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There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about how many days you should work out, and sifting through all of it can be difficult. Or you could even get false information from the latest bro science TikTok page.
So, how many days a week should you work out to build muscle? Beginners can lift 3 days per week and build plenty of muscle, according to Connor Lyons, a Director of Strength & Conditioning, CSCS, PES, and former NHL player. Intermediate lifters should lift 4 days a week to continue growing. If you’ve been training for +2 years, you can work out 5-6 days weekly to see the most growth.
But the way you work out has a huge effect on whether you can quickly grow muscles. Or if you'll stall out for months or years.
Read on to learn your optimal training frequency and how to structure your workouts to see optimal muscle growth. Here's what I’ll also talk about:
- How you can train better to make your muscles grow
- What your workouts should look like?
- Bonus tips to build muscle quickly
- How your muscles grow
- Why your muscles grow
- The different kinds of muscle growth
How Many Days Should I Work Out to Build Muscle?
Beginners should train two to three days a week using compound lifts (movements involving more than one joint). Early in your training, you’ll respond to just about any training stimulus, but as you grow into your new body, you’ll need more varied training to continue building muscle.
Intermediate lifters should train three to four days a week and use compound and isolation movements (movements that only involve one joint).
Advanced lifters should do their best to get into the gym four to six days per week and can perform a balance of compound and isolation movements.
Of course, knowing how many days to work out per week is somewhat of a loaded question because everyone’s situation is different. People have different amounts of time to dedicate to their training and capabilities. This all affects how many days a week you should work out to build muscle.
Louie Simmons used to say, “What got you to a 400lb squat won’t get you to a 500lb squat,” and the same is true for muscle growth. This leads me to our next topic: training variation.
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Our Favorite Muscle-Building Aids:
Below you'll learn more about the bonus tips to help you build muscle quickly, but there are 3 products you could consider adding to your routine.
Take Creatine for Stronger Contractions
Take Protein to Recover Faster
Take Glycerol For More Pump
How To Vary Your Training To Add Muscle
If you want to grow, you must vary your training often. Your body is a master at adapting; adaptation is both the friend and enemy of muscle growth.
Adaptation is the friend of muscle growth because muscle growth is an adaptation to your training. Adaptation is the enemy of growth because you'll stop growing once you adapt and your body gets used to a movement or load.
This means you must train with certain movements, loads, and volumes long enough to obtain all their growth adaptation without spending so much time with the same movement that you stop growing.
A good rule of thumb is to stick with a movement for about four to six weeks. This is enough time to get stronger and create muscle growth, but not so long that you stop benefiting from a given movement.
Within these four weeks, you’ll want to vary the volume, allowing you to handle heavier loads to continue growing. You’ll start with more volume and lighter weights and lower that volume while increasing the loads as the weeks' progress.
Here’s an example of how you can progress your loads while decreasing your volume:
|Volume Per Set||12-15 reps||8-12 reps||6-8 reps|
The above rep schemes will keep you in the “hypertrophy range” of training. The loads you handle and the tension you create (because of this load) will create muscle growth.
Anything lower and you shift towards strength, and anything higher and you shift towards endurance. Neither of these is optimal for muscle growth.
How Should My Workouts Be Structured For Hypertrophy?
When it comes to structuring your training, you need enough frequency while also allowing for rest and recovery. People with bigger muscles aren’t just the people who do the most work. They’re the people who do the most work and recover from that work.
So, how should you structure your training?
|Day of the Week||Training Stimulus|
|Monday||Upper Push/Lower Pull|
|Wednesday||Upper Pull/Lower Push|
|Friday||Total Body Lift|
As a beginner, you'll want to structure your workouts with three a week. Your body will adapt to just about anything, so you don’t need super complicated workouts. You should aim to hit both your lower and upper body every time you train. I’ve broken these down below into upper push/lower pull, upper pull/lower push, and total body workouts.
- Upper push exercises are those that use the chest, shoulders, and triceps to push the weight away from you.
- Upper pull exercises are mostly back and bicep exercises or anything where you’re pulling the weight closer to you.
- Lower push exercises use the quads and include squat and lunge patterns.
