Advanced Weightlifting: Overreaching & Supercompensation
© Doug Champigny, http://flirtingwithfitness.com
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When you first started weightlifting you saw almost immediate results and could build muscles fast, assuming you knew what to do or had a personal trainer guiding you. Your muscles had never been subjected to that physical strain nor the full range of motion involved in proper weightlifting form, so your body reacted by giving you rapid muscle growth.
For natural bodybuilders and weightlifters, meaning those not using steroids or other drugs, this is often the period of greatest muscle growth in a limited time. But there is another way that many athletes can enjoy similar gains at various times as you progress.
Referred to as ‘overreaching’ and ‘supercompensation’, these are extreme workouts best left to advanced intermediates and expert weightlifters, for three reasons. First, this form of training is very intense, so best to be used only by those who have already conditioned their muscles, ligaments, tendons and central nervous system to heavy weightlifting.
Second, you need enough advanced weightlifting or bodybuilding experience to be able to execute your exercises with perfect form for every rep to help ensure you don’t injure yourself seriously. The third reason is you need a well-developed mind-muscle connection so that you know how far you can go and when you have to back off a bit.
Assuming you already meet all 3 criteria, here’s the concept involved. For a very limited period you will overtrain your muscles heavily – say for two to three weeks. This doesn’t mean using weights too heavy for you and ruining your form, nor does it mean using lighter weights for higher reps or a greater number of sets. You’ll use the heaviest weights you can safely move through full range of motion while keeping perfect form on every rep.
After your warmup sets you’ll do 3-5 working sets for each exercise, performing 3 or 4 exercises per bodypart and doing a full-body workout at each session, three times per week. Since you’ve spent years in the weight room or your home gym you already know how intense this will be – it will leave you exhausted and out of breath.
You should also know by now that doing this workout for a month or two would leave you well into overtraining, with your body unable to repair itself sufficiently between workouts. Your energy level would plummet, you wouldn’t be motivated to work out and you’d actually be losing muscle mass as a result of the damage these workouts would do.
So after doing these extreme workouts for 2 to 3 weeks, you then switch to a much lighter workout for a week – say half as many exercises using 50% of the weight and doing a 4×10 workout instead. To your body this is almost like a vacation week since it can easily recover quickly from each session.
This also gives your body time to heal all of the damage from your overreaching workouts, and build muscles fast in case it finds itself the victim of further extreme workouts. This greater strength and muscle growth is referred to as supercompensation, since your body is over-compensating for the sudden extreme workouts and the damage they did.
If you’re currently an advanced intermediate or expert bodybuilder or weightlifter then do a self-inventory to see if your body is ready for these extreme workouts and, if so, give it a shot – you’ll love the results! Just be sure you’re also getting more sleep and have a higher protein intake during both the overreaching and supercompensation weeks since your body will need all the help you can give it.
Limit your bouts with this system to once or twice a year, especially should your muscle or strength gains plateau using your normal workouts. Any more frequent use of these techniques will risk pushing you into overtraining and may diminish your results by letting your body get used to the strain.
If you’re a newer bodybuilder or weightlifter or aren’t sure you can perform every rep with strict form, tuck this information away until you’re ready for extreme workouts and other advanced weightlifting techniques. When that time comes you’ll be really glad you did!