Increasing Frequency: How to Work Out More Without Overtraining

by Silvio Bauer on February 5, 2015

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Silvio Blauer Pistol

If you are anything like me (which means people call you crazy, but that’s another story) you love to work out. You cannot go a day without training and you feel itchy when you miss a workout.

I’ve certainly been there while traveling or when I was stretched thin from work and social commitments. I get a bit moody and my feet start trembling. You may call me addicted.

But all this name calling is total nonsense, because there is a sound way to develop the resilience necessary to work out daily. The good news: I’m gonna tell you about it.

Ready? Good, let’s get to it then.

Why Go High Frequency?

So, let’s first consider the why before we delve into the how. There’s a good number of reasons why it’s pretty neat to be able to work out daily.

  • Habit building: People who struggle working out consistently might find it harder to collect enough will power 3 times a week compared to working out daily. But how can working out less often be harder? Because that way, it’s not a habit. When I come home after work, I change into my workout clothes, find a pull-up bar and do my workout. I don’t ponder about this, I just do it. It’s automatic. By working out only 3 times a week, it’s tempting to postpone a workout because every time, it’s a decision that has to be made.
  • More practice time: If your main goal is mere strength, a high frequency (HF) program is what you need. The more often you practice a certain skill, the faster your progress. And if you, like me, have a long wish list of feats of strength you want to accomplish, that additional practice time gives you room to sneak in one or two more moves you can practice.
  • Plateau busting: When you’re stuck with a progression, say, pistol squats, what can you do? Well, do a lot of pistols or pistol regressions. Do them every day. I dare you to not get better at a move by doing this.
  • Toughening up: When you finally buy into the HF training method, you forget about your excuses. It’s not a big deal anymore when you feel a bit stiff or sense a light muscle soreness. You’ll also learn to really listen to your body, how a good warm-up can do wonders and you will enjoy an enhanced ability to recover from your workouts.

If these are not good reasons to train more often, I don’t know what is.

However, here is what an HF program is not:

  • An ideal bodybuilding method: Most of the Monday-Wednesday-Friday routines come from the bodybuilding community. And if all you want is bigger guns, HF training as described here is not your best bet. I’m not saying you cannot build muscle with this (in fact I gained visible mass from doing pistols every day). It just might not be optimal for mass gaining.
  • A very structured routine: I’ll describe this in detail below, but to implement HF, you have to learn to go with the flow. Therefore, I recommend this only for strength trainees who A) know exactly what they want from their training and B) have enough experience to scale their workouts.

Now, if you want everything from the first list and can manage to miss out on the second one, here is what you need to do.

How to Implement High Frequency Training

Silvio Blauer

I came across the idea of HF training first by reading Squat Everyday by Matt Perryman. It’s an awesome read and, though it’s geared towards weightlifters, really useful for every fitness enthusiast because it’s about much more than just squats. It’s about questioning sport’s “science” and challenging your belief system from time to time.

I never thought I could train that often because I got really sore from my workouts. I was a big fan of the High Intensity Training (HIT) Method and therefore destroyed myself with every workout.

Now, my dentist told me that this won’t work if I wanted to work out almost every day. Here’s a diagram that illustrates why this is the case.

FIV_triangle

I call this the FIV triangle (I’m actually not the first person to come up with this diagram. I first saw this in an article by Alex Zinchenko). The orange dot in the middle is metaphorical you. You can be everywhere inside the triangle. The nearer you are to one corner, the more distant you are from the other two.

Now, when you want to work out very often, the first thing you have to do is do lower intensity and lower volume workouts (volume meaning the total number of sets you do each week, for every muscle respectively).

frequency-FIV

This is an extreme case and probably resembles something like working out 2 times a day, every day. If that’s you, I envy you for your spare time.

A useful method to implement higher frequency training would work with two things:

  1. Scale every workout so that the dot does not come near the lower corners of the FIV triangle (intensity and volume).
  2. Skew the FIV triangle so that a higher frequency is possible with intensity and volume being the same.

The skewed triangle below would resemble a good case of strength focused HF training.

high-frequency-FIV

This means we’re doing HF, medium high intensity and low volume.

To produce this kind of training regimen, you need to learn the Art of Going with the Flow and to push through some light discomfort. To elaborate this further, let’s take the pistol as an example.

Say you want to get really good at pistols and you therefore try to do them every day. Depending on your level of strength, the pistol can be a very demanding and therefore intense exercise. So doing 5 sets of 5 pistols (5×5) every day might be too much.

That’s exactly when you need to listen to your body: If you did a few intense sets of pistols on Monday, scale down on Tuesday. Maybe do a couple of sets of light bodyweight squats followed by one good set of pistols.

Maybe Wednesday and Thursday are medium intensity and you feel good to go again on Friday for a higher intensity workout. I plotted an exemplary weekly course of intensity in the diagram below.

intensity_curve

As you see, the intensity (the orange line) throughout the week varies significantly. This is to keep the balance between volume (dark grey area under the curve) and recovery (light grey area between curve and maximum intensity line).

