March 9, 2014

Get More Results By Training More Without Overtraining (Stubborn Bodypart Solutions)

You’re not alone

I’ve yet to meet someone who is completely satisfied with themselves when it comes to strength training. Everybody, yes EVERYBODY, I’ve ever met either wants to be bigger, or stronger, or faster, or leaner (AKA, better looking, as vain as it is, this is why most people put themselves through hell in the gym). And while this could be a very lengthy subject to cover each and every way to improve each of those specific goals, the topic of this article will simply be to shed some light on ways to develop a certain bodypart of your choosing, without having to go through a specialization phase, in which the continuous development of other bodyparts, or strength qualities, is put on hold (there aren’t many things I can think of that suck more than knowing time is going to pass by, and you won’t be getting better at everything).

What the hell’s going on over here?

The goal with training to accomplish ANY goal is to train as much as possible, without overworking your body’s capacity to recover. Training is the catalyst essentially, to which the body responds to by getting either bigger, stronger, faster, or leaner. Logically, it makes sense then that, the more you train, the better results you will get.

Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work like this, otherwise all anybody would need to do is devote more time to training, and naturally they would get more results. But, because of ‘the law of diminishing returns’, which states that, doing something beyond a certain point results in no further benefits, only so much training can be done while providing a positive response, regardless of how much time you put in.

You do NOT get bigger, stronger, faster, or leaner while you are training. Well, you may get a little bit bigger during the acute training period, as a result of the additional blood flow to the working muscles in order for them to get the oxygen needed to perform their job for a sustained period of time, but after the inflammation subsides, they go back to their original size (not what I would consider a permanent result). And yes, you can lose weight during a training session as well, but that’s typically a result of sweating, which the body responds to by holding onto more water the next chance it gets (also not what I would consider a permanent result).

I don’t have time for this shit

Depending on the severity of the damage to the muscles during a training session, it takes anywhere between 48-166 ½ hours (2 days, to a week minus an hour and a half for the workout) for the muscles to recover and it be beneficial to train them again. On average, most people will train a bodypart either once or twice a week (with a 72 hour gap in between). Those training for strength may train a movement pattern 3-4 times a week, while those performing lifts with little to no eccentric component (like the Olympic lift variations) can get away with training several times a day, and the ones who actually do train that frequently do so because it’s their job!

This means for the average person who wants to get bigger and/or look better (to most this means leaner), a bodypart will receive 52-104 training sessions over the course of a year, assuming no workouts are missed, and training is not postponed during vacations, or for any other social obligations. To many, this would be considered a best case scenario, and as many can attest to, we don’t live in a world of best case scenarios. Even if you could manage to get all your workouts in, there’s still 66-83% of the year in which each bodypart is left to rest.

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we... SHUT UP!!!!

Leaving 66-83% of the year to go by without being able to train a muscle can seem like a lifetime, especially given that a training session takes anywhere between 20-90 minutes. If you do the numbers, you’ll realize that, of the 1,440 minutes in a day, a training session only consists of roughly 1 to 6 ¼% (an hour would be just over 4%), of a day (I always tell that to people who say they don’t have time to train. If they can’t devote 1-6 ¼% of their day to health, to hell with em). Basically, for a 1 – 6 ¼% investment of time out of your day, you have to wait 96 ¾ - 99 ½ times longer before you can train that muscle again (and that’s BEST CASE scenario)! It should go without saying that it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to maximize your time, since you’re going to have to wait a great deal longer to take another shot at it (training that bodypart, that is).

Are you serious? There has to be a better way

Fortunately there are ways to fast track or speed things up a bit, and maximize your time, without overworking your body’s capacity to recover, and the best part is that they require no additional investment of time! Here are some of the most effective ways to further stimulate a specific muscle group without negatively affecting the outcome.

First things first, light weights should be used, stopping with at least a few reps left in the tank, for any of the techniques below that call for actual exercises to be performed. If you trained hard the last time you trained the bodypart that you want to devote more attention to, and are still sore, performing any of the exercises in a manner which promotes further breakdown (ex. training to failure, lifting heavy) of muscle tissue will only prolong recovery, not enhance it.

Staggered sets – one of the ways you can subject a muscle that is seemingly resistant to grow to more volume is to perform a set (8-10 reps) for the muscle you want to develop the most in between sets of the muscle you are scheduled to train that day. If you do this between every set, or just some sets, the volume adds up, and as long as you don’t overdo it, it should have a positive response.

Staggered sets can also be used to boost performance for the movements that you had scheduled to train during the workout. For example, if your rear delts are in need of some extra work, or your bench press is suffering (it’s a what came first, the chicken or the egg type of thing), you could perform a set for the rear delts in between your sets of bench presses. This does a few things which will improve your bench press performance while helping to bring up your rear delts.

First, it fatigues the antagonistic muscles to those used in the scheduled movement. This results in a greater level of net motor unit recruitment for the agonists. Basically the opposing muscle groups are less active, which means the targeted muscle groups will deal with less resistance when contracting, leading to a greater amount of force being produced.

