So you want to gain as much muscle as possible, huh? Okay, what's your game plan? The first thing you need to decide is how many training days per week you want to devote to each muscle group. The experts all agree on this subject: they agree their ideas are right and everyone else's are wrong! It can get confusing.
Some say you should train each muscle group once per week; others will say twice and some even recommend training each muscle group three times per week. Who's right? Well, everybody is, if you plan things out accordingly. To make optimal progress you must take some precautions when planning training frequency. These precautions will allow you to avoid the various pitfalls that await you.
Pitfall #1: Training too much and too often
You can either train a lot during a session or train often. Seldom can you do both! If you train a body part with a lot of sets and reps, you'll need more than a few days to recover. So somebody who likes to train a muscle group twice or three times per week shouldn't use the same volume per session as someone who's only training each muscle group once per week.
Simply put, if you train with a high volume and don't give your body enough time to recover, you won't progress. As you can see in the graphic, you only recover enough to avoid regressing, but you don't have large gains.
Pitfall #2: Not training enough or not frequently enough
If you have more than five days between workouts for the same muscle group, you need to use a relatively large training volume per session. Why? Because if you allow too much rest for the stress you placed on your body, you'll improve, but will soon return to baseline. This is called "involution." If you allow too much rest between two training sessions for the same muscle group, you'll lose much of your gains.
However, the proper training frequency is dependant on the volume per session. If you use a very large training volume in one session (lots of sets), you won't suffer from involution if you have five to seven days between workouts for the same muscle group.
On the other hand, if you increase the training frequency you must decrease volume. If you choose to train each muscle group only once per week, the volume per session must be high. This is illustrated in the following graphic: during the training session your capacities diminish only to improve during the recovery period, but then the gains are lost because of involution/detraining.
Dividing Volume, Not Adding It
For maximum progress, regardless of how many weekly sessions you have for each muscle group, you should do the same weekly training volume. For example, if you do 120 total reps per muscle group per week, you can do either one session of 120 total reps, two sessions of 60 reps, or three sessions of 40 reps. When you add weekly training sessions, don't double or triple total weekly volume. This will lead to stagnation.
The next three graphics show how your body will react to properly planned, once-per-week, twice-per-week and three-times-per-week sessions.
a) Properly planned once-per-week session for each muscle group
b) Properly planned twice-per-week sessions for each muscle group
c) Properly planned three-times-per-week sessions for each muscle group
How to Plan Volume
The following graphic illustrates how to set up training volume depending on your fiber-type dominance and the number of weekly workouts per muscle group. First though, here's a quick review of what I mean by "fiber type."
The fibers in your muscles are "typed" according to their oxidative capacities and how fast they fatigue. Typically, fast-twitch (Type-II) fibers respond best to heavy, low-rep training. In other words, fast-twitch fibers are recruited in the performance of high-intensity, short-duration bouts of work, like heavy lifting and sprinting. Usually, if you hear someone refer to a bodybuilder as "gifted," one of those gifts is an inordinate amount of fast-twitch fibers. If your goal is to be big and strong, then you probably long for a high fast-twitch fiber makeup.
Based on that info, you should be able to choose which fiber type you lean toward. If you don't think you lean toward either direction, just choose "mixed ratio" in the graphics below.
Step 1: Selecting the appropriate weekly volume
Step 2: How to divide the total weekly volume into sessions
Step 3: Selecting the proper training split
a) If you train each muscle group once per week...
b) If you train each muscle group twice per week...
c) If you train each muscle group three times per week...
The Take Home Message
The important thing to remember is that the optimal training volume in a single session will vary depending on how many times you train each muscle group per week. If you train it once, the volume per session must be very high to prevent involution. On the opposite side, if you train each muscle group three times per week, the volume must be very low to prevent overtraining.
When properly planned, each type of frequency will yield great results. With a smart game plan, you'll avoid the pitfalls and reach your goals!