- How many days a week should you work out for optimal muscle gain? Always wondered, “How often should I go to the gym?” or “How many days a week should I lift weights?” Find out the truth in this article where I unveil the real science behind how often you should go to the gym.
- More Lifting Sessions Doesn’t Always Equate To More Gains
- How Many Days Should You Work Out Depends On Your Lifting Experience
- Experienced Lifters May Not Benefit From Adding Extra Sets Per Session
- Muscles’ Force Production Is Adversely Affected By Fatigue
- Advanced Lifters Need To Distribute Volume Over A Week
- How Many Days Should You Work Out: Takeaway
- Workout Volume And Consistency Is Still Most Important
- How many days a week would I need to lift weights to actually build muscle? Would working out only on Saturday and Sunday be pointless?
- Research Review: How Often Should You Work Out to Build Muscle?
- What Did the Researchers Do?
- Give Me One Week In Your Inbox…
- What Were the Study Results?
- What Does This Mean for You?
- How Often Should You Do Heavy Weight Lifting Workouts?
- How Many Times Per Week Should You Lift Weights?
- How Much Exercise Do You Need for Longevity?
- How Many Times to Strength Train Each Week
- The Squat 4 Times Per Week Experiment
- Squat Every Day: Squat More For Fat Loss, Strength Gains, And To Get Jacked
- Some Squat Programmes you can use to get better once a week.
- 2. Power up with protein
- 3. Don’t cut carbs
- 4. Use dumbbells
- 5. Work your back
- 6. Sleep
- 7. Pump up the volume
- 8. Go heavy
- 9. Move with multijoint exercises
- 10. Ease off your workload at times
- 11. Change things up
- 12. Work your legs
- 13. Use your bodyweight
- 14. Train with a partner
- 15. Take creatine
- 16. Always focus on form
- 17. Be consistent
- 18. Chill out
- 19. Don’t limit yourself
- 20. Use a spotter
- 21. Consult a professional
- 22. Find your “zone”
- 23. Be intense
- 25. Experiment…
- This Is How to Put On Muscle Without Lifting Super Heavy
How many days a week should you work out for optimal muscle gain? Always wondered, “How often should I go to the gym?” or “How many days a week should I lift weights?” Find out the truth in this article where I unveil the real science behind how often you should go to the gym.
One contemplation most people have in the gym is “should they go to the gym more often”?
The theory being that the more time and effort they spend training their muscles, the faster they’ll grow.
For example, switching from a 3 day per week training routine to a 6 day per week training routine MUST mean faster gains…
Well, let’s find out.
More Lifting Sessions Doesn’t Always Equate To More Gains
Does working out more frequently lead to more gains? Well, research indicates that it’s actually a yes and no kind of answer. But, why? Well, because of findings based on several studies and a meta-analysis on training frequency.
These findings indicate that the rate of muscle growth, regardless of how many days you choose to work out, will be similar if you can check off each of the following 3 requirements:
- You’re training each muscle group at least 2 times a week. So for example, if you work out only 2 or 3 times per week, then you’re doing full-body workouts. On the other hand, if you work out more often than this, then you’re doing some form of muscle grouping split. Basically anything but a bro-split.
- You’re doing enough volume within your workouts. And enough volume throughout the week.
- You’re performing each of your sets with enough effort and intensity to fully stimulate your muscle fibres.
And in fact, studies that have actually specifically tested training 3 days per week versus 6 days a week of training have found this to be true when the above three requirements are in place.
So accordingly, making that switch from 3 to 6 days per week wouldn’t speed up gains provided that you satisfy those three requirements…
Well, not necessarily.
Well, the complication here lies within requirements 2 and 3.
How Many Days Should You Work Out Depends On Your Lifting Experience
We know our workout volume requirements slowly begin to increase as we gain more experience. This means that over time, we have to do more sets per workout and throughout the week to continue growing our muscles at the optimal rate.
So – how many days a week should you work out if you’re a beginner like Charlie below for example? Or an intermediate to advanced lifter like Jeremy?
Well, researcher James Krieger did an in-depth analysis of this. He found that for beginners, you don’t want to utilize higher volumes right away. So if you’re training 3 times a week, for example, you only need around 2-3 sets per muscle per workout. Or around 6-10 sets per muscle per week for maximal growth.
But as a beginner progresses into a more trained state throughout the years, Krieger’s analysis suggests that those few sets no longer provide enough stimulus. And that to maximize growth, an increase of:
- 8-10 sets per muscle per workout, or
- Around 16-20 sets per muscle per week are now needed.
And this is what creates the complication.
Experienced Lifters May Not Benefit From Adding Extra Sets Per Session
The question: “How many days should I work out a week” is easy to answer when you’re a beginner. As a beginner, achieving 2-3 sets per muscle group per workout or 8-10 sets per muscle per week can easily be done with just 3 full-body workouts per week.
But then, as a more experienced lifter, fitting 8-10 sets per muscle per workout or 16-20 sets per muscle per week into just 3 full-body workouts becomes a challenge. Your workouts will become a lot longer, not to mention often unenjoyable. And it may even compromise growth!
Muscles’ Force Production Is Adversely Affected By Fatigue
Because during a workout, the ability of our muscles to exert force can be negatively affected by two things:
- The muscle itself getting fatigued from our exercises. This is also known as peripheral fatigue
- The central nervous system, or CNS fatigue, which is the inability of our central nervous system to activate our muscle in the first place so that it produces force.
Both of these types of fatigue contribute to us reaching failure during our sets. But CNS fatigue is more problematic…
That’s because it actually reduces our ability to fully activate our muscles during a set.
In fact, when there’s a lot of CNS fatigue, we can actually reach failure in a set of an exercise before we achieve full motor unit recruitment of that muscle. And as you can imagine, this muscle recruitment failure is obviously detrimental to muscle growth.
And since we know that CNS fatigue increases over the course of a workout, this means that later sets and exercises in a workout will contain fewer stimulating and productive reps than earlier sets.
Which helps explain the exercise order research out there indicating that exercises done early on in a session are more effective for growth. And that adding extra sets to a workout will have progressively smaller and smaller incremental benefits.
Advanced Lifters Need To Distribute Volume Over A Week
Suggesting, that as a more advanced lifter, trying to shove in all your volume into 3 full-body workouts per week is likely not the best option. Especially if you’re seeking to maximize growth.
That’s because, as mentioned above, many of the exercises you do towards the end of your workouts won’t be as effective. Also, you may not even fully recruit your muscles fibres during those later sets.
Meaning that as you gain more experience and your volume requirements increase, it would instead be a good idea to distribute that volume throughout the week by adding in additional training days.
And recent research is in support of this. For instance, a 2019 paper analyzed muscle growth in advanced lifters who either:
- Performed all of their volume with either an upper/lower split 4 times per week
- Or a full-body session just 3 days per week.
And after 10 weeks, the researchers found that the upper/lower split provided slightly greater growth at all measurement sites. While the study did not reach significance, it is highly likely that the observed results would have reached significance had the study been carried out for longer.
How Many Days Should You Work Out: Takeaway
Bear in mind that further research is definitely needed to clarify this and fully answer this question.
But when it comes to the question how many days a week should you work out, I think we can quite confidently provide the general recommendation that:
- As a beginner – You don’t need as much volume to maximize growth. You can effectively do accomplish all your weekly training volume with just 3 training days per week. Provided that those are full-body workouts.
- When you become a more experienced lifter – As you gain more experience and your workout volume requirements increase, it may then be best to add more training days into your routine. This can be done with an upper/lower split 4 days a week, or push pull legs split 6 days a week, etc. This will help you spread out that increased volume most effectively and avoid running into the problems we discussed earlier.
