In part one of this series we talked about the difference between overtraining and overreaching and how the common belief of what overtraining is has been blown out of proportion. We looked at some research that showed increasing the frequency of training each muscle group can be beneficial and because doing so you will be spiking protein synthesis much more often than training each muscle group once per week. In part two we talked about muscle soreness and how increasing training frequency will help reduce the pain and we compared linear and non-linear periodization. This week we will be talking about my suggestions for non-linear periodization and overtraining and how to train in an optimal fashion for both strength and muscle mass building.
My suggestion is a method where you work each muscle group twice per week. Once with heavy weights for strength/power and once with lighter weight focusing on hypertrophy. Remember how I talked about incorporating both powerlifter and bodybuilder styles into your routine? This way you can do them both, every single week. No need to focus on one for a month and then switch. It’s the best of both worlds all the time utilizing undulating periodization that has been shown to be superior for strength and muscle size. I don’t know about you but I love both styles of training, and being able to do them both all the time can be fun.
There is one other common misbelief you may have to overcome for this style of training. It’s something you see in gyms across the world. It’s bodybuilders vs. powerlifters. One side says lift big weights and build strength and the other swears by lighter weights and focusing on muscular hypertrophy. There are certainly reasons for these opinions as both sides have different goals, but while they both look down at each other they could instead both learn a little something from one another. Regardless of whether strength, size or symmetry is your goal it’s hard to maximize your gains without both kinds of training in order to see the most possible progress in long-term strength or hypertrophy. Without one, the other won’t progress as well as it could.
Now, you may be wondering why you would need to do heavy squats or deadlifts if you are a bodybuilder and all you care about is the size of your muscles and not how strong you are. Well if you train heavy you will have an easier time gaining strength and those strength gains will carry over into your lighter work. If you were able to deadlift 225 lbs for 15 reps before but now you’ve increased your strength and are able to deadlift 315 lbs for 15 reps, which one do you think is going to build more muscle? Plus with this training you still get to do your normal training each week, you just mix in some heavy work too.
The program will require 4 or 5 days of resistance training per week. You could do an upper and lower body workout twice per week or you could split upper or lower into three days for your lighter workouts. Personally I like to do the two heavy days back to back, rest, and then do three lighter days. Keep in mind this program is for someone already adapted to a higher volume workout program. If this isn’t you and you want to give it a shot I’d recommend keeping the volume low at first until your body does adapt. It may be a good idea to keep the volume the same as what you are currently doing but split it up into more workouts. Then as you progress you can up the volume. Same thing goes for training to failure. I wouldn’t do it much at first unless you are very used to high volume and even then no more than one set per exercise. You don’t need to train to failure for results on this plan, you just need the volume spread out.
Even for those who do a lot of volume already, most will be very tired and sore at first. This is when it’s easy to want to back off to avoid “overtraining” but it’s important to push through at this point. Your body will eventually adapt and you’ll be much less tired and sore moving forward. After you’ve made it through the initial phase of shocking your body and it has adapted to higher frequency then this is when you will need to listen to your body to know when you need to back off. After the initial phase (maybe 3-6 weeks to adapt) and you are constantly feeling fatigued, run down, and your desire to train goes away, this is when your body is overreaching and in need of some rest to avoid overreaching turning into overtraining. You could schedule a deload but I think it’s best to listen to your body as opposed to following a plan in this case. Expect to need one every 2-3 months at the very least.
When you deload you strip the weights and do all your normal work but at about 60% of what you normally do for the same amount of reps. This is enough weight to keep your body from losing strength but low enough to let it recover. I usually take an extra day or two off during this period but that’s a personal preference. Typically you hear you should deload for a week but you should take however long it takes to feel both mentally and physically refreshed. This should generally happen in about 5 days to 2 weeks but it’s important to listen to your body and give it as long it needs. Remember, this is the period when your body is going to actualize the gains from pushing it into overreaching territory, so you need to let it recover.
Three months ago I changed from the typical plan of hitting each muscle group once per week to hitting everything twice. Muscle soreness is almost a thing of the past now. I’ll get some tired muscles but never does it hurt to move. Big change from before when I could count on being sore for at least 2 days after each session. After my first deload I came back stronger than ever and had the greatest single week of training of my life. Strength and energy levels were through the roof.
I’m an ectomorph by nature and my legs have always lagged well behind the rest of the body despite the fact that I hit legs harder than anything else each week. This new plan brought up my legs faster than I ever could have imagined. In just those three months of increased frequency my pathetic 23” legs are up to a little over 25”. To put that into perspective I only gained 1” in the previous year of training. Oh and my 4 rep max squat has gone from 295 lbs to 405 lbs. So to that I say long live overtraining.
That’s my advice for anyone looking for a new routine with the main focus on building muscle. I’d suggest pairing that with my macronutrient ratio recommendations to build muscle as properly fueling your body will be important for performance and recovery during this highly intensive training. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask them in the comments section and I’d be happy to answer them.