You train hard.
Chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, legs on Wednesday, shoulders on Thursday and arms on Friday.
You’ve been doing this every week since you started training and at first you saw a lot of improvement to your body.
You got stronger and you felt great. You may even still see improvement and feel great doing it!
Good for you.
Any plan followed diligently and with intensity has the potential to produce results so long as it’s not completely ridiculous.
But, what if I said you could literally double your size and strength (and not with anything dubious or injectable…)? A simple change to how you structure your week could kick-start your gains onto a totally different level.
Before I lay out the changes you can make, lets first talk about what drives hypertrophy (muscle growth) and what makes you stronger.
To simplify the explanation, we will focus on two key components of why your muscles grow bigger and stronger
(there are many more, but in a practical sense, these two matter the most, arguably)
Firstly, your body requires a progressive overload to force an adaption such as muscle growth.
This means simply that if last month you bench pressed 70kg for 3 sets of 10, this month your body won’t adapt and get much bigger or stronger unless you bench press 72kg for 3 sets of 10 or 70kg for 3 sets of 11. Seems simple, right?
We express this workload as volume.
Your volume is easy to work out- Weight x reps = volume.
Volume is the easiest way to quantify progressive overload, simply put if you’re doing more volume, you are making progress.
To go back to our bench press example, last month when you lifted 70kg for 3 sets of 10 (30 reps) you completed a volume of 2100kg (70kg x 30 reps = 2100kg). So, if this month you complete 72kg for 30 reps your volume would be 2160kg. More volume, therefore progress.
However, there is a limit on how much volume you can recover from at any one time.
There are loads of factors that can influence this- how long you’ve been training, how old you are, what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, how stressful your job is, how good your lifting technique is and loads and loads of others.
Therefore, the trick is to do just enough at a time to cause the body to respond by growing your muscles and making you stronger without doing too much and at best wasting your time and at worst causing yourself to get injured or sick.
This is where problem one with the traditional body part split comes in.
You inevitably end up doing too much volume per muscle group at a single time. The DAILY volume is too high (notice that DAILY is highlighted there, that’s important for the next bit…)
Dr Mike Israetel (a man much smarter than me) has come up with two simple terms to explain how volume impacts on your training.
‘MEV’ which is minimum effective volume and ‘MRV’ or maximal recoverable volume.
MEV is the amount of work you need to do to stay afloat, it’s the minimum dose you need in terms of workout volume.
MRV is the absolute most work your body can effectively cope with- i.e anything past this point is wasted effort than only adds extra stress to your system.
(remember, stress you can recover from is good, stress that can’t be recovered is bad)
You want to work between these two points of MEV and MRV to get good results.
But remember that your MRV will change with time and circumstance too...
Sometimes you’ll be care-free and well rested and your MRV might be 20 weekly sets for your chest. However, there will be times when work is piling on you, you’re missing meals and you just aren’t sleeping.
Your MRV will take a BIG hit as a result.
You need to be sympathetic to what’s going on in your life outside of training and be willing to adapt your training to fit around your life and its stresses. This can be hard, it can feel like you’ll lose progress if you don’t train hard. But you’ll lose a lot more time and progress getting sick or injured if you push too hard when your stress load is just too high for you to recover well!
The other component that influences your muscle growth and how strong you get is a process known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS) or put simply, how your body uses protein to repair and grow muscle tissue.
Your body can only achieve so much MPS at any one time.
(This is the reason your body doesn’t need that extra volume)
The 300 reps of chest you do each Monday isn’t netting you anymore results than 30-60 reps would- your body has reached maximum MPS capacity by that point and no more anabolic signals can be received.
Once you have done a workout that has signalled the body to begin the process of muscle protein synthesis the process lasts for between 48-72 hours.
During this time your body is working to build the muscles you’ve targeted through training.
Then, without more stimulus it stops.
If you train chest on Monday night, your chest is growing up until Wednesday night or Thursday night and then spends Friday and the weekend waiting to be stimulated again.
Do you see why this might not be optimal?
So what can you do?
One big workout is too much volume at once and you’re spending half the week with each muscle not growing.
The answer is very simple- split the work up.
Instead of viewing volume DAILY, view volume WEEKLY.
When I started viewing workouts as part of a greater whole rather than microcosmic efforts my mind was blown and my result blew up too!