Now, a question you might be asking is how you’d know if you can be considered a beginner to lifting or not. And as covered in my previous article on ‘How to bulk up fast,’ here’s how you can classify yourself:
- You’re a beginner if you’re able to progress most training loads in the gym on a weekly basis.
- You’re intermediate or advanced when your progress is only evident over multiple months or years.
Workout Volume And Consistency Is Still Most Important
Now keep in mind that I’ve gone through what’s optimal to maximize growth. So if you can’t commit to higher frequencies as you gain more experience, then it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to build muscle.
Because you will. Also, the difference we’re talking about is minimal. At the end of the day, workout volume and consistency is what’s most important. Let’s say your schedule only allows you to train 3 days per week. But you can hold that up week after week without fail and get enough volume in. Then do that. You shouldn’t fixate on the answer to how many days a week should you work out.
Ultimately, that’s going to be a lot more effective than trying to go 6 days per week but being inconsistent with it. And for a step-by-step program designed to accommodate your schedule and show you exactly how to build muscle most effectively through the use of science, then:
Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:
I hope you enjoyed this article and have gotten a clear answer to how many days a week should you work out. Now, you won’t be at a loss for words when someone asks you, “How many days a week should I work out?” Don’t forget to give me a follow and connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube as well, in order to stay up to date with my content.
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How Many Days A Week Should You Work Out?
How many days a week would I need to lift weights to actually build muscle? Would working out only on Saturday and Sunday be pointless?
The secret to having a healthy body is developing a lifestyle. Going straight from fat to muscle can work with dedication but it ultimately takes a lifestyle change.
Thus if you want to build muscle you will need to start lifting a lot. For fast results you will need to lift at least 5 times a week. Speaking from personal experience. I started out very skinny and cold changed my lifestyle to lifting every day when I started college. I immediately gained 20lbs my first semester all in muscle. Since then I have cooled down and only lifted twice a week whenever I’m available.
While I kept the same healthy eating lifestyle, I noticeably stopped gaining weight and muscle. My lifts would not improve but I was able to still lift my max. I was on full maintenance mode. I looked lean and cut but It was due to the previous muscle I developed. I’m probably losing some mass though.
My advice to build muscle is to do it a many times as you can limiting to four to five 1 hour sessions a week. Keep it on a schedule because muscle building is all about consistent progress. If you work out twice a week and you’ve never lifted in your life then you’ll get stronger but you will hardly build muscle. Twice a week lifting is essentially maintenance mode.
If you were to only go twice a week make sure you pay for your lost time by doing full body workouts and including various exercises, I would suggest 6 to 10 different exercises. Then eat healthy and rest well the rest of the week. Maintain your muscle by doing short body weight exercises at home or at your workplace/school. I personally do 50 push ups before I take a shower as a habit built into my lifestyle. This minimal addition helps maintain my body everyday. (but I probably need to work my legs LOL)
Research Review: How Often Should You Work Out to Build Muscle?
- Researchers wanted to see if training each muscle group more frequently each week would lead to more muscle growth.
- They found that when you look at all of the best studies, the people who train 3 times per week usually gain more muscle than the people who train 1 to 2 times per week, but the improvements were small.
- If you have a lagging muscle group that you want to develop, you’ll probably make faster gains if you train it 2 or 3 times per week instead of once per week.
There are a lot of ways to mess up your training plan.
Not using heavy enough weights.
Not doing the big, compound lifts.
Not resting enough between sets.
And finally, training too much or not enough.
That last mistake is one of the most controversial.
Old school bodybuilding logic says you should “blast” every muscle group with as many sets and reps as you can handle once per week, then rest 6 days before doing it again.
Others say you should train every muscle group 2, 3, or 4 times per week, but with much lower volumes.
There are countless success stories to back up both camps, so who are you supposed to believe?
That’s what a group of scientists led by Brad Schoenfeld of Lehman College wanted to find out in a recent study.
Let’s look at what they found.
What Did the Researchers Do?
There have been a decent number of studies looking at how training a muscle group more or less often affects muscle growth.
And most have been a wash, with no difference between groups.
So, these researchers decided to take a step back, look at all of the data on this topic, and try to tease out which way the body of evidence seemed to be pointing.
This kind of study is known as a meta-analysis, because it looks at a problem from a “meta,” or higher level perspective.
The main benefit of a meta-analysis is that by lumping together the results of multiple studies, you can spot trends that might otherwise be obscured in smaller studies with fewer subjects.
In this meta-analysis, the scientists narrowed down their list of studies to ones that…
- Involved training plans that directly compared different weekly frequencies and didn’t change too many other variables like volume, intensity, and exercise choices.
- Used healthy humans instead of lab animals.
- Were at least 4 weeks long, which gives the subjects time to gain a decent amount of muscle.
- Measured muscle growth in multiple ways to get more accurate results.
- Used compound exercises, so the training plans were similar to what people do in the gym.
After the researchers combed through the data, they found 10 studies that fit the bill. In every case, both groups used the same exercises, volumes, and reps, and rested the same amount between sets.
The only difference was that some people were put on a training plan that spread that volume over more days per week, and some people were put on a training plan that spread that volume over fewer days per week.
Then, the researchers (including a member of our Scientific Advisory Board and statistical wizard, James Krieger), ran the studies through a variety of equations to ensure the results were accurate.
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What Were the Study Results?
People who spread their weekly training volume over 3 days per week gained more muscle than people who spread their weekly training volume over 1 to 2 days per week.
On average, training a muscle group 3 times per week resulted in 3.1% greater muscle growth than training 1 or 2 times per week (6.8 vs 3.7 %).
Over 8 weeks of training, that would work out to about an extra 1/8th of a pound of muscle for someone new to strength training.
That adds up over time, but it’s not a huge difference.
Here’s what the results look like when you organize the study subjects into different groups:
There are two ways to look at this:
- You can build more muscle in the same amount of time just by training each muscle group more frequently. Why wouldn’t you do it? Adoy!
- You can only build a tiny bit more muscle by training each muscle group more frequently, so why bother?
When we look closer at the results, there are also a few caveats that make the results even less cut and dry.
- Five of the studies were on people who hadn’t lifted weights for at least a year. Of these five studies, 2 were on middle-aged adults (30 to 49 years old) and 2 were on elderly women (50+ years old). While people don’t differ that much in how they respond to strength training, the results are less relevant if you don’t fall into one of those groups.
- The studies used a variety of different training frequencies, which makes it impossible to say which is “best.” Some compared training 1 to 2 days per week, some compared training 2 to 3 days per week, and others compared training 1 to 3 days per week.
With such a small improvement, it’s hard to say that higher frequency training is a home run for muscle growth.
But, here’s some food for thought:
All of the groups in this study did the same amount of volume.
On the one hand, it means that we know the differences in muscle growth weren’t because one group was doing more volume than the other group.
On the other hand, the main reason people agitate for higher training frequencies is because they allow you to squeeze more volume into each week.
It’s well established that doing more sets per week usually leads to more muscle growth, so if training more often helps you get more volume, it’s not a leap to say that it should help you build muscle.
For example, let’s say you currently do 6 sets of bench press once per week. By the 4th, 5th, and 6th set, you’re probably starting to get bushed. You might even have to decrease the weight.
What if you split those 6 sets into 2 workouts per week, though?
Then, you’d do 3 sets per workout, and probably be able to use more weight during each set.
You could take things a step further and add 1 set to each workout, thus increasing your total weekly volume to 8 sets per week.
