Most bodybuilders and lifters simply don't train progressively enough for long enough. In order to be able to slowly and steadily increase exercise poundages, there
has to be hard training. Few people truly train hard. Of the few who do train hard, many of them train too frequently. This denies them the poundage progression that
they need to grow bigger muscles.
I remember myself in my late teens and early 20's, utterly consumed by training. I trained with mega-intensity but saw no gains in size and strength. Very few people could have pushed themselves as much as I did. I wasn't training hard merely in spurts. It was full-bore effort for a couple of months or more at a time until I got to the point where my body rebelled-sickness or injury-and forced me to rest a short while. I kept this up for about two years!
At that time I was doing one or two full-bore-effort sets of about eight exercises twice a week. I would take each and every set to positive failure under my own steam-until I couldn't get another rep out, even with cheating. I would then have my training partner assist me in eking out three or four forced reps. To finish off the set, I would do a few negative reps. My partner or partners would lift the weights up, and I would lower them as slowly as I could.
This style of training would utterly exhaust me and render me sore after every session I had. It was training insanity! How I could keep it up for so long without any progress is beyond me. To give so much in return for no gains-amazing!
At this time I had thoroughly absorbed my own interpretations / misinterpretations of the words of Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer. They used to write that it is impossible to train too hard. I took that phrase and made it my existence. I used to crucify myself in the gym. Little wonder that I became so utterly miserable at the sight of no progress despite so much effort.
Effort is at the root of progress, but it has to be properly applied. It is possible to train too hard, just as it is possible to train too much.
Had I kept the workout outlined to just once a month while training to positive failure every fourth or fifth day throughout the rest of the month and cycled the intensity somewhat, I probably would have gained. At the time I was simply training too hard and too frequently.
No matter how intense your gym sessions are, how well you eat or how well you sleep, if you visit the gym too often, you aren't going to progress much, if at all.
Optimum training frequency cannot be fixed for universal application. It varies according to individual physical capacity, tolerance of exercise, age, lifestyle, training intensity, diet, quality of rest and sleep and other factors. Discovering your ideal training frequency involves intelligent thought, experimentation and objective analysis.
Muscles grow only if they are stimulated to grow by adequate training intensity and if sufficient time is provided between training sessions to allow the body to recover and grow. There are two components of this recovery.
The first is the systemic fatigue - the feeling of being "wiped out" that immediately follows a workout. The localized fatigue of individual muscle groups is only a fraction of this overall fatigue.
After training, the body's priority is to get over the systemic fatigue. Only after it has gotten over this fatigue will it be able to concern itself with the second component of recovery: producing growth and strength increase.
During my period of training insanity I was piling up massive systemic fatigue. Even before I was recovered from the systemic fatigue, I was back in the gym. Not only had I not fully recovered from the immediate and dramatic effects of training, but my body never even got close to growing a bit of extra muscle.
No wonder my body would eventually cave in with either sickness or injury. How else could it get me to keep out of the gym? How else could it get around to recovering fully from the state of exhaustion I was in? My body wasn't interested in building size and strength; it just wanted to survive.
My individual case may be unusual, but it illustrates an important point: Never visit the gym unless you feel completely rested from the previous visit.
Just how many days this will take is an individual matter. If you are feeling very vigorous, are sleeping well, have a stress-free life and are 20 years old, you may well be able to fully recover from a hard workout in three or four days. On the other hand, if you are a parent of young children, have constantly disturbed nights, are working two jobs, are dealing with stress from all sides of life and are over 30 years old, don't expect to be able to recover from a hard workout in three days. Every six days may be a more likely frequency.
Few people actually drive themselves into a state of long-term systemic fatigue by training too hard. Most people do it by simply training too much, albeit at a lower intensity. Marathon workouts, split workouts and all the rest of it will drive you to exhaustion. It's irrelevant that you will not have stimulated growth and strength increases. You will never get over the systemic fatigue to be able to get around to any growing. This is the lot of the majority of bodybuilders and lifters in the world.
Exceptional genetics and / or drug use greatly increase the body's tolerance to exercise and its ease of growing muscles. People who have those genetics or who take drugs need different instructions. We are not such people, so we will stick to what applies to us.
There are quite a few people who train soundly in the gym but don't rest enough between their gym visits. When do their bodies get the chance to deliver some growth? Think this through. It's at the very foundation of training success.
Split routines reduce training time per workout but increase the number of gym visits. Split routines also encourage the adding of extra sets and exercises because the individual workouts may appear too short. Increased gym visits means more frequent demands on the system. If the body is in a state of near constant systemic fatigue, how is it going to be able to grow and get stronger?
This is not to say that even modified and hardgainer-type split routines are useless. There are some interpretations that may be very helpful, but they are nothing at all like the traditional split routines. Generally, we recommend total-body workouts.
If every bodybuilder and lifter in the world were to add an extra two days of rest between workouts, there would be a lot more muscle in the world within a month or two!
For the average hardgainer a simple and total-body workout once every fourth day is a darned good standard to start with. As you grow in experience and muscle, you may adjust things, but start off here.
There are people, myself included, who have gotten bigger and stronger by only training once every sixth or seventh day, and even less frequently for performing the deadlift. Don't be dissuaded from experimenting with infrequent training by those people who would have you believe that if you don't train at least once every 96 hours your muscles will atrophy.
Never again must you shortchange yourself between workouts. Always avoid training unless you feel fully rested and raring to go. If in doubt, take extra rest, not less.