This article was published on Tuesday 10 February, 2004.
This is perhaps one of the most important articles I have written in a long time. It is about how to find the basic framework of routine structure that works best for YOU. As anyone that has been exposed to bodybuilding knows there are countless different training styles out there that all promise to give you the physique of your dreams. And they are all WRONG! And they are all CORRECT also. How can this be? Well what I meant by that is that they all work for some people at least some of the time. And MOST of them fail most of the people. Most bodybuilders continually sway back and forth, at least in their minds if not in the gym about how to train. They are lost in a sea of confusion about who is right and what the reality of effective training really is. Everyone has a very unique metabolism and what is pure magic for one person may be pure poison for another. Without going into too much detail I will just say that most guys out there in search that huge ripped physique just don’t have the genetics to make it happen. But…..almost everyone can build a physique that will impress about anyone except competitive level bodybuilders. How fast you get there, or if you ever get there at all depends on training and diet. Saving diet for another day lets discuss how to find an effective training protocol for you. In order to keep this from becoming the book it very well could be, we are going to keep the parameters limited. Instead of going into all the sub-categories of each basic training style we will just touch upon the “big picture” styles, because within them are the volume and frequency that is the guiding factor of whether progress is made or not. Once you understand your basic needs there will still be much work and experimentation to be done to fine tune everything to make it fit you. But at least you will be in a position to make gains while this occurs. Lets face it, MOST people out there pouring their heart and souls into training are making marginal at best gains.
The categories to be covered here are:
1. Volume Training, be that traditional or GVT.
2. Reduced level volume training.
4. Hardgainer style training (this is more often than not a sub-category of HIT, but I will treat it as it’s own because there are differences that make a BIG difference as to if it, or HIT are effective.
In order for this “experiment” to be effective and work for anyone out there that might be willing to try it I am going to establish some guidelines for each training protocol to be followed. I ABSOLUTLY KNOW that the guidelines will not stand-up to criticism from many proponents of each categories training style. SAVE IT GUYS! I know it’s not perfect, and if you have a training style that fits you well and is effective great. MANY, MANY people are absolutely lost, and this will help them find their way if they are willing to take the time and take some risks. Those risks being that they absolutely will do some training that doesn’t work well for them. My guess though is that the people that haven’t put the pieces of the growth puzzle together yet are already not making progress so they have nothing to lose.
Lets also clear up something else to make sure the trainee is not spinning their wheels. The most perfect routine is WORTHLESS if rest and nutrition are not there to back things up. You need to be getting 1.5 grams of protein per lb of bodyweight EVERY DAY, 2 grams if “on”. Other basics required are:
2 mega-dose multi-vitamin and 2 mega-dose multi-mineral a day.
2000 mgs vit C a day
300% calcium/magnesium/zinc a day
2 tablespoons of flax oil a day.
2 tablespoons olive oil a day
1 gram ALA a day, 2 x 500 mgs
Please understand this in the MINIMAL supps a trainee should take and far from optimal. THIS IS NOT A RECOMMENDED SUPPLEMENTATION SCHEDULE, BUT I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE THAT MANY LIFTERS TAKE NEXT TO NOTHING. This will provide a minimum base that most any lifter will do OK on. There are LOTS of other items that are both inexpensive, and result producing. But this is far better than most people do for themselves.
I am also going to ask that the trainee attempting this does not try it while they are trying to reduce bodyfat. While I can honestly say that I do not have a single trainee I personal train that doesn’t build strength the whole time they are cutting I do know that most people simply just don’t know how to make this happen so don’t attempt this while cutting. Also if you are say, just starting a new physical labor job, or going out for a sport that requires large physical exertion expenditures this isn’t the best time to experiment.
Try to keep all the variables to a minimum.
OK lets start, here are the basic parameters of each training style to try.
Pick three exercises per body-part and do 4 sets each. This is 12 sets per body-part and while it isn’t as high as the 16-20 sets some volume trainers do, it’s still high enough to get an adequate growth response if volume training will work for you. These sets are not to be done to failure but they should be done fairly heavy. Keep the reps in the 8-12 range with 2 to 3 minutes rest per set (always time it so you are consistent). Train 4 days a week using a split that has you only hitting each muscle group once a week. And yes volume guys I know some of you hit muscles more frequently than that with good results, but this experiment is made to get the trainee there as soon as possible and once a week volume training works fine if volume training will work for you. This section is probably the easiest one to be listed because almost all trainees try volume training at some point in time. It does NOT work well for the majority of the trainees out there because it’s just too much to recover from, but for those it works good for nothing is better and they should be doing it!
Reduced level volume training:
Pick two exercises per body-part and do 3 sets each after warm-ups. These sets should be hard but not to failure. The last set of each exercise should be extremely tough though and going to failure on this set is fine, but not needed. While some will say this is too low to be called volume training, its still more than HIT, and quite frankly I don’t care what it’s called. It is a very useful protocol and one I have a lot of my personal training clients on because it works so well. Keep the reps between 8-12, and train 3-4 days a week (PREFERABLY 3) and only hit each muscle one a week. Use as little overlap as possible which means all pushing muscles on one day, pulling muscles on another, and legs the other day. Many folks do chest and back on one day, arms a day or so later and then wonder why they are not growing. Eliminate the overlap!
This is probably the hardest one for me to define a basic training framework for because there are so many different variations of HIT that all qualify as HIT training. Without leaving anyone slighted for not picking their HIT style I will take a stab at providing a basic structure to work within. It’s particularly hard for me because I’m primarily known as a HIT trainer, but in truth my routines for personal training clients cover the full spectrum including Westside Barbell routines (ooops! Opened up another can of worms). Anyway, the protocol for this will be picking two sets per body-part (except bi’s and tri’s, and calves, only one lift here) and do one set of each lift (after warm-ups) to absolute failure. You may alternatively do these sets with beyond failure techniques such as rest-pause or drop-sets but most people find the beyond failure techniques too much if used for every lift. If you attempt them and they don’t yield IMMEDIATE strengths gains from your first rotation drop them immediately and continue your experiment with strait sets only. Most everyone does well on a routine such as this and strength gains are usually phenomenal. Some people do not get the size gains to correspond to the strength gains, but that is a topic for another article.
