Knowing exactly when your muscles need to be trained again after the previous workout is difficult to judge with absolute certainty. Recent research in the area of muscle damage and recovery is showing results that may surprise you. Science is now showing us things that may change the way you train forever!
What Is Microtrauma?
When you lift weights, you cause damage to your muscles. This is often referred to as "microtrauma". Microtrauma involves the tearing and shearing of delicate protein structures within your muscle cells. This may sound bad but in reality it is necessary for the initiation of growth after your workout.
This microtrauma may be expected to require you to postpone your next workout until your muscles are back to normal. It is this logic that your average personal trainer will use when he/she tells you to wait, sometimes a full week, before training the same body part again. Recent research however is showing us that putting off your next workout until your muscles have "fully recovered" may not be necessary or even desirable!1,2,3 In a study performed at the University of Alabama4, two groups of subjects performed the same periodized resistance training routine either once per week or three times per week.
The results showed that muscle mass increases were greater in the three workout per week group, compared to the one workout per week group. In addition, the strength increases in this group were on average 40% greater! So what does this mean to you? It means the fear of overtraining, which sometimes verges on paranoia, may be preventing you from getting the most gains you can in the gym.
So science is telling us that training a muscle group approximately every 48 hours may be more effective than training it once or twice per week. If you train your whole body three times per week with your current workout routine it might take several hours to complete. I doubt many of us would have time for that. Does this mean you can't reap the benefits of more frequent training? Once again, new research provides us with some answers.
In a study performed at Montclair State University5 researchers investigated the effect of a single set vs. a multiple set routine on increasing upper body strength. They had the subjects perform either one set or three sets of bench press, incline dumbbell press and flat dumbbell flies using ten reps, three times per week for 12 weeks. This kind of study has been done before but this one is particularly valuable because it involved previously "trained" subjects. This is significant because untrained subjects will usually respond positively to virtually any training routine.
Just because a training strategy works for beginners doesn't mean it will work for experienced lifters. These researchers found that doing a single set of each exercise was equally effective as doing three sets of the same movements in increasing the subjects one repetition maximum (1RM) on bench press.