Tag Archives | overtraining


Every once an awhile it’s possible to have an interesting exchange on social media. Recently I had an exchange with a smart and well-respected trainer who questioned whether infrequent training was even necessary.

We went back and forth a bit and it made me realize that most people just don’t look at this issue the way I do. They basically start with the belief that they love lifting weights and want reasons to do it as often as possible. I use golf as an example to explain their thinking. Golfers want to golf more often, not less often.

The difference is golfers don’t claim every single game makes them better and lowers their score.

Golfers don’t claim to “make progress” on every game. I think that’s because they actually measure their strokes! The numbers never lie. If most people could take a stroke off their game every time they played, they’d be better than Rory McIlroy in a year or so.

That got me wondering. What if these guys training two and three times per week actually did make progress on every workout the way many of them claim? 

To help visualize this, think about what you can lift on any exercise and how far that is from the world record. Using the bench press as an example, let’s say you could lift 200 lbs right now, and the world record for a ‘raw’ lift is 800 lbs (which is a bit high, but I’m approximating for simplicity).

So, can we agree that 800 lbs is the absolute heaviest you could ever expect to bench press, and that your reality is very likely substantially below that? Like 500, 600, or 700 lbs?

So if you can bench press 200 lbs now, it means the greatest possible improvement you could achieve in your lifetime is to lift 400% of that weight and hoist 800 lbs.

That’s it. Over a lifetime of lifting, under ideal circumstances, the most you could ever expect to improve is to lift 400% of what you can already lift.

So here’s a chart showing how quickly your strength would improve if every workout yielded 2 to 5% improvement. I’ve used 100 lbs, not 200, as the starting weight. So think of being able to do a bench press today with 100 lbs and then you can see how quickly you’d be lifting multiples of that weight.

For example, if you made a tiny 2% improvement on each workout and started with 100 lbs, after 10 workouts you would be up to 122 lbs. After 20 workouts you’d be hoisting 149 lbs. In the real world, I think most people would expect to make faster progress, but it’s still nice to see small gains on a consistent basis.

But look what happens to our 2% gains after 70 workouts. The trainee has gone from 100 lbs to 400 lbs. It also means the guy who started with a bench press of 200 lbs would be at the World Record 800 lbs.

So he’s done! For life! No matter how often he trains or how he trains he will never, ever make progress beyond this point.

But remember – most trainers tell their clients to lift 100 to 150 times per year (two or three times per week)! They tell them to lift up to 750 times in five years.

Why?

How can people possibly make progress with such frequent workouts? Do they make 0.001% improvement per workout? Are these trainers measuring with that exacting granularity and precision?

No. They aren’t.

In fact, they really don’t measure at all. That’s how they can fool themselves the way no golfer could ever fool himself.

Next, look at how ridiculous it is to expect to improve on 150 workouts per year. A guy who could bench press 100 lbs at the beginning could now bench 1,950 lbs? Or if he could leg press 300 lbs at the beginning he could now leg press 5,850 lbs?

This is how ridiculous it is to assert that people can “make progress” training so often. The reality is, if you train logically and with careful measurement you should be able to reach your peak power output within just a few dozen workouts but they will need to be carefully spaced apart in order to guarantee full recovery and the growth of new muscle before returning to the gym.

I can almost hear the objection; “Actual increases are really small – like less than 2% – so training often is still a good idea.” 

Really? Because if gains are, say, 0.1% per workout it means that after 20 workouts a trainee’s bench press would improve from 100 lbs to 102 lbs. Does that sound right to you? Even ten times that rate of improvement, 1%, only gets a person to 122 lbs after a whopping 20 perfect workouts. Still seems low to me.

One More Thing

In our recent Mass Gain Study, we tracked the progress of strength gains over 10 workouts. If we measure from the very first workout we get a pretty big number. But that number isn’t fair, because people take time to get accustomed to lifting in the strongest, safest range of motion, so they make fast progress because of technique rather than pure strength gains.

So we also measured from their third workout to their tenth workout. Over six different exercises the trainees in the study gained about 80% in those last seven workouts. That’s a compounded increase of 8.8% per workout.

