By Matt McDermott, owner of Prime Performance Gym in Whitstable, Kent.
Frequency and volume of training are two of the most misunderstood and misrepresented areas of physique improvement and strength training.
Gyms have a higher proportion of individuals with mental issues, be they psychological, biological, or a combination of both, and I myself am very much in that group, so there is no judgment here.
But those issues, as well as misinformation from the media, which used to be Flex, Muscle and Fitness, or Muscular Development magazines, but is now mostly online paid, or social media content, tend to drive us toward the ‘more is better’ philosophy.
Look at it from a marketing point of view, most people online, or in magazines, want to sell you something, that is a fact, and if the information being traded is good, then it is a good value purchase.
But unfortunately, most of the information being sold is not good; in fact, it is terrible.
It’s designed to separate you from your money, or to make the person writing it appear intelligent to those with a lesser knowledge.
I could write everything you need to know about training and diet on one side of A4, and it would get you to 90% of your genetic potential, a place that almost nobody ever gets to.
However, who is going to pay me £20-40 for my one side of gold-standard information?
Information that would literally save you years or wasted time, effort and frustration in the gym, and likely get you to a place you would never have reached. Probably not many, which is why I have never wasted my time doing it.
If I diluted that single side into 200 pages of fluff and crap, I’d probably sell a lot, but my morals, and the fact it would be irritating and boring, do not allow me to do that.
So, what I’m trying to get at, is training is very simple, (as is diet).
The basic concept is you lift a weight at an intensity level close to the point where you can do no more. This sends a signal to the body telling it of the damage incurred, and that it needs to be ready should this ever happen again, and it adapts.
Given adequate recovery time, that muscle will now be stronger, and more resistant to damage.
So, what do we do?
We add a kg to the bar (or even 0.5kg), or a rep to the set, creating just slightly more damage than the body has adapted to be comfortable with, and so the process begins again.
Increasing the load on the muscle, via weight or reps, (not so much sets IMO), will cause this adaptation to continue for many years if the planned progression is laid out correctly.
If you try to add too much too soon, you will exceed the body’s ability to adapt and it will say ‘no’ – and then what? Do you just keep smashing your head against the wall like most people in gyms do? Or take a step back, (but no one likes to go backwards)?
Productive training is not exciting, or sexy. If anything, it could be considered monotonous.
But a 1kg increase every week adds up to 52kg in a year, and that year will pass anyway.
Imagine how your pecs, delts and triceps will have been forced to grow in order to bench press for the same sets and reps, an extra 52kg, it will be significant!
Follow a similar progression on Deadlift, Squats and Pull Ups, and your physique will be a very different one in just 12 months.
So, what does this have to do with frequency?
Well if a muscle, or your overall system is not recovered, due to not enough time between sessions, lack of protein/food and/or sleep, then you will not be able to add that extra kg. Quite often when this happens, the first thought people have is to ‘do more’, which only compounds the problem.
I’ve worked with all kinds of athletes, Pro Bodybuilders, Pro Boxers, Elite Gymnasts, MMA guys, Powerlifters, Strongmen, Physique competitors, and never has the answer been to do more.
I’m not saying there won’t come a day when that may happen. I’m a scientist, I keep an open mind and work with the best evidence I have at the moment, but so far, in the last 20 years, that has never been the answer.
There are rare genetic freaks such as Ronnie Coleman who was tested out at having THREE TIMES the recovery ability of an average person, but if you are the next Ronnie, then it is unlikely you will be reading this, as just wiping your arse will lead to a bigger bicep!
Before you consider ‘smashing it’ in the gym, consider how you are going to recover from said ‘smash’ and if that will then lead to you being just a little bit better than you were last week?
Have a plan – a short-, medium- and long-term plan; don’t just turn up and hope everything will work.
That’s like getting in your car to drive from London to Glasgow, with no map or satnav, just keeping turning left or right and hoping you will arrive there one day. The chances are, you won’t.
As a final note, I train each body part with a few sets every 14 days and I only train twice weekly.
On that programme, I have bench pressed 228kg (raw), deadlifted 310kg with no belt or straps, executed six perfect full-range pull ups with an added 60kg around my waist, and squatted 280kg, (which is not that impressive, but just for anyone wondering), all at a bodyweight of 105-110kg.
I say do not say this to brag, but to show I am not just a talker, and now I have my own gym, there are many now under my guidance trying this style of training, all with fantastic results.
Click here for more information on Prime Performance Gym.