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.