The age-old question that no-one seems to provide a straight answer to is, how many days a week we should be working out for in order to build muscle.
Many people tend to favour the “bro-split” and work out for 5 days a week, targeting one muscle group a day.
Then there are those who aim for a Legs, Push, Pull split twice a week and end up training for 6 days.
However, is 3 days a week enough to build muscle?
I’m guessing that many of you will feel that it’s impossible to build muscle mass by working out for just 3 days a week.
So, please allow me to put your mind at rest and answer this question for you.
Plus, I’ll hopefully provide you with some awesome tips along the way.
Is 3 Days a Week Enough to Build Muscle?
Training for 3 days a week is definitely enough to build muscle. You should focus on the big compound exercises, including the squat, deadlift, and bench press. These specific exercises and 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
Why You Should Focus On Strength
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 3
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.
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.
But this is ample time if you’re just focusing on the Big 3 and looking to lift as heavy as possible.
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The 3-Day a Week Workout to Build Muscle
The workout I have specifically focused on to build muscle when training 3 days a week is called Anabolic Aftergrowth.
The program also has a 4-day a week workout protocol, but you can achieve unbelievable muscle gains either way.
In fact, the program creator, Chris Wilson, claims that by following the exact workouts you can add 2 inches to your biceps and 25lbs to your bench, while gaining 14 pounds of lean muscle.
This involves working out for 60 days in total, using JUST the big 3 exercise, and you’ll be training for less than 3 hours a week.
You can check out exactly what I had to say about the program in my Anabolic Aftergrowth Review.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.