Illustration of a man working out his biceps.

How often should you work out? That might look like a single question, but there are actually two questions in there:

  • How often should you train each muscle?
  • How many times per week should you work out?

For example, if you do 3 full-body workouts per week, you’d be training your muscles three times per week. But if you do a 5-day split routine, dividing your body up into 5 different areas, you’d be training each muscle just once per week. So it’s possible to work out more often while training your muscle less often, or vice versa.

So first we need to see how often you should train each muscle. Then we can talk about the best way to schedule your workout routine so that you’re training each muscle hard enough, often enough.

Illustration of a skinny fat guy working our frequently to build muscle as fast as possible.

How Often Should You Train Your Muscles?

How Long Do You Build Muscle After Weight Training?

If you’re trying to build muscle as fast as possible, you want to keep your muscles growing all week long. So to figure out how often you should train your muscles, we can look at how long you build muscle after working out.

Graph showing that intermediates build muscle for a couple of days after working out.

If we look at a study done on intermediate lifters, we see that doing a single exercise for 3 sets stimulates over a day of muscle growth. If we look at another study, we see that doing an exercise for 6 sets stimulates over two days of muscle growth. In a third study, working out stimulated over three days of muscle growth. This tells us that a good workout will keep us growing for a good 2–3 days.

Then, if we look at a systematic review comparing beginners and intermediate lifters, we see that working out stimulates muscle growth for about the same amount of time, it’s just that beginners see a faster rate of muscle growth. This idea that intermediate lifters need to train more often because they’re more advanced is a bit of myth, and in some cases, the opposite is true. There are cases were intermediate lifters benefit from training less often, which we’ll discuss deeper into article.

Note: just to clear up any potential confusion, we’re talking specifically about muscle growth, so we’re talking specifically about myofibrillar protein synthesis—building muscle fibres. That can get confusing because some research, such as this study, shows that mixed muscle-protein synthesis abates after about 24 hours in intermediate lifters. Studies like that are often used to show that our workouts only stimulate a single day of growth. But if we look at what’s going on in the muscle fibres, we see that growth is still taking place for 2–3 days after working out.

Recovery & The Repeated Bout Effect

The next thing we need to consider is how long it takes us to recover from our workouts, and that isn’t always quite the same thing. Maybe a workout stimulates 2–3 days of muscle growth, but it takes us 4–5 days to recover from the fatigue or soreness of the workout.

When we’re talking about recovery, this is where things get tricky. There’s a lifting phenomenon that throws a wrench into much of the research. See, what researchers do is they take a group of participants, put them on a standardized workout routine, and then measure what happens. Thing is, if we take someone, give them a new workout routine, and measure the muscle damage it causes, we see a massive amount of disruption. That’s because the stimulus is novel. We haven’t adapted to it yet. We’re still vulnerable to it. This effect is especially pronounced in beginners, who can get sore for a full week after lifting weights for the first time. But even with intermediate lifters, when we give them a new training routine, it can cause quite a lot of muscle damage.

That’s where the repeated bout effect comes in. Over time, as we acclimatize to our training, we grow tougher, our workouts cause less muscle damage, and we start being able to recover much more quickly, allowing us to train more often. For example, in this study, it took people four days to recover from their first workout, but only a single day to recover from their second workout.

Illustration of Milo of Croton carrying a calf as it grows into a bull, demonstrating the principle of progressive overload.

For another example, in this study, doing a full-body workout with 3 sets per exercise caused 3 days of muscle damage, preventing the participants from being able to add weight or reps to their lifts in the subsequent workout. This suggests that, depending on how challenging your workout routine is, it might be better to ease into it.

For instance, in the very first week of your workout program, perhaps you do 2 sets per exercise and leave a rep or two in reserve. That way you don’t overdo the muscle damage. The next week, add a third set and inch a bit closer to failure on that third set, ensuring that you’re still providing a good stimulus. The week after that, add another set, and push yourself even harder. After a few weeks, adjust your exercise routine a little bit, and begin a new phase.

Okay, with that in mind, let’s look at how different training frequencies affect muscle growth over time.

Training Your Muscles Once Per Week

Okay, so we know that working out stimulates muscle growth for 2–3 days, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us how often we should be working out. To know for sure, we should take a look at how much actual, bonafide muscle growth people get from different training frequencies.

A recent study by Schoenfeld did just that. He had one group training their muscles once per week using a push/pull/legs split, and the other half training their muscles 3 times per week using full-body workouts. Both groups did 3 workouts per week, and both did the same number of exercises and sets, giving them the same overall training volume. The only difference was how often they were training their muscles.

All of the muscles we investigated showed greater growth from a higher training frequency.

Brad Schoenfeld, PhD

The group doing full body workouts saw greater muscle growth in every area that reached statistical significance (such as biceps growth). In fact, even in the metrics that didn’t reach statistical significance, such as strength gains and overall muscle growth, the full-body group still did better.

Training Your Muscles 2–4 Times Per Week

After the Schoenfeld study, a new wave of research surged in, with all of the studies coming to the same conclusion: doing just a few sets per muscle group is enough to stimulate muscle growth, but we should be training our muscles every 2–4 days (meta-analysis).

Graph showing that training a muscle 2–3 times per week stimulates more muscle growth than training a muscle once per week.

