Here is another chapter from my free journal. drmarkp
Your exercise thermostat, how much is enough?
How much exercise is enough? The answers to this question are elusive, and attempts to find them are intangible without first considering proper applications of volume, intensity, frequency and the momentum (impetus) of exercise.
Establishing the ideal “dose” of exercise is first determined by finding the most effective portal possible for bringing the target muscle to its full “saturation point”. By this I am referring to the point where the target muscle attains its maximum possible state of congestion (pump) while subsequently losing its ability to further respond to additional properly applied exercise. Having achieved this “state”, additional exercise is no longer necessary nor will it even be desired. The actual numbers of sets are secondary to the fashion by which they should be performed.
There is a delicate balance to consider between the above four variables (volume, intensity, frequency and momentum) stated in the first paragraph. While collectively they bring the muscles to a point of complete saturation, they are also the keys to answering the question of “how much”.
The issue of volume like frequency; is straightforward from the onset and should be provided little leverage in the way of deviation. You can whittle away at these two variables only so much before going too far in the other direction. The new system advocates giant sets utilizing two to four exercises per grouping and performing no more than two clusters per muscle group. From a volume of exercise standpoint, never under any circumstances should a total of more than eight total working sets be performed for any individual muscle group; in some cases with more advanced individuals, even less total sets are probably better.
From my experience, the muscles and their surrounding structures do not reach their point of full saturation after having performed only one single giant set. Even with extremely high intensity, it is not until the second “round” that you experience the deeper effects of complete muscle stimulation and congestion. During the first giant set the involved muscles and structures are still gaining momentum, building up to full strength in preparation for an even more explosive subsequent effort yet to come.
To complete only one cycle of exercises would be stopping short of both the volume and accumulative intensity necessary to bring the muscle to complete threshold, thus preventing it from reaching its full saturation point. In most cases with a well conditioned individual, consistently high levels of intensity can be sustained for the entire duration of two complete “clusters” of exercises, each cluster containing giant sets for multiple muscle groups.
Conversely, it is intensity itself that ultimately determines the ceiling of volume that is actually required, necessary, or even possible for achieving maximum growth stimulation. It is not a coincidence that in fact once having been achieved, this “ceiling” translates into all the volume that a trainee can even stand. For both volume and intensity there is a point of diminishing returns, both predicated on the other.
Time is also a consideration for the enhancement of intensity; therefore a certain element of brevity must also be brought into the equation for best results. With high intensity training, only a small window of time is available to yield the greatest possible value of exercise. Actual workouts therefore must be short and brief. It is a quickened pace or momentum generated by the new system that enhances and literally enables levels of intensity beyond that which is normally attainable with conventional training methods; this intensity being best achieved by the application of “cluster training”.
Intensity itself imposes limitations in workout brevity-brevity being a necessity when training with truly high intensity. Even as an increase in volume compromises intensity, intensity is also diminished when it is spread out over longer periods of time. In addition, as stated in earlier chapters, an increase in volume will also adversely affect overall recovery ability.
But even an increase in workout momentum can become self-limiting. Decreasing elapsed workout time does not mean to suggest that an increase in workout speed be in order to the point of simply racing through the exercises. As discussed in earlier chapters, not only should all individual movements be performed with extreme intensity, but also strictly, methodically and deliberately. In addition, there should be rest period of about thirty seconds between regular sets. Rest between groups of exercises should be no more than the time required for a training partner to complete theirs. Following of these guidelines will provide everything in the way of the requirement for training brevity.
While it is this very momentum that enables the target muscle to quickly achieve its saturation point, the “down side” afterward is equally as important an indicator that the exercise session was successful. After a properly performed workout, the subject should experience a tremendous degree of muscle “pumping”. This will soon be followed by a noticeably rapid loss of neuromuscular efficiency, as neurological pathways to the muscle become no longer able to fire at full threshold. Saturation point is reached when the highest possible percentage of muscle fibers have been affected to the point where these nerve pathways become irresponsive, and momentarily unable to generate the contractions necessary to further achieve high levels of intensity with additional sets. In other words, the muscles are shot! Even as the pump begins to rapidly dissipate, at this point you’ll know you’ve had enough.
Longer workouts as with conventional systems, fail to send such discernable “signals” to indicate when a muscle has had enough exercise. Single sets initiate only a partial affect to exercise response, because the signal gets lost again before proceeding on to the next one. This happens because intensity becomes dispersed due to the inordinately long rest periods between sets that are usually associated with straight set systems. These on again/off again responses fail to permit the muscles neither to achieve maximum intensity nor reach saturation threshold, thus leaving the subject craving more exercise.
The perceived signal instead, is to continue with more sets in order to produce a desired effect that can never be accomplished by training in this fashion. As a result, the subject is never quite sure whether or not they have performed enough volume of work. I call this “chasing the genie”; the resulting excessive volume leading to over training that taxes the overall systems recovery reserves.
