4. Training issues: Weights
Of course, where the real problems usually start in terms of training is the weight room. To say that the training being performed by most individuals in most weight rooms sucks is an understatement. The problem is that much of the advice being followed is coming out of the professional bodybuilding ranks at least as it is disseminated through the bodybuilding magazines.
Yes, the internet has helped out with this and there’s a lot more realistic information out there but a lot of people are still trying to follow programs based on the training of elite drugged out bodybuilders. And, contrary to popular belief, 99% of internet trainees are not elite, or advanced. A lot of them aren’t even intermediates. But they are trying to follow programs aimed at those folks.
In my experience, the typical approach of blasting a muscle group once per week for an insane number of sets and exercises simply doesn’t work for the majority. Yes, fine, there are some who do fine on it. They usually have good genetics and hormones. But the number who failed completely with that type of training is legion. You can’t use the minority who succeed on it and ignore the majority who didn’t.
There’s a lot of reasons that type of training isn’t ideal for most people, this isn’t the place to discuss it. Fine, you get real sore, and you’re real tired coming out of the gym. But who cares if you aren’t making progress? Being sore and exhausted wasn’t the goal of this the last time I looked.
I should note that many fall at the opposite extreme of training, hitting a bodypart for one set once per week or what have you. They’ll go to complete muscular failure, hit the hard isometric hold and be blown out and shaking when they leave the gym. Again, since being tired isn’t the main goal, who cares. This can be just as big of a mistake for another set of reasons that I’m not going to discuss here.
The bottom line is that, in my opinion, in my experience, and in the realm of a lot of good research, something in between those two extremes appears to be best. A weekly training frequency of 3-4 times per week is usually quite doable although, for many (older trainees especially), four days may be pushing it unless the workouts are kept very short. And yes, some people get away training six days per week but they are usually in and out of the gym very quickly.
This will allow each bodypart to be hit roughly twice per week or, at the least, once every 5 days (about the lowest frequency I recommend for naturals). Upper/lower splits are popular but there are other ways to approach it as well.
A moderate number of sets, perhaps 4-8 per bodypart (more for larger, less for smaller) is usually about right as well. Research suggests that 40-60 contractions per bodypart per workout seems to give the optimal response. 4 sets of 10 would be at the low end of that, 8 sets of 8 (perhaps 2 exercises for 4 sets of 8 reps each) would be at the high end. A typical workout might last 60-90 minutes depending on how it’s split up.
One final comment on training before I wrap this up: an insidious (and stupid) idea that is out there (especially in the realm of bodybuilding) is that trainees should focus on irrelevant things: the feel, the squeeze, the pump. This is crap and guys who do this, unless they are on drugs, simply don’t grow. Muscle grows as a function of progressive tension overload, if you’re not adding weight to the bar over time, you’re not growing. This doesn’t mean that you have to add weight at every workout, but if you’re not gradually going heavier over time, you won’t be growing either.