Overtraining for long periods of time is bad. Short-term, planned overtraining, however, can be a massively powerful tool.
Functional overreaching is essentially short-term overtraining where you have a goal of digging yourself into a recovery ditch. You intentionally push your training past your body’s ability to recover before backing off, super-compensating, and jumping out of that recovery hole to new levels of strength and muscle. Doing so allows you to benefit from the harder training as your body gets a chance to recover.
Functional overreaching is a result of planned, short-term overtraining, not under-recovery. To maximize the benefits, your recovery must be optimized. To quote The Scientific Principles of Training by Chad Wesley-Smith, Dr. James Hoffman, and Dr. Mike Israetel, “The better your recovery, the more work you can do and the higher the magnitude of response.”
The more training you can do without exceeding your ability to recover, the better your results. Functional overreaching takes this concept to another level. It works because when you train more, you gain more, and fatigue if limited to the short-term, is not harmful. If your recovery is on point the temporary hardship will be followed by gains of a level not seen with traditional training.
To do this you just push slightly into overtraining mode so that your body will rebound and create a hormonal environment that will promote lean muscle gains and an increased metabolic rate over the next 5-7 days. As such, your body will partition more nutrients toward your muscles to deal with the heightened recovery needs you have created from the intense two-week training blitz you have just endured.
Essentially, you’re gonna train until you can’t, then rest until you can.
Doing so will allow you to build the most muscle and strength possible over the short-term and lay the groundwork for a series of successful blocks of training to follow.
There is a method to the madness.
To recover from such demanding training, you will need to take in more calories. You should also allow for plenty of recovery. Following this protocol when you have little stress and plenty of free-time is essential. When working with clients I often program it pre-holiday or when they have time off between jobs.
Now that you have read the science behind functional overreaching and know what to expect, it’s time to get in the gym and grind it out.
Introducing the Plan
Beware you will be tired. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your afternoon workouts, or the second week in general. It’s completely normal to feel a bit fatigued or see some drop off in performance. In fact, if you don’t then you aren’t training hard enough. Functional overreaching isn’t fun, but the rapid gains you experience afterward are!
The premise of this plan is basically that you follow a progressive, hypertrophy specific training approach which pushes you to overtrain for two weeks. Then you rest and you grow—like a weed!
I first encountered this concept when I read the article by Charles Poliquin on the concept in 2007. The theories outlined have stood the test of time and a decade later, still provide the backbone to the plan I take when someone needs to pack on muscle ASAP. The original article works tremendously well to improve strength and can provide some good gains in size. However, through trial and error, and fine-tuning the process to be focused on hypertrophy rather than strength, I have found we can skew those results to be phenomenal for mass gain!
World leading coaches such as Mike Israetel, James Hoffman, Menno Henselmans, Daine McDonald, Sebastian Oreb, Kaseem Hanson, Wolfgang Unsold, Borge Fagerli, and Jason Maxwell are all on record discussing the benefits of functional overreaching. Each has its own spin on how best to apply this to training for strength and size. A key element they seem to agree on is that a short-term increase in training frequency is very effective and that overreaching sucks—but it is worth it!
This plan manipulates volume, frequency, and intensity to create a training schedule designed to functionally overreach you. Other training variables such as exercise selection, sequence, rep speed, rest periods, and proximity to failure are all factored in to make this the most powerful short-term hypertrophy plan around.
I will explain my take on how you play with those variables below, if you follow them I can guarantee you that you will be able to see positive body composition changes in the range of 2-4kg (4-9lbs). That’s right, 4-9lbs from just two weeks of training. This isn’t any old training though. This is a two-week, ball busting blitz of functional overreaching!
The fastest way to build muscle is to train twice a day (in the short-term at least). It isn’t sustainable in the long run unless you’re a pro athlete).
When training twice per day, the gap between sessions on the same day is important. You must leave long enough between sessions to give a good performance in the second session. Enough time to have had at least two meals and regained your training focus and drive for the second session. Training at 9 am and then again at 11 am isn’t going to cut it.
The minimum is 4 hours between your sessions. In my opinion, the ideal range is 4-6 hours between sessions. If you can schedule the training in this time zone then you are in the sweet spot. Your morning session will potentiate the afternoon. Fatigue will have dissipated enough to give a good performance in the second session and you will have provided two excellent growth signals to the body.
