The Every-Other-Day Workout Plan

by Christian Thibaudeau

One Day On, One Day Off for Hardcore Lifters

If you love to lift hard, then train every other day to make the most gains. Here's why and how to plan it.

To maximize strength or muscle growth, get more awesome workouts than below-average workouts. Seems logical, right? Yet most lifters believe a bad workout is better than no workout. Their reasoning? Even though their performance sucks, they're still imposing muscular stress, which promotes growth. Sorry, but it's not that simple.

Crappy workouts occur because your muscles or your nervous system aren't recovered. Imposing more stress leads to a downward spiral: your body is playing catch up and might not be able to fully recover, much less positively adapt.

If you want to get rid of the bad workouts and maximize performance, rest the day prior to your workout. That's a one-day on, one-day off approach – train every other day. Rest the day before each workout so you can train harder and better every time.

Why an Every-Other-Day Split?

  • Protein synthesis in a trained muscle peaks at around 24 hours and remains elevated for 36 hours after your workout. This covers the rest of your training day and the following day.
  • Taking a day off after your workout – while increasing protein intake and doing non-stressful physical activity – allows you to get the most out of the higher protein synthesis.
  • The main benefit of every-other-day training is being able to work brutally hard while significantly lowering your risk of training burnout.
  • To get the most out of this approach, use a whole-body training split. This gives you a very high training frequency for each muscle, despite a moderate overall frequency. (An alternative approach is a lift-specific program: bench and assistance on day one, squat and assistance on day two, etc.)

Your results won't decrease from "only" training every other day (3-4 workouts a week). Some get similar results and some get massively superior results. But whatever your results, you'll feel better, reduce aches and pains, and gain more energy and time to do other things.

EOD: Hard Workers Only!

The workout stimulates the body to grow, but the growth occurs when you rest and feed the body. Everyone says it, but many of those same people train 5-6 days a week, doing 30 sets per workout.

It's not impossible to train 5-6 days a week. If the volume is low enough, it's doable. But if you train with moderate or higher volume and keep a high effort level on your sets, you won't be able to train 5-6 days a week and progress optimally while feeling good.

Before steroids, lifters trained 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and built a ton of strength and size. One could argue that training 5-6 days a week, using body part splits and jacking up the volume, came along with steroids.

I'm not saying you can't progress when training 5-6 days a week. When you're young, have no responsibilities, and aren't strong yet, it's doable. But in the real adult world, most crash on that schedule. Those who don't crash usually aren't training very hard. Don't confuse working out a lot with working hard!

So, this approach is for those who train brutally HARD – hard enough to stimulate significant growth. Every-other-day training isn't for the lazy. It's for those who NEED to take a day off after a workout because it would be impossible to have a productive workout the next day.

Systemic Effects Of Training

Dedicated lifters are probably saying, "Yeah, but if I'm not hitting the same muscles, why can't I train hard two days in a row?"

It'd be a valid point if local fatigue (the fatigue you get in trained muscles) was all that happened when you trained. But it isn't. Each workout also has systemic effects that can have a negative impact on performance, such as increased cortisol negatively affecting whole-body protein synthesis and increases protein breakdown.

It's the systemic stuff that gets you. If it's great enough, it even negatively impacts your state of mind and motivation. The harder a workout, the greater the systemic fatigue. Your volume, how hard you push your sets, the amount of weight you use, and the difficulty of the exercises, are key factors affecting the stress level of a workout.

A lifter doing mostly of isolation or machine exercises with light to moderate weights not pushed to the limit experiences less systemic stress. That's why training one-day on/one-day off isn't for those who don't want to train that much; rather, it's for those who train so hard they need a day off after their workouts.

It's Not an Off Day. It's a Peaking Day

If you have a mental issue with taking a day off, change your mindset and see it as a peaking day. Use the day before a workout as a tool to help you destroy the weights on training day. You might even have more calories and carbs on the non-workout days if your goal is to blow your muscles up as much as possible and gain an advantage on the big lifts.

The Best Way to Organize Your Workouts

Use a split where each muscle gets stimulated, at least indirectly, twice per four-workout cycle. Since you have four workouts per eight days, if you use a traditional bodybuilding-style body part split, you'll likely wait too long between hitting each muscle to grow optimally.

Whole-body workouts are your best option. Here you have the option of using two different workouts repeated twice per eight-day cycle; four different sessions done once per eight-day cycle; or three whole-body workouts rotated.

Build each workout on four multi-joint exercises (one squat, one press, one pull, one hinge). You have the option of adding 1-2 isolation exercises for lagging muscles.

Whole-Body (Two Different Sessions)

  • Day 1: WB 1
  • Day 2: Off
  • Day 3: WB 2
  • Day 4: Off
  • Day 5: WB 1
  • Day : Off
  • Day 7: WB 2
  • Day 8: Off

Whole-Body (Four Different Sessions)

  • Day 1: WB 1
  • Day 2: Off
  • Day 3: WB 2
  • Day 4: Off
  • Day 5: WB 3
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: WB 4
  • Day 8: Off

Whole-Body (Three Different Sessions)

  • Day 1: WB 1
  • Day 2: Off
  • Day 3: WB 2
  • Day 4: Off
  • Day 5: WB 3
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: WB 1*
  • Day 8: Off

* The next cycle would start with the WB 2 workout.

How to Eat

If your goal is to gain muscle and strength, ingest a caloric surplus. I'm not suggesting piling on fat, but if you want to build muscle, you'll have to bathe your body in nutrients. Eating a surplus – especially if it comes from carbohydrates – puts the body in an ideal physiological state to grow.

I recommend having your greatest caloric and carb intake on the NON-workout days, especially if your goal is maximum gains.

Non-Workout Day Nutrition

The days you're not training are meant to:

  • Maximize the growth from the previous day's workout
  • Load the muscles full of glycogen and water
  • Facilitate systemic recovery to be rested for the next session

Carbs: Your surplus should come mainly from carbs. Carbs set up an anabolic milieu by decreasing cortisol and increasing mTOR, IGF-1, and insulin. (Carbs are the best "supplement" to lower cortisol.) Carbs lower adrenaline, allowing you to sleep better and prevent beta-adrenergic downregulation (the leading cause of training burnout). They replenish muscle glycogen and pull water into the muscles. Carbs are also protein-sparing.

Protein: Protein is the second most important nutrient. The workout and carbs put your body in an anabolic/muscle-building state, but you still need the protein to take advantage of that state. About 1 gram per pound of bodyweight is enough to maximize growth. Use MD Protein (Buy at Amazon) to hit that goal.

Fat: Fat should be kept lower, mostly to be able to get in more carbs. Get 0.25 grams per pound of bodyweight with an emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids and mono/polyunsaturated fatty acids. Eat "real food" and supplement with a quality supplement like Flameout DHA-Rich Fish Oil (Buy at Amazon).

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Training Day Nutrition

Calories should actually be a bit lower, mostly via a lower carb intake. Carbs should be concentrated around your workout (before, during, after) and in the last meal of the day. Ideally, use Surge Workout Fuel (Buy at Amazon) for your training, keep the carbs lower in other meals, and then have some carbs at night to decrease cortisol.

The number of carbs (on both types of days) should vary depending on your goal:

  • Maximum muscle/strength without regard to fat gain
  • High rate of growth with some fat gain accepted
  • Significant growth with minimal fat gain
  • Some muscle growth with no fat gain

On the non-workout days, carb intake should be around 50% higher than on the training days. Example: 200 grams on training days (counting workout nutrition drink) and 300 on non-workout days.

The amount of protein on training days can be a little bit higher. Fats can be a bit higher on training days since it's good to support hormone production and nervous system function.

SURGEAMZ

Stimulate, Then Grow

Stimulating your muscles through training and allowing the growth to happen through nutrition and rest are opposite processes that need each other.

When you train, you deplete glycogen and ATP while breaking down muscle tissue. When you recover, you store these things and increase protein accrual to the muscle tissue. When you train, you also increase catabolic hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When you rest and grow, your anabolic hormones like IGF-1 and insulin go up.

The body is very inefficient at doing two opposite things at the same time. It can do it, but you lose on both ends. If you introduce a second workout while you're still in the recovery phase of the previous session, you must halt the recovery process for the time of the workout and then restart it. And when recovery from the second workout is added to that of the first one, it decreases adaptation to one or both of them.

The every-other-day approach is the most efficient way to train and gain.

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4 Likes

In my experience, this is for sure the best way to train if you can pull it off. I had a long history of working out since my late teens, but always doing split workouts, and always secondary to playing soccer 4 days per week. Fast forward to my early forties. I started to work out 2-3 days per week (goal of 3, but sometimes only did 2 when life got in between). I did two workouts which I rotated between. One with squats, barbell rows and overhead presses. 3 sets of squats, starting with a weight I could do 12-15 reps, increasing weight to hit 8-10 and then increasing again to hit 4-6 reps. Rows and OHP 5x5 in the same rack, switching between the two exercises in a B1/B2 fashion with minimal rest between sets. Second workout was Deadlifts 5x5 and then weighted chins and weighted dips as B1/B2 5x5 alternating between the two exercises with as short rest as possible. And that is still some rest though since swapping weights and fiddling with straps does take up to a minute.
I pushed both workouts as frigging hard as I could and got in the best shape of my life at age 45. Stronger, leaner, more muscular than in my twenties. My arms were bigger than in the past even though I didn’t train them specifically. But the weighted chins and dips did enough.
It was taxing, I basically crawled out of the gym. My 5x5 was often more like 5,5,4,4,3 etc and then working up to 5x5 berfore increasing weight again. So there was always a few sets taken to failure (or at least very, very close to failure).
Just needed to say that this article really, really matched my own experience. What CT recommends here is more or less exactly what I did - and it worked fantastically well.

