Those of you who have read through any of my articles know that I'm a big believer in the basics. I confidently preach low volume, infrequent workouts that are based around the universal laws of overload and progression (training with maximum intensity and progressing in weight or reps from week to week). Anyone who truly understands the fundamentals of strength training realizes that these basic guidelines are all one needs in order to reach their goals of increased muscle mass and strength. I mean seriously, how much more is there to it than that?
Train at a high level of intensity with the minimum amount of stimulation needed to yield an adaptive response, and then give the muscle adequate rest and nutrients. The following week increase the weight or repetitions.
Done. Boom. That's it!
Okay, okay, maybe it's not that simple. But in the grand scheme of it all, that really is the bottom line. You see, many people make bodybuilding out to be much more complex than it really is.
In actuality there really is nothing complicated about the concept of muscle growth. Sorry to burst the bubble of all you muscle magazine gurus out there, but the reality of it all is that you do not need "The 6 Week Program to Mind Blowing Chest Gains" or "Ronnie Coleman's Killer Bicep Blaster". If a muscle magazine's goal was to teach you everything you actually needed to know, there's no doubt they would be able to cover it in half an issue. Why? Because it's simple!
As I press on further and further into my bodybuilding endeavors I have less and less patience for the complete nonsense and utter stupidity that is all-too prevalent in gyms everywhere. Set foot in any gym across North America and I guarantee you will see the same ridiculous things over and over again. Buddy #1 is in the corner doing 3 sets of 10 on 4 different bicep exercises. Buddy #2 is putting forth intensity that would make Justin Timberlake look like a Greek God. Buddy #3 is wearing sweatpants to the gym every session to cover up his untrained legs.
Where does it end? Quite obviously the answer is that it does not, and never will. For those of you who have made the wise choice of reading my articles, you will begin to realize that I have said this all before. Well, hear it again, because it will never end. I will continue to pound this information into your skull until it is permanently tattooed in your memory. Then maybe, just maybe you will begin to apply this information and finally make the muscle and strength gains you deserve.
Bigger & stronger in only 3 hours per week?
What if I told you that you could get bigger and stronger than you've ever been in your entire life by training only 3 days per week for no more than 1 hour? Most likely the uninformed skeptics would call me a liar, the multi-setters would stop reading, and the easy-way-out slackers would stare wide eyed with an unjustified gleam of hope that building muscle is easy after all. Well I'm sorry lazy one, but this seemingly "easy" way of training is much more difficult than the naked eye could ever fathom.
To understand why these low volume workouts are so effective we must first establish the notion that building muscle is a simple concept. I'm not talking about the nitty-gritty, detailed and precise biochemistry behind the processes of protein synthesis, anabolic hormones and muscular hypertrophy. I am simply referring to the basic idea or "bottom line" of muscle growth. Here it is...
Every single process that occurs within the human body is centered around keeping you alive and healthy. Through thousands of years of evolution the human body has become quite a fine-tuned organism that can adapt well to certain conditions that are placed upon it. We become uncomfortable when we are hungry or thirsty, we acquire a suntan when high amounts of UV rays are present, we build calluses to protect our skin, etc. So what happens when we break down muscle tissue in the gym?
If you answered something to the effect of "the muscles get bigger and stronger", then congratulations! You are absolutely correct. By battling against resistance beyond the muscle's present capacity we have posed a potential threat to the musculature. The body recognizes this as potentially harmful and as a natural adaptive response the muscles will hypertrophy (increase in size) to protect the body against this threat. As we systematically increase the resistance the body will adapt accordingly and the muscle tissue will continue to swell. Sound simple? It is.
In a nutshell, we must focus on training with 100% intensity so that the body truly believes it is in danger, and then gradually increase the workload (in terms of resistance and repetitions, not volume) each week. You see, everybody thinks they train hard. Most people believe that they do go all out and do push their body's to the max each and every workout. In actuality, very few people train as hard as they possibly can. This is the main factor that separates those who make great gains from those who make only modest gains.
Let me say this once and hopefully it will sink in: If you truly train with 100% intensity, it is physically impossible to train with high volume or for a long period of time! Read that again. Good. Now apply it. Sit down and really think hard about your training intensity and most likely somewhere in the back of your head you will quietly admit to yourself that you could be training harder.
