Keeping To The Rock Solid Fundamentals
The one thing that hits many people during their size and strength journey is information overload. Most of us have experienced and it can be a real headache! With so much information attacking you from all directions, it can be difficult to separate the optimal from suboptimal. As a result, people find themselves going around in circles, trying all sorts of methods, wasting lots time, energy and money and ultimately, ending back up in the same place they started. We all go through this experience. I have too!
But the good thing is, once you get the right information, your journey becomes awesome, plateau proof, and making size and strength gains seem like a walk in the park. Great, right? Well, you just need the right information to make that dream happen. Therefore in this article, I want to share some fundamental golden tips to incorporate into your journey, to make sure you stay ahead of the crowd and day in, day out, make the best gains of your life. This article will also save you a lot of time searching around on forums! That is a good thing because trust me: forums are conflicted with too many different options, which confuse even me! So I want to break it down simple for you guys.
Let’s Start With the Beginners: Your First Footsteps In The Gym
Ok folks listen up! If you about to step foot in the gym for the first time and begin your weightlifting journey, then there are a few things you MUST do, in order to get the best start possible. I will be honest, a lot of people mess this stage up. But this is not your fault. It’s just that there is too much wrong information out there! Anyways, what you do now has a huge impact on your performance and gains you make in the later stages. It’s therefore imperative that you get this part right first time. If not, you will probably finding yourself taking the long-route to size and strength development. Let’s make sure you get the optimal head start from the get-go!
1) Full Body Workouts 3 Times Per Week: That’s It!
Forget the bodybuilding splits, forget about needing to be in the gym everyday lifting the iron, forget about doing every single isolation exercise known to man, forget about splitting every muscle group up into their own workouts and, forget about destroying every muscle group with insane amounts of volume. In my experience, a lot of new lifters always come with a scheme that resembles these typical features. If you are guilty of this, then stick with me. If your goal is to gain strength, size and improve body composition then none of this is needed at this stage of the game. So get rid of all of it. The only thing these will do will impede your progress, reduce your ability to recover and, lead to all sorts of muscle imbalances and poor size and strength foundation development. Overall, you create a pretty poor environment for building up your size and strength, technique and overall foundation. All the things you need, if you want long-term gains.
“3 full body days in the gym is enough!”
3 full body days in the gym is enough! This will allow you to work each muscle group 3 times per week (meaning optimal protein synthesis and hence growth) but also, will give you enough recovery days between each session. This optimal balance between training and recovery will allow you to progress week in, week out during your first 6-12 months. There is no need to weight train more often than this. If you do, you risk impeding your recovery and your ability to make progress every session. You don’t want to miss out on these initial gains! Ok, so you say to me: but I like to train more often, it gives me something to do! Ok then, you can always perform some light cardio sessions or do some stretching work, or, spend some extra time outside! But, if you are after long-term strength and size gains, you will not benefit by switching to high-frequency split routines, or trying to perform weightlifting more often. 3 full body workouts per week is the golden balance for your size and strength gains.
2) Compound Exercises
There is nothing wrong with isolation exercises, but if you’re a new beginner, isolation exercises are NOT your priority. At this stage of the game, you need to be focusing on four key movements: squat, deadlift, bench, and overhead press. These are not just random compound exercises chosen because they sound cool, they serve a few great purposes: they mimic natural basic everyday movements (making you more functional outside of the gym); they work several muscle groups at the same time (more potential growth) which is great for the building of an overall foundation, fixing muscle imbalances and, improving your posture. All these advantages will not only allow you to perform more efficiently and safely, it will provide your body with a foundation of size and strength that will support you in the long-term, allowing you to go further. If you want, you can add in an extra isolation exercise for triceps/biceps, but apart from this, the main compound exercises will give you everything you need for your size and strength foundation at this stage.
3) Progress Through More Weight On The Bar
Linear progress is your friend at this stage. It’s simple! Don’t make progress even harder, it’s already hard enough! At the beginner stage, your size and strength gains are going to come through increasing the weight incrementally on each compound movement, every training session for the next 6-12 months. You don’t need to change your reps/sets/training frequency/number of exercises/type of exercises. At this stage, you keep everything in your routine the same (sets/reps for each exercise, the type of exercise and the number). The only objective is to make sure that you are increasing the weight in a sensible fashion every session. Typically 5×5 (sets x reps) is a good range to maintain on each of your compound movements at this stage. This is enough volume to balance training with recovery. The only thing you need to focus on, is making sure you increase the weight on the bar each session. That is your aim for the next 6-12 months. Don’t deviate from it.
