This article will explore the reasons behind over training. Learn how many trainers know exactly why they shouldn't over train?

It is often the case that when someone discovers the gym for the first time and really gets into training they will work out for hours upon end hitting the same body part 3-4 times per week, training 7 days a week. This article will explore the reasons behind over training, it’s easy to be told ‘Your workout lasts too long’ or ‘you’re doing too many sets’ but people often ignore this advice. Hopefully after reading this article you will understand WHY you are over training and make the necessary changes to your routine to start gaining some serious muscle!

What is Overtraining?

Overtraining occurs when you push your body too hard and pass the point that your body is able to recover from. To make gains you must overload the muscles and then allow adequate time for recovery and growth by resting. Overtraining occurs when either the overload is too high, or the rest period aka recovery time is too low.

Workout Intensity and Overtraining

Now, you must train with a high enough intensity to overload the muscles which cause’s tiny tears to occur in the muscle fibres. After training these tears start to repair and then grow back slightly larger than before when your body has fully recovered from training.

Training with an intensity that is too low, for example not completing enough sets, or not using enough weight will not effectively break down the muscle fibres meaning no growth will occur as the fibres will not grow back larger and stronger than before if they have not been effectively overloaded during training… If the muscles can handle the weight that is being moved easily then there is no need for them to grow bigger and stronger.. So they won’t!

On the other hand training with an intensity that is too high will cause the muscle fibres to break down past a point of recovery, meaning the tears in the muscle are more severe and will require days of rest, or even weeks and months of rest and therapy in some more severe cases of over training.

When the intensity of your training is too high you are not allowing the muscles enough time to recover and rebuild. Over training can occur from training a muscle group before it has had time to fully recover from a previous session, such as training each body part 2-3 times per week… After you have finished training, the muscles that you worked will take usually somewhere between 24-48 hours to recover from training. It is only AFTER this period of recovery that any growth occurs, this is why for example training your arms on a Monday and again on a Wednesday is not recommended as although you may feel ok and ready to train them again and any soreness from the previous workout may have gone, the reality is that the muscles have only just entered the window of time in which any growth will occur, and working the same muscles again will break them back down and prevent any growth.

Less is More.

Many people are under the impression that more is better, however this is often not the case when trying to gain muscle. To break this down and make it a little easier to understand, think of digging a hole, the time that you spend in the gym training is equivalent to digging a hole, the time your body needs after to recover from training is how long it takes to re-fill the hole, and piling a mound of dirt on top of the hole is growth of the muscle. So, you can pile extra dirt on top ONLY when the hole has been re-filled, which takes time! If you dig a hole that is too deep, it will take too long to re-fill… and there will be no time to place extra dirt on top… this means no muscle growth!! Training a body part 2 days in a row would be equivalent to digging one hole, and then continuing to dig the same hole even deeper the next day… you will never have the chance to pile any dirt on top which means you will never gain any muscle training like this…. In fact you are moving backwards, you will probably be losing muscle and almost certainly over training!

How Many Sets Should I do?

The key is to find a balance between training with a high enough intensity to break down the muscle fibres without training so much that your body cannot recover from the training. This will vary from person to person and there is no exact routine of method of training that will guarantee the best results for everybody, you have to find what works for your own body.

I often see people asking how many sets they should complete for each muscle group and although each individual is different and there are no exact numbers that will work for everyone I can give a recommended set range for each muscle group, this is aimed at those who are training for muscle gains and have some background training under their belt, preferably at least some sort of beginners routine for 10 weeks or so.

Larger muscle groups like back and legs can obviously be trained with more sets than the smaller muscle groups like biceps that can get an intense workout from just a few exercises. Another common mistake of overtraining is hitting the biceps with too many sets, you could walk into almost any gym and find someone doing 20 odd sets on their biceps being under the incorrect impression that ‘more is better’.

