There are certain periods throughout the year that athletes may not have frequent access to training facilities to get their strength workouts in. This may be due to athletes being away (e.g., on summer break) or due to frequent sport training that limits time for workouts. For example, college football players are currently starting up Spring training camp which involves 3-4 practices per week for 4 weeks. This may make it difficult for coaches to maintain their normal strength training structure for players. Therefore, it would be useful to know what the minimum training frequency would be to maintain strength levels and preserve skeletal muscle mass. This is important because decrements in strength can negatively effect on-field performance.
A new study published ahead of print in the European Journal of Sports Science evaluated the effects of different reduced training frequencies on lower body maximal strength and quadriceps cross-sectional area. A total of thirty-three young adult males were put through an 8-week resistance training protocol that involved performing 3-4 sets of 6-12 repetition maximums in the half-squat and knee extension exercises three days per week. For an additional 8-weeks following the strength program, subjects were switched to one of three reduced training frequency protocols that involved complete training cessation, once per week training or twice per week training. Total training volume was reduced by 50% for the once per week group, 57% for the twice per week group and 100% for the cessation group.
The results showed that after the initial 8-week training period, all groups similarly and significantly improved their 1RM half-squat (26.7 – 28.4%) and quadriceps cross-sectional area (5.8 – 6.9%). Following the subsequent 8-week reduced training frequency period, both the once per week and twice per week training groups similarly maintained their maximal strength and muscle thickness. In contrast, the training cessation group experienced significant reductions in both maximal strength (-22.6%) and muscle thickness (-5.4%). The authors conclude that as long as volume load is the same, training once or twice per week sufficiently preserves strength and muscle gains during reduced training periods. Therefore, having athletes train as little as once per week may be sufficient to prevent detraining.
Tavares, LD. et al. Effects of different strength training frequencies during reduced training period on strength and muscle cross-sectional area. European Journal of Sports Science. In Press.