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Currently, I'm exercising 3 days a week (every other day), each day doing 2-3 muscle groups. Currently, my goal is to increase muscle mass. My question is, given my exercise goal, is it better to really stress a given muscle group for a single day and then "ignore" it until next week, or to work out all groups each day, but to a lesser extent?

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The answer to your question is yes. Yes, you can do a 2/3/4/5 day split each week. And, yes, you can do a full body workout 2-3 times a week. In fact, I would suggest doing both - just not at the same time.

Most people who go to a gym will do a split routine. Usually a 3 day split involves:

  • Day 1 - Legs: hams, quads, calves, glutes
  • Day 2 - Push: triceps, chest, shoulders
  • Day 3 - Pull: biceps, back

You can also add in core muscles on any or all of those days. Alternately, you can do a full body work out. A workout of this type will involve exercises that engage most of the muscles in your body:

  • Squats
  • Deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Clean and press/jerk
  • Kettlebell

You cannot do both these routines at the same time, it would be way too much. You can alternate them however. Do a 3 days split for a couple months, then switch to a full body routine for a while, then back again. This will challenge your body in different ways and will keep you from getting use to your exercises and plateauing.

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Thanks for the detailed writeup. Regarding the 3-day split, I'm still worried that doing biceps (for example) only once a week is too infrequent to build mass. I know lots of people do this, I'm just thinking about this chart and wondering whether its too infrequent. –  eykanal Mar 23 '11 at 13:44
    
@eykana - If you want to build mass, lift heavy. Once a week is the suggested rate in order to allow for enough rest. Once you've been lifting for a while you'll know when you can hit the same muscles again, just listen to your body. –  Sparafusile Mar 23 '11 at 14:46
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Your muscles increase in size during their recovery, not during the exercise itself.

Therefore, you should not be working muscle groups on consecutive days.

I generally find 2-3 times a week is ideal, on non-consecutive days.

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Thanks for the answer. I clarified the schedule I posted in the question... I'm already exercising every other day, so would it be OK to exercise all groups every time I go to the gym? –  eykanal Mar 1 '11 at 22:05
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