In fact, every single study found a benefit to training our muscles at least 2–4 times per week, and the effect was quite large, yielding 48% faster muscle growth.

It seems that this extra muscle growth can be explained by two things:

  • Frequency: if we train our muscles every 2–4 days, then we can keep our muscles growing all week long, and so we can build muscle faster.
  • Pacing: if we spread each muscle’s work out over multiple workouts, fatigue is less of an issue, allowing us to lift more weight and eke out more reps, stimulating more muscle growth.

Training our muscles once per week isn’t enough to maximize our rate of muscle growth. By training our muscles 2–4 times per week instead, we can build muscle around 48% faster.

Training Your Muscles Every Day

So, we know that workout out our muscles 2–4 times per week builds more muscle than working them out just once per week. Great. But what about if we train our muscles every day? Would that help us build muscle even faster?

That’s where high-frequency training comes in. High frequency training is based on the idea that you can build muscle even faster by training your muscles 4–6 times per week. That means doing shorter, easier workouts. Instead of doing 3–8 sets per muscle group per workout, you might only do 1–3 sets. And instead of lifting close to failure, you might stop a good few reps shy. That way you aren’t causing as much muscle damage each workout, allowing you to work out more often.

Even so, there are some things to watch out for. Just because our target muscles are recovering, that doesn’t mean our tendons and joints are. And what about the muscle we use every workout, like those in our hands, forearms, upper traps, and spine? That’s why the hypertrophy researcher James Krieger, MS, notes that high-frequency training can cause wear and tear on our joints. That’s why he had to stop his experiment of working out every day, reverting back to a more conventional approach. He also noted that working out every day wasn’t giving him faster muscle growth or strength gains. The only noticeable difference was more joint pain.

Plus, there doesn’t seem to be a benefit to training your muscles every day. If you work your muscles hard enough, you can stimulate 2–4 days of muscle growth with a single workout, and so there’s little benefit to training more often than that. It could be that some people benefit from working out more frequently, and some people certainly prefer it, but for the majority of people, it doesn’t seem to help. We’re already gaining muscle at full speed.

To be fair, there’s some research showing that high-frequency training can help us build muscle faster. The problem is, that research compares training our muscles every day against training them just once per week. If we look at studies, like this one and this one, comparing training our muscles 3 times per week against training our muscles 6 times per week, the advantage to training more often disappears completely. Both groups gained the same amount of muscle mass and strength. The same is true when we compare 5-day full-body routines against 5-day split routines. Both produce the same amount of muscle growth (study).

High-frequency training is interesting, and we’ll keep an eye out for new research, but at the moment, it doesn’t seem to help us build muscle any faster than training our muscles 2–4 times per week.

How Often Should You Train Different Muscles?

Alright, so, we’ve covered why training our muscles 2–4 times per week is ideal for building muscle. But that’s a range. Should you work out your muscles 2, 3, or 4 times per week? It depends on a few different different factors, and one of those factors is which muscle group we’re talking about.

Now, before we dive into the details, it’s worth pointing out that everyone is a little bit different, and as you grow stronger and tougher, you’ll probably notice some changes.

A beginner is sensitive to the muscle damage caused by working out, and so working out more frequently can be hard. But after they get used to training, they’re often able to train quite frequently, given that their muscles aren’t very big yet, and they aren’t strong enough to cause much overall disruption. At this point, training your muscles 3–4 times per week can work great, and full-body workouts are a great way to do that.

As you build ever more muscle, you’ll learn how to push yourself harder, your bigger muscles will sustain more overall damage, and your tendons and bones will be under more pressure. You may find that after a few heavy sets on the squat or bench press, you’re wrecked for a few days. And not just in your target muscles, but in your stabilizer muscles as well, such as the spinal erectors in your lower back. At that point, training your muscles just twice per week starts to make more sense. This is where splits can come in.

As a general rule of thumb, what you want to do is train your muscles hard enough to make them fatigued, blast them with enough reps to get a pump, and feel some soreness for the next day or three. If that doesn’t happen, you may need to train harder. Then, when that soreness abates, you’re ready to train those muscles again.

How Often Should You Train Your Chest?

Your chest is one of your bigger and stronger muscle groups, and it’s possible to train your chest quite hard, stimulating a ton of muscle growth, and also causing quite a lot of muscle damage.

Illustration showing a man doing the bench press.

If we look at the bench press, it’s a lift that challenges your chest in a deep stretch, stimulating a ton of muscle growth and also causing quite a lot of disruption. For example, this study found that it took 4 days to fully recover from doing 8 sets of the bench press. To be fair, 8 sets of the bench press is quite a lot, and in this study, where the participants did just 3 sets of 10 repetitions on the bench press, it only took 2–3 days for their chests to recover. So if you do fewer sets, you can train your chest more often. And if you do more sets, you might need longer to recover. Both approaches seem to produce a comparable amount of muscle growth. It’s up to you.

There are a variety of different ways to train your chest, and a variety of different rep ranges you can use. To stimulate a maximal amount of muscle growth, you’ll probably want to focus on lifts that challenge your chest in a deep stretch, such as the barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, close-grip bench press, deficit push-up, and dumbbell fly. Doing 6–20 reps per set will stimulate the most muscle growth, and doing 3–8 sets per workout tends to be ideal.

How Often Should You Train Your Back?

