Q&A: Massed Versus Distributed Exercise

Question:

Assuming the same number of exercises and sets over a period of a week or two is it better to work out longer but less frequently, or shorter but more frequently?

Answer:

I am frequently asked a lot of variations of this question, usually along the lines of whether I recommend a full body or split routine, and if so how far to split up the workout and in what way. Like most things, the answer depends on the individual.

Recovery from and response to exercise involves multiple, interrelated local and systemic processes which can take more or less time depending on the individual, the muscles, how intensely they work them, and other factors. Local processes include repair of microtrauma and synthesis of new muscle tissue, and the microtrauma results in an inflammatory response which affects the rest of the body. The harder the training, the more muscles worked, or the higher the volume of exercise the greater the inflammatory response. If adequate time is not allowed for recovery and inflammation becomes chronic you will enter an overtrained state, and depending on the degree of overtraining either stop progressing or even regress and lose muscle mass. (Cytokine hypothesis of over training: a physiological adaptation to excessive stress?,” Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol 32, No. 2, pp 317-331, 200).

Some people prefer to split up exercises into workouts organized by muscle group or body area, under the assumption you can work some muscles without affecting the recovery of others. However, regardless of how you split up exercises or what equipment you use there can be a lot of overlap in the muscles affected. You can do exercises that target different muscle groups in different workouts, but even when performing relatively isolatory exercises you will still use other muscles to maintain proper positioning and/or alignment and some of these may be under considerable tension depending on the loads used. A good example of this is the standing barbell curl. While it targets the biceps and other arm flexors, you use many other muscle groups to maintain proper positioning, most notably, your chest and shoulders maintain your upper arm position preventing your shoulders from extending (unless you are doing drag curls) and your back and hip extensors maintain your posture while the weight is held in front of you.

Mike Mentzer curling a 225 pound barbell

Although assuming a constant volume of exercise differences in distribution may have little effect on systemic recovery, training too frequently may still interfere with local recovery depending on the degree of overlap in muscular involvement between workouts. Just because two or more workouts target different muscle groups doesn’t mean you don’t need to rest between them.

There are downsides to training too infrequently, however. While there appears to be very little difference in muscular strength increases between training once, twice, or three times per week for most people (and some may require an even lower lower volume or frequency to avoid overtraining), metabolic conditioning appears to start to suffer at frequencies below twice weekly.

While individual recovery ability, goals, and situations vary considerably, I have found two full-body workouts a week to be a good starting point for most people. It is infrequent enough that most people will not overtrain if they keep the workouts relatively brief (only one set of around ten exercises including work for smaller muscle groups like neck, forearms, or calves) while frequent enough that metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning is not compromised. Some people do appear to get better results from split routines, though, possibly due to local recovery requiring longer than systemic (which may be the case for predominantly fast-twitch muscles).

If your recovery ability allows it you can distribute the exercises over slightly more frequent workouts, but I do not recommend working out more than three, non-consecutive days per week and it is better to err on the lower side with volume and frequency to avoid overtraining. If you need more time for recovery between workouts or circumstances prevent you from working out more frequently, you can also still make good progress on even very infrequent training provided when you do work out you do so very intensely.

Also, consider the optimal volume and frequency of training may vary depending on your body’s response to exercise and goals. You may get stronger faster with extremely brief and infrequent training, but your conditioning may improve more quickly with a slightly higher volume and frequency.

The best way to determine what you should do is to clearly define your training goals and track measurements specific to those goals along with your workouts, experiment, and adjust your workouts based on how your body responds.

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68 Responses to Q&A: Massed Versus Distributed Exercise

  1. Juan July 3, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Excellent article Drew. Compromising metabolic conditioning by going too infrequently does not seem to be a good value proposition unless you can´t train any more frequently.

    In a similar way Ive been recently paying more attention to mobility and stretching (which also suffers by going too infrequent). Personally as I´ve gotten older, feeling tight and with less mobility ranks at the top of perceived physical qualities that I want to actively improve and that really contributes to making me feel better. Maybe a topic for a future article :)

    • Drew Baye July 4, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      Juan,

      You can still improve metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning with infrequent training, it just doesn’t appear to improve as well for some people.

      Flexibility and joint mobility can be improved considerably by full-body, dynamic high intensity training, however there are some benefits to stretching and some studies by Wayne Westcott showed greater strength increases when muscles were stretched post workout. Like most things, however, much of what is recommended for stretching is nonsense, including a lot of the mobility exercises and workouts popular at the moment.

  2. ian wilson July 4, 2013 at 2:30 am #

    Great article Drew. I have been experimenting with my workouts at the moment to see how shorter, and longer rest periods effect my progress. it seems if i allow 3/4 days recovery workouts,i am better conditioned and have a much better metabolic response. although if I allow a full weeks recovery, I make much better gains in size and strength and have much less joint soreness. taking that into account, i feel the amount of recovery time i allow, should be geared towards my training goals at the time. if I could find a middle point which gave me a good average between metabolic conditioning, cardiovascular conditioning, and a decent increase in strength that would be ideal. i tend to agree with something Ellington Darden said in an interview with you where he said. When your younger you can train with a heavier load and faster TUT, but as you get older working with a lighter load and longer TUT is much safer. I find if I work with a slow controlled movement, i’m able to recover much faster from a workout. if however I use a heavier loading, and faster TUT my recovery could take anything up to 7 days before my next workout.

    • Drew Baye July 4, 2013 at 11:56 am #

      Ian,

      Check out what I wrote about this in Effective Versus Optimal Training Volume and Frequency.

      Higher resistance and shorter TULs may produce more microtrauma and inflammation, increasing the time required for recovery between workouts. While this may be appropriate for some individuals with some goals, for the sake of safety and overall conditioning I prefer to use more moderate loads allowing for longer TULS of around 60 to 90 seconds.

  3. Andres Rodriguez July 4, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    Interesting. I only train once a week, every saturday. I am a landscaper and have found that I am too tired to train anymore than this, and it quickly leads to overtraining. I alternate between a workout A and workout B. Workout A consists of Deadlift, Pull ups and Bench press. Workout B is Squat, Shoulder raises, and dips. It also seems that every 10-13 workouts I have to take a two week lay off. Thanks for this site and your info Drew.

    • Drew Baye July 4, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

      Andres,

      You’re welcome. I take about two weeks off of training a few times a year if I’m feeling tired or stressed or if we travel and it helps.

      • Ben Tucker July 10, 2013 at 10:29 am #

        I find I naturally gravitate towards a 2 week layoff several times a year, too.

        I remember when I felt a tweak in my knee, I took off close to a month before I worked legs again. Just like clockwork, I found I was stronger and weight was increased.

        Drew, do you find a slight increase in strength after prolonged periods of recovery?

        All this talk of layoffs is encouraging to hear amidst all the usual exercise angst.

        • Drew Baye July 10, 2013 at 11:25 am #

          Ben,

          I’ve had clients improve on their previous workout performance after being gone for as long as six weeks. They are often slightly more winded, but as strong as or stronger than when they left. If someone is going to be gone for a few weeks they’ll often ask what they should do to work out on vacation and I’ll usually tell them not to, unless they are working towards a time-sensitive goal. I’m more worried about what they’ll eat when they’re traveling than whether they miss a few workouts.

          • Ben Tucker July 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

            “What they eat…” Isn’t that the truth!
            Most people interested in my services are primarily concerned about losing weight, and in turn, I emphasize the need for change in eating habits.

            I’ve got a saying: I lead many horses to water but few drink.

            Though when they drink, they get the results they’re looking for.

            • Drew Baye July 14, 2013 at 9:45 am #

              Ben,

              That’s the trick. When a new client asks if I can guarantee they will lose fat I tell them, “The only way I can guarantee you will lose fat is if you guarantee you will eat exactly how I tell you to.”

  4. Thomas July 4, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    If you let it, barbell curls can be close to a total body exercise. I’ve definitely noticed shoulder, pec and trap soreness from doing them (with loose form) in the past.

    • Drew Baye July 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

      Thomas,

      When done correctly barbell curls can be extremely demanding. Like Arthur Jones said, “If you haven’t vomited from doing a set of barbell curls, then you’ve never trained correctly.”

