117 – Dr Wayne Westcott on Training Frequency, Workout Routines, Warm-Ups, Recovery Requirements with Ageing, and Progression Over A Lifetime

Dr Wayne Westcott
Exercise science professor Wayne Westcott (not bad at 67!) talks with chef Kevin Colby at the Quincy College gym. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Dr. Wayne Westcott has written more than 20 books, 400 articles, and 600 newspaper columns on the topic of muscle-building exercise. He has spent thousands of hours in the research lab, presented his findings to tens-of-thousands of seminar attendees, personally educated, tested, and certified many thousands of fitness trainers from around the globe and consulted to some of the most prestigious organizations interested in this business – including The United States Navy, The United States Air Force, several national League Football Teams, General Motors Corporation, The Nautilus Corporation, and the President’s Council on Sports and Physical Fitness.

Lawrence, Wayne is without question, the most impressive single individual in our field. He is prolific in his publication, original research, and writing… his knowledge base in resistance training is unparalleled. He worked closely with everyone at Nautilus in the old days but also has an incredibly academic background and an unbiased, scientific approach to exercise.

– Luke Carlson, CEO, Discover Strength

I loved recording this episode. Wayne is one of the most charming, delightful and modest individuals I’ve had the pleasure to interview. We had a lot of fascinating chit-chat on strength training in this edition.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Why is it important to do strength training?
  • How to optimise and balance elevation in metabolic rate with strength training frequency
  • Why Wayne advocates people train twice per week in most cases
  • How effective is it to use the same routine over a lifetime?
  • How to stimulate optimal gains (of course – mustn’t forget that old chestnut)
  • What has Wayne changed his mind about regarding exercise and nutrition?
  • … and much more

Listen below:

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Would you like to hear more from a top Exercise Scientist on optimising muscular development? Listen to this episode with Dr James Steele, in which we discuss how increased workout frequency might be better for trained individuals, the pros and cons of training not-to-failure, and much much more. Listen to it here (stream below or right-click to download):

This episode is brought to you by the Resistance Exercise Conference – The science and application of strength training for health and human performance. You will learn from the top strength training researchers, connect with exercise professionals from all over the world, get a workout from an expert trainer and get inspired, rejuvenated and focused on your strength training business. You will get the chance to chat with guys like Dr James Fisher, Luke Carlson, and Jim Flanagan. I will be attending with many of the Corporate Warrior listeners and I’d love to meet you in person. The resistance exercise conference will be held on the 9th and 10th of March 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota at The Commons Hotel.

I’m very excited about this and have wanted to attend for years. Sign up now at ResistanceExerciseConference.com, get 10% off with promo code corporatewarrior10 and I look forward to meeting you in person!

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Subscribe to my emails to get a FREE HIT workout progress sheet and eBook with 6 podcast transcripts with guests like Dr. Doug McGuff, Drew Baye, and Skyler Tanner – Click here

Selected Links from the Episode

People Mentioned

Comments 25

  • Ha, I’ve never heard before things explained that way…when doing a different exercise for the same muscle groups, we are stimulating different neurological pathways…which has little to do with actual increase of muscle mass…Cool! Cheers!

    • I’ve heard that before plenty, paired with exercise induced BDNF release it’s really important for neuroplasticity in aging.

