Training Frequency for Strength and Hypertrophy

How much volume? Part 3.


Happy Monday! Over the past two weeks we have been covering training volume as it relates to strength and hypertrophy.

Today we are going to take a dive into training frequency which tends to be a hot topic. How much is enough or too much and how often should you be performing a particular lift?

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🗞 In Today’s Issue

🏋️ Frequency for Strength

In terms of frequency for strength training you may have seen a broad range of programmes and advice already. From Wendler’s 5/3/1 to the Bulgarian method (a whole other subject for another issue). Below we will look at what the scientific literature has found in terms of optimal.

Note: I have ran programmes which called for squatting once per week, 3 times per week and I’ve tested the Bulgarian method out myself, over a 1 year period and they all produced results. 

A systematic review and meta analysis by (Grgic et al., 2018) included a total of 22 studies. The results showed higher training frequencies results in more maximal strength gains, however these gains seem to be primarily due to the increase in total volume. When total volume is equated there seems to be no significant effect from high vs low frequency training.

Another systematic review and meta analysis by (Ralston et al., 2018) included and compared a total of 12 studies on Low Frequency (1 day) Medium Frequency (2 days) and High Frequency (over 3 days). The results showed a trend towards a higher frequency being more beneficial, however the benefit was is not significant.

A randomised controlled trial by (Colquhoun et al., 2018) took 28 young resistance trained men on a 6 week training intervention. They were split into two groups, one group trained 3 days per week the other 6 days per week. The authors of the trial concluded that “increased training frequency does not lead to additional strength improvements when volume and intensity are equated”

💪 Frequency for Hypertrophy

For hypertrophy, generally people fall into 3 camps, unless they make their own programme. Body Part Split (each muscle trained once a week) or Upper Lower & Push, Pull, Legs (repeated either once or twice a week).

A Systematic Review and Meta Analysis by (Schoenfeld et al., 2016) compared 10 studies that looked at the effects of training a muscle group 1-3 days per week where weekly volume was the same across all frequency variations. The results concluded that training a muscle twice per week to be more beneficial for hypertrophy.

A Study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research by (Zaroni et al., 2019) compared a 5 days per week full body split vs a body part split (where each muscle is trained once per week). The full body split caused significantly more muscle growth in the biceps and quads.

Another study by (Brigatto et al., 2019) compared training each muscle once per week (16 sets per session) vs twice per week (8 sets per session) so total volume was equated. This was done over an 8 week period in trained men. The results showed a slight benefit to twice per week.

✍️ Key Takeaways & Practical Applications

  • For strength gains, when total volume is equated, it seems training frequency doesn’t matter as much as total weekly volume.

  • For hypertrophy gains, the trend of the literature shows training a muscle twice per week to be superior to once per week. This may be the reason Upper/Lower and PPL “splits” are becoming increasingly more popular over the traditional “bro split”.

For any programme to be successful, adherence is pivotal. So pick a training programme & frequency that works for you, your lifestyle, schedule and recovery ability. Don’t commit to 5 days per week, and 80% of the time you only train 3 days per week.

For Hypertrophy, pick a training frequency that allows you to train with sufficient quality volume. High per session volumes of 20+ sets for a single muscle group is a poor choice from what the evidence indicates as there appears to be a limit on how much hypertrophy can be stimulated in a single session. Hence two sessions of 10 sets for any given muscle group would be a better choice to get the desired 20 weekly sets of volume. Therefore, training frequency is a useful tool to add more quality hard sets per week.

I mean, just imagine doing 20 sets of quad work in a single session… 5 sets of squats, 5 sets of hack squats, 5 sets of bulgarian split squats and 5 sets of leg extensions… SPEW 🤮. That sounds horrible. The quality of your last 10 sets will drop. Where as you can get a more of a hypertrophic effect from splitting them into two sessions. I know what I’d be picking 💡.

For Strength, volume and intensity seems to be the main driver in gains, not training frequency. Although the reviews above show a slight benefit to higher frequencies, strength in a certain movement is a skill. Higher training frequencies will allow you to practice this movement more often. When increasing training frequencies for certain movements, I’d advise reducing your per session volume (keeping your total weekly volume unchanged) to begin with to see how you handle it recovery wise before increasing total weekly volume.

Note: A lot of people find they can increase training frequency for some muscle groups or specific lifts and not others. That’s fine. Test what you can do and what works best for you.

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