How to Build A Strength Training Program: Focus on Timing Frequency

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jimmy Pritchard

Jimmy Pritchard is currently the Director of Strength & Conditioning for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail in Vail, Colorado. He holds a BSc in Exercise Science from Colorado Mesa University and is currently working on his MSc degree in Exercise Science from Edith Cowan University. He is certified through the NSCA with both his CSCS and RSCC certifications.

// Strength Training Programs and the Importance of Timing Frequency

When designing a strength training program, multiple factors must be considered.  The primary goal must first be defined, followed by the time period allotted to achieve that goal.  A sound strength and conditioning program will then use multiple training modalities while manipulating volume, intensity and training frequency.  Most individuals have a rudimentary understanding of training frequency, but perhaps not a firm grasp of how important it truly is.

Frequency is simply the number of times an athlete trains in a given period of time.  This may refer to number of strength training sessions in a week, or even the number of times an exercise is executed within a week. 

A common methodology for those seeking to increase strength and aesthetics is to adhere to a body part split – routine. Specifically, the classic bodybuilder method of one different body area per day, one time per week . For example: Monday-chest, Tuesday-back, Wednesday – legs, etc. I’ve discussed the fallacies with this model in previous articles, but it’s worth mentioning again that what works for one subset of the population doesn’t always transfer. Training history, performance enhancing drugs, and genetics will largely determine the variance between individuals.

How often should I strength train?

Research isn’t completely clear as to what the optimal strength training frequency is.  A research study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Candow and Burke, 2007.) tested 29 untrained men and women after dividing them into two groups.  One group of individuals trained twice per week, while the other trained three times per week. Volume was equated between the two groups for the entirety of the strength and conditioning program, and it was found that both groups had nearly identical gains in strength and muscle mass. 

This study would indicate that volume is the key driver of performance, not frequency. While I would agree, this study fails to acknowledge the importance of the fact that the individuals they tested were untrained and it was a short-term study.

Volume and strength training intensity

Volume and training intensity must always be equated first, but I also believe one should train as frequently as possible while allowing for proper recovery.  What I’ve anecdotally seen with the athletes I train is spreading volume across the week allows for greater focus and effort within each individual session. 

What I mean by this is instead of forcing my athletes to squat twice a week for four hard sets each session, I may have them squat three times per week with three hard sets per session.  This allows the athletes to devote a greater amount of energy to each individual session and perform fewer sets under fatigue.

Additionally, they accumulate a greater amount of total volume (which will impose greater demand in the proper dosage) doing nine working sets of squats through the week instead of 8.

Stress on the body

Strength training provides a stress to the body, and with that stress the body accumulates fatigue while declining in performance.  It is only after proper rest and recovery that the body recovers from that fatigue and returns stronger than before.

An athlete’s ability to withstand stress is dose dependent, similar to the inverted U curve.  Too little stimulation will result in no gains, as will too much stimulation. Hitting the “sweet spot” in a sense is one of the finer arts in training. Smashing each body part once per week will likely err on the right side of the inverted U curve. 

Lastly, one must also remember that strength training movements such as the squat and deadlift require a great amount of skill. The more often we practice them, the better we will get through motor unit synchronization and efficiency. This is similar to playing a sport such as basketball. You’re better off practicing four times per week for one hour, than two times per week for an hour and a half each.

I hope this article redefines your understanding of training frequency and enlightens you on the benefits of spreading out volume while still strength training with authority. 

Reference:

Candow, D. G., & Burke, D. G. (2007). Effect of short-term equal-volume resistance training with different workout frequency on muscle mass and strength in untrained men and women. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 21(1), 204.

Jimmy Pritchard has a BSc in Exercise Science from Colorado Mesa University and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the Director of Strength & Conditioning at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or jpritchard@skiclubvail.org.  Check out his website www.pritchardperformance.com

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