Now we can see why the FIV triangle makes sense: If you keep intensity at maximum every day, there is no recovery. You can go high intensity, but therefore you need to have rest days (so intensity zero).

The low intensity days are nothing more than active recovery. In fact, doing lighter regressions of an exercise helps promote blood flow to your muscles and your joints, which in turn speeds up recovery and prevents injury. Spiffy!

There is no exact method how to scale each and every workout, because everybody is at a different level, both in strength and recovery ability. That’s something you need to experiment with yourself.

The neat thing about adopting this varied intensity scaling and HF training is that it makes you more resilient. You will get sore less often and will enjoy faster recovery. That’s mighty useful if you want to participate in a PCC Workshop, by the way. You won’t be beat up so much after the three days and can take The Century Test like a breeze.

So once you get the hang of taming your inner beast during your workouts, you can work on skewing the FIV triangle so that you can take more frequency with the same intensity and volume.

But do yourself a favor and be deliberate about your workouts. That means, keep a workout log and write out your workout beforehand on that specific day, based on how you feel. You can correct your plan during the workout but try to keep this at a minimum.

For the first few HF weeks, plan out your workouts lighter than you think you can handle. If after a week you think your workouts have been a joke, scale them up a notch.

Maintaining High Frequency Training

Silvio Blauer L-Sit

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when riding the HF horse. Firstly, warm-up properly with dynamic stretches, mobility drills or very light regressions of your target skill. After your workouts, I recommend some good old-fashioned stretching. Specifically stretch the muscles involved in your HF training.

After about 2 weeks of experimenting with pistols every day, I felt that my legs got really tense and stiff. It wasn’t soreness, just a slight tiredness. So I took a day off, did a nice recovery routine, had a couple of beers (I’m German, that’s how I recover 😉 ) and jumped on the pistol wagon again the next day.

So yes, you can take a day off once in a while. Just know that you won’t die from working out with slightly sore muscles. There have been so many times when I felt like I didn’t have enough energy for a productive workout, but after a good warm-up, it usually turned out great.

You also don’t have to implement this for all your skills and moves (but you could, I guess). I did this with pistols to finally master them with ease. But you could incorporate this for just about any skill like one-arm push-ups, elbow levers or dragon flags.

So there it is. All you need to know to toughen up and practice as often as possible without burning out. Happy tricking!

-Silvio

***

Silvio is a full time medical engineer who loves to practice and teach calisthenics in his free time. He enjoys creating workout plans for his friends and spreads the word about PCC over at his blog, NeatStrength.com. He writes about minimalist fitness and can also be reached through his Facebook page: facebook.com/neatstrength.

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  • Mohammed

    Judging from the first picture, I think your hairstyle is similar to mine, haha.

    I find it to be true that the lower the frequency, the easier it is to postpone.

    I have been contempating adding in extra days to increase my pushup numbers. I think I’ll keep my Convict Conditioning high intensity routine and just add in an extra day or two of pushups (paired with Australian pullups for balance) where I do one or two sets of low volume. Just strength practice, no more.

    Very good advice in a great post, Silvio.

    Thanks!

    • Hey Mohammed!

      Thanks for the compliment. And you have good taste in hairstyles, it seems 😉

      Keep at it with the push-ups! As I said, you can use this tactic selectively for your exercises.

      Rock on!

  • Hey Silvio! Great article!! I’m digging your philosophy behind HF training and specifically using the Pistols as an example. I am also trying to get my left sided pistols up to par with my right side! Sometimes I avoid training it for that reason! But you’re right, if I want to get better at the moves I’m not good at it, I gotta work on them daily! Thanks for the motivation, brotha!

    • Right on, fellow ninja 😉

      For me, it was always the right side that was weaker. Glad that I could fire up your motivation for pistols!

  • Frank Delventhal

    Very nice article 🙂 you covered some of the stuff I planed for this year. Still too much to learn, especially since I am addicted to Kettlebells too …
    With the pistols I had good results to do some ankle mobility drills after every rep of a pistol:
    Ankle mobility left followed by a pistol left, then the same on the right side. The “little” break makes it a bit easier so I had more energy to concentrate on the proper form.

    So Prost for your recovery day
    (though I am German, but I prefer a little Scotch) 😉

    • Hey Frank,

      thanks for the feedback and the tip regarding ankle mobility.

      Aren’t you the guy from the “Hamburg Kettlebell Club”? I recently moved to Hamburg! We definitely have to meet for one of those Scotches! I sent you an invite on FB.

      Cheers and Prost 😉

      • Frank Delventhal

        Jup that is me 😉
        I will contact you

  • Really good stuff, Silvio! Some of my very motivated clients will love this article as they love to train as much as (safely/sanely) possible to increase their skills, strength, and endurance. Thanks for sharing your plan!

    • Thanks, Adrienne! I’m happy to the moon and back if this inpired anyone to improve their training schedule.

      Thanks for having me!