      • Ben Tucker July 10, 2013 at 11:14 am #

        Haha! I love that quote. Though I’ve not puked yet, I do feel that pit in my stomach start to quiver and burn.

        I feel that Arthur was a little on the masochistic side, though.

        • Drew Baye July 10, 2013 at 11:30 am #

          Ben,

          From what I’ve heard from people who worked with him Arthur knew how to push people. A friend of Jim Flanagan who worked at DeLand high school back when Nautilus had the quanset hut there told me he once saw Arthur threatening to hit Casey with a wooden switch while putting him through a workout.

    • Ben Tucker July 10, 2013 at 10:38 am #

      Don’t I know it! Doing the cammed barbell curl the way Drew recommends, I feel a tremendous static contraction in my lower back and abs.
      There’s ALOT more going on than when I used to just sling up heavier weights.

  5. Ondrej July 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    Two workouts of 7 sets (A/B) work better for me than 1 workout of 12 sets weekly. Conditioning is better and I am not subconciously holding myself back in intensity. Now I can’t imagine doing longer workouts to failure anymore, it’s clear that intensity suffers.

  6. Jim July 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    What about doing a whole body once a week (it’s at a Superslow place) with leg extension, leg press, lat pulldown, chest press, back machine, row, ab machine) and something else, perhaps a high intensity/sprint bike routine? Do you have any opinions on the HIT sprint routines (such as seen here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_training )

    Any information on if that would help with the metabolic adaptation side of the equation without overtraining on the strength side?

    • Drew Baye July 5, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

      Jim,

      You would be better off doing a second full-body HIT workout or dividing it into two workouts than doing sprint interval training. Properly performed, high intensity progressive resistance exercise is safer and more effective for metabolic conditioning. Unless a person is training specifically for a sport or event involving running, cycling, or other locomotor skills which much be practiced I don’t recommend including them in your program.

  7. Gary G July 5, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    There is an article on Yahoo today about a man who wanted to lose 20 lbs. and chose P90X and wound up in the hospital with his muscles going into some kind of massive breakdown that almost caused him to die of kidney failure. Another doctor of physical therapy joked that P90X was great for his business because he had so many people coming into his office suffering from lower back pain. The more I read and observe of people suffering from back , hip, shoulder and knee issues caused by exercise the more I develop faith in the super slow approach. Sometimes it seems a bit ridiculous to me when some people say not to ride bike – I like to ride. It’s a great stress reliever. Also, I see many people getting great results muscle-wise using other methods, but at what cost. Full body workouts, 2x/week along with some recreational activity (like biking) and a good, year-round diet, as opposed to constantly bulking up and dieting down, seems to make the most sense to me.

    • Drew Baye July 6, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

      Gary,

      I saw that. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to appreciate or underestimate the long term damage these kinds of programs can do. Training must be intense to be productive, but it must also be brief and infrequent to avoid overtraining and exercise have to be done in a manner that minimizes risk of acute injuries and cumulative wear and tear on the body. It seems the marketers of some of these programs are trying to outdo each other on what they believe is intensity while ignoring everything else.

      If you enjoy cycling, go out and cycle. If you like hiking, parkour, martial arts, surfing, basketball, beach volleyball, wrestling crocodiles, or whatever, go out and do them, but do them for their own sake, for fun, just don’t try to turn it into a workout. When you attempt to take a recreational activity and make it harder to turn it into exercise you get an activity that is no good for either purpose; it won’t be very effective or efficient for exercise and you’ll take a lot of the fun out of it. Instead, follow a proper exercise program to increase your strength, conditioning, and resistance to injury so you can better enjoy your recreational activities.

  8. Avi Ratica July 6, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    I am a Dive Instructor in Florida and I find with all the diving I do that, a Consolidation Routine works best for me and it also helps me with my job.My air consumption is quite low and having the strength to carry gear and perform rescues are much easier because of my weight routine.

  9. Andy July 7, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    “while frequent enough that metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning is not compromised. Some people do appear to get better results from split routines, though, possibly due to local recovery requiring longer than systemic (which may be the case for predominantly fast-twitch muscles).”

