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The secret of high frequency training

Das Geheimnis des Trainings mit hoher Frequenz

I am bored. Why am I bored? Because of the hypertrophy training methods of today. Nearly all "modern" methods don't come close to what I would consider optimal for fast and efficient results.

In fact, no one seems to have developed a training methodology that intelligently challenges our full adaptive capacities. Sure, 5 x 5 and 10 x 3 parameters work well, but there has to be someone pushing hypertrophy training further.

I would go so far as to say that modern hypertrophy methods are no more efficient than methods from decades past. Heck, if slow eccentric actions, 8 to 10 reps, 3 to 4 sets and five days of recovery are the best, then why are so few exercisers building muscle at a viable rate? Come on, are we going to sit around for the next five years repeating the same old boring training methods?

Okay, some of you are pissed off now. You're pissed because

A. this is the way you train and you're dogmatic
B. these are the methods you write about or train your clients with... and you're dogmatic

Good. If this is the case, then I have a little experiment for you. Spend eight weeks training your latissimus with all your favorite back exercises using slow eccentric repetitions, 8 to 10 repetitions, 3 to 4 sets and 5 days of recovery between your back training sessions. Analyze your results afterwards. Then spend weeks training to be a gymnast on rings. Hire a gymnastics coach to show you how to train on rings. He will probably have you hanging on the rings for an hour almost every day. Then compare the results with your "traditional" weight training parameters.

Fortunately, I have observed such a phenomenon. Let me tell you, the results of these two drastically different training methods are not comparable. An exerciser who has spent eight weeks training on the rings will blow away the results produced by a traditional latissimus program. So why are we still using the same old training parameters? Obviously, this isn't an issue of short-term adaptive hypertrophy limitations (since significant latissimus hypertrophy can be achieved by spending eight weeks on the rings), it's an issue of suboptimal parameters not being buried deep where they belong. Where should they be buried? Right next to Jimmy Hoffa. That seems like the perfect place.

Are you a tempo junkie?

You are constantly inundated with enough additional parameters that seem to make everything more complicated and lead you to think that the results of modern training methods must be better than the results of times past. Counting muscle action phases comes to mind here, for example. If you are honest with yourself, has counting the seconds of the concentric and eccentric phases of your exercises improved your results? If it has, then you are one of the few who have. Sure, counting the seconds and controlling the tempo may have gotten you to a different length of time under tension on your sets, but you could have easily accomplished that with dramatic changes to your repetition parameters. Instead, the cerebral activity of counting the seconds during the different muscle action phases does nothing more than distract you from putting more neural input into your all-important motor neurons.

And that, my friend, simply reduces your strength. And anything that reduces your neuronal drive is disastrous for your hypertrophy.

My rowing back

I'm not here to tell you that all modern hypertrophy programs are garbage. No, I wouldn't even think about that. If I were to point a finger at someone, three fingers would point back at me. But I will say that exercisers don't push themselves far enough after they've built initial levels of strength and mass. I'll use myself as an example. Let's say you've just started training and are following an anti-bodybuilding hypertrophy program. The results are good, which is why you stick with this program. If progress stagnates later, you move on to a program like the Quattro Domino program.

Excellent! So you can be proud of the fact that you have increased the frequency and are now training each muscle group four times a week instead of twice a week at the beginning. But what's next? Do you move on to another program and repeat the cycle? Not if you're looking for the biggest hypertrophy gains in the shortest amount of time possible. It's time to crank up the frequency!

Why little Johnny can't train like Arnold

Unfortunately, simply increasing your training frequency for each muscle group to say six days a week falls flat. Aside from the few genetic anomalies (Schwarzenegger, Columbu and Haney come to mind here), such high training frequencies lead to burnout and overtraining in most exercisers. Why are the genetically average not successful with such programs? You know what programs I'm talking about - we all know them. I'm talking about the programs you find in bodybuilding magazines that copy the programs of professional bodybuilders (although it remains to be seen if these pros have ever trained in such a way). The average novice exerciser tears open these magazines and gets as excited as a schoolgirl when they read the programs. "This is what's going to make me muscular and strong," he thinks. But it didn't work - it absolutely didn't work. Why?

Why the average exerciser can't train like Arnold

1) An excessive initial shock to the system

If you've been training each muscle group a few times a week with 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps, then starting to destroy your muscles for six workouts a week will end in disaster. Even though our skeletal muscle system is amazingly adaptable, we don't respond particularly well to such a huge simultaneous boost in volume and intensity.

Murderous levels of muscle soreness and exhaustion are sure to follow. Such a technique will often leave you wishing the Weider guys had never knocked on your door with their swanky pictures of Muscle Beach.

Bottom line: you need to build your capacity to withstand high-frequency training sessions.

