Using a DEXA Scan to Build a Better Strength Program
Creating a training program is a combination of art and science. Some variables to consider when making a program include: Volume, Intensity, Exercise Progressions, Rep Schemes, Rest time, etc. Although all of these variables are important, we will address volume first. Think of volume in your program like calories in your diet. If you don’t address it first, you could end up like the skinny kid in the gym eating 1,800 calories of chicken, rice, and broccoli a day wondering why he isn’t making any gains.
The misinformed lifter will start by prioritizing exercise selection. Think of the guy doing 4 different variations of single arm curls while only doing 3 sets of rows a week. This won’t get you far if your goal is to develop a well-rounded physique. In developing a plan to maximize total body muscle gain, you will undoubtedly need to take into consideration how much volume to allocate to each muscle group. Now it isn't as simple as packing on as much volume as possible for every muscle all at the same time. Rather, in order to maximize muscle development without reaching plateaus, the volume allocated to one muscle group should be varied throughout phases of training. For example, if the goal is increasing chest size, you cannot simply add volume to your chest each week. There will be a point that the body cannot recover from the added volume. Furthermore, as the body adapts to increases in volume, it takes more and more to create overload. This is why it may take an experienced lifter 6 sets of 8 reps at 300 pounds to create the same hypertrophy response as a deconditioned person can get from 3 sets of incline push-ups.
Therefore, to avoid plateaus and continually develop, intensity and volume should be adapted. As one muscle group reaches a threshold of recoverable volume and stops responding to training, the focus can shift to recovering and maintaining that muscle group while increasing volume for a different one. A DEXA scan is an unparalleled tool to gauge progress in developing lean muscle mass. While you may feel that your arms are developing from the same 3 arm exercises that you do every Monday and Wednesday, if the DEXA shows no increase in lean muscle mass, it may be time to ditch the old routine. If your goal is to build your legs up and 5 weeks into using your new training split you see a 2 pound decrease in leg lean mass, you can save yourself another 5 weeks of ineffective training and reorganize your split to overload the legs enough to see growth. The DEXA isn’t for the bro that wants to get into a comfortable training routine and make slow progress overtime, but if you are serious about developing your body optimally, the DEXA might just become that friend that always gives it to you straight and tells you when you just need to work a little harder.
(DEXA results of 23-year-old female)