Training Frequency for Strength Development: What the Data Say

There's a lot of debate about the effects of training frequency for strength gains. However, the data are surprisingly clear.
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I have a reputation as a “high frequency guy.”  I’m not entirely sure that’s an accurate characterization of my actual training philosophies, but I can understand where it comes from.  The first thing I did that garnered any significant attention was my experiment with Bulgarian-style training (maxing on squat and bench every day, and often multiple times per day), and one of the first popular articles on this site was a guest post by Martijn Koevoets about the famous (or potentially infamous) Norwegian Frequency Project.  In reality, my own training frequency and my clients’ training frequencies have generally tended to be pretty typical, or maybe slightly on the high side of average (mainly for the bench press), but I’m far from a high frequency zealot.  I just thought frequency was an interesting variable to manipulate once people started paying more attention to it.  When I got into powerlifting, the general advice was that it was silly to ever exceed a frequency of twice per week for any lift, and squatting, benching, and deadlifting once per week was still very popular. So, when higher frequency systems started getting more popular, I thought they’d be fun to explore and write about.

One of the problems with discussing the effects of training frequency, however, was that there were a lot of anecdotes but very little research.  In terms of volume-matched research, there was an old study from McLester and colleagues comparing once-per-week training to thrice-per week-training, and some work by Häkkinen and Hartman comparing once-daily training to twice-daily training, but the literature was pretty sparse.  In 2012, the “Norwegian Frequency Project” came out and was greeted with a lot of fanfare due to the sparseness of the literature.  It found that, in a group of pretty well-trained powerlifters, training each lift six times per week led to larger strength gains than training each lift three times per week when volume was equated (i.e. the thrice per week group did twice as many sets on each of their training days).  For a long time, the debate about frequency centered on this study.  One group of people contended that we should start increasing frequency since this study was the best evidence we had on the effects of high training frequencies in trained lifters, while another group argued that we should ignore it, since it was only presented as a conference abstract and was never actually published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Between 2012 and 2017, a couple more studies were published, but volume-matched frequency studies were still pretty scarce.  A meta-regression on the relationship between frequency and strength gains by Grgic et al published in February 2018 (presumably submitted in late 2017) included just eight volume-matched studies, and one of them used peak torque as the strength measure (which doesn’t always agree with changes in dynamic strength), while another equated total volume load but not per-exercise volume.  However, since then, the frequency literature has entered a renaissance. Eight more volume-matched studies have looked at the effects of frequency on strength gains, and seven of them have used 1RMs as their strength measure.  So, just in the past few months, the pool of volume-matched frequency studies has doubled from 8 to 16, and the pool of frequency studies matching per-exercise volume and using 1RMs as their measure of strength has more than doubled from 6 to 13.

So, much like my recent articles on rep ranges and periodization, I want to move the conversation about training frequency beyond anecdote and beyond the fixation on a single study.  Strap in.  This is going to be a wild ride.

If you’re more interested in muscle growth than strength gains, I have an article about the effects of training frequency on muscle growth as well.

Technical Notes

Feel free to skip this section if you trust me to not fuck things up too badly.

I started by searching several databases to find all of the relevant studies, based on four criteria.

  1. The study needed to examine the effects of training frequency with volume and intensity per exercise or muscle group matched.  The training intervention needed to last at least 6 weeks.
  2. The study needed to report changes in dynamic, isoinertial strength (i.e. 1RMs, not torque or isometric force measures).
  3. The subjects needed to be healthy and non-elderly (since age could conceivably affect the relationship between frequency and strength gains, as older people recover slower from training).
  4. The study needed to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

From each study, I pulled all relevant info, including length of the training period, number of subjects, pre- and post-training strength, and pre-training standard deviations.  In studies that only reported single-joint strength measures (two papers looked at knee extensions), I included single-joint strength measures.  For studies that reported both single-joint and multi-joint strength measures, I only included multi-joint strength measures.  From there, I calculated effect sizes ((post – pre)/(pooled pre-training SD)) and percentage strength gains ((post – pre)/pre) for each strength measure in each study.  I also calculated percentage strength gains per week.

I analyzed these studies several different ways.  I started with a mixed-effects meta-analysis of effect sizes (I found a way to do them in Excel.  Thank you Neyeloff et al.!) with frequency as a binary term (i.e. higher frequency vs. lower frequency), including all exercises from all studies. I also calculated the pooled average percent strength gains, pooled weekly percent strength gains, and difference between groups for all exercises in all studies as a more easily interpretable meta-analysis, since effect sizes can sometimes seem somewhat abstract.

I made two tables for further analysis:  one table of the weekly percentage strength gains for each frequency in all studies, and one table of the difference in weekly percentage strength gains for each frequency.  In this second table, for example, a frequency of three per week was occasionally the high frequency condition, and occasionally the low frequency condition; this allows for comparisons between a given frequency and all other frequencies (both higher and lower) to see if there’s a frequency “sweet spot” or a range of frequencies that tends to perform best.

As a sub-analysis, I analyzed studies comparing frequencies of once or twice per week to frequencies of 3+ times per week, and studies comparing frequencies of 1-3x per week to 4+ times per week using weekly percent strength gains.  As further sub-analyses, I analyzed frequency as a binary term using percentage weekly strength gains in studies on trained lifters, studies on untrained lifters, measures of pressing strength, and measures of quad-dominant compound lower body strength.

Results

Thirteen studies with a total of 328 subjects met the inclusion criteria, allowing for 31 comparisons.  The average study was 8 weeks long (range: 6-12), with 10.9 subjects per training group (range: 9-20).  Five studies used untrained subjects, and eight used subjects with at least some prior training experience.

Author (Year) Year Title Training Status
Frequencies compared
Barcelos (2018) 2018 High-frequency resistance training does not promote greater muscular adaptations compared to low frequencies in young untrained men untrained 2 vs. 3 vs. 5
Zaroni (2018) 2018 High Resistance-Training Frequency Enhances Muscle Thickness in Resistance-Trained Men trained 1 vs. 5
Ochi (2018) 2018 Higher Training Frequency Is Important for Gaining Muscular Strength Under Volume-Matched Training untrained 1 vs. 3
Hunter (1985) 1985 Research: Changes in body composition, body build and performance associated with different weight training frequencies in males and females untrained 3 vs. 4
McLester (2000) 2000 Comparison of 1 Day and 3 Days Per Week of Equal-Volume Resistance Training in Experienced Subjects trained 1 vs. 3
Schoenfeld (2015) 2015 Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men trained 1 vs. 3
Thomas (2016) 2016 Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training trained 1 vs. 3
Yue (2018) 2018 Comparison of 2 weekly-equalized volume resistance-training routines using different frequencies on body composition and performance in trained males. trained 2 vs. 4
Colquhoun (2018) 2018 Training Volume, Not Frequency, Indicative of Maximal Strength Adaptations to Resistance Training. trained 3 vs. 6
Gomes (2018) 2018 High-frequency resistance training is not more effective than low-frequency resistance training in increasing muscle mass and strength in well-trained men trained 1 vs. 5
Brigatto (2018) 2018 Effect of Resistance Training Frequency on Neuromuscular Performance and Muscle Morphology after Eight Weeks in Trained Men trained 1 vs. 2
Candow (2007) 2007 Effect Of Short-Term Equal-Volume Resistance Training With Different Workout Frequency on Muscle Mass and Strength in Untrained Men and Women untrained 2 vs. 3
Arazi (2011) 2011 Effects of 8 Weeks Equal-Volume Resistance Training with Different Workout Frequency on Maximal Strength, Endurance and Body Composition untrained 1 vs. 2

