There are countless different approaches to strength training and bodybuilding.
From classic 5×5 style programs to 5 day per week ‘bro splits’, you can always find a new routine to try out… along with hordes of fanboys cockfighting about why their methods are best.
But, as anyone with a few years of weightlifting experience under their belt knows, pretty much any of these approaches can be effective and yield you great results… assuming its fits your lifestyle and you can stick to it and stay consistent.
In this article I want to make the argument why high frequency, low volume full body training might be a superior alternative for YOU.
#1: You Get to Lift More Often
A typical setup for this type of training would be alternating between two full body workouts (lifting every other day). For example:
- Workout 1: squats, bench press, bent over rows, curls, tricep extensions, leg raises
- Workout 2: deadlifts, overhead press, weighted chin-ups, lateral delt raises, decline sit-ups
This is the high frequency component of this style of training. And the great thing about this is that you get to lift more often. Sure, maybe not as often as a 5 day per week bodybuilding split, but more often than the typical 3 day per week full body split.
I don’t know about you, but I fucking love lifting (I’m talking about squatting, deadlifting, pressing, rowing, and lifting real weight… NOT that shoulder day and arm day bullshit). I hate having to take the 2 day break you get with most 3 or 4 day per week routines. And that’s why this setup works great for me.
#2: Shorter Workouts
Check out the video above for an example of a short 30 minute workout for mass…
Look, as much as I love lifting weights and hitting the gym, I’m a busy guy. I run a business. I have friends. I have hobbies. I like girls. And cultivating each of these things demands time.
I simply can’t afford to spend 2 hours in the gym… not without sacrificing something else.
Because you’re lifting full body every other day, however, you don’t have to. In fact, it’s actually a lot more effective to have shorter workouts with this setup. I usually spend about 45 minutes per workout in the gym. Instead of doing 5 heavy sets of 5, or 4 heavy sets of 6, I typically perform just ONE heavy set of 5 (with a series of warm up sets leading up to it).
This is the low volume component of this type of training, and it’s so crucial because it makes it easy to fit your workout into your day-to-day schedule. And the truth is that staying consistent, and avoiding missing workouts, is probably the most important factor is achieving sustainable long term results.
#3: Better Results (Muscle and Strength)
Okay, let’s talk about why high frequency, low volume training is actually great for getting you results.
Studies show that when you lift weights, rates of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) inside your body are raised for about 36 hours. This is significant because your body is only in an anabolic state when rates of MPS exceed rates of muscle protein breakdown (MPB). This means that your body has the best shot of building new muscle for 36 hours after you hit the gym.
Because you’re doing full body workouts that target all of your major muscle groups, the rates of MPS are constantly being raised throughout your entire body. You take advantage of this fact by resting, eating, and recovering during this time period… not jamming in more workouts that are likely to elevate your levels of MPB and compromise this natural response.
Some may argue that the low volume component of this type of training could potentially limit your ability to build muscle, and that some people need more volume to see gains. In response to this I would say 2 things:
- First, even though the volume is low on each individual training day, you’re still training your full body every other day, and so the total volume and workload for the week won’t be as low as you might expect.
- Second, because you’re only doing one heavy set per workout, you’ll be able to use a heavier weight than would be possible if you were doing several heavy sets in a row. This higher intensity also makes up for some of volume you’re missing out on.
In fact, studies show that moderate volume training routines promote better strength gains than high volume ones. Of course, the exact definition of what differentiates moderate from high volume isn’t crystal clear, but this still shows that there IS a point at which adding volume can hinder your gains.
#4: You Feel Better (No Need to Deload)
Because your training loads are lower on a day-to-day basis, you’re far less likely to experience the ‘burn out’ effects that can come with high volume training. This is because your body has the chance to fully recover in between each and every workout (and avoid accumulating fatigue).
You see, when you follow a high volume workout program, it can become necessary to take periodic deloads, where you significantly drop the volume and intensity of your workouts every 2 or 3 months. Failing to do so can prevent you from recovering from these periods of ‘overreaching’… and continuing to ignore this needed recovery time has been documented to negatively affect strength levels and even lead to other symptoms like extreme fatigue and depression.
With high frequency, low volume training you completely avoid this trap. You get to feel awesome all of the time. And you don’t have to worry about if and when you need a deload.
So… Is This Training for YOU?
So, is low volume, high frequency training 100% optimal for everyone? No, of course not.
But given the benefits we covered above, I’d say that it’s a great fit for most modern men… men who love to work out and grow stronger, but don’t want it to detract from the rest of their busy lives.
I know it’s worked wonders for me.
Hi David, is know it is a little off topic, but I know you’re a workout/nutrition expert.
Do you believe that a man without any specific skill ou knowledge can start a business and make enough money at least to survive?
