Basic Principles Behind My Updated Training Philosophy

Trouble was, this article, at over 7,000 words, was a bit too much heaven. So, in order to spare your gray matter (and we're not talking about your underwear) and keep our servers from blowing up, we've split this article into 4 parts.

This is part 3. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

– The Editors


Welcome back. Last time I went over the 2nd part of my training principles. Today it's time to chow down on the third course. Say grace and dig right in.

Principle #5: Ideal Training Frequency

Training frequency per body part is the "single-set vs. multiple sets" of this decade. In the late '70s and early '80s, the raging debate was between proponents of single-set training versus those who preferred the high volume approach.

It was Arthur Jones vs. the Weiders; Mentzer against Arnold. The debate was never truly settled because, in some regards, both camps were right. But at the same time, neither of them were the indisputable truth.

flexing

The fact is that both low and high volume training have their own pros and cons and can be used effectively given the right circumstances.

The same can be said about training frequency. Just like with the volume debate, the frequency fisticuffs continue. I can guarantee you that one camp will never get to break out into "We Are the Champions" for the simple reason that both absolutist sides are right... and wrong!

There's no such thing as a perfect training frequency per muscle group. Only optimal training frequency based on the other training variables, your lifestyle, and your recovery capacity. There are, however, some broad guidelines that can be used to select the optimal training frequency that you need to use:

This is why Olympic lifters can train on the competition lifts six days a week. Olympic lifters rarely perform more than five reps per set, and the eccentric portion is all but eliminated because the bar is dropped to the floor at the end of every lift. Low mechanical work plus no eccentric equals the capacity to train the lifts extremely often.

Then there's the aspect of exceeding your capacity to recover. You can be 100% convinced that super-high frequency training is the Holy Grail of muscle growth, but if you aren't allowing your body to recover, you simply won't progress! You must strike the perfect balance between stimulation and recovery to progress optimally.

So what frequency do I recommend? Again, it's an individual thing. It depends on training style and what's going on outside of the gym (i.e. that thing called "life"). But, assuming you're training according to my new principles, the optimal training frequency per muscle group is two sessions every five to seven days.

Those with a good recovery capacity or a stress-free life can aim for two sessions per muscle group every five to seven days. Individuals with an average recovery capacity or a more demanding life should shoot for two sessions every eight to ten days.

It isn't written in stone that every single muscle group has to be hit directly with this frequency. Indirect work (e.g. triceps getting some work when the chest is being trained) can also be factored in.

If you're to hit each body part twice every five days, or in other words, using a three-day cycle with one day off, a good split looks like this:

Day 1: Chest and back
Day 2: Lower body
Day 3: Arms and shoulders
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Repeat

Or if you're more of an upper/lower kind of guy:

Day 1: Lower body
Day 2: Upper body
Day 3: Trunk (abs and lower back)
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Repeat

These two options are for those with a great recovery capacity and little life stress (you must have both going for you).

If you have either a good recovery capacity or little stress then a six-day cycle will be a better option for you. You can go with any one of these three options:

Day 1: Chest and back
Day 2: Lower body
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Arms and shoulders
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Repeat

Day 1: Lower body
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Upper body
Day 4: Trunk (abs and lower back)
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Repeat

Day 1: Whole body
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Lower body
Day 4: Upper body
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Repeat

If you're average (or below) in your capacity to recover and/or your life is a mess, you should bump it up to a seven-day cycle. You then have these options:

Day 1: Chest and back
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Lower body
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Arms and shoulders
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Repeat

Day 1: Lower body
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Upper body
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Trunk (abs and lower back)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Repeat

Day 1: Whole body
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Lower body
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Upper body
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Repeat

Day 1: Whole body
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Whole body
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Whole body
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Repeat

Day 1: Pushing muscles (chest/shoulders/triceps)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Lower body
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Pulling muscles (back/biceps/forearms)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Repeat

Obviously, you might need to experiment to find the right approach for you. It's also possible that as your recovery capacity improves, you might be able to increase the training frequency.