The random effects meta-analysis found that higher training frequencies were associated with larger strength gains, though the overall effect was small (d=0.265; CI=0.08-0.45).  This was a significant difference (p=0.0088).  Upon visual inspection, there were two exceptionally large between-group effect sizes.  I tested whether they were unduly affecting the results.  After removing them, the effect size decreased nominally but would still be classified as a small effect (d=0.248; CI=0.14-0.36), and the p-value actually decreased as well, since the confidence interval shrunk (p=0.0001).

training frequency
Effect size and 95% CI for each comparison in each study. Positive values represent larger strength gains with higher frequencies. The black diamond is the standardized mean difference and 95% CI with all comparisons from all studies included. The red diamond is the standardized mean difference and 95% CI after removing the two apparent outliers.

On average, subjects in the lower frequency groups got 14.65% stronger (CI=11.47-17.83%), while subjects in the higher frequency groups got 18.04% stronger (CI=14.34-21.73%).  The average difference in strength gains between groups was 3.39% (CI=1.39-5.39%), meaning the higher frequency groups gained about 23% more strength than the lower frequency groups, on average (i.e. 18.04% is 23% greater than 14.65%).  This would be classified as a small effect (d=0.35; CI=0.14-0.55), and the difference was significant (p=0.0024).

higher vs lower training frequency

On average, subjects in the lower frequency groups got 1.91% stronger per week (CI=1.53-2.29%), while subjects in the higher frequency groups got 2.32% stronger per week (CI=1.89-2.75%).  The average difference in weekly strength gains between groups was 0.41% (CI=0.18-0.64%), meaning the higher frequency groups gained strength about 21% faster than the lower frequency groups, on average.  This would be classified as a small effect (d=0.36; CI=0.16-0.56), and the difference was significant (p=0.0018).

strength gains with higher and lower training frequency


strength gains higher vs lower training frequency
For this graph and all the rest like it, each comparison is a single point. The x-axis is weekly strength gains in the low frequency group, and the y-axis is weekly strength gains in the high frequency group. The red line is just y=x, so if a point falls directly on the red line, the two groups made identical strength gains. The black lines are ±10%, which is the trivial difference. A point above the black lines represents a comparison where the high frequency group gained more strength, while a point below the black lines represents a comparison where the low frequency group gained more strength.

On average, untrained subjects in the lower frequency groups (12 exercises across 5 studies) got 2.50% stronger per week (CI=1.79-3.20%), while untrained subjects in the higher frequency groups got 3.07% stronger per week (CI=2.27-3.87%).  The average difference in weekly strength gains between groups was 0.57% (CI=0.17-0.98%), meaning the higher frequency groups gained strength about 23% faster than the lower frequency groups, on average.  This would be classified as a small effect (d=0.43; CI=0.13-0.73), and the difference was significant (p=0.02).

On average, trained subjects in the lower frequency groups (19 exercises across 8 studies) got 1.49% stronger per week (CI=1.18-1.80%), while trained subjects in the higher frequency groups got 1.78% stronger per week (CI=1.47-2.09%).  The average difference in weekly strength gains between groups was 0.29% (CI=0.02-0.56%), meaning the higher frequency groups gained strength about 20% faster than the lower frequency groups, on average.  This would be classified as a small effect (d=0.42; CI=0.03-0.81), and the difference was significant (p=0.046).

When simply looking at the mean weekly strength gains with each frequency, it appears that a frequency of 3x per week is best.  Average weekly strength gains were 1.47% with a once-per-week frequency, 2.17% with a twice-per-week frequency, 2.61% with a thrice-per-week frequency, and 2.10% with a frequency of 4+ times per week.  The only significant difference was between a frequency of once per week (CI=1.05-1.89% per week) and thrice per week (CI=1.99-3.23% per week), but the overall trend seems to suggest that a thrice-per-week frequency is best.

weekly strength gains with each training frequency
Mean and 95% CI for weekly strength gains with each frequency. Note: this is a common approach to analyzing data like this, but I feel it’s incorrect.

However, direct comparisons tell a different story.  When a frequency of once per week (N=20 comparisons from 9 studies) was directly compared to other frequencies, it underperformed in direct comparisons by 0.366% per week.  A frequency of twice per week (N=13 comparisons from 6 studies) underperformed very slightly in direct comparisons, by 0.082% per week.  A frequency of three times per week (N=16 comparisons from 8 studies) overperformed in direct comparisons by 0.202% per week.  Frequencies of four (N=4 from 2 studies) and five (N=7 from 3 studies) times per week overperformed in direct comparisons by 0.495% and 0.439% per week, respectively.  A frequency of six times per week only slightly overperformed in direct comparisons (0.053% per week), but there were only two comparisons from one study to draw on.  This analysis makes it look like a frequency of 4-5 times per week is best.  However, a drawback is that few studies looked at frequencies exceeding three times per week.  To account for this fact, we can pool the results of studies using frequencies of 4+ times per week (N=13 comparisons from 6 studies), finding that frequencies of 4+ times per week overperformed in direct comparisons by 0.397% per week.  Higher frequencies were associated with larger strength gains (r=0.39).

direct comparisons of training frequency

You may be wondering why the results of the last two analyses differ.  Here’s a simple illustration.  Imagine you have three studies.  One compares a frequency of once per week to a frequency of four times per week, the second compares a frequency of three times per week to a frequency of four times per week, and the third compares a frequency of once per week to a frequency of three times per week.  In the first study, the low frequency group (1x) gets 5% stronger and the high frequency group (4x) gets 10% stronger.  In the second study, the low frequency group (3x) gets 10% stronger and the high frequency group (4x) gets 15% stronger.  In the third study, the low frequency group (1x) gets 20% stronger, while the high frequency group (3x) gets 25% stronger.  Just averaging the strength gains, you see a 12.5% increase with once per week [(5%+20%)/2], a 17.5% increase with three times per week[(10%+25%)/2], and a 12.5% increase [(10%+15%)/2] with four times per week.  It looks like 1x per week and 4x per week lead to similar gains, while 3x per week leads to the largest gains; however, those conclusions are driven by differences between studies, not differences between frequencies.  With direct comparisons, on the other hand, 1x underperforms both 3x and 4x by 5%, 3x overperforms 1x by 5% and underperforms 4x by 5% (average 0%), and 4x overperforms both 1x and 3x by 5%.  This more accurately represents the results in this imaginary trio of studies, because it does a better job accounting for the variability of results between studies.

