Training Frequency: Once vs Twice a Week for Muscle Mass

incline barbell press chest day chest exercises
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When you’re training for mass, there’s a fine line between not training enough and overtraining. And this leads us to one of the most common (and debatable) topics in bodybuilding: 

Is it better to train each muscle once or twice a week?

  • We know that you can use both methods to pack on some serious mass.
  • But is one really better than the other?  

Well, it’s not exactly a straightforward answer, and you’ll learn why in this post. Even better, I’m going to give you workout plans for each method. I’m also going to show you how to use both methods for massive gains

What Are You Training For? 

training each muscle once a week vs twice a week for muscle mass

Before we dive in too deep, I want to reiterate that this article is all about building bigger muscles. Strength will come as a ‘side-effect’ of these workouts. But the goal is mass.

Different goals require different approaches in the gym. So it’s important to know your goals because you’ll want to cater to your workouts to support them. 

Again, your goal in this post is simple: build (more) muscle mass.

Now we can address the ‘how.’

  • How do you build the most muscle mass in the shortest amount of time
  • Does training once a week allow too much time for recovery?
  • And is twice a week counterproductive?

I’m going to address all of these questions, and more! 

Is Once a Week Enough?

One of the fears with training each body part only once a week is that the muscle will recover long before the next workout.

Here’s an example. Let’s say chest day is on Monday (International Chest Day in most gyms…actually this is why I don’t train chest on Mondays!). 

  • You just finished your last set and you’re on your way home to drink your protein shake with creatine. 
  • The next day you’re a little sore, and that goes into the following day.
  • By day 4 the soreness is completely gone. 
  • Chest day isn’t for another 3 days though!

In theory, that may not feel like it’s enough. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean your chest won’t grow. 

On the other hand, you’re giving that muscle enough time to fully recover and grow larger. And this method also means you’ll be training only one major muscle for each workout, allowing you to focus solely on that muscle.

Many pro bodybuilders have built their physiques on training each muscle just once a week. 

Pros and Cons of Once a Week

Pros

  • Plenty of time for muscle recovery
  • Allows you to focus on that one muscle each workout
  • Can train that specific muscle with more volume, pumping more blood into the muscle

Cons

  • May be missing benefits from working multiple muscles together
  • Potentially missing gains that might come from a second workout

Is Twice a Week Overtraining?

Some feel if they train each muscle twice a week they’ll double their gains.

It would be awesome if it worked that way. More is not necessarily better either. And you’re faced with the issue of overtraining

But like training each muscle once a week, twice a week has its benefit as well. And many stage-worthy physiques have been built off this method as well. 

Let’s look at chest day again, assuming you trained on Monday…

  • You go home from your heavy chest workout and down a protein shake with creatine
  • Tomorrow is back, and the next day is legs
  • Thursday rolls around and your chest is ready for more pain, so you throw in a second chest workout that week with shoulders

You can essentially do this with every major muscle if you wanted. But there are 2 things I recommend for training each body part twice a week:

  1. Your first workout can be heavy but make your 2nd workout lighter with more reps.
  2. Make sure you do different exercises on that 2nd workout so that you work the muscle from different angles.

Pros and Cons of Twice a Week

Pros

  • Allows you to fo more overall volume for that muscle
  • 2 workouts give you the ability to train that muscle from many different angles
  • Could possibly lead to more muscle growth with the double-up efforts

Cons

  • May not be adequate time to recover (overtraining)
  • Less exercise and focus for that muscle each workout as you’ll be forced to train multiple muscles together

Why Periodization Training is Important

I remember the first time I read about periodization training when I had just gotten into lifting weights.

For some reason, it didn’t register back then but later I started to understand (and experience) the importance.

How? Because I soon realized that just about every workout program works, but not for long.

periodization training for muscle gains

And if you take a minute to look back, you can probably see where every new program you started worked great in the beginning. But at some point, you hit a plateau.

You didn’t start growing again until you changed up your workouts.

That’s what periodization is. Everything works, but not forever.

Ace Fitness (ACE) further explains the concepts of periodization training in their article ‘Periodization Training and Why It Is Important’ on acefitness.org. To paraphrase the article…

  • Your muscles will adapt to the same exercises
  • We have to make changes in your routine
  • This allows you to shock your muscles into growth

I’ll talk about periodization more below, but let’s get to the workouts first!

Workout 1: Each Muscle Once a Week

train each muscle once a week

There are a few different ways to train each muscle once a week. You can do a 5-day split to where you train only 1 muscle group each day, like this:

  • Monday: Chest
  • Tuesday: Back
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Shoulders
  • Friday: Arms
  • Saturday and Sunday: Rest

Or you could do a 4-day split by coupling arms at the end of another workout, like this:

  • Monday: Chest and Biceps
  • Tuesday: Back
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Shoulders and Triceps
  • Saturday and SundayRest

The program below is based on the latter routine, the 4-day split. 

Chest and Biceps

Exercises Sets x Reps
Bench Press 4 x 6
Incline Bench Press 4 x 8
Dumbbell Press 3 x 10
Cable Flyes 3 x 12
Barbell Curls 3 x 8
Dumbbell Curls 3 x 12

Back

Exercises Sets x Reps
Barbell Rows 4 x 6
Dumbbell Rows 4 x 8
T-Bar Rows 4 x 10
Seated Rows 3 x 12
Lat Pulldowns 3 x 12

Legs

Exercises Sets x Reps
Squats 4 x 6
Leg Press 4 x 12
Leg Extensions 4 x 12
Leg Curls 4 x 12
Stiff-Leg Deadlifts 4 x 12
Seated Calve Raises 4 x 15

Shoulders and Triceps

Exercises Sets x Reps
Standing Overhead Press 4 x 6
Seated Dumbbell Press 4 x 8
Lateral Raises 3 x 12
Bent Over Raises 3 x 12
Cable Pressdowns 3 x 10
Overhead Dumbbell Extensions 3 x 12

*You can read more about bodybuilding workouts, read this post next: Jason’s 8 Week Bodybuilding Workout Program for Mass Gains

Workout 2: Each Muscle Twice a Week

train each muscle twice a week

Training each muscle twice a week gets a little challenging. But it’s doable. 

