2 on 2 Off Training Frequency for Mass Gains

Question: What do you think of a 2 on 2 off upper/lower split so you train everything evenly at every 4th day.

So Monday: upper, Tuesday: lower, Wed/Thurs: off, Fri: upper, Sat: lower, Sun/Mon: off.

It requires more freedom in scheduling, but just curious if you thought this type of consistency was somehow advantageous as opposed to the every 3rd/4th day inconsistent recovery…

Answer: The above question actually came up in the comments section of Training Frequency for Mass Gains but I thought it was worth addressing in full.

Before actually addressing the question in terms of the frequency issue, let me make one comment about the above schedule.  Depending on what movements are being done, especially on the lower day, doing upper body the day before lower can be very problematic.  If someone is going to squat or deadlift on lower body day, fatigue in the back and shoulder girdle from the upper body day can cause real problems on the lower body day (clearly if other movements are being done on the lower day, this is far less of an issue).

There are two solutions to this.  The first is to switch the days and put lower body first in the sequence and upper body second (this raises a second issue which is that fatigue from heavy lower body work often makes upper body go poorly but training is nothing if not a series of compromises).  The second is to use a slightly different split.  Doing chest/shoulders/triceps on Monday and legs/back/biceps on Tuesday and keeping that sequence avoids some of the problems although day 1 ends up being a lot easier (and usually shorter) than day 2 (which can be murderous).

Ignoring that, let me get back to the original question about training 2 on/2 off across an 8 day training cycle and the relaive optimality (or not) of that type of training.   And the short-answer to the above question is that…it depends.  Yeah, not very useful so let’s look at some of the things that it depends on and give the long answer.

Perhaps the biggest thing that the above depends on is life.  Most people’s real-life schedules are constrained by a rather standard 7 day work week.  We have Monday through Friday which are the typical work days followed by the weekend.  And this tends to have massive implications for how training weeks can be set up. Note that ‘can’ and ‘should’ are not synonymous here.

In fact, it’s a big part of why I tend to default to cycles that run across a standard work week, it simply reflects the reality of the majority of trainees in my experience.  Anyone who has read or done the Ultimate Diet 2.0 knows that I went to lengths to fit the cycle into a standard 7 day work week.  An 8 day cycle actually would have been better in a lot of ways but the reality is that most people can’t make the schedule work because their life situation is set by the standard 7 day week.

But the reality for a majority of trainees is that the above schedule tends to be a huge determinant of not only when they can train but what kinds of schedules that they can follow.   Typically, and this is even more the case if they have family obligations they won’t have a lot of time during the week to train while they will generally have more time available on the weekends.

That is to say, if they get off work at 5:30pm, get to the gym at 6:30 and have some expectation of spending time with their family in the evening, a long training session during the week may simply not be realistic, even weekends may be limited due to this either because they need to spend time with the family or have chores around the house.

I addressed this in a slightly different context in the Q&A on Lifting Six Days Per Week for Mass Gains by offering the option of more frequent (but shorter) sessions during the work week with longer sessions on weekends.  This lets folks get in and out of the gym quickly during the week (to ensure that they continue to have a family to go home to) while training longer on the weekends.

Even with high-level athletes, who often train full time without a ‘real’ job, training schedules still typically revolve around the 7-day work week with Sunday a day off.  Why?  Is it just tradition, some left-over from early religious practices (where Sunday is typically a day of rest) or work scheduling.  Or is it simply because competitions typically are done on Saturday and Sunday in most sports and training needs to sequence with that to some degree.  Probably a combination of those.

An additional factor that often plays a role is facility availability.  Some gyms aren’t even open on Sundays (my weight room isn’t for example).  That constrains training to certain days of the week which makes rotating schedules unrealistic.  It’s no good to have a workout fall on a Sunday if you can’t train on that day in the first place.

The upshot of this is that training usually ends up being modified to fit the week rather than physiological needs dictating when training occurs.  That is, since the work week is constraining things, coaches simply modify loading (volume and intensity) to make recovery fit into the 7 day cycle.

So, if I know you have to train upper body on Monday and Thursday, I’ll modify the loading of both days so that training progresses the way I want.  With only two days rest between Monday and Thursday, I might cut things back a bit; with three days between Thursday and the following Monday, I might push it harder so that recovery takes a touch longer.   Or whatever.

