All About High-Frequency Training

It’s been a myth for sometime that high frequency training contributes towards burn out, training plateaus and in some cases a decline in fat loss. But what are the real facts behind high frequency training, the positives, the negatives and what can you do to offset your training and diet to inhibit the dreaded plateau and burn out.

Firstly I would like to point something out. There isn’t such thing as over training only poor recovery. If you fail to recover between training sessions then you will no doubt pick up injuries, find a decline in training performance, which will then contribute towards burning out and hitting the dreaded plains of plateau-ville.

When it comes to training for muscle gain the most common question asked is “How many sets and reps should I be doing?”  A fundamental question I guess. For the gym rats I see working out in my local gym, the most common sets and reps scheme seems to be 3×10 just because it’s the standard old school protocol. The only time that would change is when one of them spots an Instagram workout or they’ve downloaded a Youtube routine. Which is cool, but unless you understand why you’re doing it that way, you will struggle to advance further.

Now. I’m not teaching you to suck eggs here, but if you’re relatively new to the training game then this is a MUST. Understanding sets is something that needs some clarification and it all starts with identifying the difference between warm up sets and working sets.

Warm Up Sets

These are to be done before (obviously) they don’t contribute towards your actual working sets. What I find works best is that you do three warm up sets.

50% of your working weight for 10 reps

70% of your working weight for 5 reps

80% of your working weight for 5reps

Once they’ve been done, you would jump straight into your working sets. The reason the number is high to begin with, is so you can warm up your joints get some blood pumping and stimulate the body, priming it for your session. You would then increase the weight but bring down the reps increasing the intensity but minimizing the volume, so not to sap and fatigue your body.  I have found this to be a game changer when working with clients. You can see at each warm up set how they’re feeling. It’s also a good indication of whether you would want to increase the weight on the working set just to push the envelope slightly.

all about high frequency training

Working Sets

This is when you’re actually lifting the desired weight for the desired sets and reps, this is when the magic starts to happen.

There is just one more thing I would like to cover before talking about high frequency is that you need to understand that in order to achieve high frequency training you need to understand that training to failure and high frequency do not mix well at all. So to enjoy the gains and benefits of high frequency training you need to understand something called Reps In Reserve.

Reps In Reserve (RIR)

I was first taught this concept from Dr Eric Helms from 3DMJ and Shredded By Science.  Eric is a very clever researcher and a world-class natural bodybuilder. I also came across this concept by Dr Mike Israetel from Renaissance Periodization. Mike is a professor of exercise science and a beast of a guy.

The concept of RIR is simple. You don’t train to failure. Instead you hold back a couple reps keeping a couple in the tank. In the early stages of your training cycle you start off by holding three reps in the tank, then as you progress through your training cycle that would then drop down to two reps in the tank and then down to one.

If you’ve never done this before, at first this is can be tricky, it does take some understanding and it does need practice. Once you get it and you understand how it works, this is an absolute must if you’re looking to increase your training frequency.

By keeping a maximum of three reps in reserve you’re not only optimizing your ability to lift well without compromising form but you’re also increasing your ability to lift safely whilst giving your body the chance to recovery optimally between sets.

Lets use an example. Look at Usain Bolt. The guy is a freak and I’d be hard pressed to see another human trump his achievements in my lifetime. But if you were to say to Bolt, “Hey go run a 100 meter at 100% then rest 60 seconds and do the same thing again in the same time” I think Bolt would tell you to Foxtrot Oscar.

But if you were to ask him to run 100 meters but only at 70% and rest 60 seconds and do it again in the same time, that’s a little more realistic. Well the same idea concept needs to be applied around weight training.  You can’t expect your body to adapt, to grow and recover if every time you pick up some weights you’re going all out guns blazing. Soon enough you’re going to run out of ammo and your training performance is going to drop.  (Also you’re not featuring in Pumping Iron or impressing anyone by squishing yourself under a barbell).

all about high frequency training curl

Why High Frequency

To achieve and maximize muscle gain you need to stimulate your muscle into growing. Also known as Muscle Protein Synthesis. (MPS) By using a slightly higher frequency style of training you’re also minimizing Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB) when MPS is higher than MPB you’re body is going to repair and turn over new proteins to help build new muscle.

A study by Dr. Stu Philips suggests that doing three sets of leg extension at 70% of a one rep max vs one set of leg extension at 70% of a one rep max, can elevate MPS by 130% 29 hours after the training session. (1.)

The Anabolic Effect

Another benefit to high frequency is anabolic signaling. When you put your muscles under tension, your body will send out a signal to muscle cells to release a molecular signal which increases muscle gain five hours after a training session. The more you put your body under this kind of tension the more your body is going to adapt. However, there will be a trade off. Your body will of course start adapting more to this and so the potential of its potency will soon taper off. (More on that shortly) One study demonstrated that a GVT (German Volume Training) 10 x10 approach to leg press did better in terms of molecule signaling than 5 sets of 10 which tells us that more is often best. But again, there will be a trade off when it starts to be a detriment to your performance and muscle gain.  (2.)

