How much Strength Training is too much
In the early 16th century the german-swiss philosopher Paracelsus said ‘dosis sola venenum facit’, which can be translated as The dose makes the poison
While Paracelsus probably didn’t think very much about strength training, he stated the principle, that everything can be poison if applied in a dosage that is too high.
So what does that mean for strength training?
For a strength training to be effective and lead to the desired result, it is very important to manage the important training variables correctly.
If you are doing the right amount of training you will see the results you want to see, if you are doing too much or too little, you won’t see the results you want to see.
So, what are these variables and how much of them should you do?
This video and article covers
- The right amount of strength training sessions per week
- The right number of strength exercises depending on your goal
- The right amount of reps and sets
- The right amount of weight
- Training to failure good or bad?
How many strength training sessions per week are too much
I personally think the number of strength training sessions a week is one of the biggest misconceptions people have.
I am always surprised to talk to people outside the sports world and see, that they are astonished that professional athletes train multiple times a day.
I have outlined how such a training program looks and changes throughout a season in the article
However, that doesn’t mean you have to train multiple times a day. You can get quite far with 2 – 3 strength training sessions a week, if you do it consistently and make sure your training is progressive over time.
I have gone into more detail and discussed the ideal number of strength training sessions per week in the article
How many strength training exercises are too much?
The total number of strength training exercises performed in a strength training workout can vary. It depends on the number of sets and reps you do for a given exercise.
Some people prefer doing sticking to a few selected exercises and do more sets on every exercise, some people prefer more variation in the different strength training exercises.
As a rough guideline, in most cases, 4 – 6 strength training exercises are sufficient.
The choice of strength training exercise is also important, RippedBody.com has done an awesome job in outlining different strength training exercises and which ones to choose in their article A Guide to Exercise Selection When You Don’t Have Access to a Coach , however, even though it’s quite an in-depth and extensive article, they also can’t come up with a recommendation of number of strength training exercises.
The reason is, that it is quite a complex topic and there are more variables influencing the number of strength training exercises you chose as well as the number of repetitions and sets that can be performed.
I have outlined how these variables are intertwined in the article
3 Guidelines to choose the right strength training exercises
As I have outlined above, it is difficult to advise an exact number of strength training exercises. However, there are a few guidelines I use to determine, which strength exercises are useful, in a nutshell, I would advise to chose
#1 Fundamental movements over artificial movements
If you read any of my articles before, you probably heard me talking about fundamental movements, here is just a small collection of articles where I talked about fundamental movements
- What Is The Overhead Squat Good For?
- The Ultimate Guide to Power Snatches
- The Ultimate Guide to Power Cleans
- What Do Front Squats Develop and Why You Need To Do Them
- The Importance of Power Snatches
Fundamental movements are:
#2 Free weights over machines
Choose exercises where you work with free weights, such as a barbell or dumbbells. The rationale for using free weights is that you need to stabilize the free weight in all three planes (frontal plane, sagittal plane, and transverse plane), which additionally trains stabilizing muscles, it allows for a greater range of motion and permits more variation.
I deliberately avoided the word functional, since there has been quite a bit of misuse of the word functional. If you define the word functional and functional training as something that has a function or fulfills a function, free weights are also more functional.
#3 Stand on your two feet
If you can chose between doing a strength exercise standing or seated opt for the standing version. If you can choose between doing a strength exercise standing or lying on the ground, opt for the standing version.
Most of our daily activities are done on two feet and especially athletes do their sport on two feet, at least in most cases. Consequently, if a strength training exercise can be done standing, do it standing.
In addition to that, I have explained the concept of vertical stability in the articles
The idea behind the discussion of vertical stability vs horizontal stability is, that in most sporting activities, such as running, jumping, hitting, kicking, etc the athlete is in an upright position and has to fight the forces of gravity. The trunk is the link between the lower body and the upper body and the forces are transferred vertically, from the ground up, which requires vertical stability.
On the flip-side, when athletes train their trunk, in most cases they lie on the ground and train in a prone or supine position, which requires horizontal stability.
So, the question that stands out is, how much does the training of horizontal stability benefit the vertical stability the athletes need? And wouldn’t it be more beneficial to train the vertical stability?
How many sets and reps are too much?
There is no one-size fits all set and rep scheme. The set and rep scheme you chose depends on the training goal.
Start with the end in mind, what you want to achieve and select the training variables accordingly
I have explained the process of a reverse-engineered strength training in the articles
You need to select the set and rep scheme depending on your training goal.
Have a look at the table below outlining the different repetition ranges and intensity zones depending on the training goal.
|Maximum Strength||85 – 100% 1RM||1 – 3|
|Hypertrophy / functional hypertrophy||75 – 85% 1RM||4 – 8|
|Hypertrophy / non-functional hypertrophy||65 – 75% 1RM||8 – 12|
|Power||0 – 70% 1RM||2 – 6|
|Strength Endurance||Less than 60% 1RM||More than 15|
For a more detailed outline on the different repetition ranges and intensity zones, have a look at the articles
- How much Strength Training do I need?
- Insider Guide reveals How many Reps in the Back Squat you should do
How much weight is too much?
I have heard this question a few times and to me the answer is actually a no-brainer ‘if you can’t lift the weights for the prescribed repetitions or if you can’t lift the weight with proper technique.’
But let’s go through that step-by-step.
