I can safely say that the overwhelming majority of fitFLEX readers are seriously into bodybuilding. Not all (or even most) are "advanced" or 'world class" or "prize winning" or notable in any other way-but they are serious, and that's what counts. When serious bodybuilders fail
to realize their goals, it's usually for one of the following reasons:
Poor nutritional support
Poor training program
Too much training
I've found in my more than 30 years of involvement with this wonderful field that too much training is by far the single greatest cause of failure for serious trainees. That leads inc to two crucial questions: How long should a workout be, and how much time ought be devoted to training? In order to be productive, a workout must do two things. It must tear down muscle fibers, and it must stop before the body is too exhausted to recover.
Remember, working out doesn't develop muscles. Working out tears muscles down. Nutrition and rest build muscles. Train- lag long enough to break down muscle fiber is half of the job; the other half is sleeping and eating. During a workout you experience an illusion of muscle growth as you achieve a pump (howl hate that word), and, as your workout goes into high gear you may feel stronger.
What's happened, of course, is that the blood is coursing through the working tissue and giving you a sense of increased size and power. A lot of people get to like that pumped feeling. They get to like so much, they begin to train for it. They miss the point, which is that actual development comes from thickening muscle fibers. A pump subsides relatively quickly after a workout. Achieving a pump through normal, basic hard training is always okay. It feels good, and you've earned it. As long as you've properly worked your muscles, they'll grow, given food and rest.
If, however, you mistake that pump for growth, the only way you can "maintain" it is by working out more. That means training and training-in other words, too much training. Easy gainers can train too much without killing themselves. Of course, they're spinning their wheels, but their bodies don't seem to rebel while they're young and highly motivated. Hard gainers, however, are committing suicide when they overtrain. Their bodies cannot accept such a lunatic workout schedule for long. Too many sets is never a good idea. In theory, one set can break down muscle fiber sufficiently to induce gains, but few trainees will put the kind of fierce concentration into one good set that produces those results.
Two sets are usually enough, and three sets are plenty for a bodybuilder. (If you're a powerlifter, it certainly appropriate to do more sets, but you must drop your reps way below the numbers bodybuilders use.) If you're following a good routine, you can get in an effective workout in 90 minutes. I'll admit that some may find it beneficial to set their limit at two hours, hut these are people who have either been training for many years or who train a bit more slowly, perhaps, than others.
You want a workout to be effective and productive. You don't need a lot of exercises, you just need to work hard performing six to 12 basic movements. You can almost always do that in 90 minutes. I've known many, many world- class lifters and bodybuilders. I've never known one who couldn't get a terrific workout in an hour and a half. In fact, I'm cutting everyone a lot of slack when I recommend a 90- to-120-minute schedule. The truth is. an hour can be plenty if you train hard and properly.
How often should you work out? Nothing-no experience of my own, of my students or of those have studied has convinced me that anything surpasses the total-body, three-days-a-week routine, except for very advanced bodybuilders who may want to use a split schedule to prepare for a contest. It's convenient, reasonable, good for your health and will give your body all the exercise it can realistically grow on and all the rest it needs.
In some instances I've found two workouts a week enough-but never for anyone whose lifestyle is otherwise inactive. I suggest two workouts a week for truly hard gainers who have extremely low energy reserves or for those who use weight training to supplement other physical activities.
I can understand people's skepticism at this advice when they see other folks training for two or three hours every night, five or six nights a week. I assure the skeptics, however, that my advice is well founded in experience. Try it. It will make a believer of you.