The Magic of Manipulating Training Frequency

Probably the easiest and most effective way I've found to regulate training stress and volume is through manipulating frequency of training. In my experience, how often you train, both on a muscle by muscle basis and a systemic basis, is more important than how much you do when you train, even if the total volume is the same. Consider a guy who does 9 sets in a workout once a week. Is that the same as doing 3 sets 3 times a week? Well, the volume is the same but the effect will be quite a bit different. Would he get a greater stimulus doing breaking those 9 sets into 3 workouts of 3 sets? Probably so. Would he recover just as well breaking those 9 sets into 3 workouts of 3 sets? I say no. Unless we're talking about a beginner trainee who is still learning how to perform the movements and those sets are performed at a relatively low degree of intensiveness well short of failure, I believe the less frequent training leads to better recovery because in my opinion most of the stress and drain comes from the first couple of sets.

It's sort of like turning on the lights at a major league ball park. You could leave the lights on for 1 minute and use $1000 worth of electricity, or you could leave them on for an hour and use $1500 of electricity. The biggest cost involves turning them on. I really don't know how much it costs to run the lights at a major league ballpark, but the point is, training is sort of the same way. Whether you do 2 sets per workout or 6-8 sets per workout there likely won't be a ton of difference as far as recovery time between workouts. (note: Once you go above the ~8-10 set range then you're talking about an amount of volume that does extend recovery.)

The main point is, many people are familiar with loading and unloading and the benefits, but there so many options and methods to do that and you can easily and effectively manipulate recovery simply by manipulating how often you train.

The following assumptions about frequency can be made:

1. Less frequent training gives better recovery

2. More frequent training provides greater stimulation

3. It is difficult to overtrain and become stale over BRIEF periods of time (as in a few weeks), but it is relatively easy to do so if your training is monotonous and your total frequencies and volumes don't fluctuate much.

3. Following a period of greater stimulation, that pushes the limits of your recovery ability, with a period of better recovery, where you enter each workout absolutely fresh, seldom fails to give great results.

A lot of times I get athletes that come to me that are stuck. They seem to be doing everything right, but regardless of their goals, they're stagnant and have adapted to the parameters of their workouts. Assuming they're not overtrained to begin with, a surefire way to get them progressing is to dual factor them. I'll simply increase their frequency for 2-3 weeks then pull back the reigns for about the same amount of time. During the first phase they're pushing the limits of their recovery abilities. They still make improvements but they'd be training at a high enough frequency that they probably couldn't keep progressing more than a few weeks. Work capacity increases but fatigue begins to build up. Then we pull frequency back, recovery increases, everything feels FRESH again and BAM...instant improvements across the board particularly in strength and explosiveness. A couple of notes:

A: The greater the contrast in frequency the better the results. In other words, going from training a muscle group once every 2 days to every 3 days won't make that much of a difference. Going from every other day to once a week will.

B: You can do this both on a systemic total body level as well as on a muscle to muscle level and you have to consider both. For example, 3 workouts per week might not sound like much but it is quite a bit if you're doing full body workouts with each muscle group getting hit 3 times. Likewise, If you normally train a muscle group twice a week on an Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower split and decide to cut down to training it once a week but on an every day chest/quads/shoulders/back/hamstrings/arms split, you probably won't get anywhere. Even though you're allowing more recovery time between muscle groups you've increased the total systemic stress becuase you're now training 6 days per week.

What follows are some examples of how you might implement this strategy with different goals in mind. If you're already pushing the limits of your recovery ability simply start with a lower frequency set-up.

For General Strength and Size

One of my favorite ways to do this for general all around improvements in strength and size is to train 4 times a week for a couple of weeks with each muscle group being hit twice a week, then switching that to 3 times a week rotating through 4 different workouts such as in my Ultimate Split. Heres what it might look like:

Phase I

Mon- Upper body

Tues- Lower body

Thurs- Upper body

Saturday- lower body

Phase II

Mon- Upper

Wed- Lower

Fri- Upper

Mon- Lower

Wed- Upper

Fri- Lower

That extra day off and rest between workouts may not seem like a lot but in practice it really is.

Workouts for Phase I

* denotes an optional rest pause, drop set, or static hold following the last set.

Upper Body #1

Bench press variation - 1 x 3 at 100%, 3 x 3 at 90% or 3rm, (ramp up to max set of 3)

Chest Supported Row - 1 x 5, 1 x 10 **

Lateral variation - 2 x 12-15**

Incline curl - 2 x 10-12 **

Decline Close Grip bench 2 x 6-8

Lower Body #1

Squat- 1 x 3, 2 x 5

DB split squat- 2 x 8-10

Glute Ham or SLDL - 2 x 8-12**

Calf raise - 3 x 10-10-10 triple drop (with 2 second pause at the bottom of each rep)

Upper Body #2

Military or Incline press- 1 x 5 (ramp up to max set of 5)