But all of the above has more to do with practical issues, and less physiological ones which I suspect was the genesis of the original question. The body and the adaptations that occur with training don’t care that it’s Sunday and your gym is closed, or that religion dictates that it’s a day of rest.  What ‘must’ be done due to the realities of the real-world have little to do with what ‘should’ be done from a physiological standpoint.  It’s simply that you can’t consider the one without dealing with the other.  Setting up training schedules is always an exercise in compromises and this is one of the big ones.

But let’s assume that someone has the life flexibility (and it’s worth noting that bodybuilders have rarely been constrained by the ‘standard’ approaches of other training systems) to train any day they want for as long as needed, the gyms are open, and nothing is limiting them from doing what the person asking the question proposed.

That is to train 2 days in a row and then take 2 days completely off before hitting the cycle again so that there are exactly 4 days training between every workout (with the workout days rotating through the week since we’re on an 8 week cycle) rather than having 2 days of rest and then 3 days of rest or what have you.  Is that better, worse, or no different?

And the answer is still…it depends.

But now it depends more on the individual trainee since we’ve eliminated the real-world type obstacles that so often get in the way.  Some trainees have no problem going hard and heavy on back to back training days.  For whatever reason, fatigue from a hard Monday workout doesn’t limit them in any fashion on Tuesday.  They will have no problems with the proposed sequencing.  They can train hard Monday, train hard Tuesday, take Wednesday and Thursday off, train hard Friday/Saturday, take Sunday/Monday off, repeat until huge or whatever.

But that’s simply not true for everyone.  For some trainees, a hard Monday workout leaves them flat and fatigued on Tuesday and they can’t get jack squat done in the gym.  They need a full day off between each workout and working out every other day (even across an 8 day cycle) is a better choice.  Of course, that type of trainee has real problems with training 4 days per week on a 7 day schedule because at least one set of workouts has to come back to back (e.g. Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday or whatever).

The type of training being performed also impacts on this.  Very heavy low rep training is often more fatiguing (generally neurally more than muscularly) and the second type of athlete will often be ‘blown’ from a heavy workout (legs moreso than upper body) and need a full day off before they can go really heavy again.   Trying to squat heavy on Monday and bench heavy on Tuesday just goes nowhere.

Of course, there are ways around that too.  Alternating heavy and lighter workout can still allow two training days in a row before complete days off are taken.  The lighter second day might be speed work of some sort or even higher repetition ‘bodybuilding’ type training (this often helps the second type of athlete recover from the heavier day).   Even for pure ‘strength’ athletes, lower intensities (e.g. 70-75% of max rather than 80-85% of max) is often doable on the second day even with fatigue.

I’d note that more moderate intensity bodybuilding training doesn’t tend to be quite the problem in this regards even for the second type of trainee.  Unless they really grind themselves to failure and beyond with the Monday workout, they can usually come back and hit more bodybuilding type training on a Tuesday.  But the intensities have to be moderate, volumes kept in check and failure pretty much steadfastly avoided.

So the answer to the original question is simply it depends.  Certainly it can work for certain athletes under certain situations.  In my experience, most don’t have the life flexibility to make it work and individual physiology will also impact on whether or not it’s workable.



10 thoughts on “2 on 2 Off Training Frequency for Mass Gains

  1. Lyle,

    What are your thoughts on incorporating GPP (e.g. – high-rep blood flow work at 30% 1RM) days in lieu of days off? For example:

    Monday and Thursday: Upper
    Wednesday and Saturday: Lower
    Tuesday and Friday: GPP

    Do you think that this would enhance recovery for most trainees, or is it unnecessary/harmful?


  2. Wow, thanks for the full response in its own article. I have a lot of flexibility in my personal schedule. I think I will start with the lower body like you said, and do an every other day approach over an 8 day cycle. That is a great idea.

    Mon: lower:
    Tues: off
    Wed: upper
    Thurs: off
    Fri: lower:
    Sat: off
    Sun: upper
    Mon: off

    I realize you said it’s all about making compromises and I think putting the lower body first is the lesser of two evils, and a full day of recovery in between every workout seems nice. Physiologically speaking, this seems optimal to me. Practically, well, that depends like you said. Once again, thanks for the thoughtful response.

  3. Jon: Such can certainly work and probably be beneficial, strength power athletes have often used what they call ‘tonic’ workouts between the heavier stuff, very light workouts that help more than hurt.

    But this ONLY works if the individual shows some common sense and restraint. In my experience, what happens to most trainees is that they go to the gym for a ‘light’ day and get carried away. Doing 20-30 minutes of light GPP or cardio or whatever doesn’t ‘seem like its worth it’ so they start increasing intensity or volume or both and all of a sudden what should have been an easy day isn’t.

