Anyone who does strength training has heard the term “progressive resistance”, and most of the experienced weight training folks have a pretty good idea of what it means. In its simplest form it means to add resistance or intensity either to each workout or periodically. Three examples include:
Adding a repetition to your set – so this week I did 9 reps instead of 8 last week.
Maybe you added a another set – this week I did 3 sets instead of 2 last week.
Adding weight – I added 5 pounds to my curl bar, or 10 pounds to my bench press
So why do I care about progressive resistance? The answer is really pretty simple in that muscles will not grow unless they can be stimulated beyond the capacity that they are accustomed to. Adding repetitions to sets, adding sets, and increasing the weight you move all help to stimulate your muscles and they are forced to adapt.
Now as anyone knows who has been involved with weight training over a long period of time there are ceilings you hit along the way. For instance you may get to the point where a 50 pound dumbell is too much for you to curl, where you have kind of maxed out on the adding weight approach. A typical approach by most people involved with strength training is to do 2 or 3 sets with a weight that they can handle for 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Once they get to 12 repetitions they may decide to start adding weights or optionally keep the weight the same and add another set.
So what about that ceiling that we all seem to hit in terms of how much weight we can safely hoist? Well you can add more reps and sets, but eventually this to can come to a halt and with this approach your workout gets longer and more exhausting. So here are a couple other ideas to keep pushing your muscles, making them work harder:
Do each repetition considerably slower – this puts extra strain on the muscles without having to add reps, sets, or weight
Spend less time resting between sets – instead of resting say 90 seconds drop it down to 60 and you will feel the burn
There are yet other ways to ramp up the intensity, but I’ll save those for a future post. Let me know what you do to increase the intensity of your strength training workouts.
If you want to build up those biceps and strengthen your forearms check out the new section on our Exercises page for biceps and forearms. I put three basic yet effective exercises that will help you add strength and mass to those biceps & forearms.
I just completed the Triceps section under the Exercises page of this blog. You know those muscles on the back of your arms, not the flab the muscles (see the picture below). Using the exercises I’ve outlined in the Triceps section you can create some substantial triceps and add to the overall strength and symmetry of your arms. Stay tuned for more exercises and muscle groups we haven’t covered yet.
So how many days a week should you do strength training? I think to answer this question you need to consider what type of strength training you are doing and several other factors. I’m defining strength training as resistance training, like lifting weights or some other form of resistance that stresses a muscle or muscle group with some number of repetitions. A typical set could have anywhere from 4 to 30 repetitions. There are different types of strength training routines and depending on the one you are using it will have impact how many days a week you should workout.
Types of strength training programs
Whole Body Routine: if you are using a whole body or total body routine you are attempting to work all the muscle groups of your body in one workout. These routines typically take much longer to execute because you are doing many different exercises to work all the muscle groups.
Split Routine: a split routine is where you divide the muscle groups (body) focusing on a specific group of muscles on any one day. One of the characteristics of a split routine is that they are typically much shorter in duration taking sometimes just 20 minutes compared to a whole body routine that make take an hour or more. An example of this might be a 4 day split like the one I do:
Day 1 – Chest & Triceps
Day 2 – Biceps, Forearms, and Shoulders
Day 3 – Legs
Day 4 – Back
Another factor to consider is what type of training are you doing. You may be too young to remember this but Mike Mentzer (picture above) who was a professional bodybuilder back in the 70’s. He came up with the philosophy of High Intensity Training or Heavy Duty which advocated training a muscle to failure with very heavy weights and lower repetitions. This form of training exacts a huge toll on your muscles and ability to recover between training sessions, so much that Mr. Mentzer advocated training a muscle group just once a week. That’s fine, but what about the majority of us who don’t lift extremely heavy weights and do sets to failure? Well our intensity would be lower and we would be putting less stress on our bodies. So one can assume that intensity and amount of resistance will affect our ability to recover.
Aside from the type of routine used and the intensity/load factor it is fair to assume that your ability to recover plays a role in how many training days you should engage in each week. Age can be a factor in your ability to recover, when you are younger you will probably recover quicker than as you age, simply due to higher levels of hormones coursing through your body. Another factor may be the supplements you are taking or not taking can have a big effect on recovery ability.
There is certainly a lot of variability in determining the optimal number of days a week to perform strength training, but with that said I think there are some reasonable guidelines that should be taken into consideration.
Your ability to recover is a big factor. You should give yourself at least a couple of days rest after working a muscle group. If you continue to put a muscle group under stress without allowing time for it to repair you are in effect wasting your time.
Choose supplements like Glutamine, Branched Chained Amino Acids (BCAA), Whey Protein, and Creatine to help your body recover by consuming them right after working out.
If you are performing very high intensity workouts as mentioned above then give yourself additional time to recover, conversely if you are doing lower intensity workouts you may not need as much time before your next workout.
If you are performing Whole Body strength training workouts maybe once or twice a week is all you need. In fact you might just want to look at it as performing a Whole Body workout once every 5 to 7 days, instead of how many times per week.
Make sure even if you are doing a 4 or 5 day split that you build in a rest day upon completion of the final day in the split training program. Remember even in a split routine you will work muscles that have already been worked for instance if you work your back you might also be working your triceps and shoulders.
If you are still sore even after taking a rest day, consider taking another day to allow your muscles to completely heal and rebuild themselves before putting them under stress again.
As already mentioned I do a 4 day split strength training routine, and with a fairly normal life I find I end up getting all the workouts completed in about a week. I typically take a rest day after “Day 4 – Back” because it stresses my triceps and shoulders, which again get worked on “Day 1 – Chest & Triceps”. My recommendation is you must find the happy medium between working out too frequently and not enough. Your body needs time to rest, but too much time between workouts and you can lose strength. So give yourself enough time for the muscles to recover and grow, but not so much time that you aren’t moving forward and gaining strength.
I would love to hear your comments and your approach to strength training.