You could do a 4 or 5-day training split. But I’m actually going to give you a 6-day training split, and you’ll see why below.

This ‘2x a week’ workout program is based on the ‘Push – Pull – Legs’ workout. You essentially do a push day, pull day, and leg day, then repeat. The workout spit will look like this:

  • Monday: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps (heavy)
  • Tuesday: Back and Biceps (heavy)
  • Wednesday: Legs (heavy)
  • Thursday: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps (light)
  • Friday: Back and Biceps (light)
  • Saturday: Legs (light)
  • SundayRest

Push Workout 1

Exercises Sets x Reps
Bench Press 4 x 6
Incline Dumbbell Press 4 x 8
Seated Shoulder Press 3 x 6
Lateral Raises 3 x 8
Weighted Dips 3 x 8

Pull Workout 1

Exercises Sets x Reps
Barbell Rows 4 x 6
Dumbbell Rows 4 x 8
Seated Rows 4 x 8
Dumbbell Shrugs 3 x 8
Barbell Curls 3 x 8

Leg Workout 1

Exercises Sets x Reps
Squats 4 x 6
Deadlifts 4 x 3-5
Leg Extensions 3 x 10
Leg Curls 3 x 10
Seated Calve Raises 3 x 10

Push Workout 2

Exercises Sets x Reps
Incline Bench Press 4 x 12
Cable Flyes 4 x 12
Arnold Press 3 x 12
Rope Pressdowns 3 x 12
Single-Cable Pressdowns 3 x 12

Pull Workout 2

Exercises Sets x Reps
Lat Pulldowns 4 x 12
Reverse Grip Barbell Rows 4 x 12
Cable Pullovers 4 x 12
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 3 x 12
Preacher Curls 3 x 12

Leg Workout 2

Exercises Sets x Reps
Leg Press 4 x 15
Stiff-leg Deadlifts 4 x 12
Front Squats 3 x 12
Single-Leg Extensions 3 x 15
Seated Calve Raises 3 x 15

*You can read more about my push, pull, legs routines in this post: Jason’s Push-Pull-Legs Workout: 6-Day Routine for Mass and Strength

Workout 3: Hybrid Frequency

hybrid frequency training for muscle mass

Here’s where things get interesting. I’m calling this the hybrid frequency workout

Did you know you can combine the methods we just talked about into 1 program? I know, it already sounds confusing. But I’m going to show you exactly what I do for most of my bodybuilding programs. 

You can choose which muscles you want to train twice a week.

For me, I prefer to train back and legs twice a week. Most of the other muscles will be just once, though I may hit arms a little for a second time. 

Here’s the training 5-day training split (I’ve highlighted when the muscles are worked for the second time):

  • Monday: Back
  • Tuesday: Legs (squat-focused)
  • Wednesday: Chest
  • Thursday: Shoulders and Back
  • Friday: Legs (deadlift-focused) and Arms
  • Saturday and SundayRest

Back

Exercises Sets x Reps
Barbell Rows 5 x 6-8
Dumbbell Rows 4 x 6
T-Bar Rows 4 x 8
Seated Rows 3 x 12
Cable Pullovers 3 x 12
Dumbbell Curls 3 x 12

Legs

Exercises Sets x Reps
Squats 5 x 6-8
Leg Press 5 x 15
Leg Extensions 4 x 12
Leg Curls 4 x 12
Seated Calve Raises 4 x 15

Chest

Exercises Sets x Reps
Bench Press 5 x 6-8
Incline Bench Press 4 x 8
Dumbbell Flyes 4 x 10
Unilateral Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 12
Cable Crossovers 3 x 12

Shoulders and Back

Exercises Sets x Reps
Seated Overhead Press 4 x 6-8
Seated Dumbbell Press 4 x 8
Lateral Raises 3 x 12
Reverse Grip Barbell Rows 4 x 15
Lat Pulldowns 4 x 12

Legs and Arms

Exercises Sets x Reps
Deadlifts 5 x 3-5
Leg Extensions 7 x 15
Cable Pressdowns 3 x 12
Barbell Curls 3 x 8
Dips 3 x 12
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 3 x 10

12 Week Periodization Workout

Now think about this…if you were to do each program above for 4 weeks, you’d have a 12 week periodization workout program

  • Weeks 1-4: Workout 1 (each muscle once a week)
  • Weeks 5-8: Workout 2 (each muscle twice a week)
  • Weeks 9-12: Workout 3 (hybrid of both)

I suggest following this or at least using it as a guide to creating your own periodization workout schedule. 

You can find more workouts for mass to create your own plan in this post: 9 Bodybuilding Workouts for Mass and Strength

Once a Week vs Twice a Week for Gains

So which workout style did you like best? Which one do you think builds more muscle mass, faster

  • Each muscle once a week
  • Each muscle twice a week
  • Hybrid frequency workout

Or do you prefer to try them all? 

Let me know in the comments below, especially if you plan to do the 12-week periodization program I talked about, using all 3 methods!

**Here are some programs for you to try:

Push-Pull-Legs Mass Gaining Program
6-Day Bro Split Bodybuilding Program
5 x 5 Basic and Advanced Program

Train with Passion,

Jason

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