Unlike your chest, your back tends to be fairly hard to kill. There are lifts that work our back muscles in a deep stretch, such as the chin-up and lat pulldown, but most of the tension is at the top of the lift, not the bottom. These aren’t great strength curves for stimulating muscle growth. And if we look at barbell rows, the strength curve is even worse.

Illustration of a man doing chin-ups to work out his back.

Plus, most of the muscles in our backs seem to be able to handle rather high training volumes. As a result, most people can get away with working out their backs quite frequently, often getting away with training it 3–4 times per week. And that’s good. Because our backs are involved in almost every lift we do!

When we squat and deadlift, our spinal erectors need to stabilize our spines. When we hold weights in our hands, our upper traps engage. And our biceps are often active, both in the gym and in our day-to-day lives. Our backs get a lot of work, and they tend to handle it well.

With lifts that don’t work our spinal erectors, such as the chin-up, lat pulldown, pull-up, and t-bar row, you can probably benefit from training them at least 3 times per week. And then with the lifts that hit your spinal erectors hard, such as barbell rows and deadlifts, you might want to be more conservative, doing them just once a week, especially if they leave your back feeling sore for days.

How Often Should You Train Your Legs?

Our quads and glutes are the two biggest muscles in our bodies, and like our chests, it’s possible to challenge them in a deep stretch, stimulating a ton of muscle growth and causing quite a lot of disruption. For example, in this study, it took 4 days to fully recover from doing 5 sets of 12 repetitions on the leg pres. As a result, especially as you get stronger, you may only want to train your legs 2–3 times per week.

Illustration of a bodybuilder squatting to train his legs.

When we do a deep front squat, high-bar squat, leg press, or leg extension, we’re working our quads through a full range of motion, and it’s the bottom of that range of motion that tends to be the hardest, which is amazing for stimulating muscle growth. Then, because our quads are so massive, it can take quite a while for them to recover. Plus, the big leg exercises tend to be so heavy that they cause quite a lot of overall fatigue. If we’re training our legs more often, it can leave less energy for our other lifts. That’s why people often find it hard to bulk up their upper bodies when doing programs like StrongLifts 5×5 and, to a lesser extent, Starting Strength.

Now, to be clear, we’re talking about building muscle here. If you’re training for strength, there are a number of popular programs that recommend squatting every day, and that’s fine. But those workouts aren’t designed to stimulate muscle growth. When we’re working out to build muscle, it tends to be better to train your legs a bit harder and a bit less frequently. Doing 4–8 sets for your legs twice per week will probably be enough to maximize your rate of muscle growth.

How Often Should You Train Your Shoulders?

Our shoulders are a fairly big muscle group, but similar to our backs, most shoulder exercises have a fairly poor strength curve, and so it’s hard to stimulate much growth or cause much muscle damage. That can depend, so you’ll need to play it by ear, but many people can get away with training their shoulders 3–5 times per week.

Illustration of a man working out his shoulders with the overhead press.

For example, if we look at the most famous shoulder exercise, the overhead press, the strength curve is such that it’s hardest when the barbell is at forehead height, where your front delts are already at fairly short muscle lengths. It works them quite hard, and they’re certainly the limiting factor, but it’s nothing compared to how a bench press works the chest or how a squat works our quads. As a result, our shoulders can often recover fairly quickly. If we train our shoulders with the bench press, close-grip bench press, and incline bench press, we can challenge them at longer muscle lengths, but even then, they often recover quite fast.

Plus, there are different heads of our shoulders, all of which perform different functions. One day you might want to train the overhead press, another the bench press, and another the close-grip bench press. But you’ll also want to include some lateral raises or upright rows for your side delts, and plenty of rowing and chin-ups for your rear delts. As a result, you may want to include at least some shoulder work in every single workout you do.

How Often Should You Train Your Arms?

The muscles in our arms are fairly small, and a lot of people have success training them more frequently, aiming for 3–4 arm workouts per week. Mind you, that’s because most people don’t train their arms with the same rigour as they train the muscles in their torsos. For example, this study found that if you do 8 sets of rows, your back will need a couple days to recover, but your biceps will be fully recovered within 24 hours. But if you do a dedicated arm workout, that changes dramatically. In this study, beginners doing 8 sets of preacher curls caused enough muscle damage that after 4 days, their biceps were still recovering.

Illustration of a bodybuilder training his arms with hammer curls.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we should be annihilating our arms every workout. For example, if you’re doing full-body workouts 3 times per week, and if you’re doing compound lifts like chin-ups, bench presses, and rows, then you’re already doing a halfway decent job of stimulating your biceps, triceps, and forearms 3 times per week, and that’s good. Not only does that volume add up, but those workouts are also fairly quick to recover from, allowing you to train your arms more often.

Graph showing triceps growth from doing the bench press and triceps extensions.

Then, if we look at the research on isolation lifts, it’s clear that we can build bigger arms much faster by including direct arm work. For example, in this study, we see twice as much growth in our triceps if we do both the bench press and the triceps extensions. The same is true with many of the other muscles in our arms.

So, after doing your compound lifts, you could add in some biceps curls, triceps extensions, lateral raises, and forearm curls. Or you could add a fourth workout day, giving your arms a day all to themselves. Just keep in mind that if you do a dedicated arm day, your arms may need a few days to recover before you’ll benefit from doing another arm workout.

