Are you confused about how often you should go to the gym? Judging by the volume of searches on google for this question, it seams that allot are.
The answer is quite simple:
You should go to the gym as often as your ability to recover allows. The better your body is at recovering, the more frequently you can go to the gym. The more frequently you workout, the more muscle you build.
There is no magic number that works for everyone. There are, however, general guidelines that you should follow.
- If you prefer full body workouts- that is, you train all of your muscles multiple times a week- allow for 36-48 hours between each workout. That means you should do about 2-3 full body workouts a week and take atleast 3 days off.
- If you prefer split routines, train large muscle groups (chest, back, shoulders, and legs) once every 5-7 days, and small muscle groups (biceps, triceps, and calfs) once every 2-4 days. In total, you should go to the gym 4-6 times a week if following a split routine.
But like I said, these are general guidelines which depend largely on one’s ability to recover. Some people may require allot more (or less) time to recover.
Here are the 7 factors that effect recovery time.
- Age: As you get older, your ability to recover slowly decreases up until the age of ~40 (at which point it will decrease more dramatically). This effect is strongly correlated with testosterone levels in men. Aside from taking exogenous testosterone, there isn’t much you can do here.
- Nutrition: In order to recover from a workout, you must feed your body the right nutrients in the right amount. Unlike age, this is a limiting factor that is completely in your control.
- Intensity: The more micro-trauma that results from a workout, the longer your body need to repair the damage. No surprise here, right?
- Job: Your occupation can have a big impact on how fast you can recover. The more physically exhausting your job is, the longer you will need to recover. A construction worker, for instance, will require more time than an office clerk.
- Stress: The dangers of stress go far beyond a decreased ability to recover. Too much stress can result in high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and heart complications (11). If you suffer from heavy stress, consider a meditative practice such as mindfulness meditation or Ti Chi.
- Rest: In order to recovery from a workout, you must get at least 6-8 hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep.
- Special Methods: There are certain methods that claim to improve recovery time. I have tried many of them and found only 2 that work reasonably well— taking cold showers and foam rolling after a workout. Both method work buy stimulating blood flow to the muscles.
As you can see, there are quite a few ways to improve recovery time. And the faster you can recover, the more frequently you can hit the gym.
But is this beneficial in any way? Does hitting the gym more frequently equate to more gains? Of course it does!
Most fitness professionals would disagree and argue that working out too often results in overtraining. But what does overtraining even mean?
Overtraining happens when you exceed your bodies ability to recover from strenuous exercises. So long as you have fully recovered from a workout, no damage will be done from training. Overtraining doesn’t only occur from excessive exercise. For instance, if working out every 2 days while getting enough sleep does not result in overtraining, working out every 2 days with minimal sleep most definitely would.
To really benefit from going to the gym, you must focus on optimizing recovery.
If you really think about it, this is fundamentally what bodybuilding is about— optimizing recovery so that you can build the most amount of muscle in the least amount of time.
This is why anabolic steroids are so rampant in bodybuilding. Steroids, such as testosterone, increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) which is the biological mechanism in which protein is built in order to repair damage caused by intense workouts.
Because bodybuilders are able to recover so well, they can train multiple times a day, every day of the week. This is how they are able to pack on muscle so quickly.
How many times should you workout a week?
In my opinion, the optimal amount of days to hit the gym is 5 times a week. But doing so requires a relativity strong ability to recover from workouts.
Before we discuss how recovery can be improved, we need to establish a solid starting point, a method of progression, and a way to gauge our progress.
I recommend you begin by working out 3 times a week. Cool?
Now lets define our metric for success.
The most important thing you need to know is that muscle is built through the application of one simple concept— progressive tension overload. Forget what everyone else has told you. Forget about the drop sets, burn-out sets, and all that other crap. That stuff looks fancy, but it is not backed by any science.
So, what is progressive tension overload? It’s basically the idea that muscle is built by forcing it to adapt to a tension that it hasn’t previously experienced.
In other words, to build muscle you must try your absolute best to periodically lift heavier and heavier weights. Thus as long as you are lifting more and more weight each week, you are succeeding in our goal of building muscle. Our metric for success will therefore be the amount of weight we lift.
As long as you follow this golden rule, you will make progress.
To visualize your progression better, I highly suggest keeping track of how much you lift (and for how many reps) with a good fitness planner. This is the one I use.
If you don’t feel like purchasing a planner, I have created a cool excel template that will help you keep track of everything. It comes with many built in functions that rate your progress and warn you if you are overtraining. Submit your email below to receive a free copy.
After a few weeks, you should increase your workout frequency to 4 times a week. Train at this frequency for another few weeks and keep track of your progress (more specifically, keep track of how much weight you’re lifting and for how many reps).
If you see a decline, go back to training 3 times a week.
