Supercompensation: How Training Frequency and Intensity Can Make or Break Your Gains

In a previous post I spoke about how training frequency is one of the most important training variables there is when it comes to making long-term progress.

Based on a conversation I was having with a client last night, I want to take those thoughts a step further and introduce you to the principle of supercompensation and how that affects your strength gains.

From a sports science perspective, there are four periods of “fitness levels” for an athlete.

  1.  Homeostasis/baseline
  2.  Training
  3.  Recovery
  4.  Supercompensation

supercompensationRelating this to your training, let’s say you head to the gym on Monday in your initial baseline state.  You hit the weights hard and enter the recovery phase post-training. Post-recovery is when you enter supercompensation.

Supercompensation is where the critical adaptations take place. In theory, because our bodies adapt to training and perceived challenges, during the supercompensation period our strength is increased in anticipation of our next training session.

If we can train during supercompensation, we do not return to baseline levels and instead make gains. This is the ideal situation.

If we wait to train too long and miss the supercompensation window, our bodies return too far down back into homeostasis. Conversely, if we train too soon during recovery, we will not reach the supercompensation period and theoretically overtrain.

General Adaptation Syndrome Optimum TrainingThe above incremental positive adaptations are what we are looking for.

Based on supercompensation, it tells us one thing about our training. Training frequency is vital. Train too often, you won’t improve. Train too infrequently, you won’t improve.

Here are a few more articles on training frequency:

How Many Days A Week Should I Lift Weights?

4 Vital Programming Variables

Can You Train the Big Lifts Too Much?

You have to be disciplined in your programming.

In my experience, the dedicated athletes never have a problem missing sessions. The far more common culprit is people doing too much too soon, or deviating from the plan.

This especially has to do with maxes.

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A common scenario I see is a lifter will have a scheduled training session and let’s say, set a new 3 rep max. Two days later, when they should still be in recovery mode, they get peer pressured into lifting heavy again. Their adrenaline is pumping and they are feeling good, so they try to set another 3 rep max again or even worse, a 1 rep max.

One of the following two things (and the associated consequences) will happen:

  1.  They will set a new max, which is great for your ego, but it will prolong your recovery time. Their longer recovery time will lead to a return to homeostasis like on the far right side of the first figure above. So while they put up a bigger number, they skipped the supercompensation window and they will have actually made no adaptations.
  2.  They will fail. Their ego will be bruised, they may have some negative emotional consequences, and once again, supercompensation will be skipped and longer recovery time will be needed.

Neither one of these scenarios are conducive to long-term growth. Both of these scenarios tend to put athletes into “hit or miss mode” with their lifts.

Moral of the story? Stick to your plan, train on schedule, don’t lift with your ego, and don’t try and set new maxes every session.

When your numbers are going up and you feel dialed in, you must realize that it’s not a fluke. It’s because you are dialed in, recovering properly, applying stimulus on time during supercompensation, and sticking to a plan.

If you can lift with discipline, you can make gains every week. I see people at the Primal Strength Gym going up in numbers on a weekly basis, but it’s because their programming is on point, which includes proper recovery and the utilization of the supercompensation principle.

All the best,

— Tank

2 thoughts on “Supercompensation: How Training Frequency and Intensity Can Make or Break Your Gains”

  1. Great read! I’m wondering about my training schedule and the two days off I take between Tuesday and Friday??
    I’ve been thinking a lot about failed reps lately too. My current conclusion is that it is better to undercut my max a little during training so as not to introduce a single failed rep in my body/mind. I’d rather have a few reps in the tank and bust out a true max during competition- especially when it comes to max events like dead lift.

    1. I wouldn’t worry about your rest days, but as you get closer to comp, you’re definitely right. We will try and focus on dialing in and getting quality training sessions. At this point, once we get 2 weeks out or so, the training part of your preparation is essentially over.

      Read this:

      http://primalstrengthcamp.com/should-you-train-to-failure/

      Failure happened to me yesterday, which is a red flag that it’s time for me to back off my training a little.

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