How Often Should You Train Your Abs?

Like your arms, your abs will get a little bit of work during most of your workouts. The chin-up, push-up, overhead press, front squat, and a variety of other lifts all train your abs, and so it’s common for people to build big abs simply by doing the big compound lifts. But if you notice your abs falling behind, doing some crunches or hanging leg raises at the end of your workouts can work wonders. They tend to recover fairly fast, and training them 3–4 times per week tends to work well.

How Many Days Per Week Should You Work Out?

Okay, now that we’ve talked about how often you should train your muscles, let’s talk about how to organize that into different workout routines. For example, if you want to train your muscles 3 times per week, there’s more than one way to do that:

  • 3 full-body workouts, training every muscle every workout.
  • 6 workouts, 3 for your upper body, 3 for your lower body.

So, what are the pros and cons to these different ways of organizing our workout routines? Let’s go over some sample workout schedules.

2-Day Full-Body Workout Routines

To build muscle at full speed, we want to train each muscle at least twice per week. If we’re only working out twice per week, that means we need to train every muscle every workout. That means doing 2 full-body workouts. The good news is that there’s research, such as this study, showing that people can stimulate a good 3 days of muscle growth with a full-body workout. And there’s also research, like this study, showing that training our muscles twice per week causes just as much muscle growth as training them 3 times per week.

Why would you do 2 full-body workouts per week? If you’re extremely busy, building muscle is a lower priority in your life, you’re trying to make room for other forms of exercise, or if you’re cutting, then it can make sense to scale back your weight training, and that’s where doing full-body workouts can come in handy. You can work out just twice per week and still get pretty good results. Plus, lifting twice per week is enough to get most of the health benefits of weight training.

What are the downsides? The problem with working out just twice per week is that it’s easy for the workouts to become long and draining, especially if you’re trying to do everything at once. Most of your energy will be eaten up by squatting, bench pressing, deadlifting, overhead pressing, and doing chin-ups. And that’s fine. But it doesn’t leave much room for, say, biceps curls, neck extensions, and hanging leg raises.

Illustration of a man doing the Zercher squat
The Zercher squat.

To build a 2-day workout program, we recommend making 2–3 different full-body workouts and alternating between them. For example, the first workout might have 3–4 sets of front squats, the second might have no squats, and the third might have 2–3 sets of Zercher squats. That gives you a squat frequency of 1.5 times per week, and one of the squat workouts is fairly easy. That frees up time and energy for mixing in a wider variety of lifts, allowing you to make your program more balanced, and allowing you to keep each workout from becoming overly fatiguing.

3-Day Full-Body Workout Routines

If we’re working out 3 days per week, that gives us a bit more wiggle room. We only need to train our muscles twice per week, so not every workout needs to train every muscle. That makes things much easier. For instance, we can squat and bench twice per week, but train our shoulders and arms three times per week.

The research on full-body workout routines is quite good, too. For example, in this study, putting a rest day between the full-body workouts allowed the participants to fully regain their strength, allowing them to train hard again. This is important because it means that even just that single day of rest is long enough to allow us to outlift ourselves every workout, achieving progressive overload.

Why would you do 3 full-body workouts per week? If you’re a beginner, doing 3 full-body workouts per week will work all of your muscles often enough for you to build muscle as fast as possible, and having a day (or two) of rest between your workouts will give your body a chance to recover. Your hands will get a break, so will your traps, so will your back, and so will your connective tissues.

Even as an intermediate lifter, doing 3 full-body workouts is often enough to allow you to build muscle at full speed overall. But you might have some areas that you can’t invest a lot of energy into. That can mean doing specialization phases, where you spend a few months focusing on just a few muscle groups. That way you can bring up your arms, or your neck, or improve your bench press, or whatever it is you’re eager to do. And that works very well, too.

Before and after progress photos of Shane Duquette from doing a 3-day full-body workout routine.
Shane Duquette at 130 pounds (left) and 195 pounds (right).

Personally, I’ve gained 65 pounds by doing 3 full-body workouts per week. Then, when life gets busy, I’ll often train just twice a week. That’s also allowed me to maintain a low body-fat percentage. And I’ve brought my bench press one-rep max up to 315 pounds. I know there are advantages to training more often, and we’ll cover those in a moment, but there’s no need to think that you have to train more often to continue getting bigger and stronger.

What are the downsides? If you’re an intermediate lifter, you could make an argument that doing more workouts per weeks gives you more time to train a wider variety of muscles—your neck, forearms, calves, and so on—without needing to give up on the essentials: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, chin-ups, biceps curls, and triceps extensions. There are so many great exercises for building muscle, and we only have so much time to do them. By adding more workouts, we give ourselves more time and energy to do more lifts.

Illustration of a man flexing his upper back, lats, and biceps.

To build a 3-day workout program, as with the 2-day workout routine, we recommend making 2–3 different full-body workouts and alternating between them. For example, the first workout might have 3–5 sets of the bench press, the second might have the overhead press, and the third might have a close-grip bench press. That gives you a bench press frequency of twice per week, your chest has enough time to fully recover between sessions, and you’re training your shoulders 3 times per week, which suits them well. (This is the approach we used in the 3-day Outlift workout routine.)

4-Day Split Workout Routines

If you’re working out 4 days per week, that gives us a lot of great options. You only need to train your muscles twice per week, so now we can explore body-part splits, perhaps even using a combination of full-body workouts and body-part splits.

However, it’s worth noting that when compared against full-body workouts, 4-day workout routines don’t necessarily stimulate more muscle growth overall. For example, in this study, the participants doing a 4-day routine increased their chest circumference by slightly more, but overall, gained the same amount of muscle mass as the group doing 3 full-body workouts per week. So there may be a slight advantage to training more often if it allows you to work some muscles harder, but it doesn’t appear to be very large.

Why would you do 4 workouts per week? As you get stronger, your sets will become more draining, requiring longer rest times. On the bigger lifts, it’s common for 2-minute rest periods to become 3 minutes, then 4 minutes, and then 5. Workouts can start to get long, and it can be hard to grind through exercise after exercise. That’s when it starts to make sense to either, a) do specialization phases, or b) add an extra workout day.

What are the downsides? There are no major downsides to training 4 days per week, other than the extra time investment, especially if you need to commute to a gym. Our connective tissues still get plenty of rest, and most people can recover from them fairly well. So if you want to add an extra workout day, I say go for it.

Illustration of a man flexing his arms.

To build a 4-day workout program, there are a variety of different options, and many of them are good. Here are a few great ones:

  • 3 full-body workouts + an arm day: if you’re enjoying doing 3 full-body workouts per week but you want some extra arm work, these are great. You can do full-body workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then blast your arms on Saturday.
  • An upper/lower split routine: a common way for athletes to bulk up is to alternate between upper-body and lower-body workouts. Monday you start with the bench press and row; Tuesday you start with the squat and Romanian deadlift; Thursday you start with the chin-up and overhead press; and Friday you start with the deadlift and leg press. Marco loves these, and has had great success using them.
  • 2 full-body workouts + an upper/lower split: my personal favourite way to train 4 days per week is to do a full-body workout on Monday and Wednesday, a lower-body workout on Friday, and then an upper-body workout on Saturday. It gives every muscle at least a day of rest, and it does a better job of spacing out the big compound lifts, keeping each workout fairly easy. (This is how we built the 4-day Outlift workout routine.)

5-Day Workout Routines

If you’re working out 5 days per week, you’ll either be doing high-frequency training or using a body-part split. Both of those approaches can work quite well, but they aren’t necessarily better than training 3–4 days per week.

Why would you do 5 workouts per week? As you get stronger, longer workouts can become hard. By working out more days per week, you can spread the exercises out over more days, keeping your workouts short. A lot of people find those shorter workouts easier to manage, especially if they enjoy going to the gym or enjoy training at home. It becomes part of their daily routine.

What are the downsides? When you’re lifting weights 5 days per week, that means doing a lot of back-to-back workouts. Even if you use an elaborate body-part split that keeps you from training your muscles two days in a row, you still need to watch out for fatigue, especially in the areas being worked every day, such as your spinal erectors.

Illustration of a bodybuilder doing the leg press.

To build a 5-day workout program, you could do short full-body workouts every day, cycling through a variety of different exercises for each muscle group. For instance, Monday is the squat, Tuesday is the leg extension, Thursday is the leg press, and so on. That way you aren’t repeatedly hammering your joints with the exact same type of stress.

A more popular approach is to use a body-part split routine. For example, you might use a workout routine like this:

  • Monday: bench press + chest-supported rows and accessories.
  • Tuesday: front squat + Romanian deadlifts and accessories.
  • Wednesday: overhead press + push-ups and accessories
  • Thursday: chin-up + dips and accessories
  • Friday: deadlifts and margaritas.

That way every muscle has a day of rest between workouts, and we’re also managing how often we’re doing lifts that tax our lower back. But there are many different body-part split permutations, and many of them are good.

6-Day Split Workout Routines

If you’re working out 6 days per week, you’ll probably be using a body-part split. It can work well, but again, it isn’t necessarily better than training 3–5 times per week.

Why would you do 6 workouts per week? Some people don’t like doing long gruelling workouts, and so they enjoy spreading the workload out over as many days as possible, and that’s great. Other people enjoy going to the gym or find it easy to dip into short home workouts. If you want to lift weights more often, this is a good way to do it.

What are the downsides? When you’re lifting 6 days per week, that means lifting 6 days in a row, and without ever taking getting 2 days of rest in a row. That’s a lot, and so it becomes important to manage fatigue. The workouts tend to be short, and you may need to intentionally use smaller lifts to avoid fatiguing your stabilizer muscles: seated shoulder pressing instead of standing, exercise machines instead of free weights, t-bar rows instead of barbell rows, and so on. That’s not a problem, but it can make your training less efficient.

Illustration showing a man doing a row on a t-bar row exercise machine.
The chest-supported t-bar row.

To build a 6-day workout program, most people use a body-part split similar to the ones we’ve already covered, just with a greater frequency. For instance, doing a push/pull/legs routine twice per week, or doing an upper/lower split 3 times per week. And that works great, giving each muscle a day or two of recovery between workouts. The trick is to choose exercises that don’t cause too much fatigue in your stabilizer muscles, such as chest-supported or seal rows instead of barbell rows.