With this in mind, I looked at studies comparing frequencies of 1-2x per week versus 3+ times per week (N=20 comparisons from 10 studies), since frequencies of once and twice per week underperformed in direct comparisons, while frequencies of 3+ times per week overperformed.  Frequencies of once or twice per week led to strength gains of 1.94% per week, on average (CI=1.41-2.47%), while frequencies of 3+ times per week led to strength gains of 2.37% per week, on average (CI=1.82-2.92%). The average difference in weekly strength gains between groups was 0.43% (CI=0.12-0.74%), meaning the higher frequency groups gained strength about 22% faster than the lower frequency groups, on average.  This would be classified as a medium effect (d=0.60; CI=0.16-1.04), and the difference was significant (p=0.014).

Finally, I wanted to see if the effects of frequency depended on the type of movement being trained.  There were 11 comparisons in 10 studies for quad-dominant, compound lower body exercises (squat, leg press, and hack squat), and 13 comparisons in 11 studies for upper body pressing exercises (bench press or machine chest press).

For lower body exercises, frequencies of once or twice per week led to strength gains of 1.92% per week, on average (CI=1.24-2.61%), while frequencies of 3+ times per week led to strength gains of 2.19% per week, on average (CI=1.52-2.85%). The average difference in weekly strength gains between groups was 0.26% (CI=-0.18-0.70%), meaning the higher frequency groups gained strength about 14% faster than the lower frequency groups, on average.  This would be classified as a small effect (d=0.35; CI=-0.24-0.94).  This was not a significant difference (p=0.27).

As you can see, there’s not a clear pattern of either high or low frequency outperforming.

For upper body exercises, frequencies of once or twice per week led to strength gains of 1.52% per week, on average (CI=1.09-1.96%), while frequencies of 3+ times per week led to strength gains of 2.16% per week, on average (CI=1.46-2.87%). The average difference in weekly strength gains between groups was 0.64% (CI=0.27-1.01%), meaning the higher frequency groups gained strength about 42% faster than the lower frequency groups, on average.  This would be classified as a large effect (d=0.93; CI=0.39-1.47), and the difference was significant (p=0.0056).

Here, there’s a very clear pattern of higher frequencies outperforming.

Getting even more granular, we can analyze the frequency/strength gains slopes in each study to estimate the additional strength gains you could expect by increasing your frequency by one additional day per week.  For example, if group 1 trains with a frequency of once per week and increases strength by 10%, while group 2 trains with a frequency of thrice per week and increases strength by 20%, the slope would be (20%-10%)/(3-1)=5% per additional training day.  Since we see a roughly linear relationship between weekly strength gains and frequency from 1 to 4+ times per week, I feel pretty confident that this sort of analysis would hold up to frequencies of at least 4 or possibly 5 times per week, but I wouldn’t feel confident extrapolating it to six or seven days per week.  Since we see clear differences between pressing exercises and compound, quad-dominant lower body exercises, I’ll just focus on them here.

For upper body exercises, each additional day of frequency increased weekly strength gains by 0.51% (CI=0.14-0.88%).  The average upper body weekly strength gains across all frequencies in all studies was 1.84%, meaning each additional day of training frequency increased rate of strength gains by 28%, on average (CI=8-48%).  This slope was significantly different from zero (p=0.019).

Each blue line represents the slope of the frequency/gains relationship in one study. The red line is the average slope, while the black lines are the top and bottom of the 95% confidence interval.

For lower body exercises, each additional day of frequency increased weekly strength gains by 0.10% (CI=-0.10-0.31%).  The average lower body weekly strength gains across all frequencies in all studies was 2.05%, meaning each additional day of training frequency increased rate of strength gains by 5%, on average (CI=-5-15%).  This slope was not significantly different from zero (p=0.33).

Discussion

Even when volume is matched, it seems that higher training frequencies lead to larger strength gains.  Especially for upper body pressing exercises, spreading a given number of sets over more training days (up to at least 4) seems to increase strength gains.

Across most analyses, higher frequencies seem to lead to 20-23% faster strength gains, in both trained and untrained lifters, and there seems to be a fairly linear increase in the benefits of increased frequency, with 1<2<3<4+.  However, we don’t have enough studies with frequencies exceeding 4x per week to provide much granularity past that point.  Of note, it doesn’t seem that frequency significantly affects lower body strength gains, while it does significantly affect upper body strength gains.  Overall, I’m quite confident in these results, as the confidence intervals typically aren’t particularly close to zero, and the p-values for most comparisons are quite low (0.046 for trained lifters, but 0.02 for all other other comparisons).

This may surprise some readers, because many of the individual studies didn’t find significant differences between frequencies.  However, I think the protein literature provides us with an apt comparison here.  The majority of studies comparing different protein intakes don’t find significant differences in muscle or strength gains, but meta-analyses consistently show that eating more protein (up to ~1.6-2.2g/kg, or ~0.73-1g/lb) tends to be better.  Most of the individual studies in both bodies of literature fail to find significant differences due to low statistical power, but the hefty majority of the results lean in one direction, making the difference clear when results are pooled.  Of the 31 comparisons, the higher frequency group made >10% larger gains than the low frequency group 15 times, both groups made roughly similar gains (within 10% of each other) 14 times, and the low frequency group only made >10% larger gains than the high frequency group twice.  For upper body pressing, the consistency is even greater.  Of the 13 comparisons, the higher frequency group made >10% larger gains than the low frequency group 9 times, both groups made roughly similar gains 4 times, and the low frequency group never made gains >10% larger than the high frequency group.

With any analysis, however, it’s important to make sure the results aren’t influenced by outlier results.  For upper body pressing specifically, there were three relative differences that were quite large: female bench press in Hunter, bench press in McLester et al., and bench press in Candow and Burke.  In all three of these studies, the higher frequency group outpaced the lower frequency group by more than 1% per week.  However, when removing the results from these three studies, the effect size actually increases from 0.93 to 1.18, and the p-value decreases slightly.  The results of the other studies were so consistently in favor of higher frequencies for pressing, that three unusually positive results depressed the effect size by increasing the standard deviation!  So, that finding (which I consider the most important overall) seems quite robust.  For all other analyses, the overall effect was very consistent (20-23% larger strength gains with higher frequency), even when using different frequency thresholds and when examining both trained and untrained lifters independently, which makes me feel pretty confident that we’re seeing a true and reliable effect.

The biggest drawback of this analysis was that defining frequency was somewhat subjective.  Some studies used the same exercises in every training session, which made defining frequency straightforward.  However, other studies used per-muscle group frequency rather than per-exercise frequency, so in a study with bench press as a primary strength outcome, one group may have done bench press on day 1, incline on day 2, and machine chest press on day 3, while another group did all three of those exercises on the same day.  Bench press frequency was just once per week in both groups, but there was a difference in how frequently the pressing muscles were trained.  In situations like this, I counted it as a frequency difference of 3x per week versus once per week.  I made this decision based on this paper looking at the effects of exercise variation (it found that performing a main lift, plus biomechanically similar exercises, may lead to larger strength gains than just performing the main lift for more volume), but note that the results may not be perfectly reflective of “real-world” training, since most people would increase frequency of the bench press, specifically, when they increase pressing frequency.

Another drawback, similar to the periodization review, is that the “trained” lifters still weren’t super well-trained, so we can’t know how well these results would generalize to people who aren’t beginner or intermediate-level lifters.

