Here's what you need to know...
- Most people, even those with great genetics for bodybuilding, never reach their full potential. These methods will get you growing again.
- Nothing will help you build muscle faster than doing the big lifts. Focus your attention there.
- Building bigger shoulders and a bigger back makes you look much better than doing endless sets of curls.
- While 3 sets of 10 reps work, there are other rep ranges you'll need to use to maximize your genetic potential.
- If you stop making progress in the gym, you probably need a new training split. You also need to stop doing "garbage volume" and get focused.
- The only thing that guarantees progress is progression.
The Most Annoying Guy in the Gym
I've spent most of my life in gyms. Commercial gyms, powerlifting gyms, sports team gyms, Olympic lifting gyms, CrossFit boxes, you name it and I've trained in it. I've seen it all, from squat rack curlers to guys who only work out in jeans.
But the only thing that really bothers me isn't the guy who reads the paper between sets while hogging the only squat rack... although I'm not really fond of that guy. Instead, it's the guy with great potential that wastes it by training without rhyme or reason.
I'm someone who was born with the genetics of a worm. I had to work extra hard to achieve even a little bit of success. So when I see someone who has a great frame and obvious muscle-building potential doing endless sets of easy exercises, talk for ten minutes between sets, and doing the same pointless workout over and over again, it pisses me off.
I'd really like to slap some sense into them. Here's what I'd like to tell them.
1 – Train hard on the tough, high-impact exercises.
Many of these high-potential guys are born with a big structure. Tall, naturally athletic, broad shoulders, square jaw. They talk loud, and generally it's to boast about something hardcore they did – the hockey game they dominated, the girl they brought home from the bar, how they work 12 hours of hard construction labor, etc.
Great. If you're all that, surely you'll tackle some sets of hard deadlifts after you're done warming up with 20-pound curls? Right? No? Is it a bad back? Well it seems healthy enough to work construction for 12 hours and play hockey.
Anyway, from the looks of it, you seem to be using your back as much during your curls as you would during a set of deadlifts. I'm sure that girl over there is super impressed!
You'd think that a guy built to lift heavy things would love to show his strength and get a thrill out of harvesting it. Are you afraid of doing hard lifts because you'll lose your aura of manhood if other guys in the gym (who are training properly) are lifting more than you?
Listen, every guy who hits the gym wants to be bigger and stronger. You might play it cool by saying that you don't really want to get bigger but who are you kidding?
The fact is, you might have great genetics. You already have a solid build. But you could be something special. If you really push your gifts by training hard on exercises that are worth the effort, you'll shock people.
Sure, doing curls, triceps extensions, and lateral raises is fun. You get a big pump, look good in the mirror for the time you're in the gym, and those exercises don't require much effort. They could even help you build a little bit of muscle. But if you're serious about becoming a big mofo, nothing will help you get there faster than doing the big lifts. And not only doing them, but striving really hard to become beastly strong at them.
What lifts am I talking about? The lifts that make you work hard, those that you're not looking forward to doing when you get to the gym. The lifts in which you're moving the most weight. Move more weight, gain more muscle. I'm talking about:
- Legs: Squat and front squat
- Back: Deadlift and strict row
- Chest: Bench press and incline press
- Shoulders: Military press and high pull
- Arms: Weighted dips, close-grip bench press, and some curls
Do these before even thinking about doing something else. Become very strong at them and with your genetics you'll look like a house.
2 – Do something besides 3 sets of 10!
Sure, three sets of 8 to 10 reps "work." And if you're born with good genetics it can give you good enough results. So it's not uncommon for those born lucky to get stuck in the 8 to 10 reps world. After all, they're getting the same results as other people who do different things, so why try something different?
Guys who are satisfied with "good enough" piss me off! These are the guys that go on and on, bad mouthing coaches who are trying to find better ways to gain muscle and size.
The genetic freaks say things like, "You don't need that crap, just train, eat, sleep and repeat, it works for me!" Well, you know what? Most people aren't like you.
They have a hard time forcing their body to progress and oftentimes they're lost when sets of 8-10 reps stops working for them. Lucky for them, some trainers are trying to educate people and help them find ways to keep on progressing.
Sure, you're progressing, but certainly not because of your smart training or hard work! Why don't you open yourself up to new methods? Yes, it means you'll have to leave your ego at the door and admit that you don't know everything, but the new progress you'll make will be worth it.
While sets of 8 to 10 work, there are other rep ranges that will help you. And more importantly, changing the rep ranges you use every 4-6 weeks or so will lead to greater progress in both size and strength than sticking to the same type of stimulation month after month.
- Sets of 4 to 6 with 80-87% of your max will stimulate a lot of overall growth and will give you strength to match. And if that isn't enough, you'll also look more solid and harder, even at rest.
