Q: I’ve been reading a lot about what I believe to be one of the major gain killers in natural bodybuilding: decompensation, or detraining. From what I’ve learned and also from what I’ve been noticing in my workouts, I can only conclude that when I train a muscle once a week, it recovers before I work it again. My muscles seem to decompensate after about the fifth day, so I end up spinning my wheels in terms of progress. If I add any intensity and/or volume, however, I’m exhausted all the time. That same thing happens if I train more often. My question is, How can I hit a bodypart often enough to keep it from detraining but at the same time keep my nervous system from overtraining?
A: Muscle recovery and recuperation are unique to each individual. Although factors such as nutrition, sleep, training experience and workout intensity play major roles in how much recuperation a bodybuilder requires, everyone must decide for him- or herself the ideal amount of time to take before training a muscle group again.
Unfortunately, you didn’t detail how you split up your body during a typical week of training, but it sounds as if you may be spreading your bodyparts over too many days. That can lead to too many days of rest.
Some bodybuilders prefer to train only one major muscle group each day and split their bodyparts up over six days. For example, they may train chest on Monday, quadriceps on Tuesday, shoulders on Wednesday, back on Thursday, arms on Friday and hamstrings on Saturday. I don’t like that because you’re forced to train every day, which doesn’t let the body as a whole get any rest. Anyone who’s done a very intense workout knows how important it is to rest the following day.
If you train every bodypart once every five days, you can split your body over three days and take the fourth day off. That’s a good method, and I can’t imagine the muscle decompensating after only five days.
It’s possible that you’re using the wrong exercises or not using enough resistance. Stick with the hard but effective exercises that require barbells and dumbbells’barbell squats, barbell rows, deadlifts, bench presses and incline presses (with barbells and dumbbells), military presses, barbell curls, dips, lying triceps extensions and so on. Those are best for building muscle mass and power. Selecting a weight that limits you to six to 10 reps will ensure that you train with enough intensity to stress the muscles.
If you’re doing the most effective exercises with the proper amount of resistance and you’re making an effort to increase the intensity each week by doing more repetitions with the same weight or using more weight for the same number of reps, your muscles will need at least five days of rest. You won’t need to worry about decompensation, only that the muscles are getting enough rest and recuperation before you hit them again.
If you’re an intermediate bodybuilder looking to gain more size and strength, try the following program. It has the same three-days-on/one-off split suggested above:
Day 1: Chest, arms, calves
Bench presses 4 x 6-10
Incline presses 3 x 6-8
Flyes 2-3 x 6-8
Lying triceps extensions 3 x 6-10
Dips 3 x 6-8
Barbell curls 3 x 6-10
Incline curls 2-3 x 6-8
Seated calf raises 4 x 8-15
Day 2: Abs, legs
Hanging knee raises 2-3 x 30
Crunches 2-3 x 30
Squats 4 x 6-10
Leg presses 3 x 8-12
Leg curls 3 x 6-10
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 8-10
Day 3: Shoulders, back, calves
Military presses 3 x 6-10
Lateral raises 3 x 8-10
Barbell shrugs 3 x 6-10
Wide-grip chins 3 x 8-12
Barbell rows 3 x 6-10
Seated cable rows 3 x 8-10
Donkey calf raises 4 x 15-30
After three days of training you’ll have hit every major muscle group and be ready for a day of rest. When you resume training on the fifth day, the bodyparts you train will have had four days of rest.
If you discover that you’re feeling overtrained or overworked after your day off, you can add another day of recuperation. Train two days in a row, take a day of rest, train one more day and then take another day of rest. Your revised training routine would look something like this:
Day 1: Chest, arms, calves
Day 2: Legs, abs
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Shoulders, back, calves
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Cycle begins again
It’s possible to become overtrained if you don’t give your muscles enough time off before training them again or if you train too many days in a row before taking a day off. It’s also quite possible to undertrain by taking too much rest between sessions or by not training intensely enough. Try the above routine, give it 100 percent, and you should have no problem with the undertraining issue.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Natural Mr. Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at www .naturalolympia .com. You can write to him at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free (800) 900-UNIV (8648). IM