There Is No One-Size Fits All
I will be honest; it would be really great if there were a one-size fits all kind of training scheme. A training scheme in which you could utilize to make the best size and strength gains of your life. The reality is however, there is no one perfect training scheme out there. When it comes to weightlifting, you will always find people using different training programs. You will never be able to ask someone; what is the perfect training scheme for size and strength? And still expect to get the same answer everytime.
The good news for you is, it really doesn’t matter! What you will find is that the best training schemes for size and strength will usually have a few of the same characteristics. Although the actual design of the schemes themselves might vary, the underlying characteristics don’t. You will never come across a perfect training scheme, but you will come across schemes that utilize specific characteristics that make them more optimal for gaining size and strength. The important thing for you is to make sure you know what these characteristics are, so that you have optimal control over your training goals.
The Clues Lie With Protein Synthesis
As weightlifters, it’s pretty obvious why you go to the gym. You want to get bigger and stronger. No surprise there! When you go to the gym and lift heavy iron, you are challenging your body. During your training sessions, your muscles will get tired, depleted and damaged (but in a good way!). At this point, they are crying and really need some help to heal up. This help comes in the way of POPE (Post-exercise protein synthesis elevation). Without getting too scientifically technical, it is simply the growth and repair processes that kick in immediately following your exercise session. The process that allows your muscles to come back stronger and bigger! This process can last anywhere between 24-48 hours, depending on how brutal you were during your training. Although this whole stuff on protein elevation alone doesn’t help you much, it does give you nice little clues into how you might optimally approach your weight training for size and strength.
Less Is More
If you are like me, then I can imagine that being out of the gym can be pretty frustrating and hard at times. After all, its an important and serious part of your life. Sometimes, I have to force myself not to go, but in the long term, I know that it will be better for my size and strength gains. There is nothing worse than going to the gym and ending up falling down hard because you didn’t listen to your body. Well, we all sometimes learn the hard way! Anyways, if you optimally plan your training, you can really avoid all this potential frustration in the first place. You just have to think back to your new friend, POPE.
“By working each muscle group 2-3 times per week, you allow the muscle to potentially undergo more protein synthesis”.
If POPE lasts between 24-48 hours after a training session, then you obviously want to have enough training and recovery sessions in the week, to optimally make use of this. In other words, more POPE inducement, and sufficient time between training sessions to allow POPE to go to completion, means for you, more potential gains! Immediately then for you, an optimal routine would be one that allows you to work each muscle group, 2-3 times per week. By working each muscle group 2-3 times per week, you allow the muscle to potentially undergo more protein synthesis. Over the long term, that is a lot of extra gains in strength and size! Ideally then, a training scheme based around full body, push-pull-legs, or, upper-body-lower-body designs can all be optimal choices for size and strength gains. It also means less time in the gym and more time for other things! Although you will find many different variations of these on the Internet, don’t let that put you off. How you modify these schemes in terms of exercises/sets/reps/rest-times/days off and on from the gym will be completely up to you and depends on were you are currently at in terms of training experience.
“In comparison with more full body-type routines, there is a lot less muscle protein synthesis and potential growth”.
Does this all mean that I should trash my current split routine? A lot of people like to follow bodybuilding split routines. Typically, this involves training one muscle group every day, with one rest day. As a result, you will only be working each muscle group once a week, and therefore only elevating protein synthesis (the growth and repair process) within that muscle, once. Over the course of a year, and in comparison with more full body-type routines, that is a lot less muscle protein synthesis and potential growth. Think of all those size and strength gains you are missing out on! Another important thing you need to think about is the recovery side of things. In a typical split scheme, you work the same muscle every, say, 5-6-7 days? That is a lot of time not to work a muscle again! Although the muscle will fully recover in time, you are at risk of encountering an enemy called: detraining (progress will go backwards. Whoops!). This occurs simply because of the long time frame until you next work that same muscle. Well, what if I hit each muscle group with ultra high volume? Surely that will increase the recovery period of each muscle, meaning that one muscle group per day, becomes perfect? Yes, I agree with you, volume is good and necessary for growth. But, realistically, there is only so much volume you can do, before you encounter all sorts of progress, recovery, and injury setbacks. Too much volume, every day, will just cause extra stress on your muscles, joints and even, your central nervous system. In the end then, you just start losing more gains!
“Working several muscle groups 2-3 times per week, will always be much more optimal”.
