Training an Exercise Only Once per Week for More Strength

Awesome Ring Dips

It seems that a lot of people get somewhat crazy with high-frequency training nowadays, and by “a lot of people” I mean me. Strength training is my drug, and I am afraid that the addiction to it cannot be cured. No amount of rehab can fix things, and it is too late for me to get back to “normal life”. I guess I am doomed for eternal searching for another dose of this narcotic…

With all seriousness, if you love something that much, it is quite hard to tame yourself and not to do it daily. There is nothing wrong with high-frequency training if it is done properly. You should remember that if training frequency is high, volume and intensity should be in check. Despite what you heard, you cannot train to failure in high volume every day. It just will not work. In this case, injuries, frustration, and lack of progress are the only possible results.

[Check out this article for more information on the relationship of volume, intensity, and frequency in strength training]

Anyway, let us get back to the theme. In addition to irresistible urge to train daily and several times per day, I like to train hard. I mean REALLY HARD. Low reps and eyeballs-out-of-their-sockets style. Again, most of the time I need to calm myself down, and often it takes huge effort not to fail a practice session.

You should probably know that recovery is the name of the game in strength training. If your recovery is not sufficient, then you will not be stronger. This is the law you cannot violate. Therefore, to make high-frequency training work for a guy with average genetics (me), I need to be VERY precise with training variables. If I do one or two reps or sets more than I should, then the program can fail badly. Oftentimes this fear of doing more takes the fun part out of the training, and it becomes a boring job.

What to do then? Cutting that frequency can be a viable option.

Once per Week

[WARNING! By “Once per Week”, I mean training an EXERCISE only once per week, not one training session a week, you lazy fat-ass. You can train up to six days a week with the approach described in this article. Learn here how]

Long time ago (and now) training a certain exercise only once per week was a norm. I used it with success a lot. As a matter of fact, one of the first gyms I was training in worked just for several hours only two days per week. I did not have the Rough Strength knowledge at that time, so those two training sessions per week were all I had. Basically, my program consisted of Bench Presses (or Military Presses, or Weighted Dips) and Pull-Ups on Tuesday, and Squats or Deadlifts on Friday. That was it. The most important thing is that the progress was great.

After discovering, as I call it, the Rough Strength Triad (the mix of calisthenics, kettlebells, and sandbags), all the crazy things were finally at my reach. I could train any time for any amount of time. I tried the stuff like deadlifting every day (which turned out to be not the brightest idea because the exercise is so demanding that it drains you in just a couple of days). I tried everything I could. Particularly, I experimented with frequency a lot. After hitting plateaus in several exercises, I referred to the basic principles of programming and, of course, to my experience. It turned out that the rules remained the same, and if I trained a certain exercise hard, I needed a week of rest.

Training an exercise only once per week always works well for me (as well as for my clients). The beauty of it is in the ultimate recovery. Once per week is enough not to lose the skill and to recover no matter how hard you trained (unless it was a competition). It is a bullet-proof training approach that will work for everybody.

Despite training a certain exercise only once per week, you can experiment with adding other drills from the same category on separate days. For example, my current routine involves freestanding Handstand Push-Ups and Perfect One-Arm Push-Up progressions on Monday, One-Arm Handstand Push-Up progression on Wednesday, and Planche Push-Up progression on Friday.

[To learn more about exercise categories, check out this article, and this one too]

In addition, once-per-week approach leaves you room for fun and any stupid things you can do throughout that week.

[If you need a sound once-a-week training approach, check out this article]

NOTE: Weekly Volume

In my experience, weekly training volume is far more important than a session one. You should understand that your body can take only a limited amount of training. If you add only two reps in one pushing exercise at a session, it is nothing. If you add two reps in every pushing exercise throughout the week (let us assume that you train four exercises of this category per week), then it is an increase of 8 reps in total weekly volume. Feel the difference, huh?

If you take weekly volume into account, you will experience way less plateaus. I think I made my point.

Adding Frequency

Once you hit a plateau with once a week training, there is an interesting solution for the further progress. Let us assume that you stopped at squatting 150 kg for two sets of five once a week. Nothing helps you moving forward. Instead of adding weight or reps, or sets, you can add training days. Here is an example:

Week 1:

Day 1: 150 kg – 2 sets of 5

Day 5: 150 kg – 1 set of 5

Week 2:

Day 1: 150 kg – 2 sets of 5

Day 3: 150 kg – 1 sets of 5

Day 5: 150 kg – 1 sets of 5

Week 3:

Day 1: 150 kg – 2 sets of 5

Day 3: 150 kg – 1 sets of 5

Day 5: 150 kg – 2 sets of 5

Week 4:

Day 1: 150 kg – 2 sets of 5

Day 3: 150 kg – 2 sets of 5

Day 5: 150 kg – 2 sets of 5

At week 5, you can retest your strength and either continue with this method, or get back to once per week, but with more weight.

