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How can I increase my workout frequency without overtraining?
If you want to increase the number of days you exercise each week, the number one rule is: Train smarter, not longer. If you blast your muscles too hard, too frequently, it’ll be impossible for you to recover. If your body can’t recover, your workouts will suffer. Your extra work will be counterproductive.
But here’s the good news: Training your muscles more frequently can help you speed fat loss, pack on muscle or attain any fitness goal. It’s the reason why many trainers and strength coaches now recommend doing fewer total sets and reps per workout — think three total body workouts per week — rather than performing marathon training sessions for each body part. It’s a more efficient way to challenge your body without having to fight off fatigue.
Challenging each muscle group more often requires some planning -- otherwise, you can easily run yourself into the ground.
To make this system work, you need to watch out for these four things.
1. AVOID SPINAL COMPRESSION
Your body is smart. It heals itself according to the areas that are the most important. If your spine is compressed from a tough workout (say, lots of heavy squats), your body will rush to address that structural “damage” first before it starts repairing the muscles you trained. So workouts that cause spinal compression can extend your recovery.
Fortunately, you can do this without ditching squats, which are a very important exercise for total body fitness. When squatting, don’t try to set a record in each workout. Avoid using weights that are 90 percent of your max or above. Instead, choose a weight you can perform for six reps or less with perfect form and good speed. You’ll also want to be careful to avoid rounding your back during the exercise.
2. PROTECT YOUR JOINTS
If an exercise causes you to feel more sensation in your joints than in your muscles, don’t do it. Muscles are meant to be worked, and they can recover quickly. Connective tissue does not.
3. LISTEN TO MUSCULAR SORENESS
You should definitely “feel” your muscles the day after a workout. But crippling soreness isn’t necessary -- or even ideal, especially when you’re training each muscle group more frequently.
To keep soreness at bay, try limiting your reps to eight or fewer and avoiding very slow eccentric (the lowering portion of a rep) movements. Keep the overall volume of each workout at a manageable level. If for every exercise you’re doing six to 10 sets of 10 to 20 reps, you’re probably pushing too hard for the training frequency you have in mind.
4. KEEP YOUR NERVE
You’ll probably expect some added muscle soreness when you exercise more frequently. But what you might not expect is that your central nervous system -- the master control for your body that sends signals from your brain to your muscles -- can also tire.
If your neurotransmitters become fatigued, it’s like having an extended brownout at your house -- everything operates at half-power. You’ll have trouble focusing and you'll feel a lack of energy. It’s more than having specific muscles feel a little achy. Instead, your entire body will feel stressed.
To keep your nervous system fresh, avoid training to failure on each set. You also won’t want to get too fired up before sets -- acting all crazy before a big lift will only cause excess stimulation that won’t help you move any weight during the actual exercise. You also should shy away from regularly lifting weights that are near your one-rep max.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Jason Ferruggia is the owner of Renegade Training Center and author of several books on strength training and conditioning. You can find more articles and tips from him at Jasonferruggia.com.