Can You Build Muscle by Working Out Once a Week?

LIVESTRONG.com may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.
Work out out at least twice a week.
Image Credit: MoMo Productions/Stone/GettyImages

If you're looking to build muscle in a short amount of time, working out once a week probably won't cut it. But, if that's all the time you've got, you can still build muscle — the process will just take a bit longer.

Tip

If your goal is to build muscle, working out once a week isn't ideal. Aim for twice per week at a minimum, if possible.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults participate in strengthening exercises that target major muscle groups throughout the body at least twice per week.

In addition, you should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. Combined with your strength training, that's a lot of exercise to fit into working out once a week.

Read more: 11 Simple Ways to Add Variety to Your Strength-Training Routine

Understanding Muscle Growth

Muscle growth, also called hypertrophy, occurs as a result of overloading your muscle fibers with resistance training. As explained in an October 2017 article published by the Strength and Conditioning Journal, muscle fibers are "damaged" with exercise.

This triggers an inflammatory response and protein synthesis increases as part of the healing process. As a result, individual muscle fibers grow in size, causing the whole muscle to get bigger as it repairs itself.

However, muscle hypertrophy requires a specific type of training. Going for a casual jog or weight training once a week probably won't produce the results you're looking for. Effective muscle-building training programs are often high-volume, typically with exercises being performed in multiple sets, according to the article.

Consider the Load

The amount of resistance used during your strength-training exercises is another very important factor for muscle growth. Exercises need to be difficult enough to stress the fibers, but not so hard that you can only do a few repetitions.

Muscle hypertrophy is a product of mechanical loading and the amount of time your muscle fibers are under tension. As pointed out in the Strength and Conditioning Journal article, using weights that you can only lift a few times significantly reduces your time under tension.

Begin with a weight that you can lift 10 to 15 times in a row, for three sets, as recommended by the American Council on Exercise. Ideally, perform your strength-training routine twice per week, gradually increasing to three workouts per week.

Training Once a Week

To build muscle while training once a week, you'll need to target all the major muscle groups throughout your body. As recommended by ExRx.net, that means sticking with one exercise per muscle group.

To be more efficient, choose exercises that target multiple muscle groups with one movement. These movements are called compound exercises and tend to be more functional than targeting one joint at a time. Perform each of the following exercises 10 times, working up to three sets in a row:

Move 1: Thrusters

According to ExRx.net, thrusters are a compound movement that combines a front squat with an overhead press. The squat portion of the movement targets all major muscle groups in your lower extremities. Your core muscles contract to stabilize throughout the movement. The overhead press strengthens muscles in your chest, shoulders and upper arms.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your elbows and bring the dumbbells just outside your shoulders. Your elbows should be pointed forward. This is the starting position.
  3. Hinge forward at your hips and push your butt back as if you are going to sit in a chair.
  4. Keeping your chest up, push your knees apart and squat down as far as possible.
  5. Stand back up.
  6. As you reach a full standing position, use the momentum from your legs to help press the dumbbells straight up overhead.
  7. Straighten your arms fully at the top.
  8. Lower the dumbbells back down to your shoulders and repeat.

Move 2: Burpees

Burpees are a compound exercise that use your body weight as resistance. This exercise targets muscles in your upper and lower extremities, as well as your core.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Squat down and place your palms on the ground on the outsides of your feet.
  3. Jump your feet backward into a plank position.
  4. Jump your feet forward, between your hands.
  5. Jump straight up, reaching your hands over your head.

Tip

Burpees can be modified or advanced as needed based on your current fitness level. Make the exercise easier by stepping your feet backward and then forward one at a time. Make it more difficult by performing a push-up from the plank position.

Read more: Why Combining These Two Workouts Is Key to Keeping Weight Off

Move 3: Man Makers

Man makers are an advanced exercise that targets muscles throughout your body. Make sure you can successfully perform a burpee before attempting this exercise. Simplify this move by eliminating the push-up in the middle and squat at the end.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should be facing your sides.
  2. While maintaining your grip on the dumbbells, squat down and place the dumbbells on the ground.
  3. Jump your feet backward into a plank position.
  4. Perform a push-up.
  5. Hold the plank position and pull one elbow up toward the ceiling to perform a one-armed dumbbell row.
  6. Repeat on the other arm.
  7. Jump your feet back up between your hands.
  8. As you stand back up, use your legs for momentum as you shrug your shoulders and lift the dumbbells back up to your shoulders — this is called a "clean."
  9. Immediately squat down, stand back up and press overhead — essentially performing a thruster. This is one repetition.

Move 4: Inchworm

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hinge forward at your hips and place your hands on the floor.
  3. Slowly walk your hands forward until your body is in the plank position.
  4. Take tiny steps with your feet, inching them toward your hands.
  5. Once your feet meet your hands, you have completed one repetition.

Move 5: Bear Crawl

  1. Begin on your hands and knees.
  2. Keeping your hands on the ground, rise up on to your toes.
  3. Advance your right hand and left hand at the same time.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.
  5. Continue for eight to 10 repetitions or a set distance.

Read more: Five Types of Fitness Training

references
Show Comments