Bearded Beast of Duloc
Join Date: Jul 2009
Training Exp: 20+ years
Training Type: Powerbuilding
Fav Exercise: Deadlift
Fav Supp: Butter
Rule #4: Don’t Train More Often Than Three Days Per Week (Four Under Certain Circumstances) If You’re Trying to Build Maximum Muscle Mass and Strength
This rule often comes as a big shock for people so I’m going to try and be as clear as possible. I am not saying that no one, at no time, should ever train more than three or maybe four times per week. What I am saying is that to build maximum muscle mass that’s all that’s needed and is, by far, the best approach for most genetically typical drug-free trainees trying to get bigger and stronger.
“But Jay Cutler trains six times”, I can hear you saying – go back and read Rule #1 again. Unless you are very genetically gifted, you do not have the hormone levels or joint structures to train that often and make maximum progress in size and strength. It’s true that some advanced drug-free athletes can train 5-6 times per week, and those types of routines can have their place, but they are only for very specific purposes (such as contest preparation or for the sake of variety) and are generally NOT appropriate for typical drug-free trainees trying to increase their basic muscle mass. Personally, as I look back on my bodybuilding “career”, I realize that the times I made my best mass gains were when I was working out no more than three times per week most of the time. Generally, drug-free strength athletes make the fastest gains when they spend more days out of the gym than in. Don’t believe me? Hey, it’s your life, do what you want – but if you don’t listen to this you’ll regret it. I’ve been there.
“But so-and-so in Muscle-whatever magazine (or website) said that for maximum hypertrophy you must train five times a week …and he’s a respected author who trains professional and Olympic athletes.” I don’t care if he’s ordained to teach bodybuilding by Jesus Christ himself, in this case, he’s wrong …and there’s nothing his credentials (of which a very large portion are most likely self-appointed) can do to change it. I once trained with a rather arrogant student of one of these famous coaches – the only practical thing he seemed to have learned from him was how to pass a drug test. That’s right, “Coach” himself was a steroid-user and was quite skilled at slipping his athletes by the tests. How else would he be effective at “coaching” high level amateur and professional athletes, most of whom use performance enhancing drugs during at least part of the year? Surprised? Then don’t be so naive. Besides, how could a man who spends his days with the country’s best, full-time elite athletes (and steroid-using elite athletes at that) possibly know how to train a genetically typical person? And if you think about it, besides his own claims, have you ever seen or heard of this guy actually at the Olympics? Again, don’t be naive. I personally know two former Olympians (one in Weightlifting), and when I dabbled in Olympic Weightlifting earlier in my “career” I was getting advice directly from a former Olympic Weightlifting gold medalist and world record holder, a former national coach and a current nationally ranked lifter. Guess what, they all told me that until I reached at least the regional or state level (and/or was taking steroids) there was no need for me to train more than three times per week.
“But Mr. So-And-So said that he trained five times a week when he started out. He couldn’t have been on steroids then.” That’s right, now go back and read Rule #3. The fact that he’s Mr. So-And-So tells you that the guy’s probably got well above average genetics – he could get away with it. If you can too then you’re a lucky individual. But there’s still no need to train more than 3-4 days per week if you’re after maximum muscle mass and strength. Reg Park didn’t, and even by today’s standards he was one of the biggest and strongest drug-free men who ever lived. So, if you are genetically gifted for building muscle, a 3-day-per-week training program won’t hold you back …but if you are not it might make the difference between some gains and no gains.
What about the idea that training three times a week is only for beginners and more advanced trainees should train more often? Again, bullshit. Dave Goodin, the current era’s most winning drug-free competitive bodybuilder, trains three times per week in the off-season and he’s certainly no beginner. Park built up to 230 pounds of solid muscle, with a 500-pound Bench Press and over 600-pound Squat to boot, by training “only” three times per week. He also won the Mr. Universe title twice around that time. How many drug-free men do you know who can Bench Press 500 pounds, with no bench shirt or assistance gear, while still being lean enough to see their abs. Let me guess. None.
There are certain circumstances when training four times per week can promote fast gains also. Specifically, some larger-boned trainees with robust joints react quite well to such a frequency. Some less gifted intermediate and advanced trainees can benefit from a 4-day-per-week training cycle thrown in periodically for variety, as well. In fact, it can be quite beneficial to do so. The majority of most people’s training cycles, when they’re trying to increase their basic body mass and strength, however, should be based on basic, hard work on 3-day-per-week training programs.