On the topic of applying these results to real-world training, I think that, if anything, this analysis may underestimate the effects of training frequency.  In all of these studies, volume was controlled.  However, in the real world, increased training frequency is often used as a tool to increase volume.  For example, 10 hard sets of squats in a workout is going to make for a brutal workout, and that may be all of the squatting volume you can handle if you just train the squat once per week.  However, four hard sets of squats, three times per week is probably going to be very doable, even though weekly volume is higher.  Five hard sets, three times per week may be just as challenging as 10 sets in a single session, but it represents a 50% increase in weekly training volume.  So, it seems that higher frequency independently promotes larger strength gains, and it seems likely that the benefits of higher frequencies and higher volumes would be additive.  The recent Grgic meta-analysis supports this idea.  In analyses where volume wasn’t controlled, higher frequencies were strongly associated with larger strength gains.

While we’re on the subject of training volume, I think it would be helpful to contextualize the overall effect of frequency.  Boosting strength gains by ~20% with higher training frequencies may not sound like much (that would be the difference between adding 30 pounds to your total instead of 25), but it’s actually on par with the effect of volume.  A recent meta-analysis by Ralston et al found that higher weekly set volumes (5+ sets per exercise, per week) led to ~20% larger strength gains than lower weekly set volumes (<5 sets per exercise, per week).  Overall, neither volume nor frequency make a night-and-day difference for strength gains (intensity seems to be the biggest driver), but they both seem to have similar, positive effects.

One interesting finding was that frequency seems to affect upper body strength gains (specifically for pressing exercises), but not lower body strength gains.  Initially, I thought this may be related to differences in training status, as in my periodization review.  In that review, periodization seemed to affect upper body strength gains more than lower body strength gains, and lower body strength gains were substantially larger than upper body strength gains (potentially indicating the subjects had more prior experience with hard upper body training than hard lower body training).  However, lower body strength gains were quite similar to upper body strength gains in this review (2.05% per week for lower body, and 1.84% per week for upper body), and the overall effect sizes were almost identical for trained and untrained lifters.  So, I don’t think differences in training experience with upper versus lower body exercises are a likely explanation.  It may instead be that upper body muscles recover faster between training sessions, facilitating higher training frequencies.  Anecdotally, I find that to be the case.

Many frequency skeptics will posit that studies showing benefits of higher frequencies are really just picking up the effects of novelty.  Especially for bodybuilders, low frequencies are still the norm, so maybe people just make larger strength gains when you put them on a program they’re unaccustomed to.  However, the relative advantage of higher frequencies actually tended to either be the same or a bit larger in longer studies (the trend had a small positive slope, but the r value was just 0.23, and the correlation wasn’t significant).  Since none of the studies in this review ran longer than 12 weeks, we don’t have evidence about truly long-term effects of different training frequencies, but this does at least suggest that the advantage isn’t driven by novelty.  On the contrary, it may be that more evenly dispersing training stress across a week matters less for short-term training, with benefits accruing over longer periods of time as loads increase and fatigue builds.

So, the question becomes:  why do higher frequencies lead to larger strength gains, even when controlling for volume and intensity?

The first potential explanation that may come to mind would be hypertrophy.  However, the effects of frequency on hypertrophy are somewhat inconclusive.  A 2016 meta-analysis by Schoenfeld et al found that training frequencies of at least twice per week led to more hypertrophy than frequencies of just once per week, but the current literature doesn’t let us know, with any degree of reasonable certainty, whether even higher frequencies are even better for hypertrophy.  So, I feel pretty confident saying that less hypertrophy may partially explain the underperformance of once per week frequencies, but I wouldn’t feel confident saying that increased hypertrophy was able to explain the progressive outperformance of progressively higher frequencies (i.e. I wouldn’t feel confident saying that we should expect a hypertrophy difference when comparing 2x per week to 4x per week frequencies).

Another potential explanation is that higher frequencies still allow for higher total volumes, even if work set volume is still the same.  With higher frequencies, you still have to warm-up for every session, and while warm-up sets are easy, it’s not like your last couple of warm-up sets impose literally zero training stress.

Another potential explanation is superior skill acquisition and motor learning.  In general, you learn and master skills faster when you practice them more frequently.  However, I’m not sure how well this explains the results in this particular set of studies because a) if you posit that motor learning explains the differences, you’d expect larger benefits in untrained lifters (who are further from mastering the motor skills being tested), and that’s not what we see, and b) if you’ll remember, in many of these studies, per-muscle frequencies differed, but per-exercise frequencies didn’t.  Thus, more frequent practice may play a role (and intuitively, I feel like more frequent practice is an important factor), but I wouldn’t want to lean on it as the primary explanation.

Finally, I think increased frequencies likely improve average training quality.  If you have to do three sets of squats in a session, all three sets will probably be pretty good sets.  If you do that two more times in a week, you’ve accumulated nine high-quality sets.  However, if you did all nine sets in a single training session, the quality of those sets would probably start decreasing well before you finished your ninth set.  If you want to use a more concrete concept than “quality,” average bar speed will probably be higher with fewer sets per muscle group, per workout.  If you move the same load at a faster speed, force output per rep is higher, thus increasing specificity and overall training stress.

If you put a gun to my head and forced me to say which of these factors matters the most, I’d speculate that higher average training quality is the most important, followed by skill acquisition, hypertrophy, and volume from warm-up sets (in that order).

Practical Recommendations for Training Frequency

At this point, I want to make sure everyone pauses for a moment of clarity before people go out into the world and claim that you should train bench three times per day to maximize strength gains.  These studies all lasted 12 weeks or fewer; we tend to assume that things that provide larger gains in the short term will also provide larger gains in the long-term, but we can’t know that for sure.  Also, this is science, and science mostly deals with averages.  These findings may or may not apply to you as an individual.  Plenty of people have gotten super strong with low training frequencies, after all.  If your shoulder starts bothering you when you bench three or more times per week, don’t force yourself to grind through the pain because science(tm) says higher pressing frequencies are optimal(c).  On the flip side, if you find that you respond really well to squatting four times per week, don’t dial back the frequency because this analysis found that frequency didn’t matter as much for squats on average.

With those two big caveats in mind, I think the major takeaway is that higher frequencies (up to at least 4-5x per week) seem to lead to larger strength gains for upper body pressing exercises, on average, in both trained and untrained lifters, even when volume and intensity are equated.  On the other hand, strength gains for squat-type movements seem to be less affected by frequency.  If anything, I think this analysis may understate the effects of frequency in the “real world,” because volume was equated in all of these studies, although higher frequencies naturally allow for higher volumes in a real-world scenario.  I wouldn’t profess to know why, mechanistically, higher frequencies lead to larger strength gains (and why there’s a difference for upper body but not lower body), but I think average training quality and skill acquisition are probably the two biggest contributors, while the effects of hypertrophy play a smaller (or perhaps nonexistent) role once you get beyond a frequency of just once per week.

If you decide to increase your training frequency for a particular lift, I’d strongly recommend dialing back your per-session volume until you adjust (keeping your weekly volume unchanged).  I’d also recommend making one of your additional sessions an “easy” session where you stick with lighter loads than you’d normally use, and stay at least 3-4 reps from failure.  Once you see how well you’re recovering between sessions, you’ll know when you’re ready to start ramping up per-session volume.

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Edit/Correction

I realized I shouldn’t have included the Barcelos study (it wasn’t volume-matched).  I also realized the couple of exceptional large between-group effect sizes were due to studies reporting standard errors instead of standard deviations.  Those issues don’t affect the finding I consider to be most important (the large, positive effect on upper body pressing exercises).  Furthermore, removing the Barcelos study and fixing the effect sizes affected by the SD/SEM issue didn’t materially affect the result from the random effects meta-analysis (d=0.265 before; d=0.211 now).  The positive trend for increased strength gains with increased frequencies is still there (1x still underperforms by 0.366% per week, 2x now slightly overperforms by 0.004% per week, 3x still overperforms by 0.202% per week, and 4+ now overperforms by 0.405% per week).  None of the results of any of the other analyses materially changed either (everything is still statistically significant, the percent differences are all basically the same, none of the effect sizes are materially different, etc.).   When a few more frequency studies are published, I’ll give this article a full update and change all of the graphics to remove the Barcelos results and update the forest plot.  For the time being, however, I’m just leaving it as-is, since it would take a ton of time to re-do all of the graphics, and ultimately, the overall picture and the takeaways are completely unaffected.  I apologize for these oversights upon initial publication.

 

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132 thoughts on “Training Frequency for Strength Development: What the Data Say”

  1. Kayne Johnston

    Awesome article Greg. I really enjoyed how you went to the detail of separating the upper body pressing and quad dominant movements in your analysis to find more specific takeaways from a practical standpoint.

    My guess would be that recovery from seemingly smaller muscle groups would neccessitate a need for higher frequency (i.e. less volume a day but higher quality) whilst still being quite well recovered between sessions. On the other hand, larger lower body muscles need more in terms of recovery and can hence be hit harder and less frequently, just a guess though.

  2. Question: Assuming all above is valid, can it be that the studies factor in fatigue factors or other countering what ‘could’ have happened in the same individual? I guess what I mean is that one particular person in a study only did either high or low frequency (correct?) so we don’t know what that one persons response would have been with different approach. I guess I struggle because when I lift, I find that when I do certain exercises after other ones its just so tiring I don’t do much quality lifting (too tired). So doing 6 days a week of rear delts along with 6 days of general back?

    1. Yeah, without a crossover design, you can’t know how each individual would have done on the opposite program (and crossover designs have limitations for training studies as well; I’m skeptical that a washout period truly gets people back to baseline). However, when pooling the results of studies on 300+ individuals, you can probably safely assume that most or all of those idiosyncratic individual differences will wash out. Your point in well-taken, though – what works best ON AVERAGE may not work best for each individual.

  3. OK, that’s a really interesting article. My only question is about rep ranges. Was the same number of reps used for all training sessions or did they vary over the course of the week for some of the studies? Thanks.

    1. I’d need to look back to be 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure all of these papers either used nonperiodized training, or linear periodization without any DUP elements. So reps would have been the same in all sessions withing each week, though in some studies they varied week-to-week.

      1. Ok; thank you. Just one other point occurs to me. You say that hypertrophy is maximized with twice weekly training per body part. Is this the case for all body parts, or just upper body again? Thanks.

  4. I read ur article on advocating low-frequency for increasing myonuclei in muscles in “Grow Like A New Lifter Again?” Did your stance change on this?

      1. I believe that people are fixated on the phenomenon of hypertrophy. Without controversy, higher frequency workouts lead to maximum hypertrophy. But muscle growth occurs due to hyperplasia. There is no dispute, hyperplasia is not proven in humans, but proven in animals. I believe that high-frequency training harms the process of hyperplasia, because I have evidence that the number of nuclei in a cell increases only by day 6 after training. I think that there should be cycles of high-frequency and low-frequency training. Another question is the volume …..

        1. Does myonuclear accretion not occur if another training session takes place between day 0 and day 6? I’m highly skeptical of that notion. If memory serves, in the Bamman and Petrella papers that looked at myonuclear accretion as an explanatory for the variability in hypertrophy after training, frequency was 3x/week, so the participants would never have been resting 6 days between workouts.

          1. In the period when the nuclei have not yet formed, it is impossible to prevent growth. On the 6th-7th day, when they begin to appear, they are still young and vulnerable, they have not covered the filaments. It takes time to mature, training stress can reduce their population. If you carefully read the study of Bruusgaard J. 2010, you can understand it. That a longer period of successive loads only hurt. A longer break created favorable conditions for the growth of nuclei, which increased their number. But the most amazing thing is that their peak has reached far not on the 7th day of rest, but on the 14th day! There were 14 days of daily training, but during this period the number of cores in the pictures has increased slightly. For the 14th day of rest, their number has grown incredibly!
            Moreover, research says that a steady increase in muscle mass is achieved only by increasing the number of nuclei!

          2. You’re misinterpreting that study pretty badly. Myonuclear number increased during the first 11 days of overload, basically stayed flat during the last 10 days of overload, and then didn’t change (didn’t increase or decrease) during the subsequent unloading period. Look back at figures 1B and 2B.

            And regardless, I wouldn’t necessarily use this study to make direct inferences about time courses of muscle growth or recovery in humans. Synergist ablation is not the same as resistance training, and complete unloading is not the same as just taking rest days.

          3. In my opinion, the model of hypertrophy should be complex. I see that it was revealed through an experiment that a higher frequency of training shows better results. I suppose that the mechanism of the effect may be different. I saw studies that this effect is temporary, until 8 weeks, I can not find it, unfortunately. Do not you think that there should be an optimal balance between different mechanisms?
            Yes, in this study, cell number was not measured, but growth stimuli are a prerequisite for cell growth. How can they go through the cell cycle without stimuli? It’s impossible. It is logical to assume that if they are not there, then the number of nuclei in the cell will not increase.
            How do you think?

          4. “Do not you think that there should be an optimal balance between different mechanisms?”

            How are you defining “mechanisms”? I mean, there’s a wide array of cellular, mechanistic processes contributing to hypertrophy, regardless of the training program you’re on.

            “It is logical to assume that if they are not there, then the number of nuclei in the cell will not increase.”

            Unless every molecular factor contributing to cell growth and differentiation was measured, it could absolutely still be entirely possible for nuclei to increase. And regardless, that study involved six sets of 15 maximal eccentric contractions for six days straight, which doesn’t at all resemble how people actually train, so it’s tenuous to use the results of that study to argue about the time course of satellite cell proliferation and myonuclear addition under normal training conditions.

