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The Ultimate Guide to Training Frequency for Muscle Mass

41423184 - handsome power athletic man in training pumping up muscles with dumbbell. strong bodybuilder with six pack perfect abs shoulders biceps triceps and chest

Training frequency describes the amount of times you train per week, or, more specifically, how many times you train each muscle group per week.

I’ve discussed the death of “bro splits”, or one muscle a week training, in many articles around the internet.

In other words, based on the research and years of experience, I don’t believe training each muscle once per week is optimal for muscle gains, strength and even fat loss. While it can have a place in a hypertrophy plan on occasions to create amounts of overload, it should only be used periodically as part of a larger high frequency plan.

In this article, I breakdown the benefits of a high frequency approach for adding muscle mass and muscle retention.

 Training Frequency Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) 

The key driver of muscle growth, high frequency training will stimulate MPS on a more regular basis than low frequency training. This can enhance protein metabolism and transcription factors within the muscle, helping those muscle groups to add new proteins and increase in muscle fiber size.

In addition, this may create an enhanced whole body elevation in protein synthesis and keep your body in a positive protein balance – that is, as long as you are eating enough protein.

Here is an example graph taken from my 20 Week Extreme Mass Plan manual demonstrating the potential positive alterations in Muscle Protein Synthesis when following the 20 Week High Frequency Workouts.

As you can see, we can maximize the “window of opportunity” and place our body in a perfect muscle building anabolic environment.

Muscle_growth_v4-01

Training Frequency Allows For Greater Volume 

Increased training volume is known as a very important mechanism or factor in long-term muscle growth. The studies show as you increase volume, your muscle gains increase, at least to a certain point. When you hit this high volume point, extra volume will not help and you must look for more advanced training methods, such as the BFR, Cluster Sets, Intra Set Stretching and Strength Curve Manipulation techniques I use in my 20 Week Extreme Mass Plan.

In other words, you can imagine it as a ladder to muscle building success. Start with the basics, more volume, frequency, diet etc. When you get advanced and work your way up the ladder you must then add in these advanced techniques to continually maximize your muscle growth potential.

It should be noted that crazy amounts of volume can cause over reaching and under recovery, especially if you aren’t maximizing your nutrition, recovery or supplement protocols. When this occurs it can actually cause muscle loss, weakness and a decrease in long-term growth. Here is another graph taken from the 20 Week Mass Manual, showing the bell curve relationship between volume and growth.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 4.20.41 PM

As you can see, you continually make nice gains from increased volume until one point where you plateau. If you stick with the same routine and diet and don’t use more advanced training techniques then muscle growth can become a very slow and tedious process.

The benefits of higher frequency are that not only does it allow more total volume per week or month, but it also allows you to balance greater volume with recovery.

For example, if you only train a muscle once per week you mu st cram all your volume into that one session. Chances are, you will hit that peak for volume and likely topple over the other side, actually decreasing growth.

However, the higher frequency approach allows you to disperse the volume over multiple sessions; you can maximize volume within that session and still recover from it.

Here’s an example. If you train chest once per week, say a Monday and do 20 sets, your total weekly volume and session volume is 20 sets for chest.

However, if you train chest 2 or 3 times per week with 10 sets, you are likely capping the volume threshold (which depends on the individual, but for most it’s probably 5 – 10 sets) but also creating more total volume per week. For example:

Monday = 10 sets,

Wednesday = 10 sets,

Friday = 10 sets.

Total Volume = 30

So, you’ve got 33% more volume per week, while creating a stimulus for growth on 3 totally separate occasions. 

If you’ve seen some of my testimonials and the results from the 20 Week Mass Program, you may be wondering how people add lean muscle so quickly?

Well, this breakthrough, switching many members from the old-fashioned but still commonly used “bro split” to a higher frequency approach can shock the body into large amounts of growth.

Think about it, you have the potential to work the muscle 300% more than conventional bro split training!

Training Frequency For Improved Performance 

One landmark study which highlighted this was a great study from the famous researcher in Europe. He took elite powerlifters and compared their typical training which may train each lift or muscle once per week against a high frequency approach, finding greater gains when they lift more often (Raastad et al., 2012).

Even if you aren’t interested in strength or performance, for a bodybuilder this can help you add more total volume and weight on the bar. Another key factor in long-term muscle growth.

