No Days Off and Not Much To Show For It
When we don't like how we look, improving becomes an emotional issue. And those emotions often drive lifters to take no days off from training.
We've all seen something similar with those who crash diet because they don't like their extra weight. But the same goes for someone skinny. They want muscle NOW, and their impatience may lead to poor decisions like working out every day of the week. While that might feel hardcore at the moment, it'll backfire. Because the truth is, there's no scenario in which weight training every day will be optimal for you.
If you've been lifting consistently (and properly) yet display no muscle mass, you're likely on the low-end of the curve when it comes to a genetic training response. It happens, but your reaction to it may derail your muscle-building results.
Here's what's happening.
You might think of them as hardgainers. They're on the low-end of the response curve and have low strength-training tolerance.
They repair muscle damage a lot slower. This is mostly due to their ACTN3 genotype (ACTN3 XX) and a lower level of anabolic hormones (testosterone, estrogen, growth hormone, IGF-1, insulin) compared to their catabolic hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, glucagon).
If anything, these people need more days off during the week to allow their bodies to recover. They also need a higher caloric and protein intake relative to their body weight compared to more genetically gifted individuals.
Very few people can effectively train seven days a week, not long term at least. It's possible for the "anabolically gifted" and steroid users to do it for a short period of time. But even for them, it requires a period of greatly diminished training to recover and re-sensitize their muscles to the stimulus.
That's the problem. Your muscles do become resistant to the training stimulus if that stimulus is present too frequently and goes on for too long. Specifically, the mTOR activation in response to training – which is largely responsible for the increase in protein synthesis following the workout – greatly decreases the more you train. This makes you respond less and less to your workouts.
Luckily, you can regain your initial response in one or two weeks if you reduce your training volume and intensity enough. Hence the need for periodization.
By training every day, you're more likely to speed up that desensitization and stop gaining faster. And for a hardgainer, it's even more of a problem. They tend to be of the ACTN3 XX genotype. One characteristic of that type is a lower mTOR response to training to start with. So the last thing they'd want to do is decrease that response even more with daily lifting.
Let's move away from science and look at the real world. Consider every successful bodybuilder, strongman athlete, or powerlifter. Heck, you can even include other athletes like American football players and throwers.
None of them lift seven days a week. Pretty much none of them lift six days a week. Some will lift five days a week, and many of them will weight-train four days a week.
"Yeah, but most of them are on steroids!"
Probably. But what do steroids do? They increase protein synthesis and glycogen replenishment (among other things), allowing the user to recover faster. This means they can train more frequently than natural lifters and get results.
So if these highly anabolic athletes – who are recovering at a rapid pace – only do four workouts per week, what business do you have doing seven?
You can use more volume and effort per workout. If you're a hardgainer, you'll need a stronger stimulus to get an adequate anabolic response.
And because of your inferior recovery capacity, you actually need more rest days. So try the one-day-on and one-day-off approach. Train brutally hard, but rest the next day. I'm personally biased toward a whole-body approach three times per week plus one gap workout.
So for three workouts, hit the whole body mostly with multi-joint exercises. Then do a fourth session that's an easier workout focused on single-joint exercises for the muscles you want to emphasize or that didn't seem properly stimulated by your three main sessions.
Change your perspective on off days. Think of them as "growth days" and it'll prevent you from messing up your recovery with excess workouts.