Packing on muscle when you’re starting from scratch can be seriously intimidating. There are so many factors that go into building a killer physique.
What should I eat? How often should I eat? What exercises should I do for optimised gains?
And of course, there’s the pressing question of how many days a week you should be training. It needs to be a challenging number that accounts for crucial rest days in between. To learn how many days a week you should work out to build muscle, read on.
How Frequently Should You Train Each Muscle Group?
As a good rule of thumb, you should be lifting weights three to five times a week. However, this number can also differ, depending on a variety of things.
If you force yourself to try too intensive a program and it doesn’t make sense for your schedule, you’re unlikely to stick to it. Find a perfect balance that won’t make you feel as if you’re being stretched too thin by juggling work, family life, and the gym.
Your Goals Related to Frequency and Timing (Bodybuilding vs Powerlifting)
If you’re working out to gain pure strength, follow a powerlifter’s schedule. Train two to three times a week with plenty of rest in between. Powerlifters lift extremely heavy on compound lifts so mimic this style of training if you wish to simply gain strength, not size.
If you wish to grow in size, working out more frequently can help you reach your goals. Implement a hypertrophy program and workout three to five times a week.
Workout Frequency vs Volume
You probably have a good idea of what workout frequency is. Frequency is defined by how often you’re training throughout the week.
However, do you have a concept of training volume? Let’s break it down! Training volume is how much work you’re putting in — the number of reps, sets, and the number of seconds in between. All this accounts for volume. To put this in perspective, imagine lifting a 25-pound dumbbell. You can increase the volume of your workout by performing more reps with the same amount of weight.
A workout that uses ten repetitions with a dumbbell versus a workout that uses 5 per set has more volume.
Greater volume can produce a more stimulating effect, affecting the muscle fibres and promoting more muscle growth, so keep this in mind when designing an ideal workout. Hypertrophy training utilises this high-volume concept for muscle growth. Hypertrophy training, which is training to increase muscle size, have you performing reps in the eight to ten rep range when training.
What if I am a Beginner?
Beginners should take more time to rest in between days at the gym. The main reason being that their bodies are not accustomed to lifting heavy weights yet. That unbearable soreness when you workout for the first time in months (or in some cases, years!) won’t last forever! Over time, your body will adapt, and it will take a lot more than a few squats to make you sore!
If you’re a beginner, hit the gym three times a week, implementing one to two complete rest days between workouts. By the one-month mark, attempt to work out five days a week.
Example 5-Day per Week Split Routine
Legs on Monday
It’s wise to start the workout week with your favourite muscle group to train.
However, many people opt for scheduling leg day on the first day of the week, as this muscle group will need more time to recover. Leg exercises, like squats and deadlifts, work out several muscle groups, which will need two to four days in between sessions to recover fully.
On this day, focus on training the quadriceps. Perform squats, lunges, and leg extensions. Save deadlifts, leg curls, and other hamstring intensive exercises for another day later on in the week.
Push Day on Tuesday
Many bodybuilders spit their upper body days into two categories. They have a push and a pull day. A push day requires you to stimulate the muscles in your arms and chest responsible for the pushing movement — think your pectoralis major and triceps!
Utilise push-ups, chest press, and tricep dips on this day.
Rest Day on Wednesday
Many people love placing a rest day in the middle of the week! You run the risk of taking too many days off the gym, back to back, when you block off Saturday and Sunday as your rest days.
Taking too large of a gap between your rest days can kill your momentum. Those two days off can quickly turn into three, four, or even five days away from the gym, which can slow your progress. Therefore, if you’re someone who falls back into this bad habit easily, make Wednesdays your designated day off from the gym.
Leg Day on Thursday
Taking a rest day on Wednesday also serves another purpose — it prepares you for a tough leg day back in the gym. Working out legs on Thursday also offers a substantial break from your last leg day.
This time, focus on the muscles on the back of the leg, such as the glutes, calves, and hamstrings. Don’t overwork your legs by cramming in several compound lifts into one day. This separation between leg days ensures the muscle fibres can grow on rest days, ensuring you don’t skip a workout because you’re still sore from your last one!
Abs and Cardio on Friday
Cardio and core are essential, regardless of what your goals are in the gym. Your core is your body’s foundation, therefore don’t neglect it. If you worry about losing muscle mass, implement a session of HIIT cardio. Doing even a minimal to moderate amount of cardio can increase your endurance and stamina, which are essential for any weight lifter!
Pull Day on Saturday
You’ve had a few days of rest between your last upper body day. Make Saturday a pull day. A pull day means working out the upper body muscles responsible for ‘pulling’ — so the trapezius, biceps, and latissimus dorsi. You can also call this back and bi day, as most bodybuilders do.
Active Rest Day on Sunday
Since the entire cycle repeats itself on Monday, take this whole rest. Do stress-free activities to prepare you for another tough week at the gym mentally. You can also take this day to analyse your habits and progress. Did you hit your lifting goals? Lose a pound? Did you miss a day at the gym? Use this as data to tweak your week and find a system that works well for you.
You may also take an active rest day.
Example 3-Day per Week Split Routine
If you don’t have enough time to commit five days a week, try this three-day routine instead!
Legs on Monday
Incorporate hamstring, quadricep, and glute-focused exercises on this one day. It’s not an ideal way to train legs, but if you’re short on time and wish to see results, it’s still crucial to train legs. Alternate the intensity each week. For example, one week can be a hamstring and glute-focused day, while the next week can centre on the quadriceps.
Upper Body on Wednesday
Combine all of your upper body training on this one day to save you time. Alternate your big compound lifts each week instead of trying to squeeze everything into one training session. For example, one week, focus on the bench press.
The following week, focus on barbell rows.
Circuit Training on Friday
Circuit training is a great way to combine core work, cardio, and strength training. Use bands, medicine balls, weights, and battle ropes to create a strength-based workout that will keep your heart rate elevated the entire workout!
Why Rest is Important for Muscle Growth
Your muscles are not growing while you’re working out. The opposite is true. Your muscles are repairing themselves as you rest. This is the reason adequate sleep and rest days are important!
Shake this popular belief — working out more frequently is NOT the key to success. In fact, working out too often can do the opposite. It can stall your progress! Implementing too few rest days can lead to:
- Persistent injuries
- Severe muscle pains
What is an Active Rest Day? Do I Need One?
If you loathe the thought of missing a day in the gym, consider implementing active rest days instead. Active rest days can offer an excellent middle ground if you’re itching to do something on your day off! Appropriate activities can include:
- Light stretching
- A walk outdoors
- A short hike
- An easy bike ride
Active rest days are excellent for people who struggle with spending too much time away from the gym. They want to give their muscles a break but are also afraid to fall back on old habits!
If you wish to build muscle mass, there are several factors to consider — your diet, meal frequency, and of course, training frequency. Ensure you’re working out enough to challenge your muscles. However, remember that rest days are also important.
Instead of wasting time at the gym, trying to figure what works best, try one of our free plans, or use our tips to create a solid regime that works for you and your unique fitness goals!