Expert advice to your questions about training, nutrition, recovery, and living the fitness lifestyle.
Dylan: Steve Reeves and most other pre-steroid era bodybuilders advocated a three-day-a-week full-body split to maximize recovery. Do you consider this an optimal split for natural lifters today? If not, which type of split do you think is best for the natural lifter?
Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes: I don’t know if this was optimal so much as it was simply popular. These splits were very high volume oftentimes and if divided up would be roughly equivalent to the weekly training volume of a traditional “bro” split.
In regards to recovery, those total-body workouts were typically very long. Reeves trained on average three—sometimes four—hours at a time. One should recall as well, those guys at the highest levels did have very good genetics. And genetics enables more with less, often enough.
“Optimal” depends on what someone’s quantity of recovery is relative to their capacity to train, along with the individual genetic ability to adapt. So I wouldn’t call it “optimal,” but if it fits your lifestyle and your individual genetics are “good,” yes, it could definitely work.
Jimmy: Assuming high-normal testosterone levels and a relatively young age, what is the minimum amount of time for effective muscular recovery between lifts? If everything is done in the eight-to-12-rep range hitting failure. Also how often does a longer period of rest need to be incorporated, in your opinion?
AJAC: This depends on the intensity of the training, the structure of the training, one’s inherent recuperative abilities, and a multitude of lifestyle recovery factors, including sleep, feeding, and stress levels outside of training.
Relative to established exercise science, muscles generally recover fully after 48 hours from the time they are trained, assuming for moderate to high training intensity. This can be 72 hours if training is particular intense, or as little as 24 hours in a veteran trainee.
Regarding “rest” periods, the science on this is fuzzy. For strength-focused training, in which high-percentage lifting is the preeminent goal, two to five minutes of rest between sets is suggested. For hypertrophy, it can be much less, 30 seconds to two minutes. Again, this depends on the relative level of exertion that’s being performed, so there is no hard and fast rule.
My professional recommendation is to rest as long as necessary in order to perform the next set to the level of performance you desire.
Drew: What’s the best way to prevent muscular imbalances or fix any imbalances one has already? I have scoliosis and have found it near impossible to fix mine thanks to my curved spine.
AJAC: The “best” way is relative. Scoliosis comes in many forms, and while some types are very improvable by exercise, other types not so much. The best time to attempt to correct scoliosis is in adolescence. As an adult, the degree to which it can be corrected is questionable.
All that said, someone with scoliosis is not exceptional in regards to training their back. Exercises may have to be modified to avoid exacerbating pain, but otherwise all manner of rowing can be done. My suggested modification would be to utilize a large amount of single-arm work and adjust volume in accordance with how your back feels.
Ryan: Should my training change during a fat-loss/cutting phase?
AJAC: Yes and no. This question is asked often, with the idea being that because calories are decreased, training must require some sort of adjustment.
While it may be that energy (calories) is lower during a fat-loss phase with your diet, there is no real reason to modify your training unless it is of such volume and intensity that it outpaces your ability to recover from it. This can happen with competitive bodybuilders, as their calories drop to very low levels and it becomes nearly impossible to maintain a high level of exertion as a result. In that case, modification happens by necessity.
Also, to address a related fallacy, when you are training during a fat-loss phase, it is not the time to expect great progress to occur. Muscle growth is very unlikely to happen and maximal strength isn’t likely to go up. You may find that relative bodyweight strength exercise become easier, since the efficiency of these movements is relative to your weight, but overall, a cutting phase is not the time to assume linear progress will be made.
Training during a cut phase is to help maintain muscle mass and ultimately shift weight loss toward fat loss.
Wesley: Is it necessary to do isolation movements like curls, shrugs, lateral raises, etc.? If I’m working those muscles during compound movements, they should grow, right?
AJAC: Yes, it is necessary. And no, they won’t fully grow to their maximum muscular potential only doing compound movements. Just because a compound movement works multiple muscle groups, this does not mean that each group in question is fully worked to its maximum ability.
There is a reason bodybuilders use a combination of compound and isolation movements to maximally develop every muscle group. Avoiding targeted muscle work will just lead to skinny arms, no traps, lousy calves, and a bunch of excuses as to why that is. If you want arms, then train arms!