”How often should I train a muscle group?” is a question that nobody can answer with certainty. However, if we take into consideration a couple of factors, it’s possible to create basic guidelines.
1.Once a week could work but…
Modern IFBB pros train every muscle group once a week. Those guys are big but owe the majority of their growth to genetics and drugs. Therefore, they can get away with a subpar training schedule.
If you are a natural bodybuilder, training a body part once a week may not be as effective for two reasons:
a. You are sore after every workout. Infrequent training results in slight ”undertraining”. Consequently, you are sore after every workout. A man who squats once a week and doesn’t do any other leg work throughout the remaining days will always be sore after his leg session. A man who squats and/or train legs more than once a week will experience less soreness after a leg session, for the fact that frequent training improves your recovery, and the body doesn’t enter into a ”de-adaptation” phase.
b. Once a week requires you to obliterate a body part. People who train a muscle group once every seven days usually destroy it with a large number of sets and reps. Similar ”beatings” are stressful to the joints as well as the central nervous system. If you do the same amount of work (volume) spread in more workouts, you could get equal profit with less stress.
Having said that, once a week could still work even for naturals. You can definitely build strength and size by following a similar schedule even though it technically isn’t the most optimal way to train.
2. Two times a week seems to work the best
Training a body part two times a week is a balanced approach that allows you to accumulate a decent amount of volume while also having enough time to rest. However, there is a catch. Simply repeating every workout two times a week is not an option.
If you are moderately strong, you can’t train with high intensity constantly. For example, deadlifting heavy two times a week is a recipe for a disaster unless you are a beginner. The same goes for other exercises. That’s why the second session should include a less intensive exercise.
For instance, one day you could bench press heavy, and after a few days, you can perform some assistance exercises such as dips, push-ups…etc. The goal is to increase the volume without hurting your recovery. This approach requires a fair amount of moderation.
Also, it’s often beneficial to do variations of your main exercises instead of always repeating the same thing. The idea is that by doing various movements your joints and muscles are forced to operate at a different angle, and as a result, the stress does not accumulate at the same trigger points.
e.g., Some running coaches make their athletes run on different surfaces to avoid over-training the same parts of a joint.
However, you could also repeat the same exercise from your heavy day and just use less weight. This is not a rule set in stone, just a guideline. Variation is not always needed.
The following workout trains each major muscle group once a week, but one of the days is relatively light for that particular body part.
Day 1: Squat | Bench press | Curls
Day 2: Deadlift | Light Bench Press | Weighted chin-ups | Tricep extensions
The legs are trained two times a week – once with a squat and once with a deadlift. The squat hits the quads harder than the deadlift whereas the deadlift hits the hamstrings harder than the squat.
The chest, back, biceps and triceps are also hit two times a week with various exercises. The same holds true for the abs. If you want, you can add neck and calf work on both training days.
In my opinion, this is the most realistic way to continue training for a long time.
3. Three times a week is good for specialization
If you want to get good at something, you have to do it more often.
For example, if you really want to improve your back, you can hit it three times a week. Some muscles can take the beating.
Example back specialization routine
Front squat – 8×3
Bench/Weighted Dips/Weighted push-ups – 3×6-8 work sets + 2×8-10 back-off sets
Romanian deadlifts – 2×6-8 work sets + 2×10 back-off sets
Shrugs – 3×8 work sets + 2×15 back-off sets
Optional – Leg curl – 2×6-8; Calf raises – 3×50
Weighted Chin-ups – 2×6-8 work sets + 2×8-10 back-off sets
Lat pull-downs – 2×6-8 work sets + 2×15 back-off sets
Barbell Rows – 2×6-8 work sets + 1×8 [wide grip]
Hammer Strength rows – 2×6-8 work sets + 2×10-12 back-off sets
One arm dumbbell rows – 2×6-8 work sets + 2×10-12 back-off sets
4. Everyday training for the genetic freaks and the unemployed
Even naturals can train every day as long as the intensity and volume are programmed adequately.
If you are planning to train every day, ask yourself why. If you think that this kind of training will produce betters results, you are mistaken, for the fact that strength and growth happen at a pre-determined rate. Training more frequently can definitely speed up the process but only up to a certain threshold, which can be reached with less frequent lifting. Eventually, you will reach a point where the extra sessions take a lot more than they give back.
Everyday training comes with the following problems:
a. Mental and physical fatigue. Going to work every day sucks, right? Even if you start the week as fresh as a young banana, by Thursday you will hate even the air in the office. The same problem can happen with everyday training. It’s just mind-wrecking if you do it long enough. As they say, to love something, you have to miss it.
Have you ever heard of the couples married for 25 years who don’t even talk to each other anymore? Do you want this to happen to your love for the iron? Train every day. By month 3, you will hate it.
b. No need. You can get the same results with less training sessions. This fact renders daily training obsolete.
c. You will lose money and time. If you need 30 minutes to go to the gym every day, you are investing a lot of time in commuting. Therefore, training every day is more practical if you train at home.
Note: A realistic way to train every day is to lift weights 2-3 times a week and do light to medium cardio on your off days. Make sure that the form of cardio you choose does not interfere with your recovery too much. For instance, don’t do hardcore sprinting before or after a deadlift day, for your hamstrings will be baked.
Q: Can I reach beyond my natural potential by training more often?
A: No. Your natural potential isn’t limited by training frequency. Bodybuilders are not big because they train frequently or infrequently. You can reach your potential by training once a week or every day. As long as you progress and choose the correct exercises, all paths will lead you there. Yes, one way may be more pleasant and/or efficient in your case, but the final destination is still the same.
Nonetheless, if you really want to improve a body part or lift, working harder on it will yield faster and more pronounced results.