Maximum Mass: Four vs. Six Training Sessions Per Week

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training frequency, muscle mass, infinite_labs

Maximum Mass: Four vs. Six Training Sessions Per Week

by:Robbie Durand

In his book, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding Arnold Schwarzenegger trained each major body part two times per week. Here is the exact training split Arnold used in his competitive training career.

Day 1 – Chest and Back
Day 2 – Shoulders and Arms
Day 3 – Legs and Lower Back
Day 4 – Chest and Back
Day 5 – Shoulders and Arms
Day 6 – Legs and Lower Back
Day 7 – Rest

So if Arnold trained six days, a week does that mean you should train six days per week to maximize muscle gains? The late bodybuilder Mike Mentzer argued that performing any more work than the minimum required was counterproductive.  So the million-dollar question is how many days per week do you need to spend in the gym for muscle gains? If you look at the training protocols of all the top Olympians, one would find that some train each body part once a week, while others trained twice a week.  A recent survey of 127 competitive bodybuilders found that every respondent trained either 5 or 6 days a week. Moreover, all respondents reported using a split-body routine to facilitate these high frequencies, with each muscle group worked either once or twice per week. When trying to maximize strength and hypertrophy, it’s easy to think bodybuilding is like anything else in life, the more you train, the better you will become. With respect to the leg extensions, no differences were seen between frequencies of two versus three training days a week regarding muscle strength.

According to new research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, training four days per week resulted in the same improvements in muscle mass as training six days per week.  Researchers compared different split resistance training routines on body composition and muscular strength in elite bodybuilders. Ten male bodybuilders were randomly assigned into one of two resistance training groups: 4 and six times per week, in which the individuals trained for four weeks, four sets for each exercise performing 6-12 repetitions maximum (RM) in a pyramid fashion. The four days per week group trained 90-100 minute per workouts and the six days per week group trained 60-70 minutes per workout. Both groups performed the same training volume per week.

Body composition was assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry; muscle strength was evaluated by 1RM bench press testing. The food intake was planned by nutritionists and offered individually throughout the duration of the experiment. Significant increases in lean muscle mass and muscular strength were demonstrated by both group, but there were no differences between the groups. The researchers concluded that four and six weekly sessions frequencies of resistance training promote similar increases in fat-free mass and muscular strength in elite bodybuilders. This is a shocking and fascinating study as it showed that lifters can spend less time in the gym and still get equal results as those that trained more.  The other really interesting thing about this study is that they used elite bodybuilders and not untrained athletes or college students. The novel and primary finding of this study were that bodybuilders training four versus six days a week produced equal increases in lean muscle mass when training volume was equated between groups.

The researchers had initially hypothesized before the study that the group training six days per week would make better gains in lean muscle mass. This hypothesis was rejected at the end of the study, with results indicating that when training muscle groups twice a week with an equated volume, training frequency does not influence body composition outcomes.

Key Points: When training volume is equal, training four days per week is just as effective as training six days a week.

Ribeiro AS, Schoenfeld BJ, Silva DR, Pina FL, Guariglia DA, Porto M, Maestá N, Burini RC, Cyrino ES. Effect of Two- Versus Three-Way Split Resistance Training Routines on Body Composition and Muscular Strength in Bodybuilders: A Pilot Study. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 May 26.

Hackett, D.A., Johnson, N.A., & Chow, C.M. (2013). Training practices and ergogenic AIDS used by male bodybuilders. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(6), 1609–1617.

Cyrino, E.S., Sobrinho, J.M., Maestá, N., Nardo, N., Jr., Reis, D.A., Morelli, M.Y.G., & Burini, R.C. (2008). Morpho- logical profile of elite Brazilian bodybuilders in competi- tive season. Brazilian Journal of Sports Medicine, 14(5), 460–465.

Kistler, B.M., Fitschen, P.J., Ranadive, S.M., Fernhall, B., & Wilund, K.R. (2014). Case study: natural bodybuilding contest preparation. International Journal of Sport Nutri- tion and Exercise Metabolism, 24(6), 694–700.