Intensity or Frequency? Which approach of training in the weight room will give you the best results? That is a question that many people ask themselves all the time. Let’s have a brief look at the differences in these approaches and how they are applied through workouts. After that I’ll simply let you be the judge on what you think may work best for you.
Intensity model. This can be best described as upper/ lower splits or body region training on specific days. This is commonly applied by going in to the gym and having your week look something similar to this:
Monday: Chest and Triceps
Tuesday: Back and Biceps
Wednesday: Legs and shoulders
Thursday: cardio and abs
Friday: Chest and Triceps
Saturday: Back and Biceps
Sunday: Cardio and abs or Rest
Then the following week you’d pick up with Legs and shoulders again.
The above example is how I learned to strength train when my Father first got me into the weight room when I was 15. This method is great and applied by many across the world especially body builders. The benefits to this type of training is that you can get in a lot of specific work in each session for specific regions of the body. This style of training builds tremendous amounts of time under tension, number of contractions and also local muscle endurance. Some drawbacks to this approach are that you aren’t ever training your total body together at once, leaving ill prepared for lifes or sports greatest tests. It also leaves the frequency of hitting any specific body part relatively low through the course of a month or through a season of training.
Frequency Model. This model is less applied by the masses through history. However it is becoming ever more popular due to the rise of “CrossFit” and “HIIT” style training methodologies and the results they bring. I was first introduced to this type of training when I started doing strength and conditioning in high school my senior year under our new football coach. We combined lower and upper body lifts throughout the week for each training day. Here is an example of how a week may lay out when using more of a frequency model
Monday: Pressing Upper body + Squatting Lower body + Abs
(Examples: Bench press, Strict Press, push up, Back Squat, Lunge)
Tuesday: Pulling Upper body + Pulling Lower body + Abs
(Examples: Pull Up, Bent Row, Lat Pull Down + Power Clean, Power Snatch, Deadlift, Ham curl)
Wednesday: Rest/ Cardio
Thursday: Pressing Upper body + Squatting Lower Body + Abs
Friday: Pulling Upper body + Pulling Lower body + Abs
Saturday: Total body Accessory work (Light accessories for movements not focused on throughout the week. This day is high volume more like a total body “Pump session” where loading is light and quality is the focus.) Followed by more cardio like Wednesday.
The following week would simply repeat the structure.
The big positive to this model is the way the body generally responds to training both lower and upper body together in the same day, which is high caloric burn. Training this way allows for athletes to “work” both upper and lower but in controllable amounts and with specific function to still allow for proper recovery without over training. This style of training also creates more of a general state of readiness for tests in life or sport that often demand both upper and lower body to work together under strain or fatigue. The last point and potentially the biggest is that it creates greater muscle arousal. As you train a body region more frequently the muscles will keep a larger look due to increased blood flow and use. The longer you go between training a specific region the more “flat” the muscle can appear. The biggest drawback here is session volume and local muscle endurance development, if that is your specific goal then perhaps the intensity method is better applied for you.
Overall there are a million ways to train. Today I’ve mentioned two. I enjoy both styles at different times of life or the year and with different intentions. I find that I’m in my best shape when I train my total body all the time and focus on planes of movement to break down the day, the frequency model. But, through experience I also understand that in order for me to build capacity in specific areas I need to train the intensity model for volume at some points. Both are useful for me, it simply depends on what I’m training for and when! So, which do you prefer? Have you tried both? I would encourage you to venture out and try new methods! Especially if you are someone who's been training a specific way for a long time and not seeing much change. Not until we experience a new way of training can we really decide what works best. And to be clear what works best for me, may not work best for you!