A few days ago a member of ENGINEERED STRENGTH GYM asked a question the the member’s private Facebook group. Basically he was wanting to perform more exercise than he is now and wondering now and wondering how to integrate it into his workouts. This is a common issue that comes in two variations:
1. I’m lifting weights every X days and I want to lift weights more often, or
2. I’m lifting weights every X days and I want to add running, cycling, swimming, martial arts, etc.
We Each Have A Bucket of Recovery
The relevant issue here is the ability to fully recover from whatever exercise we do. Productive exercise triggers an adaptation. In the case of weightlifting the desired adaptation is increased strength, mass and size from new muscle growth. (Some people focus on just one or two of these or on all three. But they all flow from the same process. We lift weights to trigger muscle growth.
A productive weightlifting workout triggers new muscle growth. (If your workout is running, swimming, martial arts, etc you have different objectives but in principle you want to get better, not worse or the same, at each activity.) A productive workout triggers change in your body.
Before your body actually grows it first has to recover fully. That’s just the way we are wired. When you’re exhausted after running a marathon you aren’t suddenly able to run another marathon faster the next day. First you have to recover. Then your body improves a few things and then you can run faster or farther or both. The day after you set a record bench press you cannot best that new record. You have to recover first.
Think of it this way; we each have a Bucket of Recovery. Let’s say your bucket gets supplied with 100 units of Recovery per week.
Your Power Factor ‘A’ Workout depletes 25 units of recovery. Your Power Factor ‘B’ Workout depletes 40 units of recovery per week. That’s a total of 60 units per week. So you can do those two workouts every week, say on Monday and Thursday. Maybe you ride a bike for an hour and that’s another 10 units. Plus you golf on the weekend and that requires 10 units of recovery.
So far, so good. Those numbers are sustainable. You subject your body to 80 units of exercise Intensity per week and have 100 units of Recovery to replenish it.
What happens when you run a marathon on Sunday and that represents 250 units of Intensity? Do you think your Power Factor A and B workouts will still show improvement on Monday and Thursday?
Or what happens a couple of months down the road when your ‘B’ Workout alone generates 150 units of Intensity because you’re doing leg presses with 1,500 lbs?
How can anyone perform 150 units of Intensity per week and recover at a rate of 100 units per week? They wind down. They get tired or sick and they lose the will to return to the gym. Sound familiar? It’s an epidemic problem. It’s more common for this to happen than for it not to happen. Cookie cutter training schedules are stupid.
Your Bucket Of Recovery Is Different
Another thing we hear often is, “You say I can only train once every 10 days but my friend trains every two days and he’s doing great.” Well, in a nutshell, that’s because his bucket of recovery might be 600 units a week and yours is 100 units.
You know the guys standing on the winners podium getting a medal around their necks at the Olympics? Those guys recover faster than you and I do. Way faster.
Here’s an elderly couple who ran a marathon every day for 365 days in a row. They can completely recover from a marathon after one night’s sleep! Can you or I? I know I can’t and I don’t expect to ever develop that level of recovery. My bucket just doesn’t fill up that fast.
This is another reason why cookie cutter training advice is so stupid. We all have different abilities to overload our bodies with Intensity and we have different size buckets of Recovery. Once you understand this you realize how absolutely critical it is to measure these things. How much Intensity was this workout? What is my personal rate of recovery?
Some Good News
Your rate of recovery is one of the things that is improved by productive exercise. You might start out with a Bucket of Recovery that holds 100 units per week but a few months later it’s holding 350 units a week and later in the year it’s over 500 units a week.
This is good because your Power Factor workouts will be delivering more intensity too. Your golf game and your hour-long bicycle ride might stay at about the same intensity for years and that’s fine, but other forms of exercise involve progression and that’s something you need to be aware of and track.
These are not etherial, unknowable abilities. The folks using the ENGINEERED STRENGTH GYM have both their exercise Intensity and their Recovery quantified and tracked. For example, if a person can perform a bench press for 60 seconds and in that time press 200 lbs 25 times it means he lifted a total of 5,000 lbs in one minute or 5,000 lbs/min. That’s his intensity.
The next time only one of three possibilities can happen:
1) He lifts less than 5,000 lbs/min which proves he was not even recovered from his previous workout and therefore was weaker
2) He again lifts exactly 5,000 lbs/min which proves he was fully recovered but no new muscle grew to provide additional power
3) He lifts more than 5,000 lbs/min which proves we was fully recovered and grew more muscle (Yes, in early stages of adaptation some other improvements like neuromuscular efficiency can cause improvement without new muscle but over time these effects diminish and only new muscle can explain the added power.)
Once we measure both the Intensity of every exercise during every workout and we monitor Recovery to see whether the time allowed was adequate we remove the guesswork and error from strength training. Soon we know for a fact what your personal recovery bucket will hold and we know exactly how to work with what we have.