The Upward Road To Greatness
As a weightlifter, you have probably experienced two scenarios continuously happening on and off during your journey. Things that sometimes, you could not explain. For instance, sometimes you walk into the gym and you feel weaker. Maybe you were just having an off day? Perhaps, but then some days you walk into the gym and WOW, you feel on fire, all your lifts have gone up and you feel like you have hit all time new records. Maybe here, you had gotten in more calories, had more quality sleep or just felt in general less stressed? All in all, it seems pretty random, doesn’t it? There is no definitive explanation for these ups and downs. But what if these occurrences are not random? What if, there is an actual reason behind why you on some training days, experience either progress or setback.
The good news is that none of this is actually random. There is an actual theory behind what you experience. A theory, you can take advantage of, to ensure you experience more of these on days and less of these off days. Assuming that your nutrition is adequate, sleep is good and stress is minimal, then what is happening, is something known as supercompensation. Don’t worry, the name is long, but it’s not as scary as it sounds!
Feel Stronger Everytime
So, what is supercompensation? In a nutshell, it’s your body’s way of responding to a stimulus. In your case, the stimulus will be that lovely cold iron. Now, without getting into any gritty details (I am here to keep it simple for you), what follows is a whole bunch of processes. You don’t really need to know the intricate details of these. Just know that they are there to get you bigger and stronger! Firstly, the iron (your training stimulus) during your training session acts to initiate some kind of stress to your body. This is good stress. The kind of stress you want! Stress that will kick start your body into adapting (getting bigger and stronger). Following your training session, you will go through a lovely period of feeling slightly more tired than usual, weaker and overall, it should feel like you had an awesome training session (I say lovely, not because I am crazy, but because it means you did something right!). This is perfectly normal; after all, during your training you are using up valuable nutrients, energy reserves, accelerating the formation of by-products and doing everything that puts extra stress on your system. It’s safe to say that after your training, your body’s equilibrium is out of whack and now needs to act to restore it.
“After your training, your body’s equilibrium is out of whack and now needs to act to restore it”.
So, the hard part is done. What’s next? Well, at this point your body is feeling a little wiped out. Of course, it doesn’t want to remain this way, so your body will now do what’s it’s trained to do: repair and adapt! While it doesn’t seem like it, this whole repair and rebound is actually where the magic of supercompensation takes place. Essentially your body will now attempt to restore everything back to its previous state of fitness. Wait! That’s not all! I meant to say that your body would restore everything back to its previous fitness level plus a little bit more. This ‘little bit more’ is where you need to pay close attention. What this represents, is a temporary increase in your bodies level of fitness (beyond its current level). For us weightlifters, it means bigger and stronger than before. That sounds great! Absolutely! And it happens for a very logical reason. Basically, it’s your body’s way of preparing for the next threat (or in your case, the training stimulus). The next stimulus is predicted to be greater and therefore your body wants to make sure it’s ready for it. In weightlifting terms, It’s your bodies way of inviting you to utilize more volume, more weight and break some new personal records the next time you enter the gym. Sounds great right? Go to the gym, recover and next time, go in bigger and stronger. Pretty much! But there are still a few important things worth mentioning.
Even In Weightlifting Timing Is Everything
One thing you are probably asking yourself at this point is: Is supercompensation a permanent process? Well, that really depends on you! If you want it to be a long lasting relationship, then there are four important factors to consider: stimulus, trial-and-error, timing and recovery. While supercompensation is a sure thing in nature, whether it works in your benefit or not will depend on how well you can manage these four variables. The question is, how can you best manage these variables? Well, there are no solid do and don’t guidelines for anyone. When it comes to supercompensation, it’s all going to be about trying and testing what works best for you. Falling within the supercompensation period is something you will learn to do overtime. Heck! I have been weightlifting now for years and even I am still trying to figure out how to best deal with all this supercompensation stuff! It’s an important topic, but it’s a big one!
“Falling within the supercompensation period is something you will learn to do overtime”.
There is a good reason why I mentioned the term: long-lasting relationship. That is because supercompensation is only a temporary process. In other words, it costs your body precious energy and resources to be prepared for something that is, well, not coming. I am probably sure you have all heard of the expression: Time is money. Well, that really does apply here too! Simply because, while your body has recovered to its previous level of fitness, it has also rebounded into a temporarily higher state. This means that your body is prepared and expecting you to utilize more e.g. volume/intensity than your previous training session. The crux is, if you don’t, then this heightened state will be quickly lost and your body will revert back to its previous level of fitness. Whoops! Didn’t want that to happen. Of course not, but it’s pretty tricky to get right. Takes a lot of trial and error! But you will get there. Why is it important though? Well, this higher state of fitness will allow you to utilize greater training stimuli over time (e.g. more volume/intensity). This progressive overloading (the term creeps up again!) of your body will mean that you have the chance to make more consistent strength and size gains over the longer-term.
“This higher state of fitness will allow you to utilize greater training stimuli over time”.
So how can you hold onto this period supercompensation? Good question, you don’t want to lose it. After all, it is your best chance of being able to consistently get bigger and stronger over the long-term. As everyone is different, it’s hard to pin-point the best approach. But for you that does not need to be problem, because there are a few general things you can keep in mind. When it comes to the training stimulus, this one is easy! You need to use volume/intensity in a way that challenges your body over time. If you continuously utilize the same reps/sets/weight over and over, then your body will never focus its efforts on getting bigger and stronger. If it’s too easy, then you wont stimulate enough stress for your body to undergo the fatigue/repair/rebound processes that ultimately lead to the supercompensation effect.