  • What a great interview Lawrence, and what a nice guy too – very inspirational! Wayne, if you don’t mind I have a question for you: since we know that our musculature does not decrease if we don’t workout for 1 week and the research you quote shows that at 4 days after the workout the trained muscles had only just begun to reach super-compensation, then shouldn’t all of us ‘normies’ be waiting at least 1 week between workouts? (By ‘normies’ I mean those of us who cannot recover super-quickly – ie we are neither genetically gifted nor on performance enhancing drugs…) After all, we all have a genetic ceiling that we butt up against eventually, so surely no need to attempt to rush things by working out more than once a week? The more research I do on this, the more I discover that the actual ‘work’ of hypertrophy/ strength gains is done by the body in the recovery period: so why not give the body an extended time to do all the recovering it needs to? The actual work-out stimulus appears to just be the starting pistol to get things moving – the body then needs to expend a lot of energy over several days to recover (Mark Sisson did a recent post on this if you are interested by the way). I understand that by working out 2 or 3 times a week then this may have superior ‘metabolic’ benefits, but for myself I feel that I can get those same benefits from cycling/ brisk walking and a low carb diet – I’d rather keep my workouts focused on pure strength/ hypertrophy goals. That said, I take your point that we are all here because we love strength training and going down to twice a week is hard enough, but once a week is really, really tough for me! But I have just had to bite the bullet on this one. Is this why you have remained at twice a week or do you really feel that twice a week is having significant incremental benefit compared to once a week? If so, what would be the mechanism there? Many thanks! PS I am 47 years old, so that probably also has a bearing on things!

    • Thanks Rob. I’ll let Wayne know.

    • Hey Rob,

      Here’s Wayne’s response:

      In response to Rob H’s excellent question and comments, I would like to share the following information. Based on some superb studies by McLester et al. (Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2003, 17(2), 259-273), older individuals (Rob is 47, but people over 50 in this research) had not fully recovered from their weight workout 96 hours after the exercise session. While this result may have been associated with the specific resistance training protocol (machine exercises, 3 sets to failure, approximately 10 reps/set), the authors suggested that older individuals require more recovery time than younger individuals. As a much older individual, I can attest that this is definitely the case.

      From a physiological perspective, fast-twitch muscle fibers fatigue more quickly and recover more slowly than slow-twitch muscle fibers. Consequently, exercises that address predominantly fast-twitch muscles (e.g., triceps) require more recovery time than exercises that address predominantly slow-twitch muscles (e.g., soleus).

      From a biomechanical perspective, exercises that place a relatively high level of stress (shearing force) across a major joint during the eccentric (muscle lengthening ) action typically cause more muscle tissue micro-trauma than exercises that do not place a high level of stress across a major joint. Consequently, a challenging barbell or dumbbell bench press workout will generally require more recovery time than a challenging bench dumbbell row workout.

      Research I did at Penn State University (many years ago) clearly indicated that the time requirement for muscle recovery was associated with the work level performed during the strength training session. Simply, higher work levels required greater recovery time than lesser work levels.

      Over the years I have changed from 3 to 2 full-body workouts a week (which is tough because, like you, I really look forward to my strength training sessions). However, unlike you, I know that it would be too mentally stressful for me to do just 1 weekly workout. Therefore, I have adjusted my two weekly workouts (exercises, intensity, and volume) to enable relatively complete recovery between my Wednesdays and Saturdays training sessions. It may not be optimal, but it has, thus far, been effective physically and reinforcing mentally.

      Thanks again for your commentary, Rob.

      Lawrence, my most sincere appreciation for the privilege of interviewing with you. Continued success with your profound professional leadership and your personal exercise/fitness/sport role model.



      • Well, what an impressive reply – but from what little I know about Wayne I was expecting nothing less. Let this be a lesson to all of us in how to communicate effectively (and I work in marketing!)

        Just a quick update from my side: like you Wayne (and Lawrence too) I think I will shift to 2 workouts per week, just because I have found myself craving another workout halfway through the week, when I seem to be more or less fully recovered – despite having done a very intense relatively (at least for me) heavy workout on Friday – lots of shearing forces (dumbell pullovers being the worst: I think I can feel my ribs shearing off!) Whilst I am definitely not recovered enough to resume working out 3 times/ week: twice/ week seems like it will be fine. Regardless of any strength-building benefits, it will certainly have positive mental as well as metabolic benefits, and that is reason enough for me. That being said though, I think my second workout early on a Monday morning will be bodyweight only (but still full body exercises to MMF): just to minimise any deleterious effects of using higher loads too frequently (I’m thinking more of my cartilage and ligaments etc which don’t recover as quickly as muscle..)

