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Can You Build Muscle If You Work Out Every Other Day?

by Bach Performance on November 17, 2013

Resistance training every other day is sufficient to build muscle. In fact, it is strongly recommend for beginners and those with hectic schedules. To build muscle, it takes a significant exercise stimulus, caloric surplus and proper recovery. Following a few simple training and nutrition guidelines can help you increase your muscle mass while working around a busy schedule. So yes, you can build muscle if you work out every other day.

Total-Body Workouts

Total-body plans are the best if you’re working out every other day. Full-body workouts force you to be wise with your exercise planning, maximizing your limited time in the gym by using big, compound exercises. Through total-body workouts, you can build more muscle and strength because you stimulate the major muscles three times per week rather than one in a body-part split workout. 
A small amount of isolation work for vanity muscles such as dumbbell biceps curls work well at the end of each workout. I recommend finishing the workout with four sets of eight biceps curls.

Do Compound Exercises

When building muscle it’s important to keep things simple. Focus on compound exercises that work the greatest number of muscles such as chin-ups, squats, deadlifts, presses and throws. Pick an upper-body pull (chin-up); an upper-body push (dumbbell bench press); a lower-body, knee-dominant exercise (lunge); and a lower-body, hip-dominant exercise (deadlift) for each workout. Keep things simple with exercises and master each one. Becoming great at the basic exercises will force your body to grow. Trust the process; it works.

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Train for Strength

Moderate and high reps have their place in any program, but building strength is vital if you’re training every other day. You must lift heavy, using weights you can lift for one and six reps for three to five sets per exercise for major exercises during each workout. Getting stronger will allow you to lift a heavier weight for more reps, also known as increasing work capacity.

Program Considerations

Before you start your training program it’s imperative to properly warm up. Grab a jump rope or hop on a stationary bike for five minutes to increase your core temperature and lubricate joints. Perform the following bodyweight exercises for two sets of 30 seconds: Squats, lunges, push-ups, jumping jacks, planks and high-knee runs. 

There are a few rules that must be followed for optimal workout results. Strength exercises will be listed first and must be performed first after the warm-up. Each exercise will be performed by itself, meaning you won’t be setting up a circuit. Perform all exercises to completion for the prescribed sets and reps.

  1. Day one will be composed of strength f-ocused exercises such as the barbell squat, dumbbell bench press and one arm row. Each exercise will be performed for four sets of eight reps with 90 seconds between sets. Following the strength sets perform three sets of 12 reps in the dumbbell biceps curl.
  2. Day two will kick things off with the barbell deadlift, pull-up, and barbell bench press. Each exercise will be performed for five sets of five reps with 90 seconds rest between sets. Following these exercises perform two sets of 20 in the dumbbell hammer curl.
  3. Day three utilizes the dumbbell walking lunge, barbell bent-over row, and standing dumbbell press.These exercises will all be performed for three sets of 12 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets.The biceps will be hammered home with four sets of eight reps in the barbell biceps curl.

To keep getting stronger it’s important to add weight to the bar. If you are able to perform each exercise with some gas left in the tank, add five pounds for your next workout. Do this for three weeks, and then drop the weight back to your original starting point for the fourth week. Expert Jason Ferruggia calls this the de-load and recommends three weeks hard, one week reload as a standard go-to-recommendation. Dropping the weight down helps joints, muscles and hormones recover to come back stronger for the next training month.

Nutrition and Recovery

You must consume sufficient calories to gain muscle mass. Everyone is different when it comes to caloric needs and metabolism, so there is some math to do. To calculate your caloric needs head to the Livestrong my plate calorie counter. This number will become your goal for calories each day. Aim to consume one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to gain muscle. Properly timing carbohydrates is important to minimize fat gain during the muscle building process. It’s best to focus the majority of your carbohydrate intake one hour before and one hour after your workout to provide fuel and nutrients for optimum recovery.

Sleep at Least Six Hours

To gain muscle, sleep must be a priority. Sleeping at least six hours per night will increase levels of human growth hormone and testosterone, two important muscle-building hormones. When sleep is insufficient, another hormone called cortisol rises. Cortisol is a major stress hormone that, when elevated, can lead to fat gain and muscle loss. High-quality sleep goes a long way to building muscle while keeping you lean.

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Bach Performance
Eric is a Denver based Strength Coach who owns and operates Bach Performance. Eric coaches busy professionals, athletes, and determined clients during the day and slays impractical lifestyles and body fat at night. He relentlessly works to fine tune the best methods to help guys build athletic bodies, and awesome lives. Eric has a BS Kinesiology, Emphasizing in Sports Performance, CSCS, PN1 and Coaches at Steadman Hawkins Sports Performance in Denver, Colorado.
5 Comments
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  • November 18, 2013 at 10:12 am

    This article is pretty much spot on. I’ve had great results working out every other day, since my body got sufficient rest in between workouts. Have you heard of Classic Body Now? It has a lot of similar elements to this article. Highly recommend it, I’ve linked my name to my review on it because it’s such a great resource.

  • Anofuctus
    August 23, 2015 at 9:42 am

    You wrote a good article and I applaud you. I’m an iconoclast when it comes to my workouts. I wanted to put some muscle on my skinny frame years ago and stop looking gumpy and lanky. I did my first routine from Bob Hoffman, Nautilus, bands, “Bullworker”, Joe Weider, Muscle Fitness Power Mag, calisthenics, bought weights and bench. Getting no where. Join a gym.
    The Problem: college, work, and gym. How to manage to do all 3 and still gain the muscle I wanted? So I tried six days a week for one hour. Just not quite enough, but it was OK for the moment. Slight Progress. I then went to 3 days with a little better progress at 1 1/2 hour days. I thought, “Why don’t you try cutting things down a bit and do an every other day training routine?”
    I had struck gold! And the muscle started coming and I’m growing and looking really good. I gained 60lb during that time and this September, 2015 to September, 2017, I’m going to try to go from 200lb. to 260lb to possibly 280lb. I know it sounds far-fetched to do in a 2 year time-frame, but don’t we all want to live a fantasy.

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