How To Gain Muscle & Strength In Just 1-2 Workouts A Week

Steve Shaw
Written By: Steve Shaw
November 13th, 2013
Updated: June 13th, 2020
118.4K Reads
How To Gain Muscle & Strength In Just 1-2 Workouts A Week
Limited time to workout? No problem. Don't quit the gym and destroy your momentum. This article shows you how to make gains in only 1-2 hours each week.

If I've seen this once, I've seen it hundreds of times...

A lifter will be cruising along, making gains and eating right, and then life will kick his butt. The demands of school or work intensify, or life changes happen and reduce the amount of free time available to workout.

Discouragement sets in. The result? Nine times out of ten these lifters take time away from the iron and end up killing their progress.

This cycle often repeats itself. Trainees somehow feel that if they can't workout three, four or even five times per week that there is no point in even heading to the gym.

I am here to tell you differently. This might sound counterintuitive, but you can make progress training only once or twice a week. Worst case scenario, during those periods in life when you can barely find the time to eat, minimalistic programs can serve to maintain your strength and muscle gains until you get your feet back under you.

A secret of success

Here's a secret to reaching your goals that is rarely talked about: successful lifters generally don't take time away from the gym, even when life isn't perfect. They do what they can, when they can.

You must understand that perfection isn't obtainable. It's a fairy tale. If you wait for that perfect year to come along so you can finally focus and reach your goals, well...good luck. You might be waiting for a while.

Putting your gains in a holding pattern (at minimum) is a much better option that taking time away from the gym. All you will need to accomplish this mission is 1 to 2 hours per week. Turn off the TV, power down the Xbox, or prepare a few meals in advance so you can open up some free time.

Do whatever it takes to find that extra hour or two so you can train. That's what a successful lifter would do.

Lifting with Limited Time

The Programs - Time to Gain or Maintain

I have included 4 programs in this article. Two are for those of you who want muscle, muscle and more muscle. The other two programs are powerbuilding programs. They focus on building or maintaining strength and muscle.

It is important to remember that you still need to eat properly during periods of minimal training. The body can grow and build strength on these programs, so don't skimp at the plate.

You should be able to complete each of these workouts in about one hour.

2 Day Muscle Building Workout

You will want to rest at least 2 complete days in between each session. Here is a sample schedule:

  • Monday - Workout A
  • Thursday - Workout B

This program will utilize rest-pause work to help you build muscle. For every exercise other than squats and deadlift, you will rest 30 seconds between sets. To save time, you will also be using the same weight for each set of a given exercise.

Adding Weight. For rest-paused exercises, add weight (the next time you perform this movement) when you are able to perform 12+ reps during your first set. For squats and deadlifts, add weight when the sets feel manageable.

Leg presses you should add weight when you are able to perform 20+ reps on the first set. For leg curls, add weight when you can perform 15 reps on your first set.

Set Intensity. Make sure to push each set for as many reps as possible. Stop a set when you feel like you might fail on the next rep. The focus should be on progress and maximizing sets, not on failure.

Workout A
2 Day Muscle Building Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Squats (3 minutes rest between sets) 2 20
Barbell Rows or Seated Cable Rows 5 5-12
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 5 5-12
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 5 5-12
Military Press 5 5-12
Skullcrushers 5 5-12
Workout B
2 Day Muscle Building Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlift (2 minutes rest between sets) 3 5
Leg Press 5 10-20
Bench Press 5 5-12
Leg Curls 5 8-15
Seated Arnold Press 5 5-12
Barbell Curls 5 5-12

One Day Muscle Building Workout

For those weeks in which you can only hit the gym once, use the following program. All non-squat exercises use rest-pause work, just as with the 2 day program above.

One Day Muscle Building Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Squats (3 minutes rest between sets) 2 20
Barbell Rows or Seated Cable Rows 4 5-12
Bench Press 4 5-12
Leg Curls 4 8-15
Seated Arnold Press 4 5-12
Dips 4 AMAP
Chin Ups or Barbell Curls (As many as possible if doing chins) 4 5-12

2 Day Power Building Workout

This program will focus on strength and muscle building. For the big lifts - presses, squats and deadlifts - you will perform a 6 set x 3 rep protocol, resting 90-120 seconds between sets. Add weight to these lifts when the 6 sets feel manageable (the last set not close to failure).

Additional exercises will utilize the rest-pause method detailed above in the muscle building workouts.

You will want to rest at least 2 complete days in between each session. Here is a sample schedule:

  • Monday - Workout A
  • Thursday - Workout B
Workout A
2 Day Power Building Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 6 3
Bench Press 6 3
Barbell Rows 4 5-12
Seated Dumbbell Press 4 5-12
Workout B
2 Day Power Building Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlift 6 3
Military Press 6 3
Leg Press 4 10-20
Close Grip Bench Press 4 5-12

One Day Power Building Workout

This is a no nonsense program. It is intense but effective.

There is no rest-pause work in this routine. With that said, if you have a limited amount of time to lift, I wouldn't rest longer than 2 minutes between sets.

Add weight when you can for each exercise.

One Day Muscle Building Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlifts 2 3-5
Squats 3 5
Squats 1 20
Bench Press 4 5
Barbell Row 3 5
Military Press 3 5
Romanian Deadlift 2 5-8


Posted on: Mon, 12/07/2015 - 04:48

Wao! Being a regular reader of this site, another great series of tips are being received by me with utmost gratitude and respect. I was looking effectively for a workout routine meant for my busy schedule all week, thanks to my time dedicated to family, girlfriend, work and my passion - gymming. Thank you so much. Will hit this up tomorrow onwards!

Posted on: Wed, 04/08/2015 - 12:29

Congrats on the great article. Im a really big fan of such short intense whole body workouts and this is one is no exception. Just one question - those 30 sec rest periods, i know the point is rest pause training, but are 5 reps the goal on the last set of a given exercise. Thanks for the response

Posted on: Sun, 08/17/2014 - 01:42

Is this good for an intermediate to build muscle also can I use supersets?

Posted on: Sat, 08/16/2014 - 23:29

Would this be good for an intermediate lifter to build muscle for one week with limited access to the gym?

Posted on: Wed, 05/28/2014 - 05:24

Hi Steve,

what if I can only attend gym during weekends? should I still use 2 days split program or rather focus on one day program? thanks.

Posted on: Sun, 04/20/2014 - 02:15

The 2nd para under 'a secret to success' is awesome!

Posted on: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 22:55

Another great article and workout Steve. The rest pause sets are brutal with the 30 second rest in between on the muscle building workout, especially as you get to the last few exercises. I like to call it cardio with heavy iron.

Posted on: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 02:23

This is exactly what I been looking for just a few questions

I play rugby league and I'm looking to maintain size during the season but I will be doing high intensity cardio for about an hour 3 times a week

On days with cardio should I eat more calories to combat that or only be in a calorie surpluses on days I work out


Posted on: Thu, 11/14/2013 - 19:49

Thanks Steve, I am a package delivery driver and this our busy season. I was started to get a little discourage because my workouts were slacking. Your article brought new life for me.

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Posted on: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 15:14


Jorge Rodriguez...
Posted on: Thu, 11/14/2013 - 11:56

Hie there i would like to know the starting weight for the restpause exercises please, great workout, looking forward to starting , thanks a lot steve nice job

Francisco Bustamante
Posted on: Thu, 11/14/2013 - 11:02

Hay Steve,great and very helpful article.One single cuestion,about the weight itself that must be used.As far as i know, and i use this, if one is more interested in strength than getting to big,the weight that should be used is required to be more,and with les reps per set.¿Is that information correct?Greetings from Chile.

Posted on: Sat, 11/16/2013 - 04:17

The rep schemes are all set in the programs. Use a weight where you can easily complete all the reps then add 5lb next week. Repeat until you're freaking huge.

Hypertrophy and strength gains happen in all rep ranges as long as you push for progression .

Rajpal Singh
Posted on: Thu, 11/14/2013 - 04:05

Loved your article Steve. Thanks sharing valuable information :)

Posted on: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 23:55

Thank you so much. I can have a perfect workout week but it's hard for me to have a perfect month because of my busy schedule, there will always be weeks where you can only go in the gym twice and those are literally squeezing time already. This is really helpful to me, I will use this on weeks where I can only manage 2 days in the gym.

May Palmer
Posted on: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 21:09

Thanks for posting this very insightful article here at Muscle and Strength. I especially lit up when I read your sage insight as follows: "Here's a secret to reaching your goals that is rarely talked about: successful lifters generally don't take time away from the gym, even when life isn't perfect. They do what they can, when they can". That has been my approach to my strength training as I suffer with low back issues. Some days I simply "don't have it" but, I train (with great caution and awareness...) nevertheless. I can always do SOMETHING. It's not just about a good workout for the body for me but, also for the spirit as well!! Best to have BOTH body and spirit keeping each other strong. Keep up the great writing, Steve! I appreciate your talent!

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Posted on: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 22:19

Thank you May. I am glad to hear you listen to your body on those bad days. We often feel like we aren't making progress on the bad days, and during the hard times, but they are actually the glue that keeps us moving forward.

Stay strong and never give up!

Posted on: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 17:11

Great routine! Recovery from resistance training is one of the most undermined aspects for most lifters. Perfect for someone with ongoing stress and time conflicts in which recovery abilities might hindered, and still allow for progress to be made.

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Posted on: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 17:26

Thank you.

I have seen many friends stop training because they couldn't hit the gym "enough" times per week. I hate to see folks quit.

Angela Deans
Posted on: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 19:13

I am so thankful you posted this. Been working a lot lately and not enough time to make it in. Have gone from 4 days a week to 2. Felt like only 2 days a week was not enough. This has inspired me to keep going, doing what I can for now, and I will definitely try these routines.

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Posted on: Wed, 11/13/2013 - 19:57

Good luck Angela. You can do anything as long as your determination stays strong.