By Stefan Ianev
One thing I have learned from coaching clients out of our Sydney CBD and Chatswood gyms as well as from my online personal training clients is that if you give the same training program to several different individuals at the same training age and you will likely observe a vastly different training response. About half the variance can be explained due to genetic differences.
The other half boils down to execution. It is not just about what you do but how you do it that counts! Assuming correct technique is being used its going to come down to selecting the right load at each training session. If you do not progressively increase the workload over time you are not giving a reason for your body to adapt to an increased level of imposed demand.
On the other hand if you use too great a load too often you will quickly stagnate. This is especially true for more advanced trainees and is something I have been guilty of myself especially earlier in my training career.
As you get closer to your genetic ceiling rate of progress slows substantially. Not only that but you will need periods of higher stress to force adaptation and periods of unloading where progress may stall or you may even need to regress a bit in order to move forward again.
This is due to the physiological phenomenon known as peaking which dictates that we can not be at our best all this time. This is something I have had to learn to except over time as progress has slowed substantially and performance fluctuates greatly day to day and week to week.
For this reason for my more advanced clients I like to use a DUP (daily undulating periodization) approach where I alternate between heavy and light days within their training week. For intermediates I prefer a WUP (weekly undulating periodization) approach where the training stress fluctuates weekly.
Now while I may vary the intensity and volume within the week or week to week I still like to maintain the load within a narrow range of 10-15% so as not to confuse the body with the type of stimulus I am trying to adapt to.
For example during a hypertrophy phase on heavy days I may work them up to a 6-8RM whereas on light days I may work them up to a 10-12RM instead. During a strength phase the intensity range is typically smaller and during a cutting phase the intensity spread is usually larger.
In that case it could be up to 20% or more. So on heavy days they could be doing sets of 8 reps whereas on light days they could be doing sets of 15 reps or more. This is because the body adapts primarily to the most metabolic stimulus and at this point hypertrophy is only trained at maintenance.
Here is an example of a moderate day during my DUP program. One arm dumbbell rows of 60kg for 10 reps
Now although I plan out the absolute intensity for each session within the week the relative intensity might vary based on how they feel on the day.
Typically on their main movements for each body part I pyramid them up to a max weight over 5-6 sets.
For instance during a hypertrophy phase on a heavy chest day if they are doing bench presses as their main movement and they are feeling pretty good it might look something like the following:
- Set 1 (Warm-up): Bar x 30 reps @ RPE 2/10
- Set 2: 60kg x 15 reps @ RPE 5/10
- Set 3: 80kg x 10 reps @ RPE 6/10
- Set 4: 100kg x 10 reps @ RPE 7/10
- Set 5: 120kg x 8 reps @ RPE 8/10
- Set 6: 140kg x 6 reps @RPE 10/10
RPE is a measure of the relative intensity for any given set. Typically they will only go to failure on the last set of an exercise. The earlier sets are only primers. They fatigue the lower threshold motor units and prepare you for the heavy sets.
If they are feeling pretty good on any given day but those earlier sets feel heavier than normal I might not work them up as heavy weight but instead get more volume at the lower intensities.
Using the example above instead of working up to 140kg on the bench I might work them up to 120kg only and do 3-4 working sets at that weight. I used to believe one should never deload intensity, only the volume but since then I have changed my mind. Some days you will just feel like you are able to get in a lot of work at the lower intensities but may not be able to go as heavy.
This is perfectly fine since we can be overtrained by both volume and/or intensity. If you are overtrained by intensity and just cannot face heavy ass weight on a given day you can still get in your volume.
If they are feeling particularly crap on a given day then I will deload both. So they may only work up to 120kg at an RPE of 8/10 on the bench and leave it at that. In that particular instance the trick is to walk out of the gym feeling fresh and like you could have done more.
This will recharge your nervous and endocrine system and you will likely feel much better and be stronger the next time around. Instead if you tried push through and do your regular workout likely you will tank which will only frustrate you and also negatively affect your performance the following workout.
Because I implement this type of auto-regulation on a day to day basis I no longer plan in deliberate deloads periods within my programming. I may plan a transition phase for them every 6-12 weeks between cycles instead so they are fresh going into a new cycle.
As you progress it is true that you need to work harder but also you need to work smarter. Your body is a biological organism which fluctuates day to day so you cannot treat it like machine and expect it to respond accordingly to what the piece of paper says. For more information on our industry leading personal training programs CONTACT US today!