Sometimes less is more - control your training volume
If you're reading this, chances are you're a fellow gym addict. We pump and hoist loads and contract judiciously in an attempt to sculpt the physique and better our strength. The initial return on our efforts is addictive and it seems the more we do the better we fare, until that first plateau. When we become too pooped to pump it's commonplace for the gym rat to address fatigue with a stronger stimulant or external drive our lifts through the headphones.
The pushing beyond the optimal begins to necessitate wraps, straps, belts, heating rubs, NSAIDS and more (just how much do you need to see your chiro/physio/ RMT, etc. ? - frequency becomes a telltale sign).
Driven by our initial results and cognizant of the volume used by champs (despite our lack of shared genes and pharmaceutical support), we carry on, often to see results going the other way.
Many of our gurus have have warned of the perils of excessive volume. Vince Gironda called it overtonis (when the muscles went flat and the CNS not firing as it should), and Charles Poliquin would go so far as to schedule every 3rd week of the month at 60% volume.
Recently a study of 40 athletic females with 3+ years lifting experience documented the simple fact that you can train hard or you can train long but no one sprints for a mile. And inevitably the harder trainer showed the greater results. Much akin to comparing the sprinter to the marathoner.
The scientists had the girls change the set/rep scheme weekly so that each month read as follows: Week 1: 12-15 reps, 30-60 seconds rest between sets Week 2: 4-6 reps, 3-4 minutes rest between sets Week 3: 10-12 reps, 1-2 minutes rest between sets Week 4: 6-8 reps, 2-3 minutes rest between sets This was repeated six times - or for 6 months if you will.
Group A did 5 sets/ workout Group B did 10 sets/ workout Group C did 15 sets/ workout, and finally Group D did 20 sets/ workout They trained 3x/ week on compound basics- a push day, a pull day and a leg day. (Note: Fitness expert Paul Carter covers this in greater depth at )
For those really wanting to dig into the bones of the study, here is the reference: Barbalho M, Coswig VS, Steele J Fisher JP, Paoli A, Gentil P. "Evidence for an Upper Threshold for Resistance Training Volume in Trained Women." Med Sci Sports Exer 2019 Mar;51(3):515-522.
All groups significantly increased in all muscle thickness measurements and 10-rep max tests at the end of the 24 weeks BUT The 5 and 10 set groups showed significantly greater increases than the 15 and 20 set groups AND muscle thickness increased more in the 5-set group than the 10 set group (which had surpassed the 15 and 20 set groups).
The only discrepancy in trend was the 10-set group showed higher increases in quadriceps muscle thickness than the 5-set group (not a surprise in my mind as lower body tends to be more volume tolerant than upper).
The take home to me is quite simply, "When training hard,it's all about recuperation". The genetically gifted, those that use steroids or other supports and those that have the luxury of being sponsored have an edge such that they can train more frequently with greater volume. For those of us mid-lifers working long hours and tied to spouse, kids and more, please remember the study group was 24 year old women who had 3 years lifting experience . .youth and a typically simpler life was on their side. We'd likely be pressed to keep up with them (traditionally I have found female trainees more adept at handling volume as well).
So what are things to enhance our recuperation that make the workouts stronger and the outcomes more satisfying ?
Here's my tip of the iceberg list:
  • Supplements to aid digestion including HCL and other enzymes, Probiotics, fiber, prebiotics.
  • Food that is more digestible to us from ancestral eating to easy to breakdown choices (think sushi, sashimi, tartar, high quality eggs in the shake).
  • Supplements that aid sleep depth/quality like Magnesium, Melatonin and herbs like skullcap and valerian.
  • Practises that enhance sleep quality from a dark room, a cool room, the absence of EMF fields or blue light to early to bed/ early to rise routines.
  • Adequate hydration (the solution to our pollution is dilution . .right ?).
  • Manual therapies such as Osteo, chiro, physio, RMT and acupuncture.
  • Mindful practises such as gratitude journals, meditation, keeping singularly focused in the moment, planned fun and giving of oneself to family, animals, charity. You get it?
  • So train HARD . .really HARD but not too long and not too often. Get your head out of the gym on days off and practise much of the gems above. Bet those gains come roaring back.

Who loves ya ? "Coach Mike"

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