Training for Muscles by
Bodybuilding Champion Alexander Dargatz
February 18th, 2006
My thoughts on training:
I've been working with weights for around 10 years now, and i had my deeps and ups in this time.
So, i want to present you what I personally think is important when you want to get bigger and/or stronger. I'll keep it on a general base, at least at first, and won't go into details of my workout, as i believe that everyone is different. That's the first important point in this thread *lol EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT! That means, everyone has to find the perfect way to train for her/himself.
BUT i do believe that there are some principles that apply to everyone, the laws of weight training you could say. I'll try to lay them out to you, please feel free to comment or contradict if you think i'm wrong.
I put this as the first principle, because i think it's the most important as well as the most evident. Progression means that you increase your ability to lift weights over the time. That can be done in several ways, i'll come to that later, but the thing is:
If you're doing 12 reps with 60kg now and 10months later you can do 60kg for 12 times, you have not improved, you're not stronger and i'll wager that you haven't gained an ounce of muscle.
The whole thing about bodybuilding is HOW you can continue to improve. All systems and theories have this point in common.
I recommend to keep a training log, so you can check if you're really making any progress. When i started lifting weights, i had no clue of training theory or anything, but i had a log, and every session i aimed to improve on the session before. At that time i made good progress, although i violated almost every "rule" i learned about BB later in the gym.
When i started training in the gym, i changed many things, but i also stopped writing the log, because nobody there did it and it was kinda "uncool". The gym owner told me he knew exactly what he did last week so he didn't need a log. He made it sound ridiculous to use a log. But now, i know that a log truly is one of the keys to progression. You may remember last workout, but what about last month's? Everyone has bad days, but if you don't increase your strength after a month, you're definitely doing something wrong!
So, now, what ways are there to ensure continued progression?
In the past years i've always worked out, sometimes with greater effect, sometimes with less or even while declining. But i've noticed that one key to progression is to change your routine every now and then.
As a beginner, you can stick to your basic program for quite a long time without negative effects on your progression. As an advanced bodybuilder, however, i recommend to change your plan completely every 4-8 weeks. By doing so, you force your body to adapt to the new situation by growth.
Personally, i feel that following a plan for 6 weeks is the best, but that might vary for others. After 6 weeks of one program, the progression slows, eventually comes to a complete stop.
I want to make myself clear, perhaps it could be misunderstood.
I don't suggest that you change a program you're getting good results with after 6 weeks into another program (which might give you inferior results). What i was trying to say was, that usually after 6 weeks the adaption to a program begins to slow, the gains get smaller. One way to counter that without changing the program would be to take 1-2 weeks off and train only light in this time (or even no weight training at all, just cardio).
The change has another reason: motivation. Beginning a new program can bring great motivation into your workout.
3. Often is better
There are several factors in your training that need to be balanced to ensure progression: frequency, volume, load and intensity. Both, too much or not enough of any of those can jeopardize your gains.
Frequency: i don't mean the number of workouts per week, i mean the frequency regarding every muscle. Too often, and you risk overtraining. Not often enough, and the muscle will begin to adapt to the rest again, in the worst case with atrophy. Of course, the frequency depends on the other factors, too. A high intensity training can't be done as often as a low intensity one.
I used to workout like most guys do in the gym: a split-program, every muscle once per week, 3-5 exercises, 3-5 sets per exercise, and that's it.
I wouldn't say that's complete bullshit, but it comes close
A principle i learned while reading (and later trying) the Doggcrapp (DC) system, was "often is better". DC is a variation on the HIT training system. DC states that if you can bring a muscle to grow two times per week instead of only once, you will grow 104 times per year instead of 52. He's got a point there, myladies!
At that point i realized that every time in my life that i made fast improvements, i was working every muscle more often! In the beginning, when i was training at home in the basement, i used to workout every day for approx. 3-4 hours. In this time, i made a lot of mistakes, but i worked the whole body every day. I made a very fast progress then.
Of course, beginners always make fast progress. But while i was using light weights, high reps, high volume, high frequency and did exercises that would cringe the toenails of most bodybuilders, i still grew. Actually, looking back, i instinctively followed at least two of the principles: progression and "often is better".
Later in the gym, i "learned" how a real bodybuilder should work out: the above mentioned split. I still made good progress, but eventually i came to a plateau.
After years of ups and downs (competitions diets, injuries and other distractions) i found out, that i had the best results with a 2-split or better, a whole-body workout. I didn't know why, but i noticed the fact. Now i know it's because of the third principle.
