High intensity and progressive overload are absolutely, positively necessary if you want to make gains in muscle mass and size. There is just one catch…you can’t accomplish both of them on a fixed training schedule.
Frequency of training is one of the most misunderstood elements of productive bodybuilding. One of my litmus tests as to whether a training article, book or course is worth anything is to look at how training frequency is addressed. If it says, “Train 3 days per week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”…I know it’s a useless program.
Because you can’t have both PROGRESSIVE overload and a FIXED training schedule. Your body won’t tolerate it. The stronger you get, the more rest you need between workouts. Fixed schedules are the single biggest
reason why trainees quit going to the gym after a few weeks, get injured or
catch a cold or flu after training a short time. And even if you manage to
clear all those hurdles, you’ll soon hit a plateau and stop making progress
with your physique.
A consistently productive program requires a variable training frequency.
You need to analyze your recent rate of progress and adjust your training
frequency to ensure full recovery before your next workout. But some people like to workout as often as possible and some want maxi-
mum efficiency. (i.e. to workout as little as possible while still achieving their goals.) Fortunately, when you complete a workout there is a range of
time over which your next productive workout can occur.
The limits of the range are the first day you can return to the gym without over training and the last day you can return to the gym without under training. For example, if today’s workout was on the 1st of the month, you might be able to return to the gym fully recovered as early as the 6th and perform a productive workout. But you might also be able to wait until the 19th of the month before losing the benefit of your last workout. You see?
So whether you return on the 6th, the 9th or in between is a matter of preference. But
either way it is absolutely imperative that you rest enough time for your
body to fully recover.
Recovery must be complete before new growth can occur. Think of it this way…suppose a caveman had a battle-to-the-death with a saber tooth tiger and after the fight the caveman lay on the ground totally exhausted.
What is the first order of business for his body in order to ensure his survival?
A) re-supply his existing tissues and organs with what they need to
get him to safety, or
B) build him some new muscle just in case he has a similar struggle in the future.
Fortunately for us, the brain gives the first priority to immediate survival. So when you leave the gym after doing battle with the leg press, your brain first takes care of your full recovery. The actual muscle growth process is quite brief and recent studies reveal it likely occurs while you’re sleeping. But if you never fully recover, and return the gym for another depleting workout, you’ll never experience muscle growth.
And without a variable training frequency, eventually you will reach the point where you never fully recover between workouts. Can you make any progress on a fixed schedule? Sure…for as long as your fixed training days happen to be far enough apart. For example, when you first start training your workouts won’t be very demanding and your body might only need, perhaps, 18 hours to recover.
As long as your workouts are more than 18 hours apart, you’re fine. But very soon you’ll need 29 hours rest between workouts…then 46.2 hours…then 63.8 hours…you see? And since you never know exactly when recovery is complete and muscle growth occurred, you need to be on the safe side by adding extra time off. I work with some advanced clients who train once every six weeks.
In fact, they perform workout “A” then wait six weeks and do workout “B”…so it’s 12 weeks between the same exercises for the same muscle groups…and they make progress EVERY workout. With the massive weights they hoist, it would be impossible for them to train three days per week. If their training schedules stayed fixed from Day One, they could never have progressed to where they are today.