If you see an improvement- or at the very least, similar results to when you were training 4 times a week- increase the frequency to 5 times a week.
All along this process, you should be working on improving your ability to recover. Lets jump into that.
How to speed up muscle recovery
The faster you can recover from a workout, the more often you can go to the gym.
The more often you go to the gym, the more muscle you will build.
To see how we can speed up muscle recovery, lets revisit some of the factors we looked at before.
As I mentioned above, there aren’t many ways to counter the declining ability to recover that comes with age. However, if you are a male above 35 and have noticed a dramatic drop in athletic performance, you should speak with your doctor about getting your testosterone levels checked.
If you happen to suffer from low testosterone (also known as Hypogonadism or low-T), your doctor may recommend Testosterone Replacement Therapy (1).
Testosterone levels are so vital to the well-being of a man that I urge all guys to have it checked. If you suffer from low-T, treating it will be life changing (2, 8, 9).
If for whatever reason you can’t get your levels tested through your doctor, there are many at home saliva test kits available. I personally have never used them, but I know a few guys that have gone down this path for confidentially and cost related reasons.
If you discover that your levels are below average- or you would like to increase them a little- supplements known as testosterone boosters can help.
The issue is that the majority are dangerous or straight up illegal to use. There is however one exception— a product by The Genius Brand called Genius Test. I’ve done quite a bit of research on testosterone boosters and found this product to be one of few that is actually safe to use and very effective. It caught my attention a few months ago after noticing that it received very high ratings on amazon, and decided to give it a try.
While it wasn’t effective as the (now illegal) boosters I have tried in the past, it gave me zero side effects and, most importantly, it did not result in an estrogen rebound when I stopped taking it.
The most notable ingredients it contains are boron (a trace element that is vital for the production of testosterone) (3), natural herbs such as ashwagandha and longjack (both extremely effective and safe at boosting testosterone levels) (4, 5), and an ancient plant extract called shilajit that has been proven to increase testosterone and improve cognition (6, 7). Check the “references” section below to learn more about these ingredients.
The first thing I always tell beginners is that muscle is built in the kitchen. Diet is the single most important factor in your fitness journey, especially if you are a beginner.
For beginners (and intermediate lifters who still eat incorrectly), improvements in diet will yield the greatest results. If you wish to really understand the topic of bodybuilding nutrition, I highly suggest picking up a copy of Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews.
Once you have mastered nutrition, you can started looking at supplements. Proper supplementation is important as it allows us to improve our body ability to synthesis proteins through a processes called Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). This processes is vital to the repair and maintance of skeltal muscle.
Many fitness experts claim that taking branch-chained amino acids (BCAAs) immediately following a workout will improve protein synthesis because, well, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.
For the most part, BCAAs will not help (unless your diet is severely lacking) as your body cannot store excess dietary amino acids. With that being said, many people swear by them and report positive results. They are fairly safe to consume so feel free to give them a try if you can afford to do so.
Consuming whey protein (post-workout), on the other hand, has been proven countless times to improve muscle protein synthesis. A study conducted in Birmingham university tested the effects of whey protein on MPS in adult males (1). It was discovered that consuming 10 grams (post-workout) had no effect, while consuming 20-40 grams improved MPS by over 50%!
In my opinion, the only supplement you really need is proper whey protein powder, and I cant recommend OPTIMUM NUTRITION Gold Standard 100% Whey highly enough. It has been my go to for over 10 years.
One of the best ways to alleviate stress is through practicing mediation. I like to meditate for 15 mins before I have breakfast, after a workout, and before bed. I’ve been doing this for about 2 years now and have noticed a dramatic improvement in stress, anxiety, sleep, and muscle recovery. Check out a mobile app called Insight Timer for a nice library of guided meditation recordings.
The amount and quality of sleep you get is a huge limiting factor in building muscle. According to HealthLine.com, sleep deprecation can result in decreased production of growth hormone- a naturally occurring peptide that stimulate muscle growth and cell repair.
Aim to get around 7-8 hours of sleep each night. More importantly, aim for as much uninterrupted sleep as possible.
This can be quite difficult if you are a light sleeper like I am. If you do have trouble falling and staying asleep, I high suggest purchasing the LectroFan High Fidelity white noise machine (arguably one of the best investments I have ever made). This machine has been running non-stop in my room for the past 2 years and shows no sign of wearing down. At night, it helps me sleep well, and during the evening, it helps me focus on my work by blocking out background noise.
Taking cold showers after a workout improves muscle recovery by reducing inflammation caused by a workout. This alleviates DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and according to Healthline.com, can potentially boost weight loose.
Another method for speeding muscle recovery is foam rolling. According to research, foam rolling after a workout is effectlilvy reducues muscle soreness, and furthermore, speeds up muscle recovery (10).