What’s the Sweet Spot for Training & Frequency?
When talking about frequency, finding the“sweet spot” will be a very tailored answer. Meaning: it needs to be tailored to the desired outcome.
If you’re reading this blog: I’m going to make the assumption that strength improvement is what you’re after.
And if, strength improvement is what you’re after: how does training frequency affect the programming of someone looking to maximize their strength improvement in a given period?
How Getting Stronger Happens
Getting stronger (over a long period) is going to come down to two things:
- Strength adaptations (changes in the brain for exertion, neuromuscular connections, force production capacity, stiffer tendons, etc)
- Hypertrophy (increases in muscle cross-sectional area, and so forth)
In English: increasing your capacity for exertion and building more muscles. As you get more advanced, more of that emphasis is on hypertrophy.
As a beginner, programming considerations primarily focus on two aspects:
- Skill practice with the competition lifts
- Training adaptations to improve work capacity (i.e. tolerate more volume)
Building proficiency in the squat, bench, and deadlift requires more frequent exposure to these lifts.
Training adaptations will occur as a result of performing these lifts at high intensities with relatively high volume.
A more advanced trainee will have different goals & they will often adjust their training in a different fashion. With more general training the farthest away from competition, and peaking specificity the weeks preceding the meet.
They will also change their programming around meet priority (which ones are most important).
This is known as block periodization and it’s a programming tool used to manage fatigue while still maintaining high levels of volume and intensity required to make progress.
But how does any of this factor into training frequency?
Training Frequency, Strength, and Hypertrophy
Programming for strength requires trainees to accumulate volume at a high enough intensity rate to stimulate the desired adaptations.
Past your beginner phase, the most predictable indicator of continued strength growth will be the addition of more skeletal muscle tissue.
For maximum hypertrophy gains, lifters should aim to maximize their weekly volume, without outpacing their body’s ability to recover.
A big reason for why most online novice programs stop working is because they don’t have enough volume for an advanced trainee to continue making progress.
But not all volume is created equal.
As you build more muscle and become more resistant to training, a greater emphasis is placed on volume to drive progress.
But going from 5X5 (25) to 5X8 (40) is not the same.
Get Stronger Faster
The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) Principle means that your body will create adaptations that are specific to the imposed demand caused by the external environment (i.e. training).
This is where intensity, volume, & frequency begin to be taken into consideration.
What we’re trying to do is maximizing the amount of volume we can do in a given week at a set intensity rate.
In order for our training to adhere to the SAID principle, we need to make sure that we are meeting two factors:
- Strength adaptations
- Hypertrophy stimuli
We cannot get stronger without the strength adaptations that occur while training in the higher intensity ranges (>70%).
This means that all of your training needs to occur while being at a minimum of 70% of your e1RM.
So, that’s the first criterion.
The second criterion will be that the training volume (at the aforementioned intensity ranges) needs to meet the base minimum for hypertrophy to occur.
I don’t know what the “base” is. And I haven’t found any information that could indicate what that “base” is or could be.
It’s individual to the trainee. And one can only know from notating weekly training volume, average intensity, increases (or decreases) in body weight, and the changes in weight lifted.
(Sidenote: Track, track, track.)
Those who are more sensitive to training will require less volume to stimulate a response than another lifter who is more resistant to the same stimuli.
Over time, by observing training data, you will notice what level of weekly volume you respond best to.
However: not all volume is equal.
The adaptations that occur at 5 sets of 5 reps at RPE 8 (~81%) are different than those that would occur at 2 sets of 14 reps at RPE 8 (62.5%).
Even less obvious would be the observation that 3 sets of 8 reps at RPE 8 (73.9%) would also stimulate different changes on the trainee.
Training frequency then allows the trainee to separate training sessions so that a sufficient level of intensity is able to be maintained with higher volumes of training.
Taking Monday as a “Bench” day would mean doing:
- Competition Bench: 5X5 (~81%) at RPE 8
- Touch & Go Bench: 6 Sets of 4 Reps (~86.4%) at RPE 8-9
- 2-Count Paused Bench: 6 Sets of 4 Reps (~86.4%) at RPE 8-9
By this point, the level of fatigue on the lifter will have accumulated to a point where productive training at a high-enough intensity is no longer possible.
Or the weights would have to be accommodated (read: lowered) to such an extent that strength gains would suffer greatly (thereby violating Criterion #1).
In this way, it would be better to split the benching sessions into several different days. This would allow the lifter to maintain their weekly volume while lifting at an intensity rate that suitable for both strength & hypertrophy.
So, taking the programming above as an example:
- Monday – Competition Bench: 5X5 (~81%) at RPE 8
- Wednesday – Touch & Go Bench: 6 Sets of 4 Reps (~86.4%) at RPE 8-9
- Friday – 2-Count Paused Bench: 6 Sets of 4 Reps (~86.4%) at RPE 8-9
In this scenario, the same amount of volume is split into three different days. Training in this fashion allows you to scale the volume without sacrificing intensity.
Because you’re still training at above 80% intensity, the strength and hypertrophy gains would happen concurrently.
Notice that in the first scenario, the frequency rate was 1X per week. In the second scenario, the frequency rate went to 3X per week.
What’s the difference?
The difference is that by packing all of that volume into one single day you’re sacrificing intensity (weight lifted as % of your e1RM) for volume.
It’s just very difficult to lift at that high of an intensity while performing 73 reps in a single session.
What frequency allows us to do is to split a single large session into three more manageable sessions. Doing this helps us maintain high levels of volume and intensity throughout the training week.
Intelligent Fatigue Management
Of course, if we’re talking about high volume & high intensity training concurrently, there needs to be an element of regulation.
This is where RPE comes from & how that interaction with frequency works.
If you continually train very hard, almost to the point of failure, and you do that very frequently (multiple times per week) – the fatigue will build up very quickly.
This will lead to less productive training, decreased motivation to train, higher risk of injury, and overtime: slower progress.
Long-term strength growth is the product of continued hard training with deliberate programming.
If you keep needing to stop, reset, deload, etc. repeatedly — your ability to progress in your lifts will be diminished.
Smart training is productive training.
RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) is a measurement metric that you can use to calibrate your training.
Each set comes with a prescribed level of exertion that will dictate the weight you will use. What RPE tries to do is squeeze the most of what you have for that day without going overboard.
On a day that you’re feeling great, you might pull 585 for your single @ 8. The next week, maybe you didn’t get to sleep as much, you’re feeling a bit sore & you pull 545 for your single @ 8.
RPE (by proxy of “effort”) calibrated your weights by your perception of what you had that day. Had you attempted to grind through a single @ 585, you might’ve incurred additional fatigue to what you were already feeling.
And in that making the next week of training completely unproductive. If not having to completely halt & do a low-stress week.
Tying it All Together
So, let’s recap.
The first programming principles that we need to adhere to are Intensity & Volume.
In order to progress as a lifter (“get stronger”), we need to continue scaling our volume to meet the demands of advanced training.
Because volume must be scaled in a fashion that doesn’t disproportionately increase fatigue (by cramming it all into one session) or sacrifice intensity (by adding more reps within the same quantity of sets) — we need to use increased frequency as the tool to drive progress forward.
The primary conclusion to draw from this blog post is then: use training frequency as a proxy to to maintain a high intensity rate while scaling up your volume to continue making progress well into your advanced stages.
How often should you train? As often as you need to stimulate progress. Read more here: