Question: If you train four days a week using an upper/lower split, what is the optimal way to schedule the days? Should I do lower body first followed by an upper-body day, or vice versa? Does it matter?
Answer: The traditional way of answering this question is that you should train whatever needs the greatest attention earlier in the week. Sometimes I follow these guidelines and sometimes I don’t. In most cases, I actually prefer to do an upper-body day first, followed by a lower-body day. The reasoning for this is that an intense squat or deadlift workout will take a lot more out of you than will any sort of upper-body lifting. I normally prefer to give the lifter a day off following a heavy lower-body session instead of having them go in and try to do some kind of heavy pressing or pulling when they are probably exhausted from the lower-body workout. Squats and deadlifts take a great toll on the entire body and require more recovery time than any kind of upper body training.
The optimal way to split up four upper/lower sessions a week would be as follows:
If you can’t train on weekends, you could simply move Saturday’s workout to Friday.
Question: How often should I take a week off from training?
Answer: This varies between individuals. Some people can only train for eight weeks before they need a week off, and others can go 52 weeks. The average seems to be somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks, however, for the majority of people. I rarely let any of my clients train longer than 16 weeks without a week off, and there are only a few that train for fewer than eight weeks before needing a week off. Those rare cases would be guys over 45 who are considerably stressed, busy and beat up.
To determine what the optimal ratio of work weeks to rest weeks is for you, you have to consider how hard you train, how many days a week you are training, how CNS-intensive your training is (are you doing a lot of dynamic and max-effort work?), how much stress you have in your life, how long you have been training, how strong you are, and how your recovery ability is. If you are on the high end of most of those factors and have limited recovery ability, you may need a week off every eight weeks. If you don’t ever train to failure, rarely use CNS-intensive methods, don’t have a lot of stress in your life, and recover exceptionally well from training, you may only need to take a week off every 6-12 months.
Everyone’s different and the human body is capable of a lot more than you think… as long as you train properly and use recover methods. What I recommend is that you monitor yourself and try a variety of work-to-rest-week ratios and see what works best for you.
Question: In your opinion, what exercises are overrated?
Answer: Bent-over barbell rows. They are a great exercise, but not a lot of people can do them right, meaning that they can’t maintain a proper arch in their lumbar spine. Even if you can maintain proper position the other problem that arises is that if you are able to use a lot of weight on them they can take a toll on your lower back—especially if you are doing deadlifts and squats in your training program. I would usually opt for a chest-supported row, a one arm row or an inverted row over a bent-over barbell row with extremely strong, advanced lifters or with very weak beginners. When I do them with more advanced guys I usually stick with higher reps to keep the weights a bit lighter and do more of a cheating motion with a controlled bounce. This actually is less stressful on the lower back than a very strict bent over row. And is far more natural. Another option is the dead stop barbell row where you set the bar back down on the floor between each rep. That’s easier on the lower back and safer as well.
Dynamic effort box squats are overrated as a way to get explosively fast. I think box squats are great but they are not the be-all, end-all of speed training. I actually don’t think they do anything at all as far as improving speed goes. As far as heavy box squats go, they can be a problem for some people with back injuries. Having said that, I still think the box squat is a great exercise if you can do it properly—just slightly overused and overrated by some people and not worth doing in the hopes of massive improvements in explosive speed. Aint gonna happen.
Lunges are slightly overused, if not overrated, by females. It’s a great exercise, but if done excessively, it can cause knee problems. Walking lunges and reverse lunges are better options as they are easier on the knees.
Question: If I combine speed work, strength work and hypertrophy work in the same workout is there a specific order that I need to do them in or any rules I should follow?
Answer: Yes, there are. You always want to do the most neurologically demanding exercise first in
your workout. This would put speed exercises such as plyos first, and Olympic lifts or throws second in most cases. After that, you usually do the biggest, heaviest compound exercise next and work your way down to the smallest, lightest exercises. This rule does not always apply, however. This rule doesn’t always apply but it’s a pretty good general guideline.