          5. Thanks for the answer. I realized that the situation is very uncertain. The main problem I have to determine the weekly volume of work on 1 muscle group. Because of this, I began to be skeptical of everything. I can not find enough studies that would show how much sets should be made for 1 muscle group. Schoenfeld’s research was done with an idiotic set counting system. For the same example of training and the method of counting sets, other studies began to be done, not all studies, of course. He considered the number of sets performed per muscle group even from exercises that were not directly related to them. The study fits my criteria and according to their results, I concluded that the target, targeted, direct load on the muscle is enough to 10 sets. Which completely contradicts many studies that did not distinguish the direct load on the muscle from the non-direct. And they claimed that 15 sets was not enough! It caused me great bewilderment. Very, very, very hard, it is impossible to make so many sets to failure, even if you distribute them within a week, it burns emotionally. I train 15 muscle groups isolated. Please help resolve this issue.

          6. These data don’t tell me anything. I did not see their training volume. I did not see their training progragram. Basic exercises can not effectively develop muscle synergists. Muscles such as the middle delta, biceps of the legs, forearm, front delta and other muscle groups. They do not have enough load with basic exercises. I’m talking about it. I do not argue that both basic exercises and isolating exercises can develop breasts lonely well. And I had a question, and how much volume does one muscle group need for maximum hypertrophy? Volume direct load.

          7. Have you played around with the shiny app at all?

            As for volume, it varies considerably person-to-person, and within an individual based on their context (bulk vs. cut, stress and sleep, training age, etc.). It’s impossible to give an exact number, or even a relatively small range.

          8. No, what is this application? I understand that everything is individual. And that deviations can be very large. But I would like to know what the average opinion is in research. Suppose I am a normal person (medium height, weight, healthy diet, without stress, enough sleep, and so on)

          9. Ahh, shit. I thought you were commenting on another article since we just published on yesterday. Each study (they’re all linked) describes the training program it used, though, if you want to look into them further.

            And still, even for “normal” people, there’s a big range. It’s something to troubleshoot on an individual basis.

          10. You upset me. I have not received any replies. I’m in the wanderings… I shoveled everything, I no longer have sources of information for reflection. Base NCBI is not infinite. Thought you inspire me with useful information. Though very controversial. But alas. I will experiment with training in the blind further

          11. I’ve been replying to you for close to a week now.

            Experimenting with your training is really all you can do to figure out what works best for you, as an individual.

  5. I would like to see longer term studies and I would also like to see studies on long-term regular weight trainers. I have been training with weights reularlt for 43 years and am wondering about overuse injuries and how to retain higher strength levels over decades of training.

  6. Hi,
    Recent Kin Grad here. Love the site, it’s made for some fun in class discussions! I was wondering how this analysis would work with something like the “Smolov” and “Smolov Jr.” high frequency programs? Would this analysis speak to their effectiveness or show that those programs are valid tools in increasing strength? And to follow up, is increasing frenquency something you should do year round, or apply it as another tool in the tool box when you hit a plateau?

    1. I feel like, with Smolov and Smolov Jr, it’s hard to know whether they work for a lot of people because of the frequency, or whether it’s more due to the volume (especially for Smolov). Probably a combination of both. Of the two, I think Smolov Jr is the more sane.

      I think the way you use higher frequencies should primarily depend on how well you can tolerate them. Some people have a tendency to get more overuse injuries with higher frequencies after several months, while other people are fine using them long-term. If you know that your start feeling banged up after a couple months of higher frequency, then I’d mainly save it as a tool to get past a plateau. Otherwise, I don’t see a good reason you could just keep frequency high year-round.

  7. Hey Greg,

    I imagine overhead pressing (and similar movements) are similar to bench pressing, but what about deadlifts compared to squats? Are deadlifts even more taxing than squats and would thus benefit from an even lower training frequency? (And what about heavy upper body pulls, such as weighted chin-ups?)

    And how do rep ranges factor in? I’m guessing that 30-rep sets of push-ups are different from 3-rep sets of bench press, yeah?

    1. There’s not enough data to get to that level of granularity. Just based on what I’ve seen, DLs probably shouldn’t be super high frequency, and upper body pulls can be high frequency. None of the studies included here used either really high or really low reps.

  8. Hi! I changed my frequency from twice a week in squatting to 4 times a week. Of course some adjustments have to be done, such as accesories, daily volume and more, but my squat increased 40kg in 3-4 months since I started this (100kg for 3 to 140kg, very begginer numbers either way). My weighted dips increased 20kg as well. Overhead press and bent over rows were increasing also, but I hurt my wrist on non fitness activities and I couldn’t do them properly.

    After that, I’ve done smolov (just the base cycle) and my squat increased another 15kg, and my dips another 10. Bottom line, my squat increased 55kg from march until now and my dips 30kg.

    Well, I tried that approach to pull ups, but more to increase reps than weight itself, and it works too. I’m writing all this to affirm how much high frequency training helped my training overall.

    1. Hi Otavio

      I wish I could add 40kgs to my squat!
      Would you mind sharing the break down of your weekly squatting, ie Sets x reps x weight?

  9. “On average, trained subjects in the lower frequency groups (19 exercises across 8 studies) got 1.49% stronger per week.”

    Am I missing something, or does this “low” number seem high? This would translate to going from a 200 lb bench to a 235 in twelve weeks and this is the slow progress group.

    1. “Another drawback, similar to the periodization review, is that the “trained” lifters still weren’t super well-trained, so we can’t know how well these results would generalize to people who aren’t beginner or intermediate-level lifters”

      1. Thank you for your reply!

        I was picking 200 to be a round number at roughly intermediate level (albeit maybe a bit high). 18% in twelve weeks still seems like a lot for the average in the “bad” group, but I guess the meaning of “trained” is in the eye of the beholder.

      2. Patrick McAuliffe

        This has been an issue with many of the studies if I remember correctly.
        Even the control groups often have improvements that are huge by the standards of normal gym goers.

        I believe Greg speculated that a lot of people, even those who claim to be “experienced lifters” may have never done a proper program before.

  10. When reading the bit about bench frequency leading to higher strength gains, it makes me think of my good friend Randy, one of the strongest benchers at my gym, who is always benching, hahaha.

    Really love the bit you wrote about how increasing frequency may increase volume for the same amount of effort, with your squatting 10 sets once per week vs squatting 5 sets thrice per week example.

    Awesome article, thanks a lot 🙂 I’ll definitely be considering increasing my pushing frequency now 🙂

  11. Isn’t the primary reason why higher frequency works better than lower frequency is because of more protein synthesis (therefore hypertrophy?), rather than your proposed higher quality sets?

    1. It’s hard to say. Most studies measure mixed muscle protein synthesis, but what we specifically care about is myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis. Really granular myofibrillar MPS data is lacking. There’s also some evidence that per-muscle MPS is lower with full-body sessions than single-muscle workouts, and higher frequencies basically necessitate full-body sessions (assuming you actually train your whole body).

  12. Hi Greg! Love your work. Just wondering if you were intending on doing any assessment of publication bias on the meta-analysis (e.g. Funnel plot, PET-PEESE). I remember you mentioning on the Everything Hertz podcast you were interested in investigating this more broadly in exercise science (via p-curve), but can’t see any mention of publication bias (perhaps outside mention of outliers) for this study. Should be easy enough to implement in R with metafor, if the raw data are available.

    1. A funnel plot wouldn’t be of much use here, since all of the studies had basically the same number of subjects (between 9 and 20 per group) and basically the same standard error for effect size estimates (it would be less of a funnel, and more of a pancake). PET-PEESE is new to me. I’ll look into it. Any good sources you’d recommend?

      For training studies, however, I don’t really think publication bias is worth worrying about. They take SO much work, if you do one, you’re going to get it published somewhere. Just assuming 20 total subjects, 45 minute training sessions, 3 sessions per week, and 8 weeks, you’re looking at 360 man hours in JUST training visits (plus recruitment, plus testing, plus waiting around for subjects who show up late, etc.). Some supplement training studies don’t get published if they were funded by industry and don’t get the results the supplement company was looking for, but straight-up training studies with no outside interests basically all get published. I think I discussed that on the podcast as well.

      1. Good points. I hadn’t fully appreciated the small sample sizes. Agree the funnel plot probably wouldn’t work — actually I’d be surprised if most other techniques did either given the restricted standard errors. PET-PEESE would fall apart here – it’s a meta-regression method to estimate effect sizes if sampling error was minimal, but really isn’t applicable for uniformly small studies https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550617693062

        It’d be nice to have some measure of bias, but doesn’t seem feasible. You make a reasonable argument on higher likelihood of publication given the sheer effort involved in doing this research. Thanks for the reply!

  13. Hey Greg, your articles are always amazing. Thanks for that work. I have a brazilian blog related to calisthenics and fitness. Do you allow me to translate some of your articles and share them? Of course with your name as the author and the link of the original source.

  14. Thanks for doing this Greg, very interesting to see. Meta-analysis seems to be the only way forward in gaining anything meaningful from the vast majority of S&C research. Far too often they’re under-powered, and frequently conclusions are drawn from non-significant trends, almost in a ‘grasping at straws’ type fashion. Do you think there’s any way to fix this, or is it always going to be a problem when pretty much any study done will get published?

    1. So, I don’t necessarily think the small studies are a problem. I think drawing strong conclusions from small studies is a problem. And if people are doing small studies, I certainly hope they’re all getting published! Otherwise, it introduces publication bias into meta-analysis attempts.

      I don’t see it changing any time soon, though. It ultimately comes down to money. You can get a big NIH grant to study sarcopenia or osteoporosis, and you MAY get lucky and get a big grant from Gatorade or Nike to study something related to sport performance (though most of their research is in-house), but for the most part, there’s just not much funding in sport science to run big studies.

  15. Great article Greg! Thanks for doing all the hard work for us..

    What would you say is the current consensus on the optimality of full-body versus split routines for muscle hypertrophy (assuming that total weekly volume is equated)?

    I keep reading conflicting reports and advice on this issue.

    Thanks!

    1. I think the discussion should be more about frequency than full-body vs. split. I mean, you could have a split routine that’s still pretty high frequency (upper-lower-upper-lower-upper-lower-upper would be a split routine, but have a 4x/week frequency for upper body, and 3x for lower body). If you’re only training 3-4 times per week, though, higher frequencies are going to necessitate at least a few full-body sessions.

      1. Thanks Greg. Yes, I agree about the frequency component. I guess I was wondering more about whether the sparseness of the sets in a FB session for a given muscle group and the decline in performance for exercises performed toward the end of the session might make FB less effective for hypertrophy compared with, say, an U/L split done several times per week.

  16. Thanks as always, Greg!

    You mentioned just briefly the notion that strength is most strongly correlated to intensity (as opposed to frequency or volume). Is that still with the exception of bfr training? I remember your article on that saying strength gains were similar using bfr as with high loads. Or does bfr qualify as high intensity even though it’s low load high volume?

    1. Nah. Adding low load BFR training to high load training boosts strength gains, but low load BFR training itself doesn’t lead to nearly as large of strength gains as high load training.

      1. Would you need to add low load BFR to high load training of the same muscle group?

        For example, if I do high load chin ups, but load load bfr bicep work, or high load bench and low load bfr tricep work.

        Or would the effect be doing high load curls + low load bfr curls, high load skull crushers + low load bfr tricep work.

        Sorry, I read the article I swear, but just unclear on if the high load work needs to directly focus on the same muscle group as the low load bfr.

  17. Hi Greg,
    Great article! I was wondering if you should adjust your significant threshold for the amount of test you did. What are your thoughts about this?
    Thanks

    1. I mostly just report p-values because I know a lot of people like to see p-values, but I personally don’t put much stock in them. And the two findings here that are the most important (significant for upper body pressing, and positive association between frequency and relative out-performance) have low enough p-values that any adjustments wouldn’t affect them enough to matter (0.0056 and 0.0017).

  18. Nice job Greg.
    Very interesting to read. One of the things that I have found over the years is that it may not be worth going after the additional strength gains from increased frequency in the long run due to increased injury rates. There may be overall strength gain, through increase in strength in “large muscle groups”, while at the same time overtraining some other muscle groups and/or tendons, leading to injury in the long run. Therefore you have to ask yourself if it is worth that extra few percent per week/whatever, if you are going to loose it all while injured.
    >>>Another drawback, similar to the periodization review, is that the “trained” lifters still weren’t super well-trained, so we can’t know how well these results would generalize to people who aren’t beginner or intermediate-level lifters.<<< There is the neuro-muscular component that tends to be improved more with increased frequency in beginner or intermediate-level lifters, that is not necessarily as trainable in advanced lifters?
    Very interested in your thoughts.

    Andrew T
    PS-really like the article on using excel for meta-analysis! (-:

    1. I don’t really think frequency has an independent effect on injury risk. I think it depends on how people use frequency. If you’re sticking with the same volume and splitting it over more sessions, you should accrue less intra-session fatigue, and a lot of injuries occur when motor control starts slipping when you being fatiguing. Thus, I’d anticipate lower injury risk. However, if you “go hard or go home” in every session, I definitely think higher frequencies would increase risk. But in that case, it’s not the fault of the tool (frequency) – it’s the fault of the person wielding it.

      As for skill acquisition, I think the absolute difference for high-level lifters would shrink with training experience, but the relative difference may still be the same. High level lifters also have a hard time adding more muscle to their frame, so marginal improvements in technique and efficiency are still playing a role in strength increases, and (I’d assume) it would take more frequent practice to improve a motor skill that’s already close to the point of absolute mastery. So, the difference may not be 2% vs. 1.5% per week – it may be more like 2% vs. 1.5% per year – but I don’t see a reason to think the general difference wouldn’t still be there. I could be totally wrong, though (both of us are basing our argument more on speculation and observations than direct evidence).

      Glad you like the excel meta article! That was super clutch for me.

  19. Excellent work Greg!
    Just as a side note, your article about everything you need to know yo get bigger and stronger, says frecuency is not that important for gaining strenght, have you change your stance on that? . I am a novice lifter(Only 2 months in the gym) but I’ve read all your content and applied thoroughly, and I am incredibly grateful for your contribution.

    1. “have you change your stance on that?”

      Yep! My articles represent my best attempt at providing accurate information based on what I knew when I wrote them, but as I learn more and gain more experience, my views shift. When in doubt, go with what I wrote the most recently.

