Is There An Ideal Training Program?

Each top strength star must find the right combination of exercises, sets, reps, heavy vs. moderate or light workouts per month...
I've never known of two successful bodybuilders-easy or hard gainers- who employed the identical training routine. Even when two fellows were training partners, and literally followed a scheduled workout together, they needed to make at least a few adjustments in order to accommodate their somewhat different physical peculiarities. Perhaps one needed a set or two more (or perhaps fewer) on a given exercise.

Possible one had a need to alter one or two of the scheduled exercises, since the particular exercise, say for the shoulders, that one of the partners employed, simply didn't work for the other. And so on.

Nor am I aware of any two lifters following identical training routines. Each top strength star must find the right combination of exercises, sets, reps, "heavy" vs. "moderate" or "light" workouts per month that he personally ought to do in order to prompt the greatest gains, etc.

Also, when I observe experienced athletes or simple fitness enthusiasts who employ weights as their primary medium of physical training, I always notice that no two individuals employ the identical routine. So what am I saying here? Am I saying that the answer to the question posed by the title of this article is a flat "No!" Actually, no, I'm not saying that. However, in what many will at first believe is simple selfcontradiction, I want to emphatically state that in a manner of speaking, yes, Iam saying that there is an ideal training program.

Here's what I mean, in detail:

On the one hand there can never be a single "perfect" training routine that, when followed in some precise, unalterable manner, will somehow work flawlessly for everyone who follows it. Every individual is different, unique and special. However, on the other hand, virtually every individual must adhere to a somewhat similar training approach, or his body can't possibly become as strong, fit and well-built as its inherent potential will allow.

This is because we all - easy gainers down to the world's hardest gainers- possess human bodies that have muscles, bones and a general structure that respond in general to demands upon it that are, and that must remain, very similar.

Just as the principle of overloading the muscles by ever-increasing resistance is a "must-employ" rule for a Mr. Universe, so it is for a cardiac patient who's rebuilding his health; and so are all of the other principles that result in physical improvement and excellence.

Basic exercises are the ones that have built every single outstanding body! They have triggered the gains that have permitted underpar, terribly hard gainers to appear, literally, as transformed beings, just as they have permitted genetically wellendowed "naturals" to acquire world-class levels of development.

Rest and good nutrition are required by, and will inevitably assist in the development of anyone. Measuring one's training carefully so as to avoid doing too much, while ensuring that enough is always done, is necessary for anyone who aspires to optimal development.

Quality performance of the basic exercises is an essential rule for everyone. It figures in the routines of title winners and it figures in the routines of the less genetically favored individual who is seeking his personal best. So, in a manner of speaking, yes there is an ideal training program; ideal in the sense that one must adhere to the same proven body-building and strength-developing rules that everyone must adhere to, or one will never actualize one's ultimate potential, however great or modest it may be.


Yet, on the other hand, every single individual needs a custom approach to working out. In general terms he must do what every successful trainee has always done in order to build up. But, specifically, he will need to do these things in a manner most suited to his unique personal requirements.

I remember very well what I read back around 1960, when I first became interested in building up my body (primarily, to bolster my self-defense training, and to compensate for my inherent weakness and poor genetics). People who, to this day, I regard as great authorities on the matter of physical training, wrote about the following:

  1. Using low reps for power and high reps for endurance.
  2. Using a wide variety of exercises.
  3. Training 4-5 days per week.
  4. Employing "shaping" exercises along with the key basics, in order to build "shapely" muscles.
  5. And a few other "rules" that, according to these people (who I'm absolutely convinced meant only to convey that which they believed was the best possible information about building up) needed to be followed scrupulously, if "true" success was desired.

The Reality

I found out, after many years of my own devotion to personal training, that these "accepted truths" just weren't, well, really true for everybody. There was truth to them for some people, to be sure. But they were by no means truths.

For some it was possible to drastically improve both endurance and muscle size via low-rep training, in certain cases, providing the proper exercises and training pace were employed. I also found that some people did quite well by employing fairly high reps in order to get much stronger.