Let’s Move To The Intermediates And Beyond: Beyond 6-12 Months
So, you have now spent the last 6-12 months making progress, increasing the weight on the bar every session on the most fundamental compound movements but now, that has all stopped. You are finding that you no longer can make linear progress the ways you have been and plateaus are starting to pop up frequently. The head scratching begins. Fear not! The gain train moves forward, you just need a change of tactic. But what is the most optimal way to carry on making size and strength progress? Well, Weightlifting Without Limits shares its method of success.
1) Still Stick With The Full Body Workouts: Don’t Change Your Structure
A lot of people once they leave the beginner stage insist in changing their entire training structure around. Some end up switching over to a higher frequency split routine or follow something like upper-lower, push-pull schemes or the many variations of them. But even at this stage, a full body workout will still offer you the best balance between training and recovery. Why? As you enter the higher stages of weightlifting, you are going to need higher volumes (more sets and reps) and intensity (more weight) to drive further progress. Simply switching from a full body to a split-type routine is going to increase the training frequency (number of training days). You might be fine with that now, but when the workload increases (volume and intensity) you will find that working out 4/5/6 days per week will hamper your ability to optimally recover. Maintaining a full body structure will still allow you to keep a healthy balance between training and recovery at this stage.
“A lot of people once they leave the beginner stage insist in changing their entire training structure around”.
Even when the workload further increases, you can drop the 3 full body days down to 2 and still be working each muscle group minimal two times a week. The good thing is, you still have an optimal balance between recovery and training. For most of you, 3 full body workouts will prove sufficient even at this stage for long-term size and strength gains. O and don’t forget, your routine should still be based on the main compound movements! Don’t go isolation crazy even at this stage.
2) Non-Linear Periodization: Undulation, Conjugate And Linear
Unlike your first 6-12 months of weightlifting, you can’t always keep increasing just the weight on the bar and keep the sets/reps the same. It would be nice! But it’s just not going to happen, no matter how much extra food you eat or how much you try to train. Your body just does not accept linear progression long-term. Now, you need some form of non-linear periodization. In other words, you need to start managing both volume and intensity together, so that you can increase both over time. Size and strength at this stage is highly related. Don’t let the gurus tell you otherwise. In other words, you need to develop more size to increase your strength and vice versa. The only way to do that is to make sure your utilizing both higher volumes and higher intensities over time in your program. The only way to do this successfully is through some form of non-linear periodization in your program. At this point, if your training doesn’t have any form of non-linear periodization you will NOT progress. Doesn’t matter how much program hopping you do or what program you use (full body or not), no non-linear periodization, no further gains! Too many people overlook non-linear periodization during the higher stages of weightlifting.
“You can’t always keep increasing just the weight on the bar and keep the sets/reps the same.”
The best form of periodization to use at this stage is simply conjugate undulating periodization. This system will allow you to regulate volume and intensity over time: switching between high-volume and high-intensity sessions throughout the week, alternate the main compound exercises with similar variations: allowing you to overcome the biological law of accommodation and, allow you to continue to overload more over time: in terms of both more volume and intensity. The conjugate undulating system is the ONLY system that allows you do achieve all three. It’s the best way for long-term size and strength gains.
Flexible nutrition means just that: flexible. You get in everything you need (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals) for optimal health and performance, but also, the stuff you enjoy, for maintaining optimal mental sanity. There are no food restrictions (unless for medical, ethical or other reasons), no special food trends, no yo-yo dieting, and no major swings in your daily calories in the hopes of speeding progress up. It’s all about maintaining a well balanced, enjoyable, but easy to maintain nutrition plan. Basically, you adopt a nutrition plan that allows you to achieve your results in a sustainable, healthy and sociable long-term manner. Do you have a night out with friends? Is there cake? Sure! Go ahead, tracking your calories will mean that everything has a place in your plan. Including those social nights out! One food group doesn’t cost you your progress; it’s failing to track your daily calories. As long as your calories are in line with your goals (fat loss, or gaining size and strength), then you will always be on the correct path.