In the last article, we talked about the importance of being honest with yourself by first picking the number of workout days that will ALWAYS work with your schedule. And for most guys, this will be somewhere between 2 and 4 days per week. This will leave you with at least 2 days for unexpected life surprises and another day or 2 to kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. But what if you want more? What if you crave that high frequency training for strength and mass?
If you aren’t sure what high frequency training is, let’s make it really simple. For our purpose, high frequency training is training a muscle more than 1x per week.
Many trainers who subscribe to high frequency training can train the same body part up to 5 or 6 times per week. Blasphemous? One way road to over-training city? Most likely not—read on.
To get the most out of your high frequency training, there are 3 important rules to follow:
- Train Frequently
- Do Just Enough Work
- Do 1 & 2 Intelligently
Let the games begin.
1. Train Frequently
For most guys, training high-frequency means 5-7 days per week.
This is a proven and tested method to gaining muscle mass, building strength, and transforming physiques.
Is it better than 3 or 4 days? Maybe. Maybe not.
But it’ll work really well either way.
Witchcraft you say? Blasphemy even? You say the God’s of Over-Training shall smite thee?
Enter the Norwegians.
Wait what? Norwegians? Yes, pay attention.
There was a famous experiment known as the Norwegian Frequency Project which tested a high frequency method on a Norwegian powerlifting team because a crazy, new German Coach (Dietmar Wolf) thought it optimal. Germans…crazy bunch.
One of the best parts of this experiment is that it was performed on experienced lifters.
Newbie’s can show improvements doing just about anything, but experienced lifters aren’t as responsive as they’ve been in the trenches for a while—inching closer to their genetic potential.
If the results are statistically significantly, it becomes important.
Long story short, 16 Norwegian powerlifters switched form 3 workouts per week (squat, bench, deadlifts) to 6 workouts per week. The amount of work was the exact same, only spread out across 6 days.
The result? The 6 day group was stronger and more muscular after the experiment. Some lifts even saw double the benefits.
The only exercise that didn’t show a huge benefit with increased frequency was deadlift. Weird.
*My theory is that the deadlift is a neurally demanding exercise requiring significant muscular contribution from large muscle groups (glutes, back, hamstrings, quads, erectors), and thus may be better suited for lower frequencies. But I’m no scientists and you could easily object to my crazy conjectures.
Either way, the Norwegian Frequency Project has ignited the training community (especially the powerlifting community). It appears that more days per week can be better for some lifters.
Give it a shot and see how you feel. Personally, I respond really well to high frequency. Lifestyle-wise, my schedule can’t sustain it long-term. Such is life.
2. Do Just Enough Work
Working out 6 or 7 days each week is great, but you’ll have to do enough work, and you’ll need to work intelligently.
So how much work is enough work?
Normal Joe Fit’s Safe Recommendations for Weekly Work:
- Perform 10-15 sets for large body parts/5-8 sets for smaller body parts.
- Select a goal and intensity.
- Perform 2-4 sets per exercise.
*The end of this article will have information regarding rep and set selection.
In general, most guys won’t have any issues going in the gym and doing “enough” work when lifting 6 or 7 days per week.
In fact, it’s most likely the opposite. I’ve had to convince my trainees to back off more often than not.
When you lift more frequently, you are taking the same amount of work you might be doing in three or four days and spreading it over of five, six, or seven days—not doubling your work.
Why would I want to do this?
Benefit 1: More opportunities for growth
We aren’t going to use rocket science here or recite a bunch of research on frequency (it’s in its infancy anyway).
Instead, there are much smarter people than myself (Paul Carter, Menno Henselmans MSc, Brad Schoenfeld PhD, Borge Fagerli) who think working a body part multiple times per week might be better for building muscle.
The basic premise is training a muscle three or four times each week may provide more growth opportunities than training a muscle once per week.
If you are going to do 12 sets for chest this week, spreading those sets over 3 or 4 days may be better than 1 day of 12 sets.
