There is often a lot of confusion about just what routine to follow when trying to build muscle. There are several options that people can choose from and just about all of them will work.
The real question is which one will work best for you and your starting point. Let's cover the most common routines out there today and describe the category requirements so that you can make an informed decision on which program will suit you best.
3 Day Full Body Routine
This routine is a 3-day-a-week workout routine. Each workout day is followed by 1 rest day and the third workout is followed by 1 or 2 rest days (as most people will take the weekend off entirely).
This routine is typically used by beginners and involves full body workouts.
It is great for beginners because of many reasons:
- It allows you to get familiar with the exercises by repeating them many times throughout the week.
- Since most beginners do not possess the same strength levels as more advanced lifters, it is good to trigger the muscle more often because the amount of weight lifted is significantly lighter and you will not need as much time to recover and repair before their next workout.
- As a beginner, your body will actually experience greater gains training less rather than training more. Take advantage of this time in your training as you will experience the 'beginner gains' that you may never experience again. You need to allow your body to adapt to exercises and recover in order to grow. 3 days is a good start for beginners and it will allow you to eventually progress to more volume and more frequency if desired.
Sample 3-Day Full Body Routine
4 Day Split
This is the next step from the 3-day full-body workouts.
This routine is typically performed by intermediate trainers.
There are many variations that are floating around but the most common template to follow is performing upper body then lower body on the following day, then a rest day, then repeat (upper body/lower body).
As in the 3-day workout program, you have the choice to take two days off for the weekend or to continue after only 1 day of rest. The disadvantage of only taking one day off instead of the two day weekend is that it throws you off schedule for your next week (if that is important to you).
The reason why this routine is categorized as intermediate is because now that you have been training longer and you have become stronger in your lifts, you will need more rest to allow proper recuperation between body parts you've trained in your workouts. You will back off the frequency you train each muscle but you will increase your training by one day.
Once you have completed about 3-6 months of a 3-day routine, you can move up to this split to start seeing more muscle gains.
Sample 4-Day Split Routine
The 5-day split is the most advanced routine that I would recommend for anyone.
Sure, there are routines that could make you train 7 days a week or even twice per day for a total of 14 workouts per week. But eventually the line has to be drawn and I draw it at 5 days per week for 99% of natural trainers.
After training for many years and developing your maximal strength and growth, you may need to start training using a 5-day split routine focusing on only 1-2 muscle groups per workout.
When you train for more than 2 years or so, the strength gains experienced in the beginning (due to an adaptation in your central nervous system) due not occur at the same rate. You will reach a point where it will be very tough to add more weight to your lifts or even grow additional muscle.
It's not to say that you can't, it just becomes a lot harder.
At this point, it is better to increase the volume trained on the muscle on the day you work it and allow a longer cycle for it to repair fully and to stimulate growth.
Sample 5-Day Split Routine
Starting Point Guidelines
If you do not know where your starting point is, please refer to the guidelines below:
- Beginner: 6 months or less of weight training.
- Intermediate: 6-18 months of weight training.
- Advanced: 24 months or more of weight training consistently.
If you have trained on and off over many years but never consistently followed any program, then I would consider yourself to be intermediate, but you may even want to start as a beginner to condition your body for the higher volume training to come later on. It's your choice.
Decide what your training level is and then choose a routine that best suits your individual requirements. Be patient and focus on one thing at a time and you should start to progress through each routine and see some very impressive gains.
A Final Note on Nutrition
Now that you have your workout plan dialed, it’s time to think about your nutrition plan. While a full muscle-building nutrition diet is beyond the scope of this article, one easy goal to target is eating at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. For example: If you weigh 180 pounds, try to eat 180 grams of protein every day spread into several meals of at least 30 grams.
Protein is responsible for tissue growth and repair, so it’s the mightiest macronutrient when it comes to muscle. Without enough protein in your diet, you simply won’t recover or grow very well! Consider adding a protein supplement to your nutrition plan so you can have a shake after your workouts and any other time of day you may need some convenient protein assistance, whether added to a meal or as a standalone snack.