“Rest for 48 hours after training each body part.”
“Your muscles need to rest in order to grow”
“Training the same muscles two days in a row is catabolic and will cause you to LOSE muscle mass.”
How often have you heard these?
You only have to pick up a bodybuilding magazine, scan a personal training handbook, or listen out carefully in the free-weights section of your gym to realise that these are all well-held beliefs in the training and lifting community.
It all makes sense too. When you train a muscle, tiny microtears occur in the fibers. These fibers then regrow bigger and stronger than before, but only if they’re given enough rest, and ample nutrients to give them stimulus to rebuild.
Therefore, the tried and tested advice of leaving at least two days from training a muscle group until you hit it again seems to be perfectly logical.
Why on earth then, are some people completely abandoning this approach, and trashing their bodies by training at a much higher frequency?
From HFT to MPS
Perhaps the most well-known advocate of high frequency training (HFT) is strength coach Chad Waterbury. While all the pro bodybuilders were out there advising young, wannabe meatheads to follow body part splits, Waterbury stuck to his (sizeable) guns and became a firm supporter of full body training.
According to Waterbury, mechanical growth factor (MGF) is the driving force behind muscle gain. Every time you stimulate a muscle, MGF is released, thereby leading to the theory that more frequent training leads to higher levels of MGF and greater gains. (1)
This goes hand in hand with muscle protein synthesis (MPS.) When you train, your rate of muscle protein synthesis also increases (basically the amount of protein the muscle can uptake.) A study from the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology found that MPS reaches a peak in a muscle group around 24 hours post-workout, then declines rapidly, adding more weight to the support behind training more frequently to sustain these MPS peaks. (2)
Building With The Bulgarians
While Waterbury may be the modern day poster boy for high frequency bodybuilding, the first group in the industry to become known for their higher frequency style were the Bulgarian weightlifters.
These sheer behemoths of muscle and might would perform their competition lifts (the snatch and clean and jerk) along with the derivative exercises and accessory moves such as squats and overhead presses several times per week, often on consecutive days. Not only that, but the intensity was kept high and the weights heavy.
While this initially sounds like a recipe for disaster, there are a few key factors you need to take note of.
1. Only a minimal number of exercises were used. A session might consist of just snatches, back squats and behind the neck presses.
2. While they would often work up to a single rep maximum, this weight was based on how the lifter was feeling on the day. Say, for instance, a lifter’s best competition weight on the clean and jerk was 120kg, they might work up to 105kg on a “good” day in the gym, yet only lift 95kg on an “off” day when they weren’t feeling on top form.
3. The emphasis was on quality, and moving the bar quickly, rather than quantity or total volume.
4. Lifters rarely failed lifts.
5. These lifters were highly trained, and often on some form of chemical assistance.
The Everyman’s Guide to HFT
While the Bulgarian method clearly produced some outstanding lifters, it’s certainly not a suitable routine for the average gym lifter with a 9 to 5 job, a family and other responsibilities outside the weight room.
HFT does offer a host of benefits however, so it’s worth pursuing, if for no other reason than to give you a break from your regular body part split. An effective option, that’s much more practical, is daily undulating periodization, or DUP.
This involves training more frequently than you would following a bodybuilding magazine workout, but not quite at the insane levels of our Bulgarian friends. Try this routine on for size …..
Workout A (Upper):
– Bench Press
– Weighted Pull-ups
– Military Press
– Barbell Rows from Pins
Workout B (Lower):
– Barbell Back Squat
High Frequency Training Plan:
Monday – Workout A, with each exercise for 6 sets of 3 reps
Tuesday – Workout B, with each exercise for 6 sets of 3 reps.
Wednesday – Workout A, with each exercise for 4 sets of 6 reps
Thursday – Workout B, with each exercise for 4 sets of 6 reps, plus 4 sets of 6 lunges and 4 sets of 6 standing calf raises.
Friday – Workout A, with each exercise for 3 sets of 12 reps, plus 3 sets of 12 barbell curls and cable pushdowns.
Saturday – Workout B, with each exercise for 3 sets of 10 reps, plus 3 sets of 10 leg curls and leg extensions.
Sunday – Rest