Last week in the introduction to 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 how increasing frequency of training each muscle group can be beneficial because if you want to make sure you are spiking protein synthesis as much as possible then training each muscle group once per week is not going to get it done. This week we will be comparing linear and non-linear periodization and bring up the topic of muscle soreness and what it means to you.
Since reading part one I’m sure you’ve figured out I’m suggesting that you should exercise each muscle group more than once per week. This will inevitably bring up the topic of muscle soreness and overtraining. If someone is told to train more frequently they often think they shouldn’t because when they train a certain muscle group it can be sore for up to 4 or 5 days, and of course if you train sore you’ll “overtrain.” Well the reason you are sore for so long is because you train too infrequently to give your body a chance to adapt. If you train more frequently and lift while still sore, your body will be forced to adapt to the new stress you are putting it under and eventually you won’t be so sore.
Just think about any really physical job out there. A new furniture mover is going to be very sore after the first day on the job, but they still have to go back to work each day. They continue to do the same thing and eventually their body adapts to what they do and they don’t get sore anymore or at least a lot less sore. Have you ever seen the forearms of a carpenter or the lats of a rower? Their bodies have responded to ways that typical thoughts on overtraining would say were far too great to be able to recover and grow. The same thing goes for weightlifting.
I was attempting to find research about muscle soreness and training frequency but was unable to find any such study other than if you use research about the “repeated bout effect” which does not appear to be totally understood. (1) The repeated bout effect basically refers to the body’s ability to adjust and accommodate to repeated physical stress by becoming more adept at repairing itself, much like that furniture mover. When you exercise each muscle group once per week your body learns it has that long to recover, but if you increase the frequency your body learns it needs to increase its recovery rate. What better way to beat DOMS than by preventing it from happening in the first place? Especially when it can help lead to greater gains in hypertrophy and strength as well.
If you hit everything multiple times per week like I’m suggesting, eventually you’ll stop being so sore. Yes when you begin you will probably be very sore and feel run down. You are shocking the body, but by pushing through that initial period will allow your body to adapt. If you ease off every time you are really sore or feel tired, your body will have no reason to adapt to what you are doing. You have to give it a reason to change.
So I submit to you, overreaching is actually a good thing if you are smart about it. Yes you’ll be tired, and you’ll be weaker at first, but I ask you, does that really matter if you are making gains? Is it worth it to get the body you’re after? Whether your goal is to deadlift 600 lbs or to make everyone question if you’re a natural lifter or not, if you can tolerate pushing your body to its limits you can give yourself a much better chance to get there. All with the benefit of actually being less sore in time. If it’s important enough to you, it seems like it would worth it. When you overreach and then take a period to deload and recover, this is when you actualize your gains. (2) The trick is knowing when to push and when to back off.
So how am I suggesting you do this? Finally the meat and potatoes (coincidentally a great muscle-building meal) of this series. Enter undulating periodization. What the heck is that you ask? I’m happy to explain. Undulating periodization is a non-linear periodization or structuring of set and rep protocols in a largely different manner in much shorter time spans than a typical periodization. Rather than linear and alternating periodization where reps and loads are decreased or increased in each phase, undulating periodization changes within each week or even each day.
Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2009 (3) compared three training protocols over a 12 week resistance training program. 27 strength-trained men were assigned to 3 balanced groups, nonperiodized, linear periodized and non-linear periodized. Strength gains in the bench press and leg press were assessed at 4, 8 and 12 weeks. The non-linear group significantly increased strength in both bench press and leg press throughout the entire 12 week period. Meaning they showed improvements at each 4, 8 and 12 week intervals. They were the only group to do this. The linear group only saw strength gains at the 8 week interval but did not have any strength gains at the 4 or 12 week intervals while the non-periodized group had no increase throughout the entire program. More evidence at how good our body is at adapting to what we put it through.
Now that we know mixing set and rep protocols in largely different manners in short time periods has been shown to be the best method for muscle-building, next week we’ll come back and talk about how to put it all together. Until then,