Dual Factor Training: How To Use Training Theory To Reach Your Physique & Performance Goals.

There are basically two accepted theories in the world of weight training. One is called Supercompensation and the other is called Dual Factor Theory. Bodybuilding tends to follow...

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Training Theory…

The very words make my spine cringe. Isn't training theory the love child of those Russian communist scientists from Rocky 4? You know, the one where Ivan Drago is running and lifting and punching machines while pencil neck guys in glasses and lab-coats follow him around with their clipboards and occasionally give each other that leering glance of communist satisfaction.

Are these the guys who do Training Theory? What about my teachers from high school anatomy class and freshman PED 100? The professors were self proclaimed "experts," even though I never saw them in gym, and most looked like starving Somalian children. Were they the great theorists of training? Well, probably not.

The fact is, having a good working knowledge of training theory isn't just about reading texts from fallen Eastern Bloc countries. When you know why you train the way you do, you can make dramatic progress in the gym concerning your physique and performance through more efficient training. i.e. - you'll be bigger and stronger and look better naked!

So Let's Get Started…

There are basically two accepted theories in the world of weight training (and outlined in Zatsiorsky's Science and Practice of Strength Training). One is called Supercompensation (or Single Factor Theory), and the other is called Dual Factor Theory. Bodybuilding tends to follow the Supercompensation way of thinking, while virtually every field of strength and conditioning, athletics, etc. follows the Dual Factor Theory.

The reasoning that almost everyone involved in strength training adheres to the Dual Factor Theory is because there is scientific proof that it works, not to mention that the Eastern Bloc countries that have adhered to this theory have killed the U.S. at every Olympics since the 1950s. In the following paragraphs, I hope to prove to you why Dual Factor Theory should be accepted, taught, and adhered to in the world of bodybuilding as well as all other athletes concerned with strength and conditioning.

The Supercompensation Theory has been, in the bodybuilding community, the most widely accepted school of thought. The theory itself is based on the fact that training depletes certain substances (like glycogen and slowing protein synthesis). Training is seen as catabolic, draining the body of its necessary nutrients and fun stuff. So to grow, according to the theory, the body must then be rested for the optimal amount of time, and, it (the body) must be supplied with all the nutrients it lost. If both of these things are done correctly, then theoretically your body will increase protein synthesis and store more nutrients than it originally had! (i.e. - your muscles will be bigger!)

So obviously the most important part of this theory is timing, specifically concerning rest periods. But that's where the problem comes in. If the rest period is too short, then you won't be completely recovered, and as a result, the next training session would deplete substances even more, which over a period of time would result in overtraining and a loss of performance. If the rest period is too long then the training would lose its stimulus and you would recover completely and lose the window of opportunity to provide the stimulus again. Improvements only occur when the training sessions are optimally timed. So you are left with the problem of timing workouts to correspond to the Supercompensation wave; anything sooner or later will lead to a useless workout.

A Better Way…

The Dual Factor Theory is somewhat more complex than the Supercompensation Theory. The theory is based on the fact that the body is left with both positive and negative effects from a training session. On the negative side, fatigue sets in. On the positive side, fitness (or "gain" as it's referred in the exercise phys. world) increases. So the theory works like an equilibrium in that the effect of training is both positive (gain) and negative (fatigue). By striking the correct balance, fatigue should be great in extent, but shouldn't last very long. Gain, on the other hand, should be moderate, but will last longer. Typically the relationship is 1:3 - if fatigue lasts x amount of time, then gain lasts 3x amount of time.

Now, granted that's some deep, confusing stuff, but here is where the wheat is separated from the chaff…The timing of individual workouts is relatively unimportant to long term gains (unlike Supercompensation), and whether fatigue is or is not present, fitness can and still will be increased (which is the goal).

Bodybuilders often get stuck in the "one time per week per bodypart" rut, and that determines how many sets they do and the intensity they use. Since they are not going to change frequency, they end up not changing much over time. So what happens (when you view training through the lens of Supercompensation) is that you beat the crap out of a muscle group and then don't target it again for another week. This is because you think that the muscle needs time to completely recover before beating it into submission again. Well, the fact is, that when you see training through the lens of Dual Factor Theory, then you'll note that it is ok to train a muscle group again even if fatigue is still present.

Now the really cool part is this…science has shown that the body responds better in physique and performance enhancements when you have a period of peaking fatigue (2-6 weeks), followed by a period of "unloading" (1-4 weeks). (Unloading just refers to a time where you allow fatigue to fade. This usually means active unloading, where you continue to train, but with reduced intensity, volume, or frequency. Occasionally it could mean total rest.) You view entire weeks and maybe months, as you would've viewed just one workout with Supercompensation. For example, with Supercompensation, one workout represents a period of fatigue. But, in the Dual Factor Theory, up to 6 weeks would represent a period of fatigue. With Supercompensation, a day or two (up to a week) represents a period of rest. But in the Dual Factor Theory, up to four weeks may represent a period rest.