Why not 1 day x 12 sets? Diminishing returns.
The more sets you do per body part per day, the more likely your returns will diminish (time + effort). This is especially true for new lifters.
For example, if you’re going to crush 3-4 sets of bench press on Monday, a ton of additional bench press sets may not be that much better.
More work doesn’t always mean more gains; at least when we are talking the same workout and/or exercise.
You can only breakdown your muscle so much before it doesn’t require any further stimulus.
Benefit 2: Your joints will thank you
If you’ve lifted weights for any extended period of time, you’d met the occasional achy elbow, shoulder, wrist, hip, or knee.
Joints can be a major buzzkill.
And if you’re no spring chicken, you really know what I’m talking about. When I hit 30, everything starting breaking and I had to revise strategies quick.
Spreading out the volume over the week is a great strategy to lower the intensity of each workout on your joints. I call this the “work truck theory”.
If you’ve ever owned a truck, you’d know that hauling heavy loads constantly will decrease the life of your truck. I don’t care what you say Sam Elliot and your amazing, gravely Dodge truck commercial voice. It happens.
And so, why stress your struts (knees, elbows, hips, and shoulders) maximally all in one day when you can spread out the workload throughout the week. Live to see another week, and a week after that.
Benefit 3: Effort
I personally find that I give a bit more effort when I have something left in the tank. In the case of higher frequency training, the number of exercises per day will typically drop, leaving more gas in the tank for each exercise.
When you go from doing 6 to 8 exercises per day to 3 to 4, your effort for each individual exercise may be better over the course of the week. This is highly individual, however.
I know guys who are bouncing off the walls after 8 exercises and other guys who are dead after 4.
The good news is, you’ve got options my friend. Any number of days per week of exercise can work wonders.
3. Do 1 & 2 Intelligently.
You Can Train Often, Heavy, And With A Lot Reps or Sets—But Not All Three.
Point 3 is all about spreading the reps and sets throughout the week. There is no “best way”, but there is a smart way.
To steal a lesson from the great Paul Carter (one of my favorite trainers), there are 3 training variables to consider (volume, intensity, frequency) and you should only increase 2 at a time.
This advice has been some of the best advice I’ve received.
In other words, there are 3 primary considerations: The number of reps and sets you lift each week (volume), how heavy you lift (intensity), and the number of days you lift (frequency).
Help Us Out Winston…
If you are going to lift frequently (e.g., 5 to 7 days per week), you should probably either lift lighter or do less work (reps & sets).
The reason is simple: fatigue.
If you are hitting the gym 6 days per week, AND lifting really heavy weights, AND doing a lot of reps and sets—you are going to burn out quick.
Remember those days when you were in high school and you healed like T1000 Terminator (I just aged myself), but two-a-days still kicked your butt?
Well, you were as perfect biologically as you were every going to be; and you were still exhausted.
The human body is built to withstand a lot of challenge, but there is a tipping point. And while I’m not here to lecture you on “over-training”, your mind will probably break you before any over-training occurs.
You’ll be less motivated to train after a few weeks. You may not sleep as well. You’ll be more agitated. And many of your workouts will feel like climbing up a quicksand mountain.
Key Take Away: Sets and reps, workouts per week, and weight lifted—increase two and decrease one.
Lastly, Can I Do All My Sets For A Body Part On One Day Each Week?
Without a doubt. It’ll work great and I don’t need any fancy to research article to prove it. Millions of guys all over the world have done bro-splits (one or two body parts each day x 1 per week) with phenomenal success and bodies to show for it.
This approach has been implemented for decades now and it’s still getting results. But there is a new breed of researcher (scientist & gym rat) that have begun to emerge and they are singing a different tune—one of higher frequency (the same body part being worked multiple times each week).
The choice is yours.
And now, bring us home Abe.
Reader’s note: One of my favorite researchers on high frequency training is a gentleman with a gnarly beard, Menno Henselmans. He’s a super brilliant guy that you should follow. Follow his partner in crime Borge Fagerli too.