• High Vs Low Frequency Training


      by Tim Henriques T-Nation

      We lifters love to analyze and debate our beloved hobby. Sadly, some seem to enjoy the debating part more than actual lifting, often to the detriment of their physique development.

      One of the hottest topics for online discussion is optimal training frequency, and whether such a beast even exists. This article will offer the pros and cons of high and low frequency training, and will suggest when each might be useful in your training. It should be a dandy (one-sided) debate, so get your popcorn ready.

      First, let's define terms:

      High Frequency: Training a specific movement or exercise three or more times per week.
      Low frequency: Training a specific movement or exercise once a week or less.


      Pros and Cons of High Frequency Training


      High frequency training, if programmed properly, will deliver faster results than low frequency training. Strength coach John Broz pointed this out with an interesting (if disturbing) hypothetical:

      "If your family was kidnapped and you had one month to put 100 pounds on your squat, would you squat just once a week?"

      But does that argument still hold water when searching for a sustainable system to follow for months or years or even decades?

      Here's a complete list of the pros and cons of high frequency training:

      Pros
      Delivers faster/better results.

      Builds neuromuscular coordination. Strength and performance are highly neural in nature; being able to practice these movements more frequently is beneficial.

      More practice is usually better. Think of the guideline that mastery takes 10,000 hours – you'll build that up faster with higher frequency training. At the end of the year I like to simply look at how thick my training log is; how many pages is it (each session is a page). The thicker the log, the more likely I was making progress.

      High frequency allows one to build significant work capacity in that exercise. Work capacity follows the principle of specificity – you can get good at one thing while not being great at something else.

      When I'm specializing in the bench press, I might do 50+ reps at 85% or more over a week – my work capacity in that exercise is great.

      But that doesn't mean if I suddenly switched to a bodybuilding style, '20 sets for chest with minimal rest' workout that I would rock it out. If I were peaking for a bench press competition that type of workout would destroy me.

      Allows for more practice with heavy weight. You have more time to rehearse your set up, focus on your cues, and simply get prepared to lift the weight and perform the exercise.

      The body gets used to lifting heavy frequently, at least on certain exercises. The first few weeks are often rough – and that's when most people quit – but after that initial period, the body adapts and almost seems to crave going heavy on a regular basis.

      It works. My best gains in the bench press were on high frequency programs. Also, the success of Sheiko style, Smolov, and Olympic lifting routines are enough to warrant a serious look at high frequency training.

      High frequency training seems to work well with female trainees or smaller, lighter lifters. I suspect it's because their smaller frames experience less damage – even if the relative intensity is the same for a larger lifter – and thus are able to recover faster.

      Lifts that seem to respond favorably to high frequency:

      Olympic lifts
      Bench press
      Overhead press
      High-bar squats
      Bodyweight exercises
      Sport-specific movements
      Abs/core work
      Forearms
      Calves
      Note: I have not had good success training both the bench press and the overhead press with high frequency simultaneously.

      Cons
      Higher rate of injury. When you're training heavy and hard on a regular basis, your chance of injury is higher. In the earlier example (adding 100 pounds to your max squat to save your family), you'll either adapt and get strong or you'll simply fall apart, resulting in a terrible squat by month end. Injury risk increases with exposure – more frequent exposures means a greater chance of injury.

      If you have any compensations or preexisting injuries, high frequency training can be a rough ride. If your squat form is just so-so and you decide to start squatting hard three times a week your knees and lower back could pay the price. Remember, squats aren't bad for the knees, but lousy squats might be bad for your knees.

      High frequency programs are harder to program. I find this to be particularly true when programming for the masses – some lifters seem to make great gains, others struggle to move along. The progress with lower frequency programs is much more consistent.

      It's harder to peak and/or taper on high frequency routines. When the body is used to going heavy all the time, taking even a couple days off might mess with you. On the flip side, if you just keep lifting heavy until the max day, you might show up fatigued and leave a few pounds on the platform.

      Once the body is used to higher frequency, you can feel a little lost when you get off that program. You can't stay on an intense high frequency program forever (due to injury or burn out), but after you scale back there's often a period that feels like nothing is working and your strength drops significantly.

