managing work, rest and recovery.

David Fleming wrote this…

The pursuit of muscle and performance or fat loss and physique splendidness for that matter is a tricky game. If you mindlessly attack the gym with Linkin Park blaring in your ears, forcing yourself to failure and then to 5 more reps on every single set, chances are you will have some kind of effect on your body. However, if you plan, schedule and think more carefully about your training, the chances are that greater success will come your way. David Fleming explains…

How much is too much?

When considering how often to train, a lot of factors must be considered. Firstly what is the goal? If you, like many of the people reading this, want to get bigger, you have to be mindful of how much quality rest you can get and how much nutritious food you have the time to prepare and eat. In an ideal world, you would sleep for a minimum of 8-10 hours each night, train heavier in the morning, come home, eat, sleep and train lighter in the evening to be followed by a fat load of eating and sleeping again, possibly taking the next day off from the weights room to work on your cardio & flexibility.

As the saying goes, you don’t grow in the gym. Now as this ideal is as far from reality as you can get, for most gym enthusiasts, you have to weigh up training volume with realistic levels of rest and regeneration. To make a difference you are going to need a good 4-8 hours of work in the gym each week dedicated to hypertrophy training. If you’re only getting 4-5 hours sleep at night and living off bought sandwiches and protein shakes, you’ll probably get results similar to the quality of the aforementioned snack. In this scenario, your number one goal is to sort out your sleeping patterns and get your ass in the kitchen and start making your own meals to take with you. Secondly, how active are you during the day? If you work a physical job, get no sleep and train for hours and hours each week you would want to consider training with a high intensity and lower volume. Of course you would also need to address your sleeping issues.

I am a firm believer that after the first couple of years of consistent training, where hypertrophy is concerned, less is more. As your body becomes more efficient and recruits larger numbers of motor units, it will require longer rest in between sets and you may tolerate less total work than you could as a relative beginner. This is because you can put so much more in to each and every set, using more muscle fibres, with more force creating higher relative fatigue. As a trainer you may notice that a barbell complex or challenging superset you give to a beginner may leave them relatively fresh when compared to the advanced trainee. Of course the loads used and the technique and strength displayed by the advanced trainee will be far superior, you will find that their relative exhaustion after each set is far higher.

To fatigue or not to fatigue?

When training in the weights room, there is a common held belief that it is necessary to absolutely annihilate a body part to get it to grow. I again ask the question, are you able to recover from this? The answer I would suggest is probably not. Constantly training to complete failure through forced reps, relentless drop sets etc. is extremely fatiguing to both the nervous and muscular systems. Training methods such as these, in my opinion should be used sparingly, possibly when you know you are going to have the time over the following 1-2 weeks to recover from them. You will only be able to maintain this level of effort for so long until your body eventually breaks down and you end up over trained, injured or both. If you have a busy work, social and family schedule, get your nutrition in check and train smarter not harder. Generally speaking you should terminate a set at the point of technical failure. That is the point just before correct form & technique breaks down. Continuing the set with crappy technique isn’t teaching the body anything useful.

Once, twice, thrice

When training for hypertrophy, there is always much debate over whether you should employ a body part split or total body training program. In my opinion body type as well as the factors described above all play a role here. If you are naturally a skinnier, leaner (ectomorph) type of person you may tolerate training the whole body three times per week for longer than your stockier, podgier counterparts (endomorphs). The well built, athletic mesomorph types will tend to respond well to a range of training methods and represent the ideal body type for hypertrophy. You can do a lot of work infrequently or less work frequently but you won’t get away with a lot of work all the time. A good compromise and efficient training method is to employ an upper and lower split. This can provide a good amount of volume and frequency for each body part. While it has become popular to prescribe whole body training programs for hypertrophy there must come a time when some kind of body part split is employed. Bodybuilders, although commonly juiced to the eye balls, don’t train the whole body 3 times a week. This cannot be ignored but taken in to context can provide a tried and tested way of training for size.

In summary, to achieve your strongman and buff body dreams, consider the following:

1) Know what you want and focus the vast majority of your training time to that goal.This seems obvious but so often people will float through months of training just going through the motions. Set yourself targets and be single minded in your approach.

2) Eat right, sleep right. The muscles are the hardware, the nervous system and the software but the nutrition is the power supply, without it you won’t get very far.

3) Record your training. Having a record of your progress; exercises, loads, sets and reps, how you felt and so on, can give you insight as to which training frequencies and methods you respond best.

4) Be progressive and adaptable. The training and diet that afforded you your first 14lbs of muscle, won’t necessarily be those that get you the next. If training for size, don’t become too precious about particular lifts. Be prepared to let your training ideals evolve to keep you progressing.

Looking around any commercial gym you will see a wealth of people simply not working hard enough to get any real change in their physique. As a reader of this magazine, I am sure you don’t fall in to that category. Having the right attitude towards busting your ass in the gym is essential but be sure to assess your work load, stress levels, nutrition and amount of recovery time to ensure you continue to reach your potential.

About the Author

David Fleming is one of London’s top personal trainers. He is obsessed with helping people get stronger and helping people to get More-Athletic. He has studied and learned from the best strength coaches in the world. He is happily married and can lift heavy weights. His mother is very proud of him and he writes a good article.It took him until the age of 30 to pass his driving test, but other than that he is a solid chap.