Which Type Of Strength Training Program Is Right For You?
On a very basic level, there are are only two ways to get stronger.
The first type of strength training program depends on full recovery. The second relies on overreaching. Let’s talk about the differences between the two types of methods for getting stronger, and I’ll explain which one I recommend for most people.
TRAINING WITH FULL RECOVERY
Generally, a program built around training with full recovery means going into each training week, and each key workout, at as close to full capacity as possible. You should be able to match or slightly improve on your performance from the prior week. If you squatted 3x5@83% last week, maybe this week we aim for 3x6@83%.
The trick to being successful in this kind of strength training program is to figure out many difficult workouts you can handle per week, how they need to be spaced out, how many total sets and reps to do, etc. Basically, you are trying to manage the training load with the goal of recovering well enough between key workouts/weeks or training to avoid any drop in performance.
As soon as you start to experience a drop in performance, it’s time to take a recovery week and then to change your program to give your body a new stimulus. Changes to your program would commonly include using new percentages of your 1RM, or picking new exercise variations to keep the program from going stale.
OVERREACHING MADE SIMPLE
Overreaching means training at a level that’s slightly above what you can actually recover from. Let me use a simple example to explain.
Suppose you squat 5 sets of 5 @ 85% in week 1 of your training program. Then you try the same workout in week 2 and 3, but you’re unable to complete all the reps. Let’s say in week 2 you do 3x5, then 2x4. And in week 3 you can only muster 2x5, then 2x4, then 1x3. Your performance has gone down compared to week ,1 since you haven’t fully recovered from the previous workout.
This is an example of overreaching.
The idea is this: after a certain number of loading weeks (how many weeks is highly individual: see this article for more insight into that) you then reduce the loading to allow for recovery to occur. Generally speaking, you want to keep the percentage of your max close to the level you’ve been working at, and you want to drop the volume of work by about 50%, or sometimes more.
In this example you might do 4x3@80% for a week or two. You’re now doing 12 total reps instead of 25, and while the percentage hasn’t decreased much, 3 reps @ 80% means you’ll leave 3-4 reps remaining instead of 0-1 with sets of 5 @ 85%. You can see that the stress on the body is much less.
If everything works out, you should be able to achieve a better performance after your recovery period.
WHICH training method IS BETTER?
Overreaching can deliver excellent results and is used by some top athletes and coaches. But it’s harder on the body, demands more from the athlete (lifestyle, recovery, nutrition), and in my experience is far more finicky. It’s simply not as easy to know how far to overreach and how to optimize your recovery period to achieve improved performance. And the worst part is you won’t really know if your training plan is working until the end.
On the other hand, I’ve found the Full Recovery Method is much more reliable. You know if it’s working right away since you can see slight improvements in performance sooner. Because it doesn’t push you beyond the limits of your ability to recover, it’s also a little safer and a better fit for regular people who want excellent results but who don’t put food on the table with their athletic performance. While you can argue that it results in slower progress, the Fully Recovery Method easier to get right and it’s what I’d recommend for 99% of people.