High Frequency Training for a Bigger Total: Research on highly trained Norwegian powerlifters

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit
Share on email
Share on pocket
Share on whatsapp

[note: edits were made and figures were removed on 2-26-2014 at the request of the orignal study’s authors]

Hey guys.  Today we have a guest post from my friend Martijn Koevoets.  He’s one the top powerlifters in his weight class in the Netherlands, and through some of his connections in the European powerlifting world, he got his hands on a really awesome study that hasn’t gotten much press yet, but which has obvious applications for most peoples’ training.

How would you like to double the effectiveness of your current training plan?  No gimmicks, no extra work – just improved results. I know it sounds like a ridiculous headline from one of the popular fitness magazines. But it’s not. It’s the result of a Norwegian powerlifting experiment by Raastad et al[1]. In this experiment, the researchers compared two groups of competitive powerlifters. The only thing that was different was their training frequency.

What makes you so different?

Right now, you are probably on either a full-body routine for three days a week, on a four day per week upper/lower split where you train the squat, bench, and deadlift twice per week, or you’re using a split where you train each major lift once per week. And why wouldn’t you? These programs have been giving powerlifters excellent results for decades. However, it is common for elite Olympic weightlifters to train a particular lift up to six times a week, sometimes even multiple times a day. As you might know, Olympic weightlifting training methodologies are deeply influenced by the methods used by the eastern European countries in the ’60s to ’90s.  These countries have developed an understanding of how to train for maximal strength that will transfer to Olympic weightlifting.

I’m sure you have heard about the Bulgarian method and the fact they ruthlessly dominated the sport of Olympic lifting for more than two decades. How about the impact that the old Russian Olympic weightlifting manuals have on modern day powerlifting?

Sure, Olympic lifting is not powerlifting: Weights are heavier and harder to recover from. But I think powerlifting has more in common with Olympic lifting than it may appear at first – and certainly more than it has with bodybuilding, for instance. So, in light of similarities between the sports, should powerlifters train more like weightlifters?

The answer is hiding in Norway.

The Norwegian experiment

Just like you, for years, most Norwegian powerlifters were training three days a week. And, just like you, they were training each big lift (squat, bench press, deadlift) one or two times per week. But around the year 2000, something surprising happened: A German native and former Olympic weightlifter and weightlifting coach was appointed as the new national powerlifting coach – Dietmar Wolf. He used his knowledge and experience from his days as a member of the Western German national Olympic weightlifting team and started to incorporate training methodologies that closely resembled his weightlifting background, although he made sure to make the necessary adjustments to match the demands of powerlifting.

To determine whether high frequency training worked better than the typical three-day program, the Norwegian school of sport sciences decided to do a formal experiment.

Participants in the study had all trained continuously for competitive powerlifting for at least one year.  On top of that, they all competed in national Norwegian IPF affiliate powerlifting competitions within the last six months before the start of this experiment – so we’re not dealing with brand new lifters, but rather people with at least a fair amount of training and competition experience.

The experiment group consisted of 16 competitive powerlifters between 18 and 25 years old, squatting between 125kg and 205kg (275-451lbs), bench pressing  between 85kg to 165kg (187-364lbs), and deadlifting between 155kg and 245kg (342-540 lbs).

There were 13 male and 3 female lifters in this group.

This is a group of experienced lifters, so results probably generalize better to readers of this blog than most training studies do – that’s what makes this so exciting!

Let’s take a look at was done in this experiment.

The results

All lifters were put on the same 15-week program (same exercise selection, volume, and intensity) before reviewing the results by maxing out in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. All maxing was done without powerlifting suits.

The only difference between these two groups was their training frequency:

  • The first group trained a classic three times a week.
  • The second group had six smaller training sessions a week.

Everything else was the exactly the same:

  • exact same routine
  • exact same exercises
  • exact same total volume and intensity

This means that the 3/week group needed to do twice as many sets as the 6/week group in each session.

And these are the stunning results after 15 weeks:

  • The increase in the squat was 11±6% in the 6/week group vs. 5±3% in the 3/week group
  • Bench press increased 11±4% in the 6/week group vs. 6±3% in the 3/week group
  • In the deadlift, there was no significant difference when compared in both groups (9±6% vs. 4±6%)

This means that total weight lifted in all three lifts increased about an average of 10% in the 6/week group, as opposed to 5% in the 3/week group. I told you this wasn’t like the many headlines of fitness magazines; these are real results. In addition to looking at the changes in 1RM of each of the lifts, the researchers also looked for increases in muscle mass of the vastus lateralis and the quadriceps as a whole. The average increase in the 6/week group was almost 10% in the vastus lateralis and nearly 5% in the quadriceps as a whole. In just 12 weeks, that is great progress. The 3/week group did not make significant increases in muscle mass.