4. Intensity and volume
That's a difficult point, but an important one.
I used to work out as hard as i could, to muscle failure and beyond every single set, using intensity techniques all over, believing that the msucles wouldn't grow if i didn't show them that they were too weak for the requirements i set. I wanted to force them to grow!
The problem is, that you can easily overdo it. High intensity has it advantages, but feeling the muscles burning, aching or being pumped up has about NOTHING to do with growth. High intensity doesn't go well with the other factors, also. If you do high volume or high frequency, you can't (okay, you can, but it wouldn't be advantageous) do high intensity also.
Therefore, i advise to either do high intensity OR high frequency OR high volume!
If you think of it, it's obvious that when you work your chest on monday with 3 exercises, you're not as strong in the second or third exercise as you're in the first. If you did the first exercise on monday, the second on wednesday and the third on friday, you'd be stronger in those and work the chest more often without increasing the total volume.
The DC program for instance recommends to work every muscle with only one exercise and one set per session! That seems to be too few at first glance, but of course, this one set is to be done with the maximum intensity. (After that, you do loaded stretching for that muscle and move to the next.) You split the body in two and workout 3 times per week, so every muscle is trained 3 times in two weeks.
On the other hand, the HST program says that you should workout every muscle AT LEAST every 48 hours! That means, doing a whole body routine at least every other day, or a 2-split every day! But often is better in this system, so you could do a 2-split every day, one part in the morning, the other in the evening Wink
I tried both systems and had good results. How comes that? They are opposite, one claims max. intensity, one claims max. frequency.
But they're both balanced in what counts:
One key to progression is the proper amount of rest. Too much, and you can't call your training training, as it will show no results
Not enough on the other hand will lead into overtraining, not exactly what anyone wants, as it prevents further results and can be dangerous to your health.
So how much training is too much?
I'd say, if you don't make progression from workout to workout (counting in bad days, you might say at least every third workout), you're probably doing too much/have not enough rest. It could be that you're doing not enough, but that's a rare case.
The muscle needs to be confronted with a stress new to him during the workout, to make him adapt to that. After that, it needs to regenerate and then it can grow.
The DC program ensures the proper regeneration by doing only one set, so that the muscle is not worked more than needs to be done. By doing an extreme intensity, however, it's made sure that it has to respond with supercompensation!
On the other hand, the HST system claims that overtraining has nothing to do with the muscle itself, but that it takes place in the CNS. By avoiding muscle failure, it makes it possible to workout much more often. It sounds easy at first, no muscle failure, but believe me, it's not easy! HST means doing squats and deadlift and everything else at least every other day!
This text is not about HST or DC, but if you're interested, i can write a summary on each of these systems in another thread sometime.
So, proper regeneration means that you can do more than you did last time EVERY TIME when you enter the gym!
6. Load and reps
What exactly is an increase in strength?
When you have the same weight on the bar than last workout, and do more reps with it, that's an increase. When you have more weight on the bar and do the same number of reps, that's also an increase, obviously. But what if you put more weight on and do less reps? Is that an increase?
And what is better, more load or more reps?
Any source i have read and my personal experience tell me that increasing the load is the key to muscle growth. Actually, that's another point where DC and HST don't contradict
BUT increasing the number of reps also has advantadges:
- I find it easier to increase the number of reps i can do with a certain weight than increasing the weight. Moreover, it's easier to increase the number when you're doing high repetition sets: it's easier to improve from 20 to 25 than from 2 to 5!
- High reps improve the vascularisation and the endurance of the muscle, both not unimportant factors for growth.
- Lower load is more sparing for the joints.
The very start for me into BB was doing push-ups and sit-ups every evening. Obviously, i increased the number of reps, not the load. I made good progress (in that time, i also worked out every day, and i did not go to muscle failure. Instead, i did several sets coming near muscle failure. *pat myself on the shoulder* i have good instincts *lol* i did the right thing )
Having said that, i think that increasing the load has priority to increasing the reps when your goal is muscle mass and strength. After all, we're no long distance runners, are we?
To conclude this for today:
- Keep a training log.
- Change your plan every 4-8 weeks.
- Work out often and heavy.
- Don't blend high intensity with high volume or high frequency.
Yes, that's what it's all about! Don't you just love it?
One general thing i'd like to mention: pre-workout-nutrition.
