Let’s say you want to make your squat in particular stronger, because it’s lagging compared to the rest of your lifts. Increasing how often you squat can be a great way to get better at squatting. I assume this makes sense to most of you, but it might not be that easy. Below are a few things I think you should consider.
Adjust Volume and/or Intensity
When you increase training frequency of a particular lift, you are adding more stress to your routine and also increasing the demand for recovery as a result. This isn’t a bad thing, because you’re trying to force your body to adapt and grow stronger with your training, but it can be detrimental if you don’t adjust your training volume or intensity (percentage of one repetition maximum) to compensate for the increased frequency.
In my opinion, there are two simple ways to manipulate training volume in your routine for a particular lift.
The easiest way would be to keep overall volume for the lift constant, but split it up. So if you’ve been squatting once per week and doing 20 sets, split that up into two workouts (10 sets per workout) and go from there. I’m not saying you should never increase overall volume again, but I would try to keep it constant for a bit as you get used to the increased frequency.
The second way of adjusting training volume would be to reduce assistance work, particularly direct assistance work. I.e. if you’ve been doing 10 sets of squats and 10 sets of leg press, drop the leg press for a while and add 10 sets of squats on another day instead. Squats will be more taxing than leg press, but overall your volume hasn’t changed so you should be able to adapt without going into complete zombie mode.
Intensity is the percentage of your one reptition maximum (1RM) you’re using. An easy way to manipulate this, when you’re increasing frequency on a lift, is to have light days and heavy days (and possibly medium days).
It’s not rocket science, but for a very simple working example, we’ll take percentages from Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 training program. I also recommend you read his new book Beyond 5/3/1, if you’re going to run 5/3/1 yourself. For this, I’m just using his percentages because I use the program myself and it goes well with the message I’m trying to get across.
Let’s say you’re on the 3 sets of 3 repetitions week of 5/3/1 (a little more goes into this, but I’m just giving you a simple example and don’t want to turn it into a clusterfuck), which puts your working sets at 3×80%, 3×85% and 3×90%. This would be your heavy day. If you increase the frequency of that lift and add another day, it would be a light day with deload percentages (i.e. work sets of 5×50%, 5×60% and 5×70%).
A light or medium day might also feature dynamic effort work. This is usually something like 5-8 sets of 1-3 repetitions done with 50-60% of your 1RM. Mainly for speed and explosiveness. (That’s very basic information. A lot more goes into dynamic effort work. You can read more about it here.)
Another way to have a day with lower intensity to get used to more frequency is to use a variation of the lift you’re increasing frequency for that doesn’t allow you to use as much weight. I.e. if you’re trying to increase frequency for the squat, you might use a front squat (or possibly an overhead squat depending on your specific goals) because it doesn’t allow you to use as much weight. I actually do exactly this myself for squat. I have a squat day and then I also do front squat as kind of a warmup lift on deadlift day. I like that setup a lot.
Take Preventative Measures to Avoid Excessive Soreness
I already wrote an article on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and an article on active recovery, so I’m not going to go into any details on those here. With that being said, you should do what it takes to minimize how sore you are. Increasing training frequency, either for one lift or across the board, will inevitably lead to some added fatigue. This is normal and okay, just don’t let it get out of hand. If you find yourself feeling like a zombie for several weeks, it might be time to take a step back and re-evaluate what you’re doing. This is especially true if you notice a decline in strength.
Training stress by itself is usually something that can be managed with a lot of active recovery work and rest, but most people also have lives outside the gym and might not even have the time to commit to all the things needed to make high frequency training work. While I wouldn’t classify doing a lift twice a week as high frequency by any means, it can still have a negative effect on individual lifters. If we’re moving beyond twice per week and talking about doing a lift 3+ times per week with relatively heavy loads on the barbell, managing soreness can quickly turn into a job itself. At this point, you need to judge for yourself if the increased frequency benefits or hurts your overall progress.
Prioritize Your Training
Depending on what you’re currently doing and how much of a frequency increase you’re looking to achieve, there is a good chance you will need to alter your priorities a little bit within the context of your training program. This could mean dropping some assistance work that might not be extremely important in favor of having increased frequency on a more important movement.
It could also mean that you utilize less taxing movements for your assistance work than you were using before. I.e. if your main assistance movement on squat day is the barbell good morning, you might opt to switch that to a less taxing lower back and posterior chain exercise like a band good morning or a back extension. This will get the barbell off your back for your assistance work, while you increase the amount of time you’re spending with the barbell on your back to squat. A working example would be what Jim Wendler did with his 5/3/1 Frequency Project (described in detail in Beyond 5/3/1). As frequency is increased dramatically, specifically for the squat but also the deadlift, the demand placed on the lower back is higher and that’s why he basically forbids the use of barbell bent over rows while doing the Frequency Project. This way the lower back isn’t additionally stressed under a relatively heavy load with assistance work on top of the work done with the main lifts. He also limits the amount of reps performed with the barbell deadlift.
And that about wraps up my general recommendations for increasing training frequency for a particular lift. Remember that I’m not a doctor, so just take this as an opinion from a guy who lifts weights.