Recommended Sets Per Week for Each Muscle Group

Muscle Group Sets
Legs 14-20
Calves 6-10
Abs 6-10
Back 12-16
Shoulders 9-12
Triceps 8-10
Biceps 6-9
Forearms 4-8
Traps 3-6
Chest 12-16

The rep ranges for muscle building is 6-12 reps per set and you should be lifting with a weight that you struggle to complete the last couple reps on each set with good form. Once you hit your rep range with good form it is time to move up in weight. It is important that no one under the age of 18 is lifting heavy weights and/or using a low rep range. If you are under the age of 18 and looking for training advice visit the Muscle and Strength forum where you can find articles and routines specific to teenage trainers.

The numbers listed do not include warm up sets. (Warm up sets should always be done first, usually one set very light weight and one set at approx 50% of your training weight as well as stretches.)

Some muscles such as the Abdominals and Calves do recover faster than other muscle groups and can be trained twice per week but again the effectiveness of training them once per week or twice per week will vary from person to person. The figures listed above are just a general outline for those who are confused as to how many sets each muscle group can take, or indeed to highlight to some people that they may be over training a certain muscle group if they are not seeing results. I am not saying everyone should stick within these ranges by any means, if you find that 15 sets for your triceps is most effective for you and provides the best results for you then stick with it! However most natural trainers will find that the most effective number of sets to complete in their workout will be within the above ranges.

As I have just explained, rest is important and you only need 3-4 exercises max per muscle group per workout, now the ideal rest between sets is 60-90 seconds, and 2-3 minutes between each exercise. If you do the math then these numbers should mean that your workout is easily completed within an hour, possibly if training 2 muscle groups and then abs as well it may last a little longer but should never be more than 90 minutes as again this is overtraining.

Not including warm-ups and stretching I would advise to keep your workout time below 60 minutes, after this time your body starts to break down its own muscle tissue to use as fuel. This is due to a stress hormone called Cortisol that is released in high amounts after you have spent so much time lifting.

Recommended: Need help building muscle? Take our Free Muscle Building Course

Man doing leg press in gym.

The Muscle Building Routine

Now that I have told you how to avoid overtraining and more importantly the reasons why you should avoid overtraining, I will show you an example muscle building workout routine that I have created. The routine is a 4 day split and follows all of the above guidelines, you should never be working out for longer than 60 minutes using this routine:

More workouts listed in the workouts section. You can find my full 4 day split muscle building routine here.

Monday - Chest & Triceps

Exercise Sets Reps
Incline Dumbbell Press 4 8-10
Flat Bench Press 4 8-10
Incline Dumbbell Flyes 3 10
Cable Crossovers 3 10
Close Grip Bench Press 3 10
Overhead Rope Extensions 3 10
Reverse Pushdowns 3 10

Notes: Alternate between DB and Barbell for the incline bench press exercises. Alternate between flat bench and incline DB flyes. Superset: DB press with DB flyes.

Tuesday - Legs

Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 4 12, 10, 8, 6
Leg Press 4 10
Leg Extensions 3 12
Stiff Leg Deadlift 4 10
Leg Curls 3 12
Smith Machine Calf Raises 4 12
Seated Calf Raise 4 8

Notes: Superset leg press with leg extensions. Triple drop set on leg curl machine.

Thursday - Shoulders

Exercise Sets Reps
Military Press 4 10
Dumbbell Lateral Raises 3 10
Bent Over Reverse Crossovers 3 10
Plate Shrugs 3 10

Notes: Military press in front of head, use full range of movement right down in front of the shoulders. Superset Olympic bar shurgs and Plate shrugs for 10 reps on each 3 sets.

Friday - Back and Biceps

Exercise Sets Reps
Wide Grip Pull Up 4 10
Lat Pull Down 4 10
Seated Cable Rows 4 10
Bent Over Barbell Row 4 10
Standing Barbell Curl 3 8-10
Seated Alternate Dumbbell Curl 3 8-10
Hammer Curls 3 10

Notes: Try negatives if you dont have a spotter or assisted pullup machine. Dropset: Lat pulldowns

Full workout here: Shaun's 4 Day Muscle Building Split Routine.