It is absolutely essential to train with every ounce of strength you can muster in order for this type of training to be effective. If you do not train as hard as physically possible, it will not work for you. Many people complain that low volume does not work, but these are simply the people who require more days in the gym because they do not train hard enough. With that in mind, we must understand that the relationship between intensity and duration is inversely proportional. That is, as one's workout intensity increases, the volume must decrease.
Makes sense, right? Think about the last time you did an all out sprint versus the last time you went for a jog. Quite obviously you were able to jog a lot farther then you were able to sprint. Why? Because you simply cannot maintain 100% intensity for long periods of time. We must now take that knowledge and apply it to our workout program. You see, with most things in life the more we put in, the more we get out. This notion is simply not true in the case of bodybuilding.
More is definitely not better. Nor is less. PRECISE is just right. The goal should be to train with the minimum amount of volume needed to yield an adaptive response. Once we have pushed our muscles beyond their present capacity and have triggered our thousand year old evolutionary alarm system, we have done our job. Any further stress to the body will simply increase our recovery time, weaken the immune system and send our body into catabolic overdrive.
Less is more muscle building guidelines
So, here are the general guidelines that you should follow when devising your workout routine:
- Train 3 days per week, hitting each muscle group only once.
- Focus on big, basic, free weight, compound movements.
- Perform 6-8 sets for big muscle groups (chest, back, thighs) and 2-4 for smaller muscle groups (everything else).
- Take every set to complete muscular failure: to the point where you cannot complete any additional reps using proper form.
- Keep a detailed record of each workout and focus on progressing in either weight or reps from week to week.
It may seem simple, and it is. But believe me, there is nothing "easy" about it. If you truly train hard, that is all you need to effectively stimulate new muscle growth. The anabolic spill over effect from these workouts will be so high that you will be truly glad you only have to train 3 days out of the week. Keep a detailed record of each session in terms of resistance and repetitions, and focus on slowly building on your previous numbers. If you succeed at this, you will reach your bodybuilding goals faster than you ever thought possible.
doing 6-8 sets to total failure is way too many sets for any muscle group....talk to dorian yates about doing that many sets...he'll say you're nuts...he was someone that did massive amounts of steroids, yet still chose to only do 3-4 sets per large muscle group to failure...just 1 set per exercise.. that is alot less than what you recommend. and obviously, if doing more would have gotten him better results, he would have done it..and given the amount of steroids he was on, his recovery was high...fact is, you don't need more than 1 set per exercise, if done to failure...and doing whole body workouts, might be the answer for beginners, who don't lift very heavy, it's not going to work for experience lifters...which is why you will not find one pro bodybuilder or even a good amateur that does whole body training.
Nothing more needs to be added here. The truth is probably a bit more in the middle, but. Sounds good to me.
This is a great write up Sean. I myself have found better progress training only 3 days per week with a total of 10 sets per session. For anyone who may be wondering what the split should look like, this fits very well with a push, pull, legs protocol. You could hit 2-4 compounds, probably 2 if you have some years of training behind you along with 1-2 isolation. I also have noticed better strength gains resting 3-5 minutes even when doing sets of 8-10 on compound lifts. All isolations typically 30 seconds to 2 minutes works very well. This article will help many steer clear of the bs that's constantly promoted. Keep it basic, simple, and progress. Again great article!
I'm not buying this. You say less is more and then you say to do 6 to 8 sets LOL. So after the first couple of sets where you say to go til muscular failure, your cortisol level will start increasing. Yes cortisol, the hormone that has the opposite effect of testosterone.
You are a moron. It’s 6-8 sets per week.
that is not stipulated in the article...you're assuming what he meant...even that is alot...dorian yates trained each muscle group just once per week and did half as many sets as proposed...and this is while being on huge amounts of steroids, with his increased recovery ability, he still chose to train that way.
You want to make gains EVERY workout, either in reps or by increasing the weight. The goals is to gain in every workout. Make the rest periods longer (3x a week will probably result in plateaus for most advanced lifters). Two times a week, once a week, or even once every 10 days and you will find you are progressing with each workout and zero plateaus, no injury, no overtraining.
The fitness industry (gym trainers, gym corporations, muscle supplement companies, and even medical and non medical health professionals) all have a vested interest in YOU working out more than your optimal frequency because it serves the financially. The gyms benefit from more paid training hours, the muscle nutrient product companies benefit by more sales, and the medical people benefit because you will be injured and need help. If you have evern wanted to blow your mind in terms of strength gains, try one full body workout per week, train only until you reach muscular failure, then rest.
