“Weightless Workouts”: What will they do for you?
Jack LaLanne (Sept. 26, 1914 – January 23, 2011): Tribute to a Pioneer

‘Bodybuilding Routines’: The common ones

I would argue that nothing is more important for successful natural muscle building (without steroids) than using the most effective of bodybuilding routines. This is where so many aspiring young muscle builders get it wrong. They buy the best protein powders. They pound down high-calorie meal plans; more food than their bodies need. They spend money on and ingest worthless supplements like Nitric Oxide while using bodybuilding routines that have little chance of providing substantial muscle growth.

The best advice I can give is to turn these priorities around. Choosing the best of ‘bodybuilding routines’ is the MOST important thing you can do to build muscle as fast and as steadily as possible. It is the best way to make progress without hitting muscle building plateaus. Only after the routine/schedule is optimized should a trainee even think about using bodybuilding supplements. The surest way I’ve seen to waste time, effort, and money is to get this reversed; haphazardly using cookie-cutter bodybuilding routines while believing the latest bodybuilding supplements will move one off the ensuing plateau to which such routines almost inevitably lead.

With that said, let’s look at the most common of “bodybuilding routines”; schedules I’ve used in long past years that produced little long-term benefit:

Common ‘Bodybuilding Routines’

Mon-Tues/Thurs. Fri (full body routine)

This is the one in which you work half your body on Monday, the other half on Tuesday – then repeat the process on Thursday and Friday. It provides two days of rest for each muscle group during the week and then three days of rest during the weekend.

Inherent within the “staggered” recuperation days of this bodybuilding routine resides the nonsensical nature of its schedule. If our muscles need three days to recuperate from a workout, why would they intermittently only need two days? They either need two days or three days, or more than either of these choices. Do they require three days only after being recuperated inadequately for two? If that’s the case, my bet would be that better gains would be made by just resting three days across the board while forgetting about the seven-day structure. In other words, take Wed, Thurs, and Fri off after working out for two days – then start the cycle again on Saturday.

This wouldn’t work if you’re adamantly against working out on the weekends. If that’s the case and you love the “half-split” body routine, I’d recommend working out more intensely for Monday and Tuesday and then just taking Wednesday through Sunday off. Either that, or do the workouts on Tuesday/Thursday or Mon/Fri.: the point being to get a full week off between working each muscle.

Why would I recommend that?

Well… I don’t advise working half the body in one day at all. It might be effective short-term for the rank beginner, but that’s it. However, for those who like this sort of split, I’d recommend at least one week’s recuperation for the torn-down tissue. If you’re working out with anything close to the intensity of effort with which you should, recuperation time inside of a week is woefully inadequate.

Three Days On/One Day Off Split

This is an old school of ‘bodybuilding routines’ – started and used by steroid using competitive bodybuilders with gifted genetics and is generally only effective for them. It entails splitting the body into three sections and working each muscle group every fourth day. It provides three day’s rest for each muscle – much like half the recuperation schedule for the aforementioned “full body/two day split.”

Again, attempting to gain muscle with bodybuilding routines that provide less than one week’s recuperation per muscle group is futile for the natural bodybuilder. I’ve observed this to be the case even when keeping set numbers low and workouts short.

Mon –Wed – Fri/ Two-day Split

When I was a youngster and struggling to put on natural muscle mass, this bodybuilding routine seemed clever to me. It’s a two-day split in which half the body is worked on Monday and Friday of one week while the other half is only worked Wednesday of that week. The following week, the schedule’s reversed so that the muscles that were worked on Wednesday of the previous week are now worked Monday and Friday. By switching off like this, it seems that a muscle’s being worked twice one week and once the next – alternating so as to prevent over training.

But with this routine, each muscle’s actually getting no more than four days of rest between workouts. In fact, each muscle gets that same nonsensical “staggered recuperation.” Before you jump at my labeling of this as being nonsensical, ask yourself why in the world a muscle would recuperate at a different rate each week. Even better, ask yourself why a muscle would recuperate on any fixed schedule at all. They don’t recuperate within a specific window of time because we want them to. They also don’t do it because a “bodybuilding expert” says they will. They recuperate and build compensatory strength and size at a custom rate for each individual – dependent on genetic factors and how much workout intensity has been inflicted on them.

Old_Muscle_Building_Machine 
'Bodybuilding Routines' might be as old as the earliest muscle building machines. But the advent of steroid use might have distorted what's considered realistic recuperation time within bodybuilding workout schedules

 

I recommend giving each muscle at least one week’s rest between workouts… and possibly a lot more.

