Training frequency is a hot topic right now. Well, it's always been a hot topic among gym rats comparing their lifting splits around the drinking fountain, but now it's increasingly on the radar of researchers as well. In the past three years alone, there have been approximately 20 published studies investigating the effects of training frequency on muscle growth!
To be clear, in this research, "training frequency" isn't simply how often you train, it's typically defined as the number of times a muscle group is trained in a given week. The classic bodybuilding "bro split" targets each muscle only once per week, but others believe the more frequently you train a muscle in a given week, the greater the hypertrophic response will be.
A recent meta-analysis and systematic review co-authored by Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., attempted to clear up some of the confusion and give tangible advice about how often to train a muscle group per week to maximize muscle growth potential. A meta-analysis collects and reviews all of the current research pertaining to a specific topic.
This particular meta-analysis included 25 studies relating to training frequency and muscle growth, and came away with a conclusion that can help you make better training choices no matter what approach has worked for you so far.
What Did the Study Show?
The meta-analysis showed no difference in muscle growth when training your muscles once a week or multiple times per week—assuming training volume is equal. But that's a big caveat! It means that frequency may not actually be the most important variable to consider when structuring your training week. Instead, the total volume of lifting you will do for a given muscle group may be the defining factor.
There are a few ways to interpret these findings:
- A greater emphasis should be placed on training volume, and finding an appropriate amount that you can adapt to, than on training frequency.
- You may not need to arrange your life around an "ideal" frequency-based split if you're trying to grow. Instead, you can organize your training around your life. If you're following a program you like but that you struggle to fit in your schedule, you may be able to split the volume across multiple days.
That first point may be the most difficult of the two to wrap your head around, since there's no simple answer about what the "right" amount of sets is. It's very personal and has a lot to do with your training experience, as well as how dialed in your nutrition and lifestyle are for recovery.
15 Sets, 3 Ways
Let's assume you've determined 15 sets of chest training to be right for you. Why 15? Because it's a good "do you really need to train any more than this?" benchmark. It's definitely adequate for growth in most experienced lifters (honestly, 10-12 may be sufficient for all but the most advanced lifters). And if you're doing more than 15, there's a decent chance that your epic hours-long workouts are either straining your recovery abilities, or just filling your program with repetitive junk volume.
If you're able to fit all 15 sets into one chest day, and train with an appropriate amount of intensity, that's a hell of a day! Doing it once a week is probably sufficient.
On the contrary, if you find it's difficult to train 15 sets in one day without burning out, fighting fatigue, or ruining your life outside of the gym, then splitting up the sets into multiple days may be more beneficial.
This amount of training volume could be split up in a number of different days, but here are a few examples to illustrate what your training split could look like:
Obviously, there are plenty of other ways you could arrange your week, particularly if you're able to train on the weekend.
As a point of reference, in the Physique Science Laboratory at the University of South Florida, we typically program an upper-body/lower-body training split where we train each muscle group two times per week, or a full-body routine in which each muscle group is targeted three times per week.
No matter what kind of training split you want to follow, Bodybuilding.com BodyFit Elite has the perfect plan for you.
Popular Full-Body and Upper/Lower Programs
- Modern Physique with Steve Cook
- Kingmaker with Mike Rashid
- Total Fitness with Andy Speer
- Total-Body Strong
Popular Body-Part Split Programs
- Jim Stoppani's 12-Week Shortcut to Size
- Kris Gethin's 8-Week Hardcore Daily Video Trainer
- Living Large: Jay Cutler's 8-Week Mass-Building Trainer
- Tailored: 6 Weeks to Living Lean
- Hackett, D. A., Johnson, N. A., & Chow, C. M. (2013). Training practices and ergogenic aids used by male bodybuilders. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(6), 1609-1617.
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., & Krieger, J. (2019). How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency. Journal of Sports Sciences, 37(11), 1286-1295.