Progressive overload and frequency are the two most important factors in building muscle.
The more frequently you can train a muscle, while stimulating strength gains and without exceeding your capacity to recover, the more muscle you’ll build.
This is no different than any other physical quality that you would like to improve in life.
Want to become a better hitter? Go to the batting cage more frequently.
Want to become a better shooter? Get on the hardwood and knock down 100+ jumpers every day.
Want to shake the “2-Pump Chump” nickname you’ve earned with the ladies? Get more practice time in, preferably with a partner.
Whenever you want to get better at something the answer is always to do it more often.
So if you want to get better at lifting weights, and thus build muscle faster, you should train more frequently.
Like the ability to hit a fastball, strength development is a skill.
You have to teach your muscles and your central nervous system to work in synchronicity so that you can contract harder during a set.
By contracting harder and producing more tension you’ll get stronger and be able to lift heavier weights. When you can lift heavier weights you’ll get bigger (as long as you’re following a proper muscle building diet).
It’s a simple formula that is often overlooked.
Training more frequently also helps to alleviate soreness and little nagging injuries. That’s because when you do something only once per week you never really adapt to it. Like shooting jumpers or digging ditches. You get sore the first time but after doing it daily for a few weeks the soreness is gone.
Strength training is no different. It’s simply a matter of the body building itself up and getting used to the demands frequently imposed upon it. Basic adaptation.
If you turn your workouts into a contest, train to failure and beat the shit out of yourself all that goes out the window. In that case you should probably just train twice a week for 13 minutes per session and hope for the best.
Those who train a little bit more intelligently can train more frequently.
During your first 6-12 months of training you should train each body part three times per week. When you are weak and trying to learn the lifts you need very frequent exposures.
My Minimalist Training program has several workouts that fill the bill perfectly here.
After your first 6-12 months of proper training you should have developed a pretty good strength base and have gained at least twenty pounds of muscle. At that point you can switch over to an upper/lower split. That means you’ll be training upper body twice and lower body twice each week.
You’d do one or two big barbell lifts per workout and then follow it up with bodyweight and dumbbell assistance work and possibly a finisher.
My Muscle Gaining Secrets program is a four day upper/lower split which will work perfectly with anyone who is in their first few years of training.
An upper/lower split can work forever. Most successful powerlifters continue to follow this system throughout most of their training days. Eventually you will probably find that four big, heavy days can be a bit much to tolerate so you could switch it up to a heavy/light system where you have two heavy days each week, one for upper and one for lower, and two lighter days each week for upper and lower body.
This is one of my top two all time go-to systems that I’ve used consistently with clients since 1999 with outstanding results. The most used Renegade training template is:
On the heavy days you work up to a top end set on some type of press or squat and then follow it up with assistance work. The rep upper body day usually removes the heavy barbell work and focuses more on dumbbell and bodyweight exercises. This leads to better recovery and fewer aches and pains. If barbell pressing is included on this day it’s done lighter and later in the workout.
On the strongman day we do a lot of sled pushing and dragging, farmers walks, sandbag exercises, heavy throws, rope rows, and jumps.
If you’re smart and program your workouts intelligently you could use that type of system for quite some time.
Eventually you may decide that need a slight reduction in frequency and an increase in volume. This will call for a three way split. I prefer Pull/Push/Lower at that point. With this split you’d still train four days per week but would rotate the days so your schedule would change each week.
Obviously this split breaks the rule of higher frequency but when you get significantly stronger it often becomes a necessity.
For more on these advanced style workouts check out The Renegade Inner Circle.
That provides more opportunities to stimulate growth than the standard bodybuilder prescription of training a muscle group only once per week.