In previous articles on this blog and on other sites I have discussed the benefits of training volume for hypertrophy. In summary, more is better so long as you do not exceed your capacity to recover. The distribution of this volume is also important. Simply doing a tonne of volume on one day is not going to be as effective as splitting it up across the week. Even though the total weekly volume might be the same if you train a muscle once per week as opposed to more frequently it won’t be as effective. Both quality and quantity matter when it comes to training volume. Much of the volume done in the once per week example will be junk volume. That is to say that it adds no additional muscle building benefit and simply adds to the fatigue accumulated.
If you’ve read my stuff before you’ll have heard me banging on about things like specificity and progressive overload. The principle of progressive overload dictates that training must be challenging enough to disrupt homeostasis and get harder over time.
This presents a problem for many people when it comes to planning their training. They have a fixed training split. They train the same days each week. How do they add volume without it becoming junk volume?
Simple, manipulate your training frequency to allow you to increase training volume and ensure that all of it is effective volume.
How to Maximise Effectiveness and Minimise Waste
A key concept of maximising your rate of gains is to try and spend as much of your time training in the sweet spot between a minimum effective dose (MED) and your maximum recoverable volume (MRV). Across a block of training you need to progressively overload in a manner specific to your goal. For hypertrophy, this means continually doing more training volume.
You also want to ensure you minimise junk volume as you increase total volume. This means you cannot just add set upon set to your existing training schedule. Instead you have to think a little more creatively. Below I outline how I adjusted my training to achieve just this.
About Me and My Current Goals
I am a tall, long-limbed guy who struggles to put muscle on my arms and legs. My torso, however, responds relatively well. I have a severe knee injury from playing rugby. This requires surgery to fully repair the damage, but I am able to train legs as long as I am smart about it. My goal during this phase of training was to add as much muscle as possible. I particularly wanted to add it to my shoulders and arms. I had a hard deadline to achieve this as I have a holiday booked for the summer and I want to give myself sufficient time to diet for this so I can get “beach ready” lean.
While I would love rapid growth in my legs I am prepared to accept a slower rate of progress here for the sake of avoiding further discomfort/aggravating the knee.
Right, now that’s out of the way, on to the cool stuff…
4 days per week on an Upper/ Lower Split
Monday –Torso+ Calves
Tuesday – Legs + a couple of sets for arms
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Torso+ Calves
Friday – Legs + a couple of sets for arms
Saturday & Sunday – Off
Note. Torso = chest, back & shoulders. Calves not trained on leg days.
Over the course of the phase I added 1 set per body part to each session it was trained each week. For example, I started training chest with 5 sets on Monday and 4 sets on Thursday for a total of 9 sets. In week 2, this became 6 and 5 sets for a total of 11. In week three the total was 13 sets per week. At this stage, the sessions were becoming as long as I am comfortable with and the risk of junk volume occurring should I continue in this vain increase. So, I adjusted my training to…
5 days per week Upper/Lower/Back & Shoulder/Lower/Upper
Monday – Torso + Calves
Tuesday – Legs + a couple of sets for triceps
Wednesday – Back, Rear & Lateral Delts
Thursday – Legs + a couple of sets for triceps
Friday – Torso, Biceps + Calves
Saturday & Sunday – Off
With this schedule I reduced the back volume done in the torso sessions by 2 sets from the previous phase and included 5 sets of back on the Wednesday. This meant the overall back volume increased by 1 set in week 1 of this phase compared to the final week of phase 1. I have found my back recovers pretty quickly from training so upping the frequency of back training doesn’t seem to impact much, if at all, on my recovery.
Given biceps get worked during back training I removed them from the lower sessions (I kept the triceps work in on these days) and added biceps to the Friday session. Back volume had been reduced on this day due to hitting back 3 days a week rather than 2 I was able to do some quality biceps work here. It was also an excuse for a Fat Arm Friday. Who doesn’t like training arms on a Friday?!
The removal of biceps work on lower days also freed up some time for me to continue adding a little volume to my leg training without the sessions becoming excessively long.
6 days per week Pull/Push/Legs
Monday – Back, rear delts, biceps
Tuesday – Chest, shoulders, triceps & calves
Wednesday – Legs (did some calf work in this session)
Thursday – Back, rear delts, biceps
Friday – Chest, shoulders, triceps & calves
Saturday – Legs + rear delts & biceps
Switching to 6 days per week allowed me to increase total volume by spreading it across more sessions.
I upped calf frequency from 2 to 3 times a week by adding it to my first legs session. I had time for this as the triceps work was removed from this session.
You might also notice leg frequency hasn’t changed. This is because of my pre-existing knee injury. Training legs more frequently than twice per week almost always seems to flare this up and leaves me walking around with a puffy, swollen knee. Because of this I am sticking to 2 x week. While I increased volume for legs by adding sets over phase 1 & 2 like all the other muscles I did not in phase 3. I simply tried to do more weight or more reps at a given load.
After 3 weeks, the above become unwieldy as a structure (and the time for me to stop bulking and go on a diet before my holiday became ever closer). So, I decided to enter a 2-week high frequency blitz. This involved training twice a day.
4 days per week, twice per day.
Monday AM – Push + a couple of sets for Calves
Monday PM – Pull
Tuesday AM – Legs
Tuesday PM – Calves, arms & shoulders
Wednesday – Off
Thursday AM- Push + a couple of sets for Calves
Thursday PM – Pull
Friday AM – Legs
Friday PM – Calves, arms & shoulders
Saturday & Sunday – Off
Although frequency for most muscle groups was at 2 x week here my arms and shoulders got hit indirectly in the push and pull sessions. So, they were hit hard twice and to a lesser extent on another 2 occasions. My calves were hit 4 times in much the same way. They got a few sets with the push session and then 5 sets in the session with arms and shoulders.
During this phase, the last set of the last exercise for a body part utilised some kind of intensifier (e.g., drop sets, rest pause, super set). This allowed me to increase volume with extending training session duration. It also allowed me to capitalise on some of the benefits of metabolic stress as a mechanism of hypertrophy.
Total volume reached unsustainable levels in this phase. But, that’s cool. I wanted to push the envelope and maximise the amount of muscle I could gain before having to diet. The whole point was to be functionally overreached. Following this I’ll deload, take a short maintenance phase where training volumes and frequencies are lower and then, transition into a diet for my holiday.
So, there you have it. A way to increase volume by manipulating training frequency in a progressive and periodised manner. Is it the way? No. It is just one way. Is it the way you should do it? Maybe, Maybe not. The key is that you take away the principles and apply them to your own training. Remember that frequency is one way to increase volume. That there is probably a threshold to how much growth that can be stimulated from an individual session and any extra work once this threshold has been reached is a waste of time and effort.