In other words, it’s not training more frequently that helps you build muscle, per se, but training more frequently so that you can do more volume, that gives you more gains.
That’s the theory, anyway, but this study didn’t look at that.
Something else to consider is that all of the studies included in this meta-analysis originally found no benefit of training more frequently. When the results were added together, though, there was a statistically meaningful increase in muscle growth.
This is a common theme in scientific research.
Small studies don’t find any benefit, but when you get a large enough sample size you can find a clear winner, which suggests there might have been some “hidden” benefits all along.
In the final analysis, here’s what the researchers concluded:
It can be inferred that the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth. Due to an absence of data, it is not clear whether training muscle groups more than 3 days per week might enhance the hypertrophic response.
What Does This Mean for You?
Training each muscle group twice per week can help you gain more muscle than training each muscle group once per week.
Before you throw away your current training plan, keep the following in mind:
- Training more frequently probably is better, but not that much better. We’re talking a few percentage points difference. Sure, that adds up over time, but it might not be a good idea to change your current plan if it’s working.
- It’s likely that the main benefit of training more frequently is that it lets you use higher training volumes. If you decide to train each muscle group more frequently, think about doing 1 or 2 extra sets to your main lifts to get the most muscle-building benefits.
- If you have a lagging muscle group (usually arms, shoulders, and chest for guys, and legs and butt for women), then you should think about training that muscle group 3 times per week.
In terms of programming your workouts, this doesn’t mean you need to have a dedicated workout for each muscle group. Instead, you could have one primary workout for a major muscle group, and then train that same muscle group on a different day after training another muscle group.
For example, you could have a dedicated chest workout on Monday, and then do a few sets of chest after hitting your shoulders on Thursday.
This lets you train each muscle group about twice per week, without spending too much time in the gym.
Many popular strength training plans are built on this model, including Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger.
If you want to give this kind of training a test drive, we’ve got you covered.
Follow one of the following workout routines below for 12 weeks …
The Absolute Best Biceps Workout: 5 Biceps Exercises That Build Big Guns
The Absolute Best Triceps Workout: 5 Triceps Exercises That You Should Be Doing
How to Create the Ultimate Upper Chest Workout
The Best Back Exercises to Build Your Best Back Ever
The Best Shoulder Workouts for Men & Women
The 7 Best Butt Exercises That Will Give You Glorious Glutes
The 6 Absolute Best Quads Exercises You Can Do
The 6 Best Hamstring Exercises You Need to Do
… and let us know how it goes in the comments below. 🙂
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How Often Should You Do Heavy Weight Lifting Workouts?
And while some more experienced lifters and bodybuilders like to work specific muscle groups on specific days, Schoenfeld says most people can see benefits from doing a few total-body lifting workouts per week that incorporate the main functional movement patterns. “I’d recommend some kind of hip hinge movement (like deadlifts or kettlebell swings), some kind of press (like push-ups or overhead press), some kind of pull (like rows or pull-ups), and some kind of squat or lunge,” she says.
It’s also important to note that intensity plays a role in gauging weightlifting workouts, and that’s a different measure than “heavy.”
“You will get the most out of the workout if you put the muscle under a lot of stress,” says Smoliga. “So, if you are aiming to do three sets of 10 repetitions, that eighth, ninth, and tenth rep of each set should start to feel very intense. I often ask the athletes I work with how many more repetitions they could have done at the end of the set. If they say more than one or two more repetitions, I definitely know they’re not using a heavy enough weight.” (Here’s more on the science behind building muscle and burning fat.)
So no matter how many repetitions you’re doing or what weight you’re using, you should feel like the last few reps are HARD, and any weight should feel “heavy” at that point.
Use these tips if you’re new to heavy lifting.
Ready to get started? Here are a few final things to keep in mind. (Then check out the complete beginner’s guide to lifting heavy.)
Pain doesn’t necessarily equal gain. Your lifting workouts should be hard-but not too hard. “You don’t need to feel like you’re dying in order to get results!” says Schoenfeld. “The key is to move really well within your training. The more exhausted you are, the more your form will break down, and the higher your risk of injury will be.”
Form comes first. “Mastering proper technique is essential before one begins to lift heavy,” says Smoliga. “Much like a person can get better at any movement through regular practice, the same holds true for weight training. If you have practiced the movements with good technique using light weights, as you move to heavier and heavier weights, you will be more likely to continue using good technique. This helps you get the most from your workout while also reducing the risk of injury.”
Stick with what works. There’s a reason why staple exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses are present in most lifting programs. “You also don’t need as much variety as you might think you do,” says Schoenfeld. “Just because an exercise is new and sexy doesn’t mean it’s necessary or particularly beneficial to your goals. You don’t need to do 12 different triceps exercises per workout; one will do just fine.”
Now that we’ve covered that, check out these barbell exercises every woman should master, and get lifting.
How Many Times Per Week Should You Lift Weights?
I was recently on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, and one of my friends who was on the trip sidled up to me on the raft and asked me a question I seem to get quite frequently:
“How many times per week should I lift weights?”
Now, I’ll grant that the answer to this could be complex. For example, it could highly depend on whether you goals are maximum muscle gain, maintenance of bone density, building strength, maintaining strength, training for a specific sport, etc. However, let’s just say that your goal for lifting weights is to simply garner as many benefits as possible from weight training (strength, lean muscle mass, power, longevity, weight loss, metabolism boosting, etc.) with the minimum effective dose.
In this article, you’ll learn exactly how many times per week you should lift for this minimum effective dose along with maximum benefit.
How Much Exercise Do You Need for Longevity?
In How Much Exercise Do You Need for Longevity?, you learned that for ideal longevity, along with many other benefits of exercise, you should try to reach at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and have around 20 to 30 minutes of that be vigorous activity.
However, there is a distinct difference between “lifting weights” and “exercise.” For example, in “How To Look Good Naked And Live A Long Time,” I discuss the importance of targeting specific energy systems, specifically cardiovascular fitness, muscle endurance, strength, mitochondrial density, metabolic efficiency, and stamina. Only one of these components (strength) is targeted with weight training, and unless you’re performing a hybrid form of strength-aerobic mix like Crossfit, the other components should be trained with exercise sessions that occur separately, before, or after a weight training session.
How Many Times to Strength Train Each Week
So what did I explain to my companion on the raft?
It started with this: the ideal goal for strength training should be maintenance of ideal ratios of strength and muscle mass, with a focus on functional movements that training many joints at the same time (as opposed to isolated movements such as biceps curls or leg extensions, or isolated workouts such as “upper body day” and “lower body day”.
Based on this, the goal to get the most benefit out of weight training should be to achieve the maximum amount of strength you can muster in one tightly-packed group of muscle fibers – in other words, the development of hard, wiry strength. Paul Jaminet at the Perfect Health Diet wrote an excellent article outlining why this is a better approach compared to purely trying to pack on as much muscle fiber as possible.
Now, sure, you can get strong and muscular doing Crossfit-esque workouts that require maximum deadlifts in two minutes or ungodly amounts of snatch reps or bodybuilding workouts that have you doing bicep curls until you’re bleeding out the eyeballs, but none of that is sustainable when it comes to maximizing longevity. Remember, you want to be able to do maintain strength and muscle when you’re 20, 40, 60 and 80 years old. For this, I recommend simply two strength training workouts per week, with each workout separated by approximately 72 hours, which is about how long it takes for the average person to recover from an ideal strength training workout (your individualized recovery time can actually be measured via something called “heart rate variability” measurement, also known as HRV measurement).