The reason’s pretty simple and only requires knowing the difference between “systemic recuperation” and “tissue recuperation.” When you follow the latest bodybuilding ‘pearls of wisdom’ (“keep your workouts short”, “only do three sets per muscle”… etc), it will improve your systemic recuperation (your body’s energy reserves). However, this doesn’t automatically translate into faster local tissue recuperation. It is that local tissue recuperation and build-up of compensatory strength that ongoing muscle size gains are dependent. But any bodybuilding routine worth its salt will call for the trainee to push for workout weight progression at regular intervals. It’s the intensity resulting from this demanded progression that creates tissue breakdown – the recuperation of which requiring nothing less than a week’s time.

If you wonder why the pro bodybuilders can use “bodybuilding routines” that provide less than one week’s recuperation, the answer is simple: steroid use. Steroids speed protein synthesis and tissue recuperation far beyond what’s natural. Of course, that can come with a price in the form of possible steroid side effects.

Four-Day Split/Each Muscle Once-Per-Week

This bodybuilding routine is getting toward sanity. It even produces steady gains in some people for a short duration of time. A typical bodybuilding schedule of this type might look something like this:

Mon: Thighs

Tues: Chest/Delts

Wed: Off

Thurs: Triceps/Hamstrings/Calves

Friday: Back and Biceps

Sat/Sun: Off

One problem that’s nearly inevitable with these each-muscle-once-per-week bodybuilding routines is that of overlapping muscle use. For example, when we work the chest and delts on Tuesday, we’ll inevitably use the triceps – which will be worked directly on Thursday. When Tuesday of the following week rolls around, the potentially un-recuperated triceps will be worked again on compound movements during the pectorals/delts workout. Some form of this problem arises regardless of how the workout is structured. I’ve seen someone doing the following:

Day 1: Back/Triceps

Day 2: Chest/Biceps

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Quads/Shoulders/Abs

Day 5: Hamstrings/Calves/Forearms

Day 6: Rest

Day 7: Rest

This one makes even less sense; why on earth a person would work their chest on a day directly following a triceps workout is beyond me; the exhausted triceps would become the limiting factor on all compound movements (like bench presses) used for the pectorals. Talk about a prescription for a puny chest.

No matter how you slice this once-a-week deal – something’s going to get over-trained as long as you’re training with respectable intensity that demands weight/volume progression.

I hate to sound cliché, but at least try thinking “outside the box” – or at least “outside the 7-day bodybuilding schedule” – if you’ve hit a plateau doing anything resembling the above “bodybuilding routines.”

‘Bodybuilding Routines’: They should change with age and development

Other than muscle confusion, what would you say is the most idiotic and progress-hampering notion in the bodybuilding and fitness world? My opinion is that it’s the following principle:

“As you get in better shape and your recuperation improves, you can work out more often.”

Really? Who comes up with this stuff? If you and I even apply a fraction of critical reasoning to this oft-repeated belief – we’ll reveal its fallacy:

The more progress you make in building muscle – the more tissue you have that needs recuperation – hence, the more recuperation time you’ll need to make further progress.

In addition, age makes a huge impact on recuperation speed. So any program – whether it’s written in Men’s Fitness or the latest bodybuilding guru’s e-book – that recommends the same ‘bodybuilding routines’ for 20-year-olds as it does for 50-year-olds is missing macro-information of major importance.

Comments

bobby matthews

hi scott its bobby again .just got your response . thank you so uch for responding i very much appreciate it . and to answer your question for adding weight i was going to failure but when 8 reps was achieved for all the sets of an excercise i would the add 20 pounds to a lift and to small lifts like curls 10 pounds. but since then i have made a change and i train an old school 3 day split twice a week and do same amount of sets per bodypart , but the difference is now i go just before failure i do a version of doug hepburns routine thats the strong man from the 50s it goes like this say for bench in example workout bench 3 sets with say for example 100 3x6 ,next time 6,6,7 next time 6,7,7 next time 777 next 778 next 788 next 888 then next time add 20 pounds so in like 7 workouts my bench goes up 20 pounds in a year that sure adds up and im not going to complete failure but im getting stronger and working more often . but yeah as in the old program id train to complete failure every set and add weight after i achieved 8 reps train once a week back then so id go to failure . again thank you so much
i have a different email now.

Scott Abbett

Hi Bobbie,

Thank you for reading the article and posting a comment/question.

Congratulations on your decision to go natural from now on.

I think your program looks pretty solid - especially if you've used it in the past with success. I just have a couple of questions to raise in regard to it.

The first thing I'm wondering is if there's any specific way you're planning to load the weight for this "every set to failure" scheme. Are you going to attempt to use the same working weight on every set? Are you 'pyramiding'... or will you be beginning with the heaviest weight possible and reducing as fatigue affects the muscle performance? What percentage of your 1RM are you planning on using as the workout weight?

The second thing I'm wondering is how you're planning on increasing the resistance volume over time.

