How To Only Work Out On Weekends To Build Muscle Efficiently

February 7th 2020

Those who wish to build more muscle generally lift multiple times throughout the week with a plan that incorporates high volume and frequency in order to reach their desired physique as quickly as possible. 

This is a given.

The more hard work you do and recover from, the more consistent your results will be.

The faster your results will come as well.

However, sometimes life can get in the way and prevent gym-goers from training as much as they would like to and in some cases, individuals may only be able to train on the weekends. 

Fortunately, these individuals can still achieve their goals as long as they keep their training volume high and maximize their recovery through proper nutrition and sleep.

Building Muscle With The Weekend Only Training Approach

 One of the best training approaches for those who train on the weekends only is to have an upper and lower split on separate days. This will allow individuals to target the major muscle groups between the two days and enable them to complete both compound and isolated movements. 

Lifting two sessions per week will promote serious muscle growth by first promoting muscle tension and damage throughout the entire body followed by an extended rest period which will promote a full recovery by the next week.

It is entirely possible to gain muscle with only two weekend days of working out. It is not optimal but you will see progress especially if you have not been consistent with going to the gym.

Here is an example of an upper vs. lower split that could be used for weekend only training:

Weekend Upper Split

  • Major Chest Movement: Bench Press - 3 x 5 or 10,8,6,5
  • Major Back Movement: Bent Over Row - 3 x 5 or 10,8,6,5
  • Major Shoulder Movement: Overhead Press - 3 x 5 or 10,8,6,5
  • Chest Accessory Lift - 3 x 8-12 (Choose 1-2: Cable/Pec Fly, Push-Ups, Landmine Press, Incline DB Press, Dips)
  • Back Accessory Lift - 3 x 8-12 (Choose 1-2: Lat Pulldown, Lat Press, Pull-Ups)
  • Shoulders Accessory Lift - 3 x 8-12 (Choose 1-2: Cable/DB Rear Delts, Cable/DB Lateral Raise, Front Plate Raises)

High Volume Upper Body Session that Ranges from 18 to 21 Sets with 117 to 195 Reps

Weekend Lower Split

  • Major Lift 1: Squats - 3 x 5 or 10,8,6,5
  • Major Lift 2: Deadlifts - 3 x 5 or 10,8,6,5 
  • Major Lift 3: Leg Press - 3 x 5 or 10,8,6,5
  • Accessory Lift 1- 3 x 8-12 
  • Accessory Lift 2- 3 x 8-12 
  • Accessory Lift 3 - 3 x 8-12 
  • Accessory Lifts: Lunges, Calf Raises, Calf Press, Leg Extension, Hamstring Curls, Box Jumps, Step Ups, Split Squats, Glute Kickback or Bridge

High Volume Lower Body Session that Ranges from 18 to 21 Sets with 117 to 195 Reps


This training regimen is optimal for muscle growth because it incorporates major compound movements on both days and involves higher volume training. 

Higher volume is required for weekend only training due to lower training frequency throughout the week and compound lifts each day allow multiple muscle groups to be involved with the lifts, ensuring that the athlete targets all major areas needed for growth and development. 

This approach involves both high intensity, heavy lifting as well as less intense, moderate weight accessory lifts towards the end. 

This allows individuals to engage different areas of the major muscle groups while maximizing power output in the beginning. 

In order to ensure that individuals are making both muscle and strength gains with this style of training, it is crucial to mix up accessory lifts each week but utilize the same major lifts. Once the body adjusts to this style of training individuals must force their muscles to adapt by creating different types of stress through lifting heavier weights on the major lifts each week as well as through changing accessory exercises. 

This, in turn, breaks down more muscle fibers and leads to greater muscle growth and strength development. 

Additionally, this training style allows for generous time for recovery which is crucial when lifting with both high intensity and volume. 

The Journal of Physical Therapy Science found in 2016 that it takes on average three days to fully recover to maximum strength and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research discovered in 2015 that single-joint exercises take longer to recover from than compound exercises. 

Since the 2 day, back-to-back training regimen involves training all major muscles groups it is critical to use compound movements in order to not only develop muscle throughout the entire body but to also recover faster in order to train hard the next day. 

Having 5 days off in between training weeks allows the body to reach its maximum strength allowing individuals to push hard on both training days without fear of compromising their lifts.

After the workout is completed, the most important part begins which is adequate rest and providing ample fuel to your muscles so they can regenerate and grow.

The protein requirements for athletes are 1.3 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, according to an article from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. 

For carbohydrates, you need between 5 and 7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. 

This adaption, however, does not happen while you actually lift the weights. Instead, it occurs while you rest. If you do not provide your body with adequate rest or nutrition, you can actually reverse the anabolic process and put your body into a catabolic or destructive state. 

The response of muscle protein metabolism to a resistance exercise bout lasts for 24-48 hours; thus, the interaction between protein metabolism and any meals consumed in this period will determine the impact of the diet on muscle hypertrophy.

After the workout is completed, the most important part begins which is adequate rest and providing ample fuel to your muscles so they can regenerate and grow.

Strength Training On The Weekends Only

Something is better than nothing.

For instance, it would be better to workout twice a week than once a week.

It would be better to workout with rest in between sessions - it has worked for thousands of lifters in the past so why fix what is not broken?

But this is reality.

You only have Saturdays and Sundays to train.

There are not too many general strength programs that you can use to fit these two days.

Additionally, you will need to probably adjust your programs as well since you are working out on back-to-back days.

That’s fine.

You will get the work done. 

You would have two options in my book if you want to do strength training on the weekends,

  • Have an upper body day, where you do overhead presses and bench press. Accessories are optional 

Your lower lower body day will be deadlifts and squats. Accessories are optional, though I do have articles about squat accessories and deadlift accessories

  • The second option is to have two full body days, one day will have squats and bench press while the other will have deadlifts and overhead press.

One upper body compound movement and one lower body compound movement for each day.


The repetitions and sets will be determined by you.

Usually, people do 3 sets of 5 reps as their working sets. 

However, with the reduced frequency in your weekend-only schedule, you will need up the intensity and volume, either one or both.

Meaning, aiming for 5 sets of 5 reps or using slightly heavier weights will be key here.

I will lean more towards 5 sets of 5 reps until you know what you are doing when manipulating intensity. 

Are you willing to commit to your personal growth?

I would be lying if I said you can have it all.

You cannot.

But have another look at the alternative.

You may be spending more time at the gym during the weekend than if you split your workouts throughout the week, going 3 or 4 times to the gym.


You are compressing 3 workouts into 2 for the weekend. 

Plus you need to work harder since you “lost” a day and need to split that day into the two training days you have left.

I do not know about you but this can sound overwhelming especially if you thought that working out on the weekend will give you less stress.

It might make you have even more stress.

This is why choosing a well-written program that has a ton of plugins for your individual goals.

Realistic goals that are important for you, not the author of the book.

This is the same program (5/3/1) I have been running for the last six months.

It helped me tremendously and you can vary the intensity and workload, depending on YOUR schedule.

If this is not the freedom to change your life, there is nothing else similar.


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