The 5 Pillars of Progression
I was having a discussion on another forum regarding progression. A young trainee asked how long he should continue to try for more weight. My response was "until you die."
My statement stirred up a good conversation. Some of the responses opposed my belief. These responses stated that other forms of progression were valid. Here is the core of the debate.
I believe there are 5 primary pillars of progression:
3) Time (Rest between sets)
5) TUT (Time under tension)
Many advocates of high intensity training methods and systems tend to talk about intensity so much so that it becomes the cornerstone of the system. German Volume Training uses limited rest between sets. Many HIT forms use slower reps - or more TUT. Doggcrapp uses decrease Time between sets. Etc.
My main point is this...intensity techniques have value, but they all hinge on progression of weight. Here's why.
Time. If you decide you want to slowly, methodically decrease rest between sets, sooner or later you reach an end game. You can only decrease rest so much...then you're back to progression of weight.
TUT. If you decide you are going to slow down your rep cadence to up the intensity, sooner or later you reach an end game. You can either try to make each rep last 500 seconds, or - realistically - you arrive back at progression of weight to make the technique valuable again.
Many high intensity techniques are merely attempts by naturals to "shock" a physique that stopped responding because it was drawing close to natural limits. When the gains stop, paranoia sets in. At this point, a lifter begins exploring other methods of training.
In my line of work, I talk to many natural lifters. In these conversations, 2 points become crystal clear:
A) Most every natural has tried to shock their system with any number of techniques after the initial gains ceased.
B) Most natural competitors realize that natural bodybuilding has a limit. They will tell you that they've only gained 1-2 pounds in the last 5 to 10 years.
Most good physiques are created with basic heavy compound movements and progression of weight. Advanced intensity techniques can work, but are not the cornerstone of gaining muscle.
Sometimes a lagging bodypart requires a shock. In this case, a method like DC Training or GVT might be the cure. But for most of us, most of the time, weight training is simply a study in basics.
To master lifting, and to gain muscle and strength, you must be able to do the basics over and over again. If this bores you, you may be better suited for MMORPGs or building tree forts.
There are many, many training methods/techniques I believe to be effective. Cluster training, speed work, etc., all have value. Understand that I am not deflating the value of these systems. What I am saying is that for the Average Joe who wants to add muscle, he's better off keeping it simple the first 5 years.
Very nice steve, one thing i would add if i may, for those of us interested in adding large amounts of muscle, it may be beneficial once we reach an advanced stage where myofibrillar hypertrophy seems to have become almost non existent, to begin to cycle periods of myofibrillar hypertrophy focused work with sarcoplasmic focused work. such as doing 8-10 weeks of a basic strength program, and then 5-10 weeks of a gvt type program
Keep in mind that a lot of the current info on myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is from the same old steroid culture. Be careful what you read. A lot of this is bro science based on Bodybuilder X's need to inflate his self-worth, and promote his style of training.
At an advanced stage, my hypertrophy work IS my strength work.
Also, I have always trained in the 4-8 rep range. Rarely do I extend beyond that mark. I have a mental block again foo foo 15 rep sets, except for legs.
"For X Hypertrophy, do this!"
"For Y Hypertrophy, do that!"
"Combine my approach and angels will trumpet and praise!"
It generally leads to an over-complication of routines, especially for younger trainees.
Regarding rep ranges, I simply HATE higher rep sets. It's not because low rep sets make me feel big and strong. I just feel like if I do a set of 15 reps, the first 10 are all fluff. Unless of course it's GVT.
Here's a good post on the subject:
My comments on these quotes:
One of the ways I believe muscle fatigue best works for naturals is training density - or limiting rest between sets. This can be done with Hepburn style cluster training, or with Max Stim style rests, or with DC style rest-pause.
But fatigue can come from any training style. If a natural takes 5 minutes between sets of curls, he is on the slow track to gains.
A natural has to get in, hit it hard, and get out.
I am not saying that cyclical intensity is bad. But 9 times out of 10 it isn't needed. Advanced bodybuilders who toss more weight usually have their own methods of dealing with constant heavy poundages. Me, I do less volume.
Sure, the body adapts. But when you're a natural that's gained 25 pounds of muscle in 18-24 months, and gains slow to 2 pounds per year, all the crazy kung-fu training maneuvers under the sun won't change reality.
Is it better to stick with straight weight progression at this point, or should you go all crazy with slo-mo, negatives, bim, bam walla, walla, bling blang, whoop-te-do horseshit?
At that point, as I've stated, does it matter? Do what you want to do. By then you'll know what works best for you anyway. I've talked with dozens and dozens of natural pros this year, and they ALL train differently. Some train 3 hours a day, and some like Layne Norton. Some do Heavy Duty, and most do yada, yada 5 day splits. What does this reveal? That long term effort trumps everything.
I really believe you're better off working harder then getting all complicated.
I love mixed-training aka powerbuilding. I do it, and have for 2 years now. It didn't build the muscle I have today, but mentally it is challenging.
And I am going to say something that is VERY controversial at this point.
There are many young trainees who adopt Layne Norton's training style because he trains hard, is intelligent, and is a strong and ripped lifter. But, is his multiple hypertrophy approach/powerbuilding style the be-all, end-all for muscle gains?
No. Plenty of lifters use a variety of routines to get big. I think consistent effort is more important over the long term - for muscle - then any training approach. But with that said, noobs shouldn't be doing GVT, Layne Norton, DC, yada, yada, yada. Get strong on basic lifts - with progression of weight - before anything else. When you're a big boy and can move a 1000 pound 3 lift total, you can do whatever you want. By that point, you understand your body and it's individuals needs.
No new trainee EVER should be dabbling with all the training variations. They need to avoid reading these until they hit 1000. they need to learn hard work first.
Very good thread, and one that belongs in the same family as the Stuart McRobert post about not over thinking things. As well as the Casey Butt quote, "Progression is King".
This is my weightlifting box of moves, and routines.
Like any job that you perform, it rarely requires every tool you own to be employed in the completion of a particular job. You will surely use all of your tools at one time or another, but rarely all of them at once.
In my toolbox are compound, and a few isolation moves. Progression is usually handled by all of the things BTB mentioned, but mainly it is about weight, sets, reps, and time, intensity is a byproduct of the others. By keeping to a fairly uniform number of sets it allows me to judge my intensity. By working within a certain time framework, that again allows me to judge intensity. When reps are met weight goes up, and that again changes intensity.
By keeping my number of tools that I use smaller, it means that I have to employ them better. Whats better, to have 10 good tools, or 20 that are not so good? I'll take the ten, and be well skilled at using them.
Understand the blueprint of what your building. What your building is your body. You'll know that gains slowing down is not because you need to shock your muscles, it's because it's a natural thing to happen. The only way to shock your muscles is to stick a fork in an electric socket. (Don't try this at home!)
Employing voodoo science in the hope that your body is somehow going to build faster is a waste of time you could be spending lifting weight with a good progression scheme. Just lift weight, and do more today than you did last time. You'll get a lot further than the guy doing, whatever.
Some guys bring all of this to the gym. Like a ship on the Ocean, if your always changing course, how are you ever going to get anywhere?
Though I am pulled from this reality every day, the truth remains that all the science in the world doesn't mean jack to me as I bend over and grab the bar. It's me versus the bar.
I am not minimizing science. But the biggest and the baddest didn't have a damn clue about training science. They just killed the weight.
I am happy to say that I spent my life killing the weight. I didn't do anything fancy. I learned my body.
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