This suggests that increasing training frequency that does not result in greater training volume will have little benefit on strength and muscle growth outcomes. Still, increasing training frequency that increases the total training volume a person does per week will probably result in greater gains in muscle strength and lean muscle mass.
A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS GREATER TRAINING FREQUENCY WITH MORE VOLUME IS BETTER FOR MUSCLE GROWTH SUMMARY
- Increasing training frequency without increasing total volume doesn’t significantly benefit strength and muscle growth.
- Total training volume remains a primary factor for muscle growth and strength gains in trained individuals.
- The researchers concluded that trained individuals might need to increase resistance training frequency to achieve the necessary training volumes for gains in strength and muscle mass. However, if the total volume remains the same across different weekly frequencies, no additional benefits are observed.
AN INTRODUCTION TO TRAINING FREQUENCY
Increasing the number of weekly training sessions is a good strategy to increase workout volume (i.e., sets x reps x weight). An increase in workout volume is associated with increased muscle growth up to a certain point; however, further increases in muscle growth do not occur after a certain point. Reviews of the scientific literature suggest that exercising a muscle twice per week is the optimal frequency for muscle growth. One study found greater muscle growth with greater exercise muscle frequency.(1)
Training a muscle once a week can result in excessive volume in a single session leading to greater fatigue, lower exercise intensity, and prolonged muscular recovery compared to breaking a workout into smaller sets performed more often.(2, 3) Most studies examining workout frequency have found that workout volume is more important than the frequency for muscle growth. When the total training volume is similar, training frequency has no significant effect on either strength performance or muscle hypertrophy when total training volume is equal.(4)
TRAINING FREQUENCY STUDIES
A limitation of comparing equal training volume is that a subject often has to hold back or train at a reduced intensity to equal the volume of those performing a greater total volume more frequently. For example, if you a person has to perform 4 sets three times per week, they more than likely can do more in a session compared to a person that has to perform 12 sets once a week.
Some studies have large variability in training responses based on individual differences of the subject based on their training state. For example, a person who normally performs 20 sets per week assigned to a study in which the training volume is 14 sets per week is doing less than they normally do. Most studies comparing the effects of different training sessions have been on untrained subjects. Furthermore, it’s well established that not all people respond to the same training protocol (i.e., some people respond better or worse) based on genetics, training history, diet, motivation, etc.
A more accurate way of analyzing data is to analyze the intra-individual differences (i.e., comparison protocol with experienced individuals). Using an intra-individual study design can reduce some statistical errors that can occur when measuring as a group compared to individual differences. For example, let’s say a person gains twice the muscle growth by training three times a week, but the others in the group had no greater increases in muscle growth with training three times per week. This means for certain individuals, greater training frequency that increases total training volume is better for these individuals based on their individual genetics.
NEW STUDY ON HIGH TRAINING FREQUENCY FOR MUSCLE GROWTH
A new study is making the scientific community re-examine their beliefs of the optimal training frequency for muscle growth in trained weightlifters with an average of six years of experience. The researchers divided 24 subjects into two groups. One group performed an equal training volume, much like the traditional resistance exercise studies performed in the past. The other group was assigned to an interindividual training group in which the total training volume was not equal and allowed each person to train at an optimal intensity each day. The study breakdown of the groups was:
1.) Train legs one time per week (equal training volume)
2.) Train legs three times per week (equal training volume)
3.) Train legs one time per week (unequal training volume)
4.) Train legs three times per week (unequal training volume)
After nine weeks of training, the researchers examined the muscle growth and muscle strength of each group. Both groups performed nine sets at 12RM each week during the first three weeks. They performed at 10RM during weeks 4, 5, and 6. They performed at 8RM during weeks 7, 8, and 9.
The lower extremity of the equal-volume group started by performing nine sets once a week.
The lower limb of the unequal volume group trained three times a week and wasn’t limited by the volume achieved in a single session. The researchers designed the study to ensure that the total training volume in the unequal training volume frequency group exceeded that in the equal training volume frequency group. Please refer to the graphs below for further information on the equal and unequal training volume frequencies.