By Todd Bumgardner, MS, CSCS ProSource
We, as lifters, have a knack for making things too complicated. Well enough is never let alone and a deadlift can't simply be a deadlift. It must be transformed into something magical and loaded in such a way that the neuromuscular system is flabbergasted. All of this, in reality, is poppycock.
The truth is the body wants to adapt. No matter what we posit, training is based on the body's ability to adapt and survive. Makes a person think, doesn't it? Especially about training based on huge variations in loading and whether or not it's necessary for muscular hypertrophy. It isn't. High-frequency and consistency are the two pillars of big hypertrophy gains.
We'll start the discussion off with a brief, working definition of high-frequency training. For our simple purpose, let's define high-frequency training as training every day with submaximal effort. See, it's simple—train every day while limiting the use of maximal efforts and maximal loads.
Why It Works
Most hypertrophy discussions begin with talk about chemical signaling and the body's response to muscle damage. Strangely enough, most of the folks that raise these discussions look more like atrophy specialists than lifters. Again, food for thought.
Rather than posit a discussion on chemical signaling and hormones that are known only by letters and numbers, we'll keep it simple. High-frequency training works because the neuromuscular system is frequently stimulated. Seriously, it's that simple. Mechanical tension at a submaximal level causes the nervous system to respond to meet the demands of the given tasks in terms of volume, intensity, etc. We're back to adaptation and survival. The body wants the task to be easy in an effort to conserve energy. To meet that end, muscles grow and become stronger.
In this format, training stress accrues over time due to the continual use of submaximal loads. At the end of a training phase we'll "push into the red" and tax the body with close to maximal loads and efforts. A de-loading period of a week or two follows after.
How We'll Use It
On top of training every day, we'll also choose two exercises to train during every resistance training session. The continual use of these two exercises adds to the positive training stress accrual, offers mechanical tension for hypertrophy, and builds skill in the given movements. Choose from variations of the four big exercises: squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press.
When making your selections, keep the following few tips in mind:
Choose movements that you recover well from. Personally, I choose overhead press and deadlift variations because squat and bench press variations take too great of a toll on my body.
Keep the volume on these lifts low. Three to five sets of two to five reps suits our purpose well.
Keep the intensity on these lifts down. These lifts are a glorified ending to the warm-up—an effort to ramp-up the central nervous system. Loads between fifty and sixty percent of your one rep max are perfect.
Think about your weaknesses or what body parts you'd like to hypertrophy. After you've considered the first three points, your hypertrophy goals will dictate your high-frequency exercise selection.
These high-frequency exercises are used during the four resistance training sessions per week. Each session is focused on a given compound exercise. (The four mentioned above).
Rep schemes are low. Main exercises will use between three and five reps, while assistance work sets will use no greater than eight reps. We'll accrue stress by building volume in these rep ranges. Keep in mind that these exercises are not to be done at close to maximal effort—there should always be a few reps left in the tank at the end of each set.
To keep the nervous system ramped-up, and to stick to our high-frequency regimen, off-days are filled with neural charge training sessions. These brief sessions promote recovery and prepare the body to adapt to new training stimuli. If you need to brush up on neural charge training, check out this article.
Plan your high-frequency hypertrophy training in twelve week blocks. Twelve weeks offer the perfect amount of time for stress accrual, adaptation and super-compensation. Of course, you'll super-compensate from week to week (sometimes intra-weekly) but in the grand scheme of the mass game a long cycle works well.
The twelve-week cycle consists of three smaller four-week cycles. During those four weeks, build volume and intensity during the first three weeks and de-load on the fourth by cutting volume. You'll do well to keep the intensity constant (or even increase it) on week four. The volume cut promotes recovery and the constant intensity keeps the nervous system prepared for future training.
Before we move on, we have to make a quick backtrack to our two high-frequency training selections and how to plan them for twelve weeks. It's simple; you have two options.
Option one consists of keeping the same two exercises for twelve weeks and manipulating their volume and intensity of loading. If you're prone to over-use issues, however, this isn't the option for you.
If over-use is an issue, you'd suit yourself well to rotate exercise variations every four weeks. As an example, let's say that you've chosen the deadlift and the overhead press as your two high-frequency exercises. If that is the case, then you've chosen wisely.
Rather than using conventional deadlifts and the strict overhead press for the entire twelve weeks, you'll choose a similar variation for each that changes after each week for de-load. Here's an example:
Month 1: Conventional Deadlift and Strict Overhead Press
Month 2: Rack Pull and Seated Overhead Pin Press
Month 3: Snatch Grip Deadlift and 1 Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press
By rotating exercises you stay ahead of the overuse and overtraining curve, if you're apt to fall victim to either. Keeping the exercises relatively specific to two patterns allows for a strong nervous system adaptation along with our bigger purpose, improved hypertrophy.
A Sample Day
Before I cut you loose to give high-frequency hypertrophy training a go, take a look at a sample day from a twelve week high-frequency cycle. For our example, we'll use a deadlift day.
This article is postulated in contrast to conventional hypertrophy training wisdom. Most conjecture that continual, heavy muscle damage is necessary for dramatic gains in musculature hypertrophy. Once again, I'll dare say poppycock.
In reality, hypertrophy training is a long haul. No matter what you hear, four to six weeks won't cut it. Keep consistent with high-frequency training schedules cycle after cycle and you'll build the size and strength you're after.