You hear it all the time that consistency is the true key to health and fitness. Nothing will ever trump that. But there are some smaller factors that can be manipulated after you achieve consistency. That’s what I plan to dig into.
For exercise, there are 3 main factors that go into building muscle: 1. Intensity 2. Volume 3. Frequency.
Each can be manipulated to increase the muscle building factor, but I plan to talk about the most overlooked one now: Frequency.
In today’s culture of “no days off” and “rest when you’re dead,” intensity gets played up a lot. That’s all fine and good, but sometimes you can’t just crank out a workout. Intensity often goes hand in hand with volume. When you are feeling strong and intense, you tend to lift more weight. Since volume is sets times reps times weight, that means you have a higher volume. Frequency is how often that muscle gets hit in the gym. That is the secret manipulator that people often overlook.
This is where the body part split or ‘bro split’ is going to get torn apart. You hear it all the time, “Monday is chest day. Tuesday is back day. Wednesday is…” What this style of lifting does is allows the lifter to hit a single muscle extremely hard which gives it an extremely high intensity and volume, but you only hit that muscle once a week, so the frequency is left behind.
This study proves that it is already better to hit a muscle at least twice in one week. That means that a P/P/L or Push/Pull/Legs routine that allows each muscle to be hit twice a week is already a superior form of working out. That is showing that manipulating frequency already is proving to be a better option than a split.
But a new study shows something even better. Instead of hitting a muscle just once or twice, or even three times a week, which is proven to be more effective than one or two in this study here, hitting that muscle five times is the ultimate way to lift. The study performed here shows that by spreading out the muscle being worked over 5 times a week is even superior to all other forms of exercise.
Here is a breakdown of why that is the case. First of all, the workouts are going to be full body routines rather than targeting a single muscle per lift. That means instead of doing three to five lifts per muscle, you do just one. This allows the muscle building signal to be activated, which peaks at 24-72 hours. That is what is shown in the study that suggests a three times a week lifting schedule.
A second factor that makes this a superior form of routine is that you get less sore. I don’t know about anyone else, but I hate having a leg day, then the next day it hurts to stand up, or sit down…or to exist. So, by only doing a single exercise for legs everyday, you do enough to get the muscle building signal activated, but not so much that you can’t function the next day. Now, think about that for every muscle. You are now able to not completely exhaust a muscle each day, but still get huge gains in the gym.
The last factor is that by increasing frequency, you inadvertently increase volume and intensity. Since you’re only doing squats for that one day, you are then able to lift more weight, which is an increase in volume, and you are able to up your intensity because after that one exercise, you can rest your legs. This goes for every lift and every muscle as well. Think about the volume and intensity that you are getting on you last set of chest flies after completely exhausting it on bench earlier in your gym session. Now, instead of doing those the same day, do bench one day, then chest flies another day. You will be able to do more for the flies when you don’t couple it with any other chest lifts; thus, you are able to increase the volume by increasing the intensity and doing a higher weight.
My question now is, if you’re plateauing, why not do this. It will give you a different stimuli which will automatically illicit change in the muscle. Can you say hello to new maxes?
There is the idea that abdominal muscles are different than any other muscle in your body (this is a myth I heard all through high school) that can heal quick enough for you to exercise it everyday. My question is: where is the proof?
The frequency factor is probably already being played up big time in almost every routine by using ab workouts everyday. If you can do abs everyday, then why not do the same thing to your other muscles. I’ve already showed the studies that prove this theory, so why not give it a try. Here is the easiest way to do that.
If you want to write your own workout, but want to try giving frequency a chance, then here is how.
Write up your bro split like normal. Monday-chest Tuesday-back Wednesday-legs Thursday-shoulders Friday-arms.
Now, write out five lifts for each day. Let’s just use chest for sake of the example. The five lifts you could choose would be 1. bench press 2. incline bench press 3. dumbbell chest flies 4. decline bench press 5. weighted (if capable) chest dips.
Let’s say you’re lifting for hypertrophy so you would be doing 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps. So, you would do that for each lift, except you don’t do all these lifts on the same day. Instead, you limit yourself to only one exercise per day. This allows you to do more weight for each exercise because you’re not worried about being burnt out for the next lift that involves chest. That means you will have an increased total volume. The intensity you bring to each lift will be higher because whatever muscle group you’re working isn’t going to be exhausted either.
Though high frequency training is making its way into more mainstream weightlifting ideology, it is still being underutilized in favor of the body part split. The body part split really gained popularity when steroids first came on the market, so if you are on anabolics, then the bro split might still be a great lifting option as your testosterone levels will be increased.
Even still, the Norwegian Frequency Project, which is analyzed here, proved that high frequency training was still superior to a normal body part split.
Basically, you should dump the bro science that is body part splits and pick up on the training techniques is backed by real science. Just give the high frequency lifting a go, and share your results. Don’t forget, working out and fitness is an experiment for each person. No two people are the same, so no two people will react the same way to different stimuli. Maybe high frequency just isn’t for you, but it’s science backed to be superior. At least give it a try before dismissing it.