There are a number of indispensable elements to the acquisition of muscle mass and increased strength.
Muscles become larger in response to high intensity overload. This is a very simple fact of human physiology that has been in operation long before the advent of modern training systems, nutritional supplements, and fancy gym equipment.
Similarly to the means by which skin responds to the intensity of sunlight by becoming darker – muscles adapt to the stress of overload by getting larger.
In order to precipitate muscle growth, the accustomed level of operational output of the muscular system undertaken during normal daily activities must be exceeded. To cause new muscle to grow they must be forced to operate well beyond their normal level of output. The simplest method of achieving this is by barbell training using a progressive overload system. The body will then protect and preserve itself from the increased level of stress by becoming a bigger and stronger version of itself, in order to be able to meet the increased demand.
I have seen dudes training at the gym following the same routine day in, day out, week in, week out for years. These guys look virtually the same as when I first saw them. They have been performing 5 sets of 8 reps with 85kg on the Bench press for years and have never bothered to increase the weight. They then wonder why they haven’t got bigger or stronger.
Their body hasn’t got bigger or stronger because they haven’t given it a reason to. They haven’t employed progressive resistance.
To be optimally productive, ideally every exercise should be performed with more training intensity than in the previous workout.
There are several methods to create overload in resistance training such as:
Increasing the weight lifted
Increasing the number of reps per set
Increasing the number of sets
Shortening the rest time between sets
Increasing the difficulty of the exercise
Increasing the range of motion
Increasing the frequency of training
Training Frequency and Recuperation
Regardless of which progressive system you utilise your training schedule should be flexible enough to factor in adequate recuperation. If you are following a progressive resistance program as you become bigger and stronger the increasing training intensity of your workout will necessitate increasing recovery times. Otherwise you will likely overtrain.
Therefore a fixed schedule is probably not a good idea – at least not for the long term.
Conversely too long a period of time between training the same muscle group can result in undertraining. In this writer’s experience a muscle will begin to lose strength and size after around 14 to 17 days.
Therefore when you complete a workout there is a range of time over which your next productive workout can occur. The limits of the range are the first day you can return to the gym without overtraining and the last day you can return to the gym without undertraining.
Without a variable training frequency, eventually you may reach the point where you never fully recover between workouts.
You will maintain progress on a fixed schedule only if your training days are far enough apart to ensure sufficient recovery.
For beginners this is easy as their workouts dont generate enough training intensity to require much recuperation time. As strength and training intensity increase however recuperation time correspondingly increases.
As you build size and strength, your capacity to generate intensity increases, but your recuperative ability doesn’t. You therefore become more susceptible to overtraining.
You need a training program that delivers high intensity overload on a progressive basis using a schedule of variable frequency.
The best system will be the one which employs the greatest training intensity as frequently as the body can optimally recover from.