One example of such a scenario would be two “5×5” workouts each week, This workout requires a gym or access to some weights such as barbells or dumbbells. It’s quite simple. With as heavy a weight as you can lift with good form, you do 5 sets of 5 reps of:
- Shoulder Press
- Power clean
During the 90 second to 2 minute recover period between each set, you perform easy mobility exercises or core exercises, such as opposite-arm-opposite leg extensions, planks, side lunges, jumprope, etc. You could simply do this twice per week.
- last “
As most of you know, muscles take time to recover. Thus when it comes to how many days a week you should lift, more isn’t necessarily better. So what’s the optimal number of days you should lift to optimize strength?
How many days a week should I lift?
One meta analysis found that untrained participants (lifting for less than 1 year) gained additional strength when training each muscle group up to 3x a week. Trained participants (lifting for more than 1 year), however, achieved maximal strength gains by training each muscle group 2x a week. Another meta analysis found that college and professional athletes gained no additional strength from training each muscle group 3x a week (see below).
To clarify, these numbers are days training each muscle group, not total days training. One study found that doing 4 total body workouts produced similar results to doing 2 upper body and 2 lower body workouts (while controlling for volume and intensity). For that reason, it is typically recommended that beginners do 3 total body workouts versus splitting them over 6 days (it’s less demanding that way). For intermediates it’s recommended that training be split into 4 days in order to increase volume (2 days of upper body and 2 days of lower body, for example). For the advanced, 4 to 6 days a week, or more, is recommended.
If you’re a beginner, doing a total body workout 3 non-consecutive days a week is the best way to go, even though you will still make gains with less frequency. Intermediates and the advanced should aim to train each muscle group 2x a week. How you want to structure your workout in order to accomplish this depends on your personal preferences and achat de kamagra 100 mg.
American College of Sports Medicine. “American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults.”Medicine and science in sports and exercise 41.3 (2009): 687.
Calder, Aaron W., et al. “Comparison of whole and split weight training routines in young women.” Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology 19.2 (1994): 185-199.
Peterson, Mark D., Matthew R. Rhea, and Brent A. Alvar. “Applications of the dose-response for muscular strength development: a review of meta-analytic efficacy and reliability for designing training prescription.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 19.4 (2005): 950-958.
Peterson, Mark D., Matthew R. Rhea, and Brent A. Alvar. “Maximizing strength development in athletes: a meta-analysis to determine the dose-response relationship.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 18.2 (2004): 377-382.
Rhea, Matthew R., et al. “A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 35.3 (2003): 456-464.
The Squat 4 Times Per Week Experiment
What happens when you throw conventional wisdom out the window and start breaking some of the Big Laws of strength training? I decided to find out for myself by radically increasing my squatting frequency and the results were enlightening.
Squatting once a week seems to be industry standard. Squatting twice a week is common too, though more so in strength training than in bodybuilding.
But squatting three times a week is basically unheard of in non-Olympic lifting circles, and squatting four times per week? You know what the experts would say. “That’s insane, you’ll never recover, and in three weeks you’ll be a limping, moaning poster child for self-flagellation through overtraining.”
None of that phased me. As a strength coach I have to think outside the lines and experiment because my job is to get my clients bigger, leaner, and stronger in the safest, most time-efficient manner possible. And if there’s one thing every seasoned coach in the field agrees with, it’s that there’s never just one way to reach a goal.
Most germane to this conversation is a simple – albeit profound – mantra that I often repeat to myself as a coach:
I don’t program something for an athlete or client that I haven’t tried myself.
More to the point, I don’t write about something – especially with regards to programming or bashing/praising something – unless I’ve tried out whatever it is I’m writing about.
Let’s go into how I implemented a high-frequency squatting routine into my own training arsenal, why I wanted to do such a thing, how I tweaked the experiment to fit my own needs and goals, and maybe most important of all, the surprising result(s).
So Why Do This?
As stated, there’s a lot to be said about stepping out of your comfort zone and doing things you normally wouldn’t do.
This can range from the not-so-obvious things, like going to a Hugh Grant movie to appease the girlfriend, to things that are a little closer to home like taking the time to warm-up properly or even more blasphemous, not bench pressing on Monday.
On a personal level, anyone who knows me knows I have a special place in my heart for the deadlift. For me, the deadlift is king because there’s really no way to cheat it – either you’re going to lift that sumbitch off the ground, lock it out, and live happily ever after, or you’re not.
No disrespect to the squat and bench press, but when you factor in equipment, spotters that may or may not “help you,” and judging (depth on the squat), the water gets a little murkier.
I’m not going to say that I know everything about the deadlift, but considering I’ve pulled 570 pounds (at a bodyweight of a then 190 pounds, which puts me in the elusive 3x bodyweight clubhouse), I don’t think it’s bragging to say that I know a thing or two.
So what in the heck does this have to do with squatting 4x per week?
Well, a few things.
For starters, I’m woefully slow off the floor when I deadlift. While the deadlift is often thought of as a “hip dominant” movement, we often forget that the quads do play a significant role in the initial pull.
I’ve tried everything to improve my speed off the floor – from speed pulls to pulling from a deficit to switching up my accessory work – and nothing has really helped in this regard.
Not coincidentally, due to any number of circumstances I won’t go into here, I’ve battled “cranky” knees for the better part of the past decade.
Save for sacrificing a lamb, I’ve tried everything to help my knees feel better, from soft tissue work (Graston and ART) to following a more anti-inflammatory diet, to more single-leg training. Nothing has really helped.
Now, my knee pain hasn’t ever been a huge deterrent and I’ve still been able to train fairly aggressively, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss squatting on a consistent basis.
Which got me thinking, what would happen if I followed a program where I squatted more frequently?
Doing so would serve a few purposes:
- Increase my quad strength, which would in turn (hopefully) translate to a faster initial pull off the ground and therefore a bigger, more badass deadlift.
- Increase my quad size. I don’t care what anyone says, we all have a little “meathead bodybuilder” hiding inside. Who wouldn’t want a little more size in their legs?
- Maybe, just maybe, if I structured things appropriately, my knees would actually feel better!
Let’s look at the actual breakdown, and touch on some advantages and disadvantages of increased squatting frequency.
Advantages to Increased Squatting Frequency
- Effectiveness. Squats rank as one of the best exercises you can do to help improve strength, power, athletic performance, and overall good looks.
- Systemic growth. If you want a muscle to grow, the more repeated exposures you give it – within reason, and assuming you’re not eating like an Olsen twin – the more it should cooperate. Squats place the entire body under load, so it’s not uncommon to see growth everywhere, not just the legs.
- Hormone output. The effect squats have on powerful endogenous hormones – increased growth hormone, IGF, Testosterone, etc. – has been well documented and is certainly worth noting.
- Improved conditioning. If anyone ever looks at your program and asks, “Yeah but, where’s the cardio? What about heart health?” just have him or her perform a set of high-rep squats while wearing a heart rate monitor. Enough said.
- Structural balance. Squats help offset many of the postural imbalances and dysfunctions we acquire from sitting on our asses all day.
- Fun. Squats are fun, and they work.
Disadvantages to Increased Squatting Frequency
- Squats are a highly technical. If you’re not careful, or are performing them poorly, they can hurt you. There are plenty of articles on this website that discuss squatting technique. Either be an adult and use the T Nation search button above (type in “squat technique”) or read everything you can on here by Dave Tate and Jim Wendler.
- CNS fatigue. If not structured appropriately your nervous system will hate you after one week.
- Population explosion. Because you’re squatting so frequently, every woman within a two-mile radius will spontaneously conceive. Get ready for some serious baby mama drama that would make Terrell Owens proud.