Also, it took these trainees nearly 80 days to do all ten workouts. So figure eight days between workouts, although near the end it was even more. So these guys would be at a point of doing maybe three workouts per month, whereas all the other guys spinning their wheels in the gym would train roughly 13 times to their 3 times.

So take a look at how fast a person would reach his peak power output if he could maintain that  8.8% improvement per workout (which does not seem likely over a long period of time, frankly. But I also would not call it impossible.)

After just 20 workouts a person who started at lifting 100 lbs would be lifting 540 lbs. Of course, in the real world, we have to remember it’s really hard to be so consistent. We can miscalculate a new goal, or our recovery time, or we can misjudge how tired or stressed we are. Or how much of our energy was taken from shoveling the driveway or loading a truck. We can screw up our diet and have our energy drop. A lot can go wrong, so it hard to hit a home run on every single exercise during every single workout.

But those are all reasons to take MORE measurements, not fewer measurements. Those are also reasons to space workouts farther apart, not closer together.

Do You Want to Make Progress, or Just Lift Weights?

When a person tell me he’s trained three times a week for three years, all I wonder is how many of those 450 workouts were absolutely wasted in terms of making objective progress. Was it 400? Was it “only” 250? Or, frankly, was it 435 of his 450 workouts that basically did nothing whatsoever to improve his strength and build new muscle? (Because, don’t forget, every workout digs a metabolic hole that you have to recover from. So people can and do move backwards in terms of progress. This is when their trainers tell them their routine is “getting stale” and they should just switch to other – lighter – exercises and keep training frequently. Again – the trainer’s secret is to never take objective power measurements so their lame advice is never clearly revealed.)

Granted, I’m the first to agree that there are other ways to measure strength than just a one-rep max for a world record. I’m the guy who coined the terms Alpha Strength and Beta Strength to differentiate the calculations of momentary and sustained intensity. But, again, these are things that deserve to be accurately and objectively quantified and tracked so progress can be measured in a clear and meaningful way.

I think the burden of proof is on the trainers who tell people that they need to train 150 times per year to actually show how you can get stronger 150 times in a row when doing it. This is something they will never prove. I’ve never seen a single example of a person who could stay on a fixed training schedule of 2-3 times per week and demonstrate progress month after month. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen it on 10 consecutive workouts of regular folks performing multiple exercises every workout.

The reality is, training frequency is a complex calculation that is a constantly moving target. In a perfect training routine your recovery would never be exactly the same twice, if you could measure down to the hour.

Similarly, no two workouts should ever be the same twice. Because if your previous workout was successful, you are returning to the gym a new and different person who can and should lift a little more total weight on every single exercise.

And when you realize that all that separates you from the peak of human power demonstrated by world record holders, you see that increasing your Alpha Strength power 300-500% is all you can likely do in a lifetime. And there is no good reason to divide that gain over a thousand workouts when it can be done in a few dozen workouts spaced apart at the right intervals, guided by objective and meaningful measurements.

 

 

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35 lbs of Muscle and Six Months of Rest Between Workouts?

Mark on Florida beachOver the decades of doing what I do I’ve come into contact with many thousands of people. Some of them stay in regular contact from year to year and let me know how their training is going. There are so many great stories out there.

Mark Winchester is a longtime customer who has been in the weightlifting game a long time and is, among other things, a perceptive observer of the craziness that occurs in the world of pro bodybuilding and in gyms everywhere.

There a recovery spectrum of training frequency for every human. It stretches from the first day after a workout that he could return to the gym and be stronger, to the last day he could wait before he would be weaker.

Mark pays close attention to how soon he can return to the gym. Over the years, he’s discovered it is months, not days or weeks, before he is fully recovered and can make new gains. Gains like 35 lbs of lean body mass using Power Factor workouts of just two exercises.

I asked Mark a few questions about his training and here are his answers.

1. When did you first try a Power Factor workout and what exercises were included in your workout?

I had read about PFT as far back as 2005 but couldn’t grasp the concepts. It made no sense to me to limit the movement of the bar a few inches as everything I had read up that point had instructed you must use a full-range of movement. I had reached a point in my training where I was severely overtrained and my knees were sounding like sandpaper. I had eroded the connective tissue so much it was wearing away from my deep butt-to-the-floor squats.

