I was asked a very interesting question recently:
“Can you train heavy all the time?”
The person who asked the question defined heavy as 85%+, closer to 90% of 1RM truth be told.
Now considering all the varying factors that need to be taken in to account – Training Age, Recovery Ability, Nutrition, Stress Load, Sleep, External Influences to name a few. The answer is not a simple one, that said I will give you my opinion and my own personal answer to this question which has been gathered from my experience.
Yes. Yes you can.
To train at higher intensities more frequently you need to have everything else in your life on point (nutrition, stress, recovery etc etc) and have a minimum training age/experience of at least 5 years.
Why 5 years? Because by that time you will have made all the novice mistakes (hopefully) and built a solid foundation of strength, skill and movement patterns, not to mention you would actually have a very good idea of what your 1RM’s would actually be. If these are present then you could quite possibly train at 85% or even 90%+ frequently.
Now I believe it was the great Louis Simmons who said if you train at 90% for longer than three weeks you will in fact go backwards in your training, and I have to agree with him…
I know, curious isn’t it.
Given my last statement how can I say ‘yes’ to being able to train at 90% frequently then? Because what Louis Simmons was referring to was staying at 90% for one specific exercise for more than three weeks, this is where you would run in to problems, mainly due to CNS/overall fatigue in that one movement. However if you were to use movements that targeted similar muscle groups/movement patters but required a different total loading then this is how you could train at 85-90% of more for extended periods of time.
Are you following me?
For example you can Squat for lets say 2 weeks (possible 3 if you’re so inclined) then change this to perhaps a box squat, then a front squat after that and maybe an overhead squat next.
Can you see what’s happening? You’re loads int he other lifts won’t be as heavy as in the standard squat, meaning your nervous system won’t be taxed as heavily but you will still be working in a maximal strength range for each lift. In doing this you will also generate some good crossover to your other lifts (crossover helping the main lifting movement improve).
Weeks 1-3 – Squat
Weeks 4-6 – Front Squat
Weeks 7-9 – Overhead Squat
Weeks 10-12 – Box Squat
This style of training will require you to make copious notes and track your numbers, but it also helps produce some great results.
When it comes to loading parameters I would suggest using the following as guide lines:
Training Days – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
– 85,87,90% 1RM – 3-6 sets 1-3 reps
– 87,90,92% 1RM – 2-5 sets 1-3 reps
– 90,92,95% 1RM* – 1-4 sets 1-3 reps
This way if you were cycling though 6 exercises you would use the first suggesting on all 6 then when the next time round comes you can use the second, if you don’t fancy testing a new 1-3RM that is to establish a new baseline for the 85-90%.
*The last suggestion would only be advised for people who compete or are very experienced, personally I would steer people towards the first guideline.
All in all this style of training is based around 2-3week mini cycles that have constantly changing exercises, the same is true for your accessory work which can be focused on your weaker areas and done for more bodybuilding style reps/sets. What I have given you is simply an example of intensity %, sets/reps, training days and exercise ordering, you can change/adapt this as you see fit.
One thing to remember about working at higher intensities more frequently is that you need to keep the volume per session on the low end, if you set this to high you’re in for trouble.
As you can see there is certainly a possibility of being able to work at 85% and above consistently, but you will need to make sure you have a solid plan of action when doing it.