        I also liked Doug’s reply to the same question, which Wayne reinforces in his reply to me: ie that you can increase the frequency if you want to: but you have to dial down volume or intensity by the same proportion. Assuming we all want to stick with a high intensity then that seems to imply a lower volume is required. My only beef with this approach (as per Ted Naiman’s approach) is that my belief is that doing a very frequent (eg daily), very low volume but still very high intensity (ie going to MMF) will still cause havoc with your tendons/ ligaments over the longer term once you reach my age (late 40s). Personally, from my little N=1 experiment I don’t like the idea of high frequency, high intensity training – whatever the volume, since I believe tissue needs TIME to recover. You can’t just hit it over and over with a stimulus expecting results – the adaptation happens during the recovery period. But maybe that’s just me!

        • Hi Rob, I humbly would like to make a suggestion to you, based on my own personal experience. Since your idea is to keep intensity high, you should consider lower volume . And since heavy loads exposure is a concern, then you can consider a bodypart split. For examle:
          1 Pull week
          Monday – Back, biceps….etc.
          1. Pull down ;
          2. Row;
          3. Shrugs.
          Friday Hamstrings, lower back, abs.
          1. Leg curls;
          2. Hyperextentions;
          3. Ab crunches.
          2 Push week
          Monday Chest, shoulders, triceps
          1. Military press;
          3. Flat bench dumbell pec fly.
          Friday – Front quads, Calves;
          1. Leg extension ;
          2. Sqat/leg press;
          3. Calf rases.
          Volume per session is low, all major muscle groups are covered, but none gets expoesed to heavy load frequently, all are trained in a “fresh” state, so metabolic fatigue is not a limiting factor, volume is still sufficient , given the high intensity present, so that metabolic benefits and mental benefits are on. Please refer to this as an example. You can throw in different or additional exercises and use set/rep/cadence/ special technique as per your preference.

          • And Rob, don’t worry that muscle groups will be trained very infrequently …you’ll be fine 😀

            • Thanks for your advice Kamen – that looks like a great plan. For where I’m at right now, I definitely agree that twice per week is the sweet spot frequency for me. And in common with all listeners of Lawrence’s podcast, I want to keep intensity consistently high, but I also want to maximise the recovery period, so what you have suggested makes a lot of sense. The only things is that I work out at home with just a flat/ incline bench, dumbbells and a barbell (as well as parallette bars for inverted rows/ dips). I do not feel confident doing heavy squats on my own any more (I don’t have space for a squat rack unfortunately) so I am sticking with 2 x sets of wall-sits instead for the legs. Interesting that you don’t recommend deadlifts – everyone else seems to love those, but I tried them for about 3 weeks and really did my back in (having had a herniated disc 15 years ago) so they are not the best choice for me. Any other good bodyweight or dumbbell exercises you can recommend for the legs? Many thanks!

              • Hi Rob, I’m glad if I can help. I did both back squats and deadlifts religiously for years , I had issues with both and in the end I realised there is nothing magical in them 🙂 I now work out at a gym , but I stay away from both.
                So for front quads, bodyweight only, my personal best choice is 1. Sissy squats(see Drew Baye’s Facebook page for a video on these) superseted with 2. Belt weighted squat (again reffer to Drew Baye’s youtube channel videos and explanations for these). Other suggestions you may borrow from Bill de Simone, but if you master the first suggestions, you’ll do fine. I personally do not like the wallsit, because you very soon get to a point of extremely long sets, where it becomes very difficult to cope with discomfort and imo “true” failure is compromised. But that’s me.
                For the lower back, given your existing problem thing are more complicated though. Definitely some form of hyperextentions should be the choice,but they are hard to do properly with equipment limitations. I personally do the variant on a pull down machine suggested by Dr.McGuff( find them in youtube ). The key point is, that you perform the extention and load the lower back muscles without bending forward like in normal hyperextentions on a roman chair. For you though at home, you may consider doing them on the floor. I mean laying on your front, arm and legs straight and you raise both and flex statically for time. This way just add several sets to achieve fatigue through volume with time and for progression for this particular exercise. You may consult Bill de Simone or Drew Baye’s work for suggestions.
                In any case if you decide to follow similar schedule to what I suggest, perhaps, you can visit a gym for some workouts. ..after all it will be very seldom visits. 😀 Let me know if I can help otherwise . Cheers !

