Does performing an exercise more frequently result in better strength gains?
Results of a meta-analysis showed a signiﬁcant effect of resistance training (RT) frequency on muscular strength gains. Effect sizes increased in magnitude from 0.74, 0.82, 0.93, and 1.08 for training 1, 2, 3, and 4 times per week, respectively (1).
However, they found that with volume-equated studies, there was no signiﬁcant effect of RT frequency on muscular strength gains (1). There was a slight benefit, but nothing of significance. Although I’m sure the results would be more significant over a longer period of time.
The meta-analysis also found that RT frequency did have a significant effect on strength gains for multi-joint exercises, but not single-joint exercises. The gains in muscular strength from higher frequency is due to the principle of speciﬁcity. Thus, a higher RT frequency would allow more opportunity for ‘practicing’ the exercise, which can result in better strength gains.
If subject A is able to bench press 200kg for 1RM, whereas subject B cannot but can bench press 150kg for 10 reps, where subject A cannot, doesn’t mean subject A is stronger than subject B. Subject A is just more skilled at lifting a heavier weight than subject B. But in reality subject B is stronger than subject A with a different amount of weight.
Strength has a lot to do with neural firing frequency, muscle motor unit recruitment, the ability of muscle fibers to contract in synergy, activation of support muscles, etc, as well as mastering a certain movement and having developed the right groove for you, so to speak. What I’m trying to say is that doing a specific lift more often, more frequently, will make you better at doing that lift and stronger over the long run.
Another important factor to consider is that if you do very high volume in one workout, your exercise performance decreases, you get an accumulation of fatigue, you then increase the risk of injury and your workouts become sub-optimal. Higher RT frequencies allow a distribution of training volume throughout the week while keeping the performance on each RT session high, which may translate into greater gains in muscular strength.
Greater effort each workout (via shorter workouts) = better long term results
Lower and upper body muscles respond differently to training frequency. The above-mentioned meta-analysis found that the upper body, but not lower body, responds better to a higher frequency for strength gains. (1) However, this is also highly individual, as noted by Gentil (2), some individuals can experience decreases in upper body strength with large increases in lower body strength, and vice versa from the same training program. One muscle group might experience strength gains with one training frequency, while another muscle group might be more susceptible to different stimuli. That’s why there’s an evident need for individualization when designing training programs for strength gains.
In this study (3), Norwegian powerlifters trained a lift either three or six times a week and found that 6x per week produced significantly greater gains in squat and bench press 1RM, but not in deadlift. The higher frequency group also got bigger thighs.
“After the 15 week intervention period 1 RM in squat and bench-press increased more in the 6/week than in 3/week group (11+/-6 vs. 5+/-3% and 11+/-4 vs. 6+/-3%, respectively, p<0.05), whereas no significant difference between groups was observed for the deadlift (9+/-6 v. 4+/-6%). CSA of m. quadriceps increased more in the 6/week group than in the 3/week group (4.2+/-4.3 vs. -0.6+/-1.6%, respectively).”
I think training a lift 6x per week can be used as an over-reaching period, and then after a certain period, decreasing the frequency again as a form of deloading can be quite effective.
If you want to do such high frequency, remember to drop the volume down to 1-3 sets per muscle group. Your recovery will depend on how heavy you go, if you go to failure or not and if you’re eating and sleeping enough.
This article goes hand in hand with my other article about best exercise frequency for hypertrophy, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t yet.
If you truly want to maximize muscle and strength gains, my Ultimate Strength, Size and Skill Program is for you.