Hardgainer Style Training:
There are many people on these boards that have absolutely ZERO knowledge about this style of routine. And unfortunately they are most often the ones that spout off about how it could never work. One of the objections often quoted is “there is no way you could build a competitive physique with a routine like that”. To that I will say “no fucking duh”. No you are right you can’t build a competitive physique on a routine like this. But “duh Einstein” the VAST majority of the trainees out there will never build a competitive physique no matter what they do. That takes great genetics and unfortunately most people just have it. But with proper training most guys can get damn big and strong. Big enough to turn heads wherever they go. For MANY people out there Hardgainer style training is the one and only thing that will get them there. I can’t even count the number of trainees I have seen add 20-40 lbs in a few months after YEARS of making little or no gains. I know, I was one of them! I will make this category really simple on everyone.
Split your routine up into 2 or 3 days and after warm-ups do:
Bench Press or Dips 2 x 8-12
Bent Row or Pull-up 2 x 8-12
Military or Dumbell Press 2 x 8-12
Squat 2 x 8-12
Stiff Legged Deadlift 2 x 8-12
Weighted Abs 2 x 10
DON’T worry about detail here. The idea is to actually get brutally strong on a core group of lifts instead. Here is something I posted awhile back:
For you people that are always concerned about balance and symmetry, yet don’t grow, yes, you guys.always doing 3-4 exercises per body-part to ensure “complete development” of all “aspects” of a muscle. What if all you did was:
Squats 400 x 20
Stiff-legged deadlifts 375 x 15
Bench Press 315 x 12
Pull-Up with 100 lbs extra weight x 12
Military Press Body-Weight x 10
Calf-Raise 700 x 15
Weighted Sit-Up 175 x 12
How much bigger would you be than you are now, and what muscle would be under developed?!?!?!?!?!?
What if that was ALL THE LIFTS YOU ACTUALLY DID ON A WEEK-TO-WEEK BASIS, BUT ACTUALLY DID THAT AMOUNT OF WEIGHT? AND SINCE THAT WAS ALL YOU DID YOU NEVER OVERTRAINED AND YOU WERE ALWAYS ABLE ADD A LITTLE AMOUNT OF WEIGHT TO THE BAR. HOW MUCH FUCKING BIGGER WOULD YOU BE THAN YOU ARE NOW???????
Enough ranting about Hardgainer style training. Let me just add that if you have even a passing fancy about weight training and you have never read Stuart McRobert’s book “Brawn” you are really missing something.
Well we have four basic categories and ways to go about testing them, and while admittedly the formats and methods of implementing them are far from perfect they will do for someone that is really determined to be successful at bodybuilding. So how to go about putting them to the test, and how to determine if they are working? Well, we could start at doing the volume training first and work down. But I will simply say this. On a percentile basis more people fail at volume training than succeed. Don’t believe me? Go to your gym and closely observe. MOST people there will be doing a volume routine. And most will be the little guys you see spinning their wheels looking the same month after month. Volume guys, don’t take this as a knock because as I stated volume works spectacularly for those it works for. If you are one of them count your blessings, but don’t get ruffled and say that if it doesn’t work for someone it’s because they are doing something wrong. Actually you are right in a way, what they are doing wrong is overtraining.
In my opinion it would be best to start at the bottom and work your way up. The big problem here is 80% of the people that decide to try a Hardgainer routine add shit until it’s not a Hardgainer routine. LISTEN TO ME! THERE ARE VERY, VERY FEW PEOPLE OUT THERE THAT WILL NOT MAKE GREAT PROGRESS ON A HARDGAINER STYLE ROUTINE, DON’T ADD A THING AND IF IT DOESN’T WORK YOU WILL AT LEAST KNOW IT DOESN’T WORK BECAUSE IT DOESN’T SUT YOU, NOT BECAUSE YOU BASTARDIZED IT. Everyone owes it to themselves to try a routine like this at least once in their lives to at least see what it can do for them. Why have I spent so much time and words about Hardgainer style training? Do I think it’s the best way to go? Absolutely not, but I do know that it is the most misunderstood, and least likely to be tried method. I also absolutely KNOW that for the extreme hardgainer it’s the ONLY way they will ever develop an impressive physique.
Again, I would suggest starting at the bottom and working up. By doing so you WILL make gains until you run into your overtraining threshold. If you make it to volume training and volume is working for you add a few sets and keep going till a wall is hit and back down. I would suggest trying each method for 6 weeks. Judge your results by strength and size gains. Strength gains should occur on about every lift every week until you get to volume training. It is common for volume trainers to not have consistent strength gains, but they do add size consistently. Still, slow strength gains are needed because if that is not occurring you are just continually repeating the last workout. You MUST pre progressing! I know some people are probably saying 6 weeks! That’s 24 months, almost half a year. Let me put it to you this way. What were your gains like over the last 6 months. What if in 6 months from now you had a great handle on your training and could then devote your time to a training protocol that actually worked for you?
I had a few people asking me why as a personal trainer I would write something like this and asked if I wasn’t concerned that I would lose business because of it. My answer was simple. I get a great deal of satisfaction helping people achieve their lifting goals and know that those people I help are more likely to come to me for assistance when they get stuck, or are ready to take their training to the next level. This is what these boards are about. People sharing knowledge and everyone benefiting from it!