The Hypertrophy Frequency Experiment

flatwhite Hardgainer, Muscle Gain, Training, Training Log 0 Comments

This ‘experiment’ was in-part inspired by the Norwegian Frequency Experiment (read more here). The advice of some excellent coaches and my own theories on training also gave me the nudge to put the concept of high frequency hypertrophy training to the test. As a result, I conducted the Hypertrophy Frequency Experiment in November and December of 2017.

Note. Calling this an experiment is an exaggeration. I experimented with a progressive increase in training frequency in my own training. So, everything I am providing feedback on is based solely on my results. N = 1 at its best!

Background – What is the Norwegian Frequency Project?

Read the link above for a detailed account. Just want the cliff notes, then read on…

• The Norwegian School of Sports Science conducted a study of training frequency on competitive powerlifters
• The participants were divided into two groups
• The two groups did the exact same program. One group performed the program in 3 days per week, while the other group divided it over 6 days.
• The program lasted 15 weeks
• The 6 days per week group gained significantly more strength and muscle than the 3 x-week group

Pic courtesy of elitefts.com

The results were spectacular:

• The increase in the squat was 11±6% in the 6/week group vs. 5±3% in the 3/week group
• Bench press increased 11±4% in the 6/week group vs. 6±3% in the 3/week group
• In the deadlift, there was a 9±6% increase in the 6/week group vs. 4±6% in the 3/week group (although I believe this difference did not reach statistics significance)
• The average increase in muscle mass in the 6/week group was almost 10% in the vastus lateralis and nearly 5% in the quadriceps as a whole.

All of this leads us to believe that a higher training frequency is superior for strength and hypertrophy. On the basis of this, it appears you will get better results dividing your training into shorter, more frequent workouts. It seems like a slam dunk for high frequency training.

But, is it?

The Norwegian Frequency Project has gained near mythical status in certain corners of the training world. The study, however, has never been published in a peer-reviewed journal. This isn’t entirely surprising. After all, if they have found a way to get double the strength gains of more traditional training approaches they might want to keep this to themselves. It should certainly give them a big competitive advantage.

It’s possible the lack of a full write up is due to keeping competitive trade secrets under wraps. With that said, it has always kind of seemed weird how little info has been published on this experiment. All we really know is that they found results twice as good, for trained lifters splitting their workload across 6 sessions versus 3. We do not know the exercises, sets, reps, rest periods or tempos used. All we have to go on are some vague guidelines. For example, the majority of the training was done on the competitive lifts. Squats and bench press (or close variants) were done most sessions (we think). Some assistance work was done, but we don’t know what.

The average intensity was relatively low (about 73%1RM), but reps were kept somewhere between 3 and 8. So, on that basis the lifters were never close to failure as 73% is more like a 12-rep max. While this info is useful it is all quite vague. Within the parameters provided there is still an infinite number of possibilities about how you could set-up the plan to train 6 times per week. Is this the result of a complex cover up, a smokescreen, a decoy, elaborate misdirection, secrecy, or something less sinister? Perhaps, just not having the time or inclination to write up the exact protocol and include it in full length, data heavy journal article?

Pic courtesy of exeromed.com

Who knows?

The point is, the results sound too good to be true. So, naturally you should be sceptical. However, there is no reason to believe that these results have been fabricated as part of a conspiracy plot to send you, or I, on a high frequency hiding to nothing.

Because of that I thought I’d give high frequency training a go with a hypertrophy focus. Using my knowledge of this study and combining it with my understanding of training frequency as it pertains to hypertrophy I had a plan…

The Plan

Effective training should be progressively overloading. As a result, I didn’t jump right into training every muscle group 6 days per week (in fact I only made it to 5 x week). I gradually increased my training frequency over three phases of training. The starting phase had a training frequency not that dissimilar to what I have used before. Consequently, it allowed me overload myself on frequency without exceeding my capacity to recover. I then ramped frequency up over the course of the three phases.

I did not train all muscles with the same frequency. This was for two reasons.

  1. I do not believe training all the muscles evenly makes sense given their unique characteristics and individual recovery timelines (see here and here for more info on this)
  2. I wanted to prioritise back growth during this phase so gave that a slightly higher frequency

A possible explanation for an increased training frequency. Pic Courtesy of themusclephd.com

An overview:

Phase 1 (Week 1-3)

Lateral Delts – 4 x week
Back – 3 x week
Rear Delts – 3 x week
Biceps – 3 x week
Quads – 2 x week
Hamstrings – 2 x week
Glutes – 2 x week
Calves – 2 x week
Chest – 2 x week
Triceps – 2 x week

Phase 2 (Weeks 4-6)

Lateral Delts – 4 x week
Back – 3 x week
Rear Delts – 3 x week
Biceps – 3 x week
Hamstrings – 3 x week (+1 from phase 1)
Calves – 3 x week (+1 from phase 1)
Quads – 2 x week
Glutes – 2 x week
Chest – 2 x week
Triceps – 2 x week

Phase 3 (Weeks 7 & 8)

Calves – 4x week
Glutes – 3x week
Lateral Delts – 3x week + 2 “feeder” sessions
Back – 3x week + 2 “feeder” sessions
Rear Delts – 3x week + 2 “feeder” sessions
Biceps – 3x week + 2 “feeder” sessions
Hamstrings – 3x week + 2 “feeder” sessions
Quads – 2x week + 3 “feeder” sessions
Chest – 2x week + 3 “feeder” sessions
Triceps – 2x week + 3 “feeder” sessions

Feeder sessions were done the day after a full session for a muscle group and involved higher rep sets (15+) &/or myo-reps. These were done with a low volume. Typically, 1 set per muscle in week 7 and 2 sets in week 8.

