How the Frequency Progression Works

Here’s one truism we can all agree on: your body doesn’t want to build muscle unless it’s absolutely necessary. A muscle must be challenged to work harder so your physiology has no choice but to manufacture new muscle tissue to adapt to the demand.

Exercise variety is important and necessary to offset overuse injuries, but merely switching from a standing barbell curl to a dumbbell hammer curl won’t do anything to spark new growth in your biceps. This is true for training any muscle group.

You might get sore when you switch to a new exercise, but that’s mainly because the muscle is being challenged in a different way: it doesn’t mean the muscle has to grow to meet the demand. A better strategy is to find a free weight or body weight exercise that you like, and increase the frequency of training that movement over the course of 4-6 weeks.

Frequency Progression

What it’s best for: muscle growth.

Explanation: we all know that increasing the load of a movement is great for building strength, and some muscle growth will follow. However, I’ve found that the fastest growth occurs when you significantly increase the weekly training volume for that muscle group.

Let’s take two guys (Jim and Tim) that perform the pull-up, as an example. Jim weighs 180 pounds and does the pull-up twice per week for 6×4 with an extra 30 pounds of weight attached to a chin/dip belt. You can calculate his weekly training volume with this equation: load x total reps = volume. Since his load is 210 pounds and his total reps are 48, his weekly volume is 10,080.

He’s been feeling pretty strong so the following week he adds 10 more pounds to the chin/dip belt. Now his weekly training volume for the pull-up is 10,560 (220 pounds x 48 reps).

In other words, Jim’s weekly training volume increased 5%.

Tim weighs 210 pounds and has been doing a body weight pull-up for 6×4 twice per week. Therefore, his weekly volume was the same as Jim’s first week: 10,080. Tim has been feeling strong too, but instead of adding an extra 10 pounds to a chin/dip belt he decides to add an extra pull-up workout, thus increasing his training frequency to three times per week. So if we plug in the numbers for Tim’s second week we get a volume of 15,120 (210 pounds x 72 reps).

In other words, by simply adding one extra body weight pull-up workout Tim increased his training volume by 50%!

So which method do you think would send a stronger signal for new muscle growth: a 5% increase in weekly volume or a 50% increase? Yep, you know the answer.

The irony is that it’s easier to add an extra pull-up workout than it is to strain like hell with more load to achieve the same 6×4 workout.

Now, I must state that for maximal strength gains you must focus on adding load to your workouts. But when fast muscle growth is the goal it makes perfect sense to increase the frequency for that movement because it results in a significantly higher weekly volume.

Exceptions to the frequency progression are a barbell squat, bench press and deadlift. However, use the frequency progression for any upper body lift or single-leg exercise and you will build new muscle more quickly.

How to use it: add one extra workout per week for the lagging body part. Perform around 25 total reps with a load that allows 6-8 reps per set. Keep adding one extra workout for that movement for 4-6 weeks straight.

For a complete system that incorporates the muscle-building power of high frequency training (HFT), click the banner below:

Stay Focused,
CW

 

12 thoughts on “How the Frequency Progression Works

  1. Chad,

    Great stuff, as always. A little perplexed, however, on the add one w/o per week recommendation. Does that men someone doing a 6×4 three times a week would be doing a 6×4 seven times a week at week four?

    RS

    CW: Yes, that’s correct. But keep in mind, those seven sessions would be just for one exercise: the exercise that targets the muscles that you’re trying to prioritize.

  2. Since using higher frequency training I have found several advantages:

    1) Faster strength gains
    2) Easier to stay lean
    3) Its counter intuitive but a missed workout has less impact, as you may have 2 or more workouts that will target this same muscle group in the same week
    4) I skip less workouts.

    I didn’t skip often, but I once did an audit of all my workouts and found that when something did come up about 80% of missed workouts were my hard leg days. Go figure.

    I never missed heavy bench pressing days. With higher frequency, I do more full body training and so I can’t skip just legs (as easily) keeping me more on track with my goals. My Squats skyrocketed and I easily surpassed a 2x body weight bench press with this style of training.

    On a side note, while back I used Waterburys the perfect 10 program and received amazing body comp from it. Tough program. The older Waterbury Method program is perhaps my favorite of all time. I am looking forward to reading the new book!

    CW: Excellent – thanks!

  3. Very interesting argument Chad. I’ve been struggling with declining rep numbers on ring muscle-ups lately. After getting my first muscle-up (thanks largely to advice on your site) back in February, I’ve been training them once per week and seeing pretty steady increases in rep ranges. However, the past month or so I’ve only been able to get 22-25 reps per workout, down from 30+ a couple months ago. My instinct was that I should back off and give more rest between ring workouts, but now you led me to think that what I should be trying is actually increasing the frequency. Would you agree? For context, I also do 10X3 deadlifts and squats (separately) once per week, as well as one or two met-con type workouts consisting of sprints, rope climbs, kettlebells, etc.
    Would doing rings twice a week seem like a good option to you?
    thanks for the great site
    Dan

    CW: Dan, I would take 5-7 days off from training the muscle-up. Then, start with two workouts for the first week and add an extra workout each week for 4-6 weeks. For the muscle-up I would use slightly less volume: 15 total reps per workout, as an example.