In regards to the question “how much is enough”; we must first ask the question “how much can you stand”? Brief and intense training as outlined by the new system, requires high levels of conditioning and muscular endurance. A trainee must first acquire the conditioning necessary to generate and sustain the high levels of intensity necessary for maximum growth stimulation. Until a high level of conditioning is acquired, it will be difficult if not impossible to properly perform “enough” exercise (whether it is too much or too little) without the proper physical conditioning to do so.
By training in the fashion outlined by the new system, a healthy individual will quickly improve their levels of muscular conditioning and endurance. As a subjects conditioning improves, so will their potential for increased intensity as well as their ability to recover between sets; giant and cluster sets opening the floodgates to intensity.
The ability of each individual muscle group to adequately recover from exercise is contingent upon the ability of the entire system to recover as a unit from the accumulative effects of exercise. The body requires adequate recovery time between individual workouts for the sake of the systems overall recovery as well as between the individual muscle groups themselves-for the sake of their own. We have already established that for best results, each muscle group should be trained about once a week almost without exception-using a three-way split routine. A complete layoff may be indicated from time to time however; for example, taking a week or so off once every five or six months. Occasionally the most important consideration for the recovery from exercise is the complete abstinence from exercise.
For reasons stated above, the addition of weekly training days such as that, which occurs by splitting the body into more than four workouts per week, is always a mistake. This forces the body to do two things, first; it increases the overall volume of exercise creating inroads into systems recovery reserves, and second; causes overlapping indirect effects of exercise that cut into the recovery time for the individual muscle groups themselves. Increases in frequency and volume never compensate for a lack of intensity and always result in over training.
In chapter 12 I outlined two leg workouts, versions A and B using the new system. On the “heavy” day after having performed two cycles of leg presses and hack squats, I finish up with two straight sets of Smith machine full squats, the last set being followed by a drop set. Having been thoroughly primed by the preceding two cycles of exercises, the brutality of these sets of squats are now enhanced considerably.
This means that two sets of full squats are being performed every other leg workout totaling up to only four sets of squats per month! The maximum possible benefits that can be derived from squats will be yielded by rotating them in this fashion, and poundage’s utilized will increase steadily as will those for all other associated exercises.
To claim that the performance of four total sets of back squats per month is adequate under any other circumstances would be ludicrous, but in fact when properly integrated with the new system-they are. In any case, to perform more would only compromise intensity, and contribute little to nothing to enhance the value of full squats.
Yet four sets of full squats per month, per week or even per day, will accomplish little on their own merit without combining them with other leg exercises as applied by the principles outlined with the new system. Combined, they’re synergistic effects facilitate the tremendous growth promoting effects of squats; the forthcoming results certainly qualifying four sets of full squats per month as being -enough.
Lacking training knowledge during my early training days, I became a slave to squats. If I wasn’t full squatting I was front squatting with maximum poundage’s every single leg workout, twice a week. While I became a fairly strong squatter, I was never able to develop the desired fullness or sweep to my thighs that I wanted. I now realize that although I had always trained my legs till failure, I came nowhere near reaching a degree of true intensity that is the benchmark for achieving outstanding results. Even if I had understood then, how to effectively apply true intensity in the first place, it could never have been achieved while training each muscle group twice a week anyway.
The information in this chapter is not meant to imply that the value of quality training lies merely on the merit of low volume. On the contrary, as much volume as possible should be performed with extremely high intensity. It just so happens that under these conditions, the volume of exercise that is possible happens not to be that much.
While it is not easy to determine a definitive number of sets ideally required stimulate growth, it is clear that some muscle groups are able to stand a greater volume of exercise and intensity than others. For example, it seems that the calves require a greater number of high intensity sets in order to reach their “saturation point”. Forearms too seem to be able to withstand a greater number of sets. So both forearms and calves seem to respond particularly well to a higher that usual number of sets. I’ve noticed that triceps and deltoids seem to be able to stand a little more work as well. Perhaps it depends on individual responsiveness to these areas and how they are combined with other muscle groups.
In the overall scheme of things, there seems to be little danger of over training smaller muscle groups by performing a higher than usual number of sets for them; being smaller, they do not impose such high demands as to adversely affect overall systems recovery.
This theory is contrary to what is preached by some proponents who claim that larger muscle groups can actually stand, and therefore respond better to higher volume. Well if that’s the case, then I’d like to drive them through two brutal giant sets for legs, using the new system and then ask the question; “which muscle groups do you think can stand the most exercise now, the larger ones or smaller ones?”
Regardless, the most definitive assessment of the proper volume of exercise can only be determined after having applied the highest possible degrees of intensity while incorporating the many principles outlined in this journal. The muscle having reached its “saturation” point will ultimately determine its ceiling of volume, intensity, and therefore limitation of individual tolerance and responsiveness to exercise.
In summary, in order to determine the quantity of exercise that is required for maximum growth stimulation; there are three factors that must be in place, first; that the highest possible levels of intensity must be attained, second; that volume must not compromise intensity, and third; that a level of conditioning must be attained to sustain both the desired momentum and intensity of exercise. Frequency of exercise becomes more of an established variable. Even as a subject becomes more advanced, frequency can only be extended so far within certain limitations before the amount of time elapsed between muscle groups becomes counterproductive.