How often should you hit the same muscle or lift? It depends on your primary goal. Here’s what you need to know.
I generally favor training each muscle frequently and training the big basic lifts fairly often. However, new studies show that it may not be a great idea if the main goal is hypertrophy.
The Bullet Points
If you train chest one day, then train it again 48 hours later, the anabolic response from the second chest workout may be decreased. The protein synthesis response is somewhat dependent on the time between each stimulation/session.
Putting 72 hours between each workout for a particular muscle may be better. You’ll still get gains from putting 48 hours between training the same muscle, but the protein synthesis will be smaller.
I still believe that hitting a muscle more often is better than the “bro split” of hitting a muscle once per week. But instead of hitting a muscle three times per week, about two times per week is better.
This may not be true for pure strength or performance development. The more frequently you do an exercise, the more efficient at that exercise or lift you become. It improves synaptic capacity.
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At 55 (I know, I look 35, ahem)…full body 3 days per week works very well with respect to schedule and how I feel overall. I’ve done the bro split, and if there is a gap in my week (due to work, or family) I’ll feel like I’m not complete (best way to describe it)…
The problem with that ‘Bro Split’ comment is that it ignores the assistance of other muscles during major muscle workouts. On Back Day, there is plenty of stimulation for biceps, forearms, and rear delts. And even, hams and glutes if you do some version of DLs. Then, you hit biceps again on Arms Day for more frequent stimulation.
It’s hard to leave biceps/brach out of Back Day, but it’s very easy to leave back and chest out of Arm Day. This makes it easy to maintain lower frequency for large muscles that may take more time to recover!
Same applies to Chest Day and triceps stimulation.
That’s how I program for most athletes I work with as well as with “pro-longevity” clients as, for me, longevity/anti-aging training is a lot like a scaled-down version of athletic training.
4-6 exercises, 3 days a week. We can also add a smaller 4th workout on Saturdays, called a Gap workout, in which mostly single-joint exercises for muscles that were not properly trained during the week are used.
I agree. However, in all fairness, the 72h comment was referring to the time between hard training bouts for a muscle, not between times when the muscles get somewhat trained.
Take back, for example, YES the biceps are significantly activated and trained during vertical pulling movements, but less so during horizontal pulling exercises (according to. to EMG data of biceps activation) and the biceps are rarely thoroughly worked during horizontal pulls (they CAN be during vertical pulls).
So while the biceps do get some stimulation from a back workout, it is not as large as most think.
As for triceps. They will get trained on pressing movements on “chest day” for sure. The impact on triceps from pressing is more significant and less avoidable than the impact of pulling on biceps.
But when you understand proper biomechanics, doing 3 pressing exercises (e.g. incline bench, flat bench, decline bench) in a chest workout is redundant. For example, the incline bench does NOT hit the upper pecs more… it just. hit the rest of the pecs less. If anything, an incline press is actually a better shoulders-builder.
So you can (and likely should) design a “chest workout” with only one pressing exercise and 2-3 adduction exercises to more easily work on different sections (clavicular pectorals, sternal pectorals, costal pectorals). A strategy that doesn’t really tax the triceps.
That having been said; My preferred splits for hypertrophy tends to be a push/pull/leg split or a modified push/pull split where quads are trained on the push workouts and hams on the pull workouts… if isolated glutes work is added, then it’s done on pull day. And you have 2 of those modified push and pull workouts per week each.
I will only add an “arm day” when someone has lagging arms versus other muscles.
What are the main reasons that I rarely see something like a DB Shoulder Press and a Barbell Shoulder Press programmed in the same week? If we go by the average format of 2 main compound pressing exercises (and then 1-2 “accessories”) on a typical upper day, an incline variation almost always seems to take the chance of one of those shoulder movements away. Is it just a case of “I want big pecs bro”? I personally love having 2 big shoulder presses a week but I feel I’m in the minority and it’s not programmed that way nearly as much as the common alternative (Flat Bench variation, Shoulder Press variation, Incline variation, DB Bench variation making up the usual 4). Just an observation that I’ve never cared enough to think about before.
