I’m sure you’ve seen the arguments online whether you should train a muscle group once per week (aka the bro-split), twice per week, or even three times per week.
And I’m sure you’ve thought about this yourself as well.
So, what’s the deal, is one training frequency really better than another for the goal of building muscle?
Well, let’s dive straight into looking at that:
What Is Training Frequency?
Training frequency is, just as I mentioned, how often/frequently you train a muscle group or movement throughout the duration of a certain time period, typically a week.
One common misconception people have surrounding training frequency is that it’s a training stimulus in and of itself, but it’s not.
Training frequency is more of a way to organize volume and intensity. It’s about how to spread the training stimulus across the training week, making sure that you’re not doing too much (or too little) in any single session.
Since overall training volume and intensity is more important than training frequency, you can get, not always, but often pretty much the same muscle growth using different training frequencies, as long as the total weekly volume and intensity is set up correctly.
So, before moving on I’d like to give you a quick breakdown of the recommended volume and intensity ranges for muscle growth:
As long as your training program includes these weekly volumes and intensities, the frequency of your training can vary, while muscle growth will still be very similar.
Let me show you a great analogy of what I mean:
The Volume, Intensity And Frequency Triangle
This is the best analogy I can find when it comes to explaining how you can organize training volume and intensity throughout a week, with different weekly training frequencies. I found these triangles in this video by Radu Antoniu.
The Baseline Triangle
This triangle displays what would be a balanced approach between the three variables. As you can see, volume, intensity and frequency is spread out evenly throughout a week.
This is just a “baseline” triangle that doesn’t provide any context, I’m just showing it to display what’s going to happen when we’re changing your training frequency.
So, let’s look at that:
Once Per Week Training Frequency
As you can see in this example, when you’re training with a low frequency, which would be hitting a muscle group or exercise once per week, your volume per session goes up.
This has to happen in order for you to maintain the total weekly volume that you should do.
Two Times Per Week Training Frequency
If you were to make the jump to a higher training frequency, which would be hitting a muscle groups twice per week. During this circumstance, you must reduce the volume per session since you’re now spreading out the volume over two sessions.
And in this case your volume per session must come down, to still maintain the total weekly volume that you should do.
Three Times Per Week Training Frequency
Finally, here’s what would happen with an even higher training frequency of hitting a muscle group three times per week.
During this circumstance you must reduce your volume per session even further, since you’re now spreading out the total weekly volume over three sessions.
I hope this makes sense, that training frequency is mostly a way to organize, mainly your training volume, but also intensity as well.
Okay, so with that covered, let’s get practical:
Should You Use a Low Training Frequency or a High Training Frequency?
So, we know that frequency isn’t as important as volume and intensity for muscle growth. With that said though, the frequency of your training still has some merit of importance for the following reasons:
Let’s cover these one by one to find out what training frequency that would fit you the best.
1. Training Frequency And Practice of The Lifts
Let’s go with an extreme example when it comes to trying to stuff all your volume into one weekly session.
If you think back to your years in school, did you ever try to memorize large volumes of information in one day, like the night before a big test? Personally I did this all the time.
What I can remember is that I typically got an okay score on the test, but I always found myself incapable of remembering much of what I studied a week later.
It’s been shown that most people will learn better if they spread out the work over multiple sessions, instead of trying to stuff everything into one session. And this is likely true for your training as well.
Now the argument could be made that learning the exercises well only applies for strength development, and not for muscle growth.
And this is true, but only partly.
So, being skilled with the exercises that will lead to the most strength gains, is very important for muscle growth in the long run as well.
This makes a higher training frequency for practicing purposes very important during some circumstances and less important during others, which we’ll look at soon.
2. Training Frequency And Recovery
It’s important to remember that resistance training is a very taxing activity. Your body will take a large beating each time you’re practicing challenging resistance training.
It’s been shown that doing the same amount of volume but spreading it out over smaller boluses throughout the week, getting in sleep, proper nutrition, and just living life between training sessions, may result in slightly better growth.
A bunch of research has shown that we can do too much in a single session, which can lean to the dreaded strength training plateau. These same studies shows that we get the following advantages of doing less volume in a single session, but still doing the same amount over a week:
- Better neuromuscular adaptations (1)(2)
- Improved hormonal markers for recovery (1)(3)
- Strength improvements (1)(2)(3)(4)
- And better gains in lean body mass (2)(4)
So, the slight advantages that’s seen from the research above is with volume equated when using different training frequencies over a week, which is cool. But, here’s something that’s interesting:
By spreading out your training volume more frequently over the week, some evidence shows that your in-session performance will likely get better.
Essentially this means that, if you for example would do 3 sets of squats 3 times per week, for a total of 9 sets. You would then achieve more reps by doing this, than what you would by doing 9 sets of squats in a single session per week.
This is because when you’re doing 9 sets in a single session, you will start to get tired somewhere during the latter sets, and because of the accumulated fatigue get fewer reps in a week, than what you would if you did 3 sets, over 3 sessions per week.
