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What exactly is the body's mechanism to recover from the stress of strength training and to adapt to greater loads, and how does frequency of training affect this mechanism?

For illustration, consider two people not on drugs:

  • Person A squats 6x5, once every 3 days, with a weight that takes the last rep close to failure.

  • Person B squats 2x5, every day, with a weight that takes the last rep close to failure.

Who gets stronger faster? Three possibilities are:

  1. Person A gets stronger faster. After being stressed by tension and activation near maximal effort, muscles and the nervous system need a minimum amount of time (I've heard 48-72 hours) to recover fully. Stressing them again in that time interrupts the recovery process and voids it.
  2. It makes no difference. Person B's muscles and nervous system take one third the time to recover from one third the stress of person A's workout. Both people are getting enough rest.
  3. Person B gets stronger faster. Not only are both people getting enough rest, but:
    • he releases testosterone more often and therefore spends more time in an anabolic state.
    • his reps are higher quality, with better form and more explosiveness, because he's not fatiguing himself with so many sets in one session. Therefore, his average rep recruits muscle fibers more efficiently than person A's average rep, and he is less likely to injure himself.
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    This is too broad of a question. People react differently to different stimuli, and so it's impossible to simply group routines into A or B, and expect the same results across all people in the same group. – Alec Aug 24 '17 at 7:47
  • A and B are just examples for illustration. The question is about how one variable of training tends to affect outcome. The bullet points contain falsifiable assertions that I'd like to know if they're true or not. I don't see how it's different from asking how rep ranges affect hypertrophy. – Jordan Aug 24 '17 at 8:03
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    Your statements aren't falsifiable because you're referring to two generic people we know nothing about. "Person A gets stronger faster" depends on who persons A and B are. Person A may get stronger faster not because of the routine, but because of genetics, or a plethora of other factors. You've only eliminated drug use as a factor. – Alec Aug 24 '17 at 9:40
  • @Alec, I believe that we can assume that Person A = Person B here. For example, if it was a study, it could be a group of 50 random people in Group A and 50 random people in Group B. Which group would progress faster? That's an interesting question in my opinion. – Enivid Aug 24 '17 at 19:51
  • My point wasn't that A and B are different people, but that they would have different results depending on who this person is. You may benefit more from program A, whereas I might benefit more from program B. – Alec Aug 24 '17 at 20:39
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The short answer is that Person A gets stronger faster.

The long answer is that it depends, because recovery is defined by different factors, mainly: gender, weight and muscle group. A 54 kg female athlete could squat 4 times a week and not be overtrained, but if a 200 kg male athlete deadlifts 4 times per week, his recovery will be greatly affected.

If you are looking to distribute your volume through the week, you must take care to perform a minimum number of sets to elicit a growth stimulus in each day. 2 sets of 5 may not be enough.

This is Prilepin's Chart, which gives you a minimum number of reps/sets to perform every training session to provoke a stimulus, and a maximum number to prevent overtraining. These numbers might seem low, but they are designed to avoid technical failure and, thus, preventing injuries.

Prilepin's Chart

There's a lot more to fatigue management than this. You need to take into account the phase in your training cycle (deloading or overreaching, etc), your gender, genetics, your age and many other factors.

I recommend you to google about Hristo Hristov's INOL index. Also, this is quite an informative read if you are interested in the subject of fatigue management: http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2016/02/29/47634/

Although, If you are a beginner or intermediate lifter, you can pick any cookie cutter program like 5/3/1 and go with it.

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