Another benefit to higher frequency is that you start to build up a skill. The more you do something the better you become (hopefully) You also start to get into a solid routine and when that happens you start to see results quicker. Sporadically hitting different muscle groups without any thought process is a bit like throwing crap at a wall and seeing which bit sticks. Not only is it going to look gash, but it’s also going to become frustrating that you’re constantly throwing crap at a wall hoping for it to turn into something else.

Volume is key to building muscle as well as skill. A study by James Krieger, Brad Schoenfeld and Dan Ogborn showed that training 10+ weekly sets per muscle group raised the potential of muscle gains by 10.3% (1.)


Train each muscle group twice per week. Here is what I would recommend:

High volume push
High volume pull
High volume legs
Medium volume push split

Medium volume pull split

The Pitfalls To High Frequency

“ Think less about how to get the most out of your current program cut or bulk and more about how to get the most of out of your lifting career” (Eric Helms)

Training high frequency can come at a price. When you keep pushing the boundaries to training, there will be a risk to burning out, hitting a training plateau or worse, sustaining an injury which is going to set you right back. Of course we don’t want that so there are some simple but effective methods you can use to offset that.

One other pitfall to high frequency is that you need to understand how to recover optimally to optimize your full potential. Recovery is key, without it you’re pushing water uphill. With high frequency being so demanding on our central nervous system, our peripheral nervous system and our joints we need to take care of them. So that’s why it’s important to focus on our diet and our sleep.

Here’s some measures you can take to avoid these pitfalls.

all about high frequency training curl

The Deload

You need to be smart when it comes to high frequency. Which is why you need to plan and structure your training cycles by putting a deload phase in at the end. This is absolutely crucial to success. It will also give your body the time it needs to recover and repair.

It’s something I personally use as well as something I integrate with my clients at the end of a training phase. After hitting peak week where sets and reps and intensity are at their highest, your body is going to need a rest bite before it can continue to repair, grow and adapt. The other consideration is that if you suffer from tendonitis or sore joints then high frequency training might then a deload will help you with that. Also. There are supplements you can take to help, but that’s an article for another day.

Diet and High Frequency

If you’re thinking of using a high frequency program to help you build muscle and drop some body fat then your diet is going to be crucial. High frequency training will in some ways help you drop body fat but your main focus is making sure you’re getting the sufficient nutrients in to sustain and fuel performance and recovery.  

A high frequency training plan is going to help you push through some thresholds, which, of course will mean burning more calories, which could in turn help you drop some body fat. People used to say that you couldn’t build muscle in a calorie deficit. Well let me tell all those haters, you can build muscle in a calorie deficit.

Keeping protein high throughout your calorie deficit is the only the real factor to defer MPB and help you build new muscle protein. MPS. If there is no nitrogen, there is no protein, no protein then you have very slim chances of achieving muscle gain. 

“An inadequate energy intake doesn’t compromise muscle gain if you have an adequate protein intake”

A study showed that if you were in a 40% hypocaloric condition (a 40% calorie deficit), you kept protein high around 2.4g of protein per kg of bodyweight, you trained six day a week doing resistance and anaerobic training, you could drop significantly more body fat than someone who was eating less protein, which is why if you were to follow this protocol then protein would have to be high. (3.)

Protein and High Frequency

By following a high frequency training program, you’re spiking that all-important molecule signal as well as MPS. In conjunction to your high frequency training program, eating high amounts of protein will help you turn over new muscle proteins, which will help promote muscle growth. Tie that in with a small calorie deficit of around 250-500kcal per day or 1750-3500kcal per week, it’s not unrealistic to say you can drop body whilst building muscle.

Providing that protein intake is adequate. I would recommend around 2.0 – 2.2g of protein per kg or body weight. I would also suggest keeping carbohydrates high around your training. With carbohydrates being protein sparing, they’re going to help mop up any additional protein that the body can’t use and keep hold of it until the body can start to take new protein in, once the pre factory period has ended. Another reason why you would want to keep carbs in around a high frequency training plan is that it’s going to not only improve performance during your workouts but it’s going to help replenish your glycogen stores.


(1.)  Resistance exercise volume affects myofibrillar protein synthesis and anabolic signalling molecule phosphorylation in young men.

(2.) Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

(3.) Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial.

About the Author

A nutritionist for the last five years. I’ve worked with pro athletes in the USA, worked with pro. MMA fighters in the UK as well  as bikini models and the general public. My main expertise is to coach and guide people to help them improve their quality of life through a healthier and more active lifestyle. Basically coaching them to life and not fall into the dieting vortex and end up spinning their wheels. Connect with Stephen through his Facebook.