Because training volume is the primary factor in building muscle, you generally want to train as much as your body is able to recover from. Unless you’re exceptionally motivated, this is going to be more than you think. Most people — even serious trainees — could easily be training at least 50% more than they already are.
That said, there will be days when you just aren’t fully recovered, either because you trained too hard, slept poorly, ate too little (or too much), or are simply stressed out.
You might think that it would make sense to simply skip your workout on those days. The problem with that, however, is that you don’t really know when you’re under-recovered until you step into the gym and start working out. How strong or energetic you feel that day is actually not a great predictor of your actual exercise performance.
So, let’s say you go to the gym, start working out, and it’s clear that you’re notably weaker than you were during your last workout. You haven’t recovered. Here’s how to salvage that workout and keep making progress while allowing yourself to recover in time for your next workout.
What Is a Power Training Day?
Power training is a style of resistance training in which you lift light weights at a very high speed. Typically, the weights are around 50-70% of your one-rep max, and you perform a maximum of six reps per set (despite normally performing 20 reps or more at such a light weight).
However, power training requires that you lift the weights explosively — as fast as you possibly can — while keeping them under control. In fact, you’ll stop each set once your velocity starts to noticeably decrease, even if you haven’t even reached six reps yet.
It is, of course, possible to only power train for part of your workout, but a power day is one in which you perform all of your sets this way.
The Science of Power Training
So what’s the advantage of power training? Is it just plain better than other training styles? Well, no, otherwise everyone would always train this way.
This kind of speed work doesn’t produce as much muscle growth stimulus as heavier training does (for most people, anyway). What it does do, however, is produce similar levels of neuromuscular activation, allow you to train for a decent amount of volume and work on your technique, all while causing a very minimal amount of fatigue.
In other words, it’s an ideal way to train when you’re already under-recovered but still want (or need) to get some kind of workout in. It gives you most of the benefits of both a regular workout and a day off.
How to Autoregulate Your Power Day
Remember, first and foremost, that autoregulation is not just going by how you feel or “listening to your body.” Don’t perform a power workout just because you feel tired. You’d be amazed at how often you feel tired, but can still hit a new personal record.
Instead, you’ll need to record all of your workouts (as in, write them down, not videotape them). When you notice that you’re not able to do as many reps as you did the last time you performed the same workout, for multiple exercises, that’s when you know it’s time for a power day.
Lower the weight for every exercise to 50-70% of your one-rep max. If you don’t know your one-rep max, lowering the weight by 20-30% of what you normally use is a good guideline.
For exercises such as squats, where your own body weight is a significant part of the weight you lift, remember that the total weight is your body weight plus any added weight. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds and can squat 150 pounds, you should lower the barbell weight to around 65-95 pounds.
For every exercise, lift the weight as fast as possible, stopping at six reps (or when you notice your velocity decreasing). Otherwise, perform all of the same exercises that you’d normally do for the same number of sets.
After your power workout, eat a large but healthy meal and make an extra effort to sleep well in order to get back on track for recovery.
Power workouts feel easier than lifting heavy, and this shouldn’t become an excuse to slack off. You don’t want to switch to an impromptu power-style workout more than once every two weeks. Instead, this is something to keep in your back pocket as a way of keeping your gym sessions productive when you realize you aren’t fully recovered. It's not something you should be going out of your way to do when you don’t need to.
Utilized properly, however, these autoregulated power workouts are a solid tool for allowing you to push yourself harder without overtraining, and train with high frequency while ensuring that you always get a good workout, even when you’re tired or under-recovered.