So the 6/week group got bigger AND stronger, compared to the lower frequency group! I will try to do my best to explain these results in a minute, but first I want to point out that it’s important that when training high frequency, you cannot max out out every time you hit the gym. The Norwegians recognized this, so with the new routines, both the training frequency and the total training volume were dramatically increased, but intensity was reduced. In this experiment, the average intensity was 72% to 74% of 1RM for squat, bench, and deadlift.

You probably can do 10 to 12 reps with that weight, but in this experiment, reps were between 3 and 8 for the big lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift), so the only time the lifters were grinding lifts were when they were going for new PRs at the end of the program.

Let’s review:

  • This study was done on experienced powerlifters.
  • Both groups did the exact same program. The only difference was that one group divided the volume in six sessions instead of three.
  • On average, the high frequency group increased their bench and squat by 11% vs. 5 and 6%.
  • For deadlifting, high or low frequency does not seem to matter much.
  • Their total in the high frequency group increased on average by 10% vs. 5% in the low frequency group.
  • Muscle mass increased more in the high frequency group

These are staggering results. Although the experiment didn’t cover it, let’s try and see if there is any science relating to these results. After that, we will try to put these results into practice.

How is this possible?

We know that weight training triggers protein synthesis and muscle building. Research done by MacDougall et al.[2] and Phillips et al[3]. shows that this peaks in the first 24 hours after training.

So my guess is that by training every 24 hours, you can keep muscle protein synthesis and muscle building peaked. In this way, you probably can build more muscle training six times a week compared to training three times a week. More muscle means more strength potential.

But that’s probably not the only factor.

Another important factor could be that if you can start your squats fresh more often, you can work to improve technique. It is quite hard to perfect technique when in a fatigued state.  And if you’ve ever done a true 1RM attempt, you know that your technique needs to be perfect. Additionally, because you feel fresh more often when you squat, it’s probable you can produce more force on average. There are actually studies done by Häkkinen et al.[4] and Hartman et al.[5] that show improved neuromuscular activation when training more frequently.

What you should do

Today, the best lifters in Norway typical train 5-6 days a week, some even train two times a day. This is in stark contrast to current conventional wisdom and popular powerlifting programs. Admittedly, the Norwegians have only presented these findings at conferences, but haven’t submitted them to peer-reviewed journals, so I don’t have any more information about the program than I have given you in this article.

Since workout volume is important for triggering muscle growth, it would be great to know the total volumes, for instance. But luckily for you, I can give you a few pointers. The typical Norwegian program has you doing some form of squatting and bench pressing every session. Variation mostly comes from switching up your stance, grip, and tempo. Deadlifts can be done about two times a week, alternating conventional and sumo for instance. Sometimes the frequency and volume of the deadlift is increased by adding some variations like block pulls or deficit deadlifts, or you can add some resistance bands. Furthermore, some basic assistance like OH presses and rows are included. Other than that, it’s dependant on individual strengths and weaknesses.

What now?

So there you have it. If you want to be bigger and stronger, you should try to divide your current training program into smaller, but more frequent sessions. It can skyrocket your strength and size. Just make sure to keep your intensity in check.

What do you think? Is this something you would like to try? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Note from Greg:  Keep in mind that these results haven’t been published in peer-reviewed journals (so naturally be a bit skeptical), although the idea of increased frequency improving outcomes echos other authors like Siff, Verkhoshansky, and Zatsiosky.

Also, keep in mind that although the IPF allows the use of gear, this study was done with lifters training raw.

Martijn is a dutch competitive powerlifter, who is in the business of getting people bigger, stronger, and faster. By combining science and practical information, he can help you get results.

If there’s anything at all you’d like to chat with hime about, just shoot him an email at martijn@fortiusfitness.nl or send him a message through his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/fortiusfitness.nl. If can read Dutch, go check out his website at http://www.fortiusfitness.nl


• • •

Next: The Bulgarian Method
The New Approach to Training Volume

[1] Raastad T, Kirketeig, A, Wolf, D, Paulsen G. Powerlifters improved strength and muscular adaptations to a greater extent when equal total training volume was divided into 6 compared to 3 training sessions per week (abstract). Book of abstracts, 17th annual conference of the ECSS, Brugge 4-7 July, 2012.

 

[2] MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Can J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;20(4):480-6

 

[3] Phillips SM, Tipton KD, Aarsland A, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR.  Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul;273(1 Pt 1):E99-107

 

[4] Phillips SM, Tipton KD, Aarsland A, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR.  Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul;273(1 Pt 1):E99-107

 

[5] Hartman MJ, Clark B, Bembens DA, Kilgore JL, Bemben MG.: Comparisons between twice-daily and once-daily training sessions in male weight lifters. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2007 Jun;2(2):159-69.