In my case and practically everyone else, a wide variety of exercises were not needed. In fact, I found that a very few exercises are required in order to build a great physique and great strength, although, which few exercise variations ought to be selected for each individual trainee do tend to vary greatly.

I found that everyone could gain very well on three (and sometimes two) hard weekly workouts, and that training four, five or six times per week was often absorbed by easy gainers, but was never really needed by anyone. For the majority of people who use weights in order to supplement an athletic activity, two weekly workouts are normally quite enough.

So-called "shaping" exercises were just about 100% pointless and that the degree of "shapeliness" one ultimately enjoyed after building up on good, hard, basic exercises was dependent simply upon heredity and, to a lesser degree, diet more often than not.

I found that fewer sets generally produced the greatest benefits-i.e., normally two or three per exercise, or possibly four when reps dropped to between four and six per set-despite the fact that so many physique stars seemed hell-bent in working their bodies for many more sets per exercise than that.

I found that "split" routines, though very popular, were not nearly as effective and beneficial as all-round total-body routines.

I found that much of what many people seemed to swear by, as far as diet was concerned, was largely nonsense. I came to see that "basically good nutrition" was the key; and that precisely what this is depends to a large extent on the individual's specific physiology and very personal unique preferences. Enormous eating and feeding sessions will not turn a slender-boned hard gainer into a huge, well-muscled physique star. It will just pile a lot of fat on a skinny frame. Good food in amounts that the individual requires for growth and development, coupled with hard training, rest and a positive attitude, is what builds up anyone to his maximum.

Only very few people can become physique or strength stars. Most of us can, in fact, never achieve a level of development that even comes close to "star" status. However, if the right principles and rules of sound training are followed-the rules that have always been responsible for building the finest physiques and greatest strength athletes in history-then an ideal routine will have been discovered, and by using it one will attain one's own personal "ideal" level of development.

Personalized Training

I can't tell you exactly which specific exercises to follow, and which specific exercises will work for you. But I can sure tell you which types of exercises to derive your variations from, and if you'll pay attention you'll make great progress!

If you're relatively new to bodybuilding, you'll need to alter your training schedules over time and try out the possible variations of the exercise movements until you discover what fits you, personally, the best. Here's what you'll need in order to build your "ideal" routine:

  1. Pressing movement that's general and basic. This means the standard military type barbell press (seated or standing), or heavy alternate or simultaneous dumbbell press, or one-hand military press with a dumbbell (seated or standing).
  2. Curling movement. Regular barbell curls or the simultaneous or alternate heavy dumbbell curling movements (may be done seated, if desired).
  3. Bench pressing. Regular barbell bench press, flat or incline, or two dumbbells heavy bench press (assuming you've got dumbbells that are heavy enough) on a flat or incline bench.
  4. Rowing. Basic bent-over barbell or heavy single-arm dumbbell version.
  5. Squatting. The King! There's no way around this baby! You may do these in parallel or full-squat versions, and even partials are good. But you've got to squat!
  6. Deadlifting, standard or stiff-legged.

A basic routine built around a selection of exercises from that very excellent assortment will do the job. Most people like to add some abdominal and calf work, and, sometimes, it's interesting to use basic and heavy exercise variations like dips and chins as substitutes for bench work and rowing. These are very fine exercises and will provide great results when worked hard enough.

I've emphasized only basic barbell-dumbbell work, per se, because I assume that most readers train at home and haven't access to dipping bars or a chinning bar that permits weighted work.

A perfectly excellent and totally comprehensive schedule is easily set up using only the listed barbell-dumbbell exercises.

The trick is to pay attention to yourself and to note how you, personally, respond not only to a particular exercise variation, but also to a specific scheme of sets and reps with the exercises you do. Be your own trainer! You are unique, and without violating the basic rules and principles of sound physical training, your workouts must reflect your acknowledgement and understanding of your uniqueness.

Follow through in this manner, patiently and persistently over the weeks, months and years, and you will most assuredly discover the ideal training program for you!

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