When looking to make big leaps forward in progress, I feel an area we must look at, is training frequency.
This is often an under utilized tool in the modern bodybuilders arsenal in the battle to attain freakish levels of muscle mass.
A typical bodybuilder split, is training one body part per day, with a total volume on average, of around 16-25 working sets. This often breaks down to 4-5 exercise of 4-5 sets. Although this unquestionably can illicit superb results, this is often down to the trainee and not the training itself. A hardcore trainer will make progress regardless of the approach! However, when looking for the most efficient route to gaining muscle and fully maximizing growth potential, it’s likely that only training a body part once a week is limiting the individuals ability.
A recent survey by Dr Brad Schoenfeld, analysed the number of times a week a 128 bodybuilders trained a bodypart. Of the total number questioned 2/3 trained with a split routine and none a higher frequency than twice a week (1) This is surprising, as bodybuilders often use training frequency to bring up a lagging bodypart, but the notion of increasing overall size in this manner is totally overlooked.
Perhaps we should view all body parts as a weakness and then see what happens to growth?!
Following a resistance session, muscle protein synthesis rapidly increases within the first 4 hours and at 24 hours is elevated by 104 percent. At 36 hours it has returned to near baseline (2). In certain trainees, it could even be the case that protein synthesis returns to baseline within 24 hours(3). This is referred to as the ‘Repeated Bout Effect’ and is more commonly displayed in advanced trainees. The idea underpinning this is that the body adapts even faster to exercise stimulus and therefore the recovery period is shortened (4). So what does this mean for a trainee looking to grow as fast as possible?
The adaptations from training have fully ceased at 48 hours post session. Therefore does it make sense to wait a full week to train a body part again?
Let’s look at this scenario : two identical twins , with the same reactions to training undergo a training plan. Twin 1 , trains legs once per week. Twin 2, trains them Monday, Wednesday , Friday , waiting 48 hours between each session. Over the course of a year , twin 1 has given himself 52 chances to grow, twin two has given himself 106 chances to grow, provided at each session there has been adequate steps taken to maximise recovery (correct training volume, accurate nutrition , sleep, hydration) , it’s obvious who will end the year with bigger legs.
Recent work by Shoenfeld et all, compared the rates of improvements in trained Individuals, training bodyparts 1 time per week to 3 times per week. The total volume between the study groups was equated, so overall work for each across the week was the same. The group training bodyparts 3 times per week saw greater improvements in muscle mass over the study period. (5)
So do we ignore common practise or would it be advantageous to listen to the science? In my opinion we need to find a common ground between acknowledging the evidence we have (increased frequency works) but also ensuring the trainee isn’t left feeling frustrated with a huge shift in training approach. Dante Trudel, the creator of DC training , often commented on how hard it was, to shift advanced trainees away from their current approach to increased frequency, but those that are able to make the adjustment always made huge leaps forward. SO, being open minded is the ultimate key to progression. Avoid being married to any one strategy , as a lack of flexibility in a trainees approach will see them stalling quickly in the pursuit of freaky size.
Training frequency can’t be fully understood without laying mention to training volume. The next article will look at strategies for adjusting volume to allow for optimal recovery at higher frequency training.
2. MacDougall JD, “The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise” 1995 , Can J Appl Physiol
3. Chesley A, et al “Changes in human muscle protein synthesis after resistance” 1992. J Appl Physiol
4. McHugh MP. 2003 “Recent advances in the understanding of the repeated bout effect: the protective effect against muscle damage from a single bout of eccentric exercise”
Scand J Med Sci Sports. .
5. Schoenfeld et al. “Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research