  4. Welcome back Chad!

    Great post and I can recommend the new product for those wanting to treat themselves to an early Christmas present. A great read with lots of practical information.

    A quick query, will high frequency work on whole body strength moves such as the clean and press and high pull or are these best treated like the big 3 powerlifts in less frequent programming? I’ve hit a sticking point with the clean and press that I’m keen to work through..

    Thanks.

    Carl

    CW: HFT is primarily for muscle growth, however, more frequent sessions will improve the motor pattern of a lift and that will make you stronger. The trick with lifts like the clean is to keep the volume relatively low and not push the loading too high. In other words, keep the clean workouts sub maximal (i.e., about a 6-7 rating on a scale of 1-10).

  5. All the guys doing countless push-ups every day would be buff. But they are not.

    Who is going to have more muscle mass: a guy who benchces 3 x 10 x 400 lbs two times a week or a guy who does 6 x 10 x 200 lbs three times a week.

    The answer is obvious: the first one even though the volume is lower (24000 lbs vs 36000 lbs).

    CW: I respect your opinion but I disagree on some of your points. First off, you used the bench press as an example in your argument – an exercise that I don’t use for HFT, as mentioned in the blog.

    Second, your bench press comparison was with significantly different loads. You’re right, doing a bunch of light work won’t make you grow fast – that’s why the example in the blog was with similar loads, and the parameters per workout (6×4) were exactly the same.

    HFT is a short-term approach to build muscle to bring up a lagging body part. Take two buff twins (Jim and Tim), as an example. Jim keeps doing heavy bench press twice per week for 4 weeks. Tim does 100 push-ups on day 1, and adds one rep per day for 4 weeks without doing an heavy bench press. I guarantee that at the end of the four weeks Tim (the push-up guy) will have added more muscle. Even though it’s not the ideal approach, as I mentioned above.

  6. Hey Chad, what about recovery? If I do 200 pull-up daily, my weekly volume will sky rocket…but we all know that recovery will suffer and overtraining is around the corner…
    Your thought ? where is the ‘limit’ about frequency?

    Best regards,
    Mat’

    CW: Recovery is always the limiting factor, that’s why the HFT system starts with a manageable volume on day 1, and then it steadily increases from there so your recovery doesn’t get overwhelmed.

  7. Thanks, Chad. I’m glad to see how more and more coaches start to use HFT.
    And you were right when you said it’s the future of bb!

  8. Hy Chad! Great article as always!
    I can only perform with bodyweight exercises and a few dumbbells so i have problems with the very low rep stuff. Will i also get good hypertrophy results with standard rep shemes. I think about your formular (upper body push + pull, lower body and 1 isolation exercise)

    Example: Monday 3×15, Wednesday 3×12, Friday 4×6

    Thanks!

    CW: Yes, HFT is actually better with slightly higher rep sets since they’re less stressful to the joints than heavy training is.

  9. I bought the new book, great stuff! I’d like to know, when you repeat an targeted HFT program, do you reset the reps to the low end again? Or should we pick it up where we left off? Thanks.

    CW: You can do either, depending on your goal. If your goal is just muscle growth, pick up where you left off. If you want more strength, start over at the initial reps with an exercise variation that’s more challenging than before.

  10. Hey Chad,

    Can you productively do this w/ a full body routine of higher rep bodyweight exercises? If so, how would you go about adding workouts/sets? Would the full body routine be something that could be done long-term (maybe building up the number of workouts for a few weeks then cycling back and building again)?

    Also, in general, what adjustments should an older (50’s) guy make to his training? I have seen everything from less reps and less workouts and less intensity to higher reps and more frequent workouts and more intensity? I have followed your PLP and some other HFT and after a while have problems recovering from the daily training.

    Finally, Is the full-body routine in your new book something an older person could do safely? Are there bodyweight options in these main workouts? I train at home and do not have access to weights. I do have a chin bar and rings.

    Thanks

    CW: Yes, I cover all these issues in the HFT system.

  11. Chad: I’m aware that spinal loading is the limiting factor on bilateral, loaded, lower-body work. But can deep Front Squats be performed as part of this progression or a PLP, assuming a light enough load for multiples sets of reps (like 10)? Ditto bilateral stiff-legged deads for hamstrings?

    I like the efficiency of bilateral movements but will do more unilateral work (lunge or 1-legged squat and 1-legged deads, if necessary to enable greater frequency for maximum hypertrophy.

    Thank-you. And thanks for doing more for injury-free training than any author I’ve seen.

    CW: Yes, a light front squat can work. That’s why the Goblet Squat is part of the HFT system.

  12. In my experience bench press responds to high frequency pretty well. I’ve seen both strength increase and muscle growth by benching 3-4 times a week (and/or twice per day).

    CW: HFT can work for any exercise, but I don’t use it with the bench press because it can really beat up your shoulder joints over time.

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