OVERTRAINING FOR OVERGROWTH!
"How often should I go to the gym"? This is
one question that always comes up in consultation with individuals
seeking improvements in size OR strength. Unfortunately
the answer is far from simple, and even the recommendations
from various strength coaches can be completely opposite
depending on the philosophy of the training advisor.
One may suggest that training frequency be
reduced in order to allow increased recovery and sufficient
muscular adaptation following a training stimulus. Increased
rest may also be planned to prevent OR avoid a training
plateau (when performance no longer improves despite administration
of a training stimulus). The opposing view is to increase
the training frequency in order to apply a greater stimulus
to the muscle and demand a greater level of adaptation.
Therefore, basing a workout design solely on training volume
is not optimal.
Certainly, it is important to design the program
with sufficient rest and recovery intervals so that the
optimal training adaptations will be obtained from the effort
given in the weight room. In fact, at the end of a training
session, an individual is gets weaker throughout the workout.
It is the recovery period between training sessions where
tissue adaptation occurs and enables the individual to return
stronger and bigger for the next training session.
The training volume of each individual workout
can also be manipulated to allow for greater recovery OR
an increased training stimulus. A reduction in the amount
of sets OR repetitions will decrease the volume in a given
training session. In contrast, performing additional sets
is the best manner to increase the overall training volume
of a workout.
Training intensity is the final variable that
can be manipulated in the training prescription. It may
in fact be the most important factor in determining the
neuromuscular response. As a detailed description of the
adaptations to different training loads is an article in
itself, let us generally consider high-intensity (>90% 1
RM) loads as most effective in training the nervous system
and moderate-intensity (70-90% 1 RM) loads most effective
in stimulating hypertrophy of the muscle fibres. An individual
that has been lifting consistently at a single intensity
most certainly would benefit by varying the load for a short-duration
training phase (i.e. 3-6 weeks).
Lifters stuck at a plateau may need to consider
alternative & novel program designs to elicit further gains
in performance. A "novel" training routine could be followed
for a short period (2-4 weeks) and would stress the neuromuscular
system in a manner that it is not accustomed.
This may promote adaptations in the neuromuscular
system that could enhance immediate performance OR future
training sessions. Each of the above variables can be manipulated
within a single training program to help achieve maximal
results in the gym.
I theorize that a period of overstress followed
by a period of reduced training volume and frequency will
result in even greater adaptations than normally occur with
regular training frequencies and recovery intervals. The
program is based on "tapering" strategies used by elite
athletes prior to important competitions.
Tapering is defined as periods of high-intensity
training followed by a brief "unloading" phase. In theory
this may enable complete neuromuscular adaptation to the
training stimulus and allows for rest and recovery prior
The basic concept of the following program
design is similar to the "tapering" concept as the trainee
reduces the training volume in order to allow for maximal
adaptation (whether it be muscle growth OR maximal strength
- This week should be characterized by 6 full training
sessions. A typical "bodybuilder" routine of a 3-day split,
perhaps as legs, chest & back, and shoulders & arms would
be performed. The split would be repeated twice and followed
by a rest day. The intensity (weight OR load) is moderate
(8-12 RM) and the volume is high. Exercises would be predominantly
single-joint to isolate the particular muscles.
- Total training frequency is reduced by 1 session (~20%)
and the training frequency of each body part is cut in
half to a single session per week. Again, a typical "bodybuilder"
routine is performed. The training split would be changed
to 1 body part per day, for example, chest, legs, back,
shoulders, and arms.
- The training intensity in this week would be higher
(6-8 RM) for the entire program. Total weekly training
volume is lower due to the reduced frequency BUT/ daily
volume is greater per muscle group due to the isolated
- Four training days (2 total upper-body & 2 lower-body
workouts). The intensity of this week should be slightly
reduced from Week 2 for 1 of the 2 workouts per body split.
For example, on Monday, a very intense lower-body workout
(6-8 RM) may be performed, while a moderate intensity
lower-body workout (10-12 RM) may be done on Thursday.
- Multi-joint exercises should be performed to recruit
many muscle groups to compensate for the lack of isolation
exercises. In fact, no direct work should be performed
for the shoulders OR arms unless time permits at the end
of the upper-body training day.
- A return to high-intensity training (6 RM) offset by
the lowest frequency and volume of training over the course
of the program. Three training sessions should be performed
this week, in a similar split to WEEK 1. Allow for a full
day of rest between each training session to provide the
optimal recovery period.
- This program borrows from scientific principles but
also is based on several theories of recovery. It is merely
a suggested training routine that is extremely safe and
may prove to be extremely successful in developing strength
and mass. However, slight variations in the program may
prove to be more successful between individuals.
For example, a lifter may respond better to
different lengths for each training phase. For example,
some trainees may have greater success lifting in the high-volume
phase for up to 3 week before entering a reduced-volume
As well, one of the attractive attributes
of the program is its flexibility. It should appeal to individuals
that have varying levels of life commitments. For example
higher volume phases OR increased training frequencies could
be scheduled during relaxed times of a student's semester
and then "tapering" weeks could be planned around exams
to take advantage of an increased recovery time. Businessmen
may consider overtraining prior to a business trip OR vacation.
It is important to maintain a distinction
between tapering and detraining. Tapering permits the optimal
adaptation to a stimulus while detraining indicates a loss
in performance due to the removal of a training stimulus.
It is important to reduce training stress only far enough
that adaptation is allowed to occur at maximal levels, and
not so that the organism returns to a pre-training state
due to lack of stress.
It is important to determine exactly what
length to time should be devoted to applying overtraining
and how long should be committed to recovery emphasis. The
length of the recovery period may depend on the training
intensity just prior to the reduced frequency phase. As
a rule, the final stage should be maximal intensity and
the lowest volume.
The training program is certainly advanced
in both theory and in the demands it makes of the trainee.
It is not recommended that a lifter with less than 6 months
lifting experience attempt this program. Certainly the first
week of high-volume training at a high frequency will test
the recovery system of even many advanced lifters.
The program was meant to provide a variation
in the training stimulus, something that is generally recommended
to occur frequently in an individual's resistance training
regimen. The risk of injury in this training program is
minimal provided proper exercise technique is followed.
In fact, a study at McMaster University where subjects trained
6 days per week for 8 straight weeks resulted in only minimal
minor overuse complaints.