Hey Paulo, my short answer is no. You need to be able to add some kind of value to other people’s lives…
But I’m sure there is some skill or knowledge you have that you can cultivate and expand upon. Don’t play the short game and try to make a quick buck.
How many warm up sets to the final set, and at what reps?
Nothing is set in stone, but I usually do about 3-4 warmup sets (escalating in weight). And currently I’m doing 5 reps for the compound movements, but I think anything from 3-6 works well with this configuration.
Hey I’m currently doing push pull legs. Volume is pretty high. I’m thinking about switching to full body four times a week but volume isn’t near to what I usually do. Will this slow down my gains? Thanks
Nice article. Always have been a fan of shorter but more intense workouts. After an hour in the gym I get bored. Especially when its the lateral raise/concentration curl crap. Love lifting heavy with compound exercises. Glad I switched to this type of training since then and never going back. I’ve recently being doing something called Escalating Density Training or EDT by Charles Staley. Anyways its where you have short 15 minute “PR zones” where you get as many reps as possible with two exercises and you do three a workout. I think he has an article on T-nation about it, you might find it interesting. Has been working wonders for me plus I never feel quite as worn down anymore compared to the hour long splits.
Thanks Charles. And interesting, I’m not familiar with EDT but I’ll take a look.
Hi David, Great article. I’ve always struggled to know how much volume is enough, or possibly too much when training each muscle group every 4th day – as my current program is.
I pyramid my warm up sets (usually 2 maybe 3 sets) then do 2 sets at my working weight with the last set an intensity such as rest pause or drop set.
I do 3 exercises per body part (Eg: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps) and my workouts usually range from an hour to almost two hours.
Can you confirm this sounds ok or do I need to pull back in any areas to lower the volume?
Hey Pablo, that sounds like a solid plan as long as it’s working well for you and you’re seeing consistent strength gains (this is always the determining factor to see if a routine is “working”).
I was speaking more in terms of CNS fatigue. I do suffer through some sessions and was wondering if you thought I could get similar results by dropping the volume a little, and by how much as an example.
I guess to break it down I wan to know what the minimum amount of volume is to make training effective for training each muscle group every 4th- 5th day.
It depends on a lot of factors (experience, strength, genetics, intensity, etc) so it’s impossible to give a straight answer. But, like I said, if the strength is going up then your routine is “working”. Drop a little volume and see how it feels and how it affects your strength.
You had me until I saw what you guys were eating. Lost all credibility.
Good article. I’m 52 yrs old. And have started working out again using a similar system. Sunday night, Tuesday night, thursday night, saturday morning. All full body workouts . workout A. Squat, bench press, bent row, ticeps extension, hammer curl, and crunches. Workout B. Front squats, deadlifts, db military presss with hammer grip, yates rows, close grip bench press, dumbell curls, crunches. Using higher reps usually more than 15. Every other sunday and Tuesday i work up to a few heavy sets if i feel really good. Nothing is done to failure. My goal is to do 20 reps on bench press with bodyweight and 30 reps with bodyweight on squat by april when i turn 53 yrs old. I’m not mesomorphic enough to be a bodybuilder but have always been naturally lean. 6’1 195 15% bodyfat.
Would this type of training work for a weak skinny bastard like myself?(135×10 bench press 215×5 deadlift, 105×10 ohp at 130 lbs)? Or should I just stick to higher volume training and build up a foundation. I ask because for the past 3 months I’ve just been screwing around the gym pretty much, and made some good newbie gains but now I’m starting to see a lack of progress and I know I need to start managing volume and intensity.
Yeah this would def work. Main thing is to eat enough to support your training and gain weight!
The 5-day split (high volume low frequency) is a steroid user workout. Steroid users can blast a muscle with high volume and then MPS stays on continuously – with enhanced recovery. For the natural lifter, frequency is key and not getting too sore from too much volume is important for keeping frequency up – natural lifters don’t come close to the recovery experienced by steroid users. Knowing the difference between natural and enhanced lifting approaches explains why there is a perceived “debate” between frequency and volume.
Too damn right, well said.
I have been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this blog.
Thank you, I’ll try and check back more frequently. How frequently you
update your site?
i dont get it. I mean the low volume training gets you better results, but what weights do i have to use? i know it depends on which exercise i am doing but let us say i am exerting the leg press. My maximum ist 170kg where i can do 12 reps. How will the other sets look then?
Is it possible to get stronger without building more muscles using this approach? Also, is there any set reps and sets I should aim for?
Thanks in advance!
Hey David, I’m trying to understand the frequency for this protocol. Are you saying that you workout every single day, just switching workouts 1 and 2 on each other day (resulting in working out 7 days per week), or are you saying workout every other day while switching workouts, resulting in 3 workouts one week and 4 workouts the next week? Thanks!
Or is this an outdated article and you don’t support the findings anymore?