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Optimizing Training Frequency: Insights from Scientific Studies




Introduction


When it comes to how frequently your athlete works out will really depend on a lot of factors. The aim of training is to practice and develop the skill your athlete wants to achieve. The more they're able to practice the more they are able to master this skill. But, there's a very thin line between how much you can plan for them to work out and how much they need to rest and recover. If you plan their training well enough, then they'll become the next world champions.


Frequency is the number of times a specific muscle group is trained over the course of a given week. There is no agreed “optimal” frequency that would guarantee improvement in performance. As a coach, you should consider the athlete’s training status, sports season, projected exercise loads, types of exercises, and other concurrent training or activities. Think of how you want to spread out the training volume, intensity, and recovery in consideration for your athlete. By manipulating training frequency, you can structure your training program in a manner that optimizes the balance between stress and recovery, ensuring that individual sessions do not become excessively demanding.


Think of "quality" when it comes to frequency. What you want to look for is the following:

  • Technique

    • How fast is your athlete learning a new technique?

    • Is the frequency enough to stimulate improved coordination?

  • Strength

    • How much strength has your athlete gained?

    • Is the new strength repeated or a coincidence?

  • Muscle Mass

    • How much muscle has your athlete gained

    • Is your athlete a fast or a slow gainer?

    • Is the frequency enough to illustrate muscle mass

    • Do you need to add frequent sessions to maintain their muscle size

  • Fatigue

    • Does the athlete experience soreness, stiffness, and tiredness more often?

    • What is the pattern of fatigue? Is it always after a high volume, high intensity, after weekends, a specific time during the month, etc?

    • Are you doing too much work per session where the stimulus starts to degrade as the session continues?

    • How much fatigue resistance has your athlete built against a certain intensity or volume?

Oftentimes you’ll end up with athletes who have a work and/or family life that they have to commit to. In such a case, you should consider the number of hours the athlete has to work outside the weight and his energy levels when they start the session. There are many times that you’ll have to adjust the workout on the spot to meet the athlete's current energy state. Whether it is due to DOMS, mental or physical fatigue, or maybe they’re not in the mood. Practicing being prepared differentiates a rookie from a pro coach. On the other hand, you need to ask and monitor the nutrition of your athlete, as recovery time does not solely depend on the intensity and duration of the training, but it is influenced by the appropriateness or otherwise of nutrition.


What you want to do is play around with volume, intensity, and frequency where the time between consecutive training sessions is not too great than required and start to deteriorate the new level of adaptation the athlete has reached, nor should the time between session be too small that it negatively impact the athlete’s recovery and level of fitness.



The Debate: How Many Days Per Week?


When it comes to concentrating efforts on specific muscle groups, bro splits offer a focused and intense approach by training one muscle group per day. Perhaps, it is one of the most popular ways of splitting up a training week today. As coaches, we know the value of maintaining proper exercise form and maximizing muscle stimulation during workouts. However, it's essential to consider the potential drawbacks associated with this training method.


One significant downside of bro splits is the suboptimal frequency for some lifters. Research suggests that training each muscle group twice per week may be more effective for muscle growth. Secondly, unlike bodybuilders, athletes practice their sport every day. Moreover, athletes don't train muscles or isolate each muscle group as this goes against their athletic nature, and even non-athletic individuals are supposed to move and function. Instead, athletes train movement patterns, force direction, and center of mass displacement to become more efficient at what they do best. As we mentioned earlier, you want to develop your athlete's skill by exposing them to more frequent and different stimulates in order to improve neuromuscular adaptations, motor unit recruitments, motor unit firing rate, recovery, strength, and gains in lean body mass.



Another concern is the imbalance in training volume, particularly the excessive focus on the upper body. With typically four upper body days and only one lower body day per week, bro splits can lead to lagging quads, hamstrings, and glutes. This is bad news for athletes since the majority of sports are lower-body dominant. Imagine a field athlete who lacks the size, strength, and function of his/her legs to optimally perform on the field. It's important to note that while certain sports may place more emphasis on specific body regions, overall athleticism and a well-rounded training approach are essential for success in any sport. Athletes should focus on developing strength, power, speed, agility, and coordination in both the upper and lower body to meet the demands of their specific sport.


Moreover, it's crucial to acknowledge that bro splits are less time-efficient compared to other training methods like full-body or upper/lower splits. Devoting entire workouts to individual muscle groups often results in spending more time in the gym each week. Even though, research has shown that training volume is the best predictor and main driver of hypertrophy this is not how the real world works; There's a point of diminishing returns when it comes to sets per session.


Generally, 3-6 sets for a muscle group provide the majority of the hypertrophy stimulus, while sets 7-12 offer minimal additional growth at the cost of increased time and fatigue. By distributing your training volume throughout the week, you create opportunities to incorporate heavy compound sets and build genuine strength. Attempting to stack heavyweights in a single training session becomes impractical as you progress to the second, third, and fourth exercises, especially when aiming to develop true strength.

As coaches, we should carefully consider these aspects when designing training programs. While bro splits can offer focus and intensity, it's essential to find the right balance and tailor our approaches to optimize athletic performance and build skill, increase muscle growth and strength, and overall efficiency.


Several research papers have explored the effects of different training frequencies on muscular adaptations in well-trained individuals, providing valuable insights for coaches and fitness enthusiasts. In a study conducted by Schoenfeld, well-trained men were divided into two groups to compare the effects of different training frequencies on muscle size and strength. One group followed a split routine, training specific muscle groups on different days, while the other group trained the entire body in each session. The sets, reps, and relative loads were matched between the groups. The results showed that the group performing full-body workouts three times a week experienced significantly greater increases in muscle hypertrophy compared to the split routine group.


Another study focused on the effects of high resistance-training frequency on muscle thickness in resistance-trained men. The participants underwent a high-frequency training program, consisting of resistance training sessions five times a week. The method used to measure muscle thickness was ultrasound imaging. The study revealed that high-frequency training led to enhanced muscle hypertrophy, as indicated by an increase in muscle thickness.


A systematic review and meta-analysis analyzed the effect of resistance training frequency on gains in muscular strength. The review combined the results of multiple studies and found that higher training frequencies correlated with greater improvements in strength. This suggests that increasing the frequency of resistance training sessions can lead to more significant strength gains.


Conclusion


In conclusion, the research papers discussed highlight the importance of resistance training frequency can optimize muscle growth, hypertrophy, and strength gains. Incorporating full-body workouts three times a week and implementing high-frequency training programs can yield superior results in well-trained individuals.


Coaches can apply these findings to design effective training programs for their clients, focusing on increasing training frequency to maximize muscular adaptations. By tailoring resistance training programs to include higher frequencies, coaches can help their clients achieve their strength and muscle-building goals more efficiently, ultimately achieving their desired fitness outcomes.



Reference Studies


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