So, doing 3 sets over 3 sessions, could allow you to perform more reps, which equals more training volume, which equals higher mechanical tension and better muscle growth.
Not only that, just the mental aspect of knowing that you have 9 sets of squats to do in one session, is usually very challenging for most people, compared to “just” doing 3 sets at 3 different sessions.
3. Training Frequency And Practicality
Even though there seems to be slight advantages of having a higher training frequency (2-3 sessions per week,) we must still remember that the overall training volume and intensity you achieve in a week is still more important.
So, having a lower training frequency, like once per week, is still fine. However, going lower than once per week is not recommended, since it will be too much time between sessions.
But, knowing that you can train less frequently as well is important for the reason of practicality.
It’s important to take your daily schedule and preferences into consideration when deciding how to set up your training frequency.
Some might have all their days free, where they can take 4 hours of their day and spend it in the gym if they so need. While others might only have 1 hour per day, but are able to hit the gym 6 times a week instead.
But for most people, between 3-6 total sessions per week will work well.
Training Frequency And Training Experience Levels
Okay, so you know what training frequency are, and that it looks like there are slight advantages of training a muscle group more often than once per week.
What I want to cover now is the importance of training frequency when it comes to different training experiences. I’ll also give you a few training routine examples based on these frequencies.
Training Frequency For a Beginner Trainee
For a beginner it’s all about practice. And the fastest way to make gains in strength and muscle as a beginner is to train the main exercises very often, which would be around 2-3 times per week.
There are two reasons for this:
- The majority of the initial strength gains a beginner makes are neurological. When a person just start to resistance train, they’re weak not because their muscles are small, but mainly because their nervous system is not yet trained to recruit the muscle fibers effectively.
- In the beginning you don’t lift heavy weights, so you don’t create much muscle damage and therefore you don’t require much recovery between sessions. Two days are usually enough to get completely recovered and will even enable you to surpass your previous performance once you step into the gym again.
If you’ve been training for a while already, I’m sure you’ve witnessed this yourself. During the first weeks of lifting you set a PR each time you hit the gym. So it makes sense to train an exercise more often to make progress as fast as possible.
And this is where a lot of beginners make their first mistake, which is going for the more advanced routines right of the bat. They jump on a “bro split” and train only once a week for 20+ sets and high reps.
I’m not saying that you won’t see good results on such a training routine, because you will. I’m just saying that you’ll see a lot BETTER results with a higher frequency routine.
Now, just as we went through earlier, when you train with a higher frequency you must also do lower volume per session. Otherwise you won’t be able to recover and get stronger between sessions.
Also, the same exercises should be performed each session. This will ensure that you get skilled on the lifts and can start making fast strength and muscle gains.
Here’s how your first training routine might look:
This routine is great for the first 2-4 months of lifting.
The reason why we’re using mostly low to medium rep training, in the 4-8 rep range is that we need to use weights that are heavy enough to cause growth.
Because here’s the deal:
In the beginning you’re far too weak to get a good training stimulus from high rep training, as the weights you would be using is going to be very light.
By doing sets in the 5-10 rep range on the other hand, you’re getting full muscle fiber recruitment, mechanical tension, and enough volume per set to effectively spark muscle growth at your stage.
Training Frequency For Novices to Intermediate Trainees
At this point in your lifting career you’ve been training consistently, with a good training program, for at least 2-4 months.
It’s now that the frequency you train each muscle group with becomes less important than the overall volume you do every week.
Training frequency is now more of a way to organize your volume instead of a distinct training variable for muscle growth.
I’ve noticed that people make great progress with their physiques training each body part anywhere from one to three times per week.
However, two times per week seems like the most optimal frequency at this stage for most people, but it’s still a marginal difference and not a requirement.
The novice to intermediate routine that you’ll see below, builds on the beginner routine by increasing volume on all muscle groups slightly.
This is because, as you become more advanced, volume typically needs to go up to stimulate further adaptation. Now, the increase in volume is small, only about 2-4 sets more per muscle group per week compared to the beginner routine.
Another difference between these routines is that now you’re using a different progression model. You’re now working with the same weight on the bar through a repetition range before you increase weight.
This will likely be required since progress slows down a bit as you get more advanced as well.
Lastly, we now add a bit of volume for certain body parts using more isolation exercises as well.
Conclusion – Use The Training Frequency That Fits YOU
Since it doesn’t matter that much how frequently you train, at least not once you’ve passed your true beginner stages (first 2-4 months), you can more or less use the training frequency and split that best suits your wants and/or needs.
All you have to make sure is that you’re training with the right volume and intensity that will allow you to make progressive overload, in order to get bigger and stronger overtime.
Perhaps if you want to optimize your training, there are some merit towards training each msucle group at least twice per week.
With that said though, if you’re not getting productive workouts in because you don’t like upper/lower body splits or full-body splits. Then it’s probably even better for you to train with more of a “bro split”, since enjoyment to training is the most important aspect.
If you want to learn more about setting up your training program correctly, then the best place to start would be to understand training volume, you can learn more about volume here: