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Study: Low Vs High Training Frequency for Strength and Mass

How often should you be training for strength and hypertrophy gains?

In the day and age of more, more, more, frequency is often a training variable that is taken to the extremes, but does it need to be? A better question to answer is, “how much does frequency really influence training outcomes if other variables like volume and intensity are accounted for?”

That’s a question multiple researchers and papers have sought out to answer over the last decade. Most recently, a paper published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation explored this topic by analyzing multiple relevant studies in hopes of identifying and suggesting best practices for muscular performance and hypertrophy when it comes to training frequency. (1)

In the gym, how much and how often are always multifactorial questions, but let’s check out what the latest suggestions and guidelines advise on the topic of frequency.

Back Squat
Image via Shutterstock/Andy Gin

Study Inclusion Criteria

What’s great about this latest paper is that it accounts for trained individuals and provides practical guidelines for this population based on newer studies. To be included within this paper, studies had to have multiple criteria that matched the authors’ requirements.

Check out the inclusion criteria for studies that is from the paper below,

  • Date range: 2014–2019 (time frame selected to include most recent evidence)
  • Peer-reviewed or academic journal articles, full text
  • Inclusion terms: resistance training, strength training, weight training, resistance exercise, frequency, trained men/males, TB (or full body or whole body), SR (or split body, or upper body/lower body)
  • English language
  • Randomized controlled trials

In sum, authors only wanted to know about frequency for trained males with in studies that accounted for total training volume and compared frequency directly to desirable training outcomes.

The is valuable information because for coaches and athletes this paper provides realistic guidelines and recommendations for training frequency, as opposed to suggesting guidelines based on untrained populations.

Suggestions and Takeaways

In this paper, four studies met the inclusion criteria, which helped authors articulate guidelines for trained populations on the quest of finding the ideal training frequency for their goals and needs.

Front Squat Guy
Image via Video Image Guy/Shutterstock

From the four studies, authors made a few useful suggestions including:

  1. Both lower and higher training frequencies are viable options for improving strength and hypertrophy.
  2. Lower frequency training models in three of the four studies produced greater improvements in 1-RM strength for the squat and bench press compared to higher frequencies when volume was accounted for and increased over time.
  3. Training a muscle group twice per week is suggested to provide the most benefit, so this could be useful to factor to consider when accounting for training frequency in a program.

In terms of the lower frequency training groups, authors point out that trained individuals will need a higher training stimulus than un-trained individuals, and this is why accounting for and increasing volume over time is key for this group’s success when training across limited days. They also point out that this is useful information for those with restricted training time.

Limitations to Consider

Authors also pointed out that there are a few limitations with their paper and the current research because it’s still rather light. For context, only two of the studies included in their paper compared split routines with total body workouts and there were pretty big discrepancies between total exercises used across the four studies (9 as the minimum and 21 as the most).

These differences above could potentially direct programming concerns for various adaptations when it comes to differences in training ideologies, but this should be contextualized with one’s goals, needs, and the current suggestions on training frequency.

Wrapping Up

This isn’t the first time we’ve written on research suggesting that frequency isn’t the biggest factor for success with improving maximal strength and it’s actually total volume and intensity.

At the end of the day, frequency is an important variable to consider and its use should accommodate for both programming and daily life needs.

References

1. Kessinger, T., Melton, B., Miyashita, T., & Ryan, G. (2020). The Effectiveness of Frequency-Based Resistance Training Protocols on Muscular Performance and Hypertrophy in Trained Males: A Critically Appraised Topic. Journal Of Sport Rehabilitation, 1-8.

Feature image via Shutterstock/Andy Gin

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