So, no prizes for guessing that the program has you utilizing twice a day training. The full schedule for both weeks looks like this:
- Monday: AM and PM
- Tuesday: AM and PM
- Wednesday: Only 1 session today
- Thursday: AM and PM
- Friday: AM and PM
- Saturday: Just 1 session today
- Sunday: Rest at last!
That’s 10 sessions per week, 20 sessions in total. I told you it was going to be tough!
Yes, you will be overreached. This is exactly the purpose of the plan.
Remember, after these two hell weeks you get to do absolutely nothing the following week. Just, rest, recover, eat, and grow. This week-long rest period is absolutely critical to your success. During this week, your body will rebound and you’ll build bigger and stronger muscles.
Don’t be tempted to sneak a workout in during your week off. Do the hard work up front, rest, relax and enjoy the results. Training in your rest week will interfere with the recovery processes and render the previous two weeks futile. Nothing more than an exercise in generating fatigue. I repeat, DO NOT TRAIN DURING THE RECOVERY WEEK!
Turn Up the Volume
Overall training volume for these two weeks is off the charts!
Training volume has a dose-response relationship with hypertrophy. This means more is better until you exceed your ability to recover, that is. Now, with this plan our goal is to exceed this point, then drastically cut back on training and ramp up recovery to slingshot you to never before seen gains.
Long story short–you’ll be doing a shit-ton of training for two weeks.
The amount of work you can do when training for hypertrophy can be enormously high. You can recover from massive workloads, far higher than you could if strength was your primary goal/training approach.
The plan is largely built around you performing big, multi-joint movements relatively heavy in the AM and doing slightly higher rep sets in the PM.
The higher percent of 1RM used in the AM sessions will generate myofibrillar hypertrophy. This is one of the limiting factors in most guys physiques. As an example, do you, or someone you know, blow up like a balloon when they get a pump, but then quickly deflate down to a relatively unimpressive physique? Perhaps you experience this in just one muscle group?
I used to find this with my arms. When I trained them, they got a great pump and looked massive. The rest of the time…meh, not so much. This was because the muscle just wasn’t that big. The contractile elements weren’t that big. I had little myofibrillar hypertrophy.
However, with a pump, they swelled up to an impressive size. That’s sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (a transient version anyway). When I stopped pumping my arms up once per week and switched to training them more frequently around the 8-rep range I finally saw some genuine progress. This program will do that for your whole body.
Training frequency is a powerful variable when it comes to training for size. It is one of the most often overlooked ways to grow. By increasing your training frequency, you increase the total growth signals to that body part per week. Put it this way, if you train a muscle once per week you give it 52 growth signals per year. Train it twice per week and it gets 104 of these signals. Which do you think will give the best results?
Research indicates that training a muscle anywhere between two and four times a week is good for hypertrophy. However, training frequency shouldn’t be set in stone. Like other training variables, you will see the best results by manipulating it over time to optimize your training.
For example, using moderate frequencies (1-3x per week) as the default setting for your program with periods of more frequent training (i.e. 3-6x) used sparingly to achieve functional overreaching, and to target a lagging body part or to bust through plateaus is a very effective training strategy.
During the plan, you will push frequency hard! The magnitude of the response to this short-term strategy is huge!
We know that protein synthesis (aka-the anabolic window post-workout), lasts about 1-2 days, with an even shorter duration as you become more advanced (12-16 hours in some studies). To take advantage of this almost every muscle is hit every 24 hours. Some more often.
“Squeeze the Weights Like They Owe You Money”
Creating tension in the muscle and initiating the lift with the target muscle is a primary skill to develop if you want to build muscle. Use the quote above I took from Ben Pakulski as a reminder: If you can’t feel the muscle working, then you’re not squeezing hard enough. Squeeze it like it owes you money!
You should be able to feel a muscle working through the entire range of an exercise. From one extreme to another. Think extremity and execution on every set and rep. Control the full range of motion (ROM). Execute the lift by placing as much tension as possible on the working muscle and never let up. Momentum doesn’t build muscle. Placing an overloading and progressive tension on a muscle does. This takes practice. Don’t get caught up throwing weight from A to B, cheating reps, or letting other muscles take over.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
Daine McDonald has talked about how he has manipulated the original Poliquin program. One tweak he made is in the proximity to failure. Where the original calls for all sets to failure, Daine now prefers the following approach:
- Week 1: Mon-Wed is RPE 7/10
- Week 1: Thu-Sat is RPE 8/10
- Week 2: Mon-Wed is RPE 9-10
- Week 2: Thu-Sat is RPE 10/10
I have to admit I think this is smart and came to a similar conclusion a few years ago when doing the program myself. My approach is a variation of the above. I follow the same RPE prescription as outlined above on set 1 of each exercise.