2) Unchanging parameters

It's no surprise that these traditional competitive bodybuilding parameters have never worked for the average trainee, which is especially true when you consider the lack of variance in their training parameters. Often these bodybuilders perform six barbell bench press workouts during a week. This is not good. The central nervous system and skeletal muscle system respond well to varying levels of intensity and volume.

In fact, it's fairly safe to say that our enormous activity variance over the course of evolution is responsible for this. While we have adapted to chopping down a tree one day, running 15 kilometers the next, and running away from predators on the third, we are not designed to chop down trees three days in a row. Our bodies like constant change. For this reason, anyone who wants to train at a high frequency should keep this evolutionary fact in mind.

Conclusion: You need to continuously vary your training parameters (sets, reps, load parameters, rest intervals and exercises) throughout the week to prevent burnout.

3) Excessive training intensity

You can't train at grueling intensity levels over a long period of time. Your nervous system is simply not capable of withstanding this level of stress. Why? Who knows for sure, but my guess is that once again it has something to do with our evolutionary requirements. Do you think our ancestors were screaming with effort and intensity on a daily basis? I would doubt this.

Instead, it's more likely that they only got into these high-intensity, high-stress situations on an irregular basis. Therefore, if you are training at a tremendously high intensity on an almost daily basis, you can assume that you are training in a way that your nervous and muscular systems are not well suited for - especially in the long term. Research conducted both in the lab and in the weight room shows that our bodies are more efficient at recovering from a wide variance of training intensities than they are at exclusively high intensities.

Bottom line: limit the amount of high-intensity training during each microcycle (i.e. avoid going to muscle failure with heavy weights continuously).

4) A lack of recovery modalities

If modern hypertrophy training information has an advantage over old school methods, it's most evident in recovery modalities. Many old school bodybuilders did nothing more than down a few beers and chow down on a few birds to recover from their workouts. Why such a crappy post-workout ceremony? Because their genetic predispositions negated any need to do anything else.

We are lucky. Today, we have a tremendous amount of recovery aids - both nutritional and therapeutic. In fact, things like active recovery training sessions, stretching, salt baths, electrostimulation, etc. will speed up your recovery enormously. When you take into account the high quality protein powders, recovery drinks, creatine and an increasing nutritional knowledge, it's easy to see that we are definitely better off than our predecessors (at least in the area of recovery).

Conclusion: Both nutritional and therapeutic modalities are important for recovery during high frequency training. The above points help explain why traditional, high frequency bodybuilding programs have not been effective for most exercisers. But that's not the end of the story. There are a number of other obstacles that need to be overcome in order for virtually anyone to reap the benefits of high frequency training.

Observations related to high frequency training

I have found that a well-constructed, high-frequency training plan is the most efficient way to maximize hypertrophy. I developed this maxim based on my personal observations - my work with exercisers at every level of the fitness spectrum and a comprehensive review of the evolution of hypertrophy training based on scientific research of skeletal muscle. In fact, the latissimus of Olympic gymnasts, the thighs of speed skaters, the calves of soccer players, the upper back of lumberjacks and the thighs of mechanics have effectively demonstrated that the key to accelerated hypertrophy lies in high-frequency training plans. In case you didn't understand my examples, it's worth noting that all of the people mentioned above train the muscles in question at a very high frequency - a frequency that few trainers and authors dare to recommend.

What does this mean for us? We have found that the old bodybuilding magazines have led us astray by publishing programs that were often excessive and poorly put together. In addition, the issues of genetics and pharmaceutical support have played an important role. Those who weren't blessed with a superior gene pool (or those who weren't sitting at the source when it came to steroids) ended up with plenty of room in their shirtsleeves. So how do we develop a high-frequency training plan that actually works for exercisers from all walks of life?

The answer is obvious when we consider the superior muscle development of the aforementioned gymnasts, speed skaters, etc. These people all have the following in common regarding the muscles mentioned:

1. they have developed their capacity to endure high-frequency training by training through muscle soreness.
2. they do not reach high levels of intensity (training to muscle failure) on a regular basis
3. their high frequency training is limited to a few specific body parts.
4. your volume patterns are constantly changing.

All four of these examples are important, but I would go so far as to say that point 4 is the most important. The fact that these people perform an amazing amount of movement patterns that are rarely repeated is probably the reason they are able to train at such a high frequency. And it is probably also the reason that the hypertrophy of the trained muscle group is greater in these individuals. Let's take the soccer player as an example. Imagine a two-hour training session for a soccer player. How many different movements/contraction patterns does he perform during the two hours of training that consists of running around the pitch? Heck, I don't know either, but I can tell you it's a huge amount.

Let's say the next training day consists of another training session. That two hour training session will undoubtedly consist of different movement patterns, different intensity levels and a different overall volume. Thus, it is much harder for a soccer player to burn out on a specific movement pattern than it is for a bodybuilder using an exercise like calf raises. Each machine will require a movement pattern that is relatively fixed.

