Increasing training frequency may yield greater results
By Jim Stoppani, PhD
April 3, 2009
You've had it beaten into your head - at times, by us - that you only need to train bodyparts once or twice per week. But studies show that those who train each muscle group three times per week gain more strength than those who train each bodypart less frequently.
New research from St. Francis Xavier University (Antigonish, Nova Scotia) may have you reconsidering how often you bombard a bodypart. The Canadian scientists had 29 untrained men and women follow a full-body weight-training program for six weeks. Each workout consisted of bench presses, squats, incline dumbbell presses, pulldowns, seated rows, dumbbell shoulder presses, leg extension/leg curl combos, overhead triceps extensions and barbell curls.
Group A performed three sets per exercise and completed the workout twice each week, and group B did two sets per exercise and completed the workout three times each week. Therefore, the two groups performed the same total of sets per muscle group per week.
Both groups increased their squat strength by about 28%; however, group B subjects increased their bench press by 30%, while those in group A increased theirs by only 22%. Group B participants increased their total lean muscle mass by about four pounds; for group A, the increase was only about one pound.
We're not suggesting that if you currently train each bodypart once per week, you need to switch to three times. After all, these were untrained subjects. However, the fact that the higher frequency led to more muscle mass despite the total sets per week remaining the same suggests you may want to reconsider how often you train. Note that in the '70s, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was at his peak, it was common for bodybuilders to hit each bodypart up to three times per week.
We suggest that you alter your training frequency occasionally, boosting it to two and even three times per week for at least a month at a time. According to this study, you may be able to keep your total training volume (sets per muscle group) the same whether you're training once a week or three times. In other words, if you currently train each bodypart once per week with 18 total sets, you can go down to nine sets per workout when you bump your frequency to twice per week, and to six sets per workout if you bump the frequency to three times per week.