Last updated on December 31st, 2022 at 12:08 pm
You want to build muscle, but time is your most pressing factor.
I totally get it, most of us lead busy lives, so finding enough time to train can be a struggle.
But, you don’t just want to train, you also want to build muscle.
However, is working out for just 3 days a week going to help you reach your hypertrophy goals?
Training for 3 days a week is definitely enough to build muscle. It is better to focus on the big compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows/pull ups, and overhead press. These specific exercises with ample time for rest and recovery will ensure you gain muscle mass.
“Reg The Leg” Trained 3 Days a Week
I want to take you on a trip down memory lane and introduce the great “Reg the Leg”.
Although he had a seriously impressive lower body, Reg Park’s nickname “The Leg” actually refers to the fact that he is and was a LEGEND.
This is the guy who Arnold Schwarzenegger refers to as his childhood idol.
And Arnie was lucky enough to have Reg as a mentor throughout his bodybuilding career.
In fact, Arnie refers to Reg as, “The greatest inspiration and influence on my bodybuilding and life successes.
Quite an accolade I’m sure you’ll agree.
So, it’s safe to say that Reg is “The Man” and definitely knows a thing or two about training.
Additionally, winning Mr. Universe 3 times and starring in 5 movies, 4 of which were as Hercules, certainly ups his credentials.
One of Reg’s most famous and highly effective training philosophies and workout protocols was his 5×5 program.
Reg Park’s 3-Step 5×5 Routine, which is a three-month 3-day a week split, is still heralded as one of the greatest size and strength workouts ever.
Reg Park’s Most Brutal Power and Mass Routines
Focus On Strength Before Hypertrophy
The standard practice for most of us is to train hypertrophy and strength completely separately.
If you’re looking to build strength, you will typically go as heavy as you can, while keeping the reps fairly low, i.e. 3-5 reps per set.
However, when training to build muscle you’ll usually drop the amount of weight on the bar and aim for higher reps, i.e. 8-12 reps.
That being said, I don’t entirely agree with this principle, and it appears neither did Reg Park.
As far as I’m concerned, the heavier weights you lift, the more muscle fibres you will recruit, thus leading to more muscle growth.
Reg also had a theory about nutrition when it came to this type of training.
Basically, if your focus is to build pure strength, then lift as heavy as possible, but don’t increase your calorie intake.
This way you can ramp up your strength gains without packing on size.
But, if your aim is to build muscle mass, then still focus on strength training, but increase your calorie intake through high quality nutrition.
This actually makes a huge amount of sense.
You can train all you want to increase muscle size, but if your nutrition isn’t on-point, and you’re not consuming additional calories, you’re not going to get any bigger.
What Exercises Should You Do?
To be honest, I think many people go the wrong way about it when trying to build muscle.
We tend to focus on isolation exercises, such as bicep curls, lateral raises, dumbbell chest flyes, tricep pushdowns, etc.
The aim here is to use higher reps with high volume in the hope of creating that “pump” and getting the blood rushing to the muscles.
Don’t get me wrong, these are all great exercises.
But, they are not the ones that will give you the greatest payoff in terms of building muscle.
You want the biggest bang for your buck then you need to focus on compound movements.
I’d also like to be somewhat controversial and say that you should only focus on a handful of exercises.
Your aim is to build muscle and you’re only working out for 3 days a week, so don’t make it complicated.
Going back to Reg Park once more, he basically lived off what he called his “Primary Strength Exercises”, Squats, Deadlifts, and Bench Presses.
Reg did also have “Secondary” exercises, cleans, high pulls, and clean and presses.
However, the vast majority of his training was focused around “The Big 3”
The Big THREE (& a Couple of Others)
Squats pretty much work every single muscle in the legs.
Additionally, performing squats will fire up the abdominal wall.
Furthermore, the muscles of the upper body will also get a great workout, as you aim to keep that heavy barbell in place.
Deadlifts are often considered as “The Daddy” of all lifts.
Often viewed as one of the most essential exercises in any workout, the deadlift will typically see you lifting more weight than any other exercise.
The deadlift is a pulling movement, but there are few exercises that will hit all the muscles of the posterior chain as well.
The bench press is probably the number one “bro” exercise, and something that many of us turn to on a regular basis.
You’ll target the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
However, the bench press will also engage the lats, as well as the legs, thus allowing you to create a strong platform from which to bench.
The “Other Two”
Firstly, it’s probably fairly obvious that the big 3 don’t really provide enough training for your back.
Yes, of course, your upper back and lats will go through isometric contraction as you “pull” and support that heavy loaded barbell during deadlifts.
And I’ll agree that isometric contractions are part of the muscle-building process.
