Christmas day, and I was thinking about lifting as I sit of my stationary bike. Actually, I was reading the latest issue of Ironman magazine and I finally came across what I think is a very good article. The article is in the February issue of Ironman and is titled E.R. (Extreme Recovery). It is written by Michael Gundill, and while I normally cringe at most of the stuff written in the bodybuilding mags, I think this article is pretty good stuff. As I was reading the article, a few points made about recovery made an idea, that I have been toying with recently, crystallize in my mind.
The article talks about recovery in phases. Recovery of energy stores, recovery of the endocrine system, contractile or muscular recovery, and recovery of the nervous system (in order of fastest to slowest to recover). Now, in the past I have argued that nervous system recovery is not a valid part of the equation, and I have decided that I was incorrect. Recovery of energy stores usually occurs within 48 hours with the time varying with the intensity and duration of the exercise performed. Return to a resting state for the endocrine system, assuming one is not overtraining, usually takes place within 24 hours. Recovery at the contractile level usually takes place within 48 hours, again varying with the intensity and volume of training. Now the interesting part, nervous system recovery. If any of you have ever checked out my training log, you will note that I had only trained a body part once every 17-20 days. Most of you probably think I am crazy, lazy, or both. As I have stated, my reasons for such prolonged rest periods were due to the fact that if I trained sooner I would not realize gains in strength. As of late, I have been questioning this prolonged rest period, as I felt that even though it was necessary to strength gains, it was too long for maximum progress. My only option, until recently, would have been to reduce volume in order to require less recovery time. Again, many of you will note that I already train in a very abbreviated fashion; there really was no room for a reduction in volume. I had tried 1 set to failure, but felt that the 1 set was insufficient to elicit maximum gains. So, I was in a quandary.
I have often wondered why recovery seemed to take so darn long for me. I attributed it to the fact that I am at a relatively advanced stage in my development, relative to my individual genetics. I also attributed it to the stresses in my life due to work and family (I have a job which is extremely stressful to me). Intuitively and empirically, I came to realize that the stresses in my life had caused my body to require greater periods to recover from intense training sessions.
I have not changed my mind with respect to what I just stated, but I have come up with a new solution to the problem. Back to the nervous system recovery issue. As I continued to read the article, it mentioned a study done by a German professor. In a nutshell, the study involved 2 groups. The first group performed 5 sets of 3 reps in the bench press. The "reps" only consisted of the concentric (lifting) phase of the movement. The second group had to perform the same 5 sets of 3 reps, but they performed complete reps (positive and negative, or raising and lowering the weight). Both groups were then monitored for recovery of strength. The first group experienced a decline in strength for the first 48 hours followed by an increase of 21.5% on day 3. As time progressed, so did strength gains. By day 7, strength in this group was up by 24%. 10 days after training, this group peaked at a 27% increase in strength. For group 2, similar results occurred, initially. The second group experienced a greater strength loss in the first 48 hours. On the 3rd day, strength was up 20% (vs. 21.5 in group 1). After 7 days, strength was up 24% (same as group 1). By 10 days, strength was up 27.5% (.5% greater than group 1). Unlike group 1, strength did not peak after 10 days, after 3 weeks (group 1 had regressed to baseline levels by this time), group 2 was up just over 29% in strength. It may have gone on longer, but the study stopped at this point.
Read the above paragraph again if you only skimmed it. This was what solidified my thinking. Ok, see if you can follow me here. Group 2 trained more intensely as the negative portion of a lift has proven to be the more stressful to the body, and they included the negative portion of the lift. This greater intensity lead to a greater initial decrease in strength, followed by greater and more prolonged gains. This backs up the theory behind Arthur Jones' teachings of brief/high intensity exercise. The higher the intensity of training, the greater the stimulus, and thus the greater the potential gains assuming one allows sufficient rest for recovery to occur. Now, as previously stated, it has been shown that contractile, energy, and hormonal recovery occurs within 72 hours in most cases. This means that the increased gains in strength by group 2 after 3 weeks were due to something else, nervous system recovery. Nervous system recovery, therefore, can take much longer to occur. Nervous system recovery time varies with intensity. Thus, the greater the intensity of the training session, the greater the amount of time that will be required for nervous recovery. This presents a problem in my opinion. Muscular strength is primarily due to 2 factors, neural efficiency and the size of the contractile fibers. Remember earlier in this post when I mentioned that contractile recovery usually occurs within 48 hours? So, your muscles are recovered in 48 hours, but your nervous system may not be optimally recovered for 3 weeks. How does one get around this problem?
