Over the past year I experienced having problems recovering from workouts, really for the first time in my life. And as a result my progress stagnated, I actually regressed a bit in some regards. So I knew that recovery was my main issue and I started to look for ways to better deal with recovery.
My first attempt was reducing the frequency of training. I made that choice for two reasons:
- My training sessions were fairly high volume and I didn't want to change that
- I looked at what many elite powerlifters and strength athletes were doing and they were, for the most part, training 4x a week.
So i decided to keep my volume high and reduce the frequency.
At first it worked great. Likely because 4 hard sessions per week is easier to recover from than 6 hard sessions a week (duh!).
But after about 2 months I started to have recovery issues again. When I had two sessions in a row I would often have no energy or drive for the second workout. And on my days off I would often feel flat and mentally drained.
That led me to the conclusion that too much volume in a workout by itself could be detrimental, even if you have plenty of rest days.
So I decided to go low volume. I confess to having watched Dorian Yates' DVD and tried his way of training. I liked it. It felt my psychological profile and focusing on doing only one all-out set was liberating. I could go REALLY hard without having the instinct of holding back for the next set. It really changed my training mindset for the best.
And it worked. Again for a few weeks I recovered well.
I didn't have problems with recovery but even though my performance in the gym was improving, I wasn't gaining muscle mass like I expected.
So I went back to the drawing board and studied some more. And remembered how well a high frequency had worked for me.
So I decided to keep Dorian's style of one all-out set per exercise, keeping the volume per session super low, but training more often and that's when gains started to come quickly.
It's been a few months now and I've played with my training's structure. I keep the same principle of one all-out set but played with different splits and frequencies. So far the 3 on/1 off has worked best for me and I'm recovering fine.
Now, strength might be a different animal because you need to "practice" heavy lifting to get maximum results. So that requires more sets. But since low reps sets rarely tap into glycogen stores, doing more heavy/low reps set can be fine for cortisol as long as you rarely go above 90% and do not go to failure.
I just wrote a plan combining strength work and my low volume approach. I don't want to give too much away but each workout has one strength lift that is periodized over 12 weeks and then the hypertrophy work which is done for one all-out set with a different intensification method on every phase.