In regard to two-a-days, what's been said still applies. When you're doing two sessions a day, you should be training the same muscle group(s) during both sessions, so you aren't increasing the frequency of training days per muscle. You're simply splitting up the amount of work into two micro-sessions instead of a single macro-session.

weight lifting

Principle #6: The Proper Rest Intervals are Goal Dependent

The amount of rest between sets is an often-neglected variable. I'm not the kind of guy who's super anal about this. If you take 65 seconds instead of 60, I won't have a heart attack! But, having some kind of guideline to use keeps you in line for the proper training effect.

The amount of time you rest between sets will affect several factors that are important in the adaptations brought on by your training. The length of the rest period:

1) Rest periods for strength: If your main goal is strength, the length of the rest intervals should be long enough to allow the nervous system to recover almost completely, but not so long that you lose what's called the post-tetanic potentiation (PTP) effect. The PTP effect refers to the phenomenon by which your contraction strength potential will be increased for up to five minutes after a heavy set because of a greater neural activation.

The peak effect (greater potentiation) occurs around two to three minutes after a near-maximal contraction. The effect then gradually loses its effect so that it's gone by around the fifth minute. So when training for strength, you should rest around three minutes between sets of the same exercise.

You'll still have the full potentiation effect with less rest, but you'll also have some neural and/or muscular fatigue which will counter the PTP effect. When you're doing a proper strength session, you should actually become stronger with every set of an exercise (until cumulative fatigue sets in after four or five sets).

Note that I mentioned three minutes between sets of the same exercise. If you alternate two exercises for opposing muscle groups, you can have less time between sets, provided that you still have the three minutes between sets of the same movement. For example, if you alternate the bench press and weighted pull-ups, you might do as follow:

A1) Bench press

A2) Weighted pull-ups

Which would look like this:

First set of bench press
Rest 90 seconds

First set of pull-ups
Rest 90 seconds

Second set of bench press
Rest 90 seconds

Second set of pull-ups
Rest 90 seconds

And so on and so forth.

So while the rest between sets is actually 90 seconds, you have around three to four minutes of rest before hitting the same muscles again.

By the way, the above alternating of two opposing muscle groups or movements is the best way to train for strength. And not just because I said so:

2) Rest periods for size: When using the big compound movements for building size, we want to use rest intervals that aren't that far off from what we would use in a strength protocol.

As mentioned earlier, when you're using compound movements you don't want to create excessive CNS fatigue, so you should rest long enough to allow for at least a near-maximal neural recovery between sets.

The goal of the compound movement when training for size is not to burn, destroy, or annihilate the muscle, but to progressively use more weight in the proper size-stimulating zone (6 to 8 and 8 to 12 rep ranges). So when using compound movements for size, you want to take around two minutes between sets of the same exercise.

For the isolation work you perform, fatigue, especially cumulative muscle fiber fatigue, is the main goal. So rest intervals should be shorter. Not so short that your strength drops off too much from set to set, but you should try to gradually take less rest over time.

When training for size, a strength drop-off of 5% per set of isolation work is acceptable, and a total drop-off from the first to last set of 20% is a good target. In other words, shoot for a reduction in performance of 20% between your first and last set of an isolation movement. This reduction can either come from reps or load.

For example, if on the first set you perform 12 reps with 140 pounds, a 20% reduction could mean:

Doing 9 reps with 140 pounds on the last set

Or...

Doing 12 reps with 110 pounds on that last set

If you can't achieve a 20% drop-off in four sets of isolation work, it means that you're either not training hard enough or that you're taking too much time between sets.

For isolation work when training for size, the rest intervals should be anywhere from 30 to 75 seconds.

3) Rest periods for fat loss: When training for fat loss, you should always shoot for incomplete recovery, meaning that you must accumulate an oxygen debt from set to set. Your breathing should stay hard and heavy for the whole workout. If you can talk normally during a fat-loss workout, you aren't training properly! So the rest intervals should be shorter, even with compound movements.

How short? Well, again, this depends on your level of conditioning and work capacity. Since the goal is incomplete recovery, get back to work before your breathing normalizes!

During a fat-loss program, you should feel out of breath and almost nauseous during the whole workout (the nausea is mainly due to the increase in lactate/lactic acid production).

You should rest anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds between your sets with a tendency toward gradually reducing the amount of rest you take.

workout


This isn't the end of the line. There are still principles to cover. Part 4 of Thib's opus magnum will explore progression and now often to change your program.