Row to Grow?
Q: I have not seen you mention barbell rows in your workouts.†Agreed, most people donít perform them correctly, but what are your reasons for ignoring a great exercise? Could you provide a quick primer on barbell rows, just in case I get bored with chinups?
A: The reason that I donít mention barbell rows is simply that I donít believe they are a great upper-back exercise, even when performed correctly. Why? Because too much neural drive is expended in firing the muscles involved in maintaining proper posture. Thereís a great neuromuscular demand on firing the erector spinae, glutes and hamstrings at the same timeóso much that the level of recruitment finally left over for the lats is too minimal to be worth it.
I would rather stick with variations of one-arm dumbbell rows. To develop optimal structural balance, I strongly believe that for every set of chinups, you should do a set of dumbbell rows (with each arm, of course). One-arm dumbbell rows make for even distribution of the load and great range of motion (particularly for the scapulae retractors). I can hear the functionalists already on the soapbox: ďWhat about function? This is a primary movement.Ē My answer to that is, if you already did a good job in the loading parameters for the squat and deadlift exercises, why overtrain the posterior chain?
Q: I just read that training with weights more often than one day a week causes overtraining. Is that right? What do you think is the best frequency for weight training?
A: That makes as much sense as saying eating more than one meal a day will make you fat. I donít know how someone can even say that with a straight face. The classic approach in strength training has been three resistance-training sessions per week on alternate days for each muscle group. Normally, if muscle soreness interferes with performance during the subsequent training session, the implication is that the frequency or intensity of training is too severe.
Competitive bodybuilders and powerlifters have multiple training sessions in a week. They normally use a split routine (different muscles trained each day) or a split program (different exercises for the same muscle on the same day or on successive days). In those high-workload programs the training frequency per muscle group is still limited to a maximum of three times per week. Of course, the consumption of ergogenic aids is fairly common among those athletes and may shorten the time for adaptive processes to take place.
More than 17 different training paradigms apply to the determination of optimal training frequency. Listing them all goes beyond the scope of this column. Here are four important ones:
Principle 1: The greater the tolerance of training frequency, the greater the rate of progress. If an athlete is recovering rapidly from workouts, the rate of progress is quite appreciable. Once strength climbs, each workout creates far greater demands on the body.
Principle 2: Frequency is underused as a method of overload. Rather than thinking that only one frequency will suit you, realize that a variety of frequencies over time will be beneficialóe.g., twice a day for the same muscle, two days a week for a one-or-two-week period reduced to once a day twice a week for a one-or-two-week period. That form of planned overtraining followed by more conventional training has been used by top-level Canadian and Finnish athletes, resulting in appreciable gains. See Table 1 for a sample program that illustrates this idea.)
Principle 3: The weaker the individual, the greater the need for training frequency. The weaker you are, the more important training frequency is. So in cases of rehabilitation, like postsurgery, training five or six times a week is well tolerated.
Because of their lower levels of maximal strength, females initially need greater frequency of training to maximize their progress. Once a female trainee reaches higher levels of strength, that difference diminishes appreciably. It usually occurs after two years of solid training. Even at elite levels, however, women train more frequently and with greater volume than men. The very successful Chinese female national weightlifters are known to train more often and with greater volume than their equally successful male counterparts.