Is there a specific way you prefer to program/split these up for Mr. Joe Bloggs just trying to get stronger and look better?
@Christian_Thibaudeau Athletic training (for non lifting sports) will tend to use some combination of heavy lifts - squat, deadlft, bench press say. And power moves such as clean, snatch, med ball throws/slams.
Does it make sense to do say 2 heavy lifts and 2 power moves per session 3 times per week ? This is programming of lift type rather than muscle goup and considers engaging the neural aspects as well.
Or should the lifts be based on muscle goups as described above ?
I prefer to use a conjugate training method rather than linear progression, partly because the lifting is supplementary to the main sport(s) I train for. And I believe in retaining a base of speed + power throughout the year and to only to have change the other variables.
Because it’s essentially the same exercise. Meaning that it hits the same muscles in the same way. The DB shoulder press requires a bit more stabilization and allows for more position adjusment, but these differences do not change muscle recruitment.
Doing both in the same workout is thus redundant. I personally don’t see the point in doing 2 pressing exercises for delts, just because you do 2 pressing movements for pectorals, doesn’t mean that you have to do 2 for shoulders… Plus, the chest pressing exercises do hit the delts significantly.
If you absolutely want to do two pressing exercises for delts I would do something like a high incline press and a DB shoulder press (or machine shoulder press). Or a big pressing exercise like a military press and something like an Arnold press.
One thing that I often program though, is one overhead press movement trained for strength and one trained more for hypertrophy, in which case the second one is often a machine shoulder press.
I am always grateful for your replies, and I thank you again. In my post though I was asking about the same week, not the same workout (where can I fully see why that would be a bad idea). I was talking more for example, a Bench and DB Shoulder Press on a Monday, DB Bench and Barbell Press on a Thursday kind of stuff. It’s just something I don’t see much - most coaches opting to drop one of the overhead presses for an Incline.
Oh, that’s different! I actually like that approach and use something similar with athletes with whom I use a whole-body approach 3x a week.
Day 1 would use the main lift themselves (e.g. back squat, bench press, Pendlay row, RDL)
Day 2 would use a variation of the lifts but one that puts a bit more emphasis on the lifter’s weak point. For example if quads are you weak point in a squat we’d go with front squats or hack squats, if core is the issue, we might go with a Zercher squat or Frankenstein squat, etc.
Day 3 is back fo the main lifts or we could use a DB variation
It’s more a matter of a certain number of “effective repetitions” that need to be reached to trigger maximal hypertrophy.
An effective repetition is a rep where the fast twitch fibers are recruited (either because of a heavy load or because of the fatigue from the earlier reps of a set forcing the use of the FT fibers on the last reps) and where those fibers are under a high level of tension.
Typically, if you go to failure you will get 4 to 6 of those effective reps in a set (let’s say 5 for the sake of simplicity) and out of those 5 effective reps, those closer to failure are even more effective.
So if you stop a set 2 reps short of failure, your get is about half as effective at stimulating growth as if you take your set to failure (so you need twice the number of sets to get the job done).
It’s thus hard to establish and optimal set range as all sets are not equal. The closer you go to failure, the less sets you need to get the appropriate number of effective reps. The further you stay away from failure, the more sets you’ll need.
Although I am finding the same thing about full-body workouts (>60, btw), I found that cycling load is beneficial. That is, one full body day is heavy bench press and squat, then more of a bodybuilder set/rep scheme for delts and posterior chain, then the next full body day is heavy military press, pullups and deadlift, and the bodybuilder sets for quads and chest.
At 39 I can say I agree. I’ve been feeling good doing the Intermediate and Advanced Velocity Diet workouts 3x a week. I’ve been adding in 1-2 sets of a 6-12-25 for Biceps and Delts 2x a week on off days to get some growth, but with low CNS demand. Much more time efficient way to train as well. I can’t spend 1-2 hours every day in the gym any more.