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Knowing the amount of training you should do per workout and per week is essential for maximizing your results, and yet the overwhelming majority of people training have no idea what these amounts are.
In this article we’ll be covering these two topics in depth, looking at the most common mistakes, as well as providing you with recommendations for the number of exercises you should be doing per workout and per muscle group.
From experience, there are two major mistakes that people make when it comes to their weekly training volumes. For context here, volume can refer to total number of sets or total number of reps, so you can simply think of it as the amount of training that you do.
If you want to maximise the amount of muscle that you build, you need to do a good amount of work. Far too many people expect amazing results from too little training.
On the other side of this, some people do way too much training for the level they’re at, making it impossible to recover. If you find yourself with sore muscles three or four days after training you’re in this category.
Some quick questions for you. Is doing 5×10 bicep curls easier or harder than 5×10 squats? It’s easier right? And which session do you think you would recover from quicker? The bicep curls of course.
So then why on earth would you train your biceps with same the volume and frequency as your legs? Having an ‘arm’ day is just silly. And yet its super common and is just one example of badly scheduled training. If you want to maximise your results, you need training that adapts to the specific demands of each muscle group, and that might mean moving away from the classic ‘bro split.’
The short answer here is that it depends. Specifically it depends on:
Generally speaking the bigger the muscle, the more stressful it is to train. Quads and hamstring training beats the hell out of you, whereas side delt, bicep and tricep training is fairly easy.
For example, if you’re doing three chest sessions per week, you’ll need to do significantly less work per session compared to only training chest once per week.
Beginners need less total work in order to build muscle, whereas experienced lifters who have been training for years need much more.
So one side of the spectrum, if you have a complete beginner who is training legs three times per week, they may only need to do 1 exercise for 3 sets and then they’re done.
On the other hand, if you have an advanced bodybuilder who is training biceps once per week, they may need in excess of 20 sets to create a sufficient stimulus for growth.
This question is actually a bit simpler, as it really only depends on your training age. If you’re a beginner, you need to train less per week, and if you’re an advanced bodybuilder you need to train more.
To give you some more specific examples and guidelines:
3 times per week, with 45-60 minute sessions, ideally full body.
4 times per week, with 45-60 minutes per session, using either a full body or upper/lower split.
4-6 times per week, with a solid 60 minutes per session, using some form of upper/lower or push/pull split.
6+ times per week, 60+ minutes per session, using a highly individualised training split based on years of experience and record keeping.
The biggest thing to consider here is how taxing the exercises are, and how many sets of each exercise you’re planning to do.
For example, if you’re planning to do 6+ sets of challenging squats and bench presses, that might be your entire session because those movements are very taxing.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to do 3 sets of leg extensions and dumbbell flyes, you could easily add on another 2-4 exercises like press-ups, hamstring curls etc because none of the exercises are particularly taxing.
Just like in the ‘how much training per workout’ question there’s no clear answer here, and it depends on which muscle(s) you’re training, how many times you’re training those muscles per week, and your training level.
On one end of the spectrum we have Tiny Tim, it’s his first day in the gym and he’s doing a full body split 3 times per week. He realistically only needs 1 exercise per muscle group in order to grow. In fact, doing much more than that would probably just be too much.
Next to Tim we have Real-Huge Ronnie, he’s been training for almost a decade, weighs in at 135kg and competes internationally. He’s following his own individualised programme based on years of record keeping, and it looks like he’s targeting his back in this session. Realistically, we might see him select anything from 4 to 7 different exercises to hit every part of his back, and to provide enough of a stimulus for growth.
So there’s a big difference between individuals.
What the science does tell us, though, is that almost everyone would be better off training each muscle at least twice per week (Schoenfeld et al. 2016)
If you’ve skipped right to end, then the TLDR is that the amount you should train varies based on a selection of factors that include training level, weekly programme schedule, body part and exercise type. If you put a bit of thought into these things you’ll be able to come up with something that works for you.
And at the end of the day, getting the balance right is all about recording your workouts, tracking your bodyweight/physique progress and adjusting over time.
References Schoenfeld, B.J., Ogborn, D. & Krieger, J.W. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med 46, 1689–1697 (2016).