A client has time to weight train three days a week, and she wants to train two muscle groups a day. Is there a pairing that is optimal? The old standard (from what I've heard) is working the assisting muscle on the same day as a large muscle group. My personal theory is working the assisting muscles on a different day would give that smaller group a better workout (i.e., Pectorals/Biceps vs. Pectorals/Triceps). Is my theory wrong?
This is perhaps the most common question ever asked in fitness, so it’s a VERY RELEVANT one. Yes, there certainly are many theories, trends and followings regarding how to train, what to train and, of course, when to train. First of all, let me just mention that there are no constants for all people (meaning, one training method for everyone does NOT exist). The same is true for nutrition, stress tolerance, etc. To get to the heart of the matter, let me begin with an excerpt from "The Science of Loading" by Mitch Simon, which is from the Resistance Training Specialist Manual.
How many workouts per week? Often the vicissitudes of life decide this question for us. Few of us are prepared to arrange our lives so that our primary focus is working out. Personal trainers can have a particularly tough time with this because the typical client will not surrender as much time per week for workouts as would, say, a college athlete. To make matters worse, that same typical client is often expecting a physical transformation of unlikely proportions - an elite physique in three hours a week, within a time frame of three months or so. Good luck.
Digging in, we find that five issues strongly influence (dictate, more like it!) our decision about how often to train.
- How much time per week the trainee can devote to exercise.
- The client-athlete's level of training. Effective workout schedules exist that call for six workouts per week for advanced trainees. Unfortunately "level of training" is hard to qualify. Considerations such as age, genetic endowment, concentration, exercise tolerance, activities of daily living, emotional stress, sleep habits (qualify and quantity), nutritional support, etc., as well as the quantifiable aspects of exercise history (e.g., time training, strength, skill, volume) all influence a person's "level of training."
- Intensity (% of 1 RM) of both the total workout (that is, the calculated average intensity of all the exercises in the workout) and individual exercises, which may sufficiently tax a particular muscle group so that it requires extra rest. As we've said before, the more intense a workout is, the longer it takes to recover from.
- The goal. Realistic goal setting is an important part of the client/trainer interaction. All kidding about clients wanting miracles aside, very often the trainee doesn't have enough information to set realistic goals. Once the trainer and trainee have set a goal together (beware hidden agendas), then it can be broken down into long and short term goals with objective measures (e.g., a 10% strength increase in exercise X within three months or 10 pound loss of body fat in 30 days, etc). After these parameters have been set, it becomes easier to make an informed estimate of how many workouts a week are optimal.
- Soreness. If given adequate rest and nutritional support, our bodies tend to respond to the stress of working out by overshooting the pre-workout levels of metabolic substrates, biochemical cofactors, contractile proteins and other elements specific to the type of exercise performed, in a process known as super-compensation. The new levels aren't permanent and will return to pre-workout levels if we don't exercise again in a timely fashion (with in a few days). If a client-athlete experiences delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following a workout, it is by no means an indication of a good workout. In fact, if the soreness is enough to interfere with the workout, we have a paradox: If our soreness is serious enough to cause us to miss a workout, we will lose our super-compensation. If our soreness is serious enough to interfere with a workout and we work out anyway, we risk injury and overtraining. Stretching to reduce DOMS has been shown to be ineffective and may even prolong soreness. Only two things reduce DOMS: a) anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs and b) performing the movements that caused the soreness at greatly reduced intensity. Take home message: Don't train people in such a way that they become very sore. It's useless and self defeating.
Ultimately then, how one arranges their workout routine is completely subjective and depends on a plethora of factors such as:
- Current total body stress load (i.e., nutritional, mental/emotional, physical, electromagnetic) which may include: nutritional status and the quality/quantity of intake or lack thereof; hydration/dehydration status; and sleep patterns.
- Exercise experience or lack thereof, which involves current levels of strength, endurance, flexibility and more
- The goal (i.e., performance, aesthetic, corrective, rehab, etc.)
Fear not, however; there are two concepts that can - generally speaking - offer some benefit across the board with virtually anyone. These concepts are periodization and integration in exercise.
- PERIODIZATION - The varying or cycling of the primary strength training principles of overload, variation, specificity, indvidualization and progression over time to maximize goals and/or performance and to avoid overtraining, staleness and injury, while encouraging continuous adaptations to progressively more demanding training stimuli (i.e., flexibility/stability--->strength/hypertrophy--->power/performance)
- INTEGRATION - The concept of training movement patterns such as squat, lunge, bend, push, pull, twist and gait (walk/jog/run) in a manner that has a high level of functional carryover into the real world and/or performance environment. In essence, this usually involves as little extrinsic/artificial support as the client can safely handle within the confines of her/his own balance threshold(s).
Rather than training "muscle groups" (which ultimately is a traditional bodybuilding mentality that few people today are prepared for as a result of many discrepancies in the above mentioned factors for frequency of training), I would suggest that you begin to focus on training "movements" not muscles. Integrating one's training to more efficiently be able to push, pull, squat, lunge, bend, twist and walk-jog-run will always have an aesthetic carryover when the correct periodization is applied (along with adequate rest and nutrition of course!).
There are many articles in PTontheNET.com's vast library written about integration and periodization. Here are a few:
Enjoy the articles - the journey will be awesome!