What if I told you that by improving your exercise program, you could dramatically improve your recovery and results?
In part one of this Train Hard, Recover Harder series, I explained that exercise is one of many stressors your body has to contend with, and that stress management is the key strategy to increasing your ability to train hard and recover harder .
Most of us consider stress management to be the way to deal with our grumpy boss, sloppy kids, an empty bank account, or other everyday worries. While using strategies to manage this type of stress is beneficial, I will focus on managing your exercise stress.
By focusing your attention on the input (training stress), you can increase the output (recovery and adaptation). Unfortunately, most of the people who asked me for tips on how to improve recovery have brought things backwards.
You are desperately trying to restore poorly designed junk volume exercise programs.
This thinking is like closing the stable door after the horse is locked. It is too late.
The principles of designing exercise programs
I believe in the importance of programming to meet your fitness goals. Your progress can go from good to great if you properly understand the basic principles of programming.
I’ve seen this in my training and with countless customers as I’ve refined my approach to programming.
I’ve learned programming principles that I really believe will take your training to the next level during this time.
By focusing on delivering efficient exercise stress, you make recovery easier. A good recovery starts with great programming.
Intelligent program design = fatigue management
But first let me explain how you, and so many others, including my younger, dumber self, put yourself in a position where our training turns recovery into an uphill battle.
A workout based on FOMO
Many motivated, disciplined and hard training gym rats fall victim to training based on the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).
This FOMO means that we try to include every conceivable exercise in our program without considering the toll that will be put on our recovery. The days off at the gym are getting shorter and shorter as we worry that a day of no workout is a day of no progress.
Social media plays a major role in this.
In the past, you’ve only seen other people’s elevators who happened to be in the gym for 60 to 90 minutes like you. We are now seeing a highlight role of people’s PRs on social media. Instagram is full of hundreds of weird, wacky, Frankenstein exercises as people vie for attention.
As a result, we can compare everything we do in the gym to millions of others.
- You see one of your favorite athletes doing an exercise.
- You see another athlete doing a different variation.
- You see a successful trainer extolling the virtues of another exercise.
- You see a celebrity influencer doing another.
- Before considering the exercises you liked in the last article you read or in a seminar you attended.
You feel compelled to include all of these exercises in your FOMO program to take advantage of each exercise. All of these exercises could have value in their own right.
But if they are randomly stacked on top of each other, they will become smaller than the sum of their parts.
Some are useful and some are redundant, while others just don’t suit your needs.
What they have in common is that they all eat into your recovery reserves.
When you follow a program with such a bloated list of exercises, a huge recovery trench is dug that even the most advanced recovery protocols cannot fix.
The other consequence of social media is that #NoDaysOff B.S. We were led to believe that we all need to get up at 5 a.m. to meditate before we can tackle the grind and play the full #Beastmode in the gym and office.
Now I’m not knocking on hard work. It’s important, but the mindless attempt to push the limits 365 days a year is a recipe for burnout and failure.
You need to have some downtime for your body to recover and adjust.
Unfortunately, the rising mindset has led many fitness enthusiasts to follow exercise plans that require them to set up their home at the gym. Exercising seven days a week probably isn’t a good idea even if it’s your job, and let’s face it, nobody is paying you to exercise.
Instead of feeling guilty about not going to the gym a few days a week, realize that this is what you need. This mindset requires discipline.
If you’re like me, you enjoy the challenge of training. The gym is part of your routine and doesn’t require motivation or discipline. However, a day off requires some discipline.
This more is better approach ends up with exercising every day doing too many different exercises with many more sets than you need to.
Your workout is full of junk volumes.
I bet you’ve heard the saying, “You can’t overdo a bad diet?”
You have likely knowingly told a friend or coworker that they wanted to lose a few pounds and felt complacent and complacent while sharing your wisdom.
Have you ever thought about it::
- “Can’t restore a crappy junk volume exercise regimen?”
- “That this could be exactly what you were trying to do?”
- “Could this be the exact reason you haven’t made any noticeable progress in vivid memory?”
Most people encounter this situation by keeping them waiting and focusing on moving forward with their recovery. They invest in all kinds of recovery modalities but never seem to fix the problem. That’s because they have things backwards.