    Considering the significant overlap of muscle groups even when using isolation exercises wouldn’t it be best to use an upper body – lower body split two times a week?
    My idea behind that is to minimize overlapping of muscles/exercises in order to allow enough local recovery time especially for advanced athletes and those who need a longer local recovery time than systemic. When done two times a week there should be an sufficient metabolic and cardiovascular stimulus also.

    • Drew Baye July 8, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      Andy,

      In the past when I have used split routines I have divided the workouts into either upper body/lower body or upper body pushing/upper body pulling/lower body and trunk. I discuss some of these in High Intensity Workouts.

  10. James July 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    I am a competitive powerlifter and used train 2 times a week. day 1 bench and upper back assistance and day 2 squat and deadlift and abs. if I didn’t follow a linear periodized routine with this routine I would begin to get tired at about the 4-5 week mark. I would take a week off at this point. I am now following a 1 day a week routine with just the squat bench and deadlift. seems to be going fine but the 3 days after my workouts I am very tired. by the 4th day I am feeling better but not a 100% until the 6th day. I alternate the reps week to week as well. 8-10 reps 1 week and a max single the following week. going to try and ride this until November when I have a meet.

    • Drew Baye July 9, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      James,

      Doug Holland has successfully competed in powerlifting for years following a similar routine, alternating between more conventional high intensity training workouts and workouts focused on the competitive lifts. I’ll ask him to comment here if he has time.

  11. Doug July 9, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    James,
    With powerlifting what it is today,this may not be the answer you’re looking for,but in the late 1970s through the early 1990s,I successfully combined HIT and powerlifting,hitting a 1397 lb total @148 lbs.I would squat and do upper body assistance work on Mondays and deadlift and bench press on Thursdays.I trained raw for as long as possible,only going to knee wraps and a belt about two weeks out from a meet(I’ve never worn a bench shirt and never will).Squats and deadlifts were done for only one or two work sets and one back off set of higher reps.Basically,all I was doing was a simple 2 day a week consolidation routine with an extra set or two thrown in (gotta have tha skill practice for powerlifting).

    Doug Holland

    • Drew Baye July 9, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      I’m not sure why this image is sideways (my mistake, not Doug’s) but will try to fix it.

  12. James July 9, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    That would be great to here from him. Hard to find good training info for the competitive powerlifter with a hit background. there are some great powerlifters who have used a more minimalistic training approach. such as Dave Jacoby who lifted twice a week and was an 7 time ipf world champion. talked to his trainer Pep Wahl and said he was the most genetically gifted athlete he had ever worked with.after 7 months of training he had an elite total of 1890 lbs. genetics really are everything.

  13. James July 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Thanks Doug and Drew.

    that’s great info there. I too compete st a belt and wrist wraps.so did you do max singles on your last 2 weeks of training? did you work up to just your openers and save your maxes for the meet? lots of questions for you.

  14. Doug July 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    James,
    Good question.I never did singles in the gym.The lowest I went in reps were triples.A good triple would usually be my opener come meet time.

  15. Jim July 10, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Another question! In Body by Science the good doctor recommends reps as slow as possible without ratcheting, and a time under load of about 90 seconds. At my trainers they recommend 10 seconds out, 10 back and a time under load of 3 minutes or twice as long. Do you have any information on relative advantages and disadvantages of either protocol? Three minutes is a long time! Also of course it means the weights have to be somewhat lighter and that could mean less bone stimulus. On the other hand I have to say in 8 sessions my lat pulldown has almost doubled in weight so it would be ungrateful in the extreme to complain…

    • Drew Baye July 10, 2013 at 11:03 am #

      Jim,

      It is not necessary to move that slowly and for most exercises I recommend using enough resistance to achieve momentary muscular failure within about sixty to ninety seconds. If you enter “repetition speed” in the search box you will find several articles on the site where I discuss this in more detail.

  16. JLMA July 10, 2013 at 10:50 pm #

    Drew,

    Philosophical question here:

    Can you train for mass and not necessarily for strength?

