The Non-WOW- 4 weeks without working out

Due to a perfect storm of scheduling and commitments, I have been presented with the opportunity to experiment with the time course of deconditioning over a one month period.  Over the years I have always wondered if Arthur Jones’ penchant for extremely high intensity was somewhat driven by the fact that he trained very sporadically.  In the September 1993 Issue of Iron Man magazine Arthur spoke of his experimentation with negative only training in the Spring of 1972 thusly:

“At the start of this program I had been performing heavy exercise in an on-again/off-again fashion for more than 30 years, either training very hard or not at all; but I had performed no exercise of any kind for several years, my then most recent exercise having been 23 weeks of heavy, hard exercise that was performed about four years previously.  During that 23 weeks of training I maintained exact records of my progress, strength, bodyweight, muscular size, etc.  During that 23 weeks of training my initial increase in strength and muscular size came very rapidly, but I made no additional gains at all during the last several weeks, could not get any bigger or any stronger, was “stuck.”  So I quit training entirely.”

My solution to an almost identical problem was slightly different.  I elected to train in a non-stop fashion for the next 35 years, using the high intensity techniques that Arthur had only used sporadically.  It took me a mere 20 years to decrease my training frequency from 3-4 times per week down to twice a week (hat tip to Dr. Ellington Darden and his Upside Down Bodybuilding course).  This was one of the first times in almost 15 years that I showed any new progress…progress that I thought was not possible.  It was this same course that led me to go to every 5th day training, again with a surge of new growth.  In 1997 I read an article by Peter McGough on the resurgence of Mike Mentzer that advocated training even less frequently.  I considered it but could not go there yet.  It was a vacation to Seattle in May of 1997 that convinced me that I should give once-a-week training a go.  What overcame my skepticism and training angst?  A workout at Ideal Exercise supervised by Greg Anderson.  I only did 5 movements…Nautilus leg extension, Nautilus Leg Press (plateloaded), Nautilus rowing torso (flipped cams), Nautilus compound row (static hold), and Nautilus Bench Press.   The intensity was so high, that I finally saw what was needed to justify a volume and frequency this low.  By November of 1997, I opened Ultimate Exercise.  Under the influence of Terry Carter, we experimented with ever-decreasing volume and frequency.  We tried volumes as low as one major movement, and frequency as low as every 21 days (once), and every 14 days many times.  I made new gains at a volume of 3 big movements and a frequency of every 10-12 days, but reverted back to slightly more frequency due to metabolic deconditioning.  While I was bigger and stronger, I spent 4-5 times as much time on the carpet as I did during the workout, occasionally vomited and took days to recover.  What you have seen on this blog over the past 3 years is where I have settled based on these experiences.

What I have not done or considered since opening Ultimate Exercise in 1997 is just not exercising for several weeks.  Thus began my month off from training.  It has been an interesting journey, much of which is unexpected.  First, I did not go nuts or stir-crazy without my workouts, in fact (until today) I was fine with it.  It turns out I was fine mostly because I did not experience any deconditioning during the first 3 weeks.  In fact during the first 2 weeks, I experienced improvement in my body composition.  I appeared visibly leaner, had more vascularity and my bodyfat on the Tanita scale dropped from 12% down to 9%.  Toward the end of the second week and into the latter part of the third week, I actually seemed to experience muscle growth.  My wife even made unsolicited comments to this effect.  Of all bodyparts that seemed to grow, my neck seemed to grow the most.  So rather than becoming anxious, I began to wonder….”what the hell have I been doing all this time?”.     I was able to temper this question with the knowledge that this was not a linear process and that over the years I had made enough deposits in that bank to withdraw some of the interest earned.  It was refreshing to turn my mind away from working out and all things HIT.

However, as I close in on 4 weeks, I am starting to experience atrophy, deconditioning and a sliding body composition.  The process of the 4 week layoff is indeed strange.  3 weeks of gradual improvement in size and body composition, followed by rapid/precipitous decline.  The rate of decline is the most impressive thing of this entire experiment…once it starts occurring, you fall below your starting baseline very quickly.  This fact is only amplified because you fall from such an elevated level, coupled with the feeling that the distance from peak to baseline, is about half the distance from baseline to decompensation.  What I hope to see is that re-instituting my regular volume/frequency will produce some sort of overshoot.

For those of you with the inclination to stow away decades of anal-retentiveness, it is an informative N=1 experience.

Post your WOW’s (or not) and your thoughts.

105 thoughts on “The Non-WOW- 4 weeks without working out”

  1. I just heard a personal trainer on our morning newscast tell the anchor that nutrition is a 90% factor in how one is going to do in a marathon (Someone forgot to tell our Olympians about that, however). No wonder people get confused about this stuff. Our “experts” (those who gain credibility due to TV appearances and what not) are 90% idiots. Jeesh!

  2. WOW:

    Pull-down
    Dumbbell lateral raise
    Hammer leg press
    Dumbbell bent lateral raise
    Hammer low row
    Close grip bench press
    Squat
    Hammer calf press

    I re-visited the slower cadence squat today. It worked great. I actually did four slow reps (4/4-5/5), four “normal” reps (controlled but not slow) and four rest pause normal reps. I noticed that the only time my lower back felt challenged (in a bad way)was when I was doing a non-slow rep.

    So, for those with lower back problems who have written off the squat, I would recommend at least trying a slower cadence squat (obviously with lighter weight) as long as your lower back can at least handle the load in the standing position (in other words, if it hurts to just un-rack the bar, it’s going to hurt getting into the squatting position no matter how slow you go).

  3. Thomas,

    Yes to the slow cadence, see my earlier post re adopting this with the TBDL, works great !

  4. @Brian F,

    I will have to give the slower TBDL a try as soon as my back feels up to it (hopefully soon).

  5. W.O.W:
    nautilus 2st legpress
    45 dgr.legpress max.contraction
    nautilus next gen seated legcurl
    nautilus 2st neck flex./extension
    OME calves
    rotary
    Had a good workout despite 2 days of not so good sleeping . Went to bed in time but couln’t fall in sleep soon and/or slept unregular.This because of some (late) coffee use.But despite the lesser sleep I felt good .Listened the last week to james steel podcast (very good)and ‘the magnesium man'(forgot his real name).As a result of that I listened to hin also on underground wellness.He has really some interesting things to tell and make me thinking of experimenting with a period of higher magnesium supplementing.
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