Chances are you’ve worked one muscle to death in a session when following a bro split. We’ve all been there, training your poor chest for 90 minutes flat until you can hardly bench the bar or do a press up.

Of course, as we work through the session, performance takes a rapid decrease. Studies have shown this occurs even when monitoring only 5 sets. So, imagine how big that decrease is going to be for 15 or 20 sets!

Here’s a visual guide to give you an  idea:

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 12.46.35 PM

Please note this is just a visual guide and the decrease may not be as “smooth” as the line drawn above, however, you get the idea. As I’m sure you’ve experienced in the gym, you can’t bench the same at the end of the session as you could at the start. 

This decrease in volume demonstrates another strength in high frequency training. Because you are doing less volume on each muscle per session, every single set is going to be of a higher quality when compared to training the muscle once per week.

Using a similar example to above, imagine you are doing 30 sets on chest in one session or 10 sets in 3 separate sessions. Total amount of sets or volume is the same. However, for each individual set how different will performance be? The answer is very different.

By the time you reach the last 10 of your 30 sets, you will be tanked and performance will be whey down! (pun intended)

However, those 10 sets in your 3rd session when following a high frequency plan will almost be as good as the first 10, as you’ve had 48 hours to recover!

Ultimately, this performance difference is important. Allowing for more total reps, allowing you to take it to failure on more sets, improved technique and greater motor unit recruitment.

Training Frequency Boosts Anabolic Hormones

Another potential benefit of a high frequency training plan is a more positive hormonal environment. We know long-term hormonal levels can have an impact on muscle mass, health and fat loss.

When comparing a typical bro split to higher frequency plan, splitting your volume and having more intense, shorter sessions could also help optimize anabolic hormones.
For example, if you perform a high frequency training and use a similar approach to my Metabolic Resistance Training then you can also shred more fat and increase the key hormone – Growth Hormone.

Growth Hormone can help with fuel utilization, breaking down the fats and carbs for energy. In addition, Growth Hormone can help you recover, improve strength, increase bone density and burn more fat.

In addition to Growth Hormone, a higher frequency approach could potentially improve your cortisol / testosterone ratio. This is also vitally important, helping keep cortisol within its natural range while helping optimize the most anabolic hormone of all, testosterone.

This can occur because the sessions are shorter in duration; rather than trying to cram a week’s worth of volume into one session on legs, you can split it and do more frequent but shorter sessions.

Training Frequency Leads To Greater Adaptations and Cellular Stimulation

There is strong supportive data showing you must exercise a muscle on a regular basis for it to continually adapt. This can help you grow both muscle and strength faster, while reducing muscle breakdown.

In other words, you better use it or you’re gonna lose it.

Some data suggests in as little as 4 – 5 days your muscles and fitness will start to decline, with this being more noticeable if you rest 7 – 14 days. Therefore, training a muscle once per week is likely to optimize growth or performance and for some more advanced trainees, it may actually not be enough to cause any progression.

Here is another visual aid showing the progression when you only train each muscle once per week

Training Frequency

As you can see, although you make progress within each session, this may be negated by the extended 6-7 day rest period. This is also supported in some manner when investigating the Muscle Protein Synthesis response to a gym session. As shown below, in advanced athletes, MPS may spike up and decline back to baseline in LESS than 24 hours (Phillips et al., 1997).Training Frequency

For those on a bro split, it means they grow for 1 day out of 7; the other 6 days are just “wasted time” – hardly an optimal way to add as much muscle as possible. don’t you agree?

However, when we take a closer look at high frequency training we can see there is a much greater potential to grow. By training each muscle 2, 3 or even 4 times per week, we can waste a lot less time and provide our muscle with 200, 300 or even 400% more stimulus to grow!

Training Frequency

Practice Makes Perfect – Training Frequency

40021414 - close up of a perfect absFinally, it simply makes sense to train a muscle group more than once per week. As with any skill in life, or any sport, practice makes perfect. Apart from bodybuilding, this is a core principle in all sports.

Ask any athlete, if you want to get a free throw, you shoot more. If you want to sprint faster, you do more sprints. If you want to improve your swimming technique, yo
u swim more. You get the point, it makes perfect sense.

So, why do bodybuilders ignore this fact? If you want to grow your chest, your legs or your bicep, why the hell would you only train them once per week? It makes zero sense!