    I seem to be getting a bit stronger with each weekly super-slow sets-to-failure body/vest weight workout but cannot see any mass increase or definition (despite having lost quite a lot of fat following a strict super-low carb moderate-protein ketogenic diet).

    Should I train differently in order to see some muscle definition?
    Should I differently if I want to see muscle gains?

    Thanks! If this has been addressed before, I apologize. I searched your site and did not see this topic talked about.

    • Drew Baye July 11, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

      JLMA,

      In the long run the amount of muscular size a person gains relative to strength is primarily determined by genetic factors, not training. Some people will gain a lot of muscle size for a relatively small increase, some can make huge strength gains with little noticeable increase in muscle size, most of us are somewhere in between. If you want to get bigger you need to train to get stronger, and eat enough to support muscle growth.

      If you want to discuss your diet and training in more detail I’m available for consultations.

  17. Craig July 11, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    it may be a indication of a lack of discipline on my part, but I find using a slower cadence helps me to focus more on correct form. As BBS emphasizes I move as slow as possible yet keeping the rep smooth. Based on the different machines availble to me reps range anywhere from 5/5 to 10/10.

    • Drew Baye July 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

      Craig,

      As a general rule, the slower you go the easier it is to focus on correct form provided you don’t go so slowly your movement becomes segmented (a problem with extremely slow protocols like 30/30 reps). Minimally, you need to move slowly enough to maintain correct body positioning and/or alignment and follow the correct path of movement, reverse direction smoothly, and focus on the target muscles.

  18. Lio July 13, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    Hi Drew,
    Thank you for sharing this valuable knowledge.

    In Body By Science they recommend doing 5 exercises once a week.
    I heard an interview with John little when he is saying he is doing 4-5 exercises once every
    10-11 days.

    You are saying its possible to do 10 exercises twice a week.
    Which is more than 4 times more (if we also consider the big 3)
    .
    What is the different between the approaches ( if there is) ?

    Thanks again
    Lio

    • Drew Baye July 14, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      Lio,

      The principles are the same, I just prefer to start people with more volume and frequency and adjust downwards based on individual response rather than assume everybody needs a lower starting volume and frequency. You might be interested in reading my post on Effective Versus Optimal Training Volume And Frequency.

  19. Craig July 16, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    I’ve gone back and forth between 2x per week & shorter full body routines (A/B alternating) versus 1x per week & a longer routine. I like the shorter routine twice a week because I’m not as worn out after. But my legs seem to require longer recovery time. So I wonder how you’d structure a 2x per week routine that hit upper body twice, but only did heavy leg & hip work once per week?

    • Drew Baye July 16, 2013 at 10:26 am #

      Craig,

      Assuming the workouts are usually done on the same two days each week instead of every fourth day whatever that day happens to be, one of the workouts will have one more rest day after it and that is the one I would include the hip and thigh work in. You could do the same volume of exercise for the upper body in each, but if you do any direct abdominal work or exercises for smaller muscle groups like neck and forearms you might include those in the other workout to keep them about equal duration.

  20. Paul July 18, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    Hi Drew i am a 15 year old male who does HIT training i workout about once a week and i was making amazing improvemets in strength when i started but now i think i have stopped although i have some problems with rep counting so this could affect my improvements 1 problem is i have a hard time counting reps when i am going through rapid fatigue ( also i dont have a gym buddy who can count for me) and i think some days i may be not consciously moving the weight slower or faster then usuall so that means i dont know if im improving e.g. If i could do 2 in 20 seconds but i go slower and i can only do one, the other problem is i couldnt record time under load because my hands are occupied and i cant click the stop watch in time could you give me any advice, btw i love your work drew you inspired me about a year ago after i watched one of your videos on youtube. Thank you.

    • Drew Baye July 18, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      Paul,

      It is easy to lose count some times when you’re moving slowly and trying to count both cadence and repetitions, especially as the exercise gets harder and as you become more fatigued over the course of the workout. I have found it helps to count each rep out loud. If you aren’t sure exactly how many repetitions you have completed in good form (and only the good ones should be counted) then record the minimum number of repetitions completed with a plus sign after in the weight/reps box for that exercise and workout.

