Higher Frequency vs Higher Intensity

I am seeking the feedback of those who are more knowledgeable and experienced than I am. After doing a bit of research, and seeing that the majority of the greatest power lifters train with intensity. Ed coan, Kirk Karwoski, Doug furnas, Hugh Cassidy and Mark Chaillet to name a few. They all only squatted once a week and deadlifted once a week for the most part and would bench 1-2 times with the second day lighter. These guys put up huge raw numbers without suits, yes they were all probably on PEDs but so are today’s guys. Why are there so many people advocating squatting and benching 3 even 4 times a week on top of deadlifting twice a week? From what I read all those guys did little to no assistance exercises. If you can do less, but more intense work and yield the same if not greater results then why does anyone train the big lifts so frequently? Training more often seems more exhausting, it also seems much more time consuming. All the time spent traveling to the gym, warming up your body and doing warmup sets multiple days a week. If you can just squat once a week balls to the wall with a good amount of volume, what’s the benefit of squatting 3 or more times with moderate to low intensity? Am I wrong or could someone give me feedback as to what I’m ignorant about training more frequently with less intensity? Not bashing on higher frequency I’m just having a hard time seeing the benefits over intensity

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There are plenty of people who aren’t advocating that at all.

Training a lift more frequently gives you more opportunities to practice your technique, which is a major advantage for people whose technique is not solid. Once you are beyond that point it largely comes down to personal preference, of both the lifter and coach. The advantage of lower frequency is that you will be better recovered (or at least should be) and able to perform better in training, but it’s the performance at the meet that counts and both methods can work.

There have been some recent studies on training frequency, it was found that there was no additional benefit in terms of hypertrophy to training a muscle group more than twice a week, but that once a week was clearly suboptimal. The people who do well with very low frequency (1x/week or even less) are already extremely strong and taking large amounts of PEDs. Look at Stan Efferding, he was only training twice a week when he was doing PL, low volume per session and only squatting, deadlifting, and benching twice a month each. Andrey Malanichev does something similar, although he only does one work set and almost no assistance work. Those guys are extreme examples, the vast majority of lifters that take PEDs still do a lot more volume than them.

As for the opposite end of the spectrum where you have people squatting and benching 5-6 days a week, there was a study done in Norway where one group trained 3 days a week (full body) and the other group trained 6 days a week with the same total volume. The 6 day group gained significantly more strength and muscle which on the surface makes it appear that higher frequency is better, however the 3 day group was training for around 4 hours per day and was burnt out the whole time. The main takeaway here should be that too much volume per session is detrimental.

It seems like most lifters can do well with a basic 4 day upper/lower split, squatting and benching twice a week and deadlifting 1-2x. This isn’t necessarily optimal for everyone, but is a good starting point. The biggest drawback that I find with full body training is that workouts take much longer since you have to warm up for each lift.

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Yes I did read about how Efferdimg and the Lillibridge brothers alternate squatting and deadlifting every week. It makes sense in a way I suppose, someone at my level could probably squeeze a little more gains out of madcow or Texas method before moving on to a split. In terms of longevity it would seem a lower frequency would be best. You avoid burning out physically and mentally, strains and muscle tears and you should always be recovered. Slow and steady wins the race right? I’ve had plenty of people tell me I should squat 3-4 times a week or every single day. Now these people were keyboard warriors who were nowhere near world class. A buddy of mine who told me to squat everyday lifts everyday and basically lives in the gym (he’s a crossfit guy). He can’t squat 400 bs after over 2 years of serious training.

I’m currently doing both for Squat and Bench, with submaximal deadlift singles 1x a week in Bulgarian(ish) method. I work up to a non-grindy single every session in Squat and Bench, and do back off doubles or triples if I’m feeling good.

I’m crushing PRs and regularly handling weight every session that I would have otherwise waited a few weeks to peak towards.

How to train to get the best results and manipulate training variables intelligently is somewhat complex and it becomes more and more complex and harder the stronger you get, even with PEDs. If getting a 500 lb bench press or 700 lb squat or deadlift were as simple as doing each lift once a week for 3-5 reps with around 90% 1RM on the bar then everyone would be lifting that much. I strongly suspect that for all those great lifters listed in the original post that they all trained with much higher volume at times in the past than you realize.

The one variable that scientific research on strength training has shown to correlate with long term muscle growth and strength gains is increased work capacity with heavy weights. Ie to get extremely strong you have to lift both heavier weights and increase the total number of reps you do over time.

A lot of times when you hear about a program that someone followed or that some famous world class strength athlete did, the only thing you hear about is what the person did to prepare for the competition, ie peaking. When peaking, doing a relatively low number of repetitions with very high intensity roughly once a week is essential and is the core of any peaking program, but when you try to get stronger it is absolutely critical to pay attention to volume and do as much volume as your body’s recovery allows, and you cannot get the total numbers of repetitions necessary to grow and get stronger with low frequency, high intensity work. Higher frequency, at least 2x per week and possibly more, is required to get in reasonable amounts of volume to grow long term. Also when you are world class and compete regularly you only need to train with maintenance volumes to maintain your muscle mass and strength and so you cease to need to do all of the high volume work you did to get where you are today. And also when people talk about programs, they often only talk about the heavy lifts on the programs but in reality the total volume of the program is arguably one of the most important things. Of course intensity matters a lot, but getting strong isn’t just a matter of putting the most weight you can lift on the bar once a week and going at it a few times. All the other 100+ accessory lifts matter far more than the 3-5 high intensity lifts.

Renaissance Periodization’s book Scientific Principles of Strength Training is an excellent resource for understanding how to answer questions like the one in this forum.

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Not really. Volume is more relevant than frequency in terms of fatigue, and maxing out and doing too much volume per session are two things that increase injury risk more than anything. Extremely low frequency is not good for people who haven’t been training long because there is a de-training effect when there is too much time between sessions, you lose muscle and neural adaptations. You can still make progress like that but it will be much slower. I have tried various things, for me it seems like squatting twice (one heavy, one light session before deadlifting) benching twice, and deadlifting once a week is about as good as it gets.

At one time my squat was kind of shitty and I did well with higher frequency, the biggest problem I had then was that my arms and shoulders started to hurt like hell. However, once my technique improved I did well with lower frequency. My bench took off when I started training full body 4 days a week but that only worked for a while, I have tried benching 5-6 days a week and went nowhere with that. Deadlift seems to do best when I push it hard once a week, going heavy twice a week will take away from my squat and light deadlifting seems useless for me.

It seems like the opposite, the strongest lifters usually don’t do a whole lot of volume. Mike Israetel has mentioned this numerous times. Volume is the main factor for hypertrophy (and it doesn’t need to be pushed to the maximum either) but intensity is the main factor for strength. You still need enough volume with the higher intensity work to get stronger, and on top of that you can lose muscle mass if you only do a few heavy sets (unless you are taking the appropriate supplements in large enough doses).
How much volume someone needs or can tolerate varies from person to person, that is why most programs you find online are not ideal for most people.

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I think it’s quite a bit more nuanced than that. The strongest lifters in the world do less volume because they are at their genetic limit and have given up on getting stronger and so maintenance volume plus high intensity to peak and be competition ready becomes the name of the game. But if they are trying to get stronger still it’s different. When the world’s strongest try to get stronger, they have to space out the big overloading workouts. I think Mike Israetel in sPST uses the example of Kirill Sarychev with his 700+ bench press. Kirill only overloads the bench press every 1.5 weeks, but then he has to intelligently fill in those 1.5 weeks of recovery and preparation for the next overload with some reasonable amount of volume to continue to stimulate growth and prevent retraining, so the frequency of major overloading workouts gets spaced out the stronger and stronger you get but the volume in between still needs to be decently high to push further adaptation.

You can see this is Boris Sheiko’s famous high volume workouts that totally overload a highly advanced lifter for a month with more volume than they can handle followed by a realization phase with higher intensity and peaking for competition.

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Coincidentally, Greg Nuckols just wrote an article today titled “Training Frequency for Strength Development: What the Data Say”. I haven’t read it yet.

Not true at all. Look at guys like Ray Williams, Blaine Sumner, Eric Lilliebridge, and so on. They are still getting stronger. Nobody knows what the actual limit is, it’s just that progress becomes very slow at a certain point.

Nuckols: "Of note, it doesn’t seem that frequency significantly affects lower body strength gains, while it does significantly affect upper body strength gains. "

I find this interesting because I gave up on high frequency benching a while ago after getting nowhere with it after a certain point. Arm pain is why I personally won’t do high frequency squatting, although twice a week seems to work just fine for me. The conclusion is the opposite of what I would have thought.

One shortcoming with this metanalysis is that the subjects of the studies were not all experienced powerlifters, I imaging that base level of strength at the beginning of the study would be of relevance.

I can say that firsthand sounds pretty accurate. I’ve found my best squat gains to be once a week and alternating weekly with 1 ME deadlift day and one DE deadlift day while benching 2 times with an accessory day thrown in sometimes. I feel like if you add a second squat day it has to be really light in order to make progress and recovery. I feel like it’s almost pointless as you have to squat so light, you’re making all your real gains off your heavy squat day. You might as well go all out on that one squat day and capitalize off of it. I find it way too mentally fatiguing and time consuming squatting multiple times a week and even though I made progress, it was slow and I was always sore

Ed Coan once said you have intensity, frequency and volume. Two of those can be up but one has to be dialed back. So you can have intensity and volume up but frequency needs to be low or frequency and volume up but intensity low, otherwise; you over train.

Something to think about.