Lifting weights is an addiction.
Not a day goes by that I don’t crave to have my hands on cold iron. The feel of squeezing the knurl of a heavy loaded barbell is my ultimate drug, and I imagine that it’s yours as well. Thankfully, hard work pays off—and we now have science to prove it. It is now acceptable to go into the gym and inflict pain on yourself. In the back your mind, you know that you will inevitably become bigger and stronger, while also showing that “overtraining” is as fake as a stripper’s breasts (and even more fake than the attention she was giving you before your lap dance).
If you work hard, you are rewarded. And this is all due to supercompensation.
What Exactly is Supercompensation?
This is the phase that results from training hard and undergoing recovery—that period where you are bigger and stronger than you were when you started (i.e. your base fitness level). This means gaining a serious amount of muscle mass in the matter of a week— it’s not called super for nothing.
In any given workout, there is a breakdown of muscle fibers, a depletion of key nutrients, and of course, fatigue. This leads to a decline in one's fitness level. From here, your body will then recover by increasing protein synthesis to rebuild muscle tissue, getting you to your base fitness level as fast as possible. If recovery is adequate, then supercompensation occurs, increasing your fitness level above your original base. This means that you are gaining more muscle than before. This is all shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 - Supercompensation
"Graph courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Supercompensation.svg"
All of this occurs from workout to workout, but in order to maximize hypertrophy, we need to look at supercompensation on a grander scale: microcycles.
Using Microcycles for Supercompensation
Generally, a microcycle is used to get you closer to a specific goal; in this case, hypertrophy. This is normally done using a three- to four-week phase that repeats workouts three to six times. Examples of famous microcycles are German Volume Training and Smolov Jr. Each of these microcycles lasts four weeks and have a clear end result in mind.
For maximum supercompensation to occur, you will want to push yourself so that your fitness level temporarily declines. This is known as overreaching. If done correctly, you will feel fatigued, weaker, and possibly smaller at the end of your microcycle. The key here is to push yourself hard. Your pain in the gym will be rewarded shortly.
For hypertrophy, the easiest method to promote overreaching is to build the volume week-by-week. This can easily be done by adding one more set to each exercise on a weekly basis. By doing so, you are pushing your body further beyond its limit, forcing it to do more work. Eventually, however, there is a point where your body cannot take anymore and you feel weaker in the gym. This is the sweet spot. This is overreaching. If done correctly, this should take three to six weeks.
Many people mistake overreaching for overtraining. This is not the case. If you are overtrained, this means that you are chronically weaker and fatigued, and it takes months to fully recover. I've never heard of a lifter or bodybuilder becoming overtrained, but I have heard of this happening to triathletes. Overreaching means that you are on the very slight verge of overtraining.
The Supercompensation Deload
Once your body is overreaching, this is where the magic happens. You will automatically cut volume by 50-70% and increase intensity by 5%. For example, if you were squatting 225 pounds for 5 sets of 10 in your last week of overreaching, then you would cut volume to 2 sets of 10 and increase the weight to 235 pounds (or possibly more). This deload should only last a week or less.
The purpose of increasing the intensity is to still provide a training effect while the drastic cut in volume allows for recovery. From Figure 1 (above), it is evident that recovery is the first step to supercompensation. In fact, it is absolutely vital if you want to build muscle fast and reap the benefits of every muscle-building microcycle. Since recovery is so important during the supercompensation deload, certain recovery techniques need to be mentioned: sleep and nutrition.
Sleep and nutrition are the Yin to your training program’s Yang. You've heard it a million times before, so once more cannot hurt. Here is what you need to know about recovery during the supercompensation deload:
- Sleep at least seven hours per night.
- Keep your nutrition the same as during your overreaching microcycle. For instance, if you were eating 3,500 calories with a 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat breakdown, then you will be eating 3,500 calories with this same breakdown during your supercompensation deload.
- Supplement with fish oil every day and with BCAAs between meals.
An Example Workout and Supercompensation Deload
Day 1 of Overreaching Phase
|1A: Incline Bench Press||Week 1 – 2Week 2 – 3Week 3 – 4Week 4 – 5||8-12||90||30X0|
|1B: Pullup||Week 1 – 2Week 2 – 3Week 3 – 4Week 4 – 5||8-12||90||30X0|
|2A: Low-Incline Dumbbell Bench Press||Week 1 – 2Week 2 – 3Week 3 – 4Week 4 – 5||8-10||30||3010|
|2B: Low to High Cable Chest Flyes||Week 1 – 2Week 2 – 3Week 3 – 4Week 4 – 5||12-15||60||2010|
|3A: Seated Cable Row||Week 1 – 2Week 2 – 3Week 3 – 4Week 4 – 5||8-10||30||3010|
|3B: Explosive Cable Pulldown||Week 1 – 2Week 2 – 3Week 3 – 4Week 4 – 5||12-15||60||20X0|
Day 1 of Supercompensation Deload
|1A: Incline Bench Press||2 + double dropset on last set||8-12||90||30X0|
|1B: Pullup||2 + double dropset on last set||8-12||90||30X0|
|2A: Low Incline Dumbbell Bench Press||2||8-10||30||3010|
|2B: Low to High Cable Chest Flyes||2||12-15||60||2010|
|3A: Seated Cable Row||2||8-10||30||3010|
|3B: Explosive CablePulldown||2||12-15||60||20X0|
*For all exercises, use a weight that is 5% higher than you used in Week 4 of the overreaching phase.
Building muscle is as much planning as it is fun. If you push yourself hard enough and use the supercompensation deload, you will be rewarded. Here is your game plan:
- Build volume until you are overreaching
- Cut volume by 50-70% for one week
- Apply recovery techniques
It’s now time for you to handle your addiction by putting your hands on cold iron and making overtraining your bitch.
If you have any questions or comments, hit me up in the Livespill. I read every one.
- Verkhoshansky, Yuri Vitalievitch., and Mel Cunningham. Siff. Supertraining. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky, 2009.