Most people i know claim that they are stronger when they eat something right before the workout, usually carbs 30min or an hour before. Some go for cereals, others for cake or meat Sad My girlfriend even told me of this guy who was eating rice and meat DURING the workout, between the sets! Shocked
Physiologically, this makes not much sense to me. My experience is that i'm stronger when i don't eat anything at least 2 hours before the workout. Of course, you have to be loaded, but it's better to do that another time, not right before you train. A full belly consumes a lot of the body's energy and blood. I couldn't do squats while digesting!
The body is ready for performance when it's hungry!
I time my meals so that i go to the gym hungry. During the workout i'm not hungry anymore, i wouldn't want to think of food at all. Of course, you should provide some calories after the workout as soon as possible. I usually go for fruits (sometimes juice), or if the time to the next full meal is too long, soymilk instead.
If the time i ate nothing before the workout gets too long, i eat fruits, as they provide my body with quick energy and are easily digested and i can train with an empty stomach.
Actually, after doing this for quite some time, i read an article by Shawn Ray called "Stay hungry" where he recommended exactly the same thing Cool Hey, cool, Shawn Ray was my favorite Pro at that time!
Okay, now, let's get to the point.
It's nothing new what i'm gonna tell here, but it's so true that you can't say it often enough:
Do squats, not leg press. Bench press, not cable flies. Pull-ups, not lat machine. Dead lift, not one armed cable curls!
It's easy to get carried away with doing isolation exercises that pump your muscle up and let it burn. I like it, you like it, everyone does it. But it doesn't help you grow.
Another thing widely done is to work the smaller muscles far too much in relation to the big ones. I've done this mistake myself for many years, wondering why my arms where my weakest part, though i trained them the hardest.
Think on it: what muscles are used in the bench press? Chest, right. But shoulders and triceps do a big part of the work, too, along with other muscles. When you do bench press with, say, 70kg, your triceps has to contract against that weight. It's a far better exercise than cable push downs with 25kg! So, after having worked the chest with bench press and incline bench press, you don't need to work the triceps with another 2 exercises that exclude the bigger pectoralis (chest muscle)! Why would you want to work the smaller muscle more?
Concentrate on the main movements.
Depending on the program, i concede that some isolation exercises can be useful IF USED WISELY. Mainly, that means exercises in the stretched position, to add a different kind of stress to the muscles than they get in the main exercises.
Here's a list of movements i recommend:
- Squat: obviously. Works the whole body, mainly the legs and the back.
- Deadlift: similar to the squat, but also works the traps, the forearms and concentrates more on the hamstrings, the glutes and the back. Stiffed leg deadlift is great for developing thick hamstrings.
- Bench Press: not only for the chest, but for shoulders and triceps as well. The inclined bench is good, too, actually i think it's even better than the flat. Dumbell presses are great exercises for the stabilisation muscles and hepl build power.
- Pull-ups: Lat, serratus anterior, middle back, biceps, forearms. I hate them and i love them, the best for your back, arms, shoulders.
- Dips: chest, triceps, shoulders. One of my favorite exercises.
- Military press: shoulders, triceps.
- Barbell row: Lower back, middle back, lats, biceps. Dumbell row is similar, but easier on the lower back and harder on the rest, including forearms.
- Upright row: some people have problems with it, i love it. It's great for the delts and traps. Never mind lateral raises anymore Smile
- Pullovers: I do this mainly for the lats, serratus, and triceps, so some people claim it's a chest exercise.
- Front squats: They put more stress on the lower back and as you take less weight, less stress on the legs. When i do them, i do them after the normal squats, when the legs are already tired, or on an easy leg day.
-overhead squats: This is actually a shoulder exercise! It's a great whole-body-movement that requires strength and balance.
Okay, those should be enough to make a program of it
There are many others, i didn't bother to mention all those triceps and biceps exercises. And crunches for the abs.
A whole body program doesn't need extra arm exercises, but if you wish, you can include one for your psyche
Routine for beginners
Here is a strength routine for beginners. Most people will benefit from it.
It requires not much time, focuses on the main movements and on getting stronger.
Warm-up: 10min cardio.
2 sets each:
1 set each:
Warm-up: 10min cardio.
2 sets each:
- Barbell row
- Barbell press
1 set each:
Alternate Day 1 and Day 2, with 1-2 rest days in between. After cardio warm up, do easy sets of each exercise until you feel warm. Do 2 sets of every exercise , concentrate on perfect form and use a weight you can do for at least 10 clean reps without reaching muscle failure.
Try to increase the number of reps each workout, but don't go to muscle failure (except for abs and calves)!
When you reach 15 reps in both sets (20 for squats), increase the weight a bit.
Do this for 2 months and then analyze your logbook.