But perhaps you don’t feel like believing me. In that case, I challenge you to scour the published research regarding strength and hypertrophy training. See if you can find “proof” that 4,5 or 6-day-per-week programs are more effective than 3-day-per-week programs. I did. Guess what I found? The answer is not so cleverly hidden in the title of this rule.
Here’s how pre-drug era bodybuilding legends George Eiferman and Clancy Ross put it…
“I train on the average of 3 times a week, though directly before a contest, I may train more frequently…” – George Eiferman
“Experience has proven to me that for general training, three times a week is still the best. Only for specialized purposes, such as shortly before a physique contest, is training more frequently advised…” – Clancy Ross
1945 Mr. America
1946 Pro Mr. America
1948 Mr. USA
1955 Mr. Universe Tall Class
But just in case you think those old guys didn’t know what they were talking about (after all, your ‘most muscular’ is better than Clancy’s right?), let me spell it out even more clearly and with the training of modern drug-free bodybuilders (and most powerlifters as well) in mind:
If you are a genetically typical person trying to build maximum muscle mass and strength without the assistance of drugs then for the majority of your training cycles you should not train more often than three times per week. If you have attained at least the intermediate level, or have exceptionally robust joints (usually also large-boned), then you may be able to try 4-day-per-week training schedules from time-to-time (but typically going back to 3-day-per-week schedules as your base – especially if you have smaller than average joints).
5 or 6-day-per-week programs are appropriate for certain advanced and weight-loss training purposes – they are NOT optimal for building a base of muscle mass and strength in typical drug-free trainees. Unless you already have enough muscle mass built that you would not look out of place on a natural bodybuilding contest stage, or are just making a temporary schedule change for the sake of variety, then you have NO BUSINESS messing with such types of training routines.
Rule #5: Do Mostly Compound, Multi-Joint Exercises
The core of your routine should be made up of exercises that involve the use of large masses of muscle and the movement of several joints. Those exercises stimulate a lot of muscle and cause your body to release anabolic hormones. That means stuff like Squats, Deadlifts, Bent-Over Rows, Bench Presses, Overhead Presses, Dips, Stiff-Legged Deadlifts and Pull-Ups. These are the ones that will make you grow (incidently, they also typically stress the muscles heavily in the mid-range of motion, as mentioned in Rule #2). If you go filling your routine with single joint exercises such as Lateral Raises and Triceps Kickbacks (because you want to “isolate” this muscle or that) you will only be wasting your valuable time. Put hard work into the compound exercises, on the other hand, and you will be rewarded with the fastest muscle growth possible. And it’s not just my experience that proves this, but the experience of thousands of weight trainers throughout the years.
Does this mean that there is no place for isolation movements in productive training routines? No. Exercises for the abs, lower back, rotator cuff muscles, etc, all can be very useful. As well, more advanced trainees can benefit from the judicious use of such things as Dumbbell Flyes, Lateral Raises, etc. I do so myself. However, as Rule #2 warns, isolation exercises with free-weights are almost always superior to exercise machines.
In any case, the vast majority of your efforts should go into the compound, multi-joint, free-weight exercises. Don’t try to prove me wrong if you want to succeed at drug-free weight training.
Rule #6: Keep Your Workouts To An Hour Or Less, Most Of The Time
This could become a very “scientific” rule, filling an entire article itself. But I’m going to try to keep it brief and simple. Testosterone levels (the body’s main anabolic hormone) start to decline after about 45 to 60 minutes of intense weight training and catabolic (muscle destroying) hormones such as cortisol start to increase. This signals the point at which training is theoretically thought to begin losing it’s effectiveness. In other words, based on the average person’s hormonal response to training, it would seem that you’d be better off leaving the gym after about an hour and resting for your next workout because you’re not going to stimulate any significant degree of additional muscle growth by training longer anyway. In addition, prolonged training requires the adrenal glands to produce elevated levels of epinephrine, cortisol and aldosterone. Over time, excessive training results in decreased adrenergic receptor sensitivity (making fat loss difficult and fat gain easier) and adrenal fatigue (as evidenced by fluctuating average daily body temperatures, decreasing blood pressure, low energy, joint pain and muscle loss). In short, your muscle gains will stop and you’ll start getting fatter and feeling “run down”. This probably won’t happen in a few weeks, but over time adrenergic receptor down-regulation and adrenal fatigue due to overtraining (and psychological stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, etc.) is a large reason why many drug-free trainees keep working harder but get less in return. If you’ve had a life-long tendency to be fat and weak then you’re especially at risk of this. As an advanced trainee you’ll know where your personal limits are based on experience, but for beginners and intermediates that instinct hasn’t been developed and they’re best off just keeping the training session to about an hour or less.