 

Author:

91 thoughts on “High Frequency Training for a Bigger Total: Research on highly trained Norwegian powerlifters”

  1. That is an absolutely enormous range of 1RM poundages. It would be interesting to see who was distributed where. Clearly the stronger guys have less room to improve and that may have skewed results depending on who ended up where.

    Also, in the real world a 3 day/week program would use a higher average intensity than distributing it across 6 days. Look at how some lifters on the 3 days/week program made either zero progress or lost ground on their maxes. Something is off about this to me.

    1. I agree about the spread of maxes. However, 3 of the participants were women, so I’m guessing that’s where the lower numbers are coming from.

      3 day having higher intensity – typically but not necessarily. Most sheiko programs, when you average out all their work sets, come in between 70-77% intensity for each lift each week. And with the beginner program, that’s bench 3x, squat 2x, and DL 1x per week.

      Unless I’m missing something, one person on 3x/week made minimal progress overall, one made no progress on DL, and one regressed on DL. When you’re dealing with trained athletes and you have to put them all on a “cookie cutter” program for purposes of standardization, that seems perfectly reasonable.

    2. Lyle, the actual programs (or total volumes) would definitely help with further analysis of this study. But i really think high frequency training is something to experiment with as a powerlifter.

  2. As usual, we are thinking along the same lines. I started a program 2 weeks ago that is right along these lines, except I deadlift 3x/wk then do a weightlift variant on the other 3 days and I use lower rep ranges. Cheers!

  3. I’ve trained 3/day @ 30-45 minute sessions 6/wk using Bulgarian Burst programming back in the 90’s with great results. Could we get an example 6/wk template from Martijn Koeveots? Thx.

      1. Martijn, I think many of us would be interested in seeing a 6x/week template. Would you be so kind as to share some insight on how you program this? Thanks in advance.

  4. Dietmar was actually a proponent of 3 day/week lifting originally, but they were inspired by various high-frequency lifters across Europe (both Russians and Bulgarians) and wanted to try it out on their own lifters. Most Norwegian lifters were actually only lifting 3x/week up until 2005-2006 or so.

    It is correct that the average intensity was 72-74%, but they factor in work-up/warm-up sets in these calculations just like in Sheiko. I have seen the actual programs, and it would perhaps look like this on a given day for bench: 50%x5 60%x3x2, 70%x3 80%x4x3 – so the actual work done was 3 sets of 4 with a 6RM load.

  5. What about over-training… I reckon I’d never sleep if I trained 6 times-a-week. 3 times-a-week also prevents bordom and monotony. I look forward to training the next day when it’s a rest day. I like to have time away from the weights…

    1. Overtraining wouldn’t be an issue. Since volume and intensity were the same on a weekly basis, if the overall volume wasn’t too much with 3x/week, it wouldn’t be with 6x. However, obviously psychological considerations are important. Some people like to train more frequently, and others like to have some days off

  6. I wanna try it. Right now I’m doing 5×5. Can I do so I don’t rly know how to split it. Can’t ideas?? Thanks for this interesting text!!

    1. If you’re doing 5×5 per lift once a week, just take that same top weight, and work up to one tp set of 5 for 5 days with each lift. So if it was

      Monday: 5×5 squat

      Wednesday: 5×5 bench

      Friday: 5×5 dead

      Change to

      Monday 1×5 for bench, squat, and dead

      Tuesday 1×5 for bench, squat, and dead

      Wednesday 1×5 for bench, squat, and dead

      Friday 1×5 for bench, squat, and dead

      Saturday 1×5 for bench, squat, and dead

      Not exactly the same, but similar concept

      1. Greg, I agree with your idea on how to break out the volume. I might only use 1-3 reps, for women too. There should be some variation IMO. A wave pattern among the 3 lifts making each day a higher percentage for particular lift on certain days. My example 3/day protocol:

        Mon (SQ/BP DE work, DL ME work)
        SQ-80%x2x3
        BP-80%x3x5 w/chain
        DL-(Reverse Band)

        Tue
        Accessory work based on current weaknesses

        Wed
        SQ-65%x3x3
        BP-65%x3x3
        DL-65%x3x3

        Thur – Off

        Fri (SQ/BP ME work, DL DE work)
        SQ-Work up to a planned heavy single
        BP-Work up to a planned heavy single
        DL-75%x3x3

        Sat
        Accessory work based on current weaknesses

        Sun – Off

  7. I agree the average percentages might have been (70-74%) with warm ups, but we all understand it’s upper end of compensatory acceleration of 77.5-82.5%, or what I like to call them, “The work sets”, that creates the stress on the CNS that most need to recover from on a 3/day/wk programming.. My question is…. is it the reduction of volume and intensity that’s needed to train 6/day/wk? Or just volume? Or just intensity?
    I SQ, BP and DL Mon, Wed, Fri. Mondays and Fridays are my work set programming days (80%x3x5-6 following Prelipins) and Wednesday 65%x3x3 to maintain proprioception. I do my individual weakness supplemental work on off days to tax the parasympathetic system and enhance recovery.