Lets Get to the Part You Skipped To Anyways
While there are many high-volume squat programs available (like the Smolov squat program), I wanted this program to be less “aggressive” and something that could be followed for a longer duration of time if I wanted to – and I probably will.
Here’s the weekly squat breakdown:
- Monday: Low rep, heavy squat – 5 x 3. This workout consists of my heaviest squat of the week. For simplicity, I generally kept to my 5RM here, and I wouldn’t increase the weight until I hit every rep, of every set. Some weeks, depending on how I felt, I actually worked up to a heavy single and then dropped the weight back down for the rest of my allotted sets. For most, sticking with heavy triples would be ideal, but for the more advanced trainees it wouldn’t hurt to work up to a heavy single once every two weeks, or possibly even pushing that to once a month.
- Tuesday: Upper body maintenance/squat technique – 3 x 5. I used this as more of a “technique” day or easy day than anything else. Having squatted heavy the day before, I wasn’t going to push the envelope. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to load the squat (heavy) every single time to reap its benefits. That’s where many people screw up. There’s a lot to be said for backing off on certain days and just getting some quality reps in. To give you an idea, in the first week, I only worked up to 135 pounds on this day. Towards the tail end, though, as I got stronger and more accustomed to the workload, I was using 225 pounds or more, while still making sure the reps were easy.
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: High(er) rep squat – 2-3 x 8. There’s something about higher-rep squat work. Some, like Dan John, would argue that it separates the men from the boys. There were a handful of times where I upped the ante and went for a 10-rep set, but I made sure I was using a weight that I could easily get all my reps in. Maybe I’d grind it out on the on the last rep. For most, a great starting point would be to use what amounts to your 10-12RM here.
- Friday: Upper body maintenance. No squatting.
- Saturday: Movement/GPP day (Goblet Squat) – 3 x 10. I wanted to make sure that I had one day where all I did was head into the facility and just “move around” a bit – nothing hard-core or strenuous, but something that would allow me to break a sweat and get my blood pumping.
I usually would end up pushing the Prowler a bit, performing some light farmer carries, a mobility circuit, as well as tossing in a few sets of Bulgarian split squats or light goblet squats, which I feel everyone should make a point of doing at least once a week (if not more).
Rules of Engagement and Miscellaneous Miscellany
- If I was going to squat four times per week, and place most of my training energy in that direction, something had to be dropped. One fatal mistake many trainees make is adding more and more to their program without taking something out. Most lifters will have a hard time making any progress if they take on too many tasks/goals at once. As it happened, I ended up taking out roughly 90% of my single-leg training. The only single-leg training I performed was pushing/dragging the Prowler as well as the occasional Bulgarian split squat or one-legged Romanian deadlift. But even these were fairly limited, and I gravitated more towards bilateral accessory work like glute-ham raises, barbell bridges, etc.
- I still performed deadlifts during this time. After heavy squats on Monday, I’d perform some “speed” pulls, setting a timer for 15-20 minutes and performing as many singles as I could using 50-70% of my 1RM. This was awesome, and something I’d highly recommend. I’d also perform a handful of sets of lower-rep deadlifts (1-3 reps) on Thursday before my high rep squats.
- Upper body was kept at maintenance. With squatting four times per week, I couldn’t be too concerned with my bench press numbers. Considering I like benching about as much as I like getting hoofed in the tackle, this wasn’t a huge deal for me. To that end, I benched heavy once per week (3 x 5), and the rest of my upper body training consisted of DB presses, pull-ups, push-up variations, and lots of horizontal rowing.
- I had to keep up with my tissue quality while doing this experiment. While I’m typically pretty good at keeping up with it, I made a point to foam roll every training day, placing a priority on my quads, adductors, external rotators, IT band, and ego. Trust me: Do not skip your foam rolling.
- Because I had access to specialty bars (cambered bar, safety squat bar, etc.), I’d perform a different squat variation each day. I realize that not everyone has this luxury, so feel free to back squat heavy on one day, and revert to front squats on your high(er) rep day. Or vice versa. Maybe even throw in some dead-start Anderson squats or barbell split squats? It really doesn’t matter.
As you can see, I kept things pretty simple and didn’t bog myself down with too many rules or parameters to follow. It’s funny, we often feel that the more complicated and extravagant a program is, the more effective it will be. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as some of the programs that deliver the best results are the ones that are stripped down and seemingly devoid of any fluff or extraneous BS.
So, What Happened?
I followed this experiment for just a shade over five weeks. Here are some candid thoughts and observations:
- My quads (and ass) definitely got bigger – which wasn’t surprising considering I squatted 20 times in a span of 35 days. I didn’t take any before/after pictures of my caboose so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. If it’s any consolation, my girlfriend had to take me shopping for a new pair of jeans, which was about as fun as lighting my face on fire.
- I saw marked improvement in my squat numbers – again, not really surprising. As a frame of reference, I started off my “heavy” squat days performing sets of 3 reps with 245-265 pounds. By week five, I was using 335 pounds for multiple sets, and even hit a set of 10 (deep) reps with 300 pounds. And while I realize that’s really nothing to brag about, it ain’t too shabby either – especially considering I hadn’t been squatting regularly for an extended period of time.
- What is surprising is how amazing my knees feel. They haven’t felt this good in a very long time, and part of me feels it’s because I’ve omitted the bulk of my single-leg training. More specifically, I’ve omitted the bulk of my lunging (both forward and reverse). The fitness industry flips flops more than a shady politician. One week single-leg training is the shit and everyone and their mother is singing its praises, and the next it wrecks the knees, overstretches the hip flexors, and leaves the toilet seat up. I’m not against single-leg training – I understand its efficacy, and still use it with my athletes and clients – but the reality is nothing is perfect for everyone. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for the next. Does this mean I’m going to omit single-leg training from my own programming long-term? Absolutely not. However, for the time being I’m nixing most of it (lunges, step-ups, etc.) and I’m okay with that.
- And finally, you’re probably wondering if I saw an improvement in my deadlift. Unfortunately, no I didn’t. But it also didn’t get worse! I can’t complain – I increased muscle mass over my entire body, and my squats have gone up significantly. I’ll need to tinker with a few things moving forward, but I have no doubt that the fruits of my labor will pay off and I’ll hit that 600-pound pull soon enough.
And That’s It
Wrapping things up, I had a blast with this program. It’s something I’ll likely play around with for a longer period of time as squats seem to lend themselves very well to a higher frequency format as there are so many variations and loading parameters that can be used.
I’d love to see others try this “system” out and let me know if it works for them. However, if you do decide to jump in, implement the suggestions above and don’t try to tackle too many things at once. Remember, if you’re going to squat upwards of four times per week, something has to come out of your current program.
The payoff is you may be rewarded with a bigger squat, bigger quads, and possibly a bigger jean collection.
Now go have some fun!
Squat Every Day: Squat More For Fat Loss, Strength Gains, And To Get Jacked
Here at Brobible, it’s no secret that we love the squat. The squat is a staple exercises that can become a part of any program, whether that program is focusing on strength, size, fat loss.
The squat is kicks so much ass because it works your ass so hard. The act of squatting to depth with no added weight recruits hundreds of muscles. Add weight into the mix, and all of the sudden you’ve got an exercise that truly does force the entire body to work.
Squatting is a highly metabolic move. It burns through calories at an unbelievable rate, thanks to the high number of muscles involved in the motion. It’s also one of the best mass and strength building exercises in existence.
Put simply, there’s a pretty damn good reason the squat is often referred to as the king of all exercises.
How many times a week should you squat?
Just because you know the squat is one hell of an exercise doesn’t help in deciding how often to perform it. And depending on who you ask, you could get hugely varying answers.