  • amar

    Pavel discusses HF training in his book Naked Warrior. He has a method called “greasing the groove” in which you do pistols/one arm pushups every day multiple times throughout the day. Works great!

    BTW your website is great! Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you so much, means a lot to me!

      I read Naked Warrior and loved it! But as much as I love to train, I still prefer the old school method of having one session where all I focus on is my training.

      Cheers!

      • amar

        Im in the same boat as you, his book gave me a lot of knowledge and insight and has greatly improved my training, but the only thing I have tried GTG on is pull ups, and that was just to get my number ups!

      • NW

        Great work, thanks for sharing valuable knowledge. Indeed, Pavel’s GTG totally revolutionized my training/recovery times/strength.

  • Sol Hermelin

    My version of this is just practicing the moves I’m trying to learn whenever I get up. Then I train all around strength either every day or 3-4 times a week. Definitely won’t work for everybody, but it works really well for me! Only thing that worries me is that I don’t warm up much before trying some pretty tough moves. I’m always really careful, but I’m not sure how safe it is.

  • Eric Buratty

    Yo Silvio–excellent information here! As a trainer who’s also an advocate of high-frequency training, I’m always looking for other ways of explaining the why and how part in a practical manner. You used some key buzz words that will help things “click” for everyone from a motivational standpoint, moving forward: “habit building,” “plateau busting” and “active recovery.” Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Eric. I’m just figuring this out myself, so it’s great to hear from a real trainer that I make sense somehow 🙂

  • Jack Arnow

    Great article! I’m trying to practice this for one arm chin training. You must listen to your body everyday!

    • Wow Jack Arnow is commenting on an article I wrote?! You must be kidding. Thanks Jack for taking the time to read it!

  • FattyWhale

    I find it fascinating that I can completely agree with some of this, and completely disagree at the same time. 😛 But I greatly appreciate this article however, because it allows me to dissect and analyze a point-of-veiw that I don’t have.

    Because as great as articles that reinforce my beliefs are, it’s the ones that challenge them, that I’m able to learn the most from. So thank you for taking the time to write it. 🙂

    • Hey there, I’m glad I could stirr up some of your thinking. I don’t claim to have the right answer to every question, and I think nobody really does.

      The book I mentioned in the article, Squat Everyday, by Matt Perryman, is a must-read for you if you like your belief system to be challenged. I had the same reaction to it as you had after reading my article.

      And thanks for taking the time to read that article 😉

  • Perkelnik

    Interesting article, I have a question though: you say that…

    “If your main goal is mere strength, a high frequency (HF) program is what you need.”

    Is it really? Because Paul Wade suggests the exact opposite for maximum strength in CC – high intensity, low frequency, even as low as once a week.
    I guess it all depends on which kind of strength we re talking about. If it is a maximumum strength, you need some recovery before working a particular muscles again, because it puts a lot of stress on the neural system.
    But for strength endurance (which of course, will also push your maximum strength, just not as much), HF is probably the way to go.

    If Im wrong, please explain, thanks.

    • Hi Perkelnik, thanks for your question.

      Both ways, HIT and HF, can be used to work your maximum/absolute strength. There is one significant practical difference: With HIT, you won’t walk well for the rest of the week if your workout was so intense that you could only do it once a week. This does not train your nervous system that much, it’s a stressor to the whole body.

      With HF, your training evolves into practice time. With varied intensity and HF, you get to practice more often. The movement pattern and the right muscle activation will be ingrained more deeply into your central nervous system.

      Both methods will make you stronger, neither of them are very easy (after a few days without a recovery day, your muscles can feel pretty stiff and tired). It’s a matter of preference.

      • Perkelnik

        Ok, I understand your point better now, thanks for the answer 🙂

    • Saiya-jin

      Paul Wade wrote exactly same thing as author of this article. He wrote, that for strenght you need working out as often, as you can, but you never go to failure and take as long breaks between sets, as you need to generate full power. Or maybe its just polish version, which i read.

  • Great article!
    It just so happens that I’m trying to perfect my pistol squat at the moment too!
    I can’t stand a day without training – I keep my volume/frequency relatively low on my heavy compound lifts but functional bodyweight training is to be practised daily.

  • Alex

    Reading this post came at the right moment because my question right now is – what about HF training? I want to achieve more strength (Calisthenics strength if you know what I mean) but in the same time I wouldn’t like to give up my Freeletics workouts completely (HIIT, you know). I love them Cardio WO from Freeletics when in the end you are so destroyed but also mega happy you did them. I started to like those Burpees, you know…
    For example, I started including in my Workouts – Calisthenics elements : for example, instead of doing 50 Pushups, i decided to do 5 x 5 Inclines and 5 x 5 normal ones (wide grip…). Or instead of 50 Pullups – 5 x 5 normal ones, 5 x 5 Explosives or some 30 – 60 sec Pullup hold. What do you say about such a plan? And then the Cardio element – 100 Burpees (so this is the plan for today…). Is it ok to do cardio and strength in the same session or separately (i mean Monday strength and Tuesday cardio) – what is your opinion about that).
    Alex.

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