Planning Your Training Frequency: Timing is Everything

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Hypertrophy-Specific Training

Whether you are sold on heavy weight and low reps, or less weight and more reps, if your training frequency is not planned with the same scrutiny as other aspects of your routine, you may be wasting time unnecessarily. With a little insight into the factors affecting the optimal timing of your workouts, you may just experience more success than you believed you could.

Knowing exactly when your muscles need to be trained again after the previous workout is difficult to judge with absolute certainty. Recent research in the area of muscle damage and recovery is showing results that may surprise you. Science is now showing us things that may change the way you train forever!

When you lift weights, you cause damage to your muscles. This is often referred to as “microtrauma”. Microtrauma involves the tearing and shearing of delicate protein structures within your muscle cells. This may sound bad but in reality it is necessary for the initiation of growth after your workout.

This microtrauma may be expected to require you to postpone your next workout until your muscles are back to normal. It is this logic that your average personal trainer will use when he/she tells you to wait, sometimes a full week, before training the same body part again. Recent research however is showing us that putting off your next workout until your muscles have “fully recovered” may not be necessary or even desirable! (1,2,3) In a study performed at the University of Alabama (4), two groups of subjects performed the same periodized resistance training routine either once per week or three times per week. The results showed that muscle mass increases were greater in the three workout per week group, compared to the one workout per week group. In addition, the strength increases in this group were on average 40% greater! So what does this mean to you? It means the fear of overtraining, which sometimes verges on paranoia, may be preventing you from getting the most gains you can in the gym.

So science is telling us that training a muscle group approximately every 48 hours may be more effective than training it once or twice per week. If you train your whole body three times per week with your current workout routine it might take several hours to complete. I doubt many of us would have time for that. Does this mean you can’t reap the benefits of more frequent training? Once again, new research provides us with some answers.

In a study performed at Montclair State University (5) researchers investigated the effect of a single set vs. a multiple set routine on increasing upper body strength. They had the subjects perform either one set or three sets of bench press, incline dumbbell press and flat dumbbell flies using ten reps, three times per week for 12 weeks. This kind of study has been done before but this one is particularly valuable because it involved previously “trained” subjects. This is significant because untrained subjects will usually respond positively to virtually any training routine. Just because a training strategy works for beginners doesn’t mean it will work for experienced lifters. These researchers found that doing a single set of each exercise was equally effective as doing three sets of the same movements in increasing the subjects one repetition maximum (1RM) on bench press. The take home message is that you needn’t do more than a single work set to achieve the same relative gains of doing multiple sets. This makes incorporating a whole body workout into your schedule much more feasible.

A sample whole body workout might look like this:

  • 10-15 minute warmup on bike or treadmill
  • Squats, 1-2 warm up sets and 1 work set of 6-8 reps
  • Leg curls, 1 work set of 6-8 reps
  • Bench press, 1 warm up and 1 work set of 6-8 reps
  • Chins or pull ups, 1 work set 6-8 reps. (Add weight as necessary)
  • Dips, 1 work set of 6-8 reps. (Add weight as necessary)
  • Seated rows, 1 work set of 6-8 reps
  • Lying tricep extensions, 1 work set of 6-8 reps
  • Preacher curls, 1 work set of 6-8 reps

You will notice that this type of training relies heavily on compound exercises. This is necessary to keep the number of exercises down. Don’t worry about this however; compound exercises should be the foundation of any muscle/strength building program.

This is just some of the research used to create Hypertrophy Specific Training. If you want to get the most out of your efforts in the gym, you have got to incorporate new knowledge as science uncovers it. The message here is that by reducing the volume of sets per exercise, and by increasing the frequency that you train each muscle group, you may experience new gains you thought previously impossible. Through a little bit of trial and error you should be on your way to the physique you’ve always wanted.

References:

1) Nosaka K, Clarkson P.M. Muscle damage following repeated bouts of high force eccentric exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc., 27(9):1263-1269,1995

2) Smith LL., Fuylmer MG., Holbert D., McCammon MR., Houmard JA., Frazer DD., Nsien E., Isreal RG. The impact of repeated bout of eccentric exercise on muscular strength, muscle soreness and creatine kinase. Br J Sp Med 28(4):267-271, 1994

3) T.C. Chen, Taipei Physical Education College, and S.S. Hsieh, FACSM,. The effects of a seven-day repeated eccentric training on recovery from muscle damage. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc. 31(5 Supp) pp. S71, 1999

4) McLester JR., Bishop P., & Guilliams M. Comparison of 1 and 3 day per week of equal volume resistance training in experienced subjects. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc. 31(5 Supp) pp.S117 1999

5) Curto MA., Fisher MM. The effect of single vs. Multiple sets of resistance exercise on strength in trained males. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc. 31(5 Supp) pp.S114, 1999

Bodybuilder Sami Al Haddad

Photo credit: Muscletime

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About Bryan Haycock

Bryan Haycock+ is an exercise physiologist and NPC judge. Bryan has been bodybuilding for over 20 years and holds certifications with the NSCA, ACE, and is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Bryan is currently the Editor in Chief of ThinkMuscle.com and is the founder and CEO of LifeStyleMgmt.com. Bryan is a highly sought after authority on the physiology of muscle growth and fat loss. Bryan also specializes in the management of type-II diabetes through diet and exercise.