Then from there the RPE on subsequent sets of that exercise will climb and might reach a 10. For example, during the Mon-Wed of week 1, I have clients use a weight that means they can complete the desired reps at a 7/10 (3 reps in reserve). We then stick with that weight for the remainder of the sets. So, it might look like this:
- Set 1 – 7/10
- Set 2 – 7.5/10
- Set 3 – 8/10
- Set 4 – 9/10
By the end of the two weeks every set is a 10/10. This means that weight might need to drop on some exercises from set to set to stay within the assigned rep bracket. That’s fine. For example, it might look like this on the final day:
- Set 1 – 100kg x 12 @10 RPE
- Set 2 – 100kg x 10 @10 RPE
- Set 3 – 95kg x 11 @10 RPE
- Set 4 – 92.5kg x 10 @10 RPE
Nutrition Is Crucial
Nutrition is crucial to gaining mass. With the volume of work, I’m asking you to do over these two weeks, you’re going to need to eat a LOT of food. Once you’ve done that you’ll probably need to eat more.
Here is how to calculate your calorie and macronutrient targets. Don’t freak out! It’s just for two weeks.
- Total Calories – I suggest you take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 20 and consume that number of calories per day. So, if you weigh 180lbs then you would eat 3,600kcals per day.
- Protein – Given the fact you are training so frequently, your protein intake is going to be set higher than the traditional 1g per pound of body weight which is established in bodybuilding folklore. For these two weeks, I suggest having 1.5g of protein per pound of body weight. That is 270g for our 180lb example.
- Fats – Set fats at 0.45g per pound of body weight. So, that is 81g for our 180lb friend.
- Carbs – To calculate this, you need to know that both protein and carbs are 4kcal per gram. Fats, meanwhile are 9kcal per gram. So, our 180lb guy is having 3,600kcals per day. Of which 1,080kcals come from protein (270 x 4 = 1,080). With fat consumption being 729kcals a day (81 x 9 = 729).
If you add the protein and fat totals together you get 1,809 (1080 + 729 = 1,809). Now, to calculate his carbohydrate consumption simply subtract this number from total calories.
3,600 – 1,809 = 1,791
Then divide this by 4 (remember there are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate).
1,791/4 = 448g of carbs per day
To fine tune the above here are a few other nutrition guidelines:
- Eat 5-6 meals per day.
- Eat protein at every meal.
- Get at least 30g protein per meal—40g per serving is better.
- Eat vegetables with at least three meals.
- Have two meals between AM and PM workouts
- Have carbs at every meal. (Except breakfast – you can just have protein and fats if you prefer.)
When training twice per day nutrient timing becomes more important. You need to rapidly recover from the AM session to be able to benefit from the PM. As such, I recommend either having an intra-workout shake or a post-workout shake.
If you prefer a low-carb breakfast then I’d suggest using an intra-workout shake for the AM session. If using this option, I’d suggest 40g of whey isolate and 50g of maltodextrin or highly branched cyclic dextrin. Then eat a solid meal ASAP after finishing your workout.
If you have had a carbohydrate containing breakfast then going with the post-workout shake is fine. Have the shake straight after you finish the session. In this instance, I’d suggest 40g whey isolate and 0.5g per pound of body weight of maltodextrin. So, our 180lb example would have 90g of maltodextrin mixed in with his whey isolate. Then, eat a solid meal around 60-90 minutes later.
