How Often to Train Each Muscle Group

From a Reader: How long should I rest a muscle group before hitting it again during the week?

Training frequency refers to how often we target a certain muscle or muscle group over a span of time. Usually, the reference length of time is one week. There are perfectly acceptable rationales for hitting a muscle as few as once and as many as 5-6 times per week. The importance lies within just that, the rationale. Optimal frequency is indicative of a few factors.

It’s All About Recovery

Question: How often can I train my quads?

Answer: As often as you can recover.

After 10 intense sets of squats and seated-leg extensions, your quads are obviously beat up. If you waited 24 hours and attempted to repeat the same workout, performance would drop. This is because you aren’t properly recovered. Your legs literally have depleted energy stores, micro tearing, inflammation, etc., disallowing a workout of identical intensity. Successful recovery manifests as the ability to produce an overload in your next workout. This stems from the golden rule, our lord and savior, Progressive Overload. Unless we’re overloading, our muscles see no reason to change. Simply put, train a muscle group as often as you can see numerical progress with it.

It’s Muscle–Dependent

Some muscles are prone to quicker recovery than others. A good rule of thumb is that smaller muscles recover quicker than do larger ones. This is due in large part because these bigger muscles such as glutes, quads, and lats lend themselves to heavier loads and more complex lifts than do smaller ones. Which is more fatiguing, 5 sets of pull-ups or 5 sets of curls? Of course, it’s the pull-ups. Pull-ups are a multi-joint, lat-dominant movement as opposed to the curl, a movement isolating the much smaller biceps. Smaller muscles just aren’t able to lift loads near as heavy as larger ones. Case in point, smaller muscle groups can handle increased frequency because they’re more difficult to fatigue.

Volume Per Session

The more sets and reps you perform for a given muscle group in a single session, the more fatigue you’ll accumulate. The more fatigue you accumulate, the more prolonged recovery will be before you can overload. For example, if the entirety of my chest work is 3 sets on a Tuesday, I’ll probably be able to overload my chest on Thursday. However, if Tuesday had consisted of 12 sets involving chest, I’ll probably need a lengthier span of time between bouts of chest work.

Below is a chart that lays out how often I was hitting each muscle group per week during my latest month of training. These numbers are not gospel by any means. My own frequency changes all the time. But if you like charts…

Take Home Points

  • Train a muscle group as soon as it can handle an overload.

  • Smaller muscles recover quicker than larger ones, mostly due to their inability to handle heavy amounts of weight.

  • Performing 12 sets for a given muscle will necessitate a longer rest period than will 6 sets, than will 3 sets, etc.

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