High Frequency Training

Today’s blog is a guest post by Chad Waterbury. I’ve been reading Chad’s stuff for many years. In fact, Chad started writing for TNation eleven years ago, and he’s always extolled the virtues of high frequency training (HFT). Over the years, TNation has been my go-to site for ideas as a lifter, as I feel that the contributors to that site are the best in the field for new ideas in Strength & Conditioning. Though I always had a ton of respect for Chad and appreciated his expertise, whenever his articles would post on TNation, I’d extract bits and pieces from them but never give the big picture (HFT) a whirl. I mistakely assumed that experienced lifters such as myself required more recovery and wouldn’t make optimal gains with that type of programming. I can say without a doubt that the biggest regret I have as a lifter today is not listening to Chad and experimenting with HFT earlier on in my lifting career. HFT is damn effective if you do it right, and Chad is here to shed some light on how this can be done.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a link to Chad’s new program. Many of my readers inquire about new programs and I like to endorse the ones I feel strongly about. However, the link will not be an affiliate link – therefore you know I’m endorsing this for the right reasons. – BC

High Frequency Training
By Chad Waterbury

Which is more likely to produce the most growth for any muscle group – five workouts, or 25? I doubt anyone would argue that five workouts are better. As long as each workout is sufficient to stimulate growth, and as long as the body is given time for repair, it seems like simple math. More work will lead to more growth.

Have you ever stopped to consider why speed skaters and cyclists have bigger quadriceps than most of the strongest powerlifters you know? Or why the calves of soccer players, lats of swimmers, and deltoids of boxers are proportionally large compared to the rest of their body?

It’s not because they perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps two or three times per week for those muscle groups. It’s because they expose those muscles to a very high volume of work.

So if you have a muscle group that won’t grow, or if you want to add muscle across your entire body, one effective approach is to increase the volume of work to those muscles.

But adding a bunch of extra sets to your current workout won’t solve the problem. If 100 sets of curls in one day could add an inch to your biceps, every guy would’ve found time to do it. It’s doesn’t work because your physiology won’t allow it. Indeed, there’s a point of diminishing returns in any single training session.

What’s required for muscle growth? There have been numerous answers to that question, but researchers Daniel West and Dr. Stuart Phillips sum it up well:

“Repeated phases of net protein balance, which can be generated by the elevation of protein synthesis in response to repeated bouts of resistance exercise and protein ingestion, underpin muscle hypertrophy (Phys Sports Med 2010).”

Of course, you need to eat protein to build muscle, but let’s assume your protein intake is adequate. That leaves us with the other essential aspect of muscle growth: repeated bouts of resistance exercise.

After a challenging bout of resistance exercise, muscle fibers are damaged and need repair. The repair process starts from a group of muscle stem cells (satellite cells) that normally sit quietly in your muscle. But once damage occurs, these satellite cells get activated and rush to the site of damage where they initiate the muscle growth and repair process (Hill, et al J Physiol 2003). Importantly, that pool of muscle stem cells must be replenished.

Mechano-Growth Factor (MGF) is responsible for replenishing the pool of muscle stem cells, and it’s formed from insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1 (Hameed, et al J Physiol 2003). This is important because without adequate levels of MGF you wouldn’t be able to maintain your muscle mass, much less increase it. Indeed, MGF appears to be a key player in regulating muscle growth, according to research by Drs. Hill and Goldspink.

Each time you sufficiently stimulate your muscles, a pulse of MGF is released to provide growth and repair. So it’s my hypothesis that more frequent training results in more pulses of MGF. This is why I feel high frequency training (HFT) would beat less frequent training, even if the volume were exactly the same.

If you train the push-up 10 times per week you could produce 10 pulses of MGF. However, if you train a heavy bench press twice per week you’d only get two pulses of MGF.

But are a few sets of a relatively low-load exercise like the push-up sufficient to stimulate muscle growth? They are, according to research by Burd, et al. (PLos One 2010). His research team found that performing four sets to failure with as little as 30% of 1RM increased protein synthesis more so than with the guys who did four sets to failure with 90% of 1RM.

These are a few of the factors that form my basis for HFT. Whether you want to add muscle to a lagging muscle group, or spread growth across your entire body, one of the most effective strategies is to expose those muscles to a higher, but manageable, volume of work through HFT.

Stay Focused,

Chad Waterbury, M.S.