However, it still make sense to take muscles through their full range of motion for hypertrophy purposes.
So, you definitely want to include an upper back exercise, my preference being either barbell rows or weighted pull ups.
Next, even though the bench press is seenas the “go-to” pressinge exercise, I honestly don’t think it’s the best.
In fact, pressing a barbell overhead is a far more athletic movement, plus it’s a great way to gain strength, and add slabs of muscle to your frame.
So, ensure that you include the barbell overhead press in your weekly workout.
How Long Should You Work Out to Build Muscle?
It probably sounds counterproductive, but the less you work out the better results you can expect.
Firstly, by working out for just 3 days a week your body gets adequate rest so that you can hit the big lifts hard and heavy every single time you train.
I know myself, I have worked out for 5 or 6 days a week before.
I start the week strong, my workout intensity tends to suffer towards the end of the week.
I see nothing wrong with training for this number of days a week, but only if I have no real goals for my training.
I am simply looking to perform some form of exercise, so I’ll generally mix up my workout routines.
Some days will be strength, other days for conditioning, a day for core, and so on.
However, if your number one aim is to build muscle, then less is definitely more.
Plus, there’s less chance of an injury from “going big” every workout.
If you only have 3 days a week to work out – Perfect.
You Don’t Need to Spend Hours in the Gym
It’s important to remember that big muscles aren’t actually created in the gym.
Yes, obviously you have to train in order to build muscle.
However, the actual training will create microscopic tears and damage to the muscles.
It is when you rest, and typically while you’re asleep that the muscles repair themselves and grow back bigger.
It is also important to note that during the early stages of deep sleep the Human Growth Hormone is released.
And this is when the magic happens.
This also means that you don’t have to spend hours in the gym on those 3 days.
In fact, I advise against it.
If you work out any longer than an hour then you’ll actually start slowing down the release of your muscle-building hormones.
And at the same time you’ll activate the hormone that literally eats away at muscle.
In fact, the perfect workout will typically fall somewhere between 30-45 minutes.
And there is penty of scientific research which proves that a 30-minute workout is enough to build muscle.
This is ample time if you’re just focusing on the main compound movements and lift as heavy as possible.
Key Takeaway Points
- Focus on the big compound movements
- Lift as heavy as possible
- Increase your calorie intake through high-quality nutrition
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
- 30-45 minutes per training session is more than enough to build muscle
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.
2 thoughts on “Is 3 Days a Week Enough to Build Muscle?”
Yes, you can do 3 strength session per week.
BUT the rest of your time needs to be “active”
Three strength sessions per week, mid morning, with a day in between. alternating a back workout and a chest and arms workout. Over 2 weeks that’s 3 of each.
A separate ab workout in the afternoons six days a week. Approximate 8 exercises ranging from 5 to 8 min.
Six mornings a week a 15min flexibility session incorporating ground movements, squats, hanging and balancing.
One day a week a HIIT session on the indoor bike. 8 x 30 sec. efforts with 90 sec gentle recovery
Give 100% effort.
Two days a week 5 km walk ~ 60min.
One day a week total rest day.
Every afternoon a 2 km stroll.
Wow Steve, you sound like me, LOL.
You’ve certainly got an awesome routine going there.
In truth, this sounds fantastic, but there are those who will want to specifically focus on a particular form of training.
I know I’ve done it myself in the past.
So, for those specifically looking to pack on muscle, but limited to only working out 3 days a week, it’s definitely possible.
However, looking at my own training, I am very much like yourself, and I tend to focus on a bit of everything.
I must admit to doing a lot more mobility, flexibility, and posterior chain work than anything else.
This is because I managed to herniate two discs in my lower spine a number of years.
And it became obvious to me that these areas were my weaknesses.
I actually love walking, and go for a walk every single day without fail.
I have chopped and changed my main workout over the years, but I now like to train in the mid-mornings.
This has changed a little bit for me this year, simply due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the gyms being shut for much of the year.
I’m in that same boat at the moment.
So, currently I’m alternating between a bodyweight workout, kettlebell workout, or a sandbag workout, but first thing every morning.
I usually go for a walk straight after, more to clear the head, do some thinking, and set me up for the day, but I tend to cover about 5-6km anyway.
I’ll have a day or two off “normal” exercise a week, but I tend to go for a longer walk, say 8-10km.
However, I do stop off, take a look around in nature, I’ll grab a takeaway coffee and a newspaper and sit in the park and have a read, before making my way home (although with winter upon us in the UK, there’s not a lot of “sitting in the park” going on, LOL).
Just looking at your weekly routine, I love how you’ve included a bit of everything, seems like you’ve got it sussed.