Plateaus and Training Volume: You Need to Do More Work!
The phenomenon of “newbie” gains is well discussed in bodybuilding culture. Novice trainees are envied for their seemingly miraculous ability to gain muscle on relatively low amounts of training, such as the classic once-per-week body part split. However, this suboptimal approach quickly stalls, and the trainee after a period of a few months will cease to make further gains, much to their anger and confusion.
It is known by all that the body adapts to strength training by increasing muscle mass. However, something that is not known by all is that the body also adapts to strength training by becoming more resistant to the muscle-damaging (and growth-stimulating) effects of the training. This is bad news, because our bodies will not respond as strongly to the training stimulus, which means that we will not gain as much muscle mass.
The only way to counter this inevitability is to train more. There simply comes a point where you need to train smarter and more efficiently. For example, we know that novice trainees will experience a surge in muscle protein synthesis that can last for up to 72 hours after a training session. This is why they make rapid gains with low training frequencies. However, as the trainee becomes stronger, their growth window shortens to about 24 hours. This means that no matter how many sets you do, your muscle will only grow for 24 hours after the workout. As a persoan trainer in NYC, I see this happening usually after 18 months of focused training.
Yes, eventually you will become strong enough that you will be able to recover overnight from your training. This is news to most, who subscribe to the ancient notion that training a muscle more than once or twice a week will lead to overtraining. Well, it might for a beginner, but you are not a beginner if you are experiencing a plateau.
You have to think of training like learning a new language. At first, it is magical. Every lesson you learn new words, form new sentences etc. And then progress comes to a crawl and the law of diminishing return kicks in. More work for fewer results.
You can not train like a beginner! At this point, it becomes necessary to train a muscle with more frequency than once a week. In fact, elite lifters train their entire body, every single day! They have to if they want to make progress.
For example, elite Norwegian power-lifters (who are routinely drug-tested) perform 8 heavy sets of bench presses 6 days a week. How could they be overtraining if they are setting world records?
Look at our client Robert, he broke a major plateau just before his 18th birthday by training his entire body four times a week!