Sure, you have to allow time for recovery; you can’t train your muscles every day with 100% intensity and recover. However, like I’ve programmed in the 20 Week Extreme Mass Plan, when you find the optimal balance between recovery, volume, intensity and frequency you will grow like a machine!!

This also applies to mastering technique. As my good friend and mentor Ben Pakulski preaches and taught me, the importance of optimal execution and muscle contraction simply can’t be emphasized enough.

If you are trying to improve this (which I recommend everyone does!!), it will NEVER happen training once per week! Think about it, a whole 7 day break is going to make it almost impossible to continually progress and improve. This is backed up in research, with one study finding better muscle recruitment when participants trained with a higher frequency (Hartman et al., 2007).

Therefore, training that movement and technique more often, with more total reps / volume will allow you to master the mechanics and optimal execution (as long as you actually know the optimal technique, that is!).

Program Considerations for a Higher Training Frequency

There are numerous variations and ways to program a higher frequency split. The key is finding a balance between frequency, volume and recovery.

While it may sound simple, achieving this perfect balance has taken me a lot of time and experience with clients to test and truly optimize. Like I always say, there isn’t “ONE” best approach and lots of other factors must also be considered.

These include their training experience, age, gender, goal, calorie intake (diet / bulking etc.), protein intake, environmental stressors, hormones, testosterone levels, sleep quality / duration,  blood work, training intensity, food quality, micronutrient levels and in general their recovery capacity.

This is why I STILL periodize different protocols, despite having created the most optimal muscle building protocols in the 20 Week Extreme Mass Plan, which find the perfect balance between frequency, volume and recovery after years of testing. In other words, people are not “set” on one approach.

During the 20 weeks, we will cycle between all kinds of frequency and volume. This keeps the body constantly adapting and developing, while allowing us to manipulate other key training variables and techniques.

In addition, it allows you, the client to test what works BEST for you. This is really a unique part of the program which separates it from any other typical workout or muscle builder.

After the 20 Week Extreme Mass Plan, you will be fully equipped to continue your muscle building journey, having tested all these different advance techniques and knowing what is OPTIMAL for YOU, as an INDIVIDUAL.

Why would you ever settle for what one “expert”, bodybuilder or coach says is best? You shouldn’t, there is no definitive, “one size fits all” – answer. That’s why I lay out all the weapons in my muscle building arsenal, we test them all and you pick which works best for YOUR body, muscles and lifestyle!

Summary

Now you know the benefits of a higher frequency approach. If you are currently, or have been, on a single muscle bro split for some time, this is literally going to transform your training and your results.

In summary, some of the benefits favoring a higher frequency approach include:

  • Increased Muscle Protein Synthesis
  • Increased Volume per week
  • Additional Stimulation within the muscle
  • Increased Anabolic Hormones and a more positive hormone balance,
  • A better ratio between volume and recovery,
  • Improved performance and capacity to train at maximal intensity,
  • Greater practice and opportunity to optimize muscle recruitment and technique,
  • 200 – 300% more opportunity to adapt.

Now here’s the best part…

As you’ve made it this far and are obviously keen to take a scientifically backed approach to optimize muscle growth, I’d like to extend to you a personal and one-time offer.

If you’re keen to get the Ultimate mass building protocol around, I can offer you an 80% discount to get started right away. This is going to give you over 20 Week Extreme Mass Plan Building workouts, using all the advanced techniques discussed above to transform your physique.

So, right now you one of the worlds most Advanced 20 Week Muscle Building program, complete with over 25 workouts, a transformation manual, tons of muscle building meal plans, supplement protocols and more for less than 1 single meal out!

Click HERE for your 80% discount and more information – Welcome to the Elite Muscle Building Team!  

20 WEEK SCIENTIFIC MASS

References

Hartman MJ, Clark B, Bembens DA, Kilgore JL, Bemben MG.: Comparisons between twice-daily and once-daily training sessions in male weight lifters. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2007 Jun;2(2):159-69.

MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Can J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;20(4):480-6

Phillips SM, Tipton KD, Aarsland A, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR.  Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul;273(1 Pt 1):E99-107

Raastad T, Kirketeig, A, Wolf, D, Paulsen G. Powerlifters improved strength and muscular adaptations to a greater extent when equal total training volume was divided into 6 compared to 3 training sessions per week (abstract). Book of abstracts, 17th annual conference of the ECSS, Brugge 4-7 July, 2012.

About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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