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When it comes to muscle growth, intensity is bodybuilding's bottom line. Pushing to failure and beyond forces the body's adaptive mechanism to respond by preparing it for similar onslaughts
of stress; in the case of high-intensity weight training this preparation (adaptation) is larger, stronger muscles.
Unfortunately, the body can't continue to adapt forever; we all reach plateaus or sticking points, and the frustration from "hitting the wall" can drive the hardcore bodybuilder to rash actions-like adding sets or attempting to push even harder in the gym in order to force the body to adapt further. These inappropriate actions usually make things worse- a lot worse-sometimes even causing muscle mass regression.
The home trainee is especially susceptible to this gotta-push-harder logic because he usually has no one around to tell him how distraught he looks and that maybe, just maybe, it's time for a layoff. In most cases the dedicated trainee has set his sights on certain goals and refuses to slack off until they're in his pocket. Sometimes, however, we've got to take a small step back to make a big jump forward.
The fact is that every trainee requires layoffs at one point or another. The average bodybuilder needs a layoff about every four to six months- "layoff" meaning complete abstention from training. You'll have to analyze your particular situation frequently and determine whether or not you need a break. Be completely honest, take your ego out of the picture and get in touch with your body.
Here are a few questions you might ask yourself when assessing your need for a layoff.
1. Have my training poundages stagnated? Take a look back in your training log. When was the last time you saw some poundage increases in the big exercises like squats, bench presses and/or dead-lifts. If it's been weeks or even months, you may be a good candidate for a layoff.
2. Do I feel drained during the day? If you're overtrained, your body won't want to cooperate with your mind; about the only thing it will want to do is kick back and vegetate for a while. If you fight this and keep beating your body down with heavy-weight workouts, you'll just dig yourself deeper into a hole that's difficult to escape from.
3. Do you lack workout enthusiasm? You should look forward to your workouts. After all, pumping iron is a proven stress releaser, which ultimately makes you feel more invigorated-at least it should if you're getting the right amount of exercise with the right amount of intensity. If you're doing too much and/or training too hard, you'll start to dread your workouts like you were facing major surgery. 4. Are you restless when you bed down for the night? I Tossing and turning could simply mean you've got something on your mind that's bothering you. On the other hand, it could also mean your body is stressed out and in the midst of a bout of overtraining. Be honest and determine the real reason.
5. Are you more irritable than usual? Feel like hitting someone? Do you growl instead of smile? If this isn't your normal disposition- and let's hope it isn't-do a quick situation analysis. Are you feeling this way because of some pending event or aggravation in your life, are you getting too much caffeine or is overdoing it in the weight room the cause of frustration?
6. Is my resting pulse rate high, especially in the mornings when I first wake up? Sixty to 80 beats per minute is where you should be-if you're in decent cardiovascular shape, that is. An unusually high pulse rate when you first wake up- compared to your normal pulse during the day-could be your body trying to tell you that it's overstrained and overdrained.
If you answered yes to even two of these questions, you may be on the verge of overtraining. If you answered yes to all of them, start your one-week layoff tomorrow, before you're forced to do it wearing a straight jacket in a rubber room. If you're still not sure whether you really need a layoff or not, try a few of these less drastic suggestions to see if your gains and attitude improve:
» Slightly reduce your total number of sets per workout; cut your workout time by about one-fourth.
» Take in 100 to 200 extra calories a day from complex carbohydrates.
» Use medium intensity during all of your workouts for a one-to-two-week period; then crank the intensity back up and see how you feel.
» Change to a few new exercises; you may just be stale on your current routine.
» Go to bed one-half hour earlier every night.
To make your overall training time as productive as possible, you must read your body's indicators and make adjustments accordingly, which includes periodic layoffs. Remember, train to gain and never ever overtrain.