NOTE: This is part two. Click here for part one.
In the first of this series I discussed some basic training training principles that are often misunderstood. This article will help answer the question, "how often should I train." Frequency is very important, it is usually the difference between having success and feeling completely frustrated. We will also look at the role of other variables such as rest intervals.
Training Frequency: The number of times one trains during a period of time (week, month, and year).
How often someone can train is dependent upon a variety of factors. If any of these are ignored then your chances of overtraining or undertraining increases.
1. Frequency is dictated upon individual's ability to recover-Good recovery from a workout will usually mean an increased ability to perform the following workout. This is one reason training journals are very important. If you are able to increase the weight used, get more repetitions, or do more work in less time your recovery was optimal. Poor recovery and borderline overtraining usually results in the following symptoms; insomnia, anxiety, depression, early morning fatigue, high blood pressure at rest, sore joints, decreased appetite, increased perceived rate of effort for a given weight, and can drain the adrenal glands. However, undertraining also may result in the ability to progress through workouts or see no change in body composition.
2. Frequency is dependent upon the muscle group trained - Bigger muscle groups like chest, back and legs take longer to recover than smaller muscle groups. So, muscles like the arms, shoulders and neck muscles can be trained more frequently. Most times these muscles are trained more because doing chest and back one day and arms another means the arms are actually being trained twice in that week. Because most chest and back movements require the biceps and triceps you can see how this is done. Muscles with a high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers take longer to recover than muscles with slow-twitch muscle fiber dominance. Muscles like the hamstrings can not be trained as often as the calves.
3. Intensity can dictate frequency - The higher the intensity of the workout the more rest one is going to require. Higher intensity workouts have a higher impact on the central nervous system, which will require more time for recovery. So, doing lower rep training is going to cause one longer rest periods in between workouts. In addition, the more often one goes toward any form of failure the more they are going to hamper recovery.
4. The types of exercises used will change training frequency-Exercises that employ a small number of muscle fibers like calf raises can be performed more often than exercises that use a high number of muscle fibers like squats. Multi-joint exercises also use more muscles so they can maintain the strength in the assistant muscle groups like triceps and anterior delts.
Frequency is INDIVIDUALIZED - No one will respond to the same training program or frequency the same way.
Every individual's level of fitness and work capacity is going to be different. You can't apply the same training methodology of an elite athlete to someone who has just begun training. Again, we go back to the need for workout journals. Many people ask for my help with their workouts, yet sometimes the biggest problem with their training programs is that they have no set schedule and do not keep track of their progress.
Stress can be an underrated stimulus to the body. Usually the more stress one has in their life the less frequently and sometimes the smaller amount of volume they can tolerate. That is why you see in my questionnaire questions such as, "additional commitments." It is important to realize that exercise is an additional stressor to the body. Look for the optimal amount not the maximal amount of training you can perform.
Rest Intervals: Period of time in between sets where one may rest completely or use mental or other forms of preparation for the following set.
The basic principle of rest intervals is the fewer number of repetitions you perform the longer rest is required in between sets. Since most bodybuilders perform a higher number of repetitions that is why the rest intervals between the sets in normally shorter. The energy systems trained are different so the amount of rest is going to differ as well. In part 2 of The Big Three, I discussed how to manipulate and how different strategies of rest intervals can affect how much weight is lifted and the number of repetitions that are achieved. However, the basic recommendations are as follows (note: even though these are general recommendations they can always be manipulated to a degree):
Strength emphasis: 2-8 minutes of rest
Hypertrophy (muscle mass gains): 30sec-2min of rest
Bodyfat Loss: 30-60 seconds of rest
However, recently I was introduced to a theory by strength coach, Charles Staley. His theory is based upon the fact that the major cause of lean body mass gain is the amount of work done. In Coach Staley's Escalating Density Program, one rests only the time required to perform another set. For example, if we were supersetting bench press and biceps curls we would alternate and perform an exercise when you felt ready. The earlier sets would probably not require as much rest as the later sets. The goal is log in how much work you were able to do within a time from, i.e. 15 minutes, and then the next workout do more work than you did previously. Interesting, huh? It is a great challenge and can be a great plateau buster.
Speed of Movement: How fast a weight it moved and the intention of trying to move the weight at certain speeds.
This topic has become much more interesting over the last eight years or so. For many years in the bodybuilding world nothing much was thought of this subject. Even today I hear many comments such as, "lift the weight slowly to get the tension the whole time," or "squeeze the weight to get more of a pump." The question is how valid are these ideas and what do they mean. However, before we explore this topic further we need to examine the word tension and its role in strength and hypertrophy development.
Every exercise must achieve a minimum threshold of tension to cause an adaptation to the body. This is similar to the overload principle which states there is a required amount of overload above what the body encounters on a daily basis to cause a change. So, then if we need to increase tension how is this done? There are two main methods for increasing tension on the muscle; use of a large, slowly accelerated weight or a smaller, rapidly accelerated weight (Siff, 2001).
Some may argue that moving light weights quickly takes away tension at certain points of the exercise. In one respect they are right. However, if we look at the basic physics equation, Force=mass X acceleration, we can see the above two examples are the only ways to significantly improve tension production. To address the problem of taking away tension during fast lifts, let us look at this point. In dynamic movement there is never constant tension. Because joint angles are changing during the lift the amount of tension on the muscle is going to vary. Also, because every dynamic movement involves an eccentric, concentric, and isometric phase, the tension will vary for each part of the movement as well. So, the question then becomes which is more effective, producing a small amount of tension over a longer period of time, or higher peak tensions for a somewhat shorter period of time.
My recommendation to the advanced lifter is to perform the lifting phase of the lift as fast as possible. Remember; against high loads you will not be moving quickly, but it is the intention of moving the weight that is most important. Eccentric timing can also vary depending upon one's goal. If you are interested in developing high levels of strength you can apply faster eccentric motions, or lowering the weight faster. For beginning lifters it would be more appropriate to move slower as to understand proper technique.
We covered a lot of information in this article. Now go look at your current program and make sure that you have been implementing the principles of the last two articles. If you do not have a outlined program already, take some time and sit down and start putting together a program you can follow for the next 4-6 weeks. Next article I will show how to put everything together.