The Question

In-the-trenches experience often beats research to the punch. What training or nutrition theories do you have that haven't been proven yet?

Nick Tumminello – Strength Coach and Author

I have two:

1. People who train two to three times per week don't need to ever take a regularly scheduled "deload" or "rest week" every few months if they prefer not to.

Even if they're training hard they're resting more than half of the week. Even if they're doing less intense recreational activity on "off days" they're still getting plenty of recovery time as it is. The only hindrance to their recovery would be poor nutrition or sleep habits. But taking a regularly scheduled deload or rest week is unlikely to change that.

2. Female figure competitors and male bodybuilders respond well to high-volume power-endurance complexes that are usually used to condition athletes to go the distance.

You can't spot reduce with exercise, but you can spot enhance. And every figure or fitness competitor I've trained has said the high-volume phase where we did leg complexes like these "brought out" their legs better than any other training protocol.

For the male bodybuilding competitors, it's was the high-volume upper-body complexes, mainly the push-up complexes like the one at the end of this article that they said brought out their chest and shoulders better than any training protocol.

We know that high-volume training works for hypertrophy. However, these complexes are unique since they're not only very high volume, they also involve explosive exercises like a plyo push-up or a squat jump.

How high is the volume? Like 70-80 reps per set of a few different exercises done back-to-back for the same muscle group. But think about it: Explosive training using momentum is usually not what's recommend for physique purposes because it doesn't keep constant mechanical tension on the working muscles.

Maybe it's just the new challenge to the body, and the fact that they tend to perform the reps fast since the complexes use light loads that gives them a crazy pump.

All I know is that these types of complexes were the most requested by both male and female competitors to use in the final 4-8 week training phase leading up to them getting on stage. – Nick Tumminello

Bodybuilder Food

Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO

Eat a little more on your off days... or just as much as you do on training days.

"Eat for what you're about to do," the old nutrition adage goes. Here's a related one: "Eat fewer carbs on your days off from the gym because you're not spending as much energy and you don't need that extra fuel for training."

Well, I suspect this isn't true for hard-lifting athletes and bodybuilders. I began to suspect this by simply being what I call "body aware." That just means being really tuned in to your body and the messages it's sending you.

The message my body sends me on my first off day after four straight days of training is, "Hey, you could really use a big-ass, carby bowl of oatmeal."

That goes against the rules we've always gone by... but does it really?

Eat for what you're about to do? Well, if you're consistently training hard, then what you're "about to do" on off days is recover and grow. And your body needs fuel for that. Yes, even carbs.

So while it hasn't been proven yet, I think the idea of eating less on off days will go the way of Swiss ball squats in the future.

A couple of caveats:

  • If you're in a fat loss stage, then yeah, you're going to be a little hungry. But don't lower your calories even further on off days just because you're not training.
  • Don't use this as an excuse to eat like a fat kid at grandma's house. Eating more (or just as much) on off days doesn't mean to bathe in soft serve ice cream. It just means to listen to your body and give it what it needs to recover. – Chris Shugart
Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

For intermediate and advanced lifters, changing the loading from set to set works better for getting stronger than doing all of your work sets with the same weight and reps.

I'll give you three examples:

Waves

A wave normally has three sets and most of the time you do two waves in a workout. The first wave is more conservative, around an 8/10 on the RPE scale (leaving 1-2 reps in the tank) and the second wave is all-out or close to it.

Within a wave, the reps and load also change. From set to set the reps decrease and the load increases. For example:

Wave 1

  • Work Set 1: 3 reps at 200 pounds
  • Work Set 2: 2 reps at 210 pounds
  • Work Set 3: 1 rep at 220 pounds

Wave 2

  • Work Set 4: 3 reps at 210 pounds
  • Work Set 5: 2 reps at 220 pounds
  • Work Set 6: 1 rep at 230 pounds

My three favorite wave loading schemes are 3/2/1 waves, 5/3/1 waves, and 6/4/2 waves.

Low Rep Pyramid

For strength, this is one of my favorites. It's the cornerstone of my Built for Bad and Built for Battle programs. You perform 4-6 work sets. With each set you decrease the reps and increase the load.

For example:

  • Work Set 1: 5 reps at 200 pounds
  • Work Set 2: 4 reps at 210 pounds
  • Work Set 3: 3 reps at 220 pounds
  • Work Set 4: 2 reps at 230 pounds
  • Work Set 5: 1 rep at 240 pounds

Double Pyramid

I recently started using this one with the international level athletes I'm training and have seen great results. I like the approach over waves when the goal is to build size and strength (waves being superior for strength).

This is very similar to waves in that you have two groups of three sets which changing weights and reps. The first group is like a wave: the weight goes up and the reps go down. But the second group does the opposite.

It looks like this:

  • Work Set 1: 6 reps at 160 pounds
  • Work Set 2: 4 reps at 180 pounds
  • Work Set 3: 2 reps at 200 pounds
  • Work Set 4: 2 reps at 210 pounds
  • Work Set 5: 4 reps at 190 pounds
  • Work Set 6: 6 reps at 170 pounds

Similar to waves, the second group should be a bit heavier.

My favorite double pyramids are:

  • For maximum muscle: 10-8-6-6-8-10
  • For strength and size: 8-6-4-4-6-8 and 6-4-2-2-4-6
  • For maximum strength: 5-3-1-1-3-5 and 3-2-1-1-2-3

Why does it work? I could try to convince you using the post-tetanic potentiation argument: When you must produce near maximal force (or maximal) you excite your nervous system, increasing your potential to produce force even more. You get stronger from set to set provided that you didn't create too much fatigue.