Instead of dealing with the symptoms of a poor recovery, they should target the root cause.
Train Smart to Maximize Recovery
Whatever your physical goals, you have to train to achieve them and you have to train hard. It would be helpful if you also prepared wisely.
In other words, smart training is hard training, but hard training is not necessarily intelligent.
Training to build muscle is tiring in nature. If you plan your workouts intelligently, you can manage this session-to-session fatigue to keep moving forward.
However, if you turn on full #Beastmode every time you enter the gym, workout to crush a muscle, and kill yourself halfway, the fatigue will build up very quickly – too quickly. Your body cannot recover and adapt. You dug a hole too deep.
The goal of your workout isn’t just to recover. It’s customizable!
Burying yourself in the gym might be the right thing to do. It may have a cathartic quality, but it will limit your results if you do it every time. Even with sleep, diet, and stress under control, there is only so much pressure you can do before you break up.
By shifting your recovery considerations to improving exercise dose optimization, you can improve them dramatically. This turnaround means better training, better recovery from training, less risk of injury, and better results.
To turn your thinking around and maximize your recovery, I want you to understand four basic principles in designing your exercise program.
These principles go a long way toward developing a program that offers the greatest potential for your high quality training stimulus and optimal recovery capacity:
- Your personal weekly training volume milestones
- Muscle-specific stimulus recovery fit curves
- The attraction: fatigue ratio of different exercises
- Relative intensity
Minimum Effect Volume (MEV) and Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV)
Dr. Mike Israetel is primarily responsible for popularizing the concepts of volume landmarks. There is a continuum from the minimum effective volume (MEV) to the maximum recoverable volume (MRV).
When you train harder, there is potential for further progress as long as you don’t exceed your ability to recover. Identifying your MRV is an important piece of information to know as you design your program.
Your MRV consists of two components::
- Your systemic MRV
- A body part specific MRV
For exampleFrom a systemic point of view, you can potentially do five hard workouts per week with 16 work sets per muscle group per week.
Note. That’s only an example; Please do not misunderstand it as an instruction to train five days a week with 16 weekly sets per body part.
Having a reasonable idea of your MRV is critical in developing a framework for building your week of training.
Maximize muscle stimulation
Body part specific MRVs can change dramatically. By dealing with it::
- You can refine your program to go from good to great.
- Some of your muscles may react differently than others.
- Some muscles may tolerate higher exercise volumes, intensities, or frequencies.
- Other muscles can achieve the same training effect with a lower stimulus.
Understanding this will enable you to program your workouts with an extreme level of accuracy and efficiency. You can minimize the volume of junk and maximize stimulation. This program allows for better recovery than the same treatment for each muscle group.
- Your quads may only tolerate six sets done twice a week for a weekly MRV of 12 sets.
- On the other end of the spectrum, you may find that your rear delts get an effective workout from six sets in one session, but can recover well from 24 sets a week.
In the meantime, your other muscle groups may drop in different places on the spectrum.
Knowing this, you can adjust the weekly volumes and frequencies for each muscle to optimize your training split.
By doing this, you’ve also increased your recovery capacity.
Establishing your system and muscle group volume tolerance takes time and attention to detail, but is well worth it.
Once you have this information, you can move from general cookie cutting plans to truly individualized programming. Your results will improve as a result.
Adjustment of stimulus recovery
Recovery is a return to baseline, and adjustment is when your body crosses its previous baseline to an improved level of performance or increased muscle size.
You don’t just want to recover from exercise. You want to make adjustments.
Just as different muscle groups have different volume tolerances, they also have different SRA curves (Stimulus Recovery Adaptation). Several factors play a role in SRA curves.
The main points that you need to consider are::
- The frequency of training for each part of the body should depend on its SRA curve.
- Factors such as the size of the muscle, its structure, function, the fiber type ratio, and the muscle damage caused by exercise all influence the SRA timeframe
- Exercises that stretch a muscle a lot tend to cause more damage. This damage lengthens the muscle’s SRA curve.
- Exercising with a larger ROM usually results in increased systemic fatigue, which slows the SRA curves.
