Optimal Training Frequency for Hypertrophy
Everyone wants the perfect program – and you won’t find that here – but what you will find is what the core of every hypertrophy program should contain. Until recently there hasn’t been much scientific data to support a specific frequency of training to produce the greatest hypertrophy in a muscle. Sure, many trainers and pro bodybuilders claim to know best, but until recently there has been no more than anecdotal evidence to back it up. Training frequency in this article refers to the number of resistance training sessions for a specific muscle in a period of one week.
The infamous bodybuilding split (bro-split) calls for each muscle to be trained once per week. Most of these practices are based on fitness magazines and old-school principles. Although this type of training generally calls for 12+ sets per major muscle group, the fact that you give that muscle up a whole week to recover is far too long. Muscle is capable of regeneration and adaptation at a much faster rate than that. Your goal shouldn’t be to cause soreness (DOMS) after every workout either. In fact, muscle soreness can actually hinder progress. You can definitely make progress on this type of program but it is sub-optimal.
It’s no surprise that beginners can increase muscle size and strength drastically in the first 3-6 months. Even if only training a few times a week. Indeed, for most beginners I would recommend three whole-body workouts per week until they are very comfortable with all of the basic exercise movements, such the squat, deadlift, and bench press. These are the fundamental movements of most programs and until the movement patterns are ingrained beginners should stick to the basics.
The take-home message of a recent study by Schoenfeld et al., is that higher training frequencies are superior to lower frequencies for increasing muscle mass. Therefore, major muscle groups should be trained at least twice per week for maximal growth. However, it is unclear whether any training beyond 2 days per week can further enhance muscle size. These protocols were specific to protocols that equated total weekly volume.
The caveat to using a higher frequency is the potential to reach a state of overtraining more quickly. Though if proper use of tapers or deloads are used this shouldn’t be a problem.
Schoenfeld, Brad J., Dan Ogborn, and James W. Krieger. “Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Sports Medicine, 2016, 1–9.