So remember to train hard, but it's the quality of your training not the quantity that will bring you the best results.


Posted on: Sun, 04/30/2023 - 18:49

Ok i get this things with sets , what about reps can i still do 16 sets or 20 but with 20 reps for set??????

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sat, 05/06/2023 - 06:47

The reps would be based on your goal. If your goal is building muscle, then you would do 6-12 reps per set. 20 is great for a finisher or endurance training, but you shouldn't have to go that high all the time.

Posted on: Wed, 11/03/2021 - 17:51

Does this only apply to guys or to hardcore gym freaks? Seems kinda extra... My trainer has me doing 60min full body strength training 3 times a week and ive been seeing pretty significant muscle gains without all this worrying about splits and stuff... now im confused

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 11/05/2021 - 18:38

Hi, Juniper. If you're new to training, then you should follow your trainer's guidelines. This is for more advanced trainees.

If you're seeing gains, keep doing what you're doing and don't worry about the rest. Hope this helps!

Posted on: Sun, 04/25/2021 - 13:25


Posted on: Sun, 02/18/2018 - 11:07

I've been lifting since 1989, natural. Don't follow this f#cking routine unless your juicing like a mad whore. Per session....16 sets for chest? Bullsh÷t. I'm 225, at 5 10, and reasonable body fat levels. At 46 years age. 6 sets for chest is plenty per session, go to failure, use slow negatives, and you'll grow plenty without overtraining. And don't use this bullsh÷t one body part every 6 or 7 days routine either. Use a 2 day, or at most 3 day split. Work each body part every 2nd or 3rd day tops, short, sweet, and more often. This is a classic Ironman circa 1991 overtraining workout.

Oliver Carriere
Posted on: Mon, 06/03/2019 - 06:27

So this is no good my week spots in my chest so could I do a push pull legs with like 4 chest exercise than 4 shoulder movements than 3 tricep exercise would this work

Posted on: Thu, 05/07/2020 - 11:27

Not eVeryone is the same and not everyone respond to the same volume the same as well, This is a well structured workout routine, if you dont like it Dont do it, but just talking trash that just shows how close minded of a person you are. Cheers!

Ryan Howard
Posted on: Tue, 09/15/2020 - 00:51

6 sets per workout or per week?

Posted on: Sun, 09/24/2017 - 06:50

Hi tnx for this program.
But i have 2 problems abs
2.shoulder day too short !
How can u fix this ?

Posted on: Tue, 08/01/2017 - 09:55

Why have you set 8-10 reps for seated calve raises, when they are slow twitch dominant (approximately 90%), so they should be trained with high reps or 12+?

Posted on: Thu, 05/07/2015 - 05:31

Hey steve i wanted to now if i do a tricep and bicep workout at the end of the week will it be ok or what i mean make it 5 days per a week

Wade Race
Posted on: Sun, 10/04/2015 - 08:38

Puleeze! I am completely natural and I can tell you that overtraining is such an overblown buzzword. I do 3 intense, high volume muscle building days (push, pull, and legs) and 3 20-30min conditioning days (speed/agility legs, boxing, and ballistic kettlebell/dumbell lifts.) If I need a day off, I take it! I don't worry about overtraining! And by the way, I think it's funny you warn about overtraining and you recommend joint destroying machine exercises. "Don't train too hard, but shortchange your results with powderpuff exercises!" And Sina, this of course is not directed at you. Your post was #1, so I just wanted to respond to this crap article on the front page!

Posted on: Sat, 11/22/2014 - 23:10

Some of this information is false. People do gain muscle by working the same muscle 2 or 3 times a week.
Here is a quote from this article

"Monday and again on a Wednesday is not recommended as although you may feel ok and ready to train them again and any soreness from the previous workout may have gone, the reality is that the muscles have only just entered the window of time in which any growth will occur, and working the same muscles again will break them back down and prevent any growth."