Some traditional bodybuilder types argue that 1-2 squat sessions a week are all that’s needed in order to get the best results. They say that the squat is too demanding, and takes too much time to recover from.
Lately, many popular powerlifters and others have become really vocal proponents of daily undulating periodization, or DUP, and argue that squatting 3-4 times a week is entirely okay, as long as you go about it in an intelligent manner.
On the far end of the spectrum are people like the President and Co-founder of MusclePharm, Cory Gregory, who say you can squat every single day.
Which is the right answer?
Without being too much of an annoying bastard, the obvious answer is that it depends. It depends on your goals, and what you’re looking to get out of training.
If you couldn’t give a shit about ever squatting for the rest of your life, then working 5 squat sessions per week into your training program doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?
Maybe you’re a bro though, and good bro’s know that they need to work on their biceps and their thighceps. Good bro’s don’t skip leg day, because leg day builds badass bro’s. Badass bro’s also want to look like they lift. They want to be jacked, tan, and eschew the idea of a dadbod as something for old ass alumni only.
Then there is the sadistic bro who wants to be a badass bro X a million bro points.
If you fit that profile, then maybe squat every day is for you.
When talking about squatting, the whole idea of squatting every day isn’t some made up bullshit that Cory Gregory is insane to follow. In fact, it’s actually a pretty damn good idea if you’re looking to get bigger, stronger, and leaner.
In case you’ve forgotten, requires a high number of muscles working together at once, meaning that you can push more weight, burn more calories, and enjoy a greater short term hormonal response.
Academic backing for squat every day:
Like I said, Corey Gregory may be insane, but he isn’t dumb. Quite a few very smart people have started using a squat every day, or very similar protocol. One of those is Dr. Mike Zourdos, who holds a PhD in Exercise Physiology, has coached the Florida State Powerlifting team, and is a competitive powerlifter himself.
Zourdos has gone periods of squatting 70+ days in a row, and I believe in another training cycle even squatted for 100 days in a row. To say Zourdos loves the squat would be a massive understatement.
One hallmark of many training programs that Zourdos puts together is the fact that the squat is a central lift. Not only because his lifters need to be proficient, but squatting often turns his lifters complete badasses.
If you want to find more out about the work and research Zourdos is doing, check out his Facebook page here.
How to properly squat everyday:
You’ve got a set of titanium balls and have decided you want to squat every day. Good for you, bro. I’m pretty sure I can hear those titanium balls clanking together as you get up to grab a beer.
One of the most common squat every day protocols involves working up to a training max every single day. This means each squat session basically looks like this:
- 3-4 warm up sets of higher rep, quality work. No set should be to failure. This happens at the very beginning of your workout, before any other lifting.
- Get a hard training single. 1 rep that is tough, but not so difficult that you have to grind through it for 5-6 seconds. A training single means you know you can get it, and it is less weight than a true 1 rep max.
- Go do the rest of your workout.
With a squat every day program, there should NEVER be missed lifts. If you’re missing lifts because the weight is too heavy, you need to drop the weight down. Missing reps is a vital mistake to make when doing a squat every day program, or something similar.
I’ve talked in the past about the 3 training variables that govern training success; intensity, frequency, and volume. If one of these variables starts going up, after a certain point the other 2 must go down.
Squat every day is a perfect example of this. Obviously with a squat every single day, the frequency is extremely high. Because the frequency is so high, the volume and intensity must go down accordingly.
There will be some days where the squatting volume is higher, and you’ll work in more moves like lunges, leg presses, deadlifts, and other leg work. Just because you squat every day doesn’t mean you neglect every other single leg exercise out there.
It means that now on chest day, you also squat. On back day, you squat. On rest day, you get your squatting in. No matter the day, you’re squatting.
If you think you can handle it, try out squatting every day for the next 6-8 weeks. Keep track of your weight, measurements, body fat, and maxes. I’d be willing to bet my bottom dollar those are all improved at the end of the program.
When it comes to squatting the old internet guard would have had you believe that you could only train it heavy once a week maybe at a push twice a week but the second session would have to be done light or using something like the dynamic method. I think it is clear to anyone who reads the blogs, books on training or who even follows the training of weightlifters or powerlifters who compete in the IPF or unequipped you will see that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
That being said however there are still some scenarios where people can’t train the squat more than once a week. Some people have injury histories that stop them from doing it, some people are training for a sport and can’t commit to heavy leg training more than once a week and some people just don’t have the time or the want to squat more than once a week.
In this article I want to run you through the things you’re going to need to consider if you want to squat once a week and still progress your strength.
1 – You are going to have to train hard every squat session.
If you squat 2-4x per week then you are in the position where you can accumulate volume and fatigue over more sessions which means you don’t have to do as much in the one session. However, since you are only going to be squatting once a week you’re going to need to ensure an overload every session. The good thing about squatting once a week however is you have 6 days of rest from session to session so you can really go nuts every workout and it shouldn’t affect your next workout.
2 – You should use more than one squat variation in your programme to help with your skill learning.
Since your squatting only once a week you might think you should do more of the one kind of squat but you also need to ensure you are getting enough volume and overload in to make sure you are making progress. This means that you’re going to be doing an intense block of work for squat which will leave you very fatigued for any extra volume or work you might want to do on squat. To try and spend your energy a bit more intelligently doing extra volume in the form of pause squat, pin squat or front squat can help you to develop your technique.
3 – You need to make sure every week is pushing your progress.
You don’t have a lot of training time and as such you can’t really afford to waste any of it. You need to ensure you are progressing some element of your programme from week to week if it’s volume, weight lifted or reps done with a certain weight you need to ensure you are making some kind of progress week to week.
4 – You’re going to have to really pay attention to what you are doing.
As mentioned in point 2 since you have a very limited time frame to practice the movement through the week you’re going to really have to pay attention to your technique. You should spend some time during the week watching expert squatters and reading some material on squat technique. Ideally you should also have a coach to help with this process failing this the best thing to do is to work on your own mental representation of the lift. You should also video each set and critically appraise your own performance look for weaknesses in the lift and where you could improve your execution.
5 – You should devote as much of your training session time to squat as is feasible.
Depending on your goal you might not have a lot of time to spend on the squat in the session as a bodybuilder or even more so as a sports player there are too many physical qualities to be covered and not enough time to be devoting your whole session to squatting. If you’re a powerlifter and you only have one squat session in the week then you would do well to devote about 80% of your effort and time in that one session on the squat and squat variations.
Some Squat Programmes you can use to get better once a week.
Programme one – The God of Linear Gains Method.
This is a squat programme I used to get to 230kg, it’s also a method one of my lifters used to get to 320kg. If you’re not scared of doing hard sets and are reasonably new to lifting then you can get a lot out of this programme.
Working set one – choose a weight (75-80%) to begin the programme with. Then Rep out with it the goal is 10-12 reps. If you can get more than 12 keep going it’s your fault for choosing a light weight!
Working set two – up the weight 10-20kg (stronger lifters should jump more) and perform another rep outset. Again the goal is to do as many as you can goal reps 4-6 reps.
Volume – 3 sets of 6-8 reps @ 80-90% of the first working set.
Progression – When you can hit 9-12 reps on the first set of the workout then add 5-10kg for the next week and continue the progress.
Assistance – 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps on front squat or pause squat (can cycle this work every 2-3 weeks). Use 40-70% of working weight.
When do I deload or restart the programme – When you plateau or fail to increase your reps 2 weeks in a row at the same weight then you should deload for a week or and then change your programme or restart this programme at a lighter weight.