In the past, I tried to get around the problem by waiting for neural recovery (unknowingly). Hence my 17-20 day periods between sessions for body parts (i.e., I had noted the same results as those in the study mentioned in my own training---I just hadn't put a name to it). As a side note, I want to reiterate that I feel that this problem being discussed becomes more pronounced as a trainee progresses towards their individual genetic potential. You may be thinking that you have made great gains by training a body part once, even twice per week. Well, you may have, but you were not optimizing your training. Group 2 made a 20% gain in strength after only 3 days of rest. Obviously, all recovery factors had occurred except for optimal neural recovery. So, one can gain without allowing for optimal neural recovery, but not optimally . Again, what do you do? Do you periodize your training? Well, that helps to a certain extent as sub-failure/lower percentage load training will not result in as much recovery time needed for the nervous system, so during phases of training, which are not geared towards maximum strength, a greater degree of relative neural recovery can occur. Traditional periodization will still not address the issue of optimizing your training because in maximum strength phases the nervous element is not being optimized as proper recovery time will not be allowed. Do you just train to failure with low sets and wait 2 weeks or more between sessions (as I did)? Again, no. During the extended rest period, the contractile portion of the strength equation will not be optimized. If the initial hypertrophy that training has stimulated does occur, then it will certainly start to regress before the nervous system has had a chance to fully recover. Remember, studies have shown that contractile recovery usually occurs within 48 hours. Let us stretch this out and say that it might take double that in an advanced trainee training with high intensity. Once the contractile fibers have grown, they will not stay large unless stimulated to do so. In the 2-3 week plus recovery period for the nervous system, if the lifter rests, the contractile fibers will very likely begin to atrophy and return to prior levels. It is important to note that the lifter may still be stronger in his next session due to neural factors, but he will not be as strong as he could have if he had maintained his contractile hypertrophy and realized the neural gains.
So, what is my solution to all of this? What I have decided to do, as a self-experiment, is to mix sub-maximal training days in between my standard sessions. In other words, by doing so, I hope to cause my body to maintain the contractile hypertrophy caused by my standard sessions (2-4 sets per body part taken to failure), and yet still allow my nervous system full recovery. I will utilize a version of the "active rest" theory. These sub-maximal sessions will be performed with weights in the 70-80% range of my loads used during my sessions to failure. I will perform 4-6 reps and theses sets will not be taken to anywhere near failure.
In theory, these sessions will not serve as great stressors to the nervous system (thus minimally impeding nervous system recovery), but they will provide sufficient stimulus to the contractile fibers to maintain any growth caused by my last intense session. If this works, it will be a superior method to both H.I.T and periodization training relative to size and strength produced. We shall see.....
Didn't I tell you this 10 months ago?
Sounds like you're essentially going to try a version of the "short-term wave periodization" I wrote about in my article.
I think you'll see good results from training that way. Good luck.
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good luck chris. Make sure to keep us well updated in your journal.
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****... you people put so much thought into ur routines, the bodypart that will need the most recovery time is the brain.
Cant i just lift and get it over with?
just lift 3 times per day 7 days per week and don't eat anything
...watch me reap of what I sow....
and BOOM goes the dynomite!
That is a very interesting theory and I am very curious to see how it works for you, you should definetly keep us posted in your journal.
Powerman- Haven't had a chance to read your article yet but I will check it out ASAP.
I take it you're just exercising your rapier wit. If this is a serious question, Chris is saying you can make gains by lifting without regard to neural recovery. Chris is a very advanced lifter nearing his natural genetic potential. If Chris chooses to lift without regard to neural and muscular recovery he will probably not achieve that last nth of size and strength. Lift away.Originally posted by Reinier
Cant i just lift and get it over with?
I think what Chris is saying is that he wants to decrease intensity to keep hypertrophy from regressing. Basically keeping his muscles "awake" with very low intensity training one week and then going back to high intensity the next week. This is only an example being that he will customize his own training scedule. But you get the idea. This will keeping the muscles from regressing while keeping the nervous system from getting burned out. Basically trying to get the best of both worlds. It's something I've never heard of and in theory makes sense.
My brain hurts now.
Sometimes I think there is too much thought put into training... but we need people to think for the rest of us. It makes it better for everybody else. Let us know what's up....
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Excellent post chris! Sets one to thinking!
How bout some pics?
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Great post Chris, some good thoughts there, good luck.
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This is sorta what I am trying to implement. But I was wondering about something. You state strength is up 20% after 3 days and then ~30% after 3 weeks. Well if I worked out every 3 days wouldn't I have a greater strength increase after three weeks than 30% considering I had all the periods of 20% increase?
