Frequency Not Volume Is The Answer For Building Muscle Strength, Research Shows

Frequency Not Volume Is The Answer For Building Muscle Strength, Research Shows

The dilemma of whether you should programme lots of small workouts or do less frequent, higher volume sessions is one that many athletes consider.

Different coaches have different approaches, and it’s hard to know if one is actually better than the other.

You want to be getting maximal fitness returns on the work you put in, so it would be great to have a more concrete way of knowing what is most effective.

While there’s been little research in the past, a study has emerged from Australia that suggests when strength gains are your goal, frequency is what athletes should prioritise, rather than cramming in a mountain of work on fewer days of the week.

"People think they have to do a lengthy session of resistance training in the gym, but that's not the case," Exercise and Sports Science Professor Ken Nosaka said.

"Just lowering a heavy dumbbell slowly once or six times a day is enough."

The researchers took three groups and gave them a four-week training programme consisting of an arm resistance exercise on a machine that created a maximal voluntary eccentric bicep contraction. An eccentric contraction involves a muscle lengthening, a bit like lowering a heavy dumbbell in a bicep curl.

Each week, one group performed 30 contractions on one single day, while another group performed six contractions per day across five days. A control group performed just six contractions on one day per week.

Despite a 5.8% rise in muscle thickness, the group doing 30 contractions one day per week made no improvement in muscle strength. Neither did the group doing six contractions once per week.

But the group doing six contractions five days per week improved their muscle strength by more than 10% and had a similar improvement in muscle thickness to the 1x30 group.

"We only used the bicep curl exercise in this study, but we believe this would be the case for other muscles also, at least to some extent," Professor Nosaka said.

The reason for the different improvements in strength is unknown, but it could be related to how often the brain is asked to make a muscle contract. However, the researchers still emphasise the importance of taking rest days to allow the body to respond to training.

"Muscle adaptations occur when we are resting,” Nosaka continued. “If someone was able to somehow train 24 hours a day, there would actually be no improvement at all.

"Muscles need rest to improve their strength and their muscle mass, but muscles appear to like to be stimulated more frequently."