- Lower pull exercises tend to be hamstring, glute dominant, or hinge patterns. Hamstring curl variations fall into this category as well.
The total body lift is anything you’d like to include, but you need to ensure you’re still using compound upper and lower body exercises. Compound exercises are ones that include more than one joint, like the bench press or a squat variation.
Curious about the differences between upper/lower and full-body workouts? Check out Upper/Lower vs. Full-Body: Differences, Pros, Cons.
|Day of the Week||Training Stimulus|
|Monday||Lower Push/Upper Pull|
|Tuesday||Lower Pull/Upper Push|
|Thursday||Lower Push/Upper Pull|
|Friday or Saturday||Lower Pull/Upper Push|
Intermediate-level lifters must train 4 days per week to maximize their growth potential. You're an intermediate lifter if you've consistently lifted for at least a year. You have laid a solid foundation and have exhausted all your newbie gains.
Now, your training needs to get more specialized and frequent.
Your training will still be laid out in an upper push/lower pull and upper pull/lower push pattern. However, you’re going to add in an extra day. This additional day will give you a ton of extra work over the course of the year.
In this part of your training journey, you’ll able to use more isolation exercises. This is because your muscles have now grown enough to benefit from more targeted exercises.
When you first start training, compound movements like the bench press will stress your triceps and pecs more than a dumbbell flye or a skull crusher ever could. Now that you’re stronger, you’ll be able to handle enough of a load to see the benefits of these isolation exercises.
Compound lifts (like the bench press and squat) will still make up the bulk of your training, but you’ll be able to include more exercises like knee extensions and leg curls due to having the extra day.
|Day of the Week||Training Stimulus|
|Monday||Chest and Shoulders|
|Tuesday||Legs - Hip Dominant|
|Wednesday||Back and Biceps|
|Thursday||Rest or Active Recovery|
|Saturday||Legs - Knee Dominant|
An advanced lifter will be able to train 5-6 days per week and should maximize muscle growth. But you'll need to be strategic with your workout to also get enough recovery for your muscles to grow.
An advanced lifter is anyone who has been consistently training for at least two years. Advanced lifters will need more stimulus because they have already laid a solid foundation and gotten just about everything they could from their four-day training split.
Through the beginner and intermediate training, you’ve focused on movements (push and pull), and now as an advanced lifter, you can focus more on muscles. In this part of your training journey, you can start to break down your training into individual muscle groups. This type of training is usually referred to as a bro split.
Breaking your training down into muscle groups has many benefits, the frequency being the biggest one. But should you work out every day to gain muscle if you’re an advanced lifter? No. You can train 5-6 days per week while allowing optimal recovery. This will prime you for muscle growth.
In this part of your training, you’ll actually shift towards more isolation exercises than compound ones. Most of your energy will still be used on these compound exercises, but you’ll likely do more isolation than compound exercises.
Learn more about the differences between a bro split and p/p/l training in Bro Split vs PPL: Differences, Pros, Cons.
What Determines an Optimal Training Frequency?
Here are the biggest things you should think about when deciding how often you should work out to gain muscle:
- Training age – The longer you've been training, the more you'll need to work out to continue to gain muscle.
- Current fitness levels – The more fit you are, the more you can work out.
- Desired muscle growth – More muscle growth will generally require lifting more.
- Your work/home life – The more sleep you get, the more days you can lift.
- Your job – The more physical your job is, the more rest you'll need.
The parameters I laid out earlier in this article are the most optimal training frequency for muscle growth based on your training age. However, you’ve got to ask yourself the questions above when deciding how often you should work out.
For example, if you are an advanced lifter but work a construction job 60 hours per week, you might want to train fewer days to ensure you can recover.
On the flip side, if you are a beginner and sit at a desk eight hours a day on top of an hour commute each way, you may also want to include some walking or cardio throughout the week. Sitting for long periods can make your hips very tight and cause back pain. Walking can help alleviate some of this tightness and pain.
Moving around will also help you burn more calories since you’re sedentary throughout much of the day.
Through his Stand Up Kids organization, Kelly Starrett found that standing instead of sitting at a desk burned 95,000 more calories (33 marathons worth) throughout the year. Imagine how much calorie burning you miss out on by sitting all day. Walking and including cardio can help close that gap.
