Beginners usually have pretty horrible work capacity and full body 3 times a week beats the hell out of guys and girls that are totally out of shape and have poor CNS recovery. The other school of thought is that beginner’s need very little workload to grow well, and I am of this school of thought. I would rather start a beginner low and add workload as they progress. There is the old saying that “anything works for beginners” and that is only true to a point. Put a beginner on Arnolds advanced volume routine and many will get smaller and weaker every week. So….I believe starting low and working up over time accomplishes a couple very important things. It gets the trainee acclimated to lifting without beating them up so bad they quit, and allows consistent progress. And please keep in mind that at the beginner level strength gains should be pretty damn linear. If you are not getting stronger pretty much every week at this stage of the game you are doing something incredibly wrong.
Intermediates can get by with any amount of workload their bodies can handle and still recover from. At this stage, it often gets easy to lose sight of the fact that strength gains are still paramount. What generally happens is the lifter has made some good progress and has built up a good amount of strength. He is feeling good about himself, but knows he still isn’t near big enough. Scanning the muscle mags and lifting forums he looks at the stuff the pro’s and other BIG-BOYS are doing and decides that is the answer. He switches to very high volume and often high frequency and BAM! He makes a good jump is size! Then…..since he doesn’t understand that the gains he got were mostly from Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which occurs from an increase in the non-contractile cellular fluid in the muscle he thinks he has his long term training needs covered.
But….the sarcoplasma consists of nutrients, glycogen, capillaries, and mitochondria proliferation. It ISN’T contractile protein and to make contractile protein go up the rep ranges should probably be lower than what our hero is using, and with the workload having so much overall tonnage strength gains come VERY S-L-O-W-L-Y. Since strength isn’t going up what will he have to do to progress? Well more volume of course. But since he is already doing 16 sets a bodypart what next? 24? 30? Make sense? What the intermediate level needs is something that provides a balance of strength with enough volume/tonnage for better hypertrophy work than training purely for strength. This usually equates to a mid-volume routine with at least some of the work in the 1-6 rep range and higher reps for other lifts in the program.
Advanced lifters? At this stage of the game pretty much anything goes and if you are TRULY advanced you know better than anyone what works best for you or you wouldn’t have got this far. No need to make generalizations at this point.
As far as frequency is concerned, again what you want is as frequent as possible while still allowing fast progress. The variables here can be put in a lot of various sequences, but they still don’t vary too much. Again, here are more generalities that will cover a lot of ground, but will still be far from including every option are:
1. VERY low frequency, as in Mike Mentzer, John Little, Pete Sisco’s recommendations. These range as low as taking three-four weeks to hit all bodyparts. WAY too low IMO
2. Once every 9-12 days. These formats can work very well for extreme hardgainers, and even easy gainers as a de-load.
3. Once a week.
4. Once every 5 days. A favorite of mine, and something Charles Poliquin has recommended a lot.
5. Twice a week.
6. Three times a week.
7. Schedules that have multiple frequency ranges dependent on the bodypart being trained based on recovery, or need to specialize.
My preference for MOST trainees that have at least average recovery is once every 5 days setup on an upper/lower split that rotates. In other words:
If the trainee can recover from it, I put them on a 4 day a week program hitting everything 2 x a week.
Hardgainers, both real and functional are usually put on a once a week per bodypart routine until we can get their metabolic issues addresses and work on getting their work capacity up.
Advanced lifters can be put on anything under the sun they can recover from including waved volume, Rest-Pause, High volume strength based templates too, well, you get the idea, anything can go at that stage as long as it is still within their ability to tolerate the workload and suited to their goals.
A brief discussion about easy-gainers, average lifters, and hardgainers/extreme hardgainers is in order. I have had 250 lb fairly lean lifters with 19 inch arms after two and a half years training tell me they were hardgainers. Why? Because their shoulders didn’t grow fast, or their lats weren’t thick enough—BULLSHIT, these guys got it going on, and frankly, everyone likes to believe that their dedication was the prime reason for their success. Yes, it is a HUGE factor, but plenty of guys give their all 24/7 and just don’t get there that fast, or even at all.
Easy gainers are simple and a pleasure to work with. Provided they are consistent with diet and training they grow very well and results are very brisk compared to most lifters results.
Most lifters fall in the average range of bodybuilding/powerlifting potential. An educated guess is that 60-65% of the lifters have about average predisposition for lifting
A large percentage of the “hardgainers” are only hardgainers because they do so much wrong (a full length article to follow). And many are truly hardgainers due to genetics and metabolic disorders. These guys MUST approach their training different.
There are no hard and fast rules that determine who is and isn’t in which category. After doing this for over ten years I can usually make a very accurate estimate after reading a questionnaire and asking a few questions.
Hope that made sense, and makes it a bit easier when deciding what to do next in your pursuit of the physique and strength levels you dream of.
Stay tuned for the next installment!
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