Or, if you want to be exercising 6 days per week but your heart isn’t set on lifting, you may really enjoy adding some cardio into your routine. After all, you don’t need 6 days of weight training to maximize your muscle growth, and adding some cardio in could be a real boon for your health and fitness. Even just lifting weights is great, and lifting does improve our cardiovascular fitness, but some dedicated cardio can help.

Doing Both Cardio & Weight Training

I won’t go too deep into this here, given that we have a full article on combining weight training with cardio, but if you’re lifting weights more than 3 days per week, it’s something to consider. If the reason you’re working out more often is to improve your health, it may be best to combine different types of exercise to get a wider variety of benefits.

Illustration of a bodybuilder doing cardio while building muscle.

For a quick example, if you wanted to train 5 days per week, there’s always the option to do something like this:

  • Monday: full-body workout.
  • Tuesday: a long, brisk walk outside.
  • Wednesday: full-body workout
  • Thursday: stationary biking for 30–60 minutes
  • Friday: full-body workout

Summary

To build muscle as fast as possible, train your muscles 2–4 times per week. Working out more often than that is fine, but it won’t speed up muscle growth, and you’ll need to watch out for fatigue and joint aches.

A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your workouts are strenuous enough to fatigue your target muscles, that you’re doing enough repetitions to get a pump, and that you’re working them hard enough to cause a day or three of muscle soreness. When that soreness abates, you can train the muscle again.

Illustration of a bodybuilder working out and gaining muscle mass.

For example, let’s say that on Monday you do the bench press for 4 sets of 8 repetitions and follow it with skullcrushers for 3 sets of 15 repetitions. Let’s say that you chest gets sore for the next 3 days, whereas your triceps only get sore for one day. In that case, maybe you train your triceps on Wednesday, but you wait until Friday to train your chest again. On Friday, maybe you do close-grip bench press or dips, and they don’t tear up your chest quite as much, allowing you to cycle back to another heavy bench press day on Monday. That would give you a routine like this:

  • Monday: bench press + skullcrushers + other lifts.
  • Wednesday: overhead press + overhead triceps extensions + other lifts
  • Friday: close-grip bench press + other lifts

The point being, different workouts will challenge your muscles to different degrees, stimulating muscle growth for different amounts of time, and also taking different amounts of time to recover from. You may find that you can train your chest twice per week, your triceps three times, your biceps four times per week, and that’s okay. As long as you’re training your muscles at least twice per week, you’re doing great.

During the first couple weeks of a workout routine, soreness can be a bit of a wildcard. Your muscles can be very fragile to the new stimulus, especially if you’re a beginner or returning after a break. In that case, you may find yourself training your muscles even when they’re sore, and that’s okay. But once you acclimatize to your workout routine, especially as an intermediate lifter, it’s usually best to let your muscles (mostly) recover before thrashing them again.

There are many different workout routines that can stimulate your muscles 2–4 times per week, ranging from a 2-day full-body routine all the way up to a 6-day split routine. As a default, we recommend 3-day full-body routines for beginners and early intermediate lifters. Then, once those workouts start getting too long and hard, or if you start running up against a plateau, consider adding a fourth day. But that’s just a default. There are a lot of good routines for building muscle.

Cover illustration of the Outlift intermediate bulking program for naturally skinny guys.

And, as always, if you want a customizable workout program (and full guide) that builds these principles in, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program, which includes both 3-day and 4-day workout routines. We also have our Bony to Beastly (men’s) program and Bony to Bombshell (women’s) program for skinny and skinny-fat beginners, which both use 3-day full-body workout routines. If you liked this article, you’ll love the full programs.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 65 pounds at 11% body fat and has ten years of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before

17 Comments

  1. Kevin on November 14, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks for this! Happy to see you touch on this topic.

    I’ve been doing 6-day upper/lower splits for about a year now and I like it. It’s mostly about schedule and psychology for me. I work out at home and 6 short workouts are easier to fit in than 3 long ones. I’m less likely to skip a workout when it’s a near-daily routine. Plus, I CAN do my workout at 9pm after kids are in bed if something prevents it during the day. It’s not fun but it’s doable, while a 1+ hour workout is really hard that time of night.

    To your comment about managing fatigue, I found that splitting the 4-day Hard Outlift routine in to 6 days was too much for me, especially in that 5th week. I now run the 4-day Easy rearranged in to 6 days and it’s great. MWF is mostly (but not completely) lower, while THS is upper body. Average workout length across the 6 days and 5 weeks is about 35 minutes. Still leaves room for a little cardio a couple times per week.

    • Shane Duquette on November 14, 2020 at 2:17 pm

      Thank you, Kevin!

      Yeah, I think once you go beyond 3 days as a beginner, 4 days as an intermediate, it’s less about stimulating more muscle growth, more about picking what you prefer. And in that case, I hear ya. I find long workouts a grind, too, especially with a young kid. I still only train 2–4 days per week, but I use specialization phases so that I can still fight for progress in some areas. Your approach is probably better, mind you 😛

  2. Farhan Hussain on November 14, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    Hi Shane, very important topic you have addressed. Mostly the internet is full of articles that discuss frequency of training same muscle. Frequency of total workouts is not addressed so much.

    Anyway, as you have mentioned that muscle building continues 2-3 days after which it cab be trained again. But what if soreness persists for, say, 5 days if you have hit the muscle very hard? like in once per week frequency where entire volume of all exercises is executed in same day? Is being sore or feeling symptoms of under-recovery a sign that muscle building is still underway even if it is more than 3 days?