The SRA curve of a muscle is relevant for determining your training frequency.
In an ideal world, you would structure your workout so that every muscle group is hit again at the peak of its adaptation curve. This structuring means that your exercise program may not be symmetrical.
Source: Is Lifting Heavy Weight Important To Building Muscle Size?
Exercise frequency is an important exercise variable and deserves the attention it needs to optimize your results.
Looking at exercise frequency is a good place to start::
- Determine how many days a week you can exercise.
- Determining how many hard workouts to do each week is a good start to managing your training stress.
It’s just a start, however. I urge you to take yourself to a higher level by thinking about the frequency of training. Instead of being satisfied with the answer:
“How many days a week should I exercise?” Also, answer, “How many days a week should I exercise each muscle group?”
When you find the answer to it, then you can create the ideal weekly workout plan for you.
Your decision about the frequency to use for each muscle group should be influenced by the factors I set out in the previous bullet list. Although there are several factors to consider, the difference in the SRA curve of each muscle is relatively small.
This difference is small, but significant.
You know that intuitively. You can narrow it down to a few days. For bodybuilding training, this is usually 24-72 hours.
Research has shown that training one muscle 2-4 times a week is best when your goal is muscle growth. Once you determine where each muscle fits in that area, you can unlock your growth potential by training each muscle at the perfect frequency.
Some muscles work best for two sessions a week, while others only respond when you press 3, 4, or even 5 times a week.
I’ve created the following guidelines from years of experience with countless customers to give you a starting point::
- 2 x per week: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, chest, anterior delts
- 3 times a week: Back, triceps
- 4 times a week: Biceps, calves, and posterior and lateral delts
Note. These are just averages based on my experience. You need to experiment a little to find your optimal training frequency.
Stimulus Fatigue Ratio (SFR) explained
I want you to look at the final concept from a program design standpoint: the Stimulus Fatigue Ratio (SFR).
SFR is the amount of muscle building adjustments that exercise can give you in relation to the fatigue it creates and what it takes to recover. Some popular exercises have a bad SFR when it comes to hypertrophy.
The ideal exercise creates a high stimulus for a low rate of fatigue.
Choosing exercises that put tension through the target muscle and suit your structure is a good starting point for controlling your level of fatigue.
When evaluating a prospect’s program, I often see conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, and rack pulls in their plans. These are good exercises when deadlift strength development is your primary goal.
However, these exercises don’t rank high if hypertrophy is the target when looking at SFR.
They all caused significant fatigue with little muscle building stimulus::
- You consume a lot of weight.
- It is necessary that you expend a lot of energy to get upset
- Need long warm-up exercises
- Quickly drain your body’s resources while creating a negative return on hypertrophy.
Traditional deadlifts involve little eccentric loading, sumo deadlifts are just one way of moving the most weight with the least amount of mechanical work, and rack and pinion trains are usually just a ego trip.
In short, they are not a great choice for stimulating muscle growth and they will tire you out so much that there is not much else you can do in your workout.
Choosing exercises with better SFR will help you build muscle more efficiently.
How to rate SFR
Exercises with a larger ROM put a lot of strain on a muscle, require high levels of skill, coordination, and stability, and are more difficult to recover.
As a rule of thumb, it is harder to recover from barbell work than it is from dumbbell work.
Dumbbell movements are usually harder to recover from equivalents performed with cables or fixed machines.
Perfect doesn’t exist
It is important to understand that nothing is perfect. There is no exercise that creates a muscle-building stimulus without fatigue.
- To get results from training, you have to work hard.
- Hard work guarantees fatigue.
- You cannot eliminate fatigue, but you should try to maximize the stimulus for each unit of fatigue created.
Often times, when I look back on the exercises that I have identified as being featured frequently on a prospect’s programs, it means choosing Romanian deadlifts over traditional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts. And the choice of rack and pinion blocks as superior for hamstring growth.
I firmly believe that compound barbell exercises should be the foundation of your workout. This does not mean that dumbbells, cables, machines, and isolation exercises are worthless.
We have been brainwashed to believe that the best exercises are compound barbell exercises. At the same time, these are excellent exercises. They are not always the best choice.
