Study: Volume & Intensity, Not Frequency, Weigh Heaviest for Maximal Strength Gains

Resistance training is composed of major variables like intensity, volume, and frequency when building perfect workout programs. New research published earlier this month explores the topic of varied training frequency and how important volume and intensity are on the big three when they’re created equal, but trained at different frequencies.

It’s commonly thought that when our lifting experience increases, so should our training frequency. In theory, this makes sense when you consider an experienced athlete needs higher training thresholds (neural adaptation), but if intensity and volume are equal when perusing maximal strength at different training frequencies; how important really is training frequency?

Objectives

Researchers wanted to investigate the idea of how different training frequencies influenced maximal strength in resistance trained subjects. There’s been research done on this topic with untrained populations, but the authors note that there’s been a lack of research performed on topic with those who have previous training experience.

Subjects

For this study, researchers included 28 volunteers who ranged from the ages of 18 to 30 and had at least 6-months of prior resistance training experience. Volunteers were split into two groups that either worked out at a frequency of three times a week or six times.

[How much training do you really need? Check out this overview of the current research covering training frequency!]

Resistance Training Protocol & Testing

Now for the interesting part, this research focused on resistance trained males and their improvements in the squat, bench press, and deadlift specifically. Researchers tested each participant’s 1-RM strength with the NSCA’s 1-RM protocol and used USAPL judging standards to deem a lift good or not. Additionally, subjects had their Wilks scores calculated based off their 1-RMs.

Before beginning the study, subjects had their 1-RMs recorded. After doing so, they were split into two groups that trained either three or six times a week and followed this lifting schedule for six-weeks. Volume and intensity were made equal between the two groups, and work out sessions for each group were created equal on a weekly basis (6x/week = 1 hour of training, 3x/week = 2 hours of training).

After the six-week work out program, participants then retested their 1-RM using the same protocol as the pretesting.

Results and Suggestions

The results suggested that 1-RM strength for the squat, bench press, and deadlift all increased to a similar degree with both groups. In addition, an athlete’s Wilks score, powerlifting total, and fat free mass were all similar following the 6-week program.

Researchers suggested that in the short-term time scope (6-weeks) that volume and intensity may be more indicative of maximal strength gains compared to frequency. Another cool consideration, they also mention the theory behind higher training frequency and its perceived relationship to increased neural adaptations, and point that they didn’t test for neural.

Although, researchers do mention that the 1-RM findings could indirectly relate to some degree of increased neural adaptation, aka in this short-term case subjects advanced at similar rates, so they may have adapted similarly.

Takeaway Message

In my opinion, this research has one major takeaway message that can be applicable for experienced athletes, and it’s that volume may be the most important variable to consider for maximal strength when life gets hectic. At times, athletes [myself included] can stress if they’re not getting to the gym multiple days a week when life gets busy past their control.

So instead of stressing, try to equate the variables you can. This research is nice because it furthers the idea that volume and intensity weigh heaviest when making strength gains, which can help some athletes ease their stress for not training as frequent as they’d like. Thus, helping the programming of the athlete/coach who needs to further strength progress, but has limited time allotment. 

Feature image from @lisahaefnerphoto Instagram page. 

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