                • And by the way, you shoukd do something direct for the Hamstrings… at least if you really look for overall development . If romanian deadlifts are not an option, you shoud consider perhaps other variants. Fixed ankles-body weight rises of hip thrust of some sort, or holding a dumbell between the feet for curls.. .

                • Excellent advice: many thanks Kamen! I’m definitely going to try out those sissy squats, and I must go out and buy a belt so I can try the belt-weighted squats, in fact I’m putting that on my list now… You’re right: I’m now up to between 90 seconds and 2 minutes on the wall-sit and to be honest it gets pretty tedious! And I forgot to mention, I do actually have a vertical ‘lat pull-down’ cabled extension tower bar that slots into the end of my flat bench and which I can load up with weight plates either side, so that may work – but I’ll have a look at Doug’s YouTube videos to see if that is appropriate. But I might just go with the floor hyperextensions: I used to do them a few years ago but forgot all about them… Thanks again for the great tips!

  • I really enjoyed Dr. Westcott’s comments, especially his lack of variety in his personal workouts. A true blue chip iron man!

  • This was awsome. Wisdom, humility and just plain niceness! I’m hungry for more nuts and bolts now!

  • Another great podcast Lawrence. Brilliant. He sounds like a great guy.

  • Another enjoyable interview. I found it interesting that, despite his HIT leanings, he likes to do warm up sets before his work set, and will then do drop sets on occasion. I also found it interesting that for free weight exercises, he will do several sets. These are both things I started to do, after having done plain SSTF training.

    He mentioned his two studies with slow repetitions. The limitation for both of these is that he only looked at strength, not hypertrophy (understandable, because hypertrophy isn’t that easy to measure), and he ended up comparing the strength gains at slow speed for one group to the strength gains at higher speed for the other group. In other words, Slow Rep guys improved X% at doing Slow reps and Fast Rep guys improved Y% at doing fast reps, with X>Y. What does that mean? Would have been instructive to test each group at both rep speeds, or with an isometric contraction. Perhaps slow reps have more of learning curve than fast reps, and hence take longer to master? Or maybe there are greater neurological adjustments that occur with a slow rep, just because it is a less natural movement pattern? Or maybe it really just is better overall? Kind of hard to say.

    As you probably know, Discover Strength will be reporting on a study of rep speed at their upcoming conference. (Work done with Fisher, Steele, and Westcott). Counting on you, Lawrence, to keep the rest of us informed in a timely fashion.

    • Thanks Harold. I really enjoyed talking to Wayne. It’s my opinion that a lot of this stuff doesn’t matter and that training to MMF safely is the only thing that really matters. Simplification and consolidation (SSTF only no warm-up, drop-sets, etc) seems to make sense if one is measuring recovery over the long term and needs to keep variables constant, but there are so many additional variables, I’m not sure one can ever really know.

      I was unaware Discover Strength were doing that! I shall follow up with the gents on the outcomes!

  • Great interview Lawrence. I really like your podcasts. I especially relate to this episode because I work mostly with clients who are older and non-athletes. Wayne was one of my first exposures to HIT after being introduced to its concepts, and I was so happy to see that he’d be on your podcast. I’ve always felt that not enough people know about him and the work he’s done. You are definitively part of the reason more and more people will learn about a more accessible way of strength training. Thanks!

  • Great guy !

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