How Brief is Brief Enough?
by Dave Sears
Editor and Publisher of Muscles in Minutes
An important factor in determining proper exercise “dosage” is the time off in between your workouts. Mike Mentzer spoke about this issue on countless occasions and was often quite specific; start with 4-5 days between workouts and add 1 or 2 days as your progress stalls. Eventually, you could end up working out once every 10 - 12 days (or less).
However, Mike also recognized - and often referred to - the necessity of the stimulus being brief. How brief is brief enough? The answer is simple; as brief as necessary to stimulate growth, but not impede the growth process. I acknowledge this doesn’t sound simple to figure out, but with a little testing of days off and volume, it will be.
As editor and publisher of Mike’s latest book, Muscles in Minutes, we often discussed his most recent and greatest thoughts and ideas. We both knew that while it would be possible to further “tweak” his tremendously successful training program, this was pretty much “it”. It would be nearly impossible to improve upon his methodology in any grand-scale way.
The purpose of this article is to share a personal discovery with you. It should help some of you jumpstart your gains - and make Mike smile in the process. Over the past few years, I constantly experimented with my training - always reporting my conclusions to Mike. He was never surprised by my findings, just validated. After all, he didn’t need convincing that his training worked. Here are a few thoughts about what I have learned.Days off…
While living in a vacuum as much as possible (same diet, same rest, same activity), I experimented with only one variable: days off in between my workouts. I performed an abbreviated total-body routine (3 exercises) and never varied the exercises. To be exact in measurement of strength, I used both rep count and the T.U.L. (time under load) method and was careful to record accurate times and keep rep modality as consistent as possible.
Overall, I tested (in 2 - 4 day increments) from 2 days off to 26 days off. After careful review, I determined that if I took any less than 6 days off - or more than 12 days off - I actually became weaker. I had (disappointingly) determined that the key (for me) was not as simple as adding days off in between workouts. Even staying in the 6 - 12 day off range, I was making barely perceptible progress.
However, I knew that the complete equation involves both rest and volume. I had not initially planned on testing this [volume], because I was already doing an abbreviated routine and felt that any less exercise would be no exercise at all!
Yet, after applying logic to the situation, I decided to experiment anyway. I started with the facts I knew, and systematically eliminated the variables that were not in question. After all, as Mike said, if a training method is valid, it is valid all the time - it should work consistently. If it does not, the method (or a component of it) is not valid.
I checked my premises and concluded that:
a. One set was certainly enough stimulus to cause growth (if performed properly), so I could eliminate the testing of adding of additional setsI consequently further reduced my workout to the following:
b. While I was training only once every 6 - 10 days - seeing marginal gains, I knew that I could eliminate the testing of days off in between workouts (I had tested that!)
c. Creating different workouts (with different exercises) was not the answer as I had tested that before and knew there was a more basic issue at hand
d. After rationally reviewing all available variables, I concluded the only one that needed to be tested was volume - so where did I start? At the beginning…
Workout 1: (1) set of pulldownsEach workout was followed by 4 days off (later increased to 5, then 6 days off). After not having made any significant strength gains in the previous 8 months, I increased strength in EVERY workout for 2-1/2 months! I was especially amazed since one of the exercises (pulldowns) I had not increased in strength in 2 years!
Workout 2: (1) set of incline presses
Workout 3: (1) set of squats
I had previously been thinking that my days of strength increases were over forever - something I did not even want to consider. However, by thinking “outside the box”, and testing objectively (as Mike encouraged), I was able to break through to the next level.
By the way, the only reason I didn’t continue my strength increases past 2-1/2 months was due to two significant health issues back-to-back. However, I am now back in top shape, have just started back on that Super Consolidated Routine, and will report my progress as it occurs.
Mike, you were right - once again!
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Please direct any comments pertaining to this article to Dave Sears via email to DSears@Print-Resource.com.