It said "prevent any growth" this is false. If this was the case no one who exercises a muscle 2 or 3 times a week would ever gain muscle mass (hypertrophy).

Many football players are on a 2 or 3 times a week per body part routine and they do build muscle. Many people in any gym in world train 2 or 3 times a week and they do gain muscle mass. I can't believe the author wrote that something so blatantly false.

Tyler Scribner
Posted on: Tue, 10/28/2014 - 00:02

Ive had a good run with weight training over the last two years, I need some opinions.nice narrowed down into an isolative/bulking routine with two day rest periods for trained muscle groups.. I am 24, 6' 0" and 189lbs my goal is 215 at 10℅ BF

3 exercises per muscle group, 4 pyramid sets per exercise of 12,10,8,6 reps

Monday (chest/back/abs)
Tuesday (legs)
Wed (bi's/tri's/neutral shoulders)
Thursday (traps/stretch/15 min cardio)
Friday (chest/back/abs)
Sat (off)
Sun (off)

Tyler Scribner
Posted on: Tue, 10/28/2014 - 00:02

Ive had a good run with weight training over the last two years, I need some opinions.nice narrowed down into an isolative/bulking routine with two day rest periods for trained muscle groups.. I am 24, 6' 0" and 189lbs my goal is 215 at 10℅ BF

3 exercises per muscle group, 4 pyramid sets per exercise of 12,10,8,6 reps

Monday (chest/back/abs)
Tuesday (legs)
Wed (bi's/tri's/neutral shoulders)
Thursday (traps/stretch/15 min cardio)
Friday (chest/back/abs)
Sat (off)
Sun (off)

Posted on: Sat, 10/04/2014 - 14:35

Hello, I am 45 years of age I weigh 72kgs (158ibs) and I train 5 times a week usually for about 2 hours per session. My leg workout is extremely brutal and intensive. I do 10 sets of squat with weight of 100kgs and 140kgs with less than one minute recovery period, these are not deep squats where my back side touches my heels but my hamstrings are parallel with the floor, I do between 12 and 4 repititons. The following I do with one to two minutes recovery period, 5 sets of hack squats 130kg, 6 sets of Leg extensions, 5 sets of leg curls and 7set of seated calves raises. I do this workout twice a week, and I train my upper body three times a week with basically the same intensity.

My question is, do you believe I am training too often and too intensive. I always feel warn out and lethargic especially the next day. I have been training since I was 15, but I have not gained any muscle mass since I was 30. I eat about 5,000 calories per day. Can you give me any advice on how to gain quality muscle without taking any steroids or enhancement drugs.

jesus zuniga
Posted on: Tue, 06/13/2023 - 12:32

men over 50

jesus zuniga
Posted on: Tue, 06/13/2023 - 12:35

I used to train 6 days a week and could not gain muscle. In fact, I started losing muscle. I stopped working out so much and now only workout 3X per week using a total body program. I have gained some mass but not as much as I want. The problem is that men like me and you do not have specialized trainers that know enough science and access to our own biochemistry to help us out. I too am frustrated

Posted on: Wed, 03/05/2014 - 07:02

My age 27 weight 75kg hight 5'9".....
Monday...chest nd shoulder
tuesday...biceps nd triceps
wednsdy..back nd abs nd legs
but i not satisfied my biceps nd triceps size

Posted on: Wed, 03/05/2014 - 06:27

Dear sir,
My biceps nd triceps size is not gain.i last 1year continues my gym workout. And in week 4days i workout. And my diet is afterworkout protien shakes and breakfast 5eggs and 1milk glass.but i so confuess my size is not gain. Biceps 6sets and tricep5sets. Plsssss sir guide me.

