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bamazav 03-07-2011 08:40 AM

Planned Recovery
I was asked in my log about my planned recovery times and thought that it would be a good discussion in a wider circle. Below is an article by Ian King, a strength coach from down under. I have read some of his other stuff and find his thoughts interesting. What do you think?

Fundamentals of Strength Training and Recovery

Fundamentals of Strength Training and Recovery
by Ian King

Strength training has really come a long way in terms of the knowledge that is now available to the participant. Compare any on-line or hard copy strength training/training magazine now to say ten years ago and you will note an incredible difference in the level of information provided. There have been a number of influences but perhaps one of the most significant was the altering of the publishing market from one or two powerful magazines to a more open market. Things were never really the same after Bill Phillips took on the more established magazines with the entry of Muscle Media into the magazine arena. And then came the Internet, and no amount of politics or containment strategies prevents information dissemination via this medium!

But more information in itself does not necessarily lead to smarter training - in some cases it just leads to more confusion! There have been many 'training keys' promoted via the training media over the last ten year - this is how the Bulgarians train, this is a plant supplement grown only in the hills or Russia and so. But have the hard, time-tested generalized principles of training filtered into general strength and fitness training? I can only conclude not - because what I am going to share with you now has been a staple part of sports training for decades - yet you probably don't know about or use it! It may be one of the most powerful tools to keep you in training - yet few talk about it!

Ever felt you were losing interest in training? Well don't come down hard on yourself - this is a natural response to fatigue. Ever dropped out of a program - this is what will happen will you don't appropriately manage your training, when you ignore those early warning signs like decreased drive. You need to train smarter - by improving your awareness of just one thing.

Recovery. That's it! Sounds simple and yet it's so powerful. The key to the concept of recovery is this - the training adaptation you seek from training is only half produced by training itself. Without recovery, you only have fatigue, a disrupted homeostasis. Only when recovery from each training session is achieved do you see the peak of the training effect!

Assessing recovery from training can be simple - if you cannot exceed the load or reps on the same exercise performed in the same sequence as last time you did that workout (ie. all things being equal) - you haven't recovered. There are also more complex interpretations involving what I call cumulative fatigue, where out of the blue a few weeks later you may pay the price for over-doing it today, but I don't want to complicate the discussion with this.

Recovery in strength training covers three areas : 1) days between workouts; 2) recovery weeks between stages within a program; and 3) recovery weeks between programs.

Days between workouts: since the popularization of split routines many perceive that because they are working a different body part in subsequent days they will be okay, that they don't need a day off. This may work fine for about two days in a row for most, but for the average person, three days in a row is too much. Why is this so, despite training of totally different muscle groups?

The muscles groups may be unrelated, but the energy production is central to the whole body - so the central nervous system (whose importance in training is finally being recognized) supplies the whole body and can perhaps become depleted. The reproduction of fuel in the muscle cell is influenced in a central manner, not just by different muscle groups. And the immune system, the body's tool to combat the fatigue induced by training, is taxed centrally irrespective of which muscle group is being training.

Whilst frequency of training is influenced by volume, intensity, and individual recovery ability, I say very clearly - only those using low volume training or who possess superior recovery systems/circumstances should even contemplate training more than 3 days in a row! And remember - it is not a matter of what can be tolerated - but rather what is optimal, what gives the best results. More is rarely better in training - in fact my preferred motto in training is - if in doubt, don't do it.

These days between workouts are what I call recovery days. You can use them to rest up, or you can participate in activities aimed at accelerating recovery, including massage, stretching, contrast baths etc. One of the first questions I ask when I see most programs that I feel can be improved is- where are the recovery days!

Recovery weeks between stages within a program: realistically it can take a few months to see significant adaptations. Between workouts I still want to see incremental and continual changes, and it is these that add up to a greater difference over a few months. So do you train continuously for say three to four months? I bet you have tried to! And I know what probably happened! Within a certain number of weeks you seem to go backwards, or even drop out of your program. And then the three to four months of continuity required to see the bigger changes never happens. Sounds familiar? I certainly hear this all the time when performing trouble-shooting analysis of client's historical training patterns. So we are going to fix it here and now. You should never again suffer this fate!

What I want you to do is this - take a recovery week after every 3 or 4 weeks of training. I know - your internal psycho-babble (as US real estate guru John Burley calls it!) is having a fit! 'Take a recovery week off!!! No, I can't! I will lose it all!!' Well, let me say this - if you don't do this, most of you are going to lose it all anyway! Once you get over the emotional attachment issue of not training for a week, you will find the incredible benefits of doing what most athletes have done since Milo picked up the calf in the stadium in about 6th century BC - get incredible results!

If you want to get further into it, a recovery week between stages can be a 'full' or a 'half' recovery week. A full recovery week/microcycle would involve no specific training eg. no strength training, but may involve non-specific alternative activity provided it was light in volume and intensity eg. blading, cycling etc. A half recovery week or microcycle involves a significant reduction in training volume, spread out throughout the week/microcycle or condensed to one half, allowing a full recovery in the other half. Intensity may also be reduced in the half-recovery week.