Weighted Chin- 1 x 5, 1 x max reps at bodyweight

Dumbell Press or flye variation- 2 x 10-12

Lateral- 1 x 10*

Preacher curl – 1 x 10 **

Tricep extensions – 1 x 10 **

Lower Body #2

Deadlift 1 x 3 at 100%, 3 x 3 at 90%

Front squats, or lunges - 2 x 8-10

Leg Curls or glute ham- 2 x 6-8 **

Toe press on leg press machine- 2 x 20-30**

Phase II

Keep the workouts the same but switch to this weekly setup

Monday – upper body #1

Wednesday- lower body #1

Friday – upper body #2

Monday – lower body #2

Wednesday – upper body #1

Friday – lower body #1


For Strength

Those who train on a standard 4 day per week westside oriented split such as this:

Sunday- Dynamic and Repetitive Effort Bench

Monday- Max Effort Squat

Wed- Max Effort Bench

Fri- Dynamic Effort Squat

Can freshen up and see quick strength gains simply by switching to rotating through the same 4 workouts on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday basis for 2-3 week periods of time.

5 x 5

The classic 5 x 5 for strength purposes is another variation of this. Here you train each major lift 3 times a week for 4-6 weeks and follow that up with a 4 week lower frequency two times per week intensification phase

Phase I


Squat 5x5 same weight each set

Bench 1x5 (ramp up to max set of 5)

Row 1x5 (ramp up to max set of 5)


Squat 5x5 with 15-20% less than Monday

Deadlift 5x5 with straight weight

Military 5x5 with straight weight

Pullups 5x5 with straight weight


Squat 1x5 ramp up to max set of 5

Bench 5x5 straight weight

Row 5x5 straight weight

Phase II


Squat 3x3 (straight weight)

Bench- 1 x 3 (ramp up to max set of 3)

Row- 1 x 3 (ramp up to max set of 3)

Thursday or Friday

Squat 1 x 3 (ramp up to max set of 3)

Bench- 3 x 3 (straight weight)

Row- 3 x 3 (straight weight)

For Bodybuilding

Here is a great implentation of this for bodybuilding. The problem with building bigger muscles is you DO need to get stronger over time, but the frequency and volume that best stimulates your muscles for size increases will tend to limit strength gains. The training that best makes you strongest does not lead to the best immediate size gains. With this type of set-up you get the best of both worlds. Here you train with a moderately high volume Upper/Lower 4 days per week split for a few weeks and then switch to either a 3 day split or hardgainer two times a week split for a couple of weeks. Alternate back and forth between phases.

Phase I – Higher Frequency

Monday – Upper body

* Denotes optional drop set, rest pause, or static hold after the last set

Bench press - 3 x 5, 1 x 10**

Lat Pulldown - 3 x 5, 1 x 10 **

Side lateral variation - 2 x 12-15**

Incline curl - 2 x 12-15 **

Pushdown - 2 x 12-15 **

Tuesday Lower body

Squat- 3 x 5, 1 x 10-12

Leg press or hack squat- 1-2 x 15-20

Leg curl - 2 x 8-12**

Calf raise - 3 x 10-10-10 triple drop (with 2 second pause at the bottom of each rep)

Thursday - Upper body

Incline or military press- up to max set of 8 **

Preacher curl - work up to max set of 10 **

C.G. bench or dip - work up to max set of 12 **

Cable x-over - 2 x 12-15**

Pullover - 2 x 12-15

Friday or Saturday – Lower body

Deadlift 1 x 3 at 100% or 3 rm, 3 x 3 at 95%

Hack squats, Front squats, or lunges - 2 x 12-15

Leg Curls or glute ham- 2 x 6-8 **

Toe press on leg press machine- 2 x 20-30**

Phase II – Lower frequency


Bench or Dip – 2 x 5, 1 x 10-12

Flye – 2 x 12-15

Chin – 3 sets to failure

Barbell Curl 2 x 6-8, 1 x 15-20

Deadlift – 1 x 5, 1 x 10

Thursday or Friday:

Military Press – 2 x 6-8, 1 x 10-12

Lateral – 2 x 15-20

Row – 2 x 6-8, 1 x 12-15

Decline close grip bench - 2 x 8-10

Squat 1 x 20


Here is what a 3 day split might look like:

Monday- chest and back

Wednesday- Legs

Friday- Arms

For Speed-Strength

I've found speed-strength training one of the most effective and simplest ways to initiate this type of training. Say we have an athlete who has good strength in place. Here we simply use speed-strength movements and train every other day (or even more often) for 2-3 weeks. We then keep the same workouts in place but hitting them every 4-5 days for a period.

Phase I - higher frequency


10 and 20 yard sprints to first sign of drop-off

depth jumps to first sign of drop-off


flying 20's

3 step bound


10 and 20 yard sprints

depth jumps


flying 20's

3 step bound


phase II (train every 4-5 days)


10 and 20 yard sprints

depth jumps


flying 20's

3 step bound


10 and 20 yard sprints

depth jumps


flying 20s

3 step bound


10 and 20 yard sprints

depth jumps

Those are just examples. There are so many different ways of doing this so feel free to use your imagination. You can even create the same effect by manipulating conditioning or interval work. Say you normally do your weights and speed work on monday, wednesday, and friday with conditioning on tues., wed, and Saturday. Cut back on the frequency of your conditioning work for brief 2 week periods and you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.