Posted on: Fri, 01/31/2014 - 14:49

i understand this article, i just had something i wanted to try because i noticed i was growing fairly quickly when i was doing this routine. i wanted to see what your opinion is on doing upper body monday, wednesday and frida and doing lower body tuesday and thursday. if i were to do this it would look something like this

Mon, wed, fri:
bench press: 3 sets, 8-12 reps
Incline press: 3 sets, 8-12 reps
lat pull downs: 3 sets, 8-12 reps
seated rows: 3 sets, 8-12 reps
Bicep curl: 3 sets, 8-12 reps

Tue, thurs:
Sqats: 3 sets, 8-12 reps
dead lifts: 3 sets, 8-12 reps
leg press, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
ab work: 4 sets

Posted on: Sun, 01/26/2014 - 14:39

Hi Steve,
I've read a couple articles explaining that one should not train biceps together. Now, I'm really confused on this, being that the 4 day split written above states you a back and bicep routine.

Posted on: Sun, 08/11/2013 - 15:06

Great routine if you are on steroids. I do even less than this and still feel over trained.

Posted on: Sat, 08/03/2013 - 15:06

I think my Test levels dropped reading about overtraining. What happened to guys being guys? People are more afraid to over train than they are to actually workout and put effort in the gym.

Posted on: Thu, 07/18/2013 - 23:02

Hi guys, thanks for all comments. I have a high fat body (not obese), I want to loose fat but maintain my current weight. It is a good idea to tread mill 30 mins, then do 1 exercise with 2 sets of 10 reps for each muscle group everyday to loose fat and have muscle tone

L.T. Green Jr.
Posted on: Tue, 07/09/2013 - 16:55

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Ive been killing myself pushing myself to the limit. Now i understand why I've been cutting fat like hell, but i'm not seeing any gains and i'm not getting any harder . So i am going to try things this way for a month, cause it really makes sense that i'm not seeing any real gains because i am not letting myself heal properly. So i thank you again sir. See you in one month. Peace.

Posted on: Thu, 06/27/2013 - 22:25

hey guys,
I'm going to follow this 4 day split; I'm trying to gain muscle. Should I rest completely on my 3 days off or can I do abs on one of my off days? Would training abs on an off day be considered resistence training enough to be counter-productive?


M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 06/28/2013 - 17:05

You could certainly include some ab work on your off days, as well as some cardio if you would like. Make sure you adjust your calorie intake (depending on your goal) to compensate for the increase in activity.

Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2013 - 11:01

Thanks for the article. I love going to the gym every day, and now I see the importance of letting my muscles get sufficient rest.

Posted on: Sat, 04/27/2013 - 07:59

90 minutes or more in the gym = overtraining?
Then you show us a 4-day split where you train each muscle group once a week. Enjoy poverty gains.

Posted on: Thu, 12/03/2015 - 16:32

I don't get your comment if you can't do every muscle group in 90mins x 4 days per week there is something wrong with you and it's easily achieved through exercises like dead lifts, squats, pull ups, dips etc

My experience in over 10 years of lifting is that I see the same people in the gym no matter what day I go or what time I go and most rarely get bigger.

p.s. My current workout hits every muscle in 60mins 3 times a day and I just to abs at home on an off day.

brian irwin
Posted on: Mon, 04/18/2016 - 23:16

Hey i know this is old but could you tell me your workout routine? Thanks

Posted on: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 10:39

When we train the chest we put a significant load on the shoulders in fact you won't be able to bench press 20 pounds with a significant shoulder injury. The shoulder get a great pump doing chest. In other words you are training your shoulders twice per week.

come c
Posted on: Mon, 03/18/2013 - 21:47

I usually work out my chest once a week .how long should I wait before I work it out again?
And I thought working on My arms front and back would be more affected is this true?

Posted on: Sat, 03/02/2013 - 15:26

This is great information, I learned alot!
i do have questions though.
I am doing this other program "Air Alert III" that will increase my vertical jump. Its a 15 weeks program that includes lots of leg works, would it be a bad thing if i Workout my legs like you recomended and still continue to do the AA3 program? will it be too much for working out for my legs?