Examples of these work/rest week/microcycle ratios appear in the table below. Ignoring this concept is a guarantee to overtraining and injury. If you feel your recovery levels are lower than ideal, use a shorter work period eg. 3:1, 4:1 etc. Then decide whether to use a full or half recovery week in the recovery week. I feel that most reading this would do themselves a significant benefit from trying out the first or second option in the table below.

Table 1 - A summary of the options with recovery weeks between stages. (King, I., 1999, Get Buffed, p. 131)

Ratio Rationale
3:1 Recommended as part of a 12 wk cycle ie. 3+1/3+1, using half recovery weeks in wk. 4 and 8 and a full recovery week in wk 12 or similar for those with less than optimal recovery situations can also use a full recovery week after each 3 weeks
4:1 The first method above can be used here creating a 15 wk cycle the second method above can be used here also, using 1 x 4 wk block of training or dividing the 4 weeks up into 2 x 2 week programs
6:1 If training for 6 weeks continuously, you have the choice of a half recovery week or full recovery week
8:1 If training continuoulsy for 8 weeks, I would lean towards the use of a full recovery week; the work period could be 2 x 4 wk blocks or 4 x 2 wk blocks
9:1 If training continuously for 9 weeks, I agian would lean towards the use of a full recovery week; this work period suits the use of 3 x 3 wk training blocks
12:1 This is the longest period of continual training I would recommend and should only be used by those with superior recovery situations. Your work week training blocks, if not using any recovery weeks as in the first example above, may be 6x2 wks, 4x3 wks, or 3x4 wks; only a real beginner will benefit from 2x 6 wk blocks.

Recovery weeks between programs: when you plan a program (assuming there is a plan!) is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Do you have a predetermined range of number of weeks for the program? Well now you do - because I am going to say very clearly - for most people, twelve weeks of continuous training is all you should do. No more. If you achieve the continuity in training that is possible by application of the above principles, you will achieve an incredible amount in these 12 weeks. In fact, I can say with safety that if you have never used the above methods, the next 12 weeks could by your most productive ever!

Then what happens after this 12 or so weeks? You take a full recovery week. That's right - a full recovery week! Go away from the gym or whatever has been your dominant training mode - and use this time wisely. Catch up on other aspects of life that may have been on the back burner during the last 12 weeks. Or catch up on some other types of (non-structured!) training that you will benefit from being exposed to, even if only from an enjoyment perspective.

This strategy is aimed to negate the more complex cumulative fatigue I touched upon earlier. Going through the 12 week program you will be driven by the knowledge of the 'light at the end of the tunnel', the knowledge that after the 12 week program you will be getting a well earned rest. And during the recovery week you will experience a re-activation of that burning desire to get into training and make a difference in your life! The drive that may have dropped off in the last few weeks of the previous program.


So after reading this you are going to ask yourself the following questions :

has my training in the past lost quality or direction some weeks into the program?
if so, what do I perceive my recovery ability really is, taking into account my lifestyle, age, health, employment, finances, relationships etc?

And then you are going to take the following action:

review your frequency of training, perhaps avoiding for the most part 3 consecutive days of training the same modality
using your perceptions of your recovery ability and the table provided, determine what training week to recovery week ratio might be worth investigating
take a full recovery week after the successfully adhered to next 12 week training program!

Planned recovery days and weeks - not ones you take when you lose interest or get sick, that invariably turn into months with the subsequent loss of all you have trained for! Planned recovery days and weeks are aimed to prevent overtraining - to ensure that you achieve adherence to training and therefore experience continual gains. Isn't this after all the goal of your training - continual gains?

About the Author:
Ian King has established himself as a world leader in the field of athletic preparation. He has prepared athletes for every winter and summer Olympic Games since 1988. His articles have been published in America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Ian also frequently lectures around the world on the topics of strength training and conditioning.

BendtheBar 03-07-2011 04:52 PM

One thing I am learning is that I can train far less frequently than I ever imagined and still make great gains. While I don't often take a week off, I do have times where I train only once every 4 to 5 days. So in a sense this is a recovery period.

MikeM 03-07-2011 06:56 PM

I'm not sure what to think of this. I think it depends on what you are trying to do to some extent. Seems like if you want to gain strength relatively quickly and efficiently, then you do need to rest and recover regularly.

However, I worked out five days a week for over a year and never really felt the need for "recovery" and I did gain strength, perhaps not as much as if I had been more efficient, but gains nontheless. I changed exercises pretty regularly to prevent boredom and because I thought a variety of exercises were better overall, and perhaps that staved off a "need" for recovery, but I wonder.

I also think some people can simply recover better than others. There's a guy at my gym that is a master's bodybuilder with a sick physique for 52 years old, and he has worked out 5 days a week, except for two vacations a year, since I have known him (2 years). He always seems to have big weights on the bar too, and it's not like he's dropping the weights way back some weeks either, although maybe I just didn't notice when/if he did.