When it comes to your training programming, working several muscle groups 2-3 times per week, will always be much more optimal, then spreading everything out over an entire week. Whether you are a beginner, or someone who has been weightlifting for a long time, you will always make more size and strength gains through training programs that tax multiple muscles, multiple times per week. Although you are not in the gym as much, you will actually be recovering much better and progressing, much faster. For you, it all means more optimal size and strength gains!
Exercise Type Matters: Compound Vs. Isolation
Without exercises, you can’t make gains. Well, that is pretty obvious. You need exercises to stress your body and initiate your good old friend, POPE. Once POPE comes into play, the growth and repair processes of your muscles kick in, and then you are up and away! But, an important question remains: what type of exercises should you use to make all this magic happen? I have one word for you: compound. You need to remember this word because whatever program you decide to follow, if it’s not based primarily around compounds, any size and strength gains you do make, are going to be slow and pretty much non-existent. Compounds simply are those exercises that work multiple muscle groups, at the same time. The standard compounds are your squat, bench, row, overhead press and, deadlift. What is more exciting is that you also have many compound variations of these. So, as you can imagine, there are plenty of compounds at your disposal to satisfy those size and strength gains! When it comes to compounds, you are recruiting multiple muscle groups at the same time. This essentially is more challenging to your body, meaning a whole array of positive things can occur: increased protein synthesis, increased calories burnt, prevention of muscle imbalances and, a nice little elevation in hormones that positively influence muscle size and strength development. Essentially, compound exercises are your number 1 go-to and priority, if you are looking for brute size and strength progression.
“Compounds simply are those exercises that work multiple muscle groups, at the same time”.
Is there a place for isolation exercises in your routine? If I am honest, isolation exercises tend to get a pretty bad rep in the weightlifting world. I can understand why! I mean, why would you choose isolation exercises when compounds can do pretty much everything much more efficiently and, in less time. The return you get in terms of gains, are much better than those achieved through just hammering away at isolation exercises. When it comes to the isolation vs. compound debate, it really comes down to this: spending your energy and time in the most efficient manner. It is true however; some people can be a little crazy with the isolation stuff. For instance, take chest – say you do 4 sets for chest press, pec deck and cable flyes. That is 15 sets just for chest! (No other muscle groups are substantially taxed). That’s a lot of volume, energy and time put in to just working chest, especially if you are doing a full body type routine and still have other exercises to do. You are going to run low on energy, and fast! Replace two of these with a compound barbell bench press for instance, and now you can focus this energy to not only work your chest (and to a greater effect), but also other muscle groups (e.g. shoulders, triceps, core, heck, even upper back).
“Compounds can do pretty much everything much more efficiently and, in less time”.
The major benefit I find with isolation exercises is really the whole ‘fix that lagging muscle’ problem – Lagging for me means a muscle that seems a little lazy when I am performing the more compound-based exercises. If you like, you could see this like a weak link in a chain kind of thing. The chain being you’re body, and the weak link being one of those nagging muscles letting down your precision of the whole movement. Sometimes when I do deadlifting movements, I want to make sure that my core is working as optimally as possible. Therefore, from time to time, I will add in some direct core isolation work. I like to think of it like this: utilize compound exercises to get your size and strength gains. But, add in the odd isolation exercise from time to time, to help enhance the benefits of the compound movement itself. A double win for you!
Approach Weightlifting In A Dynamic, Not A Static Way
When it comes to making optimal size and strength gains, there is no perfect training program out there. I wish there was, but there simply isn’t. As a result, you might be tempted to hop from scheme to scheme if something doesn’t work or, stops working. This is something I see pretty frequently. People are constantly chopping and changing between programs, or continuously trying to come up with the perfect one. In my opinion, this seems a very static, non-flexible way of approaching your weightlifting programming.
“I find it’s better to know why a scheme works”. I would also find it pretty demotivating and time consuming! For me, I find it’s better to know why a scheme works better than others, and apply that to my own programming. Once you know the secret ingredients to an optimal program, you can be as flexible as you like with your own. Not knowing what makes a good training scheme is always likely to leave you scratching your head at the first sign of setback with your current program.
When it comes to making optimal size and strength gains, you need to consider two things: is your scheme based on primarily compound exercises and is it one that challenges every muscle group multiple times per week? If your scheme achieves this, then you can start to fill in the gaps like rep-ranges/sets/exercise order/selection (some of these things, I will further talk about in my later articles) and start making those gains.
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. What kind of routine do you follow? Do you feel it could be improved?