Posted on: Sat, 04/06/2013 - 10:06

Check the Bulgarian method. They train the same muscle every 30 min during the whole day. They are the best in what they do. Mayweather train 3 times per day. Jon Jones up to 5 times per day.

Posted on: Sat, 04/06/2013 - 10:06

Check the Bulgarian method. They train the same muscle every 30 min during the whole day. They are the best in what they do. Mayweather train 3 times per day. Jon Jones up to 5 times per day.

Posted on: Sat, 04/06/2013 - 10:07

Check the Bulgarian method. They train the same muscle every 30 min during the whole day. They are the best in what they do. Mayweather train 3 times per day. Jon Jones up to 5 times per day.

Posted on: Sat, 02/09/2013 - 14:39

I work construction-use a hammer everyday and my right forearm (right handed) is at least two inches bigger than my left so its NOT always true.. I dislike the word Never!! If you squat weight everyday you will gain size and strength so again never is a poor choice of words. I agree with a lot of what this article states for body builders who have strict healthy eating habits but most people don't have strict diets nor the desire too. Genetics has a lot to do with the way your body will respond to weight lifting. A perfect example is the prison weight station some grow huge some don't and there all on the same diet and allowed the same amount of time outside. It also works different some get fat and some stay skinny yet all on the same diet. Genetics.. Ohio currently has a death row inmate who is so fat he is appealing death because of cruel treatment to find a vein- Ya 425 lbs on a 1500 cal a day diet. Again Genetics and health..

Posted on: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 21:24

Why do the pros talk about 4 or 5 hr. work outs?

Patrice Vezeau
Posted on: Thu, 12/27/2012 - 22:49

I just watched navy Seal bud camp

And I was thinking is this not over training ? So I google military training and over training and found your page.

My conclusion is what they are doing is a fit test and a mental test it is not training they try to break people and only keep the strongest so anyone who try these camp should already be fit super fit not just fit because even them should get out of those camp weaker physically if not injured then before they enter.

Would you agree or disagree with me and do you have anything to add to my reflection.

Posted on: Mon, 12/17/2012 - 18:18

Hi Steve,
I used to overtrain my muscles for over 6 months, and they have increased in mass somehow. What shall i do for now, just train with the recommended sets?

Posted on: Mon, 10/15/2012 - 03:49

Hey can someone tell me if this is a good workout please. I'm 16

Mon- chest, triceps, shoulders
Tues- legs
Wed- back, biceps, forearms
Fri- chest, triceps, shoulders
Sat- back, biceps, forearms

Posted on: Sun, 02/07/2021 - 17:10

You should work your legs more than one day out of 5 days. Do some calves too.

Posted on: Sat, 09/29/2012 - 21:28

In my opinion those set ranges are way too much.

Posted on: Thu, 09/13/2012 - 21:58

hey i have a problem that my body stay hard while i am working out "only when i am working out " after i go home and have some rest and eat it become just like body fat my body become so firm and specially chest and abs

Posted on: Mon, 09/10/2012 - 10:32

Hi guys! Kinda new to this, so I hope I don't sound too daft, but does this mean that I should be training one muscle group well once per week, rather than doing something like training that same muscle group two or three times in the same week? And, not even say better but, IS it a good idea to train a muscle group just once a week?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 10:54

Hey Matt,

A well-written routine will have this worked out for you (we have several here on the site). Some full-body routines will call for the same lifts 3 times per week but will still allow for ample recovery. Choose a solid routine and focus on progression.

John McKinnie
Posted on: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 12:13

Hey, I recommend this routine for bulking up. I'm a pretty experienced weight lifter, but my routine and gains had plateaued out so thought I'd give this one a try for a change. I followed it to the letter, plus eating 5 times a day and 3 protein shakes and have put on 21 extra pounds of muscle in about 6 weeks