But as a creature of habit, I like things to be consistent, once I have found a good training plan I tend to stick to it even long after I have stopped making gains. Or at least the same quality gains I was making when I started the routine.
I started analyzing why I wasn't quite making the amount of progress, in both strength and size, as I had aspired for. After reading over my training journal I notice a big flaw in my routine, in that I never changed it. It wasn't that I was going through the motions while training, far from it. It was just that I had found a select few exercise which I enjoyed doing and worked well for certain body parts. Now, that's great but one major thing that I over looked was the body's natural adaptation to exercise.
I didn't take advantage of the 'muscle confusion' training principle, so my body knew what was coming instead of being kept off guard. I didn't utilize the different training strategies such as varied exercise selection, changes in rep schemes, different high intensity techniques such as drop sets, rest-pause sets and superslow training. Nor did I change the body part split. I continued to use what I perceived as my 'perfect' routine.
Over the years I have tried various training programs such as Arnold's 6 days a week routine, Skip La Cour's one body part per day routine, a basics only routine (Squats, Bench, Deadlifts etc) as suggested in the great natural bodybuilding book 'Brawn' by Stuart McRobert. When I started reading about Dorian Yates's 'Blood & Guts' style of training, I converted my training split and methods to meet Dorian's suggestions and I thought I had found my perfect routine.
So from then on I would religiously followed that training plan. Actually, when I first started training I was more open-minded about trying new routines and seeing how I responded to them. After I found what I thought was perfect for me, I stopped experimenting with other training strategies. My reason for this was that I didn't want to waste valuable time on a routine I wasn't guaranteed that I would get gains from it.
As a result, my physical progress slowed down dramatically, of course though I wouldn't admit that to myself. In retrospect what I should have down was been more honest with myself and realized that my progress had halted for a reason. As the saying goes:
This is why the ever lasting argument between Mike Mentzer's scientific training compared to Arnold's type of High Volume training is missing one vital point. This point being that most routines will give a person some positive results for a certain period of time. However, due to individual differences these results will vary. The human body isn't a machine and even the 'perfect' routine can become stale after a while.
My mind was set that I couldn't abandon the training routine I loved, when I should have been thinking of the long term and realizing that cycling my training routine was a much more sensible approach to attaining the muscle mass I desired. Cycling my training would not only keep my muscles guessing but also keep my mind fresh with new styles of training methods.
I now realize that through experimenting with a variety of training methods more frequently I could have accumulated a pool of different training styles, which I could have then incorporated into a year long training cycle. I wouldn't have needed to give up my 'perfect' routine forever, just for a while as I go on to another training cycle and strive to get maximum progress from that training method and then when I started to become stale again, move on to another training routine.
Only you can decide for yourself through trial and error what different types of training cycles work best for you, in terms of training style and length of cycle. Below I have included some sample cycles that I now like to follow and have had great success with.
Cycle 1: 'Blood & Guts' Routine.
DAY 1: Chest, Biceps, Abs
DAY 2: Legs, Calves
DAY 3: Day Off
DAY 4: Back, Rear Delts, Traps, Abs
DAY 5: Delts, Triceps, Calves
This is how Dorian used to train. Using 3 - 4 exercises for large body parts and 2 -3 exercises for smaller muscles. Each work set is taken to failure and then beyond with forced reps, drop set or rest-pause sets. After 6 - 8 weeks using the above routine. I would take a week off to fully recover then go on to my next cycle.
Cycle 2: One Body Part Per Day Routine.
DAY 1: Back
DAY 2: Chest, Abs
DAY 3: Legs, Calves
DAY 4: Delts, Traps
DAY 5: Arms, Abs
By hitting just one muscle per day you can incorporate more exercises into your routine. For example, 4-5 exercises for large muscles and 3-4 exercises for smaller ones. The benefits of this cycle is that the smaller muscles, such as arms, get one day all to themselves rather than being trained after a grueling major muscle which leaves you with less energy later in the workout.
Another cycle I really enjoy, especially when I haven't got much time to train, is a Power-Bodybuilding Routine. This is similar to what was recommended in the 'Brawn' book. It incorporates the major Power Lifting lifts along with some select Bodybuilding exercises.
Cycle 3: Power-Bodybuilding Routine.
DAY 1: Squat Day - along with Barbell Rows and Bicep Curls
DAY 2: Day Off
DAY 3: Bench Day - along with Seated Dumbbell Press and Lying Tricep Extensions
DAY 4: Day Off
DAY 5: Deadlift Day - along with Dumbbell Shrugs and Standing Calf Raises
These are just some routine that I like to use to change my routine. I might not follow a ridged cycle pattern of 8 weeks each before moving on. Sometimes, I might cycle through all three of these different training plans in a three week period. This would make a 6 week training cycle look like:
WEEK 1: Blood & Guts Routine
WEEK 2: One Body Part Per Day Routine
WEEK 3: Power-Bodybuilding Routine
WEEKS 4 - 6: Repeat Cycle Again
WEEK 7: Recovery Week
As long as you are training progressively and paying close attention to your bodybuilding nutrition the gains will come. Be Flexible! It is very important to remember that nothing is written in stone. If you are on a training cycle and are getting great gains in size and strength don't feel that just because you wrote down that you were only going to do 8 weeks of that training that you have to stop the cycle and stop your gains. Milk the cycle dry, keep striving for heavier weights and improve gym performance.
This will lead to better rewards in terms of new muscle mass. Just listen to your body. If your feeling strong and hungry for more gains then carry on hitting that routine hard. If you're starting to feel tired and lacking motivation then you're probably better off moving on to your next training cycle and avoiding over-training and staleness.
After completing a hard training cycle, I would recommend taking one week off training, at least make it a low intensity week. This gives you body and mind time to completely recover and allow you to start your next training full of energy and enthusiasm. During this week off, it is very important to carry on following the correct muscle building diet, as you body will need the quality calories and protein to repair and increase the muscles.
Hopefully, through reading this, some people will realize the benefit in cycling their training and that their perfect routine might actually be the weak link in their goal of building more muscle. So, find out what different types of training work for you, hit the weights as hard as possible and then move on to another cycle to carry on you progress before you hit a stale patch. Believe me, I wish I had done this sooner!
All the best,