      Strength levels seem to fluctuate more on high frequency programs. The good news is that if you peak right you can be really strong when it's max-out time, but there will also be periods where your strength is lower than normal or well off your max.

      With high frequency training, gym maxes are similar to competition maxes. Don't expect a big increase just because it's a meet – the body gets used to doing 95-98% regularly, but don't fool yourself into thinking that on meet day you'll suddenly have another 10% in available strength.

      It can be hard to focus on muscular balance and work on weak points. If you're benching all the time, you should in theory be performing a ton of pulling movements.

      But if most of the session is devoted to benching, you won't have enough time to do all the necessary pulling exercises, unless you happen to live in the gym. One tends to specialize, and that often comes with a tradeoff of undertraining something else.

      High frequency training has a greater rate of burnout. I've seen a good number of fellow gym members that appear to be serious, come in and blast away for a few months, and then suddenly stop showing up for a significant length of time.


      Low Frequency Training


      Low frequency training is often more manageable long term than high frequency training. I could lay out a solid low frequency program and most would be able to follow it (or at least something similar) for a year with ease. Lifting and fitness should be lifetime activities, not just a flash in the pan of high performance.

      Pros
      Easier to build muscular balance. With lower frequency training you have more time to spend on the smaller areas of the body, so rear delts, triceps, etc., can be trained hard to meet proper strength/size ratios.

      Low frequency training has less risk of injury. It's not a promise you won't get hurt, but the chance is reduced due to less frequent exposures and because the trainee is likely better balanced.

      Lower frequency programs are generally easier to peak and/or taper. Give me a week or two and I can guarantee you'll be 100% ready to lift without feeling stale or fatigued.

      It's easier to predict the rate of adaptation. Most people make a certain level of progress with low frequency training. That progress might be a bit slower than what they could achieve training with higher frequency, but it's usually consistent.

      It's helpful, especially when programming for the masses, if I know that in X number of weeks the lifter should be able to perform Y number of reps on an exercise.

      Strength levels seem to be more consistent with low frequency training. I once set up a graph and plotted my toughest set on the bench press each week while on low frequency training. I was amazed at how static my strength was for an entire year – I'd always be within 10 pounds of my max, often within 5 pounds or less. That's nice for the athlete that wants consistent performance.

      Low frequency workouts tend to take less time. This isn't a promise and it won't be true if you train all the smaller areas with higher volume, but if you just focus on the big stuff the total time per week will be shorter.

      Low frequency training promotes recovery. This is particularly valuable for lifters that are older, larger, stronger, and/or have injuries to work around. I don't know too many super heavy weight powerlifters that follow high frequency training.

      Lifters seem to experience less burnout and are more consistent with low frequency training. One of the hallmarks of some of the better-known lower frequency lifters isn't just how strong they were, it was their longevity in the game.

      Today, you just don't see lifters winning five or ten national championships in a row that often anymore. It could be for a variety of reasons, but I believe higher frequency training is partly to blame.

      Lower to medium frequency does a better job of building muscle, particularly when total body growth is the goal, which helps explain why this system is popular with bodybuilders.

      Lifts that seem to respond favorably to low frequency:

      Low bar squat
      Deadlift
      Good mornings
      Most lat exercises
      Biceps exercises
      Cons
      Limited practice time. If you're performing a lift once a week or less, there's limited time to work on or refine your technique. This might be okay if your technique is already solid, but if it needs work you might not be receiving enough of a stimulus.

      As mentioned, the limited practice may not build neuromuscular coordination effectively. Imagine trying to learn a skill and the coach said, "Okay, practice that ten times today and then we're done for the week." Lifting weights is a skill that requires repetition.

      Low frequency training may not provide maximal short-term results. Lifters want to see results and they want to see them fast, so this is a significant negative.

      Low frequency training may not allow the lifter enough time to work on weak points, either muscular or as part of a specific movement.


      Summary


      I love me a good training argument, and you'd be hard pressed to find one more spirited than low frequency versus high frequency training. The fact is, however, that progress can be made with either approach.