What about Skills?

Skills demand frequent practice. It is inevitable. Once a week training for a skill most of the time is ineffective. However, there is a clear distinction between skills and strength exercises that require skill. For example, we can put Handstand and Elbow Lever into the first category, while Planche Push-Ups and freestanding Handstand Push-Ups into the second. What is the difference? The first two exercises are demanding only for your balance after the initial strength is gained. They can be practiced more frequently without the risk of the impaired recovery. The drills from the second category will drain your energy resources much more and should be considered as strength exercises despite their skill component.

So the questions you should ask right now are “Can you train exercises from the second category only once a week without compromising the progress? Doesn’t the skill component require additional practice?” As experience shows, yes, you can. Once the initials levels of strength and skill are established, training an exercise like Planche Push-Ups only once a week works (and sometimes even better than more frequent approach). However, if you feel that your strength is clogged with poor skill, I suggest to add one or two sessions per week for specific skill practice. You should not approach muscle failure in these sessions though.

Closing Thoughts

That should be it on training an exercise only once a week. In addition, I do not want you to get me wrong. High-frequency training is awesome. I implement it a lot in my programs. Use it by all means if you can find a proper balance of volume, frequency, and intensity to progress. However, if you are tired of constant calculations and holding yourself back on exercises, you can try training an exercise only once per week, and get a boost in results. It can be a nice change of pace and just what you needed. Thanks for reading.

Play rough!

Alex

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

Do you have any thoughts? Do you think that training every day is awesome and I have no clue what I am talking about? Let’s chat in comments.

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12 thoughts on “Training an Exercise Only Once per Week for More Strength

  1. TransMillennium

    Alex, been reading your website because a fan of yours, the admin of Convict Conditioning (Unofficial Fan Page), posted RoughStrenght.com link.

    Concerning this what do you recommend about training around back pain?

    Thanks for your website.

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      I’m not a big expert in rehabilitation, but anyway, what kind of back pain bothers you? Lower back? Upper? Did you have previous injuries?

      Regarding the website – no problem. Thanks for reading.

      – Alex

      Reply
  2. torgny

    The ideas presented here are very similar to what I through my own experiments have found working well for me, especially the thing about adding frequency. Hitting a plateau can be very discouraging and make me dread and loathe the exercise and even the very day of that exercise.

    If I, for example, do pullups on mondays and get stuck on close grip pullups, not being able to add more reps, I may throw in a set of very high rep australian pullups on wednesday or a few sets of low rep very wide grip pullups on friday while still feeling fresh after my squats. Though not targeting close grip pullups specifically, it will be helpful. More important though is the psychological benefit. Since I am not working on my close grip pullups directly during those bonus sets (as I like to call them), there wont be any plateau or discouragement for me to experience and all the dread and loathing will be out of the question, putting the fun back into the exercise. I may also avoid the discouragement by actually working the specific exercise, in this example close grip pullups, but changing other parameters, like allowing myself to do fewer reps during a bonus day while also cutting the rest between sets.

    Reply
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  4. har0dim

    Good article, thanks Alex.

    Quick question about increasing pullup reps – I’ve been training pullups for a couple of months now, very frequently (7-9 sessions per week), using a “greasing the groove” method where I do not go to failure but do around 5 sets in one session e.g. reps go something like 5/4/4/3/3. Do you think this is too much? I also do an additional set of negatives once per week.

    I am starting to get more fatigued and have plateaued at around 6 pullups. I started being able to do 1 pullup so progress has been good so far but maybe I need to do them 4 or 5 times a week now, what do you think?

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Hey, Har0dim,

      Firstly, you are doing too much for GTG. It is not “do not go to failure”. It is 50% of your max. Thus, if your max is 6 reps, you should do sets of 3, not 5.

      Secondly, 5 sets per session are too much for GTG. You should do 1 set here and there. In your example, 1 set of 3 in the morning, 1 set of 3 in the afternoon, and 1 set of 3 at the evening can be enough. Maybe do 5 sets in total.

      Check out this article for more info.

      – Alex

      Reply
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  8. Fory

    What if I put all skill practise at night and do S.S in the early morning? And also GTG on the days between s.s and finally two days rest.
    Will I overtrain myself?
    Thanks

    Reply

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