Low Frequency Weight Training

Tracey CheuvrontThis is Tracey from Scott Fitness with the wacky calf raise technique. I've spent a little time looking over ExRx.net and from what I've seen it is very well written and has a good balance--good work. I'm curious what you think of my habit of only training each muscle group once every two weeks or so?

Tracey Cheuvront, 'Bastionhead'

Hi Tracey,

The optimal training frequency is dependent upon total training volum, intensity, and your ability to recover between workouts. I have known those that have reported doing well with training each muscle group once per week while performing a high volume program with multiple exercises and sets for each muscle group.

Many studies do, however suggest greater strength gains when weight training 2 to 3 times per week (Berger 1962, Hoffman et. al. 1990, Faigenbaum & Pallock 1997, Rhea et. al. 2003). The difference in optimal training frequency between novice (3x/wk) and experienced participants (2x/wk) is thought to be due to the higher training volumes being used in the studies using trained subjects. Interestingly, Fleck & Kreamer (2004) suggest a periodized weight training program may allow for more frequent training sessions and the use of a higher total training volume compared to a non-varied training program.

Weight training components (intensity, duration, frequency) are somewhat inversely proportionate to one another (I*D*F). This model suggests that if one component is decreased, increasing one or both of the other components may make up for this loss. For example, by training each muscle group every 4 days instead of every 3 days (decreased frequency), the number of exercises or sets may be increased (increased duration), or the amount of weight may be increased (increased intensity). Intensity is the least forgiving of the three components, if intensity is decreased for a time, strength and muscle mass gains will likely deteriorate. Increasing frequency or duration cannot make up for a decrease of intensity. When frequency decreases to a point, detraining begins to occur and less progress can be made. However, losses of muscular endurance occur well before strength losses are experienced.

Interestingly, strength and muscular development may actually increase after periods of overtraining or overreaching when short layoffs, such as one to two weeks, are implemented. This does not mean, however, that more progress cannot be achieved with greater frequency of lower volume training, so the likelihood of overtraining is less likely, hence short lay offs would have a less positive effect.

As you have pointed out in a previous conversation, I too am unaware of any studies that have examined the efficacy of training frequencies less than once per week. I would have thought, before you reported your experience, that these sorts of studies would fall into the category of detraining.

James Griffing, ExRx.net

Handstand Shoulder Press (between benches) James,

Thanks for such a thorough response!

Regarding frequency/intensity/duration of training, I am in agreement with your description of the inter-relationship of these factors. However, my experience with high intensity weight training has made me keenly aware of the large amount of rest necessary between workouts for optimum progress--which for me means being able to increase either the reps at a given weight, the weight at a given number of reps, or both weight and reps, on a workout-to-workout basis. Whereas most well-accepted recommendations advise anywhere between 2 and 7 days between same-muscle training sessions, I have gotten best results from taking 10-20 days--and have even gained strength in the SLDL taking 40 (FORTY!) days between workouts. And I use a fairly low-volume approach, usually 4 of fewer total work sets per muscle group. I have to laugh at the idea of doing squats or DLs, for instance, every 5th day--often I'm still sore from the last workout on the 4th or 5th day, which means I am not even fully recovered--let alone physiologically over-compensated and ready for another progressive dose of exercise stimulus. And I routinely go 4 to 5 successive days with no resistance training whatsoever, with no loss of strength or muscular endurance.

When I first tried this, I was worried about losing the minuscule gains I had managed to achieve with traditional higher frequency training. But after I got over this initial fear and gave it a try, my strength and muscle gains were tremendous. I challenge anyone to give it a try.

I can't count the number of times people have approached me for training advice, but when I tell them my methods, they don't believe me: "But all the dogma says...." So a big impetus for the youtube channel was, in addition to meeting/motivating/being motivated by other natural lifters, to counteract all the disinformation going around about bodybuilding exercise, but in a forum that is fun and inspirational more than didactic.

Tracey Cheuvront, 'Bastionhead', Lifetime Drug Free
ExRx.net Exercise Model


There appears to be some support your idea of longer recovery between workouts. At least a few high level former athletes use varying methods to recovery from extraordinary high levels of training volume or intensity. Dr Mauro Di Pasquale, MD, a World Champion Powerlifter reportedly trained every 5 days alternating between a minimum workout and a 4 hour workouts (every 10 days). This is an example of polarizing the training stimulus around a target response. It can assists recovery by decreasing the frequency between each type of workout, thereby avoiding overtaxing the metabolic pathway in the same way every workout. This can take the form of alternating between a high intense / low volume and low intense / high volume workout or alternating between heavy and light workouts. Also see Training Principles: Variation.

Apart from this variation technique, it is not uncommon for advanced bodybuilders to train each muscle group once a week to allow recovery between their high volume workouts. From an alternative approach, Mike Mentzer, Pro Bodybuilder, famous for advocated HIT training recommended resting 10-12 days between training each body part. HIT was the brain child of Author Jones, the inventor and founder of Nautilus Weight Training Equipment. HIT involved a single set for each exercise, training each exercise beyond muscular failure (very high intensity, very low volume). Also see Low Volume Training.

Genetics also presumably plays a role in recover time. My former sports history professor explained to us that coaches of Eastern Bloc countries in the Cold War days reportedly would intentionally overtrain candidates in attempt to find the few athletes that would actually recover and make progress under their high volume / high frequency training protocols. I'm guessing you would have not done so well in that situation ;-)

Apparently you take an extraordinary long time to recover. From our previous discussions, I understand you also do a lot of other taxing activities such as cycling to and from work, heavy gardening, and yard work; including cutting your entire lawn with a manual mechanical mower and tilling your huge garden by hand. I can imagine that these feats are a workout in themselves that require time in which to recover.

Other factors such as diet can significantly affect recover time. For example, those on a low carbohydrate diet will typically have low glycogen stores which will increase time to exhaustion and likely time to optimal recovery, particularly where anaerobic exercise is concerned.

This essay by Dave Staplin, called Understanding Recovery: A Wound Healing Model would seem to support your training philosophy. However some would argue that this increased strength gains Dave and his training partner experienced was likely due to a sort of Overreaching and Tapering effect. I'm sure many our visitors would have an interest in the idea of extended recovery between workouts. Also see Alternating Rest with Workout Days on 3 Day Split Q&A.

James Griffing


It's interesting that you bring up low frequency training again, as I have some recent experience to share. For nearly a year, my main works sets on the decline barbell press have stagnated at 225lbs for ~13 reps and then 275lbs for a couple sets of 6-7 reps. Over this year, I have been doing this exercise every 12 days or so. But recently, I had a significant leap in performance in a particular workout, getting 225lbs for 16 reps and then 275lbs for 2 sets of 8. Curiously, it had been 17 (SEVENTEEN) days since my last chest workout instead of the usual 12. I really think those extra ~5 days of recovery are the reason for the performance increase.

Mike Mentzer wrote a bunch of HIT articles that were published in various bodybuilding magazines in the early and mid 1990s. Those articles were the impetus for me to begin thinking about unconventional approaches to training, and the low frequency in particular. But of course Arthur Jones is the OG of HIT. I have read everything I can get my hands on about Jones' training philosophy, the history and development of the Nautilus machines, even his general biography--he was a true genius, iconoclast, and all-around fascinating character.

Tracey Cheuvront, 'Bastionhead', Lifetime Drug Free
ExRx.net Exercise Model

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