      For example, if you perform an exercise with 100 lbs and you lost count of your reps but you know you did at least seven you would record it as 100/7+

      When training alone to use a stopwatch you need to start it, set it where you can see it without compromising head and neck position, then note the number of seconds on the stop watch when you begin the exercise and when you end it and subtract the beginning number. If you are performing an exercise like a bench press where it isn’t practical to do this you can start the stopwatch and count off the seconds til you begin, then count off the seconds from failure until you can stop the stopwatch and subtract the total. Since most people (except for trained musicians) tend to have difficulty maintaining an exact cadence count you might be a little off, but close enough to be able to compare performance over weeks of workouts.

      I recommend counting reps instead of time for dynamic exercises because it’s less of a hassle, and just using the stop watch for static holds and timed static contractions.

      As for overall improvements, keep in mind the fastest gains will come during the first few months of training and gradually level off over time, and a lot of factors contribute to progress. In addition to working out hard and consistently you need to get plenty of rest and eat enough nutrient dense food to support muscle growth.

      • Mike July 19, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

        Am I the only one using a talking stopwatch on my smartphone (meanwhile listening to music)? So very useful for counting and speed, I wouldn’t know what to do without it anymore…

        • Drew Baye July 19, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

          Mike,

          I tried some voice activated stopwatch apps before and they worked poorly. If you could let me know the name of the app I will give it a try. Thanks!

          • Mike July 20, 2013 at 4:08 am #

            Hi Drew,
            I use Talking Stop Watch Pro for Android. It’s not voice activated, it just dictates the time every 5 seconds. If I can’t start the exercise immediately after I press the button I just start moving when I am ready and I subtract the already elapsed time when I reach failure. Of course the duration of my reps is a multiplication of 5 seconds. Before I did reps of 15 seconds but for some time now it seems I have better results with reps of 10 seconds (5/5). Even if I would be certain a cadence of 4/4 is better (but i doubt it can make much of a difference) I still would be doing a 5/5 cadence because of the to me enormous comfort of the precise time dictation in my headphones. I just concentrate on inroad and rep speed, when I reach failure I start thinking again and write down my time and calculated number of reps.

            • Drew Baye July 24, 2013 at 9:02 am #

              Mike,

              Thanks for letting me know. I did a search and found a similar talking watch app for the iPhone and will give that a try.

              Don’t worry about the exact repetition cadence as long as it is adequately slow for you to perform smooth turnarounds, maintain proper positioning and/or alignment and move correctly, and to be able to focus on intensely contracting the target muscles. If you can do those three things you’re moving slowly enough.

  21. Isaac Wilson July 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Hello Drew, appreciate the article.

    I am working on a routine at the moment that I got some years go from one of Mentzer’s later videos, which consists of a four way split workout; one set (sans warmup) to failure. See questions after :

    1.
    Pec Deck -no rest – Incline Press
    Five minute break
    Close grip pulldowns
    Five minute break
    Deadlift

    Rest 3 days

    2.
    Leg extension -no rest – Weighted leg lunge
    Five minute break
    Weighted Calf raise

    Rest 3 days

    3.
    Dumbell lateral -no rest – rear lateral palm down
    Five minute break
    Barbell curls
    Five minute break
    Tricep pressdowns -no rest – weighted dips

    Rest 3 days

    4.
    Leg Extensions -no rest – Squat
    Weighted calf raise

    Rest 3 days

    My first question is, do you believe the ‘3 days’ should be three FULL days after the workout itself?

    In the the video, Mike and client talk about resting six to eight days between each area of the body. For example workout one hits the upper body, then before you work the upper body again, it has been at least six days.

    Which brings me to the second question : It feels like I am not working out enough on this program, and by that I mean I appreciate rest I get between doing upper body lifting – I come back rested and able to do well, but at the same time I believe I can do them sooner. The problem is, if I do them sooner, it throws off the whole program because the leg workouts come between the upper body sets.

    Ultimately when I look at it on a whole, I am working out two times a week, could be Monday and Friday for example – with the three days rest in between. The following week will end up being Tuesday and Saturday.

    Is eight workouts a month sufficient for mass gaining?