- Sets of 1 to 3 with 90-100% of your max might not give you a lot of size by themselves, but they will make everything you do that day (after the heavy work) more effective by increasing the recruitment of the growth-prone high-threshold motor units.
That zone will also help you get stronger faster than anything else. Don't do it for too long; 3 weeks in a row is about the most I'd recommend as the joints might take a beating if you're not used to heavy lifting.
- Rest/Pause sets will require you to work extra hard and deal with discomfort, but they'll give you more size than any other method you can use.
Pick a weight you can lift about 6 times in solid form. Do your 6 reps, rest for about 5-10 seconds and then resume the set with the same weight, trying to get an extra 2-4 reps. If you suddenly discover that you have some guts, you can try to add a second 5-10 second pause and try to get another extra 2-4 reps. This, my friend, will boost your genetically gifted body to cartoon proportions.
If you like to impress the girls at the gym with your big bench press, you'll probably be interested in clusters since no method will boost strength as rapidly. What are clusters, you ask?
Well, each cluster set has 4 to 6 total reps. Pick a weight you could normally lift for 3 good reps. Perform the set one rep at a time. Do one rep, rack it and rest 10-12 seconds. Do another rep, rest 10-12 seconds, and continue in this manner until you reach the point where you can't do another rep.
If you can do more than 6 reps, add more weight. Do 3 of these and you're golden when it comes to stimulating tons of strength gains. Oh, and because of the volume you'll get bigger and harder, too.
And if you want to "get your arm pump on" you should do it the hard way: by doing antagonist supersets. Do a biceps exercise followed by a triceps exercise (no rest in between). After the triceps exercise, rest just enough to regain some movement in your arm and get back at it.
I don't like to spend too much time on direct arm work, but these supersets are very effective in stimulating growth. I like to do a pair using 4 to 6 reps (for 4 sets), one pair using 8-10 reps (for 3-4 sets), and a pair using rest-pause (3 sets). Now you'll get the arm size needed to justify wearing those medium T-shirts.
3 – Stop doing random crap or just the stuff you think makes you look good.
Having a plan is so unmanly. Asking for directions? That's for pansies. So you certainly won't plan your workouts in advance!
Seriously, it seems that I always see the same guys doing the same exercises, either those that they like or those they think make them look good. "Quick, gotta do a gazillion sets of curls before people see me without a pump!"
Listen, you're spending $600 a year on a gym membership and spending a lot of time there, so I assume you're serious or semi-serious about building your body up. If you want to build your body up to its potential, you need to at least train it in a smart way. And no, doing curls every day and legs once a month is not what I'd call "smart."
And you know what? I won't even use the overused line, "Squatting will make your whole body big, including your arms" to convince you. It's mostly hogwash anyway. If you want big arms, you'll have to train them. Squatting alone won't do it.
However, I will tell you that someone who can curl more than he can bench and who benches more than he can squat looks dumb and is dumb.
Getting big legs or a big back might not be a priority, but you still need to build everything to a decent degree to look really good. And you know what? What actually makes you look good isn't the same thing as what you think makes you look good.
You might think that getting huge arms will make you look good, but without big shoulders and back, bigger arms will actually make you look worse, not better.
In fact, bigger shoulders and a bigger back are what will make you look badass. And if you're doing it for girls, they won't care about your 19 inch pythons if your arse is flat like grandpa's.
Additionally, if you always do the same thing when you hit the gym, at one point you won't progress anymore. Yep, even with your good genetics you'll stop progressing. (I see that often, and it's funny to see those big dudes go seek the advice of the trainers they used to make fun of.)
The answer is to set up a basic plan to work everything. There are many ways to split your training throughout the week, and they all work, provided that allow you to stimulate everything properly.
Now, "training everything" doesn't necessarily mean that everything must be trained equally. Training some muscles take a lot more out of you and hurts your recovery.
The split I use with an IFBB pro I'm training is as follow:
- Day 1: Back and deadlift
- Day 2: Chest and shoulders
- Day 3: OFF
- Day 4: Biceps and Triceps
- Day 5: Legs
- Day 6: Chest and Back
- Day 7: OFF
This split is pretty good for the average gym rat. It allows them to work everything effectively, recover properly, and maximize the growth of the areas that make them look imposing. There are other possible approaches, of course, but this is a good starting point for someone who's used to only training what he likes.
4 – Cut out the garbage volume.
I see people doing this type of chest workout all the time:
- 3 sets of bench press
- 3 sets of flat dumbbell press
- 3 sets of Smith machine bench press
- 3 sets of selective machine flat press
It's all the same thing!
Well, not entirely. Don't think that a selective machine press is as good as a barbell bench press, but you are working essentially the same muscle groups using the same angle and pattern.