99% of all gym people workout too much, even advanced athletes. Growth takes muscle and nervous system stimulation then lots of REST. Doesn't mean you can't exercise, play a sport, swim, run, etc in between workouts...you should. But the muscles simply need rest from intensity in order to replenish and GROW. You get credit for how big and strong you are, not how much you workout.
Most advanced athelete overtrain themselves and end their careers prematurely. In addition, who wants to go to the gym 3 or 5 x per week for the REST OF YOUR LIFE, in order to keep the gains. Once a week or less is enough to keep growing, and you have lots of time for other more fun things. In addition, you might find you love and cherish that 1 workout, you plan it on paper before you go, you record the results, you see the weights move up every time (unless you are going for more reps which will go up too), and you finish an intense workout in about and hour maybe hour and half feeling great. Probably tired the next day or so....but trust me, you will see gains every time you go. It's the best way to get strong...period.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT BODY WEIGHT EXERSICING ?
And also, when you give the recommended number of sets, should those sets include different exercises for that particular muscle group, or should those sets be the same exercise and just change the exercise each week?
Is it possible that instead of increasing weight, I could substitute that with increasing reps weekly?
Does this apply to men only? I am 25-30 kgs overweight, tried high cardio, lost 15, couldn't keep it up and but 10 back on, so pretty much back where I started. I am naturally strong and like lifting heavy but no-one at my gym will give me anything other than the crappy generic program (high cardio for fat loss). I have been going there regularly for 2 years and have not made much progress (maybe fat percentage is a tiny bit lower as my clothes size is smaller than when I started but I weigh basically the same as when I started). Just wondering if I should try a program like what you have described? (I really like my spin classes tho :( )
Also I forgot to mention I am not a man, which is why I am asking ;)
What muscle groups should i train each day for those 3 days?
Can you email me a workout plan? email@example.com
I can pay for it if you need me to.
When you say, "Perform 6-8 sets for big muscle groups (chest, back, thighs) and 2-4 for smaller muscle groups (everything else)." do you mean that the total number of sets for all exercises should be 6-8 or for each exercise ?
Pleaaaase answer me.
Are you a moron...6-8 sets per exercise? haha...dude, you'd be in the gym for 5 hours per workout..and you'd be so over trained, you'd need a month off...comeon people, are you really this stupid...it's 6-8 sets per week...personally, I don't do over 4 sets per muscle, but ever 6 days..so a bit more often than 1x per week.
The way I see it exactly how the guidelines say :day1 chest and back day 2 legs which is ur whole leg group, and day 3 arms and abs... Work out opposing muscles causing more blood flow into that region for example work out bi's, tri's, n shouldersband you will see a dramatic swelling of your muscles because of the intense blow flowing in that one region... Same goes for chest and back... Those muscles are so close to each other that they are gunna have a massive amount of blood flowing into that region because they are alot bigger than ur arm muscles.... I guess you can say the more blood flow that you can get the better
Phil Heath suggests to train each muscle group 2 times a week so what is the better approach for maximum muscle growth?
Do you recommend working chest, tris, shoulders one day, legs one day and back, biceps one day - or full body 3 days. I do the split with an occasional functional/cardio. I do aerobics 4 - 5 days 40 min.
Nalewanyj is a very informative guy and has alot of great videos on his youtube channel for anyone wanting to learn about anything to do with lifting.
I lift befor work 5 days a week, Monday they Friday because its the only time I can lift with no interruptions. I work out 40 minutes a day, Monday: chest Tuesday: biceps, Wednesday: triceps Thursday: shoulders and legs Friday: back and traps, I do about 4 exercises per muscle group, usually 3 or 4 sets per exercise in the 6-10 rep range, is this a good routine for building mass or no? The gym opens at 5 and I have to be at work at 6 so that's about the only time frame I hav to lift?
I have been working out again for the first time in 10 years. first 4 weeks into the new training and I'm not really feeling any different and I'm not sure if I'm pushing myself hard enough. I want to become a real beast as far as muscles look what can I really do to maximize.
When you say, "Perform 6-8 sets for big muscle groups (chest, back, thighs) and 2-4 for smaller muscle groups (everything else)." Are you saying I should do 6-8 sets with 6-8 different exercises? Or 1 set each?