The best exercise is the one that best achieves the desired stimulation.
It must also take into account your physical abilities at that moment. If you do four exercises for quads in one leg workout and do the squats, front squats, squats, and leg presses, it is brutal.
These are undoubtedly great exercises that create high levels of stimulus but also create high levels of fatigue.
After back squats, front squats, and squats, your legs are likely chopping up like jelly. As a result, your leg press performance would likely be pathetic.
This fatigue negates its theoretically high irritation value.
If you are so exhausted from the previous three exercises, you may not have the psychological willpower and exertion required to produce any significant stimulus for the leg press.
At this point they are an exercise to induce minimal stimulus fatigue.
Even if you could overdo yourself to put adequate pressure on the leg press, there is still a risk that you will drive the fatigue so high that you will blow right past your quad MRV.
You would dig yourself a massive recreation ditch to climb out of before your next leg session. That makes the sets of leg presses junk volume.
By definition, if you exceed the MRV of a muscle group, you have exceeded its ability to recover. The stimulus may be high, but the fatigue is even higher.
That’s a crappy SFR ratio.
That fatigue will slow down your SRA curve and mean your legs are unlikely to recover for the next session. The selection of these four compound lifts seems large and smart, but it isn’t. You would go out of your way to diminish the results.
A smarter choice in this example would be::
- Back squats
- Split squats
- Leg press
- Leg extension
These exercises still produce adequate stimulus, but the fatigue produced is less. You will also switch from complex multi-joint exercises that require high internal stability to machine-based single-joint exercises that provide external stability.
It is a wise decision to take advantage of external stability at the end of a session when you are tired.
This means that you can make the target muscle the limiting factor without wasting energy on stability and coordination.
If building muscle is the goal, you want the target muscle to be the limiting factor, and not your ability to stay erect.
Too much muscle stimulation leads to unsustainable fatigue
Creating a lot of tension in the extended position of an exercise creates a strong stimulus to growth.
In a 2014 study, two groups trained with the same range of motion, but group training with longer muscle lengths not only gained more muscle, but also retained more strength and size after a training period.
The urge to stretch is a good reason to exercise with full range of motion. Note, however, that some exercises can have the same range of motion but different levels of tension in the stretched position.
Also, remember that too much stimulation can bring fatigue to unsustainable levels. Because of this, when planning your workout, consider how much muscle damage a particular exercise will cause.
Stretching has a major impact on muscle damage under load within an exercise. Using the hamstrings as an example, you can compare Romanian Deadlifts (RDL) and lying leg curls.
The RDL puts extreme stress on the hamstrings.
For laypeople, the weight at the bottom is hardest and heaviest when the muscle is fully extended. RDLs are excellent choices, but you should be aware of the consequences of the extreme tension they create in the stretched position.
The RDL is a barbell lift that is heavy to load. It also puts strain on the glutes, spine erectors, lats, and grip, causing a lot of muscle damage.
- Conversely, the lying leg curl challenges the hamstrings in their fully shortened position and there is relatively little stretch under load.
- As a result, the sore muscles and SRA curve of the hamstrings are longer when exercising with RDLs than with lying leg curls.
- As a result, you may only be able to train hamstrings with severe RDLs once a week. You can increase the frequency to two or even three times a week by using lying leg curls in other sessions.
Manage the relative training intensity versus recovery reserves
The relative intensity is a measure of the effort. It’s often used sentence by sentence to evaluate how close you have come to failure. Reserve Representatives (RIR) are a widely used metric to assess this. Two RIRs mean you stopped a set of two reps in reserve. One RIR corresponds to one in reserve; 0 RIR is when you couldn’t do any more repetitions.
Sometimes people approach the relative intensity from a slightly different angle. They focus on the perceived difficulty or exertion of a set or training session. This is known as the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). On the RPE scale, an effort of 10/10 is a maximum effort. This corresponds to 0 RIR.
The exact terminology of RIR versus RPE doesn’t matter. The point is, both of these are useful methods of quantifying your load levels, the difficulty of a set, and your workout. This all adds to the relative intensity of your workout.
