When I first began lifting weights I worked out every other day - Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday - repeat - and I never missed for five straight months. The sessions were with a personal trainer, and accurate records were kept.
Soon my progress stopped. I was particularly stuck with bicep curls just barely achieving eight reps each time for five months. Twice during that time I got nine reps on that one exercise; I likened it to a religious experience – achieving beyond the realm of normal. The workouts during this time were grueling, as I was hell bent on breaking through a plateau.
I went home for Christmas. It had been more than a week since my last workout when I found a health club with the very same line of equipment I had been using. I thought surely I would be weaker. I was shocked to find that I was stronger. On the bicep curls I got eleven reps, not the usual eight. I had no explanation for it. I concluded that it must be that the equipment was better oiled. I was not ready to accept that less can be better.
The positive adaptation resulting from strength training involves a structural change - the rebuilding of muscle. For most that involves several days to be fully recovered. Think how long it takes an injury to totally heal. Some go back to the gym before being fully recovered and as a result make minimal progress. Some repeat this mistake for years. I was one of them.
On the other hand, the positive adaptation as a result of aerobic activity is primarily a bio-chemical change - the body up-regulates its ability to burn sugar for an extended time. The recovery period is short - hence running can be done with greater frequency.
After much trial and error I eventually figured it out. There are those for whom two or three times a week might be appropriate; I was not one of them. I came to realize that we all improve in the beginning at two or three times a week because we are learning a skill, and that must account for some of the improvement. Also, in the beginning we are not yet taxing our bodies as much as when we work up to higher intensities, and as such require less recovery time. When I cut back my workouts improvement was almost easy. Had I not figured it out I would have quit never to return to the weight room again. I think this is the experience of many in the weight room.
People have different tolerance for exposure to sunlight before getting burnt. The same applies for exercise; everyone has a different capacity for exercise and ability to recover from that exercise. As trainers at first we don’t know what the individual’s rate of recovery from a workout is, but we quickly infer it by seeing the progress or sometimes the lack of it. From those inferences an experienced personal trainer can gage the frequency, intensity, and duration of the training sessions to keep progressing.
When I finally did cut back and started to improve again I had more enthusiasm, focus, and I actually did work even harder. That will happen when you are seeing improvement for your efforts, and you will be more likely to stick to it.
You can get more out of exercising less with High Intensity Interval Training. We use HIIT at both our locations - New Orleans Fitness Training and Austin Fitness Training.
High intensity exercise and recovery - how much is enough?
Strength Training: 67 Percent Improvement in 28 days