I think the most difficult part of all this for us to figure out, is the actual recovery phase. Why? I think most of us have from time to time, messed this area up. It’s not a problem, it happens. It still happens to me! Sometimes I force myself to go to the gym, thinking it will be a good workout, only to get to the gym, and crash! I jumped the gun and was obviously not fully recovered. Excuses! Nope, in fact recovery was the issue here! This scenario probably sounds familiar to you. After all, it’s part of ever weightlifters dilemma. You fall in love with the iron and you just have to get to the gym. Even if you feel ‘semi ok’ you will still force yourself. Can’t miss a workout! But, this is something you really need to pay attention closely to, especially as you become more advanced. As you become more advanced, recovery will play an even more important role in your future weightlifting progress. The bottom line is that if the recovery part is interrupted, it will be very difficult for your body to reach the point of supercompensation. You will probably notice this in the gym. If you end up training (when you should really be recovering), you might end up making no progress, or worse, slightly regressing! If this occurs, then you are really just fatiguing your body more and more each time. This can lead to further recovery issues down the line. The solution? Well, it’s trial and error! No science unfortunately will be able to give each of you a definitive scheme to follow.
“Recovery time will play a bigger role than you think, in your ability to make long-term gains in size and strength”.In general, if you’re a complete beginner to weightlifting, then recovery will be fast. You could train one day, rest the next, and then get back to it. After 6 months or so, the picture changes. As your training stimuli increase (e.g. higher volumes and intensities), the following fatigue/repair processes are likely to be greater in magnitude. Your recovery time is going to be greater and the time between each training session will likely be greater. How great? Well, this will be different for everyone. Your training program, your nutrition, sleep, stress, they will all have an impact on your recovery time. It’s important though to keep in mind that as you progress through your weightlifting career, recovery time will play a bigger role than you think, in your ability to make long-term gains in strength and size.
Supercompensation and Training Programming
Now we know what supercompensation is, and the steps that lead to it, how does our training programming fit into all this? An important tip to keep in mind: Always look at supercompensation over a period of time (rather than from one session to the next). Why? Simply because supercompensation will be a result from combined training sessions and recovery periods over a specific time scale. How big this time scale is, will depend on your level of training, as well as the magnitude of the training stimuli used. If you’re a beginner (novice), then you can more than likely look at supercompensation as an event occurring between two training sessions. As a novice, one training session might provide enough of a stimulus to induce the whole fatigue/recovery/rebound process in the body that leads to supercompensation. In terms of recovery, a novice is likely to fully recover from their last training session within 24 hours. Given that following the recovery process, the body enters a short period of increased fitness, a novice could time their next training session roughly 24 hours after their last. On the next training session, a greater stimulus (e.g. more volume or higher intensity) could be used to take advantage of the bodies heightened state of fitness. Cycle repeats! Progressive overload at its finest! For approx. 6 months, then things can slow down and get a little trickier.
“An important tip to keep in mind: Always look at supercompensation over a period of time”.
If you are further into your weightlifting career, then things can get a little more involved. Not too involved of course (unless you’re a professional athlete!). The problem with becoming a more advanced lifter means that your body has better adapted to resisting the whole fatigue/recovery/rebound processes that occur from training. Your body is better adapted to overcoming the training stimuli you throw at it and, has developed far more efficient, faster recovering capabilities in response to these stimuli. What is the net effect? Your body can tolerate a greater workload. This means, rather than one training session, it’s likely going to take you multiple to kick-start supercompensation. Yes, our bodies have also become more suborn as they have progressed! With all this in mind, we are still concerned with progressive overload. This will always be the fundamental key to your weightlifting success. But now, progressive overload will no longer come linear were you could successfully utilize more each session. Since supercompensation and progressive overload go hand in hand, then progressive overload will instead, probably occur every few training sessions.
Don’t forget the good old recovery aspect! As with more workload, comes more stress, and with more stress, comes the need for longer recovery periods. Even though, as a more advanced lifter, more training sessions will be required, this will also put your body at a higher chance of increasing fatigue over time. As you know, if the body is never allowed to recover from this fatigue, then it will never reach supercompensation. So for instance, say you have 4 workouts per week in a scheme format: Monday (heavy), Wednesday (heavy), Thursday (Medium) and Friday (Light). As you can see, a novice following such a scheme would quickly fatigue, badly!
“With more workload, comes more stress, and with more stress, comes the need for longer recovery periods”. Too much work! But, for a more advanced lifter, this scheme would do a few successful things: 1) provide enough training sessions (2 heavy) to ensure adequate stress to initiate the fatigue processes in the body. 2) Medium and light days – to promote sufficient recovery from this fatigue, but NOT induce further fatigue 3) the combined effects of 1 and 2 would ensure that your body could complete its fatigue/recovery/rebound processes to reach the supercompensation point. Fingers crossed! This should fall into Monday’s workout. Here, you could set new personal records and utilize more volume/intensity. Guess what, you’re up and away! Now you can use those new records to form the new starting points of your heavy days. From there, you keep going up!
Supercompensation As A Guide
Phew, That was a long article! But for a good reason. Supercompensation is an important topic. Especially alongside its brother, progressive overload. Honestly, I find these two of the most important topics out there. Particularly when it comes to finding out the best ways of making long-term gains in size and strength. In reality, without knowing about supercompensation, you can’t really experience the magic of progressive overload. Without the two in tandem, making any size and strength gains would prove pretty impossible. However, it’s important not to get to caught up in the little details around supercompensation. Use it, merely as a guide. There are no clear-cut answers on the best number of training days, recovery times or how you should optimally structure your training for supercompensation. For the most part, it comes down to trial-and-error. Seeing what works and what doesn’t work for you. One thing is certain, that over time, with supercompensation as a guide, you will be in a better position to judge just how successful your weight training really is!
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. I would love to hear your thoughts on the supercompensation effect!