High Frequency Training for Strength and Power
Part One: The Basics
This is the first of what will be a multi-part series on “high frequency training” geared specifically for building strength and power. High frequency training – training not just multiple times per week, but training each muscle group multiple times per week – has become more popular in recent years. I’ve been touting its benefits for almost a decade, but so have other strength trainers/writers such as Pavel Tsatsouline and Dan John.
High frequency training (henceforth just “HFT”), however, is nothing recent nor is it particularly innovative. If you read my last couple articles on the training of Anthony Ditillo you should know that. Before Ditillo there was “Big” Jim Williams. (My first post on this blog a few years ago was related to Jim Williams training. If you haven’t done so, please read it.) And before either Ditillo or Williams, there were the original “old-timers” – men such as Harry Paschal, Arthur Saxon, George Hackenshmidt, and Hermann Goerner – who trained in the early years of the 20th century.
Most of those early lifters – many of whom trained in a manner that we would now consider to be “strongman” – trained very similar to the method Ditillo wrote about in “Adaptability” and that I expounded upon in the following post. They didn’t train in such a manner (and here’s the important part), because they simply didn’t know any better. (Unfortunately, this is the point of view of many high intensity “pundits” – the truly unfortunate thing is it’s these pundits that don’t know any better. And they don’t know any better because they’ve never given serious, heavy, frequent training a try.) The old-timers trained this way because, through trial and error, they learned that this was the best way to train.
But “old-timers” and left over remnants from the ‘70s weren’t the only lifters to train in such a manner. There are another set of lifters – Olympic lifters, to be precise – who trained in this manner, and these guys absolutely dominated the world Olympic-lifting stage once upon a time: the Bulgarians. “Bulgarian training” became something of a myth wrapped in a riddle, trapped inside an enigma (or something such as that) for many years. And while it’s true that many people don’t “really” know how they trained, this much is for certain: the Bulgarian “method” was/is comprised of training with high intensity very frequently. You picked a few lifts (primarily the Olympic lifts along with heavy squatting) and you trained heavy on a daily basis while slowly building up the work capacity to handle more and more volume.
I like Bulgarian-style training, but this article will focus primarily on the kind of training that Ditillo and the original “old-time” lifters performed. Most of you who are reading this are not interested in competitive Olympic-lifting; you just want to know the best way to get massively strong and powerful – along with achieving a good deal of muscle size to boot.
Let us begin.
For starters, if you are new to serious strength training, you need to lift weights using full-body workouts for at least a few months before attempting this stuff. On top of that, you need to have trained with full-body workouts for several months and achieved some good strength gains before beginning these workouts. This form of training is not for the rank beginner.
Start out your training by lifting 4 to 5 days per week. As you advance – and by “advance” I mean as you get stronger – you can then add another day or two to your program, eventually training 6 days in a row before taking a day off.
I think the best way to begin is by training 2 days in a row, then taking a day off. Repeat this 2 on/1 off scheme for a few weeks. After that, go to a 3 on/1 off followed by a 2 on/one off scheme, which means that you will be training 5 days per week. I like this schedule, and use it quite frequently. When I’m feeling strong, then I train for 6 days straight, then take a day off, and, yes, there are still weeks when I feel as if 3 days is plenty for one week of training. Remember – and I know I’ve stressed this over and over throughout many articles, but it bears repeating – strength training is an art, not a science, and it’s an art where you must learn to listen to the signals your body gives you.
Each day that you train, pick at least two exercises, sometimes three. On days that you utilize three exercises, perform one squatting movement, one pulling movement, and one pressing movement. On days that you use two exercises, pick a squatting and pressing movement, a squatting and pulling movement, or a pressing and pulling movement.
As for sets of reps, utilize sets of 5, 3 and/or 2 reps for the majority of your training. Occasionally, you want to perform singles, especially (and obviously) if you’re testing your strength on an exercise after a few weeks. And occasionally you want to perform higher rep sets somewhere between the 6 and 10 rep range.
The more reps you use on an exercise, the less sets you need to perform. If you stick with 5s, for instance, on one exercise, then you needn’t do more than 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps. If you work up to sets of 3 or 2 reps, then you will need between 5 and 8 sets before reaching your max weight for the day – the number of sets will depend on both your strength level and the exercise. Squats will take more progressive sets to reach a heavy double than will power cleans, for instance.
To give you an example of what a workout might look like, here’s a typical session I might perform:
- Squats: 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps, using 135, 225, 315, 375, and 405.
- Power Cleans: 135x5x2 sets, 185x5, 205x3, 225x3x2 sets
If I feel “good” after those two exercises, then I will add a pressing movement, maybe bench presses, overhead presses, weighted dips, or one-arm dumbbell overhead presses (those are 4 of my favorite). If I feel a bit tired, then I will simple stop there.
If you want to add a third exercise, but you’re not feeling as “up to it” as usual, you can perform straight sets. Use a lighter weight on the 3rd exercise, and train for 5 “straight” sets of 5, 3, or 2 reps.
In “Part Two” we’ll cover more set/rep options, and we’ll look at an example of a few weeks of training.
 As with my post on Ditillo-inspired training, “intensity” here refers to how “heavy” you train, not how close you take a set to the point of momentary muscular failure. For a training program to succeed, it must manipulate three variables: intensity, frequency, and volume. When embarking on a program, two variables must be high, and one variable must be low. As the lifter advances in a program, he/she can slowly raise the “low” variable until it’s more of a moderate to high variable. Programs that fail are ones that – when starting out – make the mistake of either (a) having all three variable high or (b) having one variable high while the other two are low. The reason Menzterian-style “H.I.T.” training absolutely sucks is because it has one variable high (intensity), while the other two variables (frequency and volume) are low.
The Bulgarians were of the mind that it’s best to train with high-intensity and high frequency.
 If you are new to training, please take the time to read over my blog. My many posts on “heavy-light-medium” training are the best places to start. Full-body, H-L-M workouts will give you the most gains in the shortest amount of time if you are a beginner. And remember to leave your ego at home when taking up strength training. You don’t need to rush things. And the only person you are competing against is yourself.
Having said all of that, please go ahead and read this series on HFT – it should have some tips and pointers that will help your H-L-M training.