To build muscle, you have to make progress. And you can only measure progress if you train according to a pattern, i.e. a training program. In this article we explain step by step how to create a workout routine aimed at muscle growth.
1. DETERMINE YOUR TRAINING VOLUME
The training volume is the number of sets per muscle group per week. How many sets you need to build muscle optimally depends on your training status. Roughly we can say:
- beginners: 10 sets per muscle group per week
- intermediate: 15 sets per muscle group per week
- advanced: 20 sets per muscle group per week
A beginner usually refers to someone who has trained (decently) for a maximum of one year. An intermediate is someone who has been training for one to three years and an advanced is someone who has been training for three years or more.
You can read more about determining your training volume in this article.
2. DETERMINE YOUR TRAINING FREQUENCY
A training schedule is based on a fixed number of times a week that you train. To be able to build muscle optimally, you should train at least three times a week, preferably evenly spread over the week. Exercising more often isn’t necessarily better; it just depends on how much training volume you need (see point 1).
For intermediate and advanced athletes, a higher training frequency is desirable, because otherwise the training sessions become too long. Do a maximum of 15 to 25 sets in total per workout. At normal rest times, this equates to a maximum of 60 to 90 minutes of training.
Advanced/advanced people can train every day if desired, but on condition that a deload takes place regularly.
3. DETERMINE YOUR TRAINING FREQUENCY PER MUSCLE GROUP
The optimal training frequency per muscle group depends on your training volume. It is important that you do not do more than 10 sets per training per muscle group: the growth stimulus starts to stagnate around 10 sets. Doing more sets then no longer makes sense and is only unnecessarily taxing (at least for natural bodybuilders).
As a beginner, you only need to do around 10 sets per muscle group per week. If you want, you can do all of these sets on one day a week.
As an intermediate or advanced, you should train each muscle group with 15 to 20 sets per week to maximize muscle growth. In this case, you should divide these sets over two or more workouts per week. So let’s say you’re doing 18 sets for the chest, you’re splitting it into two sessions of nine sets (2 x 9) or three sessions of six (3 x 6). Doing all sets in one session (1 x 18) is out of the question, because then you are in fact doing eight redundant sets. Spreading training volume not only prevents you from doing unnecessary sets, it also increases the quality of the sets.
Make sure trained muscles get enough rest. Assume 48 hours between two workouts of the same muscle group.
4. DETERMINE YOUR SPLIT
If you know how often you train and how often you train per muscle group, you can determine which training split to use. You have the following options.
The old bro split means that you only train one muscle group each workout. For example chest on Monday and back on Tuesday. While still a popular split, it is actually only suitable for beginners. After all, beginners do not need more than ten sets per muscle group on a weekly basis and can therefore safely put those sets in one training. If you are more advanced and need roughly fifteen sets a week, you will need several workouts per week per muscle group and the bro split will therefore fall off.
Incidentally, we also think that beginners should not do a bro split, but instead, for example, do three times a week full body. Because by doing exercises more often, you will master them faster. In addition, spreading the training volume benefits the quality of the sets, as we have already seen.
Full body training means training your who body in one session. You mainly do compound exercises, which is an efficient way of training. In this article, we’ll discuss other benefits of full body training.
A full body ‘split’ is ideal if you can train ‘only’ three times a week, for example:
Monday: full body
Wednesday: full body
Saturday: full body
Advanced people can also train full body more than three times a week, because they usually recover faster.
UPPER/LOWER BODY SPLIT
If you train four days a week, the upper/lower body split is a good one. For example:
Monday: upper body
Tuesday: lower body
Thursday: upper body
Friday lower body
Can you train six times a week? Then the push/pull/legs split is ideal. You then train your push muscles (chest, shoulders and triceps), your pull muscles (back and biceps) and your lower body (called ‘legs’ for convenience, but that also includes your hips/buttocks). For example:
Can you only train five times a week? Then you add the legs to a push or pull training once a week. For example:
Saturday: pull + legs
You don’t necessarily have to choose one type of split – you can also combine them depending on how many days you train. For example, if you train four times a week, you can do one series of push/pull/legs plus a full body workout. For example:
Saturday: full body
5. DETERMINE YOUR EXERCISES
The skeleton of your training schedule is ready. Now you can start filling it in, starting with the exercises. On average, you need three different types of exercises per muscle group. You usually do 2-3 sets per exercise.
