There are a lot of factors to consider when you're trying to build muscle, like making sure you're doing workouts that promote muscle growth, consuming enough food every day, and getting enough sleep so that your body can produce growth hormone.
If you're wondering how long your workouts should be in order for you to build muscle, there isn't a perfect amount of time you need to spend at the gym. "It depends based on what your specific goal is," Heather Milton, MS, RCEP, CSCS, an exercise physiologist clinical specialist at NYU Langone's Sports Performance Center, told POPSUGAR.
Gaining muscle isn't as simple as hitting the gym a couple of times each week, lifting heavy weights, and finishing off with a protein shake. "For a lot of people, it can be very challenging because there are so many other variables that play into that," Heather explained. She added, "We want to make sure that we're looking at hormone levels, looking at your blood work to make sure that you do have balance with your endocrine system and all the nutrients that you would need to be able to support muscle gain, your sleep patterns, the type of exercise that you're doing, and what your fitness level, your base, is."
How Often Beginners Should Train to Build Muscle
"For someone who is relatively inactive, we do know that we can show appreciable gain with just two days per week as long as you hit the major muscle groups," Heather said. Strength training twice a week as a beginner is a good starting point because it's the "minimal effective dose" for someone who hasn't been physically active in a long time and it will also allow you to fully recover, preventing injuries. Instead of focusing on smaller muscles like your shoulders, triceps, and calves when you work out, Heather recommended doing compound exercises, which are multijoint movements that work large muscle groups. These exercises, such as deadlifts and push-ups, generate more of a hormonal response for building muscle as you sleep.
How Often More Active People Should Train to Build Muscle
"It becomes more nuanced and more individualized in terms of what you're going to need to continue to increase your muscle mass if you are already physically active," Heather said. For this population, the focus should be on tailoring set and rep ranges and the intensity of the lifts and less about the frequency throughout the week as long as you're doing at least two sessions a week, she explained.
"When I'm working with somebody more active, we tend to try to get closer to three to four days per week, and we might even start to split it up so they can start to concentrate on specific muscle groups one day and alternate the next day with different muscle groups," Heather said. Following this type of programming allows for more time under tension for each muscle group, which stimulates more of a local hypertrophy (muscle growth) response.
To build muscle, you don't have to commit to intense training sessions every day. You've just got to make sure that your program makes sense for your fitness levels and goals. If you aren't sure where to begin when it comes to programming, we recommend consulting an expert, like an exercise physiologist or a personal trainer. You can also check out a few of our strength-training programs, like this four-week strength-training program or this four-week beginner workout plan to build muscle.