Weight Training Study: Too Much Intensity?

Exercise Intensity

Advanced Mental Health & Natural Training Science

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Overtraining is killing bodybuilding. Not literally, of course you don't see people dropping dead in the gym from it but it's eroding our numbers. Overtraining is probably the primary reason that people stop working out because, when you overtrain, your muscle-gain meter sits at the big, fat zero mark and your enthusiasm heads down the old dumper. Noncompetitive physique athletes who have no pharmaceutical assistance are especially at risk in this situation. Think about how much time and energy you spend in the gym sweating your butt off, and then calculate your total gains for any one-year period.

Most bodybuilders are lucky to put on five pounds of muscle in any 365 day stretch. The average physique athlete trains five days a week for two hours per session-and many work out even longer and more frequently-so he or she puts on about one pound of muscle for every 104 hours of training, or one pound for every 52 workouts. Unfortunately, this isn't a very efficient use of training time. There's a simple reason for this inefficiency in the gym: too much intensity too often. Let's take a look at how you can help prevent the overtraining bug from taking a humongous bite out of your muscular achievements and perhaps even boost your gains over and above the five-to-to-pounds-a-year average.

1. Take a complete rest day after every workout.

Most bodybuilders who use a full-body regimen take a day of rest in between workouts, with training sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example; and many train only two days a week, say, on Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday, because full-body workouts are so draining. Unfortunately, those who use a split routine tend to train at least two days in a row, if not four or five. Keep in mind that proper recovery means systemic as well as muscle recovery. In other words, you must allow your nervous system as well as your specific bodyparts to heal between bouts with the iron. One of the best systems you can use is the every-other-day split, in which you divide your workout in two and alternate the two sessions with a day of rest after each. For example, during the first week you train on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and in the second week you train on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Note that in one week you train on Saturday and in the other week you train on Sunday. If you want optimal recovery however, this is a sacrifice worth making. If you really can't stand to train on weekends, you can stick with the regular four-day routine-Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday-but keep in mind that you won't begetting complete systemic recovery most of the time, which can slow progress. You might want to experiment with splitting your routine on Monday and Wednesday and then doing a full-body compound-exercise-only workout on Friday. This gives you that important day off between workouts and two days off after your heavy full-body routine on Friday and you still hit each body- part with a heavy session twice a week.

2. Use a phase-training approach.

If you read this column regularly, you know that I mention phase training quite often. In fact, I tend to hit my readers over the head with it, but there's a good reason. It's the most important technique you can use to fend off overtraining and keep your enthusiasm and growth rate in the stratosphere. "Phase training" means that you cycle your intensity; for example, you do four to six weeks of all-out training, during which you take every set other than warmups to at least positive failure, alternated with two weeks of lower-intensity workouts, during which you stop all sets one to two reps short of positive failure with an optional poundage reduction. Phase training is what I call a natural anabolic, so if you want to grow as quickly as possible with few plateaus, you should use it throughout your training career.

3. Never do more than 24 total sets in any one session.

Remember that intensity not duration, is the key to building muscle, If you work harder, not longer, during your high-intensity phases, you'll gain at a much more rapid clip. If you work harder by using more than 24 total sets at any one session, however, you're apt to out- run your recovery ability and ignite an overtraining bomb that will be difficult to defuse.

4. Use intensity techniques sparingly.

When you incorporate forced reps, 11/4 reps, negatives, rest) pause or any other high-intensity methods, you up your effort and nervous-system stress considerably and become more vulnerable to overtraining. Never do more than 10 of these extended sets in any one workout, and less is usually better.

5. Vary your routine.

Although many people say that changing exercises shocks the muscle into new growth, I tend to believe that variety provides more of a mental boost. Overhauling your routine keeps things fresh, and as Arnold said, "Don't let yourself get bored, for boredom is the mother of failure." This is one reason that I outline two completely different routines for every training method I analyze in fitFLEX's Mass-Training Tactics. You mustn't be afraid of change. Give each and every exercise the old heave-ho every so often to keep your enthusiasm and growth riding high.

Review these five points frequently to make sure you're doing as much as possible to avoid over- training. The last thing we need is another bodybuilding casualty due to lack of progress. Hit the iron hard, don't hit it too often, and back off every few weeks, and you'll train and gain big for the rest of your life.

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