Any time you're dealing with a fixed or pseudo-fixed movement pattern, overuse injuries aren't far away - and that's not good for hypertrophy. Combine this with the fact that running, jumping, stopping and sprinting require many different contraction schemes, levels of motor unit recruitment and specific muscle recruitments.

Variations in movements are key

Okay, so what does this mean for someone trying to build bigger pecs? It means that you should make a conscientious effort to use as many different chest muscle exercises as possible. Simply performing six flat bench press workouts per week is a poor approach to high-frequency training. Such a relatively constant movement pattern will induce a stimulus that includes too little variety to prevent burnout and overuse injuries. Instead, you should strive to create your own exercises that are different from traditional exercises. This is exactly what I have done with my clients and it is the reason my clients have achieved their goals. How would I go about this?

Here's an example that illustrates what I'm talking about. Let's say you're standing between the pulley towers of a cable machine for crossover cable pulls. The top pulleys of the cable pulls are at the highest position and you grab the handles with your arms outstretched and palms facing down. Then pull the handles down in front of you with your arms relatively straight (almost fully extended) so that your hands are about 5 centimetres away from your upper thighs at the lowest point of the movement.

Move your arms back to the starting position and pull the handles down so that your hands are 7 centimeters away from your thighs at the lowest point of the movement. Move your arms back to the starting position and pull the handles down so that your hands are now 10 centimetres away from your upper thighs at the lowest point of the movement. Continue this technique until your hands are in a position at the end of the movement where you no longer feel any tension in your chest muscles. You should be able to get at least ten different movement patterns out of this exercise!

Then place the pulleys of the cable pulley at the lowest position. Grasp the handles and place your arms in the same crucifix position as in the previous exercise. Pull your arms together overhead with palms facing up and elbows slightly bent so that your hands end up in a position that forms approximately a 75 degree angle relative to the floor. Move your hands back to the starting position and pull your arms together again, with your hands now ending in a position where they form about a 70 degree angle relative to the floor (even less would be better).

Continue this exercise until you no longer feel any tension in your chest muscles. Again, you should be able to get at least ten different contraction patterns out of the exercise.

With these two crossover cable pulls alone, you already have 20 different contraction patterns - that's 20 different chest exercises from this simple exercise alone. Now do you see what I mean when I say that a little ingenuity will go a long way? Even though each phase of the chest adduction is similar, the variance is enough to present a slightly different stimulus to the muscle. That's the path to success with high frequency training and that's the most complicated part of all (i.e. sufficient variations in movement patterns).

Note: The "cross over cable pulls" example was not meant to imply that such an exercise is all that is necessary for pec hypertrophy, nor was it meant to be considered a "new exercise". It was merely meant to serve as an example of how many different movement patterns can be achieved with one simple exercise.

And what about biomechanics?

Most exercisers would say that the line of resistance (the cable) should match the arrangement of the muscle fibers. Therefore, a cynical graduate of biomechanics would say that only a few of the ten different movements are accurately aligned with the muscle fiber orientation of the pecs.

Even if it is true that aligning the line of resistance with the direction of pull of the muscle fibers will recruit the most muscle fibers, this is not necessary if you are training on a high frequency training plan. In fact, this should be avoided.

Changes in movement patterns are absolutely necessary for the highest possible rate of hypertrophy. Remember the example of the soccer player. For how many of the repetitions (steps) does the resistance perfectly match the contraction pattern of the calf muscles? The only way to perfectly align the movement with this would be to stand up straight and push your entire body weight straight up. It is quite obvious that this will not be the case most of the time during a soccer match.

In other words, the key to reaching a new level of hypertrophy is to train at a high frequency on a weekly basis. If you limit your exercise selection to the few movements that are perfectly aligned with the direction of pull of your muscles, then you will invite overuse injuries and localized muscle overtraining.

High-frequency training and you

Up to this point, I've only focused on the four elements that have helped soccer players, gymnasts, speed skaters and mechanics achieve muscle-specific hypertrophy using high-frequency training. I have focused on "variations in movement patterns" because I believe this is the primary solution to this puzzle. Even if an exerciser were to use a relatively constant intensity (load) on each exercise, the variance of movements alone should probably allow for hypertrophy gains from high frequency training. Some of you will probably already have a pretty clear idea of my vision for the future of hypertrophy training. I would recommend everyone to start with my Perfect 10 program for lagging muscle groups first and then think about unconventional ways to train underdeveloped muscle groups. Hang some gymnastic rings in your garage to build your latissimus, use daily rope climbing to build your biceps and forearms or do a soccer workout to develop your calves.

If you do any of these, you'll be well prepared to reap the benefits of my future programs, Now get to work!

By Chad Waterbury

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