Their articles, and many that you will find in some physique publications and on the Internet, often read like extracts from medical journals. Not only are they hard for the average weight trainer to comprehend, but they are also intimidating and full of intricate explanations and theories. Truth be told, I have difficulty staying awake when I read some of these articles.
But what choice do we have but to look to the experts for advice? I've got some great news for you. When it comes to building your body, you are the most qualified person to turn to. For all that the experts and gurus know from years of education, research, and field trials, none of them can compete with how well you understand yourself after several years of training. Let's investigate how you can turn this knowledge of yourself and intuition into what we're all after - better results!
Training Volume And Frequency
One of the most frequently-asked questions that has dogged weight trainers for decades is, how long should workouts be? Along with that comes, how often should a person train with weights? If you've read Ironman or any of the other magazines for any length of time, you know that there is no absolute consensus for an answer. We have Mike Mentzer, who insists that doing anything more than a handful of sets with four to seven days between to recover constitutes gross overtraining.
At the other extreme, we have methods such as the "Bulgarian Burst" system, popularized several years ago in a mail-order course by Leo Costa and Tom Platz, which advocated training three times every day, and was backed up by the success of tiny Bulgaria in Olympic weightlifting. Of course, there have also been suggestions for virtually every other possible frequency and volume, from 10 sets of 10, to sets of 100 reps, etc. Who's right, and how do you know which method to choose? The answer, silly as it sounds, is that the correct methodology is the one that works for you. We all have different physical make-ups, and unique needs for exercise and tolerance to the same.
You might be able to thrive on a high-volume routine that involves frequent training. Your friend, on the other hand, might burn out and even start feeling sick and run-down on the same routine. He may get better results training a body part just once a week, while you need to hit it twice or else you feel as if you're losing size and strength. This is the real reason pros go through so many training partners. Almost everyone over 40 in the gyms of Los Angeles claims to have been Arnold's training partner at one time or other.
Nowadays everyone you run into has been a training partner of one of the Olympia competitors. Why aren't they still training with them? It's not that these amateurs can't "hang" with Shawn Ray or Flex Wheeler in the gym. Many amateurs train just as hard or harder than the pros. The reason they went their separate ways is because their style of training doesn't deliver the same results. When you're training with one of these guys for the Olympia or Arnold Classic, you train their way if you want to be there with them in the gym.
While it may seem like a fantasy come true to train with a star for a while, the inspiration only carries them so far before they realize that they were making better progress before. Of course, sometimes they get lucky and the pro trains in a style that gives both men or women fantastic results. The point is, there are no hard and fast rules governing how often to train and for how long. You may have already discovered what works best for you. If not, keep searching. Somewhere out there is a simple formula that will allow you to make the best gains of your life.
Probably since the very first day you ever meekly poked your naive head into a gym, you were told which were the most effective exercises. If you wanted a great chest, you had to perform the bench press. For legs, the squat was mandatory. The leg extension and even other pressing exercises were only good for "shaping," whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. Guess what? It's all bull.
Coming from someone who has rated exercises dozens of times in print in terms of effectiveness, let me tell you now that some of the allegedly "magic" exercises will do little for some people, and some of the "worthless" exercises have done wonders. In my case, most of my thigh size was built with leg extensions, leg presses, and hack squats, not barbell squats. Bench presses never did much for me, but dumbbell bench presses and heavy machine flyes certainly have.
I would wager that most of you reading this have at least one or two "shaping" exercises in your repertoire, like concentration curls or side laterals, that have been responsible for a good deal of muscle being added to your body. And we can also apply this to the perennial argument over free weights versus machines. Most people use a mix of both, yet there have also been many trainers who found their bodies responded best to either predominantly one or the other.
You know that feeling when you've found an exercise that works well for you. You feel in the groove, strong, and achieve wicked, skin-busting pumps. It doesn't matter if you're doing one of the barbell basics or some exotic move on a cable. If you get that special feeling and consequent growth from any exercise, then that's a great exercise for you. Only you can be the judge.
Supplements and Nutrition
What are the best supplements to use? As you might expect, it depends on who you are. Everybody might be raving about creatine, yet you may experience little or no results from it. Conversely, andro and nor-andro products might make you blow up with ten pounds of pure muscle, while your training partner may have nothing to show for his usage. You never know how a particular supplement is going to work for you until you give it your own trial. We all have varying nutritional needs as well.
Some of us can eat high-protein, low carbs, and feel great, while others would be more inclined to take a nap than train on this diet. Others function best on high carbs, while some people get fat from too many starches. You see this exemplified best in contest diets. Some competitors are able to keep more fats and carbohydrates in their diets than others. This was actually codified more extensively and was the foundation for both Nutritionalysis and Apex Nutrition (A.K.A Eas), two successful nutrition consulting companies.
The most dramatic example of how different we are is when one bodybuilder gives another his contest diet to use. Often, what got competitor # 1 into sliced-and-diced stage condition got competitor # 2 into the running for either the Mr. Smooth or Most Wasted Down to Nothing titles.
What's the best training routine, and how long should you stick with it? We already discussed how your own evaluation of how well you recover and grow should be the basis of rating the efficacy of training frequency and volume. The same principle applies to the dozens of methods of training advocated by the bodybuilding experts, strength coaches, and authors of the world. What may sound insane to you could actually have significant merit.
Strength coach Charles Poliquin, who is responsible for more Olympic medals for his clients than anyone else, wrote recently of an arm program that entailed training arms literally all day on rare occasions, with breaks only for meals. It sounded wacky to me, but soon after trainers were heaping praise on him and thanking him for inches of new biceps and triceps girth. Another example is in the use of heavy and light weights.
Supposedly, heavy weights are a must for getting big, but I have known a few bodybuilders who somehow built damn good physiques without ever using a lot of resistance. One of them, a Master's competitor named Leon Burch, actually has almost 300 trophies to his credit! As far as changing routines, you'll know when the time to change has arrived. It's the day you cease to make any further progress. For some of you, a routine will grow stale after two weeks. Others might be able to ride out a routine for fresh results for closer to a year. No one can tell you when the time to change has arrived. Your muscles will tell you.
Just as we were all told from birth that three was the magic number of meals to eat every day, eight hours of sleep has been the prescription for a good night's sleep. For most people, eight hours works fine. For others it's not enough. For a lucky few, who can use the extra time for more constructive purposes, eight hours is far too much. We can say this. Intense training takes its toll on our bodies. So do jobs, families, studies, relationships and financial issues.
For many of you, eight hours of sleep a night is woefully inadequate. But only you will know this. If you never feel refreshed and energetic and have a stressful life, you may be well served to take naps whenever opportunity allows. Even 20-or-30 minutes in the afternoon can make a huge difference. Use your energy levels as a guide to how much sleep you need. Without adequate rest, your training and eating are being secretly sabotaged.
There is no need to know everything the experts reveal and preach in bodybuilding. Certainly read as much new information as possible, but realize that you know your own body like nobody else and ultimately you will determine what is best for you. Be confident in what you know about yourself, and use your considerable powers of instinct and intuition to guide you to the greatest physique you are capable of building.
Reprinted with permission from eMuscleMag.