We’ve heard the saying, “If I only knew then, what I know now”. When you’re young and an elder says it, you roll your eyes. But as you get older yourself, you begin to actually see the wisdom behind the words. This will stand true in your training. As a younger man or woman you are able to push the boundaries of your body’s capabilities. For many this results in training too heavy, with bad mechanics and with insufficient rest. You see your weight flying up, 10 pounds every week. You’re stronger, faster, and your growth potential seems limitless. Until you hit your first injury. It takes you three months to heal and before you know it you're back on track and back to the old routine. This is until you hit another injury. The second one takes 8 months to heal. Now you’re starting to find that on top of these two major injuries you’re beginning to experience more aches and pains. Some tendonitis in your elbow, a stiff neck, and maybe a shooting pain in your groin. These symptoms are not abnormal for everyday gym goers. So, if this is such a normal occurrence why aren’t people avoiding it? Well it’s mainly due to the point that when we’re young we don’t want to listen to anyone. We know best and what we’ve seen in magazines is our gospel. Heavy training makes for bigger, stronger, more fit bodies. This is not untrue, but what you aren’t reading is how all of these pros are looking to avoid injuries and how they are navigating through them with therapy, drugs, and different training techniques.
Heavy compound movements promote strength, muscle density, and large mass gains. Compound movements are also usually thought of to be in lower rep ranges to maximize these three points. But the problem with this is the wear and tear on the skeletal, muscular, and nervous system. This wear and tear will eventually lead to injuries. If you watch the progression of the body building industry, “back in the day” all of the pros did big, heavy movements. They looked big and they were incredibly strong. But where are they today? A lot of them are riddled with tendon, joint, and skeletal issues. Years of heavy training beating down their bodies, leaving them in a state that makes it hard to enjoy their later years. Now look to the present. Men and women who are not only bigger than their predecessors but they are doing it later into their years, with less injuries. How is this so? The argument can be made that technology, the advancement in performance enhancing drugs, and new knowledge of sports medicine are responsible. These are all valid factors that need to be taken into consideration but they are not the only reasons. From what I have seen these men and women have figured out how to take their nutrition and training approach to a new level. They have perfected extraordinary ways to create, in my opinion, the most important factor in any athletic training, intensity.
If you think of your fitness success in a linear and/or parabolic fashion, which would you choose? Anyone with a mathematic background would insist taking an approach that would give a parabolic outcome, given the two factors are time and success. But what if a third variable is introduced? When you are looking to create success in the gym, risk has to be taken into account. An injury could prevent not only short term goals, but long term as well. Excessive heavy training can create huge risk. I’m sure the first thing you’re asking yourself is how can you grow then? Progressive overload is common knowledge to be the one way to make a muscle grow. It’s the practice of adding weight to an exercise over time to create a need for the muscle to strengthen. But does the muscle know where this failure point is? When it comes to hypertrophy does a muscle need to be overloaded in a 4-8 rep range in order to grow? I don’t necessarily feel this is obligatory. I believe a muscle can not only reach failure but experience legitimate growth not only in a higher, but safer rep range. Higher reps not only have less negative effects on tendon and joints but also create a large flow of blood and nutrients to muscles. I feel this is a large component to growth but not necessarily the only one, there are other ways to create intensity.
Does anyone ever look to waste as much of their time as they can? Then your time spent in the gym should be no different. There are a wide variety of techniques to create more efficiency with your time. If I can be actively resting in between my sets then I am. Ideas such as supersets, compound, and giant sets allow for more volume in a shorter period of time. With these techniques also come the concerns of cramping and lactic acid build up. Training techniques such as EDT or "escalating density training" take this into account. The idea is a constant flow of work consisting of back to back exercises using muscles that do not work in conjunction with one another. This allows for constant work with reduction of lactic acid due to blood flow being shifted from one muscle group to another.This training philosophy is not for everyone though. I believe the best way to look at the "big picture" is to create a training split you like, believe is most efficient for your time and goals and allows for your total work numbers. Total work refers to the amount of total sets performed per body part per week. This can either performed all at once, in a single day or over s period of a training week using frequency. Frequency describes how many routines can be performed in a given week or time period to achieve you total work. We can look at three quick examples of this. The first being the traditional single body part split. Here you would see a more traditional body builder split where one body part is isolated each day. This will allow for max blood flow, or hypertrophy. The downfall with this is if you're someone looking to create 20-30 sets per week of total work, you may find yourself tiring halfway through these routines. Secondly you could use a three day split. For example, chest and arms, back and shoulders and legs. With this three day split you will be able to train each day twice in one workout week, creating more frequency and less need for a single days volume. Lastly we can look at a two day split, or an upper body, lower body split. With this we can now look to create even more frequency hitting each day three times in week. With higher frequency comes less need for single day volume as I said before. The benefits to this not only will you perform more sets with higher energy but there is definitely something to be said for "practice makes perfect". All create the same amount of total volume but with different ranges of daily volume. More daily volume can be beneficial for hypertrophy and the flow of blood and nutrients to a muscle where lower volume days can be more beneficial for strength gains. I believe an even balance of all three frequencies and different training principles will create a well-rounded look. This idea is called periodization. Certain periods of time where a key principle is used to achieve a short term goal. A period of time to create strength with heavier compound movements followed by a de-load phase into a hypertrophy based idea like EDT. This even balance helps keep tendons and joints healthy. Please be sure to do your research on each of these principles, understand what they are meant for, and how to perform them safely and most efficiently. Thank you for reading and best of luck to all.