Question: I’m a little confused about the frequency of my weight training workouts. How many times should I work out each muscle group per week? I’ve seen a lot of people recommend working each body part as often as 3 times per week, 2 times per week, and just once per week. What’s the real answer, and which one will work best?
Answer: There is a pretty good, pretty definitive answer to the almighty question of the best weight training frequency. But, before I can tell you that answer, I need to tell you the slightly annoying answer to this question. And, that answer is… all of the above.
What I mean is, you CAN effectively train each body part once, twice or three times per week and still get good results. You just need to understand that your workout volume MUST match your selected training frequency.
Basically, you can either train a lot, but less often, or train a little, but more often. If you nail this concept perfectly, you’ll get results from whatever training frequency you choose. If you don’t… you won’t. Let me explain…
Training Each Muscle Group 1 Time Per Week
Here’s an example of a common once-per-week workout routine:
As you can see, each muscle group gets trained just once per week with 6 days of rest in between each workout for the same muscle.
Now, if you are only going to train each muscle group once per week with a split like this (or any similar split), you need to ensure that you provide enough of a training stimulus during that 1 weekly workout to actually warrant not training each muscle again for an entire week.
If you fail to do this correctly, what will happen is the muscle will recover long before it is time to train it again. And then, during all of that wasted time between when the muscle recovered and the next time you train that muscle, the muscle will actually begin to detrain and regress as if virtually no progress was made during that previous workout.
What has essentially ended up happening in a scenario like this is that you are undertraining. So, if you decided to train each muscle group just once per week, you need to ensure that you provide a large enough stimulus during that 1 weekly workout to warrant that entire week of rest you are about to give each body part and therefore avoid that wasted period of detraining/regression.
However, at the same time, you must also keep in mind that if you provide TOO much of a stress to the point where your body hasn’t properly recovered in time for that next weekly workout, it would be equally bad. The stress provided needs to be both large enough to warrant a full week of rest, but still small enough to not exceed that.
Which brings us to…
Training Each Muscle Group 3 Times Per Week
Here’s an example of a common 3 times-per-week workout routine:
Monday: full body
Wednesday: full body
Friday: full body
As you can see, every muscle group gets trained 3 times per week, with just 1-2 days of rest in between.
When training each muscle group with a frequency as high as 3 times per week, you need to ensure the opposite of what you needed to ensure when training each muscle just once per week. Meaning, you need to create a very small stress on each muscle during those 3 weekly workouts so that your body can recover quickly enough to be ready for the next workout.
Without enough recovery time, your body will not only NOT progress, but it will begin to regress as well. What has essentially ended up happening in a scenario like this is that you are overtraining. So, if you decided to train each muscle group 3 times per week, you need to ensure that you provide a small enough stress to allow your body to properly recover in time for the following workout.
However, at the same time, you need to make sure that while the stress is small enough to recover in time for a training frequency this high, it still needs to be big enough to actually get your body to accomplish the goal you are working at in the first place (increasing muscle, strength, etc.).
Training Each Muscle Group 2 Times Per Week
Here’s an example of a common 2 times-per-week workout routine:
Monday: upper body
Tuesday: lower body
Thursday: upper body
Friday: lower body
As you can see, every muscle group gets trained 2 times per week, with 2-3 days of rest in between.
Now, while you can easily do too little or too much no matter what weight training frequency you choose, it’s pretty safe to say that the most common issue with a once-per-week frequency is not creating enough of a stress to warrant that full week of rest you’re allowing, and the most common issue with a 3-times-per-week frequency is not creating so much of a stress that you aren’t able to recover in time for the next workout.
With a twice-per-week frequency like this, you actually end up in the most ideal situation for avoiding both of these issues.
Sure, you can definitely still do too much or too little and cause the same problems as the others. But at the same time, you also potentially get the best of both worlds from the other two frequencies.
The Big Point: They Can ALL Work!
The big point I’m getting at here is that each weight training frequency can and does work. However, the only way to make each one work is by matching your training volume to the training frequency you pick. Here’s what I mean.
Let’s say 12 sets per muscle group is the ideal total WEEKLY training volume. Your ideal total weekly training volume will depend on a ton of individual factors (which would lead to a whole other article in itself), but 12 sets is probably a pretty sane, pretty effective choice of weekly training volume for this example. Here’s what this means…
- If you were to train each muscle group just once per week, you would need to do about 12 total sets. Because your weight training frequency is low, you need to get that entire weekly workout volume in during each muscle’s one weekly workout. So, 12 sets for each muscle done once per week = a total weekly volume of 12 sets. Mission accomplished.
