This is a question most of us wonder at some point or another. Am I training to much? Am I not training enough? What is the right amount? Like most things in the exercise field, data varies, but bottom line, it is subjective and what works for one person may not work for another. As far as a starting guideline, that’s what this piece will be about. Helping those who are looking to get moving again have a sense of how often they should be training to start making change.
Supercompensation illustrates how as human beings we recover from physical activity! Before I get to much into that, what happens to our body when we exercise? Quite often today, we hear about going to the gym to make “gainz”. This is absolutely a part of the process to begin a transformation but it is just that, A PART! Specifically, when we exercise, we don’t make “gainz”.
For the hour to an hour and a half that we’re getting after it and moving weight, running sprints, or moving disgustingly slow on the olyptical watching an iPad, we are breaking ourself down. When we exert energy or force we will start to deplete glycogen (stored carbs) in our muscles and glucose (stored carbs) in our blood stream! When glycogen and glucose levels get low, exerting energy starts to become more challenging, tissue will begin to tear and our focus will begin to drop. When muscle tears, the body wants to begin repair by increasing blood flow to the area which leads to what is known as “the pump”. This may look awesome in a sleeveless shirt but performance begins to drop as the session continues. The amount of weight we can lift, the amount of reps we can perform, the speed at which we perform a rep drops, and technique will start to falter. As body temperature goes up, the way the body maintains temperature is through sweating! With sweat, we lose water and salt, and salt is an electrolyte!
This process of intentional breakdown is how we stimulate growth. But a huge piece to the puzzle that most people intellectually understand but don’t actually apply is RECOVERY!!! Physical recovery, growth, and forward progress towards our goals is dependent on nutrition, sleep, movement, and soft tissue work to name a few.
The consistency of how much and what foods we consume should match the consistency that we are training!! However, this is where a lot of breakdown occurs. The consistency with nutrition does not match the physical activity, and therefore progress is inconsistent. With inconsistent progress, there comes discouragement and sometimes quitting. Let’s be clear, this is a process. It takes time and sometimes figuring stuff out. The one sure way to not move forward is quitting. As long as one does not give up and keeps trying, at some point they will figure it out, or ask for help. With our nutrition, we should aim to meet daily calorie requirements, or our TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This is the total amount of calories we burn over the course of 24hrs to meet the demands of our activities including SLEEP!!! It is hard to know this number and in most cases, we can figure out a ball park and then adjust from that point. Again, if one quits before going through this trial and error, that is the only way to not move forward. Additionally, macro nutrients should be balanced given the demands of the person. If we aren’t getting variety with a mix of proteins, fats, and carbs at each meal, even if we are hitting TDEE, we may still be delaying forward progress.
How well and how much sleep we get will also dictate recovery and ultimately, progress!!! How much sleep do we need? According to Precision Nutrition, adults 18-64yrs old should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. Of course you can function and go through your day with less but are you trying to survive or thrive? We go in and out of two different phases throughout the night and these are R.E.M and N.R.E.M sleep. To cycle through all, thats why 7-9hrs is recommended. During sleep, cerebrial fluid, which is present both in and outside of brain tissue and the spinal chord, flushes around like waves helping the brain to recycle toxins. This is important for mental clarity and focus to help us do our jobs better and function at our best!! Tissue repair takes place and in fact, this is the greatest contributor to our TDEE, our basal metabolic rate or BMR. This is the amount of calories our body burns while we are asleep and digestive activity is taking place. Full recovery is taking place during this phase and the more muscle we have, the greater this number will be! You can see how resistance training plays a huge part in most fitness goals.
Lastly, there is soft tissue work. Stress, whether good or bad is still stress none the less. We refer to good stress as eustress and bad stress as distress. When we lift weights, go running, or get overwhelmed with life, stress comes in to play. Specifically, with our lean tissues, adhesions or “muscle knots” can and will form with regular stress. Foam rolling or regular visits to a massage therapist will help to break these adhesions down and restore blood flow to the tissue, aiding in recovery!
A lot has been said about recovery to this point so lets get back to supercompensation! This will illustrate the above and support what I am going to suggest as a minimum training frequency when starting a training program.
When we walk into the gym, our fitness level at that point in time, is what it is. Next, we train for 45mins-60mins and we break ourself down. We drop below our baseline or starting fitness level (when we walked into the gym doors). Now, we leave the gym and go home and over the course of 48-72hrs, we recover. Here’s the thing! After 48-72hrs, we don’t just return to our baseline. We supersede it!!! It’s at this moment when our new fitness level is acquired.
This is the perfect time to train again because this process will repeat itself. Stat to finish, we have our starting fitness level, we train and break down, we recover and supersede our beginning fitness level and repeat! How cool it is to be consistent!! In staying consistent, our fitness level will regularly improve from session to session, week to week, month to month, and year to year. However, when we hit that 48-72hr recovery window, what goes up must come down. If we do not train again at this point, our body will begin to de-train or regress back. This is why we don’t train for a month and we’re “good”.
Given our recovery window, my recommendation for starting up an exercise routine again would be 3x per week. Of course with time, improved fitness, and physical readiness, this weekly training frequency can be increased. This is why weekly training frequency is more important than just working out whenever we feel like it. If you take two people and they both train for one year but one trains 3x per week and one trains 1x per week, the numbers speak for themselves as to who will yield greater results. Not only the sheer volume, but psychologically, 1x per week inevitably drops to 1 every two weeks and so forth and so on. Most likely the candidate training 1x per week will not still be training at the one year mark.
I hope you found this to be informative and you will use this as a part of your game plan moving forward when considering if you are going to start investing in your health again.
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