The first exercise I tried was at that time my favorite, the squat.

2. Over the years, how have you adapted your Power Factor workouts and why?

One of the most important aspects of PFT is the recognition that recovery from intense exercise takes much, much longer than commonly assumed.

In the book the microscopic examination of marathon runners quadriceps made a lot of sense to me. The higher the intensity, the longer complete recovery takes, and utilizing training systems such as PFT or the even more intense SCT requires a much longer recovery period than conventional training. It also is much more productive.

I continue to be totally amazed as to just how long complete recovery can take in some individuals with a low tolerance for intense training. The people usually have very sensitive (i.e., efficient) systems and as such receive larger gains per workout than most people.

It seems to follow a bell curve system of distribution with people with low tolerance and people with high tolerance on the outer edges of the bell. I’d estimate these people (both groups) account for as much as 20% of the population, possibly more.

3. Can you tell us some of your statistics?:

– Age? – 47

– Height? – 5’8″

– Weight? – 245lbs (approx. 18% bodyfat)

– Fat loss from PF training? – I have no idea, but more muscle burns more fat. After age 40 diet doesn’t seem to play as big a part in fat gain. I suspect it might have more to do with insulin resistance.

– Muscle gain from PF training? – Once I figured out just how long total and complete recovery for me personally takes I’d estimate I’ve gained around 35lbs+ of lean body mass.

– Size gains from PF training? – Like the fat loss question I honestly don’t know how much larger I am. A lot, safe to say.

4. What does your workout consist of these days and how often do you do it?

My workout consists of only two exercises. The Deadlift & the Bench Press. Both done using no more than 2 inches. of movement. In my opinion, the Deadlift will provide all the gains anyone needs.  The benefits of extra exercises provide are at best negligible. This was discovered with the “Healthlift’ over 125yrs ago.

Last workout I used 515lbs in the Deadlift and 425lbs in Bench Press. I do both exercises for two sets for less than :45 seconds total training time each.

My last recovery period was an unbelievable SIX months and I’m seriously questioning if that was enough. I’m going to try seven months this current recovery period.

My last workout was Sept, 2 & I won’t lift again until probably next March if not April. As ridiculous as this sounds the dramatic gains I get are worth the rest. For example, last October I was 213lbs, I am now, as I earlier stated, 245lbs. I logged two, yes TWO productive workouts in that time.

5. Have you stopped trying to explain yourself to other people in the gym, or do you still try to educate them? Haha! 

I always try to explain Power Factor training and logical training to people. My own physician thinks I use steroids. After a testosterone lab test she doesn’t think it anymore. My physician honestly questions my sanity when I tell her I exercise for less than two minutes total training time no more than two times per freakin’ year. She says, “I’m a medical professional with seven years of training, and there is no way that can be true“. It is.

6. I know you’re a big fan of Arthur Jones and his work? Do you have a favorite story or quotation from Jones?

I have two articles written by Arthur Jones that I live by. Here they are:

#1 > “From my study of animals I became aware of the fact that very little in the way of exercise is required for building enormous levels of strength and muscular size. How do you like the muscular size of a gorilla? Or a lion? 

Yet, both gorillas and lions actually perform almost no exercise or hard physical activity. But, when they do work, they work very hard … but very briefly, and not very often. If it works for a lion or a gorilla, why shouldn’t it work equally well for a man. Well, in fact, it does work well for a man. An adult male lion can get over a ten-foot-high fence with a 500-pound cow in his mouth. 

At a bodyweight of more than 500 pounds a gorilla can perform a one-armed “chin up” so easily that he appears to weigh nothing. A wrist that measures more than eight inches on a man is huge, and nine inches is unbelievably large, yet my gorilla had wrists that measured more than thirteen inches, larger than most bodybuilders’ forearms at the largest place. His neck was over forty inches in size.

