Note: Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get to the bottom of the biggest questions in health and training. Post your questions directly to Charles in the comments below this article.

 

Question #1: Should I Use a Scale?

READER: What's your take on using the scale to monitor body composition? In other words, do you use it at all, and if so, how frequently do you recommend?

 

CHARLES SAYS: I think that for most people, the scale is the most practical method of evaluating changes in body composition. But it shouldn’t be your only method by any means, since scale weight is only a proxy for body composition. In other words, it’s an indirect measure, which means it’s capable of misleading you. For example, a sudden increase in carbohydrate and/or sodium intake can cause fluid retention and weight gain, even though you didn’t gain any body fat.

 

I’d recommend taking weekly progress pictures, as well as noting changes in how clothing is fitting you, and possibly taking measurements, in addition to using scale weight.

 

scale, body composition

 

But with all of that said, there is considerable controversy around the ideal frequency of weighing, if there is in fact such a thing.

 

For some people, daily weighing can lead to anxiety over the inevitable day-to-day fluctuations in bodyweight, mostly from the causes I spoke of a moment ago.

 

On the other hand, less frequent weighings (weekly, for example), tend to be far less accurate due to those same day-to-day fluctuations. For example, you might weigh between 140-142lbs all week, and then have a lot of salt in your evening meal, and the next morning, you weigh 144lbs. You think you’ve gained three or four pounds, but in fact, you haven’t.

 

"Personally, as long as I think my client can tolerate it, I like daily weighings, and then calculating a weekly average bodyweight from those numbers."

Some coaches recommend twice-weekly weighings as a way to bridge the gap between the accuracy of daily weighings and the low-stress of weekly weighings. Personally, as long as I think my client can tolerate it, I like daily weighings, and then calculating a weekly average bodyweight from those numbers.

 

Question #2: How Frequently Should I Train?

READER: Charles, I often hear it said that older athletes should train less frequently for recovery purposes. I'm guessing that you don't agree (from watching your training here!) but just wondered what your thoughts were about that.

 

CHARLES SAYS: Well, recovery is really the key concern here. Age does affect recovery, but so do a lot of other things. So I think of recovery as the proximate determinant of training frequency, and things like age, sleep quality, stress, and nutrition simply underlie your ability to recover.

 

Also keep in mind that training frequency is inexorably linked to other parameters such as the volume and intensity of loading. So for example, if your training load was light enough, you could potentially train three times a day, seven days a week with no problems at all.

 

"I think of recovery as the proximate determinant of training frequency, and things like age, sleep quality, stress, and nutrition simply underlie your ability to recover."

However, if you find that you can make continuous progress in your training, it’s an accurate sign that your training frequency is at least not excessive. Whether or not it could be increased with even better results would require some personal experimentation.

 

Finally, it’s a good idea to continuously rotate between strength and muscle-development phases (I’ll reference this idea in more detail below), and use regular deload weeks, say every four weeks or so, to ensure optimal recovery long term.

 

Question #3: Sets, Reps, and How Many? What Gives?

READER: I know that variety is an important component of training, but is it better to change exercises, or sets and reps? Also, how often should I change my program?

 

CHARLES SAYS: Yes, you’re right — variation is a key element of effective programming. Too much or too little though, or the wrong types of variation, will definitely hinder your progress.

 

In terms of whether it’s better to vary exercises or your set/rep patterns, you should actually do both, but according to your primary training goal. In phases of training devoted to muscle growth, you’re better off changing exercises, since if you veer too far away from the 8-12 rep range, you won’t be in the optimal loading zone for hypertrophy development.

 

reps, sets, training schedule

 

You certainly can grow muscle using all sorts of set/rep brackets, but the 8-12 rep range seems to allow for a high enough intensity as well as high enough volume for growth.

 

So while you could, for example, grow muscle by using sets of 3, this would be impractical, since you’d have to do so many sets to obtain sufficient volume, your workout would take all day. Plus a workout like that would take forever to recover from.

