Training Frequency Introduction
Are you currently stuck in your training program? You have made sure that you’re constantly increasing training volume, progressively overloading, using a greater variety of exercises, and consuming enough calories and protein, but you’re not making the gains that you want? The normal bodybuilding split has you training one muscle group or body part once per week. During these training sessions, you are probably doing 15-20 sets of brutal drop sets, strip sets, and supersets to attempt to break your plateau. What if I told you that there may be an easier way? Have you ever attempted to train more frequently? Instead of hitting one muscle group every 7 days, maybe you hit that same muscle group every 2-3 days. I know that you’re probably thinking, “that sounds dumb, that’s how you over-train. How am I going to destroy a muscle with 30-50 sets per week and still recover?”
Well, I am not saying that you should keep the training volume high. I am actually saying that you should take your current training volume and divide it among 2-3 days. Therefore, your volume is staying the same, but the frequency of training a body part increases dramatically. We will discuss why this can be a great approach to breaking a plateau and how to do it.
“The Law of Practice – the more you perform a given activity, the greater your performance at that activity will be.“
Before we begin, I ask you to understand two very important concepts. This includes training volume and training frequency. Training volume is the amount of total weight lifted by a single body part per training session. This number is determined by multiplying the number of reps performed by sets performed by weight. Therefore, if you do bench press for 2 sets of 15 reps at 250 pounds and then 1 set of 12 at 250 pounds, your total training volume for that bench press session would be 10,500 pounds. An easier way to look at training volume is how many sets you perform for a single body part each week. Most will train with 10-20 sets per week per muscle. Training frequency is slightly different, it’s not the amount of training volume, but how often you train a muscle. These are two very important concepts that we must remember as we move forward.
In research, you will often hear researchers talk about training age. Unfortunately, most of the research that we have is in untrained people, which means that the scientists found some random college kids that workout every 2-3 days with no real training experience. However, in athletes, training age matters. College and professional athletes have a very high training age. Some of them have probably undergone intense training for 15-20 years to be the best they can at their sport. These are the athletes that will benefit the most from increasing their training frequency.
Although, do not let this discourage you. If you have been going to the gym and crushing the weights for the last 2-3 years, but you’ve finally plateaued, increasing your training frequency can still be an awesome tool for you to use. We know that as you become more trained, the response that you get to any training stimulus is decreased; therefore, noobie gains are non-existent. A study by Tang et al (2008) found that in trained people, protein synthesis after training spikes very quickly, but falls back to normal within 16 hours. However, in untrained people (noobies) protein synthesis does not spike as quickly but it is sustained much longer! This could be a reason why people who are trained do not make as many gains as people who are untrained. Another study by Doering et al (2016) had a similar outcome when they compared young athletes to old athletes. The young athletes had a much greater protein synthesis response to training than the old athletes. This means that your training age has a huge impact on how well you respond to training and why you need to increase training frequency.
Training Frequency & Muscle Gains
I know this is the information that you have been waiting for. How will increasing my training frequency make me bigger? If you watched Facebook Live from last Thursday, September 21, 2017 I discussed a few studies that compared different training frequencies on muscle and strength gains. If you missed it, check it out below! However, in general, we find that periodizing your training is most optimal for gaining muscle. For example, I would not recommend going to the gym and training with 4 exercises for 4 sets of 10-15 reps for 30 weeks thinking that it is going to help you gain muscle. As I discussed in the last section, we know that you adapt to just about every stimulus. This means that you need to change up your style of training at least every 14-16 weeks to continue to make gains.
Interestingly, a study performed by Hakkinen et al (1994) looked at a splitting the volume of one day of training between two sessions in that same day. Therefore, instead of training once a day, athletes trained twice a day but volume was the same. The researchers found that when splitting the volume between two sessions, athletes doubled their strength! In 2012 researchers took this concept one step further. Instead of training three days per week, they divided the volume among six days. This means that if you were to squat for six Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you would now squat for three sets Monday-Saturday. The researchers found that not only did the athletes increase strength, but that also increased muscle size! Little do people know, Olympic athletes commonly train 3-4 times a day because know that it will not only increase strength but size. This is also a great way to increase volume! As discussed earlier in this article in other articles volume is a huge predictor of muscle gains.
How to Increase Frequency & Volume
You may be wondering how you increase your training volume. It is actually very simple. For example, if you train legs on Monday with four sets each of squats, leg press, leg extensions, and hamstring curls for a total of 16 sets, you would divide this volume among three days. Monday, you would do four sets of squats, Wednesday you would do four sets of leg press, and Friday you would do four sets each of leg extensions and hamstring curls. Another way that you could increase training frequency would be to do full-body workouts.
For example, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday you can train each major body part. Therefore, Monday would be two sets of each squat, RDL, bent over row, wide grip pull-up, dumbbell press, and Arnold press. Wednesday would be two sets each of hack squat, deadlift, single arm dumbbell row, cable face pull, barbell bench press, and lateral dumbbell fly. Friday would then be two sets each of Leg press, lying hamstring curl, wide grip lat pulldown, rear dumbbell fly, barbell incline press, and upright rows. This would be a high-frequency training split that would target the primary muscle groups.
As you can see, the total volume is low because you are only doing two sets per muscle group per day for a total of six sets per week. This is probably much lower than what you are accustomed to doing. However, there is a method to my madness. The goal is to start low and increase volume as needed to continuously make gains. Once you have adapted to a high-frequency training split, you can add one or two sets per day per body part. Therefore, instead of doing two sets per day, you would be doing three to four sets per day. At the end of the week, you would now be doing a total of nine to twelve sets per week. From here, you can increase from training three days per week to training four days per week. You have now taken your total training volume to twelve-sixteen sets per muscle group per week. Research proves that this will not only make you significantly stronger, but huge!
In conclusion, increasing your training frequency per body part is a great option for making new gains. This is whether your goal is to gain size, strength, or both. It may go against your current training style, but it is easy to adapt your current training to a high-frequency split. Using the methods mentioned in this article are tried and true methods for optimizing your goals. If you have any more questions, head over to the #askthedoc FAQ where I have over a thousand of the most asked questions answered!