“The best workout is the one that you follow.” – Unknown
“Everyone wants to excel. But few are willing to make the sacrifices that excellence requires.” – Joe Friel
“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weights.” – Ronnie Coleman
For the past 10 years I’ve read more than a few thousand emails from trainees who are confused about why their program “isn’t working” and I’ve boiled it down to these four different categories. If I’ve missed any be sure to add your input in the comments section below.
“I need an ADVANCED program”
Really? For novice lifters I have seen the most success by initially focusing on quality not quantity for the first 6-12 months of a lifter’s career, which is contrary to traditional bodybuilding workouts. Your first exposure to bodybuilding workouts were probably split routines that could be summarized as lower intensity and higher volume. The goal of those workouts is to do a lot of exercises and a lot of sets, then try to add more intensity to all of those sets. In my entry level program, No Nonsense Muscle Building, I take a reverse approach based on maintaining a higher intensity and lower volume, recognizing that initially a novice lifter’s work capacity will be very low. Then we increase the volume progressively, without sacrificing the intensity. In summary, the goal with my novice lifters is to teach them how to lift intensely with low volume and only add more volume if they can sustain the same intensity. Here’s an approach that would support this logic in terms of progressing a split:
Year 1 – 1 Day Split (i.e. Full Body Workouts)
Year 2 – 2 Day Split
Year 3 – 3 Day Split
Year 4 – 4 Day Split
Year 5 – 5 Day Split
Here’s how I define beginner, intermediate and advanced lifters, and this was taught to me when being mentored by Australian strength coach, Ian King:
Beginner – 1 year or less of consistent training
Intermediate – 2-4 years of consistent training
Advanced – 4+ years of consistent training
The problem is that EVERYONE thinks they’re advanced. I’m always perplexed when novice lifters are following 4-day and 5-day splits when they have not yet exploited the benefits of a full body or 2-day split! Coming from a competitive long distance running background, it’s like people who want to run a 42-km marathon but can barely run a decent 10k. Get faster at 10k before you think about running a slow 42k! Quality before quantity.
Novice lifters are always weaker, and the weaker the individual, the greater need for higher training frequency. So in cases of rehab or post-surgery, training frequencies are as high as six times a week and tolerated no problem. Females, because of their lower maximal strength initially, need greater training frequency to maximize training progress. My full body workouts in No Nonsense Muscle Building teach you how to train the same muscle group twice every five days before we transition you into greater volumes. It makes perfect sense and ignoring these principles will rob you of appreciable muscle gains. In fact, if you have been training for five or more years and not where you feel you should be it may be because you’ve skipped the beginner or intermediate phase and I would recommend going back to base one and start with full body routines as prescribed in the first six months of No Nonsense Muscle Building.
Confession time – how many of you show up to the gym and just wing it? You have some sort of an idea of what you want to do but if I asked you to tell me exercise order, reps, sets, rest periods, tempos and whether or not this was a low, medium or high intensity week you would be left speechless. Hitting the gym without a workout plan is like going to university without a major. You hop from class to class aimlessly, waste lots of time and money and have nothing to show for it in the end. It’s just as silly as trying to save money without looking at your bank statements!
What’s wrong with taking an “instinctive training” approach? I guess nothing if your time is not worth anything to you. “Instinctive training” should be reserved for times of the year you just wish to coast. In fact, the more advanced you become, the less likely an instinctive approach will work. I’ll use the money analogy again. Most successful business owners find making their first 100 thousand per year or 1 million per year easy. But to get to 10 million a year and above, it requires a completely different approach and way of thinking. In bodybuilding, you’ll find that what you do to build the first 40 pounds of muscle on your body is very different than what you do to build the final 10 pounds of muscle on your body. Principles are similar, but details are different.
The best decision you can make today is to start following a plan. One of the reasons a “cookie cutter routine” might still produce results is because it eliminates the guesswork for an individual and provides a step-by-step plan. Look around your gym today and I guarantee you’ll notice that the men and women producing the most impressive results are following some sort of plan. I have lots of them here if you need a new one.
Paralysis by Analysis Syndrome
These guys are the complete opposite of the guys who wing it. These guys design 72 weeks of meso-cycles using the most cutting-edge periodization principles (only reserved for Olympic caliber athletes), only to rewrite a completely different 72 weeks of meso-cycles two weeks later! These guys get their programs reviewed by a dozen different gurus before they even consider tying up their running shoes. I love these guys from the bottom of my heart but it goes without saying – it doesn’t matter how well designed your program is if you don’t follow it!
A program is only as good as the individual following it. I could give two people the identical program and one could go on and get their WBFF Pro Card with it while another dude double checks all my scientific references for a month before starting! The bottom line is that a program doesn’t work by itself; you must make the program work with good old fashioned hard work, discipline and consistency. Now, on the flip side of the coin, there are programs out there that are just poorly designed…
Poor Program Design
This is a reason people pay me to design programs. Aside from having a university degree in Honors Kinesiology and 10 years of hands-on experience with clients, I’ve also been mentored by Australian Strength Coach Ian King and world-famous strength coach Charles Poliquin through his P.I.C.P Level 1 and Level 2 certifications, and have closely studied the the top strength coaches in the industry. The biggest problem I see with programs is too much variety and change. The trend has swung from not enough variety to too much variety.
I believe that too much variety kills results and damages continuity. A poorly designed program has no continuity through the various phases. There is no common thread from phase to phase, so the size and strength gains don’t continue from phase to phase. As an example, if you look at my programs, you’ll notice that we use similar exercises from phase to phase and some subtle variations. They provide a continuity and allow us to see gains in strength and size in these particular exercises. If you are following a program that lacks continuity from phase to phase than you’ll stall your progress quickly.
The goal of a well-designed program is to not use the methods that are “best” but to skillfully use all the “best” methods in a progressive and cyclical manner. Remember, there are still upsides and downsides to all the “best” methods and the key is knowing how to organize all the methods into a plan that maximizes the upsides and minimizes the downsides.
For instance, you’ve probably heard to never train small muscle groups before large muscle groups because you won’t be able to overload the bigger muscles optimally if the smaller stabilizing muscles fatigue first. Makes sense, right? However, does it make sense to always put a smaller muscle group at the end of a workout if it’s a weak link? No. One aspect of a well-designed program will ensure you give all muscle groups opportunity to train at the start of a workout so you don’t develop visual or strength imbalances in the long term. If you want access to the most advanced 12 months of periodized programming then be sure to join Hypertrophy M.A.X. when it re-opens. Click here to join the waiting list. Our users tell us it’s by far the most bad-ass muscle building program in existence!
What program design blunder have you have struggled with? Share your comments below. And if you think I missed a program design blunder, let me know that too. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Like this article? Please rate and share below!
If you liked this article, you'll LOVE our No Nonsense Newsletter!
Sign up Now and
- Learn how to eat to get Lean and Ripped…
- Learn how to lift to get Bigger and Stronger…
- Learn how to stay motivated to Build Your Dream Body…
- PLUS… 3 exclusive free gifts as a surprise!
Your Information is 100% Secure With Us And Will NEVER Be Shared With Anyone.