Compensation is just another way of saying that a repair job is done for the purpose of mending some damage. Overcompensation goes beyond restoring the previous state of affairs and provides additional gains: When you break a bone in an accident, your body will not only heal the fracture (compensation) but -- as can be easily verified by examining X-ray photos about six weeks after the accident -- will make the bone thicker and stronger by depositing additional building materials at the place of injury -- Voila: Overcompensation!
Physiological processes such as these can be observed in everyday life: When you chop wood for an hour or row a boat for some appreciable distance your palms suffer skin abrasions and feel unpleasantly delicate, sometimes even painful. Two days later you find signs of callus at the very spots which were weakened by the unaccustomed physical stress. Acquiring the attractive tan works the same way: Long and intense sunlight exposure irritates the skin so that it turns red and tender. In an effort to build up defenses against another onslaught of UV-radiation the skin activates brown cells called melanin which color the outer layer and prevent the sun's rays from pentrating and causing furthr irritation.
These examples show why the body reacts with overcompensation: It is simply a buildup of protective reserves to guard against repeated physical stress damage.
Muscles, too, are built up by way of overcompensation. While many laymen erroneously believe that the training itself strengthens and enlages the muscles, myriads of personal observations point in the opposite direction, namely that intense weight training tears at the muscle fibers and actually breaks them down somewhat so that a decrease, not an increase, is effected. (In order to be scientifically correct, it may be that not the contractile elements themselves arre reduced but certain metabolic substances in or around them.)
Everyone can substantiate this phenomenon to his own satisfaction by measuring the circumference of a muscle group about six hours after a heavy training session. Why wait so long? Because right after training your muscles are pumped with blood and you would not get a correct reading to sensibly compare to the "cold" condition your muscles were in before training.
So -- wait till the pump has completely subsided and then take an honest reading with that tape measure. You'll find that the muscle has just a little bit lost in size. An 18 inch arm can lose up to half a centimeter after having been subjected to many biceps-triceps-supersets.
A pompous M.D. once told this author that the reduction in size is brought about by intramuscular fat loss. Since he failed to reasonably explain why this phenomenon can also be observed on very defined arms which carry no visible traces of fat, I did not put mjuch credence to his unsolicited contentijon that the hard musculature of competitive bodybuilders is nothing more than well-shaped fat . . . Anyway, losing a few millimeters of muscle through hard training should be no cause for concern; provided you have not used up all physical reserves, your body will soon set to the task of rebuilding what was torn down. This takes some time for the organism to accomplish as it must repair a physical damage through growing new tissue -- remember the case of the broken bone. The original muscle volume will, therefore, be restored only about twenty-four hours after training -- again verifiable through applying the tape measure.
You should not, however, deceive yourself by taking early morning measurements too seriously, for when you jump out of bed your arms will be slightly bigger than at other times of the day, while your calves will be down a bit from last night.
So, on the first day after training your muscles do not show an increase of strength and mass, but have just about regained their pre-workout condition. But now the body starts "overshooting" its repair job: If you don't foil your muscles' growth designs through hard training sessions, they build additional tissue for at least three days.
Unfortunately, most trainess have no ieda that this phase of overcompensation lasts so long -- nor do they know that it can be used to vitally improve their training achievements without requiring further effort.
The following graph (A) . . .
. . . presents the muscle and strength-gain pattern observed under favorable conditions. Here, a new training session is implemented only when the overcompensatory effect caused by the preceding workout has nearly reached its apex after 72 hours. This is contrasted with a graph (B) . . .
. . . where training sessions take place not after two days rest but after only a one-day interval. (We generously grant that the speed of growth will be identical to the one in Graph A, despite the higher training frequency and, therefore, greater stress on the body.)
Now, when we superimpose the two graphs we get the following . . .
As can be clearly seen, training sessions with a one-day rest pause in between do not result in greater, but smaller growth rates than when combined with a two-day rest pause.
Explanation: The more frequent training sessions do not leave enough time for full overcompensation to take place because the concomitant losses of muscle tissue are effected while the gaining processes are "under way," i.e., before they are completed, and thus put a premature stop to each respective growth cycle. The inference is self-evident: Anyone interested in obtaining maximum possible dividends of muscle and might from minimum necessary investment of time and energy should not train a particular muscle group more than twice a week.
This veritable pearl of wisdom has been voiced time and again by the "greats" of the game . . .
Franco Columbu: "When I want to build real power, I only train each bodypart twice a week."
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Whenever I wanted sheer mass I would train with heavy weights and train each bodypart twice a week."
Larry Scott: "Each bodypart is only worked twice a week."
Ditto Boyer Coe, Ray Mentzer and Robby Robinson.
Vince Gironda: Top physique stars take maximum workouts every workout. But they work each muscle only twice a week. Even with their superior metabolism they still need 72 hours recuperation. Take heed that workouts tear down tissue; rest builds it."
Note: He gives references, muscle magazine issues those quotes came from, but I didn't include them. 60's and 70's Muscle Builder and Iron Man.
All this is quite logical and easily understood, yet even famous champions sometimes make the mistake of impeding their progress through training too frequently. When Casey Viator trained five times per week he did not gain one iota and even slipped backwards. Only after drastically reducing the number of his weekly sessions did he progress to the point where he actually won the Mr. America title.
Dennis Tinnerino, 1968 Mr. Universe, admitted in an article on arm training that he himself had experienced losses through training too often.
Another example is Steve Michalik, 1972 Mr. America, who for occupational reasons was forced to cut down on the number of his workouts. Suddenly he found his muscles growing like they had not done for months, and his arms sprouted to a massive 20 inches.
Note: These are lifters who use steroids. So, if they find total recuperation and rebuilding is more complete with less frequent workouts, what do you think a clean lifter such as yourself will find?
Just in case you have not grasped the bottom line, here it is:
GIVE YOUR BODY TIME TO GROW -- DELIBERATE REST PAUSES BETWEEN WORKOUTS ARE THE BIGGEST PLOY IN THE WORLD OF STRENGTH!
Enjoy Your Lifting!