Managing your relative intensity can be a useful tool for providing an effective training stimulus without digging too deep into your recovery reserves.
Exercise occasionally to fail
Imagine the most challenging session you have ever done. Every sentence is doomed to fail. Maybe even a few drop sets and forced reps. Recall how you felt during this session.
You were likely a sweaty, broken mess that spread on the floor, wondering why you voluntarily underwent this torture.
During the session, your muscles burned and waves of nausea flooded you. In the end, you felt completely wiped out and it took you ages to drag yourself out of the gym.
If we class this as a 10/10 attempt, I would suggest that you rarely get a 10/10 hit in order to get the best possible profits. A 10/10 session can be beneficial if done occasionally. However, it will cause you to exceed your ability to recover if done all the time.
Instead of chasing a 10 every session, you probably want to get an 8/10 most of the time. If time demands and progress dictates, dive into the 9-10 / 10 area.
Go there occasionally, but don’t make it your default.
When you hang out in the 8/10 range on average, you know you are posing a muscle challenge, a growth stimulus, and a stimulus to recover from.
- Do this by bringing most sets of free weight compound exercises to 2-3 RIR.
- Push machine-based links a little closer to failure by usually staying at 1-2 RIR.
- Then send the single joint exercises in full and press 0-1 RIR regularly.
Doing this is still tough training. It’s smart too. It enables recovery. With recovery, there is adjustment. Adaptation can be seen as progress in this context.
Progress on the weights you’ve lifted, the number of repetitions, and the total number of sets you can do. In short, it means bigger and stronger muscles.
The benefits of a regular 8/10 workout are the benefits::
- It provides an efficient incentive.
- Sessions can be completed in 45-70 minutes and you can move on to your day after a quick shower and bite to eat.
- You can exercise frequently.
- They reduce the risk of injury.
- You don’t worry about how difficult each visit to the gym is.
- You make substantial profits.
On the other hand, batting 10/10 usually plays out like this::
- There is an incentive.
- Sessions last 70 to 120 minutes, and it takes 20 minutes to collect enough to get in the shower. The tightening happens in slow motion. Eating a meal … forget it, you still feel sick. All in all, it takes about an hour after the session to begin to feel vaguely human.
- You can’t exercise as often – recovery will take a few more days, and the debilitating DOMS you get mean that exercise 3-4 times a week is the vaguely sustainable maximum (even that urges).
- They increase the risk of injury.
- Most of the sessions involve getting excited, using stimulants, and worrying deeply about how difficult each visit to the gym is.
- You’re likely to be burned out or injured, or both.
Training like this every session is a bogus economy. It takes more than there is and puts a limit on all the training you can handle.
Less overall training = fewer gains
Exercise training program design – cook to be a master chef
To create a great program that will deliver results and maximize recovery, it is important not to think in a vacuum or to look at the world through a straw. All training variables are linked and have a mutual effect. Finding the ideal mix of all variables is critical to great results.
Factors to consider when composing an exercise program::
- Your total and muscle-specific training volume
- Recovery periods for each muscle
- Exercise selection and SFR
- Relative intensity
When you consider these factors when planning a program, rather than just following a training template, it is like moving from a cook to a cook. Ein Koch folgt einem festgelegten Rezept, und ein Koch verwendet seinen Geschmack und sein Urteilsvermögen, um Mikroanpassungen vorzunehmen, die ein Gericht auf ein preisgekröntes Niveau heben.
Sie verstehen, wie sich alle Zutaten ergänzen und wann ein bisschen mehr von einer Zutat den Unterschied ausmacht. Dies ermöglicht es ihnen, die gleichen Zutaten zu nehmen und sie in ein Gericht mit Michelin-Sternqualität zu verwandeln.
Das Verständnis der Trainingsprinzipien in diesem Artikel kann Sie von einem Trainingskoch zu einem Meisterkoch machen. Sie müssen Programmvorlagen nicht mit gekreuzten Fingern folgen, damit sie funktionieren.
Stattdessen wissen Sie, was Sie brauchen, um Stimulus und Erholung in Einklang zu bringen und hervorragende Ergebnisse zu erzielen.