I need to point out that cessation of muscle soreness is not necessarily an indication that a muscle is fully recovered and armed with compensatory strength and tissue. It's only a sign that the inflamation caused by lactic acid is gone.

I'd love for you to get back to me with a bit more detail.

To Your Success,

Scott

bobbietoohottie@hotmail.com

hi thank you for your article im a former steriod user wanting to go back to being a natural bodybuilder .i have essentialy lost all of my unnatural gains and am about to begin training again natural from now on. do you think this would be a good program for me .i have 20 years on and off training experience even though i have lots of experience its good to get anothers opinion . heres my program .what are your thoughts on this one?
MONDAY
Chest 7 sets and Tricep 3

TUESDAY
Legs 7 sets and Calves 6 sets (abdominals 4 sets)

THURSDAY
Shoulders 8 sets and Traps 6 sets

FRIDAY
Back 8 sets and Bicep 3 sets (forearms 6 sets)

All sets are done to absoluty complete failure 3-5 minutes rest between sets shorter rest periods for abs,traps and forearms.1-2 minutes for those .in my past training natural i always made best gains training each muscle once a week. i find my muscles are sore for like 5-6 days.

Tom

How do you feel about the following to build up muscle and endurance:
M: 30 min bike; Back, Biceps and Forearms
T: 5 mile run, Shoulders
W: Off
Th: 30 min bike; Chest and Triceps
Fri: 30 min bike; Legs
S: Off or something fun like hiking or biking
S: 10 mile run

Scott

Hi Glen,

The one very important element that's missing from your question is a precise definition of your goal. You say your upper body "needs work." Based on your description of and satisfaction with your leg development, I can assume you want more upper body muscle. How much do you estimate wanting? When looking at the current shape of your upper body, where do you want most of the development?

Let go of the feeling of awkwardness you feel in the gym because of being a newby. I know that's easier said than done. Therefore, it might help to know that many of your fellow gym-goers who are prancing around like peacocks on the boardwalk don't have a friggin' clue what they're doing either. I don't say this to imply that I know everything; I constantly approach bodybuilding and everything else in which I seek improvement with the curiosity of a child. I say it from experience and observation; I work out in a top gym and witness "personal trainers" giving horrible advice and 'pro bodybuilders' performing exercises in ways that would render the movements nearly useless if it weren't for the help of steroid-induced augmentation.

At the risk of sounding like a shameless pitch man, I have to ask you if you've read my book. The reason I ask is that that's where I go into detail about how I'm making terrific, non-stop progress with an unconventional routine and schedule. It's where I explain that the cookie-cutter idea of "blankety-blank" workout days per week doing "X number" of sets per workout is overly simplistic and the reason nearly everyone training naturally gets frustrated with stalled progress.

In short, there are too many variables that affect recuperation to give you a simple answer in a blog comment section. Your age and current development even affect your recuperation time between workouts. This, in turn, should affect your strategy in making further gains. Only when a person's been exposed to the principles in my book can I go into personal and customized instruction based on that foundation.

Scott

Glen

Thank you for the article! I have recently (well had taken me a ton of time and hard work) lost 100 lbs. I am not happy with the results yet so I have taken up running for the past 6 months, and so far I love it! My legs are becoming monstrous! My upper body needs work (as far as Im concerned) so Ive started hitting the gym. As a total newby I feel like a moron, which is slowly undermining my desire to go. I am takuling this as I would any other situation in my life, by reading as much as I can on the subject to make a more informed decision.

While I enjoy your article for the "simple" wisdom shared, could you provide me some advice as to what is a good way to go? I currently run 3 times a week (cycle starts M-W-F-Sun-T-Th-Sat, repeat) on non-running days I hit the gym. A co-worker said he does a full body workout every other day and he is in rock solid shape, so that's what I tried. Failure!

While I like the M-W-F (2 day split) you don't discuss what muscle (or muscle groups) you work on what days. Unless you think this is a stupid routine for my schedule above, could you offer some advice as to what muscle(groups) I should be working on what days?

Recovery is a new topic for me, so I am not sure if I am getting enough time in between my workouts for a full recovery, but I will now keep an eye of that to see if that helps.

Also this is going to sound like a really stupid question, but how does a newby like myself figure out how much weight is to little or to much for a set, to get maximum efficiency?

Thanks in advance for the advice and help!

Glen

Ryan

Great read, Rest is very underrated. I use to workout with very little rest. Since I’ve started a program designed for building size, I stopped doing a "structured" routine. I Log everything and pay close attention to my body, If I feel I need another day off i take it, If I’m feeling fully recovered I move forward. Usually works out to a muscle group every 5-7 days. I'm a big fan of agonists and antagonists groups.

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