So, unless you’re advanced enough to reliably make the call yourself or are doing some sort of short-term, higher volume training routine for a few weeks (or months at the most), then most of your workouts should be one hour or less. For the vast majority of genetically typical trainees longer training routines, in the long run, are not more effective at building muscle and will most likely hold progress back. For intermediates longer routines are only useful for limited periods as part of weight loss phases or deliberately planned higher-volume phases (especially applicable to very advanced athletes). Practically all modern natural bodybuilding champions obey this guideline. Unless you are very genetically gifted (less than 1% of the population), 90% of your muscle mass will be built by hard workouts of about an hour or less.
If you do have the time and energy to devote yourself almost completely to bodybuilding, don’t participate in any strenuous work or sports, then you may be able to push some of your training sessions to more than an hour. To do it successfully will require a very keen sense of your own recovery abilities (i.e. you’re an experienced lifter) and the diet of a king. That’s right, one of the very often overlooked aspects of hard training is a hearty diet to go with it. Don’t think you can hit the heavy iron for an hour and a half or more and get away with eating like a mouse. One of the necessities of hard training is a big appetite. Big weights = big feeds. There’s no way around it. Train like a maniac and eat like a bird and you’ll burn out in no time. Eat like a pig and train like a wimp and you’ll get fat. The two – heavy training and heavy eating – feed each other, so to speak, and one without the other just won’t work.
But in any case, you must remember that weight training is not an endurance event. If you want endurance go for a jog. And how many big, muscular long-distance runners do you know? I’ll guess again. None. Why? Because endurance training (such as jogging, cardio, weight training for long sessions) doesn’t build muscle. Beginners – no more than an hour. Intermediates – no more than an hour unless you’re trying to lose weight and know when to say when. Advanced – if you’ve a keen sense of your body’s abilities you can try pushing it to 1:30 or so, but make sure you’ve got the food intake, rest and down-time to support that level of training. If all your ducks aren’t in perfect line then it’s an hour for you too. As Bob Hoffman would say, “Even the smallest hole will sink the largest ship eventually.”
At least 95% of the people reading this should be working out for an hour or less, 95% of the time. You’ve got 60 minutes to send your body the signal to grow. Don’t waste time on crap exercises. Lift the big weights and go home and eat something. That’s how strong, impressive drug-free bodies are built, not loafing around the gym half the day, sitting on every useless exercise machine there, and deluding yourself into thinking you’re working hard.
Rule #7: Strive For Perfect Exercise Form
Cheating your reps builds nothing but ego – not muscle. If you have to cheat that means the weight’s too heavy for you to lift properly. Cheating does not make a muscle contract harder because you can use heavier weights. A muscle can contract only so hard and that’s that. All cheating does is bring other muscles into the movement so you can use more weight – that’s not how to effectively train a muscle. And you can’t argue for cheating by saying, “Well, I am using more muscles if I cheat.” You are using muscles that the exercise isn’t supposed to train and robbing the muscles you do want to target in the process. Besides, cheating can be DANGEROUS. Proper form is safe. When you start deviating from proper form you open the door for a potentially serious injury. Even minor injuries can cause you to miss workouts – and that’s certainly not an effective way to gain muscle. When you are advanced you might want to experiment with some minor, “controlled” cheating. In that case, “controlled” cheating can be used by an experienced and wise athlete to subject his body to heavier loading than it’s normally accustomed to – in fact, almost all advanced bodybuilders do this to some degree – but it’s nothing magical. Until you’ve built a solid base of muscle (enough that you stand out in your local gym) and know what you’re doing, avoid cheating as much as possible.
Reg Park was once touted as an early proponent of the “cheating style” of training. By his 30′s his body was riddled with nagging injuries. From that point on he was a stickler for strict, controlled lifting technique. A few years later he won the Mr. Universe again and was a dominant force in international bodybuilding for almost 10 years after that. Learn from him.
Destroy That Which Destroys You
"Let bravery be thy choice, but not bravado."