There are many factors to consider when deciding your optimal training frequency, and they’ll all impact your ability to perform and recover.
Extra Tips for Building Muscle
You’re here because you’re looking to get bigger, so let’s talk about some of the things outside of training you can do to tip the scales in your favor.
Eat More Calories Than You Burn
Nutrition is a huge component of muscle growth. Training is only the trigger for growth — we don’t actually grow while we’re training. The biggest battle when it comes to muscle growth comes in the kitchen.
For some people, eating enough calories overall is the hard part. Others really struggle with eating enough of the right things. For muscle growth, you need to be in a caloric surplus or eat more calories than you burn. You need enough protein for recovery, enough carbohydrates for energy, and enough healthy fats for good hormone balance.
Creatine is the most researched supplement on the planet, and there has never been a study showing creatine to be detrimental. That's why I recommend it to most of my clients who are serious about muscle growth.
Creatine is basically the rate-limiting factor for muscle energy, so having more creatine means more forceful contractions for longer periods. Creatine also helps to pull water into the muscle cell so they’ll be fuller and bigger.
If you’re looking for a good creatine supplement, check out Bulk Supplements Creatine Monohydrate.
Take A Protein Supplement
You need 0.5 – 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day (1.2 – 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram). That means if you weigh 200 lbs, you need at least 100 grams of protein per day.
Many people struggle to eat enough protein to maximize their benefits, so I often recommend taking a protein supplement.
Amino acids from protein are the building blocks for muscle and play a huge role in your immune system. It is important to your recovery.
Protein also has a higher thermic effect than other macronutrients (fats and carbs). While protein has four calories per gram, your body uses 20-30% of those calories just to break it down. Every four calories of protein yields about three calories in your body.
If you extrapolate that throughout your eating, you’ll be able to lower your calorie intake without lowering your food intake. Whey protein is a great supplement to add to your supplement plan, and Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey is my go-to protein powder.
If you’re looking for more protein powder options, try one of our favorite protein powders for muscle gain.
Take Glycerol For More Pump
This is the best supplement you’ve probably never heard of. Glycerol is used to make soaps but also gives you a great pump. Glycerol pulls water out of the deepest layer of your skin and into your muscle cell, amplifying your gym pump.
My athletes use Bulk Supplements Glycerol Monostearate when they’re looking for a better pump.
Sleep 8 Hours Per Night
If you bottled up and packaged the benefits of sleep to sell in the stores, every sports governing body, from the USOC to the NFL, would ban it. Sleep is such a powerful tool that nobody wants to touch with a 10-foot pole.
Sleep allows your body to recover, and not sleeping enough has been shown to hamper your gains and energy levels and shorten your life. If you want to create the optimal environment for muscle growth, you need to sleep at least seven to eight hours per night.
Stay Active On Rest Days
It’s no secret that you need to stimulate the muscles for them to grow, but you don’t actually get bigger while you’re training. The inflammatory and recovery process is when your muscles actually grow.
It’s important to include rest or active recovery days in your training plan to maximize your recovery and growth. Active recovery days are a great tool to help push blood and nutrients to the damaged muscles, facilitating their recovery.
I would recommend against complete rest days where you do absolutely nothing. On your off days, you should get up and go for a walk, a light jog, or even push a sled. These activities will create blood flow to aid in recovery, and as an added bonus, they can even alleviate some of the soreness you’re feeling.
Wondering if you can build muscle through powerlifting? We provide the answer in Can You Build Muscle With Powerlifting?
How Do Muscles Grow?
To understand the answer to this question, you should know that there are three different kinds of muscle growth.
- Sacroplasmic hypertrophy (most common but doesn't add strength, larger muscle cells)
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy (more difficult but adds strength, larger muscle cells)
- Hyperplasia (more muscle cells)
Two types of muscle growth fall under the umbrella of hypertrophy, while the other is called hyperplasia. Hypertrophy is an increase in the size of the muscle cell, whereas hyperplasia is an increase in the number of muscle cells.
For this article, we’re going to focus on hypertrophy because hyperplasia hasn’t been demonstrated in humans outside of super heavyweight bodybuilders. Many believe their drugs may play a role in this kind of growth.