      Therefore, the ideal setup – if that even exists – would be a combination of both types of programs throughout the training life cycle.

      The only question is, which will you do next?

      Source: http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=5368719
      Comments 14 Comments
      1. Slader1@gmail's Avatar
        Slader1@gmail -
        This article is a crock of ****. The author almost immediately claims high "frequency" training to yield the quickest results. Where's the evidence? The one strength coach I've never heard of? This might be true if you're juiced up whore. However, nearly every study ever conducted on the subject has determined that less is more; "low frequency", not as the author mistakenly defines it, at about 1 set per exercise for 3-5 excersises per week is optimal for 3 standard deviations around the mean individual(over 99% of the population). This type of program has the most profound effect on muscular, metabolic, and hormonal systems. Many research based programs support this frequency, like BodyByScience and Occam's Protocal. But if this concept is too difficult for you meatheads to comprehend, than by all means, continue you're bro-science methods of augmenting a few pounds of muscle per year.
      1. biscuits's Avatar
        biscuits -
        Originally Posted by Slader1@gmail View Post
        This article is a crock of ****. The author almost immediately claims high "frequency" training to yield the quickest results. Where's the evidence? The one strength coach I've never heard of? This might be true if you're juiced up whore. However, nearly every study ever conducted on the subject has determined that less is more; "low frequency", not as the author mistakenly defines it, at about 1 set per exercise for 3-5 excersises per week is optimal for 3 standard deviations around the mean individual(over 99% of the population). This type of program has the most profound effect on muscular, metabolic, and hormonal systems. Many research based programs support this frequency, like BodyByScience and Occam's Protocal. But if this concept is too difficult for you meatheads to comprehend, than by all means, continue you're bro-science methods of augmenting a few pounds of muscle per year.
        Everyone is different. You do low frequency with oly lifts and see how good your technique is.
        It really depends on your goals, because people have progressed well on both
      1. chefshields's Avatar
        chefshields -
        Originally Posted by Slader1@gmail View Post
        This article is a crock of ****. The author almost immediately claims high "frequency" training to yield the quickest results. Where's the evidence? The one strength coach I've never heard of? This might be true if you're juiced up whore. However, nearly every study ever conducted on the subject has determined that less is more; "low frequency", not as the author mistakenly defines it, at about 1 set per exercise for 3-5 excersises per week is optimal for 3 standard deviations around the mean individual(over 99% of the population). This type of program has the most profound effect on muscular, metabolic, and hormonal systems. Many research based programs support this frequency, like BodyByScience and Occam's Protocal. But if this concept is too difficult for you meatheads to comprehend, than by all means, continue you're bro-science methods of augmenting a few pounds of muscle per year.
        Agreed. It can actually take from 5 to 7 days for your muscles to fully recover. The latter for heavier compound lifts like squats and deads. Doing heavy squats and deads more than once per week is a quick road to injury and burnout. Even working a different muscle group the next day can slow down recovery. Lifting every other day is optimal. Your muscles grow from recovery, not beating the sh*t out of them.
      1. Tomahawk88's Avatar
        Tomahawk88 -
        I am thinking he is referring to something like Starting Strength or Strong Lifts when he refers to high frequency training in this article.
      1. Vengeance187's Avatar
        Vengeance187 -
        Originally Posted by Slader1@gmail View Post
        at about 1 set per exercise for 3-5 excersises per week
        Wrong. Research supports multiple sets per exercise as being superior to 1. That volume is way too low; unless you're an on call ER doctor that gets 3-4 hours of sleep a night.
        like BodyByScience
        I just looked this up and it seems like a joke. The tag line is "A research based program to get the results you want in 12 minutes a week!". I'm just going to go ahead and say FAIL on that one. There's no way anyone will gain any appreciable amount of muscle training that way. From an Amazon reviewer: "If you look up pictures of John Little and most of his clients, you'll mostly find a group of fairly average looking men with very few impressive physical specimens. You'd be hard pressed to tell if some of them work out at all, and I think most people at least want noticable gains from their gym experience."
      1. Wrivest's Avatar
        Wrivest -
        Reading the above debate cracks me up! All you morons that quote "research states this, and research states that" are full of sh*t!! Anybody can say they research something, but the only real way of knowing is by trying and doing different things. And of course you need to watch your form and intensity until you find what's comfortable and beneficial for you! Both methods work great, depending on your own preference and body type, plus if you are lifting for size or athleticism.
        The only true statement is: Lifting and staying active works! Do it carefully and in a way your body responds best, high or low frequency!
      1. live4life's Avatar
        live4life -
        I agree with Wrivest on that statement. I would like to add something to support low frequency training... I found working out to "failure" absolutely beneficial for myself (2 days rest in between workout days). Evey time I do this, I am met with phenominal gains. Although I have to admit, you can't do this allthe time. You will burn out.
      1. Vengeance187's Avatar
        Vengeance187 -
        Originally Posted by live4life View Post
        I would like to add something to support low frequency training... I found working out to "failure" absolutely beneficial for myself (2 days rest in between workout days). Evey time I do this, I am met with phenominal gains. Although I have to admit, you can't do this allthe time. You will burn out.
        I train low frequency. It's better for muscle gains. Low frequency doesn't mean low number of workouts/workout days. I train 5 days a week, an hour per session. Frequency is the number of times you specify a body part in a week, not the number of total days/hours you train.
        Originally Posted by Wrivest View Post
        Reading the above debate cracks me up! All you morons that quote "research states this, and research states that" are full of sh*t!!
        You're right, science is wrong...if today is opposite day. You have no idea what you're talking about.
        The only true statement is: Lifting and staying active works!
        Another false statement. Exercise alone doesn't work. Almost anything will work for a noob, but even noob gains can't make up for improper diet. Even with proper diet, just going through the motions will eventually get you nowhere. Proper diet and training are essential to continued progress. Just "lifting and staying active" are not enough, unless you don't care about looking the same year after year.
      1. live4life's Avatar
        live4life -
        Thank you Vengeance187... I know what frequency is and yes, just about any kind of exercise will work for a noob. I'm with you on the low frequency. It's what works best for me! Usually I train high frequency when I cut up(along with HIT). IMO, it's where I see the best results for myself(not forgetting about proper diet of course; it is essential). All in all, everyone reacts differently to individual exercises. And you just have to figure out what works best for you in the years to come...
      1. bioman's Avatar
        bioman -
        Lol at opposite day. Yes, science is bad.

