If you're enthusiastic about your fitness program, it's tempting to think that if two or three strength workouts a week are good, then five are even better. Unfortunately, no matter how close you are to your beach vacation, your friend's wedding or your high school reunion, you need to pace yourself to avoid overtraining. You'll actually get better results by varying your workout program and allowing adequate time for recovery than by doing five total-body workouts a week.
Atrophy and Hypertrophy
Your muscles actually grow most when you rest. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean sitting on the couch in front of the TV all day eating pizza will transform you into a professional swimsuit model. First, you need to break down muscle fibers by overloading your muscles with strength training. Then your body will respond to the challenge by repairing muscles with stronger fibers in a process known as hypertrophy. If you work the same muscles hard every day, your muscles will actually atrophy because you will be breaking them down faster than your body can repair them.
Total-Body Workout Schedule
Since it takes approximately 48 hours for your muscles to fully recover after strength training, you should only do total-body strength workouts every other day, or a maximum of three days a week. That doesn't mean the only exercise you should get between strength-exercise days is pushing buttons on your remote. Use the days between total-body workouts for low-impact cardio exercises such as walking, cycling, Nordic skiing, snow-shoeing, rowing or elliptical trainer machines. Low-impact cardio doesn't overload your muscles in a way that retards hypertrophy, but it does improve your cardiovascular endurance and burns calories.
Split Training Principles
Intermediate and advanced exercisers who want to get maximum results without overtraining often choose to do split training rather than total-body workouts. In split training, rather than work every single muscle on one day, you work different muscle groups in successive workouts, so you are training some muscles as you rest other muscles. An advantage of split training is that the ability to focus on specific muscles in each session, doing both compound and isolation exercises, allows you to work each muscle group much harder than you would in a total-body workout.
Two-Day Split Workout
To work your whole body without overtraining, use a two-day split in which you work your upper body on the first day and your lower body and core on the second day. This means that on the first day of the split, you would do chest, back, shoulders and arms, using both pushing and pulling motions. This might include bench presses, flyes, reverse flyes, lat pulldowns, seated rows, front dumbbell raises, overhead presses, biceps curls and triceps extensions. The second day would include abdominal exercises such as bicycle maneuvers and captain's chair bent leg raises, Roman chair exercises for back and hamstrings, leg presses, leg curls, leg extensions and thigh abductor and adductor exercises.
- BodyBuilding.com: Rest & Overtraining
- BodyBuilding.com: A Novice Trainer Trap: Overtaining: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions
- DrMirkin.com: How Muscles get Stronger
- BodyBuilding.com: The Basic Rules of Split Training
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- American Council on Exercise: What is the Difference Between Total Body Strength Training Routines and Split Routines?
- ExRx.net: 2 Day Split Workout
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.