Problem is, this isn't limited to the schemes mentioned above. And if I do 5 straight sets of 3 reps, I'll pretty much get the same potentiation effect as any wave, pyramid, or double pyramid.

Sure, physiologically and neurologically there's likely no real difference between straight sets, waves, pyramids, and double pyramids.

But the biggest benefit of the uneven loading schemes is that they're more exciting, motivating, and satisfying. Using a different load from set to set and hitting a different amount of reps is less boring than doing the same work for 3-6 sets in a row.

Granted, it's not like that for everybody. Some like it when things are repetitive and simple. But the majority of the people I've worked with have had better results with "uneven" loading schemes. – Christian Thibaudeau

Abs

Dr. Jade Teta – Integrative Physician, Naturopath, Coach

Cycling the diet may work better than continuous calorie restriction.

Back in 2002, I was finishing up medical school and I had a thriving book of personal training clients. I was delving into the research on weight loss... and it was dismal. Ninety-five percent failure rates. Sixty-six percent get fatter. This was before we had even more compelling and visible examples like the Biggest Loser study.

I started paying much more attention to cycling the diet – intermittently cutting calories for a short period of time and then giving a period of time off from the calorie deficit. It worked really well. Not perfectly, but better than anything else I had seen. Over time I refined things a little more and instituted essentially five different metabolic toggles to pull:

  1. Pulling on both food and exercise... eat less, exercise more (ELEM): the dieter model.
  2. Pulling on both food and exercise in the opposite direction (EMEL): the couch potato model.
  3. Using food alone to create a calorie deficit... eat less, exercise less (ELEL): the hunter gatherer model.
  4. Using exercise to drive the calorie deficit... eat more, exercise more (EMEM): the athlete model.
  5. An isocaloric state. Eat some, exercise some.

Today we know that the metabolism is NOT a static, linear, predictable system that responds to energy in a simple calculator model. Rather, it's adaptive and reactive and adjusts and constrains its energy use based on the intensity of the calorie gap.

So I think using a cyclical approach will be proven to work better than continuous calorie restriction. We're already beginning to see studies like the MATADOR study proving some aspects of this. – Dr. Jade Teta

Foam Rolling

Gareth Sapstead – Coach, Author, Educator

Take a more relaxing, "zen" approach with foam rollers.

Spending the first or last 20 minutes of a workout humping a foam roller isn't a great use of time, but a quick five minutes should be enough to get the job done. The odd n=10 study might not agree, but numerous coaches with thousands of hours of in-the-trenches experience will.

When used at the start, it gives you a buffer between your car and the gym floor. Foam rolling gives you a few minutes opportunity to plan and set your workout objectives. You're in a much better state of mind and you'll have a more productive lifting session as a result.

When used at the end of a workout, it stops you from taking that wired-up "beast mode" feeling home with you. Having just a few minutes to flip the switch to a more parasympathetic state will help you combat the rest of the day with a better mindset. For those who are always on edge, it'll work wonders.

Now, we don't know much about foam rolling as far as research is concerned. But we do know that any effects are probably related to the stimulation of certain receptors within muscle and/or fascia. Because of how these receptors work, foam rolling shouldn't hurt!

The "no pain, no gain" approach will most likely overstimulate the nervous system, leaving you more sensitive and tight. There's a fine line between gentle rocking, and assault by foam roller. – Gareth Sapstead

Press

Andrew Coates – Strength Coach, Podcast Host

We don't NEED rest days.

We need rest. It's as important as training. We just don't need a whole day of it where we don't do anything physical. How fragile and incapable are we to need an entire day without anything strenuous? Tell that to a farmer.

Resistance training every day is safe and effective. You can train every day if you're getting the 7-9 hours of sleep every night you need. Not many people do this. You also need to meet your protein and calorie needs each day.

No, seven days a week isn't for recreational lifters; it's for the serious lifters who want to squeeze every drop out of their training. We're told we must rest one day a week. Where exactly did this come from? It's dogma handed down. If you can't handle one tough physical hour each day then there's something wrong, though it does take some time to build up and adapt to that.

Of course, to say that everyone needs to train seven days a week is also foolishness. Most can't make the time for it, nor do they have all the required recovery strategies lined up.

But if you want to make it happen, just make sure you're resting muscle groups and joints appropriately, rotating workouts, taking deloads, and doing light training days when your body needs it.

Training each day eats up more time, time many don't have. Many struggle to go three or four days a week. We're talking about a special breed of dedicated lifters who want to be in the gym every day. It's going to benefit the prepared, the driven, and the advanced.

If you enjoy training every day, you can while achieving great results. If recovery strategies are in place, as they should be with every serious lifter, we aren't at any increased risk of injury, fatigue, or diminished results.

This isn't about the greatest efficiency. It's about channeling all your resources into brute force training and recovery. String together weeks or months of no missed days and see big progress.

Sometimes it's more about planning workouts every day knowing life and social commitments will interfere with some of those workouts. If you plan four workouts a week and always lose one, expect progress on three workouts. Plan for seven and average six and you're still ahead of everyone and seeing real physique progress.

You don't need to take that day off. If you feel like training, go hit the gym hard. – Andrew Coates

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