    I think it would have been great if you had discussed the frequency of training a muscle in perspective of intensity of the workout. For example frequency of working lats at or above 90% of max capacity compared to training lats at 75% – 80% of max capacity. I believe both these intensities shall dictate different frequency bcoz of magnitude of muscle damage and neural fatigue of nervous system.

    • Shane Duquette on November 14, 2020 at 2:23 pm

      Hey Farhan, that’s a good question. It’s definitely possible to train a muscle so hard that it takes many days to recover. Sometimes a full 5+ days, yeah. That usually means doing a ton of hard sets, though, and there doesn’t seem to be much benefit to doing that. If we look at the research on push/pull/legs routines, we see that splitting the volume up over 2–3 workouts builds more muscle.

      It seems that beyond a certain point, extra sets don’t really stimulate any extra muscle growth, just extra muscle damage. It seems like doing more than 5–12 sets per workout, depending on the person, doesn’t really add much extra value. For most people, especially if you’re using good lifts, that range of 3–8 challenging sets is good.

      There are exceptions, but as a general rule of thumb, yeah, better to spread the volume out over 2+ workouts.

      As for intensity, this article is about building muscle, so we’re not really interesting in sets with fewer than 5–6 reps per set or more than 30–40 reps per set. Those intensities aren’t very good for stimulating muscle growth. We’ve got a full article on rep range/intensity, though: https://outlift.com/hypertrophy-rep-range/

      That’s not to hate on heavier sets. I do heavier sets. I just finished benching 315 for a single. But I’m not doing that to build muscle, I just want to be able to say that I can bench 3 plates, you know? To build a bigger chest, I’m doing 8–15 reps with 225–265.

      With strength training, though, you generally want to favour recovery. Strength training is all about showing up fresh and lifting more weight. So give yourself some extra time. Wait until the soreness abates, then give it an extra day or two.

      • Farhan Hussain on November 15, 2020 at 6:13 am

        Yes Shane, agreed, after a certain point the extra sets just push us deeper in recovery hole and give no extra gains. That sweat spot may differ person to person. I too, like frequency of more than once per week. Sure.

  3. Fabian on November 18, 2020 at 5:49 am

    I feel like people don’t ever say this.

    Shane, everything you’re creating here is remarkably beautiful. I really appreciate the attention to detail in design. Thank you. Calms my heart.

    The main illustration here is fucking hilarious. Typography is kept simple. The color pallete everywhere is consistent and nice: Website, Forum, PDFs, *everything* (Did you paint your home gym wall main-book-cover-blue oder make the book gym-wall-blue?). I didn’t check, but I’m sure even the damn CSS is structured nicely.

    <3

    • Shane Duquette on November 21, 2020 at 12:05 pm

      Thank you so much, Fabian! That means a lot 😀

      Ahaha yeah, I painted my home gym a similar blue to the b2B blue. Sort of a Caribbean Ocean Blue, I guess you’d call it. It’s a colour I really like, and I thought it would match the vibrancy we try to have with our sites. So, yeah, it was intentional 😛

  4. Marcus on November 24, 2020 at 7:53 am

    Hi Shane,

    Many thanks for all your excellent work on this site – after just a couple of visits it became my first port of call.

    This article reflects most of what I’ve read (albeit in a more comprehensive and well-structured way). However, I’ve seen several examples of people going well above the recommended volumes and seeing great results. I remember reading about one intermediate-advanced lifter, for example, who had trained his biceps and triceps directly 4-5 times (a total of 12-15 sets each) per week directly, on top of all his upper body compound pulling and pushing movements, for an 8-month period, and had seen huge gains there.

    This suggested to me that biceps and triceps can recover enough to be trained on consecutive days, so long as it’s around three sets per session and you don’t go quite to failure. It also suggested that exercises like the bench press, overhead press, pull ups and rows don’t cause much damage to biceps and triceps, since otherwise with this frequency the arm muscles surely wouldn’t recover.

    For the past couple of weeks I’ve therefore been on a two-day cycle (as far as the upper body goes). On day 1, I’ve been doing 3 sets each for the biceps, brachialis and triceps. On day 2, I’ve been doing (among others) chest press, overhead press, pull ups and rows. My reasoning was that upper arm growth would be stimulated every day, but upper arm recovery from the exercises on day 2 wouldn’t take more than a day, and, in the event that it took my upper arm muscles more than a day to recover after working them directly on day 1, the (limited?) stress placed on them on day 2 wouldn’t significantly impair their recovery after they’d had a full day already.

    Would you agree, or does what you’ve read indicate otherwise? The more conventional method would, of course, be to train the upper arms with the rest of the upper body, and then give them a full day off. I’m just curious as to whether you think stimulating growth every day in this fashion would still tend to impair recovery in most people.

    Many thanks,
    Marcus

    • Shane Duquette on November 24, 2020 at 1:26 pm

      Hey Marcus, thank you!

      Yeah, most people overestimate how hard the compound lifts work their arms. You might do a few sets of the bench press and feel nothing in your triceps, get no pump, feel no soreness there, and not see much growth. That’s especially true with wide-grip barbell bench presses and dumbbell bench presses. In a situation like that, you almost don’t want to count the bench press as a triceps exercise. Better to only count the lifts that challenge your triceps. And the same is true with the biceps. Chin-ups can be good, but rows and pull-ups don’t work them very hard, and the best results tend to come from biceps curls.

