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When Should You Train More or Less?

By Coach Wyatt

We are always looking to change training. And most of you are probably looking to add more to training. We always seem to want to do more, but that's not always the right answer.

Less is More

In many contexts doing less of something can significantly improve your gains. But what are those contexts? There are four I'd like to go over: injury, high stress levels, subpar recovery, and heavy loads.

When a tissue is damaged it has a lower capacity. It cannot produce as much force. It cannot contract as quickly. It cannot lengthen as far. We know this. In this scenario it makes sense to decrease load, alter the range of motion, use tempo, or decrease frequency.

Let's say you squat 2x a week and deadlift 2x a week. But every time you do, your back tightens up and you feel stiff for the next 24 hours. That impacts your daily living and your effort towards other exercises. But what if you squatted and deadlifted 1x each. It might take a week or two but maybe you stop tightening up. And that leads to more effort and consistency with accessories. You see where I'm going with this.

And the concept remains true when the stresses of life and training outweigh your capacity to recover. You just had a kid, do you need to be lifting heavy 5x a week? You're sleeping 4-5 hours a night, is German volume training appropriate for you? You squat 650, do you need to work with 80+% 2x a week every week?

Whether it's an injury, stress, lack of recovery, or heavier loads, often less can be more.

So When is More Actually More?

More is more, IF YOU CAN HANDLE IT. If it provides a bigger and better training stimulus without impacting recovery. This is going the be the opposite of what you read above. Being uninjured, managing stress well, eating enough and sleeping consistently. Those things will allow you to train harder. And, this might be controversial, but having access to more equipment than a barbell will help too.

This comes down to stress and recovery. Very few people live lives that allow for training 6x a week to be optimal. For many of us the last time we did something like that was high school or when we first started lifting.

But I'll give an example. As a 22 year old undergrad I was training 6 days per week and seeing great progress, here's why.

I was interning in a gym.

My schedule was very consistent.

My schooling was online.

My diet was consistent and I was in a caloric surplus.

My sleep was consistent.

I had moved to a new city and had a limited social life to drastically alter these things.

I was happy and loved my internship.

I was 22 and had very few responsibilities!

Those factors allowed me to train lifting 4x a week, and have 2 days consisting of strongman, running, and extra arm work. How many of you are in similar scenarios?

Now, if you do add more, it doesn't have to be lifting. In a recent episode of my podcast (The Barbell Athlete Radio) I and my cohost talked with two hybrid athletes. Nathan Henderson DPT and Jason Garrett MD are both distance runners and powerlifters.

Nathan has a best Dots score of 353. He has also completed a 20 mile race (marathon cut short due to weather), a full powerlifting meet, and and ultra marathon in an 8 day span. He is now pulling 500, running 20 miles, summiting mountains and playing basketball weekly as a full time physical therapist.

Jason has completed numerous marathons and ultra marathons and has a best Dots of 402. He is now an anesthesiologist resident, continues to run 30+ miles, train heavy, and is nearing all time PRs at a lower body weight.

Both talked about a dip in strength performance when they started running. But it was temporary. Soon they were training bigger volumes, not resting as much between sets, and strength came back.

Of course these are pretty extreme examples. And we should realize that both have simultaneous goals. Neither is trying to go to IPF world's.

Final Thoughts

So yes you can do more. But do more only if you can recover from it and have a purpose to it. That means any selected exercises you add have a specific outcome you desire. It means you're prioritizing aspects of stress management, sleep, and dietary intake.

Doing more, just for the sake of it, likely isn't your best route (unless you simply don't care). Do more or less based on what YOU need and what will facilitate you being consistent. Some need more, some less, some are fine with the training they have now.

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