The Training Program: Monday – AM
|A. Deficit Deadlifts||6||4 to 6||180s||4110||Pull from a 3-inch deficit|
|B. Supinated Chin Ups||5||4 to 6||120s||3110|
|C. DB Single Arm Row||4||6 to 8||90s||2012||Hold peak contraction for 2 count|
The Training Program: Monday – PM
|A. EZ Bar Upright Rows||4||6 to 8||120s||2012|
|B. EZ Bar Preacher Curls||3||6 to 8||90s||3010|
|C. Incline DB Curls||3||8 to 10||90s||3011||Lift to just above parallel to floor and hold for 1 second|
|D. Standing Calf Raise||3||6 to 8||90s||2212|
The Training Program: Tuesday – AM
|A. Front Squats||5||6 to 8||120s||3010|
|B. Bench Press||5||4 to 6||120s||3010|
|C. Lying Leg Curls||4||30/Max/Max/Max||30s||2010||BFR – See description|
|D. Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns||2||Myo-Reps||120s||2010||Myo-Reps – See Description|
The Training Program: Tuesday – PM
|A. Seated DB Shoulder Press||4||6 to 8||90s||3010|
|B1. Dips||3||6 to 8||10s||4010|
|B2. 1 & 1/4 Rope French Press||3||10 to 12||120s||3110|
|C1. Lean Away DB Lateral Raise||3||8 to 10||75s||2012|
|C2. Seated Bent Over Rear DB Flyes||3||8 to 10||90s||2012|
|D. Cable Curls||4||30/Max/Max/Max||30s||2010||BFR – See description|
|E. Seated Calf Raise||2||20 to 25||60s||1112|
The Training Program: Wednesday
|A. BB RDLs||5||8 to 10||120s||3210|
|B. Single Arm Low Rows||4||8 to 10||90s||2012|
|C. Seated Face Pulls||3||10 to 12||90s||2012|
|D. Leg Extension||4||30/Max/Max/Max||30s||2010||BFR – See description|
The Training Program: Thursday – AM
|A. Hack Squats||5||8 to 10||120s||3010|
|B. Incline DB Bench Press||4||8 to 10||120s||3010|
|C. DB Pullovers||2||10 to 12||90s||2010|
|D. Seated Leg Curls||3||12 to 15||90s||3012|
The Training Program: Thursday – PM
|A1. Decline DB Triceps Extension||3||8 to 10||10s||3110|
|A2. Seated French Press||3||8 to 10||10s||2010|
|A3. Rope Pressdowns||3||8 to 10||120s||2011|
|B1. EZ Bar Reverse Curls||3||6 to 8||10s||3210||Pause at halfway on lowering phase for 2 count|
|B2 Seated DB Zottman Curls||3||6 to 8||120s||5010|
|C. Cable Rope Upright Rows||3||10 to 12||90s||2012|
|D. Leg Press Calf Raise||3||8 to 10||90s||2212|
The Training Program: Friday – AM
|A1. Lying Leg Curls||4||6 to 8||10s||3012|
|A2. 45 Degree Back Extension||4||10 to 12||120s||2112|
|B1. Supinated Grip Bent Over EZ Bar Rows||4||4 to 6||10s||3012|
|B2. Neutral Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns||4||10 to 12||120s||2010|
|C. Backwards Sled Drag||3||30m||120s||n/a|
The Training Program: Friday – PM
|A1. 1&1/4 45 Degree Incline DB Curls||3||8 to 10||10s||4010|
|A2. 70 Degree Incline DB Hammer Curs||3||8 to 10||10s||3010|
|A3. Close Grip EZ Bar Preacher Curls||3||8 to 10||120s||3010|
|B1. DB Lateral Raise||3||10 to 12||10s||2012|
|B2. Cable Lateral Raise||3||10 to 12||90s||2010||Set Cables at wrist height|
|C1. Machine Rear Delt Flyes||3||10 to 12||10s||2011|
|C2. Rope Face Pulls||3||10 to 12||90s||2012|
|D. Seated Calf Raise||2||15 to 20||90s||1112|
The Training Program: Saturday – AM
|A1. Close Grip Bench Press||4||10 to 12||75s||3010|
|A2. Neutral Grip Chin Ups||4||8 to 10||75s||3110|
|B1. Machine Shoulder Press||4||10 to 12||75s||3010|
|B2. EZ Bar Upright Rows||4||10 to 12||75s||3010|
|C. Low Handle Prowler Push||4||30m||120s||n/a|
Put It to Practice
In The Scientific Principles of Training, the authors state that you’ve probably surpassed your hypertrophy maximal recoverable volume when you:
- Can’t maintain your usual reps with 60-75% 1RM weights.
- No longer get very good pumps from training.
- Get dull, achy, and tired the next day after training instead of sore.
- Feel depleted and unenergetic during workouts, struggling to meet minimum work efforts.
So, in short, the goal of the two weeks is to achieve the above. As counterintuitive as it seems, these short-term negatives are essential to the massive positive outcomes you’ll get from your super compensation rest week. It is a case of having to dig a deep ditch to lay the foundations for your skyscraper of rapid muscle building.
Two weeks—two ball busting weeks. Get to work and reap the benefits. If you’re a hard gainer or just need more instruction, follow me on my Instagram account, @tommaccormick, and reach me directly.