T Nation

Intensity and Recovery


This was starting off as a woe-is-me post and I realized I was south-of-vag. For those of us beginners who do not know our body's limitations, where is the cut-off point in intensity with a training session before it compromises our ability to recover?

Take myself as an example. Early thirties, never worked out or did so a week or two a year. I'd overshoot my abilities and feel I got a good workout but be out for at least 5 days. If I worked out 3 days a week, I'd be sick and unable to train in two weeks time. When I wised up, this was with Surge PWO after the workout and using the Starting Strength program - but I was still overextending my recovery and Starting Strength wasn't really a good fit. I'd do the prescribed work and feel like I was only half done the workout but I still got sick.

Now I follow 5/3/1, even though it's not really intended for beginners, and am actually staying consistent -starting my second round next week which is huge for me - BUT I'm not doing the cardio/energy systems like sprints and hill sprints. I'm hesitant to introduce it because of fear of getting ill again though I know I really should add it in. Some days I put my all in to the workout and I do better than last time as expected, but there's more in the tank. Have I earned the Surge WO/PWO drink or not? If I do push it, will I be able to recover for the next round?

The crux of it is what tools and means did the more experienced people use to find that balance without A) causing injuries, B) recovering decently, and C) not over- or under-exceed your nutritional needs that turn us into lard-asses, or whithered marathoners?

Or you can just tell me to grow a pair.


What you're describing happens to a lot of people. They jump in to diet and exercise with both feet, only to quit after three weeks because their bodies can't handle the shock of such a drastic change. They just refuse to ease into a program - it's all or nothing, right from the start. That's the exact reason that Starting Strength has you start with the bar only (which you didn't do).

Yes, starting with the bar is kind of embarrassing. Yes, you're going to feel like you haven't done shit for the first few weeks. But it gives you a few weeks to nail down some basic form, gain some stability when performing the lifts, and get your body primed and ready for growth. And if you could add the max amount of weight to your lifts every session, you'd be benching 225x5, DL'ing 405x5, and squatting 405x5 in twelve weeks. It really doesn't take long for the weight to add up, but most noobs just can't wait to beat themselves down.

answering your questions, though: Drink the shake.


You're recovery capacity is something unique to you and will change as you progress. The only way to monitor it is to make sure the weight on the bar is increasing, make sure your body weight is increasing, and keep an eye on fat gain.


Well, I am guilty as charged with going a little gung-ho with starting strength. I was working out within a group of powerlifters and forgot to leave the ego at the door. They expected I could do more than I was capable and I overdid that.

So remember kids, listen to what your body and capabilities are. Not what your ego or others around you think you should.

Thanks for the kick to my perception of reality, Jay.


Have you really spent thousands of dollars on supplements?


I think maybe you just need to learn to train through soreness a little bit.


@BONEZ - No, I'm not in the thousands category. There are a few items I like from Biotest that I will continue buying.

@jtrinsey - Soreness is one thing but I'm referring to actually going beyond what you recover from. Be it from frying an unprepared/untrained CNS to not eating right. The best I can describe it is having the flu and it's difficult to do anything, let alone train.

I derailed my own thread by including anecdotal experience. /face palm.


You shouldn't be getting sick from just lifting weights. While it's possible that training weakens your immune system, the more important factor of illness prevention is your diet. Since you did not mention what you eat, I can only tell you that your diet should definately include a lot of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit (which are packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants), as well as a generous amount of protein (which not only helps recover and build muscle, but has also shown to boost the immune system) and good fats.

I'm doing 5/3/1 and I hit the gym three times a week, plus two sprint sessions between lifting days. Haven't been majorly ill since November of 2009. I've had a few days of moderate "unpleasantness" (sore throat, runny nose) but nothing that has kept me out of the gym or work. Although sometimes my fruit/veggie servings are lacking on some days, I try to get at least a few cups of them every day. As for the protein, my taste buds love dead chicken/cow/turkey flesh so I almost always make that quota.

For what it's worth, every day I supplement with a multi-vitamin, 500mg vitamin C, 200 mg of ginseng and about 3.6g combined EPA/DHA fish oil. I take 400mg of natural vitamin E every other day.


It just baffles me that you could reach that point in 2 weeks.

I train a lot of beginners and have never seen this, even after tough workouts. In fact, I find it is the opposite as most beginners have such little explosiveness and power that they can't even really stress their nervous system all that much.

My advice is honestly just to train through it. There's physiologically almost no way that 6 workouts over 2 weeks is enough to induce any sort of real overtraining symptoms. There's just not all that much adaptation going on, which is also why you will never build up any work capacity if you train for two weeks and then keep stopping.

Are you obese? That could warrant special consideration.


Yes, definitely obese.
I might as well post some scary stats.
Age: 34
Ht: 6'3
Wt: 278
BF: Appox 30-35%
Squat: 230x3
BP: 155x2
DL: 295x2
Seated Mil.Press: 115x2

I know my diet is shit and I've cut out almost all of the junk food. I'm going to sit down and calculate what my macros should be. I do supp. daily with Superfood, fish oil, vitD3 which is probably the main reason I've not fallen back to getting sick this time around.


Here are my stats:

age: 24
height: 6'4"
weight: 292
BF% : 32-37%

You should probably make sure you are getting enough sleep/rest. I find that I get sick whenever I don't get enough rest and have too much stress.


Ah, that makes sense. I would focus much less on pure "strength" moves and much more on basic conditioning, without killing yourself. If you are 30%+ bodyfat, who cares what your max squat is? Work up to being able to do 20 bodyweight squats without getting really out of breath. Work up to being able to do some pushups with good technique, some walking lunges, stuff like that. Basics like sled dragging are great because it combines strength work and conditioning while also not taking the overall pounding on your joints that running will.

When I work with obese clients, I really use a "warmup is the workout" concept where the focus is to restore movement ability and raise work capacity. It is hard for me to give you specific advice without seeing you personally, but in general, you should aim to be exercising 3-5 times a week at a low-to-moderate intensity, so you can start building up your work capacity. Once you get there, and you shed some body fat, then you can start raising intensity.