On this page you will find an overview of all relevant exercises per muscle group. Below is a brief overview.
press (barbell bench press, dumbbell chest press, …)
fly (dumbbell fly, cable fly, …)
pull (dumbbell pullover)
dip (bodyweight chest dip)
press (barbell overhead press, dumbbell shoulder press, …)
upward row (barbell upright row, dumbbell upright row, …)
side-lift (dumbbell lateral raise, cable lateral raise, …)
horizontal pull (barbell row, single-arm dumbbell row, …)
vertical pull (pull-up, cable lat pulldown, …)
reverse fly (reverse machine fly, bent-over raise, …)
biceps curl (with barbell, dumbbell or cable)
close grip bench press
incline triceps kickback
45-degree hyper extension
6. DETERMINE THE NUMBER OF REPS AND THE WEIGHT
For each exercise, determine how many reps you will do per set. In theory, you can achieve maximum muscle growth in any rep range, but in practice, it’s best to operate in the range of 6 to 20 reps, to be precise:
- 6-10 reps in compound exercises;
- 10-20 reps in isolation exercises.
Determining the correct starting weight is a matter of trying out how many repetitions you can do with a weight. Keep in mind that you don’t train your sets to complete muscle failure, but keep a few reps ‘in the tank’, also called reps in reserve (RIR). For example, 2 RIR means you’re two reps away from muscle failure. So let’s say you’re doing biceps curls with 10 reps and 2 RIR, you’d pick the weight that allows you to do up to 12 reps. On average you train with 1-3 RIR, depending on the type of exercise (compounds 2-3 RIR, isolation exercises with 1-2 RIR).
Then try to gradually increase your training weight: progressive overload. A simple method to make progress is to define a rep target and add weight when you hit that target. See this article for further explanation.
7. DETERMINE THE REST TIMES
If you’re training for muscle growth, getting plenty of rest between sets is essential for the quality of those sets. We use as a guideline:
- 1-2 minutes for isolation exercises;
- 2-3 minutes for most compound exercises;
- 3-5 minutes for squats and deadlifts.
More on rest times between sets in this article.
8. ADJUST WHERE NECESSARY
Don’t switch schedules too often (so don’t vary for the sake of varying). As long as you’re making significant progress, you’re on track with your schedule and you don’t need to change anything. If the progress is less, then it may be time for a deload. If the progress only in certain muscle groups is less, then change your schedule for the relevant muscle groups.
Below is an example of a complete push/pull/legs schedule for intermediate students.
|Barbell bench press||4||6-8||2||2 minutes|
|Dumbbell side raise||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Dumbbell shoulder press||3||8-10||2||2 minutes|
|Cable chest fly||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|Triceps machine dip||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|Kneeling cable crunch||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|Barbell row||3||8-10||2||2 minutes|
|Lat pulldown||3||8-10||2||2 minutes|
|Reverse pec deck fly||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|Preacher curl||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Barbell shrug||3||8-10||1-2||2 minutes|
|Hammer curl||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Barbell squat||3||6-8||2||3 minutes|
|Cable pull-through||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|Leg extension||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Rounded-back 45-degree hyper||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|RKC plank||3||–||–||1,5 minute|
|Dumbbell chest press||4||6-8||2||2 minutes|
|Barbell upright row||3||10-12||2||2 minutes|
|Cable side raise||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Machine shoulder press||3||8-10||2||2 minutes|
|Pec deck fly||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|Lying triceps extensions||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Hanging leg raise||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Seated cable row||3||8-10||2||2 minutes|
|Dumbbell bent-over raise||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Barbell biceps curl||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Face pull||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|Kneeling cable crunch||3||10-12||1-2||1,5 minute|
|Romanian deadlift||3||8-10||2||2-3 minutes|
|Leg press||3||8-10||2||2-3 minutes|
|Leg curl||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Dumbbell lunge||3||10-12||2||2-3 minutes|
|Standing calf raise||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|
|Abductor machine||3||10-12||1||1,5 minute|