  20. Thanks again for that article Greg. I’ve been thinking a lot about bench since reading it.

    When your clients and yourself bench 4x a week, I’m guessing not all of those are maximal sessions? How often do you (or your clients) RPE 9 or 10 on bench press? I’m guessing no more than once a week? How would a week look like?

    Something like this?

    Monday 3 sets RPE 8
    Wed 3 sets RPE 5
    Friday 3 sets RPE 9
    Sun 3 sets RPE 6

    Curious about that.

    Thanks!

    1. Generally I’ll use RPE cutoffs (sometimes 7, generally 8, and occasionally 9 if they’re training at 90%+, but that’s pretty uncommon) and have one heavier bench days with three lighter days. Sometimes one heavy “normal” bench day, two lighter days, and one “overload” day, where the additional absolute load (from boards, slingshot, etc.) is offset by lower RPEs.

      1. Hi Greg! As always, thanks a lot for another amazing article.

        A couple of clarifications:

        – do you prescribe a fixed number of sets, or do you prefer RPE stops, i.e. “keep doing sets until you exceed 7 RPE”? I’m not sure if this was what you meant with RPE cutoffs.

        – when talking about ‘normal’ and ‘lighter’ days, do you mean in terms of volume, intensity, or both?

        – if someone needs to gain size or he’s or she’s more interested in hypertrophy, could the light days be composed of isolation exercises and/or higher reps in general?

        I have mixed feeling about the last point, because a set of 10-15 reps or even more at a moderate to high RPE isn’t a ‘light day’ at all! Sure, you could do a set of higher reps at a low RPE, but I don’t know how much it could be useful.

        Anecdotally, I recover better from low reps at low RPE; but in any case, the common notion of a light day (at least in the body building circles) as I described it before always struck me as controversial.

        1. RPE stops

          Absolute and relative intensity. For example, heavy days may be squats with 80%, and lighter days may be something like paused squat or front squat with 70-75% for that lift’s max. So if you squat 500 and front squat 400, you’d be working with 400 on heavy days, but only 280-300 on lighter days (slightly lower relative load, and much lower absolute load).

          Yep (isolations and higher reps)!

  21. Hi Greg,

    For what it’s worth, I just came across this recent paper (perhaps you already cited it?), which is relevant to the post topic:

    Eur J Sport Sci. 2018 May 31:1-6. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2018.1476590. [Epub ahead of print]
    High-frequency resistance training does not promote greater muscular adaptations compared to low frequencies in young untrained men.
    Barcelos C1, Damas F1, Nóbrega SR1, Ugrinowitsch C2, Lixandrão ME2, Marcelino Eder Dos Santos L1, Libardi CA1.

    Conclusion: Performing RT5, RT3 and RT2 a week result in similar muscle strength increase and hypertrophy, despite higher TTV for RT5.

    I’m not sure if this result would apply to experienced lifters however.

  22. Hi Greg – NSCA guidelines as well as the standard mentality towards training would suggest that you should wait at least 48 hours between training sessions for a given muscle group. The fact the leg training doesn’t really benefit from more than 1 day a week suggests that doing sets during a very “unrecovered” state is still equally beneficial (volume-load equated). Similarly, there is certainly a high frequency training approach that would have a lifter training a muscle group 3+ times a week which would also violate the magic 48 hour rule. Is there any validity to this time frame?
    Thank you for your thoughts and all your work.

    1. There have been three studies looking at whether it matters if you rest at least 48 hours between sessions, versus training the same muscles back-to-back-to-back days. All three of them found that it’s fine to train the same muscles on consecutive days (no difference in hypertrophy or strength gains).

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29967584
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27682004
      https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Citation/1985/02000/Research__Changes_in_body_composition,_body_build.4.aspx

      1. Now that’s a very interesting find (training 3 days back to back)! I do have to wonder, though, if maybe the effect sizes could’ve been different in any of those studies. I can’t tell as that’s probably only mentioned in the full-text and I don’t have access. Is anyone able to access the full-text of these studies and see if effect sizes varied between control and consecutive workout day groups?

        Also, on a general note, thanks for the excellent analysis of all this, Greg.

          1. Thanks Greg! This idea of training the same muscles with no rest on consecutive days is kind of blowing my mind. It would seem to suggest that everything we thought we knew about recovery (“you get stronger by *recovering* from lifting weights..”) is wrong! I wonder how this can work.

          2. Nah, recovery is still very important. It just occurs in conjunction with everything else. Just because you train again, that doesn’t mean you aren’t still recovering from the prior session.

      1. 24 hours is necessary for the activation of satellite cells, the peak of proliferation occurs at 72-96 hours, after this time differentiation occurs for 5-8 days. And still need some time to fusion. I expect 9-11 days.

        1. Dude, you’re making these assertions, but the only study you’ve cited to back them up is a synergist ablation study in mice (i.e. constant overload, with no breaks at all) that says the opposite of what you thought it did. And regardless, even if that timeline is correct, that wouldn’t then mean that you had to rest for it to take place.

  23. Wow. A world record-setting lifter who is happy to crunch numbers intelligently…superb.

    Yeah, recovery is crucial and takes longer as one ages, but rest may be over-rated these days. Your conclusions about higher frequency make sense to me. The modern trend after many types of surgery on a joint is more active rehab, more often, sooner.

    If you train to win a title fight or major marathon, you probably can’t peak again for a few months. But no doubt you have trained hard, for hours- almost every day- in the months leading up to competition. On “rest day” during the Tour De France, pros do a ‘light ride’ that is probably tougher than 99% of amateur cyclists can manage.

    Even a seemingly “simple” athletic move like a power lift requires tremendous skill- I’d guess even more so as weight gets into advanced ranges.

    Skill can not be developed absent a large number of repetitions.

  24. [Cont.]
    Even holding lifting reps equal, greater frequencies per week would predict better skill development, as technique will be better-reinforced into memory. But as you note, greater frequency probably results in more reps in practice.

    Surely there is a “sweet spot”. Endurance runners and cyclists must take steps to avoid overtraining. Sprinters can tear a hamstring with one too many training runs. But as soon as the muscles have recovered a day without training is time lost- fast approaching atrophy of both skills and strength.

    Jimi Hendrix was an “overnight sensation” at age 23. According to what I’ve read, by then he probably had been playing the guitar 6-12 hours a day, just about EVERY DAY, for the preceding 6 years…

  25. Hey Greg,
    Are there any downsides to working out full body 3 days a week for long sessions?
    I have a lot of time on certain days and none on others, so i workout 3 days a week full body, but due to this, my workouts usually end up being 4-5 hours long. Are there any disadvantages to training this way for a late intermediate trainee?

  26. Legs don’t improve as much because they’re already being used to lift 1 to 3 hundred pounds every day just with walking around while arms can be practically dormant on off days.

    And my not very scientific theory about high freq is that you’re getting your body used to having to send nutrients to your muscles everyday. So you do this 5 days in a row and your body (as if it were sentient which it isn’t) decides to send the same amount of nutrients on the 6th day when you rested. On the 2nd rest day it probably realizes its mistake and doesn’t. So then you reprime your system with 5 days of training and again trick your body on the 6th day, causing a day of growth. Etc.

    Endurance runners already do something like this. Looks like strength training is catching up.

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