I’ve been discussing high intensity vs. a more volume-oriented mass-building approach, and how a downshift week can work wonders for allowing the body’s recovery ability to catch up and grow past previous levels.
Here’s a quote from respected hypertrophy researcher Chris Beardsley that has a direct bearing on that—it’s an eye-opener…
It’s often assumed that muscle glycogen is replenished rapidly after a strength-training workout, just as it is replaced quickly after aerobic exercise. Yet, the presence of muscle damage greatly impairs the replenishment of muscle glycogen after exercise. While muscle glycogen is often replaced within 24 to 36 hours after aerobic exercise workouts, delays of up to 10 days can occur after muscle-damaging eccentric training workouts. Such delays cannot be removed by eating carbohydrates, which indicates that the problem is not the availability of glucose to the muscle fibers but our ability to push that glucose into muscle fibers. Indeed, research has shown that the presence of oxidative stress inside muscle fibers (as is common after muscle-damaging exercise) prevents glucose from crossing muscle cell membranes. Critically, this means that when muscle damage occurs after a workout, lifters will necessarily experience a reduced level of muscle glycogen in the trained muscle until that muscle damage has been repaired. Importantly, the presence of low muscle glycogen causes fatigue during exercise by causing supra spinal central nervous system (CNS) fatigue and excitation-contraction coupling failure (ECCF). These fatigue mechanisms inhibit hypertrophy from being stimulated. Supraspinal CNS fatigue reduces motor unit recruitment levels, thereby reducing the number of activated muscle fibers. ECCF reduces mechanical tension, thus reducing the magnitude of the stimulus that can be achieved. Low muscle glycogen is therefore another mechanism by which the presence of muscle damage can inhibit gains in subsequent workouts.
That’s the scientific way of saying that you need to completely recover before you can optimally stimulate the muscle again for growth. And lots of damage can prolong that recovery up to 10 days.
Wow! Is it any wonder muscle growth can be sluggish with consistent hard training? Your recovery from workout to workout is probably not happening—at least not to any great degree…
Interesting that when Mike Mentzer retired from competition and was training clients at Gold’s Gym, he had some of them rest for seven to 10 days before another workout. Was he onto something? Perhaps—especially if his style of training produced excess damage, which it probably did…
Think about how most bodybuilders train. Set after set of damaging reps. Then they train again in a few days, way before recovery and supercompensation. You see why so many resort to steroids, which significantly enhance recovery.
My solutions to the recovery dilemma is this:
1) Three to four sets per muscle twice a week, only the first high-rep set to failure. (I’m beginning to think that three sets is better than four.)
2) Half of those should be Speed Sets—1.5-second reps—to reduce the excess damage caused by garbage negatives; that’s the easy lowering of the weight that does little for growth but causes a lot of trauma.
3) A low-intensity downshift week after one month of hard training to allow the body’s recovery resources to catch up and completely replenish—growth spurts are common during this phase.
That last one is difficult to do if you’re motivated, but it can work wonders. I recently had to layoff for a solid week before a blood test, and I felt bigger and stronger when I resumed, veins popping. The nurse had no trouble finding a place to stick me…
That’s all great, but there’s still something that can trigger another quantum leap in your gains, which I wouldn’t discover until recently. It amplifies workout efficiency and can supercharge muscle gains. No, it’s not steroids or turnip stew…
I’ll have more in the next newsletter on Wednesday. Stay tuned.
Learn how to accelerate your mass gains with the STX method, Speed Sets, and complete ideal-exercise-based training. The 35-minute workouts also include the best stretch and contracted add-on moves. Get Old Man, Young Muscle.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
Former Editor in Chief, Iron Man Magazine
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