Anyway, great article. More food for thought. I am pretty sure I will need some regular recovery weeks to reach the goals I have in mind for this year, so it's nice to see there is real science behind including recovery in your program.

bamazav 03-08-2011 08:22 AM

As I have stated before, when you are working on body part splits, extended recovery time is not as much a factor. If you work your chest on Mondays, you have a week before you give it direct work again. However, if you are working full body or a Squat or DL program where you repeat work multiple times a week, then recovery becomes more of a factor.

BendtheBar 03-08-2011 08:44 AM

Splits.... Most are set intensive, and if someone is training hard and using a lot of compounds they are allowing little time for CNS recovery, and can beat the snot out of your joints. Depending on relative weight used...and how hard they are working, intensity level, etc.

Many powerlifters use 4 day split variations (upper lower, Westside, Wendlers, etc.) and I would argue that these programs are just as taxing as fullbody workouts, if not more because of the relative weight being used.

Rich Knapp uses a split and it is far more CNS intense than any fullbody workout I've ever performed.

The first time I trained with him, using his intensity, my CNS was burned out for 2 weeks.

There are so many ways to train, so many training variables and degrees of intensity that it's hard to look at recovery through split and fullbody lenses.

I do agree with the spirit of Bam's post...a fullbody with squats and deads and lots of compounds is very intense. Probably one of the hardest workouts in nature, excluding powerlifting workouts. My point was simply that's it's not always as simple as one vs. the other.

I had a 5 day split that had a deadlift day, and a separate day for heavy RDLs. It was just as brutal as fullbody workouts. I know a lot of natural bodybuilders (competitors) who train beastly hard.

But keeping it focused on average lifters who aren't powerlifters or competitive bodybuilders, all things equal a 3 day fullbody workout is generally more taxing than a 4-5 day split.

bamazav 03-08-2011 11:07 AM


Originally Posted by BendtheBar (Post 121772)
Many powerlifters use 4 day split variations (upper lower, Westside, Wendlers, etc.) and I would argue that these programs are just as taxing as fullbody workouts, if not more because of the relative weight being used.

This is what I was trying to get across in my reference to Squat or DL programs. My observations are that most powerlifting/olympic lifting type routines are far more intensive, overall, then the typical BB split. Note, the operative word is typical. I know a number of guys preparing for competitions who use a split but are doing work far more intensive then mine. However, the average person, hitting the gym 4-5 times a week, IMHO, intentionally keeps the intensity levels in what they consider manageable. Thus, do not challenge the CNS sufficiently to need frequent rest days. Even with my most intense efforts, while on a split, I found I could go longer without a rest day then I can on my current full body plan. Then, that is just me.

Originally Posted by BTB
But keeping it focused on average lifters who aren't powerlifters or competitive bodybuilders, all things equal a 3 day fullbody workout is generally more taxing than a 4-5 day split.

That is what I was trying to express, just didn't do so as clearly as you have.

MikeM 03-08-2011 05:31 PM


Originally Posted by bamazav (Post 121766)
As I have stated before, when you are working on body part splits, extended recovery time is not as much a factor. If you work your chest on Mondays, you have a week before you give it direct work again. However, if you are working full body or a Squat or DL program where you repeat work multiple times a week, then recovery becomes more of a factor.

I was not talking of that kind of split program.

For over the first year when I first got back into lifting, I did the classic weider split in that I did chest, shoulders, tri's and abs MWF, then legs, back and bicep T-th one week, then reversed that the next week. So, in effect, i worked every body part, such as my chest, back whatever, five times every two weeks and I never felt the need for recovery and I made fairly steady progress.

Perhaps it was because I never really tried to go for a max, I did 3x8 with about 75% max or so, which goes to your point of this type of average joe workout not being intense enough, was why I didn't need to recover. Or maybe it was because I didn't do any specific exercise more than once every two weeks, I rotated 5 exercises for each body part, is why. I don't know.

But, I also progressed pretty well and never once went backwards with a weight. Once I could press 3x8 with 30 pound DB pretty easily, I moved up to 35 pounds and never touched the 30's again with that exercise for example.

So, clearly I made progress without regular recovering. I also think there is something to be said for lifting pretty hard, but not to the max, every damn day, in that you get a certain hardness and mentality for being consistent in your effort. I mean that makes sense too. Work decently hard every day and you're bound to progress, right?

Now, having said that, I can well imagine I would have progressed faster had I maxed out more, focussed more on specific lifts, and consequently rested more too. So, I agree that recovery is important to getting stronger if your goal is to get stronger relatively quickly, efficiently, and safely.

But overall, I'm with BtB on this one. There's lots of ways to skin a cat, and everybody is different.

This guy is saying in the article that you must recover, or you will ultimately not progress. Perhaps. Seems to make sense. But, then again, maybe not.

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