      I think your idea sounds good. You might get similar results by including your arm work with your regular workouts. For instance, you might get a killer triceps workout by doing a bench press followed by skullcrushers, and it’s pretty convenient because you can do both exercises on the same bench. As an advantage, your elbows will be warmed up from the bench and your triceps will already be slightly fatigued, meaning you might get more stimulation with less joint stress. Or maybe you find you get a way better triceps workout if you start your workout fresh. I’d try and compare the two approaches.

      If you give yourself 2 days of per week, and take a deload week every month or two, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about recovery. Your arm muscles are fairly small, and any lingering fatigue can be cleared with the rest days and deload. Just watch your elbows. If they start aching, you might want to ease back on the curls and extensions, dropping them a lower frequency again.

      • Marcus on November 25, 2020 at 5:57 am

        Many thanks Shane. What you say about training muscles when they’re already fatigued to avoid joint stress is interesting and I hadn’t thought of that before. I assumed training muscles when fatigued would result in less mechanical stress since the weight would be lower – however, you’ve written about a study where tricep extensions AFTER a bench press resulted in better growth than in the reverse order. Maybe because the mechanical stress they experience during the bench is greater, since triceps aren’t the limiting factor and the weight can therefore be raised? Or is it simply that putting a muscle through X weight induces different levels of mechanical stress depending on how fatigued it is?

        I might try cable pushdowns after benching to finish off the short and lateral heads, and then hit the long head with overhead extensions on the following day? Perhaps if I alternate between emphasising the different heads on consecutive days (3 or 4 in a row) I’ll get the benefits of stimulating growth daily, but allow the muscle to recover? Or maybe this is likely to still impair recovery too much…I’d very much appreciate any insight you might have here.

        Many thanks again,
        Marcus

        • Shane Duquette on November 25, 2020 at 10:06 am

          You’re totally right. More mechanical tension on the muscles means more muscle growth. The idea is to start putting the stress on our triceps in a way that’s less likely to aggravate the elbows, such as with a close-grip bench press, and then switch to a movement that’s better for the triceps at the cost of being harder on the elbows, like a skullcrusher or overhead triceps extension. Your logic is good, though. Starting with a skullcrusher might yield more triceps growth specifically in the long head, which isn’t worked properly with the bench press. And if your elbows feel fine when doing it, I don’t see a problem there.

          But, yeah, so far, based on the research that we have, I’m leaning towards benching then extensions as the best default.

          I think cable pushdowns are a good all-around triceps exercise. Maybe a bit less stretch on the longer heads, sure, but the movement at the shoulder joint is good. If anything, your shoulders are extending as you push the weight down. Same dynamics as the skullcrusher and overhead extension. All of them are great movements for the triceps, and I’d imagine all heads are being worked quite well.

          Your plan of doing bench + pushdowns one day and then overhead extensions the next is worth trying. I think it makes sense. You’re getting some good variety there. Again, just make sure that your elbows are feeling okay 🙂

          • Marcus on November 26, 2020 at 10:28 am

            Many thanks for all your replies yesterday Shane – I appreciate all the advice and have adjusted my routine accordingly. Looking forward to reading your next articles (please keep them coming!).



  5. Victor Martinez on November 26, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    Hey Shane, great article as usual! I didn’t know you were living in Mexico, I hope we are treating you and your family well.

    One question on frequency: given that I’m not really lifting weights during the quarantine and only working out with calisthenics (and loving it by the way), I was wondering if this allows for a faster recovery, therefore higher frequency during the week would be fine.

    Once I go back to the gym, I’m still planning to keep a couple of days with calisthenics only, and a couple more with traditional weight lifting.

    • Shane Duquette on November 26, 2020 at 3:14 pm

      Hey Victor, thank you. And yeah! My wife is from Cancun, I’m from Canada, so we split our time between the countries. Recently, we’ve been here in Mexico, and it’s been great. It’s a beautiful country with amazing people. We’re loving it here 🙂

      I think it depends on how rigorous your bodyweight workouts are. Some calisthenics workouts might allow for quicker recovery, others not so much. If you’re lifting in higher rep ranges (20–40 reps per set) and taking your sets to failure, it’s pretty easy on the joints, but it can actually cause quite a lot of muscle damage, and so you might want a good couple of days between workouts.

      You’ll often see people doing push-ups and chin-ups (and other calisthenics movements) every day, though, and it can work well. Those lifts require fairly little warming up, and they’re done from the comfort of your home, making it convenient to do shorter workouts more often. Plus, because high-rep training to failure is so damn painful, it can help to spread it out 😛

  6. Nick on November 26, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    Hi Shane,

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your articles. I get a real buzz when I see an email from the B2B team in my inbox

    Really useful article, especially as someone who enjoys playing sports and is always balancing this with lifting.

    Thanks,
    Nick

    • Shane Duquette on November 26, 2020 at 3:19 pm

      Thank you so much, Nick!

      Yeah, totally. Having different training frequency options becomes all the more important when balancing both lifting and sports. If you can pull it off, though, it’s a pretty ideal way to live 🙂

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