- If you were to train each muscle group 3 times per week, you would need to do about 4 sets for each muscle during each of those 3 weekly workouts. Because your weight training frequency is high, you have to greatly lower the volume used in each workout to accommodate this frequency. So, you’d end up doing 4 sets for each muscle 3 times per week = a total weekly volume of 12 sets. Mission accomplished again.
- If you were to train each muscle group twice per week, you would need to do about 6 sets for each muscle during each of those 2 weekly workouts. Because your weight training frequency is moderate, you have keep your volume per workout equally moderate to match this frequency. So, you’d end up doing 6 sets for each muscle 2 times per week = a total weekly volume of 12 sets. Mission accomplished once again.
Either way you break it down, no matter what workout frequency you choose, the ideal weekly training volume remains the same (in this example it’s 12 sets)… you just need to make your volume per workout match your selected training frequency so that at the end of the week, you didn’t fall under or exceed your ideal weekly workout volume.
(One quick thing to note, the idea of “12 sets per muscle per week” mainly applies to bigger muscles like chest, back and legs. Smaller muscles like biceps and triceps only really need about half that.)
Now for the most important question of all…
Which Workout Frequency Is The Best?
Now that you understand that they can all work, you’re probably wondering if one is better or worse than the others. And the answer is… HELL YES! The thing is, which is best for you depends on various factors specific to you… especially your experience level. Here’s what I mean.
- Beginners: If you are a beginner to weight lifting (meaning anyone who has been training for LESS than 6-8 months consistently and correctly), then all research, expert recommendations, and real world experience point towards a training frequency of 3 times per week as being ideal for you. The example split I gave above (3 full body workouts) is the perfect and most often recommended choice for beginners.
- Intermediates & Advanced: For everyone who is past the beginners stage (training consistently and correctly for MORE than 6-8 months), then all research, expert recommendations, and real world experience (plus my own first hand experience) pretty much agrees that a work out frequency of about twice per week is ideal. The example split I mentioned earlier (2 upper body and 2 lower body workouts per week) is a perfect choice and it’s what’s most often recommended by the most knowledgeable people in the field.
But What About The Once-Per-Week Workout Frequency?
Now, while training each muscle group with a once-per-week work out frequency still appears to be most popular among the average person (I’ll tell you why in a second), it also appears to be the LEAST effective for most people. Does it work? Sure (assuming you do everything else correctly). Is it what works best for most of us? Absolutely not.
That full week of rest in between workouts of the same muscle is, no matter which way you look at it, a big waste of time. Think about it. It’s 52 training sessions per muscle per year. If you worked out with a twice-per-week frequency, it’s 104 training sessions per muscle per year. Which do you think has the potential to lead to better results in the same period of time? Seems obvious now, doesn’t it?
So then, why is training each muscle group once per week still so popular? Because it tends to work really well for people using any sort of “assistance” (meaning drugs/steroids), people who have amazing genetics, and bodybuilders who have pretty much already reached most of their muscle building potential.
And, these are the people we all try to look like, so we try to do what they do. The only problem is, for us natural, average, normal people… working out like this just ends up being a less than ideal way to train most of the time, and scientific studies (and countless real world examples) prove it.
So, here’s what I (and the smartest trainers in the world) most often recommend…
- Once Per Week: I DON’T recommend this frequency at all. Unless your only real goal is to just maintain your current levels of strength and muscle rather than improve them, this outdated style of weight training should be avoided completely. It’s the least effective of all.
- Three Times Per Week: I highly recommend this frequency to beginners with any goal (building muscle, losing fat, increasing strength, etc.). My #1 recommendation is to use the full body split like I showed in the example earlier. My article about The Total Body Workout will explain it more.
- Twice Per Week: I highly recommend this workout frequency to the majority of the population. This is the ideal training frequency that is proven to work best for most people (except beginners) who want to build muscle, lose fat, increase strength, or anything similar. There’s a few ways to make this frequency work, but the upper/lower split I mentioned before is my #1 recommendation. It’s really the only split I ever use these days.
Still have questions? The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide will answer them. It contains the highly proven upper/lower training program that I personally use and most often recommend.
Not to mention, it’s a complete guide to building muscle, losing fat or doing both as quickly and effectively as possible. It contains all of the answers, details and facts that make up the entire workout and diet system I’ve used to help countless men and women completely transform their bodies.
Want to do the same? Learn how here: The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide