How To Increase Training Frequency To Build More Lean Muscle Faster

Currently torching a body part once a week and not seeing results? Learn how to increase your training frequency and improve the amount of muscle you build.

Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.

Let me guess, you find yourself like the millions of others in the modern world waiting in line on Monday for the bench press? Ready to kill your pecs into oblivion? Twenty plus sets and a boatload of intensity techniques ready to go? Kill it! You think to yourself – it’s going to be brutal! Maybe the next day is back or arms with the same mentality? The next day shoulders and the next, legs?

The other day a friend called me up for some training advice and he went into detail of what he was currently doing in the gym. I had heard the story a thousand times: One body part per day with multiple sets. He received this “well researched and timeless” advice from a smoothie shop owner who also trained that way. Well, he called me a few weeks later looking for advice regarding his stalled gains and loss of muscle. He felt sluggish, tired and frustrated with his lack of progress.

The (now old) traditional way of body building style training is still going strong today: Lots of sets, one part per day and lots of rest. It is supposed to be the way to train for maximum muscle size, right? Pummel your body beyond failure, squeezing every last ounce of muscle fiber until it screams for mercy with countless sets then rest for an entire week with delusions of growth.

Here is my question to you: If that is the way you are “supposed” to train for muscle mass then why do we not see everyone at the gym big, ripped and happy? Why does it seem everyone is still looking for answers as to why they aren’t growing? Why is everyone still struggling to gain muscle?

Others simply relegate their lack of progress to genetics or accuse the other successful guys of pharmaceutical help. As both of the previous points may be true to some degree and in some circumstances, there is no doubt that something is amuck in paradise. The old plans just don’t work for everyone.

Why it works for some

Taking genetics and drug assistance into account can explain, at least for some part, the progress some make with traditional training.

Let’s take genetics. Do you know that one guy in your gym that can simply look at a weight and just grow? He does a few sets of this and a few sets of that and viola, instant muscle. Genetics can play a significant role in your rate of progress.

Now, for those who have decided to go the synthetic route, well, not much else can be said about their advantage. Injecting synthetic testosterone or growth hormone can yield big gains but you will pay the price eventually, monetarily and physically. But that is a whole other story.

But what about you? Average genetics? Not willing to do anything extreme to your body while sacrificing your health? What is the average Joe to do?

Most gym-goers will resort to more sets, more reps, heavier weights, intensity techniques and balls-to-the-wall intensity. If 12 sets aren’t cutting it then do 20 sets. If sets of 10 with a moderate weight won’t grow my thighs then let’s load up the bar with more weight and grind out 6 reps. If what you are doing isn’t working, you must do more! Right?

Dumbbell rows

There is another way, a better way

For the average Joe like you there are better ways of packing on muscle without resorting to extreme, gut-wrenching, two-hour long training sessions leaving you crawling out of the gym – the type of training that would be impossible to sustain for a significant amount of time without severe burnout.

There is one extremely overlooked element to training that few ever consider. It’s not more sets, not lower reps, heavier weight or any of the other countless intensity techniques. It goes against the traditional ideology and is highly effective for faster muscle gain.

What is it?

Frequency.

Training frequency is the long lost variable in training that has evolved slowly over the last few decades. Before the Golden Age of bodybuilding physique stars such as Steve Reeves, John Grimek and Clancy Ross all utilized high frequency training to great success. These guys were big, strong and lean for their time. Compared to the current goals of gym-goers these days, those aforementioned bodybuilders possess the ideal physique standard desperately sought after today.

But what happened? How did the tide turn to less frequency, more sets and more specialized training? Who really knows? Was it the advent of High Intensity Training (HIT) popularized by Author Jones and Mike Mentzer, later revived by Dorian Yates? Was it the simple need to break the mold and try something new? Or was it advances in pharmaceuticals that allowed for less frequency and more rest without the threat of muscle loss?

Whatever the reason (and I know you may have your own theories) it just doesn’t work for the majority of us. Manipulating frequency while regulating volume is a more logical way of gaining lean muscle.

Some simple math

Let’s crunch a few numbers. Don’t worry, I won’t get all calculus on you, but we still need to look at training from a common sense approach and compare a few things with simple math.

If volume is being kept in check along with central nervous system fatigue (as it relates to intensity) a more frequent training schedule will yield better and faster gains. Here’s how…

If you were to train, for example, your chest once per week you would potentially stimulate growth 52 times per year. However, if you were to train chest twice per week you would have 104 opportunities to stimulate growth. And three times per week? You guessed it – 156 growth days per year!

Who is going to develop their pecs faster? I don’t need to answer for you.

Now let’s take a quick look at how you can regulate volume in order to train more frequently. Take a look at the chart below.

Frequency Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Total Sets
1 x per week Chest (16 sets)         16
2 x per week Chest (8 sets)     Chest (8 sets)   16
3 x per week Chest (5 sets)   Chest (5 sets)   Chest (5 sets) 15

Do you notice throughout all frequency ranges that the total volume is roughly the same at the end of the week? So, volume has stayed the same but the number of stimulus per week is drastically different. These numbers may be slightly different for everyone but you get the idea. More frequency equals more opportunity for growth.

Barbell squats

Regulating your CNS

With the traditional training schedule of one body part per day, do you sometimes feel you need a full week to recover? Let’s take a leg day as an example. Heavy, brutal sets of squats can send your entire body into proverbial shock and may call for some serious rest time. Same with a heavy back day. These workouts can become heavy, high volume energy-crushers requiring you to take some much needed refuge on the couch.

This type of training can put an enormous amount of stress on your central nervous system (CNS). If you are consistently pounding on your CNS day after day it will be harder and harder to recover especially when wanting to train at a more frequent pace.

I am not suggesting that you pack your training full of bodyweight squats and curls with soup cans. No! You still need the big guns such as bench presses, shoulder presses, rows, chins and squats. These compound, multi-joint moves are still the best for packing on some serious muscle.

That’s why it’s important to structure your training in such a way as to keep your CNS stress in check and still perform the necessary big lifts. Carefully scheduling certain exercises on certain days of the week will keep you progressing without the burnout.

Teaching yourself to recover faster

Another factor to consider is the rate of your recovery. Since you will be training more frequently, you will need to recover faster. With traditional training of waiting an entire week to repeat a specific session you were, more or less, teaching your body to recover at that specific rate. In other words, you were teaching it to recover slower.

Of course this is true only to a certain extent. Once recovery is complete, possible atrophy can set in if too much time is taken between sessions. Taking an entire week to recover will do little for a speedy recovery.

Gradually evolving your training into one of more frequency will coax your body to recover quicker. Of course this isn’t something that will happen overnight. As mentioned, a gradual shift is the best approach. A “cold turkey” mentality will leave you feeling over trained and possibly squash your motivation.

Another advantage of training at a higher frequency is the greater potential for overall fat loss. Training large portions of the body at a more frequent pace will spur the metabolism more frequently burning more calories and fat. That is possibly how those bodybuilders of yore were able to stay lean without much cardio.

To gradually increase your training frequency, try something like this:

  • Weeks 1 to 4: Train each body part 3 times every two weeks
  • Weeks 5 to 8: Train each body part 2 times per week
  • Weeks 9 and beyond: Train each body part 3 times per week (if desired)

Barbell curls

So what is best?

You may be asking which is best: twice or three times per week? And what does a typical training plan look like?

Generally speaking, training each body part twice per week is better for a more muscle-building, body part specific goal. It would allow for a little more recovery as opposed to the three day per week schedule.

Training everything three times per week may be a better fit for those wanting to gain a little muscle and cut out a bit more fat – an overall athletic look.

Now, there are several ways to break down your training. Several factors must be considered such as available days per week, time available each day and your personal stress levels and adherence to proper nutrition.

Below are a few examples of how a program could be built. There are several to choose from regarding your personal schedule, availability and goals.

Twice per week – 4 days

Monday Sets x Reps
Incline bench barbell press 4 x 6-10
Flat bench dumbbell press 3 x 6-10
Wide-grip pull-up 4 x As many as possible
T-bar row 3 x 6-10
Seated dumbbell shoulder press 3 x 6-10
Standing barbell upright row 3 x 6-10
Tuesday Sets x Reps
Barbell curl 4 x 6-10
Close-grip bench press 4 x 6-10
Seated calf raise 3 x 6-10
Barbell back squat 3 x 6-10
Walking lunge 3 lengths
Barbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 6-10
Thursday Sets x Reps
Incline bench dumbbell press 4 x 10-12
Flat bench barbell press 3 x 10-12
Barbell bent-over row 4 x 10-12
Close-grip pull-up 3 x As many as possible
Standing military shoulder press 3 x 10-12
Seated dumbbell side lateral raise 3 x 10-12
Friday Sets x Reps
Incline bench dumbbell curl 4 x 10-12
Parallel dip 4 x 10-12
Standing calf raise 3 x 10-12
Bulgarian split squat 3 x 10-12
Barbell front squat 3 x 10-12
Seated leg curl 3 x 10-12

Twice per week – 6 days

Monday Sets x Reps
Incline bench barbell press 4 x 6-10
Flat bench dumbbell press 3 x 6-10
Wide-grip pull-up 4 x As many as possible
T-bar row 3 x 6-10
Tuesday Sets x Reps
Seated dumbbell shoulder press 3 x 6-10
Standing barbell upright row 3 x 6-10
Barbell curl 4 x 6-10
Close-grip bench press 4 x 6-10
Wednesday Sets x Reps
Seated calf raise 3 x 6-10
Barbell back squat 3 x 6-10
Walking lunge 3 lengths
Barbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 6-10
Thursday Sets x Reps
Incline bench dumbbell press 4 x 10-12
Flat bench barbell press 3 x 10-12
Barbell bent-over row 4 x 10-12
Close-grip pull-up 3 x As many as possible
Friday Sets x Reps
Standing military shoulder press 3 x 10-12
Seated dumbbell side lateral raise 3 x 10-12
Incline bench dumbbell curl 4 x 10-12
Parallel dip 4 x 10-12
Saturday Sets x Reps
Standing calf raise 3 x 10-12
Bulgarian split squat 3 x 10-12
Barbell front squat 3 x 10-12
Seated leg curl 3 x 10-12

Cable rows

Three times per week – 3 days

Monday Sets x Reps
Incline bench dumbbell press 3 x 8-12
Wide-grip pull-up 3 x As many as possible
Bulgarian split squat 3 x 8-12
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 8-12
Dumbbell upright row 3 x 8-12
Parallel dip 3 x 8-12
Single leg calf raise with dumbbell 3 x 8-12
Wednesday Sets x Reps
Plyo push-up 3 x As many as possible
Inverted row 3 x As many as possible
Jump squat or box jump 3 x 15
Reverse lunge 3 x 15
Front plate raise 3 x 15
Farmer’s walk 3 lengths
Friday Sets x Reps
Flat bench barbell press 3 x 6-10
Bent-over dumbbell row 3 x 6-10
Barbell back squat 3 x 6-10
Walking lunge 3 lengths
Standing military shoulder press 3 x 6-10
Reverse-grip chin-up 3 x As many as possible
Seated calf raise 3 x 6-10