Programme two – INOL sets with rep outs.
This is a progression I have used in a whole bunch of programmes for at least 100 lifters and it has worked a treat for the vast majority of people. It won’t work forever however.
Week 1 – 5×5 @ 75% (rep out on set 5)
Week 2 – 5×4 @ 80% (rep out on set 5)
Week 3 – 5×3 @ 85% (rep out on set 5)
Week 4 – 4×4 @ 70%
Progression – utilise your rep out results for week 3 to calculate your new training max and then rerun the template after week 4 / deload week.
Assistance – 2-3 sets of 4-6 sets on any squat variation designed to help your skill learning. Use 60-90% of working weight.
When do I deload or restart the programme? When you fail to push your predicted RM up for 2 weeks in a row then you should consider a deload week or maybe switching your programme.
Programme Three – More weight is more.
The simplest progression method your probably ever going to come across just adding more weight to the bar. This programme is very similar to starting strength or stronglifts as in it just adds weight week to week however as it’s a 4 week training cycle it should allow you to progress for longer before you stall.
Week 1 – 5×5 @ 70%
Week 2 – 5×4 @ 75%
Week 3 – 5×3 @ 80%
Progression – When you start the next wave just add 2.5-5kg to each weight lifted depending on how strong you are.
Assistance – 2-3 sets of 3-6 sets on any squat variation designed to help your skill learning. Use 80-90% of working weight.
When do I deload or restart the programme? When you fail any reps then you need to think about restarting the cycle with lighter weights or choose another programme.
Hope this article has given you some ideas on how to progress your squat if you only have one session per week you can give it. Whilst one session a week isn’t the optimal way to progress with the lift there is no reason why you can’t get better at it with only one session a week, many of the worlds strongest lifters did just that.
Every guy who walks into the gym has an aspiration to get bigger. That presents the gym-going guy with an age-old problem: How do you do it?
To help simplify the process, we’ve compiled a list of the 25 best ways to get big—and we’ve kept each method short and sweet, so you can get on to your workouts. For more in-depth information about each strategy, click through to the related article on our site.
1. Eat more
“Extra calories combined with training leads to growth,” says Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S. It’s really that cut and dry. More muscle comes from more food. The right kind of food, that is—like the 9 best foods for effective clean-bulking.
2. Power up with protein
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle. They assist with the rebuilding and recovery process. Shoot for 1-1.5 grams of protein per lean pound of body weight. We like these 12 protein-filled foods for your physique.
3. Don’t cut carbs
Numerous studies have pointed to the benefit of protein supplements in muscle building, but many of them also mention carbohydrates as a hormone-balancing component that maximizes your gains after workouts. Here are 7 more reasons to keep the carbs.
4. Use dumbbells
Andrew Sakhrani, C.S.C.S., a Montreal-based strength coach, encourages occasionally swapping out barbell work with dumbbells. Why? “Dumbbell presses open up the chest and recruit more muscle fibers.” This works for other exercises, too.
5. Work your back
It’s easy to focus on your arms and chest. However, too much training on those areas can lead to imbalances and injury, most of which can be avoided by doing plenty of rowing/pulling work.
“Most of your growth hormone release in a day comes during sleep,” says Hyson. Stick with eight hours as a guideline. Here’s everything an athlete needs to know about sleep and recovery.
7. Pump up the volume
Bodybuilders, widely known as the biggest guys on the planet, have an age-old training method that has withstood the test of time: volume training. They typically do five or more exercises per body part, four sets of 8-12 reps, amounting to approximately 200 reps per body part.
8. Go heavy
Circuits might get the blood flowing, but heavy lifting skyrockets testosterone levels throughout the body. Hyson recommends using the heaviest load possible for “sets of five or fewer reps.”
9. Move with multijoint exercises
The foundation of a big, muscular body comes from big, compound lifts, defined as motions that incorporate at least two joints. One example: the chinup/pullup. “The chinup is the original biceps curl,” Sakhrani says. This principle holds true for all muscle groups, he adds.
10. Ease off your workload at times
Sometimes, the best way to increase your strength is to throttle back for a few days to give your body a chance to rebuild and recuperate. Decrease the weight, up the reps, and slash the last two sets. By scaling back occasionally in sequence with your workout routine, you allow for full recovery.
11. Change things up
Although we follow workout “routines,” there’s always a need for variety. A workout shouldn’t just be a weightlifting challenge—there should also be a level of complexity and variation to each move. Alternatively, try to work in a little bit of high-intensity interval training or cardio moves into each workout to make sure your body is constantly adjusting. Here are 11 reasons you’re not breaking training plateaus.
12. Work your legs
Big powerlifting moves like squats and deadlifts stimulate your body to release high levels of testosterone, resulting in total-body growth. These two moves alone will add muscle everywhere.
13. Use your bodyweight
Remember, Bruce Lee was ripped and his muscles certainly weren’t small. He always touted the importance of body-weight exercises.
14. Train with a partner
“Competition in the weight room boosts testosterone and makes you enjoy your workouts more, so you’ll stick with them. You’ll also be forced to train harder,” says Hyson. So grab a buddy and get after it.
15. Take creatine
Creatine, when taken responsibly, has been linked to muscle gain in almost every study that has been performed on it. Don’t believe us? We’ve got plenty of great reading material on the benefits of creatine.
16. Always focus on form
It sucks to sit out with an injury, especially because it kills your progress. Keep your form strict, and you’ll build more muscle while reducing the risk of getting hurt.
17. Be consistent
Going to the gym once a week won’t get you bigger. Pick a number of days to work out (3-4 is optimal), show up, and work hard, and you’ll see results quickly. Here’s how to stay motivated to work out.
18. Chill out
Tension and stress stimulate your body to release cortisol, a stress hormone that inhibits muscle-building and promotes muscle breakdown. Try to breathe easy throughout the day, and practice mental exercises to keep stress at a minimum throughout the day. It’ll maximize your muscle, and improve your overall sense of well-being.
19. Don’t limit yourself
If you’re stuck at a weight and unsure if you can make that jump up to 225 from 215 on the bench press, don’t just walk away from it. Grab a spotter who knows what they’re doing, and give it a shot. Worst-case scenario? You fail, then you can try again next week. Best case? Boom—you’ve got a new PR.
20. Use a spotter
Spotters help you get that extra rep, and can help you keep an eye on your form and count reps when you’re focused on moving a massive weight. Those extra reps and improved form will lead to muscle gains in the long run.
21. Consult a professional
There’s a reason that most trainers are muscular and fit—they know what they’re doing. Search out an educated trainer and have a session or two with him or her to learn some new moves or some new nutrition tricks to employ in your fit lifestyle.
22. Find your “zone”
Whether it takes a certain playlist on your iPod or you have to wear that weird pair of shoes, it’s important to have the right mindset when you enter the gym or you’ll be distracted and feel like you can’t get anything done.
23. Be intense
Joking around, texting, and being social are great—just not in the gym. Focus on your workout, that’s what you’re at the gym for. If you have to respond, keep it short and do it during your rest interval.
24. Always warm up properly
Every time you lift, you’re waging a war on the weights. However, you won’t see any benefit without preparing properly for that war. Take care of your joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Warm up!
If you’re following a program, be sure to give it at least 6-8 weeks. If you’re not happy with your results, don’t be afraid to try something completely different. Change the exercises, amount of weight, reps, rest periods, amount of days, you name it.
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If you’re active but you’ve never touched a barbell in your life, you may need about three to six months to get your muscles and tissues ready for heavy lifting. On the other hand, if you’re a brand-new exerciser or you’ve been out of the game for a few years, you’ll need to build up your strength and conditioning over the course of 12 months before going heavy, Somerset says.
4. Master the movements to build muscle memory.
Building up the ability to squat, deadlift, or press a heavy barbell doesn’t depend solely on muscular strength. The amount of weight you can lift also depends on how efficiently your brain can communicate with your muscles. That is, how quickly your muscles—both the muscle groups involved and the fibers within the muscles—can coordinate to lift that weight.
“There’s a direct correlation between how much muscle we can activate and how much weight we can lift,” Seedman says. In addition to strengthening your muscles and tissues, you need to train your nervous system to recognize and perform movement patterns (usually referred to as developing muscle memory) before you pile on the weight. And that means first and foremost, mastering the proper technique.
What’s more, spending time doing the movements at a lighter weight will help you avoid injury down the line. “If you’re loading movements that are faulty, you’re doing your body a disservice by further damaging your imbalances and asymmetries,” Erica Suter, C.S.C.S., tells SELF. For example, if you squat with your knees caving in, adding weight will only worsen that faulty pattern and greatly increase your chance of getting hurt.
To nail the correct technique and train your nervous system to recognize the movement patterns, Seedman recommends adding practice sessions to your week.
One way to do that is to spend 20 to 30 minutes practicing basic lifts on your days off from regular strength training. “It’s kind of an active recovery day,” Seedman says. Practice one exercise from seven movement categories: squat, hip hinge (i.e. deadlift), lunge, horizontal push (i.e. bench press), horizontal pull (i.e. barbell bent-over row), vertical push (i.e. overhead press), and vertical pull (i.e. lat pulldown). Go for three sets of five to eight reps with a lighter weight.
If you’re not wild about the idea of going to the gym on your day off, split up your normal workout so 80 percent is dedicated to your regular lifts, while the other 20 percent focuses on form with lighter weights.
Practicing lifts throughout the day without any added weight is also a great way to learn proper technique. “Simulating is one of the most effective things you can do,” Seedman says, “and it can be done anywhere at anytime.” So next time you need to get up and walk around at work, perform a few bodyweight squats, Romanian deadlifts, and bent-over rows.
5. Shore up your core.
A strong core is essential to lift heavy. “Think of it as the trunk to your tree,” Suter says. “In order for your limbs to move efficiently, your trunk has to be sturdy and resilient.”
In fact, your core plays a starring role in every heavy lift. You have to be able to create full-body tension to keep your torso upright under added weight. “Think about something like squats and deadlifts—your spine needs to be locked into position, and your core needs to be firing,” Seedman says.
To build the core strength and stability you’ll need to advance to heavier weights, Suter recommends training two to three times per week with coordinated bodyweight movements like planks, bird-dogs, dead bugs, hollow-body holds, and crawling.
Meanwhile, Seedman suggests mastering the one-arm plank. “It really teaches people to lock their whole body in and keep everything tight,” he says, “and it does a good job of building that ability within a matter of a few weeks.”
Here’s how to do it: Get in a high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your feet spread wider than hip-width apart. Brace your core and lift one arm off the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Perform three sets per side two times a week.
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This Is How to Put On Muscle Without Lifting Super Heavy
Some people like to say that lifting heavy weights is the only way to build muscle. High reps and light weights might improve your endurance, these people argue, but they’re not going to make your muscles any bigger.
In fact, the latest science shows that training with lighter weights and higher reps is a surprisingly effective way to make your muscles grow. Let’s dig in and take a closer look at what it all means for you.
A few years back, a team of US researchers ran a very simple experiment: They took two groups of guys and got them to lift weights three times a week for eight weeks. Both groups followed the same training program, but with one key difference. For each exercise, the first group did three sets of 8 to 12 reps with a heavy(ish) weight. Group two used a lighter weight and did three sets of 25 to 35 reps. Conventional wisdom has it that the group lifting the heavier weights would gain the most muscle. Those in the light group would see some muscle growth, but to a much smaller degree.
But that isn’t what happened: The researchers found no significant difference in the rate of muscle growth between the two groups. Training with higher reps and lighter weights led to gains in muscle size that were on par with heavier training. And this wasn’t just a one-off. Stuart Phillips, a kinesiology professor at Canada’s McMaster University, has authored several studies that look at the impact of different rep ranges on muscle growth. All show very similar gains in muscle mass whether training is done with light weights and high reps or heavier weights and lower reps.
In one study, Phillips and his team got a group of men to train their legs three times a week for ten weeks, using either high or low reps. The result? The amount of new muscle added to both legs was almost identical. Training with 30-40 reps stimulated just as much muscle growth as sets of 10-12 reps
Of course, these are the results from just a few studies. And drawing conclusions about anything from two or three studies is never a good idea. However, there’s plenty of other research out there showing that higher reps and lighter weights trigger just as much muscle growth as heavier weights and lower reps.
In one 2018 study, eight weeks of training the arms with light weights (20 rep-max) led to gains in muscle size that were no different than those seen with heavier weights (8 rep-max). In another, Japanese researchers found that training with high reps and light weights (30-40 reps per set) builds just as much muscle as low reps (8-12 reps per set) and heavier weights. Most of the studies we’ve looked at show similar rates of muscle growth with both low and high reps. But what happens when you start using ultra-high reps? And by ultra-high, I’m talking about 60-70 reps per set?
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That was the question asked by a team of Brazilian scientists, who took a group of 30 untrained men and got them to lift weights twice a week for 12 weeks. The lifters were split into three groups. All three groups trained the biceps and quads on one side of their body with very light weights and ultra-high reps—20 percent of their one-rep max, and 60-70 reps per set.
On the other side of their body, the men used one of three different rep ranges: around 30 reps per set, 15-20 reps per set, or 10-15 reps per set. At the end of 12 weeks, training with low, moderate, and high reps all led to similar gains in muscle size. But it was a different story for the side of the body that was trained with ultra-high reps, where muscles grew at half the rate they did in the other three protocols. In other words, while sets of 30 reps led to gains in size that were on par with sets in the 10 to 15 rep range, training with just 20 percent of your one-rep max appears to be below the threshold needed to maximize gains in muscle size.
So, what does all of this mean for you and what you do in the gym? What it doesn’t mean is that training with light weights and high reps is now the “best way” to build muscle. The fact that it’s possible to gain muscle using higher reps and lighter weights doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea to do so.
Remember, the high rep training programs didn’t lead to superior gains in size or strength. But each set took twice as long to complete. Training in a higher rep range is also highly unpleasant and extremely painful—a lot harder than lower reps and heavier weights. Furthermore, as a personal trainer, doing longer, more painful workouts simply to generate the same results doesn’t sound like a great idea to me. What’s more, research shows that lower reps and heavier weights still win the day as far as gains in strength are concerned.
What it does mean is that the range of repetitions you can use to build muscle is a lot wider than previously thought. That gives you a lot more choice about the type of training you do.
For example, you might find that lifting heavy weights causes pain in your shoulders, elbows, knees, or wrists. The solution is very simple: If going heavy on certain exercises causes pain, just go light instead.
Maybe you train at home, or in a gym with a limited range of equipment, and lifting heavy weights on certain exercises isn’t an option. Perhaps you just prefer using lighter weights on some exercises, and heavier weights on others.
In both cases, you can train with lighter weights and higher reps safe in the knowledge that you’re not missing out on any gains. In short, as long as you train hard and push yourself, your muscles can be made to grow with a variety of rep ranges and weights, from light to medium to heavy.
Christian Finn is a UK-based personal trainer who holds a masters degree in exercise science. He writes frequently about fitness and nutrition on his personal site, MuscleEvo.
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