6 Likes

This is how I train after reading an older CT article on this topic. It works great for me as I respond both physically and mentally well to higher intensity, lower volume and pushing myself hard in the gym. I am nearly 100% spent after a training session.

My profile pic is after 2 years of EOD training using the CT “power” look progression multiple times. Disclaimer: I also run low dose T (TOT not TRT) while mixing in low dose nandrolone and oxandrolone.

I’ve been primarily focusing on strength and secondarily on power for about 3 years using EOD training and I’m as strong as I’ve ever been at age 49.

1 Like

My best training period was for the most part EOD too. Mon-Wed-Fri-Sat just suits me too bloody well though. :frowning:

EOD meant getting gym sessions on the occasional Sunday which I just couldn’t psyche myself up for most of the time. Be it the girls I coach mentally exhausting me, or because I had a couple of drinks at a random Saturday event.

I ended up adapting my normal routine to a weekend off now and again thing so over the course of a few months it still averages out to around 3.5x/week, same amount of sessions as EOD.

3 Likes

Going to give this a try! Currently working a split of Sun/Mon and Wed/Thu but at 62 I’m getting a bit fatigued so hoping this’ll give my body the break it apparently needs!

1 Like

Great article. Going to try this out soon! A few q’s to ensure I don’t undermine the benefits of this method.

  1. I’m considering this with subbing in a long runs or challenging mountain hikes on weekends (approx 7-12 for either, the hikes with lots of elevation gain). Example 14 day cycle starting on a Monday:
    1: WB
    3: WB
    5: WB
    7: 10 mile run
    9: WB
    11: WB
    13: 8 mile hike

  2. does direct core training fit in the “isolation” category on training? Hanging leg raises and anti movements, maybe some crunch variations.

  3. assuming loaded carries are ok on WB days in addition to push pull squat hinge, correct?

My goals are to have fun and be decent at a variety of strength and endurance activities. My main activities are lifting, obstacle course racing, marathons and half marathons and I typically only run one long run / long hike per week.

Thanks! Long time reader but first time interacting.

1 Like

Love this strategy. Having a home gym, I have the luxury of being able to easily workout whenever I’d like. I usually like to workout every 36hrs or so. Getting near 40, daily clang and bang just isn’t feasible for more than a few weeks. My Schedule ends up being a “Morning, Evening, OFF” 3 day rotation, and seems to work pretty easily with both weekday and weekend schedules.

How long did you spend in the gym when running this style program? And for how long did you exercise like this?

I did this for 2-3 years. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I did exactly this 2-3 times per week for all that time. Sometimes, e.g. when travelling, I had to do whatever what was available in a hotel gym, etc. But I sticked to this plan for the absolute majority of time during roughly three years. Time spent in gym, well it takes (for me) longer than one might guess. Mostly because warmup for squats and deads takes its time. Let’s say 5 minutes stationary bike, one set barbell only, then three progressively heavier sets. That’s close to 15 minutes of warmup only for the deadlift. 5x5 with 2 minutes rest, that’s another 15 minutes. Moving to a chins/dips station, another 2 sets of each exercise warmup with no weights is 5-10 minutes. Then 5x5 of each exercise with one minute of rest in between, that’s another 15-20 minutes. 40-45 minutes. Some’d say that’s a short workout, but considering that’s 15 sets of close to or at failure with weights being fairly heavy (6-7 RM), with short rest in between - I’d say it’s a very tough workout. At least it was for me. Should probably add I was neither natural, nor on steroids. TRT.
What I have also learned over the years is that the main trigger for me in terms of both adding muscle and getting lean is what I’d describe as how hard the workout is. I need to push myself hard, sweat, get my pulse up, and lift heavy. As much as I respect CT, but I have tried his “Best damn workout for natural lifters”, with super high frequency (6 times per week) and very few sets. It just doesn’t work for me. Even though I probably get as many sets till failure in during a week as the program I described above, it just doesn’t work. For me, it always worked best to beat the shit out of myself with heavy weights and fairly short rest and get plenty of off-days in during the week. It seems my body just needs to get beaten beyond some systemic threshold for a workout to even have some effect.

This. I made the best muscle (not strength) gains using the “Best Damn…” series at age 39. I’m not a program follower this late in my lifting career but after nearly 20 years of competing (powerlifting in my teens, Olympic lifting teens to 20’s the back to powerlifting until age 30). I needed a program that I had to follow and not slide back into ego and pure strength work. I couldn’t (psychologically) have done it otherwise.

Fast forward and I’m just shy of 43. EOD alternating push/pull sessions with training more in line with DC, Scott, Jordan has got me back to my most well rounded muscular bodyweight (200lbs, 5’7"). That appears it for my natural ceiling. I’ve repeatedly hit that number as an Olympic lifte, powerlifter, and…eh, basement bodybuilder.

Long story short, EOD is money.:rofl: