T Nation

Volume vs. Frequency


#1

I can't seem to find research that really answers my question well and I haven't found a satisfying discussion of this anywhere.

I am wondering basically if volume per week or cycle trumps volume per session. That is to say, does it really matter how much volume one does per session as long as the total volume throughout a given time frame is the same.

I have kind of understood and experienced 2 or 3 times a week per muscle group to be the optimal frequency to train a muscle group. I haven't experimented really with once a week because it intuitively seems too long and the research I've seen seems to show that it is not optimal.

My question is more about breaking volume up into smaller and smaller frequencies.

Weightlifters and highly advanced trainees eventually have to up their volume and likely frequency and train more to be able to do the amount of volume that it takes to stimulate new growth/strength gains. They are accumulating volume over the course of a cycle to create a stimulus instead of in a single session.

Assuming one is not a beginner, and does not consistently make gains from session to session, does it matter how the training load is split up. That is to say, will 4 x 6 @ 315 lbs. 3 times a week be as effective as 2 x 6 @ 315 lbs. 6 times a week as 1 x 6 @ 315 lbs. 12 times a week? What if you broke it down even further and were able to go in the gym 72 times a week and do one rep of 315 each time?

Would the only difference be the difference in energy system usage from the different levels of fatigue generated between doing say 1 rep at a time vs. 6? Or 1 x 6 vs. 4 x 6?

I realize that the nature of the exercise changes when you say go from doing 6 reps in a set to one rep at a time. But is it important to build up and acute stimulus during a single session vs. accumulating it over the span of some unspecified amount of time? Is there a point at the higher frequencies where the acute stimulus is so small that it simply does not stimulate as much of an adaptation?

Is there a point where increasing frequency and dropping per-session volume to accommodate that increase becomes counterproductive? And around where is that point? Does it vary based on your training experience?

I am interested in how these things affect both hypertrophy and strength. I posted it in the powerlifting forum because I mainly focus on getting stronger in the gym, but I am certainly interested in aesthetics as well.

I am hoping to hear thoughts from anyone who is fairly experienced and has maybe tried or coached people with higher frequencies.

I would consider myself a higher level intermediate. At 200 lbs. I have a 435 squat, 315 bench, and 605 deadlift. I do not really do much low bar squatting though these days. I am pretty interested in how this applies to all levels of training experience however.


#2

Look into Damien Pezzuti he has been doing a bulgarian type powerlifting protocol for sometime. For strength studies I have read support high frequency over low frequency and high volume. Assuming your body can adapt to the freq.


#3

Google search “Greg Nuckols” to find his Strength & Science site and read through all his articles. His recent article titled “Muscle Math” discusses exactly what you have questioned. If you don’t know who he is, he once held the raw drug tested world record squat and total at 242 and just about all his articles are based on science and studies. He tries his best to remain unbiased so I’m sure you’ll enjoy the content.

IMO, one of the best ways to measure experience level is through work capacity or average weekly volume over a training cycle. Aside from training style (5x5, 5/3/1, Russian, Westside, etc.), movement selection, etc., volume is the one variable that must increase over time to continually force adaptation. One of the main reasons for varying frequency is because our energy for a given training session is a limited resource. If your weekly volume is high and you try to force that into a single training session, your performance would significantly drop way before you finished all the work. It could even be too much to finish with good technique and you may not recover enough to have a productive session the next time around. (Some people are still able to train a lift once a week with high volume and make progress so it is possible but doesn’t apply to the general population.) That’s one of the reasons why Prilepin’s Chart was developed - to determine the optimal amount of volume for a single training session. This basically gives a guideline of how we can divide that large amount of weekly volume to get high quality training sessions where bar speed and technique isn’t compromised. Now there have been studies that show an increase in frequency just for the sake of increasing it can increase gains but it follows the laws of diminishing returns and I believe that average weekly volume is still more important.

In your example where you asked if you should do 4x6 three times a week of 2x6 six times a week, the first thing you need to ask yourself is how would you judge the quality of those sets? If that 4th set of 6 looks like your technique was solid and your bar speed didn’t drop much compared to the 1st set then you probably wouldn’t gain much by increasing frequency. On the other hand if it significantly slowed, it would probably be better to increase frequency. Quality of reps and sets is something that is hard to judge but it is very important. Why do you think most of the top lifters around use auto-regulation or RPE scales? They know that quality of reps is important and is more beneficial than the exact weight being lifted. That doesn’t mean that you can’t grind through sets because there are times where you’ll need to do that. And of course that shouldn’t give people an excuse to always have a shitty diet and get less sleep so they can use the RPE scale to do lighter, but high quality work. I would guess that the ‘limit’ for a person would be to lift close to the amount in Prilepin’s Chart almost everyday. That should take a long time to build up to.

Even though I’m stressing that volume makes gains, it doesn’t mean a person automatically needs to resort to higher volume right this instant. Volume is the stress or the ‘cause’ and strength gain is the adaptation or the ‘effect’. The amount of work you put in isn’t exactly equal to the gain coming out and it follows the laws of diminishing returns. People just have to make small increases over time when things are going right and sometimes a slightly larger jump, e.g., switching from Starting Strength to 5x5, is needed to continue making gains. Of course training weaknesses can give you the most bang for your buck and certain movement variations can provide better gains for some people but those can be discussed in another thread. Volume and recovery is what makes progress. Frequency helps by allowing you to make it high quality volume work.


#4

What I have read is that given equal volume, higher frequency (at least up to daily) wins.


#5

[quote]DoubleDuce wrote:
What I have read is that given equal volume, higher frequency (at least up to daily) wins.[/quote]

Yes, I have seen studies to support that. I remember DaneMuscle mentioning that his coach had him do this to split the workload for Sheiko. I think it just depends on whether splitting up the workload is beneficial to maintaining a high power output for each set, especially the last ones. If there is not a significant drop in power output, or performance, then I wouldn’t think a person would benefit that much. At the same time I can see an argument in support of getting in slightly more volume per week while maintaining high performance with the added frequency. It’s the same as treating powerlifting like any other sport where you train daily. I will try this eventually to get firsthand experience.


#6

[quote]lift206 wrote:
Google search “Greg Nuckols” to find his Strength & Science site and read through all his articles. His recent article titled “Muscle Math” discusses exactly what you have questioned. If you don’t know who he is, he once held the raw drug tested world record squat and total at 242 and just about all his articles are based on science and studies. He tries his best to remain unbiased so I’m sure you’ll enjoy the content.[/quote]

Thanks for sharing. He definitely has some interesting things to read.


#7

[quote]DoubleDuce wrote:
What I have read is that given equal volume, higher frequency (at least up to daily) wins.[/quote]

In my personal experience this is spot on for strength. But my bro-science intuition tells me that for hypertrophy, illiciting a certain level of fatigue is required (whether through more per-session volume or utilizing methods like HIT, dropsets, etc.)

[quote]DoubleDuce wrote:
What I have read is that given equal volume, higher frequency (at least up to daily) wins.[/quote]

In my personal experience this is spot on for purely strength gains. But my bro-science intuition tells me that for hypertrophy you’ll want to elicit a certain level of fatigue per session (whether through more per-session volume or utilizing methods like HIT, dropsets, etc.)


#8

Thanks for the responses guys!

I am interested in how this applies to muscle hypertrophy as well.


#9

[quote]RollingStone07 wrote:
Thanks for the responses guys!

I am interested in how this applies to muscle hypertrophy as well.[/quote]

I bet you’ll get some good responses for this if you post the same thing over in the bodybuilding section. I’ll make sure to follow the thread.