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Fitness & Health

31st Jul 2019

How often should you train each muscle group at the gym?

Alex Roberts

Should you train a muscle group once a week, or more frequently?

Most gym goers have had to deal with this dilemma at some point. But you probably shouldn’t have done. It doesn’t really matter how often you train a muscle group.

According to new research, the most important factor for gaining size and strength is not how many times you train a muscle. Instead, the number of sets and reps you get through each week plays a more pivotal role.

Scientists compared the effects of training a muscle group once a week with a twice-per-week routine. They split people up into two groups:

  • Those training each muscle once a week completed 16 sets per workout
  • People hitting each muscle twice a week got through 8 sets per workout

The trial lasted for eight weeks. Afterwards, scientists reported the following findings:

  • There was ‘no significant difference’ between maximum strength in the back squat or bench press
  • In both groups, there was no difference in muscle thickness in the biceps and quads
  • There also seemed to be no difference in squat and bench press muscle endurance. That is, the total number of reps performed on both lifts with 60 percent of one rep max
  • In conclusion, both groups gained similar levels of muscle mass, strength and power

Scientists did say there may be a ‘slight benefit’ to training a muscle group twice a week. This is likely because your muscles typically recover within three days, making them ready for the weights room again. However, for the most part, your training split won’t impact on your results so long as you’re performing sufficient sets and reps.

Why doesn’t it matter how often you train a muscle group?

Volume is the key factor in determining gains in size and strength. Overall number of sets and reps was the same in both groups, over the course of the week. Hence why there didn’t seem to be much of a difference in the outcome.

Once-per-week training is extremely common in bodybuilding, often referred to by critics as a ‘bro split’. These training plans tend to look like this:

  • Monday: Chest
  • Tuesday: Back
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Shoulders & Abs
  • Friday: Biceps & Triceps
  • Weekend: REST

The twice-a-week training method is typically found in an upper-lower split, or a push/pull/legs system. They’re pretty self-explanatory:

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Tuesday: Lower Body
  • Wednesday: REST
  • Thursday: Upper Body
  • Friday: Lower Body
  • Weekend: REST

Don’t get hung up on copying the routine of your favourite bodybuilder or athlete, if the sessions don’t fit your schedule. Train as often as you can, but realise sets and reps are the key to results.

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