I have outlined the repetition ranges for different training goals, whether it’s maximum strength or hypertrophy and the prescribed repetitions are let’s say 6 and the athlete can do only 4, then the weight is too much.
If the athlete is unable to lift a weight of the ground, whilst the training plan says 3 reps, the weight is too much.
I know that sounds trivial, but believe me this is sometimes the day to day challenge with athletes even at the highest levels, like our Olympians.
The reasons for that can be manifold, the main two reasons that I am confronted with are
- Fatigue, which disables the athlete to go through the training as prescribed
- Self-selected weights, that the athletes chooses the weights depending on what he or she believes is right, despite the recommendations on the training plan
How much strength training is too much? Training to failure
Have you hear that training to failure gives you superior results? And that it’s the last repetitions that really count? And if you go past the point of failure even better things happen? Whatever that could be?
Have you also seen the people that follow the advice and go past the point of failure and train themselves in the ground?
Well, I guess from the subliminal cynicism in my writing you can guess what I think about training to failure.
But let’s have a look at what training to failure means and the different options and ways of training to failure.
Most of the times, when people talk about training to failure, they mean training to concentric failure, which is the point, where the weight or external resistance can’t be lifted anymore / the concentric phase of the lift can’t be executed anymore.
If you want to take it a step further, you can also train to eccentric failure, which is the point, where you can’t control the eccentric portion of the lift anymore. When you can control the downward movement of the weight.
I have discussed the negative effect of such a training to failure in the article
And outlined, that such a training has a high cost on the nervous system and hormonal environment. The resulting consequences of that kind of training, such as excessive fatigue and long recovery cycles have a detrimental effect on the training.
Training is supposed to be structured process, that manipulates the training variables of training intensity and training volume (as well as training frequency, training density, etc).
The better you can manipulate these variables the better the results of your training efforts.
I have outlined how I use the manipulation of these variables in the articles
And I can still get better at that.
I have also outlined the approach of using different exertion levels to control and manage the training process using the Load – Exertion table outlined by Mladen Jovanovic in the article How to Create Individualized Exercise Profile in Strength Training? Part 4: Velocity/Exertion Profile
However, Mladen has taken it a step further and included volume guidelines into the Rep Guidelines you can check out the video here
These examples demonstrate the fact that managing the exertion level is an important component of training planning and training delivery.
Training to failure, at least training to concentric failure and eccentric failure eliminates the ability to manage this training variable. And as a side effect also limits the training progress.
When training to failure is a good thing
What the heck? Didn’t you just explain training to failure is sub-optimal, you ask?
Well, yes I did, I also mentioned that there are different options and ways of training to failure and I just discussed training to concentric failure and training to eccentric failure.
You can also train to technical failure or failure to attain/maintain a certain speed/velocity.
Training to technical failure
I have outlined the importance of technical mastery in quite a few articles before
- 9 Benefits of the Overhead Squat and counting…
- The Ultimate Guide to Power Snatches
- How to do a Power Clean
- What Do Front Squats Develop and Why You Need To Do Them
- How much should I Back Squat
Training to technical failure is basically a way to achieve technical mastery. The idea behind training to technical failure is, that you every repetition you do should be performed with the highest possible quality, every repetition you do with a flawed technique is counter-productive to what you want to achieve.
Therefore you train to technical failure, which describes the point when the technical execution breaks down.
So, theoretically you could go on because you still have enough energy and strength levels to bang out some crappy reps, but you are not going to do it.
Failure to attain/maintain a certain speed/velocity
Let’s have a look at the failure to attain/maintain a certain speed or velocity and use the example of plyometrics and the use of the stretch-shortening cycle.
I have explained about the stretch-shortening cycle and the benefits of the stretch-shortening cycle in the articles
In order to elicit a short stretch-shortening cycle in a jump, the contact time on the ground needs to be below 180 – 200 ms.
More details on the threshold of 180 – 200 ms in the articles
- A Short Guide to Plyometric Training
- Why understanding the Mechanics Behind Plyometric Training will make you jump like Michael Jordan
What I do to make sure, the contact times are below 180 – 200 ms is to use a contact mat or a device that can measure the contact time and the break-off criteria for the given set is when the contact time exceeds 200 ms.
The athlete would still be able to jump, but not to maintain the contact times necessary to elicit the short stretch-shortening cycle.
The idea here is similar to the idea of training to technical failure. Every repetition done with a longer contact time is counter-productive to what I want to achieve with this plyometric training.
You can use the same principle for speed training or velocity based strength training.
Concluding How much strength training is too much
Understanding the different variables that influence a strength training, how to manage these variables will determine whether you will see results from your strength training efforts or not.
The dose-response relationship, that Paracelsus described at the beginning of the 16th-century ‘dosis sola venenum facit’, the dose is the poison applies to strength training as well.
More information on strength training
The Fundamentals of Strength Training
The Ultimate Guide to Strength Training for Beginners
The Importance Weight Training Has On Power
Power Training vs Strength Training – what is the difference?
8 Simple Steps To Figure Out How Often Should Strength Training Occur
Why Strength Training is important
Why Strength Training is important for athletes
How often should you do Strength Training
How long should a Strength Training Session last
How Strength Training works – accommodating resistance
How often should you do Strength Training to lose weight
How many Strength Training sessions per week
How to do Strength Training at home