High frequency training

High frequency training will change your life. You will get bigger, stronger, leaner and sexier than you have ever been before. Is this true? probably not, but give it a try just in case it does happen.

When it comes to weight training for hypertrophy there are several variables we can manipulate to create new demands for the mind and body to ensure a continued progression of our training adaptations (1). Typically (from my experience I should add), the variables most frequently changed are:

  • Intensity – the % lifted relative to one rep max
  • Volume (sets and reps) – The amount of reps per set (which should be dictated by intensity) and the amount of sets per body part per session/week
  • Exercise selection – which exercises are used to target specific muscle groups
  • Advanced training techniques – techniques such tempo sets, drop/tri/super sets or blood flow restriction alter intra-set variables such as the time a muscle is under tension, the amount of rest allowed between sets, and the amount of metabolites that accumulate within a muscle
  • ‘Split’ design – your training split is the way in which you categorise your exercises on a given day; for example, pushing exercises versus pulling exercises, chest or back exercises, upper versus lower body exercises and so on

 It is also typical (in my experience again, and as per the research I am going to cite) that even with the above variables being altered periodically, most of us end up training each body part/muscle once per week (69%) or twice per week (31%) (2). The gym vernacular for these ‘typical’ programmes would be The Bro-Split. An example Bro-Split could be legs on a Monday, chest on a Tuesday, back on a Thursday and shoulders on a Friday – of course, there are several variations of this, but the point is that most ‘splits’ see each body part being worked once or twice per week. What all this means is that there is one variable that is commonly left untouched in our constant quest to keep our training fresh and novel; frequency.

Training frequency commonly refers to the number of resistance sessions performed in a given time period (usually a week). For example, training three, four or five times per week is a statement of the training frequency. It can also refer to the number of times a specific muscle group is trained over a specific time period, and it is that definition that I’d like to discuss in this post. Brad Schoenfeld, whom many regard to be the World’s leading researcher in muscle hypertrophy recently published this meta analysis investigating “the effects of resistance training frequency on hypertrophic outcomes.” Here is what was concluded (as per the abstract):

When comparing studies that investigated training muscle groups between 1 to 3 days per week on a volume-equated basis, the current body of evidence indicates that frequencies of training twice a week promote superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week. It can therefore be inferred that the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth; whether training a muscle group three times per week is superior to a twice-per-week protocol remains to be determined. (3)

He also published a study last year in which he concluded:

Results showed significantly greater increases in forearm flexor MT for TOTAL compared with SPLIT. No significant differences were noted in maximal strength measures. The findings suggest a potentially superior hypertrophic benefit to higher weekly resistance training frequencies. (4)

With this in mind, I think that the concept of high frequency training periods is worthy of investigation from an individual point of view. That is, I think everyone should give it a go and see how they feel. Potentially, the best outcome would see superior training results. At worst, it gives you another variable that can be used to systematically used to change the training stimulus and keep things ‘fresh’. Here is a simple way in which you can set it up:

Take your usual ‘bro-split’ and draw it out. In my example, I am going to use a programme consisting of four exercises, each with a slightly different focus, as per what I commonly see in the gym.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 13.16.48

Each body part (chest, legs, back or shoulders) is worked once per week, with 7-days recovery between exercise bouts.

To make it high frequency, I am going to shift the rows along to the right so each day has an exercise for each body part. Now, each body part is stimulated 4 times per week, with less recovery time between each bout.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 13.17.01

Each of these programmes has EXACTLY the same volume and exercises. However, the high frequency programme may be advantageous for a number of reasons.

  • Increased muscle protein stimulus signal for each body part – It appears that the signal to build more muscle peaks at 24 hours after heavy resistance training and is close to baseline at 36 hours (5) – waiting a whole week to ‘switch that signal back on’ may not be the optimal tactic
  • Increased ‘movement’ practice on the more technical compound lifts – using squatting as an example, performing a squat, or a squat variation of a squat multiple times per week compared to once per week would lead to neuromuscular improvements and a better ‘feel’ for the squat. This is turn could lead to increased strength and a safer, more efficient lifting pattern, although this may be more relevant to less experienced lifters (6)
  • Less DOMS (muscle pain) and perceived exertion during and after each session as the total volume per muscle group is spread across the week rather than being all in one session – the final exercise for each day may also be optimized as it hasn’t already had multiple exercises on the same body part performed prior to it
  • A potential for a fat loss benefit as more total muscle mass is being stimulated per session (7). Clearly this isn’t hypertrophy, but it may be of interest as hypertrophy goals are usually synonymous with fat loss goals at a later date

I should also add at this point that other studies have shown high frequency training to be no better for strength gains and muscle mass gains than a typical body part split plan (7,8). The success of a programme depends on so much that I would never say one particular way is better than another – it depends on too many variables. However, as a (sometimes much needed) change, going high frequency may be just the ticket. Here are some things to think about if you do fancy a change:

  • The basic principles still apply – eat and sleep well to recover, and set the plan up with a progressive amount of overload
  • Keep an eye on your total sets per session. You don’t want to go mad at first, but do try to increase it as the weeks go on (as per the progressive overload point above)
  • Keep an eye on your progress – if you are feeling wrecked after a particular session, you may need to adjust the exercise selection. For example, a session filled with big compound lifts may be too much to recover from
  • After 4-6 weeks, assess your progress and adjust the programme accordingly. Eventually, you may need/want to go back to a standard body-part split plan

If you’re tempted to try a high frequency training programme but don’t know where to start when it comes to planning it, get in touch and I can help you out.


 References

  1. Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Apr;36(4):674–88.
  2. Hackett DA, Johnson NA, Chow C-M. Training practices and ergogenic aids used by male bodybuilders. J Strength Cond Res Natl Strength Cond Assoc. 2013 Jun;27(6):1609–17.
  3. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med Auckl NZ. 2016 Apr 21;
  4. Schoenfeld BJ, Ratamess NA, Peterson MD, Contreras B, Tiryaki-Sonmez G. Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res Natl Strength Cond Assoc. 2015 Jul;29(7):1821–9.
  5. MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Can J Appl Physiol Rev Can Physiol Appliquée. 1995 Dec;20(4):480–6.
  6. McLester JR, Bishop P, Guilliams M. Comparison of 1 and 3 days per week of equal-volume resistance training in experienced subjects: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 May;31(Supplement):S117.
  7. Crewther B, Heke T, Keogh J. The effects of two equal-volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in male rugby union players. Biol Sport. 2016 Jun;33(2):111–6.
  8. Thomas MH, Burns SP. Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training. Int J Exerc Sci. 2016 Apr 1;9(2):159–67.

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