    And then it all goes wrong. The easy days start being too hard to recover from but too easy to really stimulate gains and the hard days are negatively impacted because recovery has been hurt more than helped.

    I talked about this more in the article on the site Keep the Hard Days Hard and the Easy Days Easy.

  4. For relative novices who do upper and lower at every workout (starting strength for example), is it generally better to follow a 3 workout/9 days (1 day on, 2 day off) or the traditional 3 workout/7 days?

  5. Life pretty much gets in the way of training full time. I used to do a traditional split of 2 on, 1 rest, 2on and then weekend off. Now I can’t even do that. Now I train twice a week, each session being a whole body workout with 2 days rest between the workouts and then 3 days rest.

    Due to demands of work, that’s all I can manage, but it still works for me.

  6. I agree that the structure of your training schedule depends 100% on the structure of your life. If you have a limited amount o free time, then your training schedule needs to reflect that. But the good news is that you absolutely can achieve awesome strength and muscle gain results even with a time restricted schedule.

  7. Lyle,
    After bodybuilding since 1981 and winning Mr. Louisville and Mr.Kentucky I have found the functional training has made me more stronger,leaner, mobile and balance,but in my head I still feel the need for the basic barbell compound routine in my program. Love your website.

    What are your thoughts on this routine:
    (Muscle Confusion, Functional and Basic)
    Day 1:Lower>Squats,Roman deadlifts, Lunges,Ab rolls(5×5)
    Day 2:Rest
    Day 3:Farmer carry 2 Kettlebells (52 lbs.ea) with a weight vest (25 lbs.)up stairs(220 steps)for 30 mins.
    Day 4:Upper>Bent over rows,Chins,Bench,Dips,Neutral-grip presses,curls,Dips,Ab rolls(5×5)
    Day 5:Farmer carry 2 Kettlebells(52 lbs.) with a weight vest (25 lbs) up stairs(220 steps) for 30 mins.
    Day 6:Kettlebells Total Body>Swings,Snatch,Clean and Press,Front Squat,Floor Press,Prone Row,Turkish Get Up (4×10-15 reps)
    Day 7:Farmer carry 2 Kettlebells(52 lbs.ea) with a weight vest (25 lbs.) up stairs(220 steps) for 30 mins.
    Day 8: Rest
    Day 9: Lower with Dumbells only.
    Day 10: Sames as Day 3,5 and 7.
    Day 11: Upper with Dumbells only. Replace Bench with Inclines.
    Repeat entire routine.

    Love Barbells,Kettlebells and stairclimbing.

  8. Js: Generally speaking, beginners, primarily due to a lower training status, don’t require as much recovery and training 3X/week full body isn’t a problem.

    Keith: I think that random workouts generate random results.

  9. Lyle,
    Thanks you very much. I have very fast switch muscles and this is the only way I feel that I can train, but I don’t want to waste my time.
    If time wasn’t a problem, would you change anything about this routine? Do you think the Farmer carry is too much of a strength (anaerobic) exercise. I am recovering okay with this and getting alot of hard density muscle mass.
    I weigh 260 lbs.,48 years old,retired, in college and a stay at home dad.
    My food intake and supplements are 1-2 gal. H2O, Animal Pak-X 2 a day, cal-1,000mg, flaxseed -2,000, fish -2,000 mg, omega 3,6,9 -3,000 mg, Carnivor Beef, ON Whey Protein, BCAA and L-Glutamine (before and after training). Mostly fiberous veggies,oatmeal and brown rice. Don’t touch Milk or OJ. and cheat on Sunday.
    I would like to pay you for your advice.


  10. Hey Lyle. I’ve been glued to your website for the last several weeks. Reading your articles has been awfully humbling experience…the more read the more i realize how little i know!
    Anyways I have a question about compound versus isolation exercises. Consider the elbow flexors; I want to know is it really necessary to perform compound exercises to build muscle mass? Or is that just a myth and will isolation exercises work just as well? I’m talking bench press versus overhead tricep extensions and chins versus barbell curls.
    on a similar note say i want to build big thighs. Will extensions and leg curls do the job. Or do i have to squat and leg press to get the most results. I realize that there are several factors involved (closed versus open kinetics etc) to have single answer. All i’m curious to know if in theory atleast isolation exercises are as good at hypertrophying as compound exercises.

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