Second, the additional blood flow to the same joint (in this case the shoulder joint) increases the amount of stability to the joint, which leads to a more favorable position to generate maximum force. The more pumped the region that the targeted muscle is in, the more outward pressure that will be exerted onto the surrounding tissues. This will also facilitate growth for the entire region, as the more pumped the muscles are (especially when it is stretched under load), the greater the enveloping fascia will be stretched.
Isometric holds (30-60 seconds) with bands are a good option if using staggered sets with the goal of concurrently boosting performance for the agonist, and development for the antagonist. Both isometric holds, and the use of bands, don’t require much energy, and therefore won’t take away from your scheduled set, and bands are extremely safe, and practical.

Staggered sets come with a disclaimer though, which is, the muscle you are scheduled to train should not overlap with the muscle you are staggering. For example, if you are trying to bring up your triceps, which are heavily involved in all pressing movements, and you are scheduled to train your chest, the amount of weight you will be able to press during your chest exercises will be negatively affected, and results for your chest will suffer. You may even end up unintentionally overworking your triceps, which is completely counterproductive. Other examples are training triceps the day before a scheduled chest workout, or training biceps the day before, or during a scheduled back workout.

If you set things up in a manner that prevents overlapping from occurring, then you do not need to make any changes to the rest of your routine.

Do over – redoing the same workout the next day is a great way to boost recovery and positively increase the amount of volume for the muscle group you want to develop for a few reasons.

First, low intensity concentric work doesn’t cause further muscle damage (caused from heavy eccentric work), and may improve recovery by providing somewhat of a ‘massaging’ effect (clearing out toxins, locally increasing metabolism and nutrient rich blood flow to the area).

Second, since you won’t be able to lift as much anyway, while the powerful fast twitch fibers are under repair, by performing roughly half as many sets, and roughly double the reps (performed rhythmically while trying to deemphasize the eccentric part of the rep), you can further exhaust the fatigue resistant slow twitch muscle fibers (which contribute more when the fast twitch fibers are under repair) which contribute to overall development.

Assuming you trained hard and heavy for your scheduled workout (ex. 3 exercises, 6 sets, 3-6 reps), an example of a do over workout would be to perform 2 sets of 10-15 reps, using constant tension, and performing slow repetitions, for all the exercises you did the day before as your warm-up, then start scheduled workout for the day.

Do ya get it?

If you haven’t noticed by now, the major underlying them for the first two methods is that you want to stimulate your muscles and increase blood flow with constant tension (using 60-70% or 1 rep max), not annihilate and destroy them with heavy lifting.

Constant tension is not limited to lifting weights, or performing actual exercises though. Flexing the targeted muscle for 30-45 seconds after a set is one way to maximize and prolong the time under tension, while limiting damage. If you really want to get crazy you could pick a few different exercises, and flex the targeted muscle between sets.

For example, perform a set for one exercise, flex for 30-45 seconds and then rest a minute, perform a set for a different exercise, flex for 30-45 seconds and then rest a minute, perform a set for another different exercise, flex for 30-45 seconds and then rest a minute before repeating that cycle a few times. The goal is to select exercises that recruit different compartments of the same muscle, so that as much of the muscle is trained as possible. This method can be used by itself, as a form of staggering in which you would perform it before your scheduled workout as long as it doesn’t overlap, or after if it does, or as a do over the day after a more demanding workout.

Isometric contractions in which you either try to move an immovable object (ex. pressing a bar into the pins in a power rack), or prevent a weight from being lowered, can be used in replacement of flexing. Remember, the purpose of flexing is simply to generate constant tension without negatively affecting subsequent performance, and you can be creative and come up with your own ways to do that, as long as it’s not too physically demanding. Flexing is used simply because it’s the most practical in that you don’t need any equipment to do so, and it enhances the mind-muscle connection (the ability to voluntarily recruit a muscle at will), which can enhance subsequent performance.

Don’t worry, be happy

I once read a quote by Lee Priest that went something like, ‘the day I’m satisfied, is the day I quit’. With a mindset like that, it’s not likely that one will ever be happy, because as one goal is accomplished, another one is set, and life becomes a never ending vicious cycle of constant, and never ending improvement. Is that really such a bad thing though? Personally, I think the answer is multifaceted in that, on one hand, a mindset like that will put you in position to accomplish a lot, but on the other hand, you may never truly enjoy what you’ve already accomplished.

A huge percentage of people who workout would love to either make a certain bodypart bigger, more developed, or simply look better (in their own eyes), and they want it to happen yesterday. In a perfect world our results would be a reflection of the time and effort we put in, but it just doesn’t work that way. Aside from knowledge (what to do? when to do? how to do?) being a limiting factor, time is the one variable which is completely out of our control, but yet plays possibly the largest part. When things aren’t happening as quickly as we’d like, the mentality is to just do more. Because of the law of diminishing returns, doing more doesn’t always equate to getting more, and can even be counterproductive.

Knowing how to maximize your time, so that you can train as much as humanly possible, without crossing the line, will take you leaps and bounds further than just busting your ass day in, day out, not knowing why you’re not seeing the changes you want. Hopefully the time comes sooner than later, and unlike Lee Priest, you can be satisfied!

If you have any questions about how you can improve a stubborn bodypart without having to neglect everything else, feel free to contact me at I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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