TRAINING EACH MUSCLE ONCE PER WEEK (EFFECTIVE OR WASTE OF TIME?)
Is training each muscle once per week a viable bodybuilding strategy, or is it a waste of time?
In this article, you’ll learn the truth about training frequency and hypertrophy.
Run a search for information related to optimal training frequency and you’ll be hit with conflicting opinions that range all over the map.
Some will tell you that training each muscle once per week on a “bro split” style routine is one of the worst things you can do if you want to gain muscle effectively…
While others actually recommend that style of training as a first-line approach for maximizing your results.
So, what’s the truth?
Can You Make Significant Gains Training Each Muscle Only Once Per Week?
If you’re looking to gain muscle and strength at the fastest possible rate, the truth is that a once per week frequency almost certainly isn’t going to be ideal.
The simple reason for this is that it doesn’t actually take an entire week for a given muscle to recover and grow after it has been trained.
In most cases, somewhere between two to four days is usually all that is needed for a muscle to fully repair and rebuild itself from the previous workout.
Variables such as training intensity, volume, nutrition, supplementation, sleep, stress levels and genetics will all influence exactly how long it takes for your muscles to recover.
By using a higher training frequency, each muscle will be stimulated more often, which produces a higher number of individual growth periods over time.
- If you train a muscle once per week, that’s 54 periods for the year.
- If you train one and a half times per week, you’d get 81 growth periods.
- If you trained each muscle twice per week, you’ll end up with 104 growth periods.
For these reasons, depending on one’s individual experience level and genetics, directly hitting each muscle anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times per week would be the optimal frequency to fully maximize muscle growth over the long term.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a twice per week frequency is literally twice as effective as once per week, or that three times per week is 50% more effective than twice per week, as there are diminishing returns at play as you increase the frequency.
That said, there’s really no question that for the vast majority of natural lifters out there, training each muscle more than once per week will be ideal for optimizing hypertophy.
This is the approach I outline in The Body Transformation Blueprint, which utilizes a full body approach 3 days per week during the first phase of training, an upper/lower split 3-4 days per week for phase 2, followed by a legs/push/pull split performed 4-5 days per week for phase 3.
However — and this is a big however — just because a once per week training frequency isn’t the ideal way to gain muscle at the fastest rate does NOT mean that it’s ineffective or should never be used by anyone.
Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between a particular approach being sub-optimal versus being ineffective.
In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that hitting each muscle group only once per week was considered standard advice in the world of bodybuilding.
The reality is that many guys out there, both natural and enhanced, have built very impressive physiques using this method.
Even in my own case, a once-per-week frequency was the approach I personally used during my first couple years of bodybuilding training. I would lift just 3 days per week and hit legs/abs on day 1, chest/shoulders/triceps on day 2, and back/biceps on day 3.
Despite this technically being a “sub-optimal” way of training, I was still able to make consistent gains and got up to achieving somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of my total genetic potential with it.
Would I have gotten faster results with a higher frequency? Yes, no doubt.
But this is exactly the point: the main difference between lower and higher frequencies is primarily the speed at which you’ll obtain your results.
A higher frequency will allow you to see faster gains because you’ll be stimulating each muscle for growth more often.
However, as long as the total weekly volume and intensity is equated for the week as a whole, a lower frequency can still get you to the same end goal eventually.
If you’re training each muscle group one time a week, this will usually translate to a 4-5 body part split where each session is dedicated to just 1-2 individual muscles.
For example, it could look something like this:
This is just one potential layout of many.
A once per week frequency could even be accomplished over just 3 individual training sessions, or spread out over 6, but in most cases 4-5 days per week will be the ideal sweet spot for most trainees.
Here are a few situations where utilizing this type of approach would be a viable option…
6 Situations Where A Once-Per-Week Frequency Would Be A Viable Option
1) You just really enjoy it.
For some lifters out there, going into the gym and hammering just one or two muscles per session is simply a more enjoyable way to train.
You may have heard the saying that “the best diet is whichever one you can stick to“.
The same can be said for training.
If you genuinely enjoy performing your workouts throughout the week, then even if it is technically “sub-optimal” for building muscle at the fastest rate, there’s still a better chance that you’ll stay consistent with it.
The simple fact that you reach your physique goal period is far more important than the specific time frame it takes you to get there, and without consistency nothing else you do in the gym is going to matter.
So, if a 4-5 day body part split keeps you the most motivated and excited to get into the gym in comparison to other weekly training splits, it may very well be the superior approach for you even if it does mean that you’ll gain muscle at a slightly slower rate.
2) Your goal isn’t necessarily to gain as much muscle as you possibly can.
Perhaps you do want to put on muscle, but it’s not your goal to look like a bodybuilder or to pack on as much size as humanly possible.
Maybe you’re going for a leaner more athletic look, and so you’re okay with making gains at a slightly slower pace.
If that’s the case, training each muscle once per week will be just fine if you prefer that style of training.
3) It fits into your schedule better.
Maybe it’s simply more convenient for you to train for shorter periods more often.
If you only have 30 minutes in the morning to lift, a full body workout, upper/lower split or legs/push/pull routine is going to be harder to fit into that shorter time frame.
In that case, you could just train one or two muscles during that 30 minute period but train more often to make up for it.
4) You’re in a maintenance phase and are simply aiming to maintain your existing mass.
In this case, hitting each muscle once per week will easily be enough to maintain your gains.
Keep in mind that it requires a considerably lower overall workload to preserve existing muscle than it does to make brand new gains. In fact, even if you stop training completely you won’t start losing muscle until about two full weeks of inactivity.
Even just three sessions per week would be fine here as long as the workouts contain enough volume and are executed properly.
5) It’s easier on your joints.
If you’re dealing with a nagging joint or an injury of some kind, reducing your overall training workload might be necessary to reduce some of the stress.
Along with bringing your overall training volume down, reducing your workout frequency could be helpful too.
For example, if your shoulder joint is being problematic, then training your shoulders twice per week might be putting too much unwanted strain on the area. In that case, giving your shoulder a full week of rest between sessions may help out.
Injury prevention should always be taken very seriously, as your entire ability to train and build muscle hinges on the fact that your joints and connective tissues are healthy enough to do so in the first place.
6) You’re an advanced lifter running a specialization phase.
The final situation where training your muscles once per week could make sense is if you’re an advanced lifter who is running a specialization cycle to bring up a certain muscle group which may be lagging behind.
In that case, you’d increase the frequency for the body part you were looking to focus on (usually to around 3-4 times per week) and then reduce the workload for your other muscles down to once per week to keep the total weekly volume under control.
Training Each Muscle Once A Week: The Bottom Line
While training each muscle once per week will not be the ideal way to gain muscle at the very fastest rate, you can still make consistent gains with this approach given sufficient total volume and intensity for the week as a whole.
The only difference is that your overall rate of size and strength progress will be slightly reduced and it will take a longer period of time to reach your ultimate physique goal.
For optimal gains I’d suggest a full body routine 3 days per week, upper/lower split 3-4 days per week or legs/push/pull split 4-5 days per week, as this will land you within the ideal training frequency for achieving a maximum rate of growth.
However, if your personal preference, goals and schedule lend themselves to a once per week training frequency for each muscle, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this and you can still achieve significant progress this way nonetheless.
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