(It's also much more forgiving. Had a bad workout? Don't worry, it's just a part of the wider picture, not the whole picture itself. This is incredibly freeing if you've spent years stressing over always having the 'perfect' workout)
By increasing the frequency (number of times) a muscle is trained we can overcome both sticking points.
Right now let’s say you hit your chest on Monday with 4000kg of volume. But our body needs 2000kg of volume to stimulate enough MPS to cause growth (AKA 2000kg is your MRV).
Your chest grows until Wednesday night and 2000kg of volume goes to waste (and adds unnecessary stress to your body).
Now let’s say you train your chest with 2000kg of volume on Monday, MPS occurs until Wednesday night and then on Thursday you stimulate your chest again with another 2000kg of volume.
MPS occurs in your chest through into late Saturday or Sunday and you begin the week again, training chest again. The volume is the same in both examples, but your body can now recover from all of the daily volume you stimulate it with, causing more growth over the week.
In case you are dubious, here is a very dramatic example of how effective this can be-
In a study known as The "Frekvensprosjektet", which is Norwegian for Frequency Project, 16 trained lifters were split into two groups.
Both groups did the same exercises for the same total volume, however one group did so in 3 workouts, the other did so in 6 workouts.
In 15 weeks the group training 6 times per week achieved double the size and strength gains than the group training three times a week.
We aren’t talking about a small difference here, but literally DOUBLE the results.
They didn’t lift any more weight or any more reps, but their daily volume was far more recoverable.
Remember when we said that there was a limit on how much volume was recoverable and how much muscle protein synthesis your body could achieve at one time?
This is a fantastic example of that in effect.
The group that trained 3 times per week did too much daily volume, the group that trained 6 times per week didn’t.
Furthermore, because the group that trained 6 times per week constantly drip fed their muscles enough volume spread out throughout the week, their bodies continued to adapt throughout the week, rather than stop-starting muscle growth with less frequent bouts of stimulus.
If you’re keen to try and get yourself some results like this there’s a few ways to go about it.
You can talk to me about a workout plan or some help with training (There's a contact form at the bottom of the article or drop me an email- firstname.lastname@example.org)
or you could split up your week in one of the following ways-
Legs, Push (chest, shoulders, triceps), Pull (back and biceps) Rest, Repeat
Upper Body, Lower Body, Rest, Upper Body, Lower Body
In both examples, every muscle group is getting stimulus twice per week.
If you’re used to going all out on a muscle group once per week you may find it difficult to hold back and not train to absolute failure every time you step into the gym. But, I’d stress trying to remember the example set in the Norwegian study. You only need enough volume to stimulate a response, not so much that you annihilate yourself.
Keeping a diary can really help with this. Note down what you did last week, which might look a little like this-
1. Bench press- 70kg x 10 x 3 = 2100kg
2. Bent over row- 60kg x10x4 = 2400kg
3. Lat pulldown- 40kg x 12x2 = 960kg
So, all you need to do this week is do a little more volume than last week, or something like this-
1. Bench press- 70kg x 11 x 3 = 2310kg
2. Bent over row- 65kg x 10 x 4 = 2600kg
3. Lat pulldown- 40kg x 12 x 3= 1440kg
You might have noticed in the second week that volume increased in 3 different ways- more reps per set, more weight or more sets. An improvement in any one of them is good enough week to week. The main thing to keep in mind is your MRV. If you're feeling overly sore, tired and you're not getting stronger, you may be overdoing it.
Take a week and focus on recovery (known as a deload week) then get back into it! Having the week resting and recovering is like resetting the clock. Your fatigue levels drop and the strength and fitness you've been building can reveal itself. Very often fatigue is masking your hard work!
(i'll get an article out in the near future about periodization- or structuring your workouts over months and years to achieve your goals that'll expound on that quite a bit!)
I hope this short (and hopefully simple!) article has made you look at how you could improve on your own training and get closer to your goals.
If you’ve enjoyed it or found it helpful, please share it to your friends who might find it useful too!
You can follow me on social media too for daily updates and generally helpful fitness info- facebook @runjumplift1 and Instagram @run.jump.lift
You can also find all my previous articles here- www.runjumplift.co.uk/articles
If you’ve got any more questions you want answering you can send me an email- email@example.com and I’ll be happy to help.
Dan Mennell is a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach working in Staffordshire and Shropshire.
He writes regular fitness articles and creates other informative free-content.
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