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.
'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:
Friday: Back and Biceps
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.