If it was my day to train legs, I trained legs. Never mind that internally I felt really motivated to do some intense back training. If my plan required me to train legs, I trained legs. PERIOD.
I devoted myself so entirely and completely to my planned workouts that if I really felt like squatting but my workout did not include the squat, I did not squat. If my workout called for four sets of leg presses with 200 pounds for ten reps, I did exactly that and not a single rep more. On a daily basis, I planned, I plotted, I schemed, I studied, and I scrutinized each and every workout so that I literally branded it into my psyche.
Forget that my body was starving for a grueling back or chest workout; if it wasn't in the plan for that day I refused to even consider it. Every single day, I robotically performed the exercises scheduled for each session along with the prescribed number of sets and reps. I was on a mission to build muscle and this did not include succumbing to mere impulse and inclination.
At the time, I called it dedication. Now, I realize I was merely enslaving myself and asphyxiating my own growth. When I first began, I needed to have a plan to feel as though I was accomplishing something. At the end of my workout, I wanted that documentation to validate myself. However, despite the best-laid plans of mice and men, more often than not, I left the gym without completing my entire workout.
The truth is that I crammed so many exercises into a single workout session that I made it impossible for myself live up to my own expectations. Consequently, on many, many occasions, after hours of relentless training, I left the gym utterly depleted both physically and psychologically. For many years I remained faithful to my premeditated training regime refusing to venture off the beaten path fearful that doing anything differently would cost me the gains that I toiled so diligently to acquire. It was not until many years later that I could understand, appreciate, accept, and finally integrate the concept of instinct training into my workout regimen.
By definition, the word "instinct" means "behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level." Thus, instinct training means teaching the mind to perceive what the body communicates through various inclinations or impulses. By way of demonstration, if I am training my back, I have a general idea of the exercises that I will perform during that particular session. When I walk into the gym, I may have already decided to perform assisted pull-ups, a seated cable row and a set of pullovers respectively.
However, as I warm up, I visualize my workout, check my mental energy stores and listen to what my body tells me. When I am finished warming up, depending upon my biofeedback, I may or may not perform the exercises that I initially anticipated or in the order that I predetermined. Quite to the contrary, I may decide to pre-exhaust my lats by performing pullovers first, then move on to a wide-grip pull down and finish up with a bent over barbell row.
Or, I may determine that my middle back desperately needs some attention so instead of performing an assisted pull-up or lat pull-down first, I head right for the plate-load low row when my mind is in that muscle and my energy is at its apex. Thereafter, I run another mental check and allow my body to guide me to successive exercises until I feel that my back workout is complete.
Along the same lines, not only do my instincts select the exercises, they also govern the number of sets and reps I perform per exercise. Quite candidly, I have no idea how many sets or reps I perform during any given workout for any given body part. I perform the exercise until I cannot squeeze out one more rep without compromising my form and my body tells me when I've done enough.
Once again using my back routine as an example, I may perform three sets of pulldowns, five sets of rows and two sets of pull-overs. Alternatively, I may perform four sets of pullovers followed by two sets of rows and finish up with three sets of low back extensions. Or, I may even decide to perform 12 sets of heavy rows and that's it! It all depends upon what my mind hears from my body. In other words, I allow my instincts to determine every aspect of my workout. The result? Serious gains!
Over the years, I have experienced and observed a very definite evolutionary process inherent in bodybuilding. It took me well over a decade to evolve as a bodybuilder and I am still somewhere in that evolutionary process. I discovered that forcing myself to perform a predetermined workout was not only counterproductive in terms of physical development, but also mentally exhausting because it takes a significant amount of mental energy to completely ignore what your body is trying to communicate through the subconscious and resist those impulses to stray in any respect from a preordained workout.
I consistently over-trained and sacrificed hard-earned muscle tissue in the process. Today, I watch those taking their first steps into the world of bodybuilding. They wander around the gym clutching their workout journals like infants cling to security blankets. They feverishly record every set and every rep as though missing one will sabotage them completely. To the beginner, more is always better.
They search for the "right" exercises, the "right" number of sets, and the "right" number of reps that will yield the results so desperately desired. At the beginning, there are no instincts to trust so beginners must do everything conceivable.
Then, as these beginners evolve, they begin to understand that there are no magic numbers and no explicit formulas; only individual experience. Realizing that there is no specific recipe for muscular gain applicable to everyone is actually freeing. Arnold's arm workout works for Arnold and Cory Everson's leg routine works for Cory. If you flawlessly follow these routines will you have Arnold's arms and Cory's legs?
Hardly. The training regimens included in the various bodybuilding magazines are just examples of different workouts. By all means, try every last one of them; then take from each what works for you and your body. With the realization that there is no set workout that produces the same results for all comes the freedom to experiment and thus the freedom to learn and to begin aligning mind and body.