        Having trained on both sides of the frequency spectrum, I think there is truth to this article for sure..at least looking at the very big picture. One can argue over all the minutiae forever, but I used to train hard 4 days a week and got my gains and got where I wanted to be. Life, career etc have now forced me to go with very low frequency training and I was initially terrified of losing my gains and watching my physique whither away in the absence of a gym, ideal food, etc, but I am maintaining on both size and strength. If I opted to, I could push harder on my one workout a week and probably see at least strength gains but my overall goal is simply to maintain and NOT injure myself until this contract I am working on is over. Then I can go crazy in the gym again.
      1. Wrivest's Avatar
        Wrivest -
        Obviously nutrition is a huge part of ones daily regiment, but this article is not about that, it's about workout frequency! My point was that neither one (high or low) can be considered king, no matter what you may like! I personally use both methods, and change things up to keep my muscles guessing, it's called avoiding plateaus! But you can keep lifting with the same game plan every day, and tell me how much your numbers increase!
      1. live4life's Avatar
        live4life -
        True that!
      1. Vengeance187's Avatar
        Vengeance187 -
        Originally Posted by Wrivest View Post
        personally use both methods, and change things up to keep my muscles guessing, it's called avoiding plateaus!
        lol Muscle confusion is a crock.
        I always keep frequency the same and just change intensity/volume for strength or hypertrophy.
      1. Gerbil's Avatar
        Gerbil -
        I personally prefer high frequency because I see good gains from it assuming I am paying attention to my diet and without going to the gym 7+ times a week I get really bored. 6 times weight training and cardio 2-6 times a week.

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