    • Drew Baye July 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Isaac,

      Very little exercise is required to increase muscular strength and size if you train intensely enough, and if you are training very intensely it is necessary to keep your workouts brief to avoid overtraining. Although recovery ability varies between individuals most people seem to be able to train twice weekly – one workout every three to four days – without overtraining and I recommend it as a starting point. If you aren’t making progress on that and you have everything else in order (diet, rest, etc.) then you should take a few extra days off between workouts to see if you needed the additional recovery time and adjust your frequency accordingly.

      • Isaac July 19, 2013 at 1:59 am #

        Thank you Drew.

        I will stay the course.

  22. Brian July 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Drew,

    Was wondering if you were going to do any articles or had any opinions on that new Norwegian study (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/19/the-4-minute-workout/) that came out about only needing to do a 4 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) cardio routine 3 times a week and how one might properly integrate that into a HIT?

    I am glad to see new studies coming out that further prove and reinforce the ‘brief but intense’ philosophy.

    Also, just for the sake of positive feedback, I bought another copy of your HIW book for a relative and they absolutely love it.

    • Drew Baye July 24, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      Brian,

      Several studies like this have been done over the past few years and it is encouraging to see researchers looking at this, but people should be doing strength training instead of things like running or cycling for cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning. Minimizing the risk of injury and the long term wear and tear on the body is just as important as effectively stimulating improvements in functional ability, and proper strength training is safer.

      I’m glad your relative likes High Intensity Workouts. After the form book is finished I will be releasing a second edition of that with about double the content which will also be available in print.

  23. Trace July 23, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    In reference to Gary G’s PX90 lunacy, I witnessed something I’ve never seen before. A guy was doing Olympic Lifts while wearing a gas mask. He was purposefully restricting his ability to breathe. When he finished a set, he riped the mask off and gasped for air. Does anybody know where THIS is coming from?

    • Drew Baye July 24, 2013 at 9:24 am #

      Trace,

      Gas mask training is done by some firefighters attempting to better condition themselves to perform when wearing breathing equipment, but all this does is compromise the safety and effectiveness of their workouts.

  24. Paul July 24, 2013 at 4:38 am #

    Thanks for the last reply! really appreciate it, could i also just ask, i am having a hard time training just once a week as i naturally love to be an active person and get anxious being sedentary or unactive or worrying about not recovering and i was wondering since i have read a lot on how just being active everyday is beneficial do you think perhaps through my recovery periods a few low intensity workouts at the gym could be beneficial? or just some low intensity home workouts?

    • Drew Baye July 24, 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Paul,

      Very little exercise is required for best results, and doing too much can be counterproductive. Rather than doing additional workouts I recommend doing some kind of physical recreational activity you enjoy on the other days.

  25. chris July 27, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    The so called gas mask training is a mask that is supposed to change the altitude at which you are training. I would assume higher altitudes. First time I saw this stupid thing going on I thought Bane from Batman was now working out at my gym were we do old San Soo! I here that is how people workout in Isreal !

    • Drew Baye July 28, 2013 at 10:48 am #

      Chris,

      You’re thinking of an elevation training mask. Similar effect. Both are a bad idea. People should not attempt to impair their breathing in any way during exercise.

  26. Paul July 29, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    Hello, drew im just learning more on HIT so i have a few questions one was that doug mcguff said that you cant exercise your way out of a bad diet, do you agree because i have a hard time following a strict diet with my social life, also i havn’t found any research showing overtraining having effects that will reduce muscle gains rather i have found it is just counter productive and slows down progress do you know of any research showing over training will actually reduce muscle gains? Also with split training routines can i train more frequently because i am not actually over training the particular muscle? Thank you.

    • Drew Baye July 29, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      Paul,

      Dr. McGuff is absolutely correct. You can not exercise your way out of a bad diet. You can easily eat or drink more calories in minutes than you can burn doing hours of demanding physical activity. Having a social life is no excuse. You don’t have to eat poorly or drink to excess to be social.

      Too much training can not only stop your muscle gains but cause a loss of strength and size. This is basic stress physiology. Your body can only handle and adapt to so much stress over some period of time. Too much leads to exhaustion of your body’s mechanisms for coping with, recovering from, and adapting to the stress and eventually a breakdown of the systems effected.

