The paradox of training less to gain more has been and continues to be confirmed through the pages of Iron Man. Peary Rader has repeatedly said it for nearly half a century. That this article needs writing only serves to prove that the sapient advice Peary Rader is persistently ignored by the majority of readers. They pay a high price though -- a huge expenditure of time and effort for little or no gains in size and strength.
It is never too late to change your approach to bodybuilding; a change you have to make if you want to increase your strength and muscular size.
The empirical evidence reported to this magazine proves time after time that training less is usually the way to bring about gains. Countless numbers of trainees have, after many years of wasted training, finally tried a much shortened training program and have found that they finally started making good gains. Perhaps it is because such facts are so hard to believe that they are so persistently ignored.
While these facts are ignored, the great majority of you will find bodybuilding a very frustrating experience. You will never find the efficacy of short, hard and basic workouts unless you give them a sincere try.
The finding out is in the doing.
There is a minority of bodybuilders who can make good gains from using long, very frequent and usually low intensity workouts. Some of these routines are sheer lunacy for the majority of us. The majority of the top bodybuilders use very extensive routines. This leaves a considerable impression on the rank and file bodybuilders. The latter assume, erroneously, that it is the long and complicated routines which are responsible for the size and strength of the top men. Consequently they adopt similar training procedures.
The top men are, as far as bodybuilding potential is concerned, at a whole different level of existence to that of the majority of bodybuilders. Most of us have very limited bodybuilding potential and do not have the exercise tolerance and recuperative powers of the top men. It therefore follows that the top men should be the very last people to whom we look for training advice.
The huge majority of bodybuilders are hard gainers. This simply means that we find bodybuilding programs, even at the very best of times, to be a very slow process, often involving a step backwards for every two steps forward. We need to optimize everything in our training, rest, diet and psychological habits to even achieve moderate size and strength. This is simply how it is. There is no point pretending we can be any different. We all have our inherited limitations and potentials over which we have no control. We must accept this and make the best of what we have.
[Note: Genetics, mental and physical:
A pair of twin dwarves each decide on a career. One chooses being a jockey, the other an NBA star.]
For bodybuilding guidance it is not to the elite performer that we should be looking, but rather, to those hard gainers who have managed to make progress despite formidable physical limitations. Their experiences are what really offer hope for hard gainers. The experiences of the champion building his arm from 18.5 to 19 inches are irrelevant for the hard gainer who is struggling to develop a 15 inch arm. Because the experiences of the champions are usually given the largest publicity they tend to dominate those of the average hard gainer.
In just about every case of hard gainers who finally make bodybuilding progress it is radical change in the quantity of their training that was responsible. Some of these changes may appear extreme by the standards of contemporary bodybuilding. But, so long as such changes are effective, what does it matter?
It is results we are after, not seeing how long and frequently we can train.
Routines consisting of only three exercises (squat, bench press, bentover row), twice a week, have brought good gains for the first time to many trainees. Treating such approaches with contempt, as unfortunately many people do, and to their cost, is not going to make their long, complicated routines into effective ones. An open mind, a preparedness to experiment and the courage to withstand the criticism of incorrigible contemporary bodybuilders are needed if progress is to be made.
[ Note: If you look back on the "building" programs that were actually used successfully, not the popular programs, pen-named article (mis)representations and booklets, for the most part they are very basic, trimmed down layouts that leave enough energy for recuperation and building back. Here's a good idea of how the guys at Hepburn's Gym built up a foundation and some desired muscular bodyweight . . .
if you look around deeply enough at what worked in the past, you'll find that when seeking to build up the programs used were generally short, to the point and effective. The big moves. Progressive poundage and nutrient increase. Hard work. Plenty of rest. Face it. What worked for the human body then will work now. What doesn't work for the average guy now didn't work then either. Training down programs, shaping routines with isolation moves, six day a week layouts, none of it has any purpose until you build a solid foundation, and even then most people will not benefit much, if at all, from the overkill, from this wishful thinking approach. ]
Treating such approaches with contempt, as unfortunately many people do, and to their cost, is not going to make their long complicated routines into effective ones.
An open mind, a preparedness to experiment and the courage to withstand the criticism of incorrigible contemporary bodybuilders are needed if progress is to be made.
Diligently search through back issues of Iron Man and find out as much as you can about the real experiences of hard gainers. Discover their training experiments and successes. See for yourself the paradox of training less to gain more.
It is a terrible shame that so many bodybuilders do not find out about the efficacy of short simple routines until after they have spent years knocking their heads against a wall using long complicated routines. In too many cases, bodybuilders become so frustrated by their making no gains that they give up bodybuilding. Some other frustrated bodybuilders -- very near to giving it up -- try, as a last resort, the "old fashioned, basic stuff." They almost immediately find that they start making gains.
To find out the truth of effective bodybuilding they had to first spend years using futile training approaches. If only they had started with the basic stuff, and kept with it.