Not only that, 6 of your 12 sets use inferior exercises, so those 6 sets are what I call "garbage sets." You'd be much better off selecting exercises working different angles or portion of the movement instead of redundant exercises.
I see this with chest and arms mostly. People are afraid of missing out on the one exercise that will give them a big chest or biceps. If you go with the split I gave you earlier, here's how to select your exercises:
Day 1: Back and Deadlift
- Exercise 1: Deadlift variation
- Exercise 2: Horizontal row variation
- Exercise 3: Vertical row variation
- Exercise 4: Scapula elevation (shrug, high pull) variation
Day 2: Chest and Shoulders
- Exercise 1: Flat bench press variation
- Exercise 2: Incline press variation
- Exercise 3: Overhead press variation
- Exercise 4: Lateral/front raise variation
Day 3: OFF
Day 4: Biceps and Triceps
- Exercise 1.1: Neutral (hammer) grip curl variation
- Exercise 1.2: Close-grip press variation
- Exercise 2.1: Supinated grip curl variation
- Exercise 2.2: Free weight triceps extension variation
- Exercise 3.1: Pronated grip curl variation
- Exercise 3.2: Cable/pulley triceps extension variation
Day 5: Legs
- Exercise 1: Squat variation
- Exercise 2: Unilateral leg movement variation
- Exercise 3: Hip extension variation (Romanian deadlift, good morning, etc.)
- Exercise 4.1: Leg extension variation
- Exercise 4.2: Leg flexion/curl variation
- Exercise 5 (optional): Calf exercise
Day 6: Chest and Back
- Exercise 1.1: Chest press variation (flat, decline or incline)
- Exercise 1.2: Horizontal row variation (cable/pulley)
- Exercise 2.1: Dumbbell flye variation
- Exercise 2.2: Rear delt exercise (rear delt raise, reverse pec deck, etc.)
- Exercise 3.1: Machine or cable/pulley pectorals isolation exercise
- Exercise 3.2: Scapula elevation variation
Day 7: OFF
This is more of a bodybuilding split, but if you follow it you can't go wrong. Yes, I do many programs using different splits and exercise selections, but if your goal is to get bigger and look better, the program above will work great if you make the right choices and train hard.
5 – Put the phone away and focus!
I've got nothing against smart phones, and God knows how important it is for all your virtual friends to know that you're "getting a crazy arm pump, bro" at the gym. But I'm here to tell you that if you want to make the most out of your potential, you must understand how important workout tempo/pace is.
If you're trying to build a lot of muscle, having a rapid pace to your workout is something you should shoot for. I'm not talking about rushing your workouts; you should rest long enough to be able to perform your next set at a high level so that you stimulate gains. But you should only rest long enough to be able to perform your set.
Moving quickly through your workout will keep you focused, it will increase overall blood flow, boost your metabolism, and will stimulate more growth through the release of growth factors.
Now that you have decided to stop being a poser and train hard to get maximum results, you should value focus above everything else in the gym. Getting and staying "in the zone" will do more for your gains than any advanced method you can try.
I know it will be hard to sever the link with your Twitter account for an hour or so, but during your workout there should be no "off time." You're either doing a set, thinking about the set you will be doing, or reflecting on the set you just did to see where you can improve.
Become intellectually involved in your training.
6 – Remember this: Progression is everything.
I often say something that on the surface sounds obvious, if not stupid. Despite the fact that it's such a simple truth that saying it makes me sound dumb, 90% of the gym population doesn't apply it.
"The only thing that guarantees progress is progression."
See what I mean? Pretty obvious, right? Well, why then are you focusing on anything but progression?
Feeling the burn. Getting a huge pump. Driving yourself to the ground. Crippling soreness. Not being able to drive after leg day. That all sounds cool and most are considered badges of honor, but none of that guarantees that your workout was positive and will lead to improvements. Yet we prefer to focus on these elements rather than on objective progression.
In most cases, when someone is training to gain muscle I like to use the double progression method. In the double progression model your goal is to complete a certain number of sets for a certain number of reps with the same weight, like 5 x 8 with 200 pounds.
You use a rep range where there's a difference of 3 or 4 reps between the low end and the high end. For example, 6 to 8 reps or 9 to 12 reps. Your goal is to complete all your work sets in the upper end of the rep range. If you select the 6 to 8 rep range, the upper end is 8 reps.
When you're able to complete all your planned work sets with the same weight at the upper end of your selected rep range, you can increase the weight at your next workout.
If you fail to reach the upper end on some of your sets, for example if you get 8, 8, 8, 7, and 6 reps for your 5 sets that's fine, but it means that at your next workout you should use the same weight. You don't get to add weight until you can complete all your sets with the upper end of the range.
That's progression. And that's what you really need to maximize your genetic gifts.