The two types of hypertrophy are:
- Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is often referred to as “nonfunctional hypertrophy,” while myofibrillar hypertrophy is referred to as “functional hypertrophy.” The mechanisms for these types of growth are very different.
This kind of muscle growth gets its name from where it occurs, the sarcoplasm, or the fluid inside the muscle cell. The growth comes from increased energy substrates (molecules that produce energy) and mitochondria (the cell's powerhouse).
This growth is considered nonfunctional because it doesn’t contribute to strength, even though it does contribute to energy production.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an adaptation to higher-volume, moderate-load training. When you train with more volume (sets and reps), your body responds by increasing what you’ll need to train in this higher-volume environment. The SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands) dictates that you’ll adapt to the stimuli you train with.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the most common muscle growth you'll obtain in your training. When you put on 5-10 lbs of muscle in a year, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is overwhelmingly responsible.
This kind of muscle growth also gets its name from where it occurs. Myofibrillar hypertrophy takes place in the myofibers or muscle fibers.
This kind of growth is an increase in the size of the protein structures within the muscle. These protein structures are responsible for all of your movement. When you flex your bicep, squat, or run, these protein structures slide across each other to create that movement.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is an adaptation to low- to moderate-volume, higher-tension/load training. When you create more tension in the muscle, you create trauma in the protein structures. They then grow larger to handle these loads the next time you train with them.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is referred to as functional hypertrophy because it does contribute to strength. This kind of muscle growth will help you get stronger and handle more weight in your workouts.
Types of Muscle Fibers
There are two categories of muscle fibers: Type I and Type II. The kind of training you do will dictate which types of fibers are trained.
Type I Muscle Fibers
These fibers are often referred to as “slow-twitch” muscle fibers. Type I muscle fibers are resistant to fatigue and largely active in moderate/low-intensity activities like walking, swimming, distance running, and very high-volume/light-load weight training.
Type II Muscle Fibers
Type II muscle fibers are referred to as “fast-twitch” muscle fibers. Type II fibers create more force, fatigue quickly, and create very fast contractions. There are Type IIA and Type IIX fibers, and they’re both used for activities like jumping, sprinting, and agility training.
When we’re talking about muscle growth, all of these muscle fiber types contribute to an increase in your muscle size. However, your Type II muscle fibers are responsible for most of your growth. They respond to higher loads, which means they can create more tension. This increased tension means training them creates more damage, leading to more growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will My Muscles Still Grow if I Don’t Isolate Them?
Your muscles will grow if you don’t isolate them. In fact, you can handle heavier loads with compound exercises, which will create more tension in your muscles. More tension means more damage to the muscle. More damage means more growth.
How Long Should I Work Out to Build Muscle?
How long you should work out to build muscle is a common concern. Your workouts shouldn’t be much longer than an hour if you want to gain muscle. For optimal muscle growth, you need to maintain a high intensity in the gym, and it’s hard to maintain that for longer than an hour.
Should You Work Out Every Day to Build Muscle?
There’s no need to work out every day if you want to build muscle. Advanced lifters can get away with more frequency, but most beginner and intermediate lifters will benefit from training three to four days per week. Also, your muscles grow when you’re recovering, so you want to have enough rest included in your week.
If you’ve ever wondered how many days a week you should train to build muscle, you no longer have to. You need enough frequency balanced with enough recovery, which is different for everyone.
Beginners need less training frequency, while intermediate and advanced lifters need more.
You need the right amount of volume balanced with the right amount of weight to create both sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy. If you’re looking to build muscle, you’ll also have to make sure you’re in a caloric surplus and get enough sleep.
Muscle growth isn’t easy, but if you follow my guidelines above, you’ll be well on your way to success.
About the Author
Connor Lyons is a graduate of the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He spent the past 14 years as a strength and conditioning coach in both the NCAA setting and the private sector working with NFL, MLB, ATP, and NHL athletes. He is a former NCAA hockey player and was the strength and conditioning coach for USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Team which captured gold in 2018. He now owns The Lyons Den Sports Performance just outside of Tampa, Florida.