So To Recap…

Each training session exerts both positive (gain) and negative (fatigue) aspects. Instead of thinking of each training session as fatiguing and then the next 6 days as recovery, begin to think of entire periods of training as fatiguing or recovery.

Obviously then the most important thing is to understand how long and how hard to "load" during the fatiguing phases and how long and how much to "unload" during the recovery phase.

Applying It To The Real World…

When setting up dual factor periodization for the bodybuilder, it is important to remember to plan for periods of fatigue and periods of rest. During a fatigue period (say, 3 weeks), you slowly build up fatigue, and never fully recover. Then you have a period of recovery (another 1-2 weeks) where you train with reduced frequency, volume, or intensity.

In the next issue of CORE, we'll cover how long and how hard to load and unload, why it's important to train muscles multiple times per week, why you don't have to go to complete muscular failure, and we'll break down a sample Dual Factor Hypertrophy split.

But hey, what good is it to give you all this info without giving you something to do with it today?!

So here is a sample plan for loading and unloading weeks for an athlete looking to put on slabs of mass and gain tons of strength.

Loading Weeks: (2-3 weeks)

Upper Body Workout One: (Monday)

  1. Barbell Bench Press (flat or incline, primarily wide grip, 4x10 with the same weight for each set)

  2. Dumbbell Press (flat, incline, or decline for 3x8-12 same weight)

  3. Horizontal Lat Work (heavy barbell rows, 5x5)

  4. Shoulders/Traps (emphasis on medial delts - shrugs, high pulls, dumbbell cleans, lateral raise complex, face pulls - pick 1-2 exercises for 4-6 sets total)

  5. Tricep Extension (skull crushers, French presses, JM Presses, rolling dumbbell extensions, Tate Presses, pushdowns - pick one exercise for 3x10-12)

  6. Biceps (1-2 exercises, 3-5 sets total)

Lower Body Workout One: (Tuesday)

  1. Heavy Squats (butt to ankles, 5x5 working up each set to a 5rm, or try for a 3rm or even an occasional 1rm)

  2. Good mornings (3x5 same weight or work up to 5rm)

  3. Pull throughs (3-5 sets of 10-12, some arched back, some rounded back)

  4. Glute Ham Raises or Hamstring Curls followed by Leg Extensions (2 sets each)


  5. Leg Presses (3-4 sets of 10-12) -or- Occasionally a Hack Squat (for 3-4x10-12)

  6. Weighted Abs/ Obliques (5x10 total - weighted situps, ab pulldowns on high cable or with bands, dumbbell side bends, etc.)

Upper Body Workout Two: (Thursday)

  1. Flat Barbell Bench Press (close or regular grip - heavy work 1rm, 3rm, 5rm, or 5x5)

  2. Board Press/Floor Press (5rm usually start where you left off on bench press)

  3. Overhead Press (Standing military press, push press, dumbbell overhead press - various rep schemes - 5rm, 5x5, 4x10)

  4. Dips (2-3 sets)

  5. Vertical Lat Work (lat pull-downs or pull-ups - 5+ sets - if on lat pull-down use different bars and work different planes)

  6. Triceps Extension (skull crushers, French presses, JM Presses, rolling dumbbell extensions, Tate Presses, pushdowns - pick one exercise for 3x10-12)

  7. Biceps (1-2 exercises, 3-5 sets total)

Lower Body Workout Two: (Friday)

  1. Lighter Squats (back squats or front squats for 5x5 or 4x10 with the same weight)

  2. Deadlifts (conventional deadlifts or deadlifts standing on 2-3" box, mat, or 100lb plate - 1rm, 3rm, 5rm, or 3x5 same weight, )

  3. Pullthroughs (3-5 sets of 10-12, some arched back, some rounded back)

  4. Glute Ham Raises or Hamstring Curls followed by Leg Extensions (2 sets each)

  5. Weighted Hyperextensions (2-3x10-12)

  6. Weighted Abs/ Obliques (5x10 total - weighted sit-ups, ab pull-downs on high cable or with bands, dumbbell side bends, etc.)

For unloading weeks (1 week), reduce volume drastically by completing only the first two exercises on lower body days, and the first three exercises on upper body days. Slightly reduce intensity/load (with regards to one rep max), and keep frequency the same (four workouts per week.)

Remember, if you consciously decide from the start that that you are going to have to take your body to the edge at least once every training cycle, you can plan when you do it, and how long you have to recover from it, you can have shorter training cycles, more precisely timed peaks, and generally more progress.

Remember that we'll break down this plan in the next issue of CORE. Until then, lift heavy and have fun!

"Thanks!" to Glenn Pendlay for being a friend and mentor to me in my vast search for training knowledge, to CORE magazine for providing the best vehicle for physique and performance information on the planet, and to Applied Lifescience Research Industries for the highest quality, cutting edge supplements on the market!

About The Author

Matt Reynolds is a nationally ranked powerlifter and student of training and training theory. He is proud to be a member of the elite powerlifting team, the Midwest Maddogs. For questions about this article to be answered in upcoming issues of CORE, please email him at matt@keptprivate.com or find him at www.MidwestBarbell.com.

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