I strongly suspect that if you exercise a lion or a gorilla as much as many bodybuilders train that you would probably kill them, and it is certainly obvious that they do not “need” that much exercise. Neither do you; and even if you can “stand” it, it does not follow that you “need” it.

Go to the gym, perform your workout properly, then get away from the gym and forget it until time for your next workout; talking about exercise, reading about exercise, literally “living” exercise will do nothing in the way of improving your results. Before you try anything else in the way of attempting to improve your results from exercise, try doing “less” exercise; not more, less. 

If and when that simple point worms itself into your brain, then I have probably taught you the most important thing that you will ever learn about exercise.”

 

#2 > “Insofar as I can determine, there is no known drug that will improve the performance, or increase the muscular mass, of a healthy individual. Furthermore, I would like to go record at this point by stating…’I do not believe that such drug will ever be discovered. I think that such a result from any chemical is impossible.’

I am fully aware that some drugs can improve the condition of a weakened individual, in cases of sickness or accident…but I also believe that a state of normal health is possible only in the presence of a very delicate chemical balance that is regulated automatically by the system. If any chemical is added for the purpose of upsetting this balance, the result can only be counterproductive.

In effect, there is no such thing as a “super chemical balance”…if the chemical balance is normal, you are healthy…if not, you are sick…and it matters not whether the state of imbalance is produced by too much or too little of a practical chemical. This has been proven repeatedly in literally thousands of tests conducted with animal subjects, and no slightest evidence exists in support of an opposite result with either animal or human subjects.

Certain hormones will help add muscular mass to a steer, or a gelding…but they will NOT produce the same result with a bull or a stallion. When an animal has been castrated, removing the testicles produces an abnormal situation where normal growth is impossible, giving such an animal the hormone drugs merely tends to restore a normal situation, a situation that would have existed naturally if the animal had not been castrated.

In such cases you are merely removing something and then trying to replace it in another manner; first creating a subnormal condition and then trying to restore normal health.

Yet the widespread bias in favor of such so called “growth drugs” borders on hysteria. Even suggesting that the use of these drugs is anything less than necessary automatically labels you a fool in some circles. And there is certainly no doubt that a lot of people are being fooled on this subject; but you can NOT fool your endocrine system, and when you add an un-required chemical for the purpose of disturbing a normal balance, you are NOT improving the situation.

Pointing to recent strength records as proof of the value of such drugs actually proves nothing. The fact remains that the single strongest human recorded in history established his records long before the drugs were ever used. Paul Anderson established records prior to 1958 that have never been approached and androgenic-anabolic drugs were apparently first used in athletic circles in 1960.

Bob Peoples established a deadlift record thirty years ago, lifting nearly 800 pounds at a bodyweight of approximately 180; today, a very few individuals have reached or passed that level of performance…but most of them weigh nearly twice as much as he did, and some of them weigh more than twice as much.

Men who establish such records are merely statistical standouts, literally genetic freaks; they are NOT the products of drugs, regardless of their opinions on the subject.

Great strength is a result of two factors…(1) individual potential, which cannot be improved…and (2) hard training, which will increase the strength of almost anybody.

But a third factor exists as a prerequisite…NORMAL HEALTH, without which, reaching the limits of potential strength is simply impossible. So you can improve a sick individual in some cases, but you can NOT turn a normal individual into a superman by chemical means. Such a result is impossible, and ridiculous on the face of it.”

I want to take this time to thank you, Pete Sisco, for developing and selflessly marketing THE most effective training system PFT/SCT in history. Its totally changed my life & what I know about productive bodybuilding.

 

Thanks for the kind words, Mark. And for empirically demonstrating that recovery can sometimes be measured in months, rather than days. These are the things that can be discovered if we simply use arithmetic to measure our workouts instead of using ‘feel,’ ‘instinct,’ or blindly accepting universal advice, like training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the rest of our lives. Every science depends on accurate measurements.

You can try our most effective ever Power Factor workout by getting this inexpensive e-booklet.

If you want my help analyzing your data and calculating your optimum new goals and personal recovery intervals, become a member of the Engineered Strength Gym. (Membership fills up quickly. If it’s closed when you read this you can send me an e-mail and get on the list for first notification.)

 

 

 

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