Hello Steve, I started training with less exercises and more intensity and diong only TWICE weekly training with four to five days between weight training ( and sprinting twenty minutes/ walking /sprinting) and gained more mass in two months then in the past YEAR , ever hear this ( diet stayed the same, sleep the same, etc) your thoughts?
What muscle groups should i train each day for those 3 days?
have been training for about a year 3\4 times a week i keep my calories below 2000 a day have two isolate protein shakes a day i am gaining muscle but also a fat belly is cardio the only way to get rid of my belly or is there another way please help
What is your height, weight and age?
Are you certain you are only eating 2000 calories per day? It is not common to gain fat with much a restricted food intake.
Great article and it's true, i get better gains when i train to suprise my muscles, i don't follow a set routine, i'm allways changing trainning days and sets it works....
If we are just going to upto 8 sets for large muscle group, shallwe keep away from isolations and concentrate on compound movements only?
That's a good place to start, absolutely.
1 problem: you say once we trigger our bodys response we should stop, anything more will increase recovery time, so wouldnt it make sense to only go to failure on the last set?
This is in a nutshell the Mike Mentzer Philosphy for training, I have spent the past week researching his methods and talking with people who train this way.
I am now a convert, I too am following a HIT routine with my trainer at Iron Works Gym and I am loving the aching I'm getting for days after!
As I have read here before, PAIN is just WEAKNESS leaving the body!
I know you included sets.. But how many reps would be PRECISE?
ARe you thinking more of 5-7 or 6-8 or 4-6 or what would be the most effective?
I would recommend working most sets between 6 to 10. On isolations you can go a bit higher (10 to 15) in reps because isolations exercises and low reps/heavier weight generally don't mix well.
Isolations are isolation exercises:
It's hard for me to comment on your eating plan without knowing how many calories and grams of protein you are eating, and it you are gaining weight.
Regarding your workout, it looks like a solid split.
What are isolations?? I work out 4 times a week, Monday: Chest & Triceps. Wednesday: Back & Biceps. Friday: Shoulders & Abs. Sunday: Legs.. I do two exercises for each body part. But I do high weight, low reps. Like I will do 8 reps and 4 sets for each work out. Lets say im doing Biceps, I do two exercises and for each exercise I do 4 sets, 8-10 reps. I rest Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I eat healthy. I usually eat 3 meals a day and between breakfast and lunch I drink a protein shake and between Lunch and dinner I drink another protein shake. I put 2 scoops of a 24 grams of protein powder in each shake, and just mix that with low fat milk. Is this ok? Im 16 years old. I only weigh 106.5 Im skinny and looking into gaining muscle. Am I on the right track to gaining muscle or should I change my work out routine?? Please help me out. Thanks!
Ok, now I know more less what isolation excercises are. About my eating. For example. Breakfast around 11am I eat oatmeal(not the instant oatmeal), with sugar and a littlebit of cinnamon. At 2:30pm I eat lunch, usually peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a can of White Tuna from the can with some mayo. Then at 6pm I drink a protein shake(100% Whey Strawberry Protein 24grams of protein, with two small spoons of regular creamy peanut butter). And then I eat dinner at 9pm. I eat either fish(Tilapia) with white rice if not chicken breast with white rice. I try to drink plenty of water throughout the day. I know thats important. That is usually my eating schedule for the day. Is that fine? I only weigh 105.. My dad used to compete in body building when he was younger(20 years old) he's 40 now but he still lifts weights and he is still in really good shape. I ask him for advice but he doesnt really help me out. I changed my workout schedule. I work out Monday: Chest, Triceps, & Abs. Wednesday: Legs & Shoulders. Friday: Back, Biceps, & Abs. I do two excercises per body part. I do 4 sets, 8-12 reps. But I try and do high enough weight but enough for me to actually finish both excercises. I curl 25Lbs each arm, I bench only 75Lbs. Like I said before, Im looking into gaining muscle and getting stronger than what I am now. I've been working out for about 4 months now, and I wasnt seeing any results, I was working out 6 times a week, working out my full body except legs twice a week. My dad told me that I was over training. Im young and dont know much at all about working out. So Ive been working out with this work out schedule for only one week. Am I on the right track? PLEASE Help me. I know you have way more experience than me about working out! :) Thank you!