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8 thoughts on “High Frequency Training

  1. martin

    Hi Bret

    thanks for this great post. please let this post be the begining of a serious conversation on training frequensy. i have followed the ideas of brian haycock, who yeaes ago proposes something similar to chad, but with MUCH more science. he suggests that protein acretion in muscle is back to baseline after 36 hrs.therefore a bout 48 hrs later is in order. it is therefore better to do a low volume for each muscle group in the workout, but workout as soon as the there is need for a stimulus for protein acretion.

    he further suggests that the main stimulus for muscle growth is INCREASING tension. his program is whole bodyand starts light (15 rep)and increases in weight up to 5 rep max and then negatives when appropriate.the more volume you can handle the better, but excess volume can lead to injury.
    after 6 weeks or so he calls for a period of deconditioning,similar, but not identical to the deload.
    others, like martin berkhan report success with low frequency, intense training.

    for myself, i ahve two things to add:

    1 bryan’s program is for hypertrophy, with strength as a byproduct, and he specifically says it may not be useful for all atheletes. the thing is that much of strength has to do with tendons and ligaments,so my question is, are tendons and ligaments ready to be trained again in 48 hrs?

    2 as for martin’s program, is it that there is so much time between workouts for a body part ( a week to 10 days for deadlift) that he is getting the benefit of a decondition/deload?

    in a recent post on kettlebells you were full of praise for pavel tsatsouline, and i agree with you. he suggests a ‘grease the grove’ program of many small bouts even during the same day.
    what is most effective, for muscle and connective tissue?

    i know this is a long comment but i believe it is an important aspect of training, and you seem to be one of the few people who recognise this.

    Reply
  2. Hulya

    Hi Bret,
    Thank you for looking in to a “high frequency training” my question is, were people used in 2010 study professional athletes who train regularly or just beginners? I believe this is a very important fact that can alter the results in great deal.
    My other question is, if we train to failure and our muscles were being healed for the next 4 days or so would not that be as same as stimulating them every day?
    Thank you,
    Hulya

    Reply
  3. Alexander

    Martin-Thank you for citing Brian Haycock, its not often I hear him mentioned and he is a definite innovator in the field.

    On the point of your second question-Tendon/ligament recovery is often dependent on the “joint friendliness” of the exercises being utilized. Waterbury and Haycock both emphasize “high tension” movements that stress the muscular load while minimizing the joint strain and stress. This is why Waterbury is so fond of utilizing rings and advanced forms of bodyweight training. Very little joint stress but high levels of tension.

    Personally I can attest that by training daily with such as bodyweight ring dips, suspension rows, pushups, inverted rows, pulups, and Kettlebell swings, Ive been able to improve strength and hypertrophy, and the amount of joint pain Ive experienced has been completely minimal. This is in addition to periodized lifting with the barbell in the big 3 movements

    I would be interested to see any studies or research on cartilage recovery compared to muscular recovery. I know that juiced bodybuilders often experience lagging joint recovery compared to muscular recovery, and that muscular strength with outpace their tendon strength.

    Reply
  4. Park

    Great article. One quibble though is the often repeated observation that cyclists have huge quads and this article compares them to those of powerlifters. I raced for years and most cyclists, with the exception of some track cyclists or genetically gifted types, don’t have big quads. There is some development of the vastus medialis, which is pronounced in a lot of racers, but not a lot of hypertrophy elsewhere. Cyclists shave, have good tans and are lean, so muscle separation and striations can stand out, but you have to see these guys in person to realize that most are fairly small.

    Reply
  5. Ted

    Chad, I have a great amount of respect for you, and I agree that high frequency training can lead to tremendous results.

    What I have a problem with, though, is when speed skaters or boxers, as groups, are mentioned and that their sports shall explain how they got as muscular as they are.

    I am German, and I have worked with athletes. Those that are “big” (whatever standard we are using as a measuring tool here) usually add in heavy weight training, be it boxers, speed skaters or even olympic gymnasts.

    I have personally witnessed Fabian Hambüchen perform lat pulldowns to the neck, I know Arthur Abraham and Marco Huck do weight training under Wegner, and here you can see Robert Förstemann squat 570 pounds for a double:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oV_yDdZYXA
    The best of the best combine high frequency low to medium intensity sports with low frequency high intensity resistance training, in my experience.

    As one poster pointed out before, a lot of people in sports are smaller than they appear on TV. Here is a picture of Hambüchen next to Steiner:
    http://files.bildmaschine.de/imageserver/4956b86900ac2736a4c2467817fe46/matthias%2Bsteiner%2Bund%2Bfabian%2Bhamb%25C3%25BCchen.jpg

    Reply
  6. Danny McLarty

    “His research team found that performing four sets to failure with as little as 30% of 1RM increased protein synthesis more so than with the guys who did four sets to failure with 90% of 1RM.”

    This kind of research is important b/c it tells us that we CAN add size with low load. BUT, it is definitely NOT comparing apples to apples as 4 sets with 30% of 1 RM is WAAAYYYY more volume than 4 sets with 90% 1 RM. That’s all.

    Reply
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