When designing a weight training program that is geared towards building muscle there are three factors that must be taken into consideration:
The first one is INTENSITY; essentially how hard you work out. No one disputes that a resistance training program needs to have a sufficient level of intensity to stimulate muscle growth. Unfortunately, intensity is also the most abused factor because people commonly assume that harder is better. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can read more about how too much intensity can rob you of gains here.
The second factor is DURATION, the amount of time your workouts take. Keep in mind I am not simply referring to how long you are in the gym. Resting 15 minutes between sets so that your workout takes 2 hours doesn’t count. In reality, you must also consider workload when you think of duration. If you spend an additional 30 minutes in the gym it should be because you did 30 minutes of WORK.
In the past, duration was the most abused factor, especially during the 70’s when bodybuilders would go to the gym twice a day and do 20 plus sets per body part. More recently this has fallen out of favor as it became apparent that continuing a workout past a certain point led to diminishing returns as the body attempted to gain more endurance rather than muscular strength. The example that is commonly given to illustrate this is the sprinter vs. the long distance runner. Relatively short and intense workouts produce the lean and very muscular sprinter. Long workouts at lower intensity produce the very thin long distance runner. Nowadays most people grasp this distinction so I rarely have to explain it anymore.
The last factor, which I consider just as important as intensity, is FREQUENCY, or how often you work out. This is easily the most overlooked muscle building factor. We are constantly being told that we shouldn’t train a bodypart more than once a week…that it needs to “rest and recover” before we can beat the hell out of it again. This is true…to a point. Yes, if all your workouts are super intense then you must severely limit frequency. Intense and super frequent workouts will fry your body in a hurry. However, this is only taking into account ONE goal of resistance training, which is to break muscle down. There are other aspects of resistance training that contribute to muscle growth that don’t involve breaking muscle down.
Let me give you an example. Ever notice how muscular a mechanics forearms are? Or the arms of a construction worker? How about the calves of a mail carrier or the upper body of a gymnast? These muscles were NOT simply built by super intense and infrequent workouts. Their muscles were largely built with LOWER INTENSITY BUT VERY FREQUENT use. VERY low intensity in the case of the mechanic, construction worker and mail carrier.
Now I am not telling you to forgo your intense resistance training routine for low intensity super frequent workouts…not at all. As I said earlier, intensity is very important. What I am saying is that you are probably missing out on a HUGE muscle building factor that could make an incredible difference in how much muscle you gain. Try adding more short, low intensity workouts to your current routine. They need to be low enough in intensity as to not break muscle down but still hard enough to stimulate a small pump and send an additional muscle building signal.
I have taken advantage of and exploit the use of frequency in my comprehensive muscle building program, MAPS Anabolic, with what I call “Anabolic Triggering Sessions.” The triggering session concept is one of many breakthrough concepts that I incorporate in MAPS Anabolic (learn more about it here) to accelerate muscle growth beyond what typical muscle building programs produce.