The Three Fundamentals of Building Muscle, Part 3: Frequency
Training Frequency refers to how often you train a particular muscle group/movement pattern. You may have heard the bodybuilders of the ‘Golden Age’ referring to this as ‘chest day’ or ‘leg day’.
Whilst training a muscle group once a week may give you the drive to give it all you’ve got, you may not be getting the most out of your training by doing so. The alternative here is training a muscle group or movement pattern on multiple occasions over the week. Coaches such as Christian Thibaudeau are big advocates of higher frequency training for the everyday lifter. Why? Because it allows you to stimulate muscle growth in that particular group of muscles more than once per week, increasing opportunity for growth.
That being said…everyone is individual (you may well have guessed by now that this is the underpinning theme of these hypertrophy posts) so it is worthwhile experimenting with periods of high frequency vs. periods of low frequency. Once you stop seeing progress with one method, try shifting more towards the other.
What are the advantages of higher frequency training? Less localised fatigue, allowing recovery (with DOMs anyway) to become easier. Ability to push volume a little higher without feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck- I once did a training cycle of 6 days a week, pushing really hard on each day, with very little soreness and great results with muscle mass. More opportunity to practice movement patterns like squatting, pressing, pulling, hinging and lunging and refine motor patterns, making efficiency better and in turn increasing potential for strength gains as a bonus. More opportunity to cause muscle damage, stimulate muscle protein synthesis and grow!
What are the advantages of lower frequency training? You can get muscle groups out of the way all at once in one big session. Greater feeling of connection with the muscles due to volume and hugely increased blood flow to working muscles over the session.
To set up a higher frequency training plan you could do this a number of ways, but it all comes back to splitting up your current volume over the week into different types of day, for example instead of 2 upper and 2 lower you may well do 3 full body days.
What we tend to find with the clients we work with is that everyone has slightly different demands in their lifestyle and current training which lend to either higher or lower frequency training. However, we would tend to give at least 2 days for each movement pattern (squat, hinge, push, pull, lunge, brace/carry). Whilst some people can train every day, others can only fit in 3 sessions around a busy work and home life. The main thing is figuring out how many hours per week you can realistically commit to training as well as what your priorities are and going from there.
For example, you might only be able to train 3 times per week on alternating days, but you are desperate for bigger legs. Well, legs will take a priority and get trained on each of those days, with upper body perhaps only being on days 1 and 2.
Take away points:
Frequency is personal and depends on how much time you can commit to training.
Frequency is individual, where one person may find higher frequency works for them another may not get great results from it.
Both can work and both are worth doing at various stages of your training.
Higher frequency has the advantage of more opportunities to stimulate muscle growth and practice movement.
Lower frequency has the advantage of sessions that are more focused on one area.
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