Muscles grow larger in response to high intensity overload. This is a very simple element of human physiology that has been in operation for (according to anthropologists) over three million years…before fancy exer- cise equipment, before training “systems” and before nutritional supple- ments.
The muscles of the human body respond to the intensity of overload in a similar way that skin responds to the intensity of sunlight. Muscles adapt to the stress of overload by getting larger; skin adapts to the stress of over- load by getting darker.
Each of the 600+ muscles in your body is accustomed to operating at a certain level of output during normal daily activities. To cause new muscle to grow you have to force your muscles to operate beyond their normal level of output. That’s why we lift heavy weights to build muscles….it deliv- ers a higher intensity of overload.
Building new muscle is actually nature’s way of keeping you healthy. A de- manding, high intensity workout sends a message to the central nervous system that says, in effect: “This much work is so draining that our existing muscle strength can’t sustain it…we better build some new muscle so work at this intensity isn’t so taxing.” And after the new muscle appears, you can repeat the process with a new, higher intensity workout and build even more muscle.
Once you realize that all muscle-building progress stems from high inten- sity overload, you’ll begin to understand why I’ve had such a fixation on try- ing to quantify it. For example, which is more intense: two reps with 150 pounds or three reps with 135 pounds? What about one set that takes one minute versus three sets that take five minutes? Which has more intensity?
Trying to find a way to quantify this all-important intensity of muscular out- put is what led to Power Factor Training, then to Static Contraction Train- ing and ultimately to the Precision Trainer, which can do all the calculations automatically.
Anyway…the first thing you must know if you want to make mass and strength gains is that high intensity overload is absolutely indispensable!!
Suppose you go to the gym today and determine that the highest intensity overload you can generate for, let’s say, your triceps, is 11 reps with 190 pounds doing a close-grip bench press. Great. But if you go back to the gym and do that same routine every workout you’ll never get bigger, stronger muscles!
Because the overload must be progressive. This is one of the most over- looked elements of strength training. I know people who have done basi- cally the same workout month after month. I don’t mean the same exer- cises each time…I mean the same amount of overload for each muscle group. In fact, I know people who still believe you have to “cycle” your in- tensity…so they go back to the gym and do less intense exercises…that’s regressive overload! That’s like having a fairly dark tan then sitting in the shade during your next tanning “workout” and somehow hoping the re- duced sunlight intensity will deepen your tan. That would defy the laws of physics
The truth is, no two workouts should ever be the same. (Unless you are trying to just maintain – not build – muscle mass.) To be productive, every exercise in every workout should be engineered to deliver at least slightly higher intensity than the last workout.
Can you make progress every workout? Of course! Consistent progress is exactly what is supposed to happen! Bodybuilding and strength training have become so mired in foolish jargon and unscientific reasoning that now people find it hard to believe every workout can be productive. But what would be the purpose of going to a gym and lifting really heavy weights if it didn’t move you measurably closer to your goal of gaining more mass and size? Every workout taxes you and depletes your body of precious energy and recovery reserves…you should never spend that en- ergy unless you get measurable results from it. And you can get measur- able results from it – every time – if you train rationally.
High intensity and progressive overload are absolutely, positively neces- sary 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 pro- ductive bodybuilding. One of my litmus tests as to whether a training arti- cle, 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 train- ing 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 overtraining and the last day you can return to the gym without undertraining.
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 19th 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 ti- ger 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 sur- vival? 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 pri- ority 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 ac- tual 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 to 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 work- outs 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.
Now you know the “secrets” to gaining muscle mass and size. You need a training program that delivers high intensity overload on a progressive ba- sis using a schedule of variable frequency. This isn’t just my opinion…it is an absolute law of nature and it has been for over three million years.