I just wanted to have that considered although as I said I currently employ something close to what you are considering trying.
Yeah I can see where chris is coming from. The only thing that confuses me is his last paragraph. I dont understand how to incorporate all of the information that he just presented.
"So, what is my solution to all of this? What I have decided to do, as a self-experiment, is to mix sub-maximal training days in between my standard sessions. In other words, by doing so, I hope to cause my body to maintain the contractile hypertrophy caused by my standard sessions (2-4 sets per body part taken to failure), and yet still allow my nervous system full recovery. I will utilize a version of the "active rest" theory. These sub-maximal sessions will be performed with weights in the 70-80% range of my loads used during my sessions to failure. I will perform 4-6 reps and theses sets will not be taken to anywhere near failure.
In theory, these sessions will not serve as great stressors to the nervous system (thus minimally impeding nervous system recovery), but they will provide sufficient stimulus to the contractile fibers to maintain any growth caused by my last intense session. If this works, it will be a superior method to both H.I.T and periodization training relative to size and strength produced. We shall see....."
How would I go about following these recommendations?..
I have a thread about a 14-day split.. is this a good idea or no?
Last edited by MonStar1023; 02-09-2002 at 02:41 PM.
Wow! Great post Chris. Once every 17 days??? Can you throw up a pic or two, I can't believe that you can still grow with that much rest. And as to what Aeckhardt said, 20% in 3 days is far better than 30% in 3 weeks, so why bother with all the time off?
hmm... im still skeptical on this... if a group of ppl gained as much as 20% in strength inless than a month (20% is a lot!), then wouldn't these testing subjects be experiencing "beginner gains"? was there anything on how much lifting experience the subjects have, or any description of hypertrophy of muscles (i'm interested in getting bigger too, not just stronger)?
"No one can completely believe that I am natural.
The most important drug is to train like a madman
-really like a madman
The people who accuse me are those who have never trained once in their life as I train every day of my life."
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lifted since march 2000
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For you people asking why every 3 days wouldn't work I'd have to guess you didn't read his entire post.
He said your nervous system needs time to recover so you lift light during this recovery time so you don't lose your conentric gains.
If you keep lifting heavy he believes it will not allow your nervous system to recover.
Excellent post Chris, I hope you make great gains.
Now as for your idea are you saying you think I could make good gains if I lifted really heavy one weak, like maybe every muscle group twice a week heavy and then light twice a week the next week that it would all my nervous system to recover so that I keep lift even heavier on the third week?
I'm willing to be a second guinea pig in this experiment as it sounds quite interesting to me.
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I am honestly still really confused as to how chris is saying hes going to incorporate 1 sub-maximal work set in between his all-out balls to the wall sessions...
Yeah, Chris - the study seems flawed. I don't see how strength could increase that much in 3 days or even a month, but more importantly, how were they able to constantly monitor strength increases without having them workout?
Try it and see. I have nothing better do do with my time, so I train. LOL I enjoy it, and would be bored if I trained that infrequently.
If I had a wife, a kid, a stressful job, or anything remotely responsible, I might consider cutting back a little.
It does make sense. I'll remember to try it in a year or two.
Ok children of the corn, let me clarify. First, the study showed that complete neural recovery takes longer than most people think, much longer. Second, I don't think this sort of training is for everyone, only the very advanced trainee who is approaching his natural limits. For most trainees, I think that training to failure with low volume is absolutely still the best way to go. There will come a point, assuming the trainee goes about his training in a intelligent and hard working fashion, that post-workout recovery gets to the point where muscular recovery and neural recovery get so far out of whack that something else must be tried in order to keep gaining (as I discussed in my post). Yes, if , and that is a big if, one could recoup make 20% gains in strength by training every 4th day, that percentage increase over 3 weeks would greatly exceed the 29% increase over the 3 week rest period by group 2 in the study. You see, if a trainee were to gain 20% in strength every 3rd day after a training session for any length of time, that trainee would be the WSM winner in no time. Unfortunately, as happens in every case, that doesn't happen. Part of the reason that doesn't happen is because as we progress in strength and relative development, recovery takes longer. The results of that study only point out one valid thing, that neural recovery takes a long time. The rest of the percentages etc. are just a snapshot of a short term experiment, nothing else.
The reason for my post was that this article gelled my thinking on the subject of recovery and training. The proof will lie in the pudding, so to speak, follow my journal and let's see where this thing goes. Sometimes the best ideas turn out to be miserable failures, of course, sometimes they turn out to be world changing breakthroughs, we shall see...