The training schedule I followed in weeks 7 & 8 to allow me to train with such a high frequency involved twice a day training. One session around 9 or 9.30am and another around 3.30 or 4pm (basically when I had a gap between clients). I did double days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I trained once on a Wednesday and took the weekend off for a total of 9 sessions per week.

It was set out like this:

Monday AM

Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves + Quad Feeder Set

Monday PM

Back, Biceps, Rear & Lateral Delts + Chest & Triceps Feeder

Tuesday AM

Quads & Calves + Hamstring Feeder

Tuesday PM

Chest & Triceps + Back, Biceps, Rear & Lateral Delt Feeder

Wednesday

Hamstrings, Glutes, Back, Biceps, Rear & Lateral Delts + Chest & Triceps Feeder Set

Thursday AM

Quads & Calves + Hamstring Feeder

Thursday PM

Chest & Triceps + Back, Biceps, Rear & Lateral Delt Feeder

Friday AM

Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves + Quad Feeder Set

Friday PM

Back, Biceps, Rear & Lateral Delts + Chest & Triceps Feeder

These final two weeks were designed to functionally overreach me so I could take time off over Christmas, eat plenty, recovery and super-compensate with increased strength levels and gain even more muscle. This concept is the foundation of my FREE ChristMASS training program. A 2-week training plan designed to allow you to gain muscle during the holidays (or any time you have a week completely off training). You can get your copy here.

ChristMASS – How To Build Muscle Sitting on the Sofa

While there is 8 weeks of training listed it actually happened over a 9-week period. At the end of week 3 I got a really nasty virus and had to take a week off training. This worked relatively well as a deload. It allowed me to recover from the illness and gave my body a week off training. I believed this actually helped me to push through such a high workload during the latter stages of the plan. I had initially planned on training for 9 weeks straight. With week 7 being a transition from the wend of phase 2 and into phase 3. Had this gone to plan I would have trained twice per day on Monday and Friday in week 7 (a total of 7 sessions for the week), before performing 9 workouts in weeks 8 & 9.

The virus might well have been a blessing in disguise. This forced me to take a week off. Had I not been ill and followed the plan as initially outlined I think there is a good possibility the quality of training in the final week would have been severely compromised.

The Results

The goal of this project was to use a higher training frequency to gain muscle mass.

• At the start of this project (29th October) I weighed 97.3kg.
• At the end of the 8 weeks of training I weighed 100.7kg
• At the end of my week off (aka super-compensation week) I weighed 103.3kg

6kg (13.2 lbs) heavier. That’s basically a stone of pure lean mass in 10 weeks!

Just kidding! Of course, it wasn’t all lean mass. I gained some fat along the way, and much of the lean gains I did make will be water weight. With that said this was the leanest I’ve ever been at this weight. I’m delighted with that.

That’s’ a gain of 1.3 lbs. per week!

Gaining muscle at that rate is unrealistic for any length of time past the absolute beginner stages. However, my gain across the 9 weeks of training was a less impressive and slightly more realistic (still faster than can be reasonably expected) 0.83 lbs. per week. So why the big spike in week 10?

It Was All Part of the Masterplan – Functional Overreaching

As previously mentioned I structured this phase to finish with two killer weeks of training. These blitz weeks were designed to push past my abilities to recover. Short-term overtraining if you will. Then I throttled back, put my feet up and enjoyed Christmas week with friends and families. This worked superbly. I felt refreshed, recovered, and ready to take on the new year. My body was fresh from what ended up being 9 full days off training. In this time, my body was able to fully recover from the excessive training load. Supplied with an abundance of calories it was primed to build as much muscle as possible (and a little fat too). I was happy to compromise and take the fat gain as this can easily be dieted off and given the conditions created by functional overreaching the chances of me gaining a lot of fat was slim (pun intended).

To find out more about this concept go here. You’ll get the science behind functional overreaching for hypertrophy, a training plan designed to achieve functional overreaching and a nutrition plan to support it.

Given I would ordinarily target a gain of 0.25-0.5kg (roughly 0.5-1 lbs) per week during a mass gain phase the rate of gain during the training phase was just above the high-end of this range. Pretty much exactly where I’d want it to be. Job done!

Then in the recovery week it went exponential. A 2.6kg (5.7 lbs.) gain in 7 days! This is almost exactly what I was shooting for with the whole functional overreaching/super-compensation strategy. If we assume that half of that gain is fat that still puts me at a gain in lean mass (remember lean mass is not just muscle mass) of 1.3kg (2.9 lbs.) in a week. That’s still almost three time the upper limit of my normal target total weight gain (total – not just lean mass). All in all, a result!

So, to conclude I feel that a higher training frequency could be a very useful strategy for hypertrophy. However, I believe it is more to do with its ability to create a functionally overreached state than just training more frequently magically building more muscle. You must, then deload and eat sufficiently to allow for the super-compensation and rapid gain to occur. As a consequence, I think a training frequency specific to each muscle group (discover more about this here) and which allows a training schedule you enjoy is key. In most cases that means training a muscle 2-4 times a week. I am not convinced that you will build more muscle training large muscles like the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lats training them 4, 5, or even 6 times a week is going to be any better than twice a week. In fact, exceeding 4 x week for these muscle will probably reduce the rate of gain for many lifters. All in all, I am more convinced that functional overreaching used occasionally (perhaps at the end of each training phase) is a fantastic tool to create strength and size gains.

Want a done for you phase of training to functionally overreach you set you up for rapid muscle gain?

Go here:

ChristMASS – How To Build Muscle Sitting on the Sofa

 

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