Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D, C.S.C.S., is a member of the Men’s Health Advisory Board.
One of the coolest parts about working as a muscle science researcher is challenging old assumptions about how we build muscle.
Every muscle-”building” workout actually involves you causing “damage” to your muscles as you lift weights. Your body then repairs those muscles as you recover between workouts; it’s during this process that you’re body is actually building new muscle.
Building on Conventional Muscle Wisdom
The conventional wisdom on this process says that as you gain experience in the weight room, your body needs less time to repair and build muscle after a strength session.
Supposedly, newer lifters will build and repair muscle for up to 48 hours or more after their workout. If you’re an advanced lifter, that repair time is shorter, around 24 to 36 hours. This is why you’ll often see pro bodybuilders lifting several times per week. After all, if you want to maximize muscle growth, you have to challenge your muscles often, right?
Not necessarily. At the end of the day, it all comes down to this: You should find a training frequency that works for you and your lifestyle. Whether that’s six days a week or three days a week, you can find ways to build muscle.
A recent experiment I did with researchers from Croatia, Australia, Washington and New York, helps show that. We recruited 27 young men who had been lifting a minimum of two times per week for the past six months, and divided them into two study groups: one group lifted three days per week on non-consecutive days (RT3), while another group trained six days per week (RT6).
Training for Muscle Growth for All
Though the RT6 group lifted twice as often as the RT3, we made sure that both groups accumulated the same amount of volume by the end of each week. Everyone did seven exercises for six to 12 reps per workout, except the RT3 group did four sets per workout, while the RT6 group did two.
If you believe the traditional line of thinking about needing more training sessions to keep seeing progress, you might expect the RT6 group to see greater results than the RT3 group. But both groups generally saw similar gains in muscle and strength by the end of the six-week training period.
Let me break things down a bit: Both groups increased their upper- and lower-body strength, which we measured via a one-rep max test for barbell bench press and barbell back squat. To gauge muscle growth, we used an ultrasound to measure the thickness of several muscles, including their quads and forearm muscles. Again, both groups saw relatively similar muscle growth.
Just as crazy, nobody seemed to overtrain. The men who trained six days a week didn’t show any signs of overtraining, which challenges the idea that muscles need 24 to 48 hours of recovery between sessions.
So don’t overthink your workout frequency. Personally, it’s less convenient for me to train every day, so I do a few longer sessions every week. But for you, training for thirty minutes every day over your lunch break might make total sense. Do what you need to do to stay consistent.
It’s the consistency of your workout over time that’ll bring you results.
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