Frequency of Training

Frequency of Training

Excerpted from The System, Periodization for the Strength Coach

Johnny Parker, Al Miller & Rob Panariello, with Jeremy Hall

the-system periodization book

Frequency of training is an often-debated variable when it comes to optimal delivery for performance enhancement. Determining the frequency of training runs parallel with the volume of training to allow adequate time for recovery after a training session. In order to maintain a high quality of work in the weightroom without detracting from performance on the field, there needs to be a restoration period.

Just like volume, frequency has to account for an athlete’s age, training history, gender, and timing of the training cycle, as well as the goals of training. Add to that the athlete’s access to quality nutrition, recovery modalities, stress level, and sleep habits makes determining optimal frequency a tricky thing. Those of you working with high school athletes will have to add the drama of teenage relationships, homework, and non-sports-related activities to the equation.

Most often, training frequency is determined based on an athlete’s schedule and the time of year relative to the competitive season. When all variables are ideal, three or four training sessions per week have proven to be effective in allowing for a better distribution of the training volume over the course of a cycle.

When the competitive season arrives, there will be a reduction in the training frequency to account for the additional practices and games that cut into the recovery window. However, in our experience, less than two training sessions in a week has proven to be insufficient. Circumstances will always dictate the application, yet we have found those values to consistently work.

During the off-season or with high-level athletes, or both, it can be beneficial to split a training day into two sessions. Particularly when the training volume and intensity are high, it can be valuable to split the day’s work into morning and evening sessions.

This allows for a high level of performance between training sessions, better managing fatigue. Higher-intensity work can be separated from higher volume work during the day to allow recovery time in between and to maintain the quality of the work. Outside of professional athletics, it can be a challenge to schedule and consistently carry out split routines, particularly with high school or collegiate athletes. However, increasing the training frequency this way can be beneficial if you can do it.

The greatest concern with increasing training frequency, whether through additional training days or split sessions, is over-taxing an athlete’s recovery. What can begin as steady gains in strength and performance can rapidly plateau and drop off a cliff if the training volume and frequency both increase too rapidly.

Especially in the case of beginner or even lower-level advanced athletes, there should be at least one year, and ideally two years, of steady, progressive training at three days a week before advancing the volume and frequency to four days a week. You will never be wrong in keeping a high school athlete at three days per week; however, you can certainly go wrong in a hurry if you advance the training volume to the point of requiring four days too soon.

The other question that arises concerning frequency of training is how often to train the same muscle or movement in a given week. The bulk of bodybuilding-driven programming ascribes to working a body part or region twice a week with a high volume to maximally tax the muscles and then allow for recovery from the workload to stimulate hypertrophy gains.

When muscular size is the goal, that method may work; however, training for sports is about developing good movement patterns as well as strength and power. Training a movement once per week will not provide a consistent enough stimulus to improve motor pathways and refine technique. A growing number of studies have even begun to show that increasing the frequency of a lift, while maintaining the same total volume of the exercise, can stimulate similar and in some cases improved strength gains. When comparing performing an exercise for three sets of 10 repetitions once per week or one set of 10 repetitions three times per week, the latter method was shown to produce similar strength and lean mass gains.[i]

As we will show in subsequent chapters [of the new book, The System], training the same movement multiple times per week is a fundamental aspect of training for athletics. With planned variation in volume and intensity, we can stimulate improved strength and power gains and improved movement efficiency without the risk of overtraining.

Success in training comes down to building recovery into the program from the beginning.


[i] THOMAS, MICHAEL H., and STEVE P. BURNS. “Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training.” International Journal of Exercise Science 9.2 (2016): 159–167. Print.

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NFL strength coach Al Miller

Al Miller

Al Miller is one of the most decorated strength and conditioning coaches in NFL history with a career that spanned more than four decades and left a lasting impact at every level of the profession. His contributions and vision advanced the field of strength and conditioning and positively impacted the development of thousands of young athletes.

After a 15-year stretch at the collegiate level, he made the jump to the NFL coaching ranks under Head Coach Dan Reeves with the Denver Broncos. For the next 19 years, the two men worked side by side in Denver, New York and Atlanta developing athletes such as John Elway, Phil Simms and Michael Vick and would ultimately appear in five Conference Championships and four Super Bowls.

In addition to his multiple championship appearances over a 25-year NFL career, he also coached two Pro Bowl teams and received numerous awards, including the NFL President’s Award, the NFL Strength Coaches Emrich-Riecke-Jones Award, the NFL Strength Coach of the Year Award and the NFL Strength Coaches Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jeremy Hall

Jeremy Hall, DPT, CSCS, USAW, is a physiotherapist, strength and conditioning coach, writer, and founder of Total Performance Science and Mind of the Coach.

He has worked as a strength and conditioning coach in the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor league system and with countless amateur and professional athletes in private practice for both rehabil¬itation and performance enhancement. He has also taught at the graduate level at Nova South¬eastern University, lecturing on the integration of performance training techniques into physical rehabilitation.

NFL strength coach Johnny Parker

Johnny Parker

At the forefront of modern strength coaching for athletes, Johnny Parker began his coaching career in 1969 at Indianola Academy in Mississippi. Well before weight training was common in sports, he spent 10 years coaching at the collegiate level, where at Indiana University he became the first strength and conditioning coach in the Big 10.

From 1984 until his retirement in 2008, he spent 21 years as an NFL strength coach, beginning with nine years in the New York Giants organization. Under Coach Bill Parcells, he helped them win Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990. Playing against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, the Giants set an all-time Super Bowl record for ball-control possession at 40 minutes and 33 seconds. Parker’s role as a strength and conditioning coach certainly contributed to the Giants’ tradition of excellence.

He then went on to spend seven seasons with the New England Patriots, followed by helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win the first Super Bowl in team history in 2003. In 2005, Johnny went to the San Francisco 49ers before retiring in 2008. All told, his coaching practices, many of which are outlined in this book, helped to establish winning records with nine teams, including four Super Bowl appearances.

In addition to his Super Bowl triumphs, he received the President’s Award from the Professional Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society, presented annually to the NFL’s top strength and conditioning coach and was named to the USA Strength and Conditioning Hall of Fame’s inaugural class, along with his co-authors Al Miller and Rob Panariello and mentors Alvin Roy, Clyde Emrich, and Lou Riecke.

physical therapist Rob Panariello

Rob Panariello

Robert Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS, is a Founding Partner and Co-Chief Executive Officer at Professional Physical Therapy, presently with 180 facilities in five states, as well as the 20,000 square foot state-of-the-art Professional Athletic Performance Center located in Garden City, New York. He has more than 60 peer-reviewed orthopedic and sports medicine research, sports physical therapy research, and strength and conditioning journal, book chapter, and book publications.

He has 38 years of experience in the related fields of sports physical therapy, athletic training, and the performance enhancement training of athletes. His experience includes the study of the science and art of coaching with National team weightlifters and various National sport team athletes in Bulgaria, the former Soviet Union, and the former East Germany.

He received the 2016 National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Sports Medicine/Rehabilitation Specialist of the Year Award, the 2015 American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Sports Physical Therapy Section Lynn Wallace Clinical Educator Award, was elected as one of the initial inductees to the 2003 USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame, and re¬ceived the prestigious National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Presidents Award in 1998.


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