per muscle group per week:

Once a week training:

  • Set 1: 300 x 8 = 2,400 pounds of volume
  • Set 2: 275 x 10 = 2,750 pounds of volume
  • Set 3: 275 x 8 = 2,200 pounds of volume
  • Set 4: 250 x 8 = 2,000 pounds volume
  • Set 5: 225 x 10 = 2,250 pounds volume
  • Set 6: 225 x 8 = 1,800 pounds of volume

Total volume of weight moved during the week: 13,400 pounds

Twice weekly training:

Same number of sets split over two days:

  • First workout of the week

    • Set 1: 300 x 8 = 2,400 pounds of volume
    • Set 2: 275 x 10 = 2,750 pounds of volume
    • Set 3: 275 x 8 = 2,200 pounds of volume

  • Second workout of the week

    • Set 1: 300 x 8 = 2,400 pounds of volume
    • Set 2: 275 x 10 = 2,750 pounds of volume
    • Set 3: 275 x 8 = 2,200 pounds of volume

Total volume of weight moved during the week: 14,700 pounds

What is our position on training frequency and muscle growth?

Based on the available scientific literature, we can safely say that a higher training frequency (or how many times you train a given muscle per week) should primarily be used as a tool to increase weekly training volume and stimulate greater muscle growth.

As you may have guessed, this in itself is a good reason to train muscles more frequently. This allows for a better distribution of volume and each training session should be a little lighter.

You should look at it this way:

Sure, you can train your chest once a week and do all of your 15 to 20 sets during that training session, but as your training progresses, you will accumulate more and more fatigue. After a few sets, your chest will be severely fatigued and your performance will start to suffer.

On the other hand, if you split your 15 to 20 sets into two or three training sessions per week, then each training session will be less demanding and you will be able to perform most of your sets in a rested state. This will allow you to move heavier weights with more repetitions, which should lead to greater gains in muscle mass over time.

For example, let's say you're currently using the following common training split:

  • Monday: chest & triceps
  • Tuesday: Back and biceps
  • Wednesday: No training
  • Thursday: Shoulders
  • Friday: legs
  • Weekend: No training

After 12 to 15 sets of chest on Monday, you will have to do another 6 to 12 sets for your triceps. At this point you will already be exhausted and your triceps will therefore no longer be able to move much weight. Basically, they would come second and not grow optimally.

# On the other hand, if you were to move to a training split that allowed you to train each muscle group twice a week, you would still hit your weekly volume target, but you wouldn't exhaust each muscle during a training session as much as the first training split.

A training split could look like this:

  • Monday: Upper body
  • Tuesday: Lower body
  • Wednesday: No training
  • Thursday: Upper body
  • Friday: Lower body
  • Weekend: No training

My recommendations on the topic of training frequency

Let's summarize the above to answer your question "How often should I train with weights per week to build muscle?":

  • Training volume is the primary driving force for muscle growth. You can train your biceps six times a week, but if you only do one set a day, you can't expect much muscle growth. You can, on the other hand, only train your biceps once a week, and they will have no choice but to grow if you bombard them with 10+ sets in a row.
  • Your work sets should be a combination of multi-joint exercises and isolation exercises.
  • For maximum muscle growth, the majority of your sets should be performed with a weight in the range of 60 to 85% of your 1RM weight (typically 6 to 20 reps per set) (10).
  • Most of your sets should be performed to near muscle failure (with 2 to 4 reps in reserve), as training to muscle failure will not produce greater muscle growth, but can greatly increase fatigue and reduce performance on subsequent sets and even workouts.
  • You should train each muscle two to three times per week to achieve a better distribution of volume. If your schedule allows you to train five to six times per week, then you could distribute your volume more evenly and not generate too much fatigue in any training session.




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