 

If strength is your primary goal however, you really won’t have much variation, for a few different reasons:

 

  • First, since strength is a skill, by definition, you’ll need to do the same type of training for extended periods of time for skill development purposes. This precludes the idea of changing exercises.
  • Second, for optimal strength development, you’ll need to stay in (roughly) the 3-5-rep bracket to ensure sufficient intensity. This precludes the idea of changing rep patterns.

 

So as it turns out, the best way to provide variety during a strength phase is to switch to a hypertrophy phase. Similarly, the best way to provide variety during a hypertrophy phase is to switch to a strength phase.

 

Another, perhaps simpler way to envision this strategy is this — don’t think so much in terms of switching exercises or set/rep patterns. Instead, think more in terms of switching training foci.

 

"The inability to add more weight on the bar while using your current set/rep bracket signals the need to switch things up."

This brings us to your last question about how often to implement these changes. When training for muscle gains, a significant dissipation of post-exercise muscle soreness is a sign that your body has habituated to your current scheme. Typically this happens in 3-5 weeks. At this point, either overhaul your exercise menu, or switch to a strength-training emphasis.

 

When training for strength on the other hand, the inability to add more weight on the bar while using your current set/rep bracket signals the need to switch things up. Usually this will mean switching to a muscle-building phase of training.

 

This Week’s Training

This Week’s Volume: 63,294 Pounds (Last Week: 36,594 Pounds)

 

Significant Lifts:

 

  • Squat: 330x5
  • Deadlift: 495x1
  • Bench Press: 235x5

 

This week I found myself in an unfocused mood, partly due to some persistent shoulder pain, and partly because my training partners are all deloading. The result of all this is that I wasn’t terribly fired up this week, which is probably a good thing for the sake of my shoulder.

 

One result of me feeling lazy this week was that I wasn’t in the mood to do a lot of volume as my current program calls for, so I opted for a heavy single on the deadlift, just for the change of pace, and worked up to a single big set of five on the squat and bench.

 

I expect to be back on track next week. I’ve got three more weeks of general strength training, and then an eight-week peaking phase, where everything will be in the two to three rep range.

 

Definitely check out the videos this week, keep those questions coming, and if you find this column helpful, please spread the word!


Monday, August 31, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.6 Pounds

Volume: 17,595 Pounds

 

Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 275 lbs × 5
  • Set 7: 330 lbs × 5 (Video Below)
  • Set 8: 315 lbs × 5

 

 

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 185 lbs × 6
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 225 lbs × 6
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 6

 

45° Back Extension

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 150 lbs × 6

 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.6 Pounds

Volume: 15,470 Pounds

 

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 215 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 230 lbs × 5
  • Set 7: 205 lbs × 5
  • Set 8: 205 lbs × 5

 

Seated Row

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 150 lbs × 6

 

EZ Bar Curl

  • Set 1: 75 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 75 lbs × 8

 

Lying Tricep Extension

  • Set 1: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 75 lbs × 8
  •  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.2 Pounds

Volume: 14,080 Pounds

 

2.5" Deficit Pull

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 275 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 315 lbs × 5
  • Set 7: 365 lbs × 5

 

Deadlift

  • Set 1: 405 lbs × 1
  • Set 2: 455 lbs × 1
  • Set 3: 495 lbs × 1 (Video Below)

 

 

High Bar Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 225 lbs × 5

 

Friday, September 4, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.2 Pounds

Volume: 16,149 Pounds

 

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 175 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 195 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 215 lbs × 5
  • Set 7: 235 lbs × 5
  • Set 8: 205 lbs × 5

 

Chin Up

  • Set 1: 1 reps
  • Set 2: 2 reps
  • Set 3: 3 reps
  • Set 4: 4 reps
  • Set 5: 5 reps
  • Set 6: 5 reps

 

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 60 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 70 lbs × 8

 

Tricep Pushdowns

  • Set 1: 140 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 140 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 140 lbs × 8

 

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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