    1. As long as you’re eating and sleeping sufficiently, “CNS burnout” is really more of a boogeyman than a legitimate concern. If you start getting run down, dial back the volume slightly. But with training weights south of 90%, it’s usually not going to be an issue

      1. I have trained 5-6 days a week on and off since 2008. As far as “overtraining”, or the over taxation of the CNS, Bioforce HRV will give you a somewhat accurate reading when it’s time to train again if you think volume and/or intensity is too much.
        The key to producing training effects are the speed in which we move the bar on our work sets only, (not the warm ups), to increase motor unit recruitment or strength. Each individual athlete will have to design programming based on speed of bar movement on each lift on a weekly basis. When speeds improve, increase the work sets weight next week. If the speed decreases, reduce the weight.

  8. I’d love to see a further study with the same volume/intensity but with spread over 12 weekly sessions and with single reps only (other than warmups). Singles has huge skill building properties and enables recruitment of high-threshold type IIb fibers, provided maximal velocity is imparted to the bar, regardless of 1RM percentage.

  9. Greg, I know that’s not the same programming the Norwegians are using, sure wish i could see an example though…. I’ve e-mail Martijn. Thanks.

    1. Volume – how many hard sets or reps you do
      Frequency – how often you train a movement or muscle
      Intensity – the percentage of your 1rm you’re lifting

      Hope that helps!

  10. I came to think about how HF training would do in terms of bodybuilding (mainly hypertrophy related). Due to the protein synthesis and a hypertrophic growth in the study, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how a HF training routine would do compared to a common split routine?

    Ie.we would spread a common split to a fullbody 6 days routine with the volume spread across. Of course, like you mention already in your video about “fullbody vs split” the transition to another style would probably already yield some form of new stimulus but it would interest me nonetheless, if that might even stimulate a higher hypertrophic response. It mustbe mentioned, that it would be pretty time consuming due to many different exercises in a session (often only 2-4 sets of an exercise and because of spreading throughout the week)

    Are you aware of bodybuilders who train fullbody 6 days a week in such a fashion? Further, do you know if there has been made any research on HF only focussing on hypertrophy?

    Cheers,

      1. Thanks man!
        Would be interesting to know which background they’ve had. Believing that it’s more common for BB to do splits, the significant difference could be influenced by aa new training stimulus of simply changing the frequency. Nonetheless, this is where periodization comes into play.

        Thanks again Greg!

  11. Although not completely analogous, the Norwegian “experiment” seems to support (or is supported by…) Dan John’s and Pavel’s “Easy Strength” protocol. Any thoughts?

          1. Ahh, crap. Sorry about that.

            It’s Sheiko-ish with a little more accessory work and variation in the core lifts and generally some form of squat, bench, and DL most training days (as opposed to Sheiko, where squat and DL tend to be separated). Overally volume and intensity are really similar to Sheiko, though.

  12. The six day workout plan is by far the best way to maintain or increase your lifts, I started using the plan my jr year in high school (1973) lower one day upper the next, the gains were remarkable one day I noticed red lines on my butt and upper glues I asked my mom what was going on? She started laughing and said they were stretch marks, pushing 60 now I have found that lifting lower and upper daily work’s better for me now, two lower and two upper lifts with 40 to 50 reps heavy Monday and Tuesday 70% to 75% the rest of the week, anymore than two days off hurts my lifts a bit. I have never considered myself a weightlifter or a bodybuilder I just like staying in shape maintaining a 300 pound bench and a 400 pound squat and deadlift hopefully till age 70.

    1. Do you still think spreading a three day workout over six days with the same total volume and intensity is better for hypertrophy?

        1. Matthew Bradshaw

          Thanks for replying. How could one progress with so little rest? I’m guessing improvements wouldn’t occur from one day to the next.

          1. The two easiest way to set up higher frequency training:

            1) Simply aim to progress on the same time scale you would have otherwise. For example, if you generally squat once per week and you try to go up each week, you could split that volume into two sessions, but still only add weight to each session once per week.

            2) Set up different progression schemes for each day that you progress independently. For example, if you squat 3x per week, you may do 3×10 on day, 4×8 one day, and 5×3 one day. If you get all the reps on your 3×10 day, you go up in weight on it next week, but if you don’t get all the reps on your 4×8 day, you’d stick with the same weight next week.

Leave a Comment

You have to agree to the comment policy.

Scroll to Top