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“I have recently concluded that the recovery precepts I have lived by, taught and championed for decades are wrong. It was ironic in that I had been considered one of the leaders of the less-is-better school of training. My mentors trained less than their mentors and put gaps between training sessions. I thought we were on the cutting edge of rest and recovery. It turns out our definition of less might not have been less enough.” Reassessing Recovery. Train as a Unified Whole, rest as a Unified Whole: Marty Gallagher, Raw columnist for Iron Company and strength training visionary, January 31, 2020

More Support for Infrequent Whole-Body Workouts

“Train hard, train briefly, train infrequently,” Arthur Jones repeated over and over again. Split routines, he maintained, make no more sense than eating or sleeping for a particular part of your body. Except for a short time when I was trying to find my way onto the physique stage, I have followed that advice with great success. The end result has been ~45-minute, one-set, whole-body weight workouts once or twice a week.

Marty Gallagher has revisited that approach and come up with some insightful conclusions.

Marty is a national and international coach and a prolific writer. No armchair quarterback, he was a Teenage national Olympic lifting champion in 1968 and three-time World Master Powerlifting champion.

I first became aware of him close up through Austrian sport climber Jurgen Reis, who visited with Marty and his wife several times at their home in the mountains of south central Pennsylvania. Shortly after that I read and commented favorably on his encyclopedic manifesto: The Purposeful Primitive (Dragon Door Publications, 2008).

When Marty talks lifters listen, especially powerlifters.

*  *  *

I have said that strength training boils down to two indisputable factors: Progressive Overload and Rest.

Legendary Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman summarized it brilliantly: 

“Take a primitive organism, say a freshman. Make it lift, or jump or run. Let it rest. What happens? A little miracle. It gets a little better. It gets a little stronger or faster or more enduring. That’s all training is. Stress. Recover. Improve. You’d think any damn fool could do it. But you don’t. You work too hard and rest too little and get hurt.” (Bowerman by Kenny Moore, Rodale, 2006)

Marty Gallagher fills in the details for strength training. He tracks training and powerlifting records over time—and comes up with a prescription going forward

Powerlifting Records Climb as Frequency Declines

After touching on the flawed science behind bodybuilders training every body part three times a week, Marty moves on to powerlifting history.

“Primal powerlifters discovered that they couldn’t cope with benching 500, squatting 600 and deadlifting 700 three times a week. These early power pioneers of the 60s and 70s took the radical step of cutting the overall training volume by 1/3rd. Instead of training a muscle three times a week, they cut back training each muscle (and lift) to twice a week.”

By the 80s top powerlifters were benching 600, squatting 800 and deadlifting 900. Volume was cut back another third—by training legs on day one, resting the next day, training chest on day 3, resting, training back on day 5, and resting the last two days. In short, they trained each lift once—over the course of a week.

While one body part was being trained, the other two were being allowed to recover. That was the idea.

Marty says they were headed in the right direction, but took a wrong turn.

“The flaw in our thinking was in failing to consider that the entire body was never allowed true rest… It is an irrefutable truth that insofar as improving strength and speed, performance can only improve when the athlete is fatigue free… Performance would have been better if that same athlete had been fully and completely rested.”

This new line of thinking came from his chance rereading of Charlie Francis’ book Speed Trap, first published in February, 2011.

Francis was in turn influenced by contact with top Eastern European and Soviet track and field coaches. Their influence completely changed his then orthodox approach to training.

They all came to the conclusion that any degree of fatigue degrades performance.

Full Recovery for Peak Performance

Taking a step back, this line of thinking also holds that training should be done “when totally and completely rested.”

That it made no sense to train at 102% of 79% (of rested capacity.)

Here’s Marty’s bottom line:

Recovery should not be thought of in terms of body parts – recovery should be thought of as a whole-body event – recovery is about the entire body recovering, fully and completely, before engaging in another high intensity training session.

In strength training, a good case can be made for lifting once a week, do all progressive resistance training for the week on the same day in the same session. Then rest everything for a full week. Train the body as a unified whole and then rest the body as a unified whole. This way muscles (and Central Nervous System) are stressed together and then rested together.

He acknowledges that recovery varies from person to person and depends on the fatigue you bring to the workout. 

If you kick the hell out of a different section of your body every 2-3 days,” you are not likely to be recovered.

You can, of course, stay active between workouts.


This photo, taken by John Balik a few years after I retired from physique competition,
shows the kind of muscle that can be developed by infrequent whole-body training.

My Take

A major snow storm blew in over our mountain while I was working on this piece. We almost never have snow here in Albuquerque, so it messed things up. It prevented me from going to our gym for my Tuesday whole-body weight workout. I thought about doing the workout a day or two later, but that would crowd our (Carol & mine) Saturday interval and foothill training session.

That got me to thinking. First about the need to be recovered for both workouts, and then the “two day lag rule” which says you don’t really feel the effects of a workout until the second or third day after.

Putting the two together, it occurred to me that doing the workouts back-to-back might be a good plan—actually better than my Tuesday and Saturday schedule.

My current workout plan gives me three days rest after the weight session and two after the interval-foothill session. Doing the two back-to-back would give me five full days of recovery after both workouts.

I would, of course, continued doing my Morning Motion and walking on rest days, to keep my body moving and aid recovery.

Hats off to Marty—and the snow storm. The combination has me thinking in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Change is good!

* *  *

I've just had my first Friday and Saturday workouts, and they both went really well.

The extra days of rest and a few new exercises ramped up by enthusiasm for lifting. My concentration and effort were excellent. My gimpy lower back even felt better during my cool-down walk after the workout.

Foothills on Saturday were surprisingly good. I could feel the weight session in my lower back and legs, but it didn't slow me down. I tackled a hill I haven't tried in some time.

My resting heart rate stayed well under 60 (57-58), suggesting that I tolerated the back-to-back workouts well.

I now have five days of active rest.

Thoughtful change really is good.

These breakthrough sessions prompted me to get out Ripped 2, written at 45, to see what I had to say about "The Age Factor." After quoting several exercise physiologists and citing a number of bodybuilders and track athletes who were at or near their best over 50, I wrote this about my plans for the future:

Personally, I intend to do my best to hold out against aging. In fact, I'm going to try to get better. I know the aging process will eventually get me, but I'm going to put up a fight. Dr. Pollock says, 'If a person stays injury free and can stay motivated, the changes of aging can be held off for a long time.' I believe him, and I plan to back up that belief with action.

I was clearly gung ho, but I wonder if I could've envisioned still looking for ways to get better 37 years later. Clearly, I'm not as muscular or fit as I was at 50 or 60 (I believe my physique peaked at 60), but I'm still widening the gap between me and my age group peers. I'm still fighting the aging process with everything I've got.

Staying motivated and always looking for sensible ways to improve is about as close as you can come to holding off Father Time.

March 1, 2020

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