In the world of strength training, ‘frequency’ is defined as how often you perform something. In more specific terms, I define frequency as the number of times per week a particular lift is performed. Frequency can vary from 0/week to 7/week. Meaning you can perform a certain lift as little as 0 times per week or as often as 7 times per week. For the purpose of this article, we will consider only one training session per day, even though some athletes may use multiple sessions per day.
Strength training has an odd way of repeating itself throughout time and each time a new ‘style’ of training comes around, it’s often mistaken for a new, groundbreaking technique. In reality, there has been nothing ‘sparkling new’ about training methods in quite some time, and there will likely never be. There are only so many ways to use volume, reps, frequency, speed, and intensity in training that over the years, every different combination has been tried. 30 years ago, it seemed that ultra-high frequency was setting the European weightlifters apart from the rest of the world. They were performing competition movements up to 7 times per week. A few years later most of the American strongmen and powerlifters that my generation looks up to like Ed Coan and Kaz, used a linear periodization utilizing progressively lower reps and higher weight performing major movements once per week. When I first began paying attention to the powerlifting world in the 2000’s, Westside, or the Conjugate Method seemed to be the most popular method. Max effort was prioritized and speed and band work became popular. Now I look at where I have seen the trend moving in the past few years, particularly with the growing popularity of raw lifting, more and more lifters seem to be utilizing a higher frequency protocol. More raw lifters are modelling their training after Olympic programs rather than the conjugate method that produced so many strong equipped lifters.
The purpose of this article is not to blindly state the best frequency to use as a lifter, just to guide someone to understand the pros and cons of varying frequency and how to experiment and implement changes into your training.
QUESTION THE STATUS QUO
When I began programming and training on my own, I followed the traditional Western Periodization of performing the lifts once per week, and over a cycle reducing the reps and increasing the weight, while putting a lot of emphasis on non-compound assistance work. I began to question ‘why does everyone only have one day a week for squat, bench and deadlift?’ I figured it was out of convenience. The American week is based around the Monday through Friday workweek and this probably allowed lifters and crews to have a set schedule. Squats, Bench Presses, and Deadlifts were at the same time and day every week. Then I thought that if gaining strength was the primary goal, maybe 1/week wasn’t ideal, it was just convenient.
The science of gaining strength and size is simple on the surface. 1. Break the muscles down in the gym. 2. Recover from nutrition and rest. 3. Muscles heal and grow to be stronger from the induced stress. 4. Repeat. Over weeks, months, and years this repetitive process develops the body. Well if you were to focus on the bench press and only performing it once per week, this entire cycle covered a week. What if you now benched twice a week and could still recover from session to session; would you make the same gains in 6 months that you otherwise would have in a year? What if you bench pressed 4 times per week, would you now make the same gains in 3 months that you would have in a year? Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work like this, but adjusting your frequency correctly can lead to quicker improvement.
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