      You may be able to train slightly more frequently with a split routine, but this doesn’t mean you can or should increase the total volume of work done in each of the workouts, and regardless of how you split your workouts up you still need time to recover in between them.

      • Paul July 29, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

        Thanks Drew, i appreciate it but for diet i actually meant in terms of building muscle because i have a really fast metabolism and weight gain isnt really a problem for me, so my real question would be can i still build muscle on a poor diet as long as i meet my protein fats and carb requirements, i do my best to eat healthy and i do whenever i get the chance but what i meant about being social is that say for example im at a friends house and they dont have anything healthy there im not going to be rude and ask for different food to what they have, but i certainly agree having a healthy diet is important. Thanks.

        • Drew Baye August 2, 2013 at 9:08 am #

          Paul,

          If you get adequate protein and calories your body will be able to build muscle, but not nearly as well as if you eat more nutritious food, since your overall health affects how well your body is able to recover from and adapt to exercise. If your overall diet is well balanced and provides adequate nutrients and energy eating less nutritious food once in a while isn’t going to hurt you, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat it if it is offered. If you know you will be staying somewhere where you will not have good food choices plan ahead and bring your own.

  27. Ondrej August 4, 2013 at 4:43 am #

    Hello Drew,
    Do you see any value in increasing work capacity on top of 1-2 HIT workouts a week? Farmer’s walks, or workouts where the goal is to do as much work as possible? Something like Crossfit inspired HIT workouts you wrote about in the past. I don’t clearly understand the benefits this could have. Maybe surviving the zombie apocalypse?

    • Drew Baye August 5, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      Ondrej,

      A proper HIT program does this effectively. There is no need for “finishing exercises” or additional activities for this purpose.

  28. ian wilsin August 4, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    Well unfortunately it seems I’ve ended up giving myself a shoulder impingement so I’ll be adopting a 1 on 28 day’s off program for a while. I’ve found that if I train the same body part irrespective of the volume more than once a week it places a huge demand on my joints, so when that clears up I’ll be sticking to a full body routine one day a week with seriously reduced volume. All I can say is I wish I knew about hit 15 years ago when I first entered a gym and understood more about recovery and correct form instead of taking advice from the charlatans you see more and more in fitness centers these days.

  29. JLMA August 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    ian,

    I strongly suggest you read Dr John Kirsch’s book on shoulder pain: http://amzn.com/1589096428.

    Very simple AND effective (and evolutionarily consistent with our species) exercise that resolves most shoulder issues. It solved my bilateral shoulder capsulitis. Two of my friends had different issues and their shoulders are fine now. Read also the multiple Amazon reviews AND comments to the reviews.

    Disclaimer: I have no financial interests in Dr JK’s book.

    • ian wilson August 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

      JLMA

      Thanks for the heads up I’ll definitely check it out. It’s allot better now, I did a workout the other day with less volume and it didn’t cause me any problems.

  30. JordanS August 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Drew,

    Why not video record each exercise and count seconds be re-watching?

    Ive started doing this recently, and I think it helps keep me honest because I dont actually know how what my time is until after the workout. It stops me from feeling overly anxious because of missing my mark on some exercises, and also keeps me from getting overly excited if I best my last workout. I more easily maintain focus on my goal.

    • Drew Baye August 13, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      Jordan,

      If a person has a practical and efficient means of doing this, such as using a smartphone or tablet and adjustable stand, it might be helpful. However, there are a few reasons I would not recommend doing it on a regular basis.

      In addition to loading and unloading bars or setting up machines you would need more time between exercises to move the recording device unless you are performing your entire workout in a small area which can be covered without moving it. I would be hesitant to leave my iPhone or iPad sitting out in most commercial gyms out of concern for theft or accidental damage unless I had a training partner with me, and if I did it would be easier to have them monitor and record my performance than using the video.

      Having to review your entire workout on video afterwards also effectively doubles the time commitment.

      I think the most practical and time efficient way for most people to do this is to use a timer in a position and with a display you can easily read without compromising neutral head and neck position during each exercise or a stopwatch.

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