“What frequency is best?”
“But if I train less often, I might get stronger but not bigger”
“Train as often as you can”
We hear things such as this all the time. What is right? Where is the truth?
If we take a bit of science, just a part that has been proven many times over, and extrapolate with logic, the picture is easily cleared up.
The Science Fact
There are two forms of strength.
1) Neural based (including coordination and effort)
2) Physical changes (including hypertrophy and energy systems)
The key tool: The more you stick with a movement, keeping the performance the same, the less there is to learn. This along with studies and annecdotal evidence show that neural gains are soon minimized in a training program. Further gains in strength can only come from one type of adaptation at this point. Hypertrophy.
Knowing this, it becomes very easy to analyze what frequency is best. It′s the one you gain strength on at the fastest rate. One can also apply this to rep range, volume, intensity, etc. There is no denying, that the one you gain the fastest on, IS the one you gain the fastest on!
Test yourself. Keep everything unchanged in your program but alter your frequency. If you find you add 3% per workout training 2x per week, but add 8% training once per week, there is your answer. If you find you have hit a sticking point and cannot add weight to the bar, try both directions, more frequently and less frequently. The one that shows improvement is undeniably the correct choice.
If there is a way to alter the ratio of neural to hypertrophic gains, is surely does not lie in frequency of training, it would lie in the application of the stimulus. Altering the frequency of a drug dosage does not alter the systems the drug affects, only the saturation levels in the body. If a different drug stimulus is needed, a different drug is required.
The worst scenario
People change their exericises, rep range, form, ROM, etc etc and never let themselves surpass the beginning neural learning curve. Just when they get good at the exercise, the gains slow (this makes sense as now you are only gaining from hypertrophy which obviously will yeild less strength gains than the fast neural llearning was previously), this gives a false feedback that change is needed. The person then changes things to a way that now yeilds those fast strength gains once again. What they did, was change things enough that they are now in the neural/coordination area again.
Pick exercises and maintain form and function. When gains slow, wait a bit, if they still continue to slow, now try adjusting frequency, find the direction that brings the strength gain curve back up. This is the right direction. Am I saying we should keep dropping frequency lower and lower until were training once a month? No, I do not believe that will happen for most, what I do beleive will happen, and should happen, is that you will finally find a frequency, whether it be 2x per week or 2x per month, that allows the effects of your training to be dealt with properly by the local and systematic areas of the body. Again, if you keep changing intensity levels, volume, or any of these factors, you will also alter the dose and type of stimulus, thus voiding the entire concept.