Weight Training Frequency and Duration
by: Robbie Durand
About 10 years ago a system called the Bulgarian Burst System was published which advocated going to the gym multiple times throughout the day. The theory talked about how the Bulgarian Olympic weightlifting team would train many times a day, as much as six times a day for less than 30 minutes. The school of thought was to perform several high intensity bout of exercise that would stimulate acute anabolic hormones (i.e. GH, testosterone) which would then lead to greater increases in muscle mass and strength. In a previous review of the literature on training frequency concerning muscle hypertrophy and training frequency, the researchers that there is no difference in muscle size gains between frequencies of two and three days per week, they also concluded that muscle size gains can be made with training frequencies of anywhere between two and four times per week for as long as six months. So in sum, training a body-part more often is not going to necessarily make it grow as opposed to training it one time per week. What about gains in strength?
Researchers wanted to assess the effects of 1 hour of resistance training on muscular strength and health outcomes, when allocated differently over the course of a week. The subjects performed with the same total training volume but with different training frequencies and durations, or with different levels of supervision, on compliance, muscle health and performance, behavior and work performance. The subjects performed performed shoulder exercises consisting of the front raise, lateral raise, reverse flies, shrugs, wrist extension. The loading for these exercises ranged from 8 – 20 RM. Researchers allocated subjects into 5 different groups:
-1 session x 60 minutes (supervised)
-3 sessions a week x 20 minutes (supervised)
-3 sessions per week x 20 minutes (unsupervised),
-9 sessions per week x 7 minutes (unsupervised)
-a non-training control.
So all the subjects performed the same volume except that the training frequency varied among the groups. The researchers found that the 4 training groups significantly increased 1RM strength but there was no similar increase in the control group. Increases in the 1 x 60 minute, 3 x 20 minutes (supervised), 3 x 20 minute (unsupervised) and 9 x 7 minute groups were: 12.7%, 6.0%, 8.8%, and 4.4%, respectively. However, there were no significant differences between groups. The researchers concluded that resistance training programs comprised of equal volume but different training frequency displayed similar results in terms of gains in muscular strength. The interesting finding of the study was that regardless of how many times a person went to the gym, either 1 or 3 times per week, when the volume of a protocol is achieved, it did not matter how long the person exercises, as all the groups made similar gains in strength, but the key was to maintain a consistent volume during exercise.
Dalager T, Bredahl TG, Pedersen MT, Boyle E, Andersen LL, Sjøgaard G. Does training frequency and supervision affect compliance, performance and muscular health? A cluster randomized controlled trial. Man Ther. 2015 Feb 28.
Wernbon M, Augustsson J and Thomee R. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on a muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Medicine, 37:225-264, 2007.