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The benefits of high frequency training

This is an excerpt from Elite Physique With HKPropel Online Video by Chad Waterbury.

Certain types of athletes can teach us a lot about muscle growth. All you have to do is look at the thighs of speed skaters, or the lats of swimmers, or the deltoids of boxers, or the biceps of gymnasts who specialize in the rings to see that frequently training a muscle group can result in tremendous development. In this chapter we cover the principles for targeting and stimulating growth in underdeveloped muscle groups using high frequency training (HFT) plans. If you’re one of the lucky few who has proportional development from head to toe, this information might not be applicable to you. But for those who need to balance out their physique, the following HFT strategies are a terrific addition to your overall program.

The Genesis of HFT

By 2001 I’d been a full-time personal trainer for five years, with a long, diverse list of clients who’d successfully built muscle, increased strength, and improved performance. All of them used the same basic system of three full-body workouts a week. It was, I believed, the best starting point for any off-season athlete, CEO, or fitness enthusiast.

But some of those clients had muscle groups that simply didn’t grow as fast as other areas. Those lagging, underdeveloped body parts were a problem for clients who were mainly focused on aesthetics. And if they had a problem, I had a problem, because my business depended on them getting all the muscle growth they were looking for, from head to toe.

I found the solution from two sources. One of them, to no one’s surprise, was arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time. The other was completely unexpected. Here’s how it happened:

I heard about a Cirque du Soleil show called Mystère, which was playing in Las Vegas, a few hours up the road from Tucson, Arizona, where I lived in 2001. When the Alexis brothers took the stage for their part of the show, my first thought was, “Wow, I’ve never seen better physiques on two guys.”

Then they began their routine. One brother would lift and lower the other in the most challenging ways you can imagine. I’d seen impressive feats of strength in the gym, including a triple body weight deadlift, but I’d never seen anything like this. Each part of the routine was more astonishing than the last. I couldn’t believe they could do it without tearing a muscle. Not only that, they did it twice a day, five days a week, for months on end.

How was this possible? How could two guys develop such incredible physiques and put their mind-blowing strength on display 10 times a week? Nothing I’d learned in my exercise science courses could explain it, regardless of any pharmaceutical help they may or may not have had.

That show made me reevaluate my clients’ training programs. I knew that training a muscle more often will lead to more muscle growth, but I also knew that growth requires sufficient recovery between training sessions (see figure 10.1). I thought three sessions a week was the highest training frequency you could use without compromising recovery. But if three sessions weren’t enough to maximize growth in muscles like the biceps or calves, it made sense to have those clients target those muscles with a few sets outside of their full-body workouts.

Figure 10.1 Optimal growth requires optimal overlap between training and recovery.
Figure 10.1 Optimal growth requires optimal overlap between training and recovery.

One thing became clear almost immediately: More was indeed better. The open question was how much more. That led to a lot of trial and error over the next few years as I searched for the right balance between extra training sessions and recovery. By 2012 I had accumulated enough data and experimentation to write High Frequency Training, followed by High Frequency Training 2 in 2014.

What you’ll find in this chapter is simpler and more effective than what I published in those books. In part those refinements come from the data and feedback I’ve accumulated from clients and patients since 2014. They’re also based on a key element to faster muscle growth that I should have learned back in 2001. No, I’m not talking about the Alexis brothers. I’m talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Back in 2001, when I saw the Alexis brothers perform, I was also reading Schwarzenegger’s New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (1987). This passage is especially relevant to what you’ll see in the programming later in this chapter:

“My left arm used to be slightly smaller than my right arm. I noticed that whenever I was asked to show my biceps, I would automatically flex the right arm. So I consciously made an effort to flex my left arm as much or more than my right, to work that weak point instead of trying to ignore it, and eventually I was able to make my left biceps the equal of my right.”

Back then, I used that quote to support the idea that training a muscle more frequently would lead to more growth. Today I have a different interpretation, and a more practical way to apply it. That’s because I now know that simply squeezing a muscle three times each day will augment the results of a targeted HFT plan. The tension you achieve with an intense contraction can be similar to the levels you achieve with weights in the gym. That’s why professional bodybuilders often report muscle soreness the day after practicing their posing routine.

That brings us to an essential point about any HFT plan to develop lagging body parts: You need to perform exercises that overload the muscles more than the joints. The barbell bench press might be a good exercise to build the pectorals, but it also places a lot of strain on the shoulder joints. But a one-arm fly with a resistance band targets the chest with minimal stress on the shoulders.

In this chapter we cover the ideal HFT exercises for each muscle group. These are the exercises that target muscles as directly as possible for maximal growth with minimal strain on your joints. Three other times throughout the day, you’ll simply squeeze those muscles to peak contraction for 6 seconds. You can do these contractions anywhere, without any equipment, in whatever clothes you happen to be wearing, with no warm-up required.

These daily squeezes have significantly improved the muscle-building results of my HFT programs. I just wish I’d properly interpreted Schwarzenegger’s quote years before I did.

Now it’s time to show you what I’m talking about.