Admit it: if you’re desperately chasing the gains, there’s a tiny part of you that relates to ‘#norestdays'❤️
Even if you know that it's not a good idea. Going to the gym seven days a weak can put such a significant strain on your nervous system that you'll undoubtedly fall ill, causing your fitness goals to cough and splutter to a halt. And that's it; you can say goodbye to all the hard-earned gains you made for a while. So, you don't want that to happen. But if going to the gym every day isn't ideal, and only working out once a week – obviously – isn't getting you the results you crave, how many times should you work out, then? Well, continue reading to find out!
Does training more mean more gains?
Okay, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d likely think that you know the answer to this question - if you're adamantly shaking your head and thinking to yourself, "No – of course not. Training more frequently does not lead to more gains," well, I hate to break it to you, but the truth is not as straightforward as that.
Muscle growth rates will be similar if…
Based on findings from several studies and a meta-analysis on training frequency, researchers found that the rate of muscle growth – regardless of how many days you work out – will be similar if the following three requirements are met:
1. Each muscle group is trained at least 2 times a week
2. There’s sufficient workout volume
3. There are adequate effort and intensity during the workouts to fully stimulate the muscle fibers
So, let's assume that you're now training 3x a week. Do the findings above suggest that you'll experience the same muscle growth rate even if you switch to training 6x a week, given that you meet the above requirements? Don't hate me for this, but no. And for that, we need to take a closer look at conditions 2 (workout volume) and 3 (effort and intensity).
It really depends on your lifting experience
Workout volume requirement increases with lifting experience
As we gain more lifting experience, our workout volume requirements also increase in response – this is probably something that you’re familiar with if you’ve been lifting weights for a while now. Doing the same workout you did, let’s say three months ago, isn’t going to stimulate your muscles anymore sufficiently. Your muscles have grown; they're now bigger and stronger.
And so, when it comes to how many days a week you should work out, you should really look at what your workout volume requirement is, first. But how would you ever know that? Well, thankfully, researcher James Krieger has already done all the hard work for us. Here’s what he found:
· Beginner lifters – 6 to 10 sets per muscle per week for maximal growth
· Experienced lifters – 16 to 20 sets per muscle per week for maximal growth
Right, but how would you know if you're a beginner or not? Well, you're a beginner if you're able to increase training loads in the gym every week. On the contrary, if your lifting progress is only evident over a few months or years (despite consistent training, mind you), you're intermediate or advanced.
Beginners only need to get to the gym three times a week
As you can tell, it honestly doesn't take much volume for a newbie lifter to achieve maximal muscle growth. Think about it: 6 to 10 sets per muscle are rather easy to hit; three full-body sessions where you're planning for 2 sets for each muscle group would be adequate. So, if you're a beginner, if you’re pushing yourself hard during each session, you only really need to get to the gym thrice a week! And trust me, there’s no point going more frequently, either. Make use of the good times while you can, because have you seen the amount of volume experienced lifters need?
Advanced lifters, though…
16 to 20 sets per muscle per week would mean that you'll have to plan for more than 5 sets per muscle group if you were to only get to the gym three times a week! And even amongst the most motivated of us all, it's not recommended. Why? Well, because of fatigue! Or, more specifically, CNS fatigue. When there's a lot of CNS fatigue, like when you're pushing yourself through 5 sets of leg press, you can reach failure even before you reach full motor unit recruitment of that muscle. And as you can imagine, this is obviously detrimental to muscle growth!
Therefore, if you're an advanced lifter, you shouldn't seek to shove all your volume into 3 full-body workout sessions. In addition to not being able to recruit your muscle fibers fully due to CNS fatigue, you'd most likely quit your session early, too. To help ensure that you're sufficiently training your muscle groups and staying (relatively) fresh for your training sessions, do distribute volume throughout the week by adding in additional training days. Rather than full-body workouts, you'd do better with either:
1. Upper/ Lower Body Split, for example:
I. Monday – Upper body
II. Tuesday – Lower body
III. Wednesday – Rest day
IV. Thursday – Upper Body
V. Friday – Lower body
VI. Weekend – Rest
2. Push, Pull, Legs Split, for example:
I. Monday – Push
II. Tuesday – Pull
III. Wednesday – Rest day
IV. Thursday – Legs
V. Friday – Rest Day
VI. Saturday – Push
VII. Sunday – Pull
Therefore, when it comes to the age-old question of how many days a week you should work out, you can follow the following general recommendations.
· Beginner (6 to 10 sets per muscle group)
o 3 times a week, full-body workouts
· Experienced lifter (16 to 20 sets per muscle group)
o 4 times a week if you’re doing Upper/ Lower split;
o 5 times a week if you’re doing Pull/Pull/Legs split
All fired up to head to the gym to hit your weekly volume requirements now? Why not take a smart, AI-powered personal trainer along with you? Download GymStreak – not only will the app keep you accountable for your progress in the gym, but it'll also show you all the proper exercise form executions through its VR capabilities! Psst: it also provides you with a personalized workout plan, too!Get GymStreak
Colquhoun, R. J., Gai, C. M., Aguilar, D., Bove, D., Dolan, J., Vargas, A., … Campbell, B. I. (2018). Training Volume, Not Frequency, Indicative of Maximal Strength Adaptations to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32(5), 1207–1213. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002414
Krieger, J. (2010). Determining Appropriate Set Volume for Resistance Exercise. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 32, 30–32. https://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181df16f4
Nordlund, M. M., Thorstensson, A., & Cresswell, A. G. (2004). Central and peripheral contributions to fatigue in relation to level of activation during repeated maximal voluntary isometric plantar flexions. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 96(1), 218–225. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00650.2003
Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(11), 1689–1697. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8