[ Note: When it comes to routines for building up and gaining strength, I have found that the less glitzy, more fundamental and simplistic ones work the best. I shit you not . . . the ones with the LEAST photos, if any, are the ones to look for in the old literature. The often shorter articles, hidden in between the sweat shop, low intensity, drawn out contest training stuff. Save yourself some wasted effort and look for those when you want to build up. Simple, consistent hard work . . . works!
The less "exciting" and ones are what you're looking for, the ones that don't bother with any nitpicking and just get to the task at hand. For example:
What a revolution it would be if more bodybuilders would use basic and simple training methods as their first option rather than as a final one. We would have so many contented bodybuilders instead of so many frustrated ones who seek panaceas through all sorts of avenues, culminating in drug usage and health destruction.
Once real bodybuilding understanding has been achieved the first action to be taken is a reduction in training QUANTITY, together with, in most cases, an increase in training EFFORT.
Training on long, complicated routines -- no matter what dietary, equipment or psychological aids are used -- will now be a thing of the past.
Once you understand the training paradox you will see how detrimental it is to train too much. When you have seen this clearly, you will no longer be tempted to train too much. Your bodybuilding fervor might want you to train more but your head now knows better.
Just exactly how much you will have to reduce your training is an individual matter. For many of you an effective routine for size and strength can comprise of 8 basic exercises to cover all the body; one warm up and two hard sets per exercise twice a week. For others you will have to reduce the routine even further.
The extreme hard gainer may only need to train hard on the three core exercises: Squat, Bench, Bent Row. Some VERY extreme hard gainers have had to spend time on a one exercise routine -- usually the squat -- in order to establish the foundation for later gains on a 3 to 5 exercise routine. Extreme circumstances demand extreme measures.
[ Note: Again, when looking at routines of the past (or "present") for building up and establishing a strong foundation, seek out what appears to be too simple by current standards to actually work. It will. When in doubt, do less but work it harder. ]
Only you know your body and its responses. Some people respond best to medium or high repetitions, others need low reps. Some gain well on twice a week training, others need more rest and can only train once every fifth or sixth day. You are unique and must adapt your training to your needs and experiences
Experiment rationally, making only one adjustment in each training period of six to eight weeks. If you make more than one change at a time, you will not be able to specifically account for any gains you may make. Variables to be experimented with are:
numbers of sets and repetitions
number of exercises
frequency of sub-maximal workouts
Find out as much as you can about the training options within a rational basic framework. Apply this understanding to your situation, potential and experiences.
Keep an open mind at all times and avoid dogmatism.
As well as overtraining through training too much and/or too frequently, it is not too difficult to overtrain by training too hard, even on a very brief routine. Very high intensity techniques -- compounding or pre-exhausting, forced reps, drop sets etc. -- do have a place in bodybuilding but they must be used extremely judiciously. Such techniques are very fashionable at present and many bodybuilders are being misled by the erroneous idea that training harder is always better.
Unless you are an advanced bodybuilder who is capable of performing strict repetitions with considerable weight in the basic lift/exercises, there is no need to regularly use mega-intensity techniques. Just confine yourself almost exclusively to hard work in the traditional sense: maximum repetitions in good form, by yourself in normal sets. Grind out every rep you can. You must demand growth by training very hard. To prevent your body from becoming complacent and to provide a genuine stimulus you can perform two forced reps per exercise ONCE every four to six weeks.
Avoid doing repetitions in a non-stop manner. Take a short pause between reps, especially between the very hard final repetitions of each set. [ Note: think of it much like heavy breathing squats: pauses between reps, hard work, on all your main lifts. ] This cannot be cone if you perform a set in a continuous manner. You might feel as if you have worked the muscles hard but you will have stimulated less strength and size increases.
It is not desirable to train with 100% effort at every workout indefinitely. The body cannot permanently respond to maximum effort work. Regular sub-maximal workouts interspaced between very hard workouts, together with regular layoffs are crucial.
Short periods each year using exclusively sub-maximal workouts are also necessary for long term progress. Some form of cycling your training intensity is mandatory or else overtraining and frustration will always result. Quite often, to make progress there is a need to take a step back before taking two steps forward.
Finally, never forget the immortal soul of bodybuilding -- THE USE OF PROGRESSIVE RESISTANCE -- The need to add weight to each exercise as often as possible, while always maintaining good exercise style, is the cardinal rule of bodybuilding. If you keep this rule you will make some progress regardless of what you do or do not do in all your other habits. This truth cannot be stated strongly enough.
To realize regular increases in training poundages, you need to train hard while keeping training to a minimum. Training is not done for its intrinsic value but rather to bring about the increases in training poundages that are needed if substantial gains are to be be made in muscular size. It is in order to achieve this central goal of increased poundages that it is vitally important to never forget the paradox of training less to gain more.
Enjoy Your Lifting!