How much do you know about over-training? Probably quite a bit, if you read any of the articles published every month on the subject. I don't want to bore you, but here comes another one-with a twist. This month we'll review the concepts of volume and intensity and wind down by resting your body and mind. It's a paradox) but effective rest periods let you train
with high intensity and prevent overtraining. More important, the way in which rest affects your state of mind can mean the difference between maid- mum growth, and, well, really, what else is there?
Yoked but Distinctly Different
Let's begin with a definition of overtraining: excessive volume or intensity of training, or both, resulting in fatigue. The characteristics of overtraining include decreased energy and increased perception of effort when training; increased anxiety and sense of depression; restless
sleeping. If you're training hard and heavy, really pushing the limits, you've probably experienced one of these symptoms. Take heart, however, because overtraining can be overcome by manipulating training volume and intensity as well as by simply resting.
How is it that volume and intensity are yoked but different? They're both factors that indicate the amount of work you're doing. They're distinctly different because of the way each measures work and the effect each has on muscle strength and size.
Volume: Turn it Up or Down?
Stone and O'Bryant define volume of weight training as equal to the total workload, estimated by the total number of repetitions performed. For example, three - sets of 10 repetitions equals a volume of 30. This simple calculation lets you determine the volume of your training
session and monitor the amount of work you're doing.
One survey found that 77 percent of overtrained athletes were involved in strength activities. They were overtrained because their volume was too high, These athletes were doing so much work that there was no beneficial physiological adaptation, meaning there was no muscle growth
and no strength increase. Overtraining from unnecessarily high workloads is a common problem. If you're like Paid and me, a fanatical exercoupie, your three sets per exercise provides just the right amount of work for great workouts. The problem is, in some mysterious and unknown
way, the number of sets begins to grow and before you know it, you're doing twice the number of sets (and twice the work) you started with.
Do you see twice as much muscle growth and strength? No. Maybe if I turned up the volume with more sets, those stubborn muscles will finally grow," you think. Wrong. Don't turn up volume-keep it the same or turn it down. A 1989 study found that when training sessions were reduced
from three days per week to just one day per week, strength levels didn't drop. Adding sets makes your workout longer, assures over-training and won't increase strength and size.
Intensity Is What You Need
Just what is intensity? It isn't the look on your face when you're training, and it isn't your attitude. It's a percentage of your one-repetition maximum, or the amount of weight you use when training. Just how much weight should you use? How high should your intensity be? If you
ask these questions in your gym, you'll likely hear a variety of answers, all of which sound about right. There have been a number of studies on the subject, however, so there are some established answers. Tesch, in his 1994 review of bodybuilding training, noted that bodybuilders
trained with resistance loads allowing six to 12 reps, while Olympic lifters training for increased strength performed four to six reps.
Tesch points out that using a higher number of reps has never been scientifically proven to increase muscle mass, though a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. How much weight should you use and how many reps should you do? There is one answer for both of those
questions, and it's tucked away in the research literature, like a hidden treasure. Hypertrophy occurs, in part, as muscle fibers increase both in number and diameter, enlarging the overall size of the muscle.
In order to increase the size, you need to stimulate the greatest number of fibers. The more fibers you can affect, the greater the increase in size. The best way to increase muscle fiber recruitment is to use a weight that overloads the muscle. As the overload increases, the number
of fibers recruited also increases to overcome the load you've placed on the muscle you're training. It's imperative that the overload forces your muscles to recruit as many fibers as possible when you want increased strength and muscle size, adaptations that won't take place if you
minimize the overload by training light.
Determining the number of reps is easy. You need to train with heavy weights, and using heavy weights reduces the number of reps you can perform. You must use a weight that causes muscle failure between six and eight reps, a finding that has been supported by more than 50 years of
research. What about turning up the intensity even higher with heavier weights and fewer reps? it just doesn't work. A smaller number of reps doesn't provide enough work or degrade enough contractile proteins to stimulate increased muscle growth.
And You Will Find Rest for Your Souls
Let's take a break from all this volume and intensity. It's important to rest when you're training with maximum weight and effort so you don't overtrain. In fact, rest is the most effective way to recover from overtraining, but ft's incredibly hard to perform. One of the ways training
affects you is to increase hormone and catecholamine levels in your body, which affect your mood. Endorphin is a mood elevator that increases in response to training.
We feel good when the endorphin levels are high, and subconsciously we associate those feelings with training. At rest, however, our endorphin levels are lowered, and so is our mood. Since we know how and where to get our endorphin rush, we go light in the gym rather than taking a
break. That's why resting is so hard. It doesn't have to be. There's another way to raise your endorphins, and you can do it by training your mind. You'll have to wait for the next column to read about mental training, however because I've run out of room.
Here May They Be Brought to Complete Unity
Here's where we wind down by winding it all up in review. We examined three training variables-1) volume, 2) intensity, 3) rest-and, guided by the research, found that you don't need more training days, reps and sets. You need to turn down the amount of work, turn up the resistance
and rest well.