I’m finally going to do it: I’m going to get in shape. A friend of mine — let’s call him “Billy” — offers to work with me at his gym. He was a competitive powerlifter in high school and today we’re going to squat. So we squat front and back squats, do some other assistance work: hack squats, hamstring curls, quad extensions. I feel good. My legs feel like they might explode. I wobble home, somehow managing to operate the pedals of my car.
The next morning I wake up, kick my legs over the side of the bed and try to stand up. I collapse in a heap next to the bed. I yell “Billy!” at the top of my lungs and I hear my housemate burst into laughter in the next room over. He proceeds to yell “Billy!” at me every time he sees me gimping around that day.
High Frequency training – HFT
You see the articles all the time: six weeks to ripped, 4 weeks to bigger biceps, whatever. On the flip side, you see people moving through the same workout over and over again, like robots. Three sets of ten benches, three sets of ten inclines… finish on the treadmill for 30 minutes, running the same pace for the entire time.
Where’s the balance in this?
The dogma in lifting has always been that “you need time to recover” between workouts. And this is true, if you jam all your volume into a single workout per week. If I’m hitting six variations of squats on a single day, high volume, I’m going to need more time to recover. But if I do the same movements over and over again, I can train daily and still make progress. The volume creeps up over time.
Balance is what you’re going for, something you can do every day that gets results but that won’t be associated with something negative, pain or boredom.
Here’s the compromise: use High Frequency Training as assistance work. I work on strength a few times a week with the barbells, but I hit the HFT 5-7 times per week with four movements:
- 70# goblet squat
- pull-ups from rings
- one move from the Simple Six
repeat until all reps are completed. Start with 6 total reps (1 rep per exercise per set) and add 1 rep per day. Finish with 6 two-handed kettlebell swings, adding 1 rep per day.
To make it easier, you could start with a a TRX row or an inverted row, a lunge, and a push-up. This is where I started, and I worked the reps up to about 30 before deciding that I needed to use a bit more weight. (Another Dan John gem: “The answer has never been: lift light weights for high reps, or lift heavy weights for few reps. The answer remains: Lift heavy weights for high reps.”)
This is a variation on this training program from Chad Waterbury. Notice that he says that you do this in addition to your normal training program. This is an evolution in his ideas from PLP/the 60 day challenge, but the basic idea is easy enough to summarize in one line: pick 1-3 movements that you can do 10 or so reps of and then do 10 reps on day one, splitting up the work into two or more sets. Add one rep a day. Keep adding one rep a day for months at a time. (2-6 months).
Waterbury initially conceived this as a way to bring up lagging body parts that you would do with one exercise on the side, but without getting deeply into the reasons why, Dan John says that it’s good to keep your pushing , pulling, and squatting (relatively) high volume and in sync with each other. These movements are great for hypertrophy and mobility and so they work well with a high frequency training program.
Crucial points with my version of HFT:
First, it’s meant for the long-haul. I am gradually nudging up the volume by one rep per day. Waterbury says he got his best results from months 5-6 on this program. That means he was doing 120+ reps on each of these days. As I get to about 10 reps or so per set, (beginning around month 3) my game plan is to add additional lower-body mobility drills between sets. So my eventual goal is to add in some band pull-aparts and Joe DeFranco’s Limber 11 lower-body mobility program.
Second, my accessory/assistance work in the gym (everything that’s not a big, compound movement) will have to back off quite a bit. The goal of the gym work will be to get more hinging (deadlifts) and weighted carries in as well as interval training for cardio work (I’ll talk more about the overall plan in another post).
How you start your day can give you a big boost throughout the day. Even if you miss your main workout, this gives you a way to get better today, at home, without a lot of equipment. It builds the exercise habit and can make your actual gym sessions faster and more focused on hitting the big productive movements and getting out, so you don’t have to yell “Billy!” when you stumble out of bed.