T Nation

Finding What Works Best For You?

This is something i have been thinking about a lot lately, it’s also one of the reasons i like this site more than most sites because theres a lot of stuff i haven’t thought about.

how do you really learn what works best for you? i often see people say something like “i gained 15lb. doing this” or something similar, but in that case it’s probably the diet.

for strength i can understand easily seeing what gives you the best results. but as far as hypertrophy how do you distinguish what the factor is that works?

i’ve been training/dieting for a little over 2 years and so far i know with diet i react better to lower carbs, i also do better with some time of carb manipulation. with cardio HIIT seems good for me for the most part. but thats about it. as far as training i really couldnt say “i know high volume moderate intensity works best” or “low volume high intensity gives me the best gains”, because even if i did gain a lot of weight thats mainly my diet.

so how do all of you guys see whats the best for muscle gain for you? i know theres no best thing but i often see people find things that give them their best results.

I have wondered this myself. It seems like most things just give about the same results if diet is in check, I’m not sure how you would find out which particular factor works for you

[quote]David1991 wrote:

so how do all of you guys see whats the best for muscle gain for you? i know theres no best thing but i often see people find things that give them their best results. [/quote]

This is where treating your body like a living breathign science experiment comes into play. Want to try a new supplmenent/trianing program/diet? Keep everything else the same and run it for a few months at least. Did it work or not work? Note that and continue on with the process. The problem to me stems from people who completely change things around with a new diet and training program and new supplements etc and then experience success/failure and don’t know what the hell caused it.

Change small variables at a time and be observant as to how you progress regress or whatever it is and you’ll come around to finding out what works best for you.

For me it starts with finding the right exercise for the muscle group. Through trial and error you find out which exercises target that muscle group most directly, allow you to perform them with good safe technique that won’t cause injury, and also give you the opportunity to get stronger at a relatively rapid pace.

Then you organize your routine based around those exercises and how they are allowed to work best within your own recovery abilities.

Meaning I want to find the right exercise, and then set up my routine in such a way that allows me to get stronger on this exercise as quickly and as safely as possible, without overtraining, and i want to do this for every muscle group.

This is just the way I like to do things. I’m sure other people are different.

[quote]mr popular wrote:
For me it starts with finding the right exercise for the muscle group. Through trial and error you find out which exercises target that muscle group most directly, allow you to perform them with good safe technique that won’t cause injury, and also give you the opportunity to get stronger at a relatively rapid pace.

Then you organize your routine based around those exercises and how they are allowed to work best within your own recovery abilities.

Meaning I want to find the right exercise, and then set up my routine in such a way that allows me to get stronger on this exercise as quickly and as safely as possible, without overtraining, and i want to do this for every muscle group.

This is just the way I like to do things. I’m sure other people are different.[/quote]

how do you know what works it most directly though? i mean im sure the basics are usually used, im just saying i dont think i could really feel much of a difference between 2 good exercises working the same muscle.
exercise selection doesnt seem like a problem though. i guess just findout out what works best for me. i see a lot of people who know their bodies inside out, personally i know how i react pretty well to certain diets…but not necessarilly with training

It’s odd, but I’m finally beginning to understand what really works. That is, work on the lifts that are difficult (which are usually the big compounds, the ones you DON’T usually see John Hancock at 24 Hour Fitness doing) and progress.

Each time you go in, if you aren’t putting up more weight on that bar, why bother, provided that you aren’t trying to maintain? That plus, not eating garbage.

[quote]mr popular wrote:
For me it starts with finding the right exercise for the muscle group. Through trial and error you find out which exercises target that muscle group most directly, allow you to perform them with good safe technique that won’t cause injury, and also give you the opportunity to get stronger at a relatively rapid pace.

Then you organize your routine based around those exercises and how they are allowed to work best within your own recovery abilities.

Meaning I want to find the right exercise, and then set up my routine in such a way that allows me to get stronger on this exercise as quickly and as safely as possible, without overtraining, and i want to do this for every muscle group.

This is just the way I like to do things. I’m sure other people are different.[/quote]

Solid post.

David1991 - when it comes to determining what works the muscle best for you…that will be based on the way you feel both performing the exercise and the way you feel over the next few days. Ideally, you should be able to feel the exact muscle you are targeting performing the work during the exercise (and are able to leave the gym feeling that you hit it) as well as experiencing some soreness in it over the next few days (at least at first).

It’s all about trying out different exercises, because when you DO find a movement that works for you, there will be no question (eg, a few weeks ago I tried bent-forward seated rope rows for the first time - after reading it in CT’s HSS back specialization article - and I swear that doing it and recovering from it was like training my lats for the first time).

I get that it’s probably not as cut-and-dried as you want to hear…no cookie-cutter convenience to it…but that’s really the way it is.

[quote]Droogan Leader wrote:
Each time you go in, if you aren’t putting up more weight on that bar, why bother, provided that you aren’t trying to maintain? That plus, not eating garbage.[/quote]

There is more to progression than simply putting weight on the bar. While I would be ecstatic if I could add even 2.5 lbs to some of my lifts every time I hit the gym, I often have to settle for either doing an additional set of an exercise or performing a few more reps per set to bust myself through to adding more weight on the bar at a later date.

I often find that adding reps is even more demanding than tossing on a little more weight with certain exercises.

For me it’s about which training method gets me excited to go to the gym. I suffer from Iron Induced ADD. I get bored and tired very quickly.

When I get bored, or tired of a training program, I lose motivation. That has a direct trickle down to diet.

If you can go to the gym, leave it all there, drag your ass home, and are still excited about going to the gym - you will elicit more gains than you will if you show up bored.

Diet is very similar. I can’t eat the same shit every day. And it seems that I get in ruts of doing just that. I hate the diet part so I have to work very hard to keep it fresh, and new to me.

Not much insight - just telling you what works for me.

I don’t think you’ll ever know what is ‘best’ since its hard to gouge. But if your getting results with a certain program, then continue to do it.

If your not making progress then try something different, or tweak your diet program ext. Even people who have been lifting for like 10+ years still are experimenting with new ideas.

Don’t focus too much on developing the perfect plan. Just do a program that is giving you results and stick with it.

For myself while at the gym, going low reps with high intensity and low amount of time between sets is best for me. If I’m there for more then hour or so lifting I’ll lose my intensity and it just becomes boring.

Diet I can’t eat the same thing everyday thats boring, I found high fat, protein diet is best for me. Diet is still something I’m still working on, its very monotonous since I’m not a great cook.

I really am the opposite of rainjack in that regard. I don’t get bored with my training program even months into it, I usually eat nearly the same things every day etc. Personality plays a big role here and I don’t think Poliquin or Louie Simmons were too far off base as I fit very perfectly into the introverted trainee profile. That’s sort of another thread all together but important in the process of figuring out what’s best for the individual.

[quote]Scott M wrote:
I really am the opposite of rainjack in that regard. I don’t get bored with my training program even months into it, I usually eat nearly the same things every day etc. Personality plays a big role here and I don’t think Poliquin or Louie Simmons were too far off base as I fit very perfectly into the introverted trainee profile. That’s sort of another thread all together but important in the process of figuring out what’s best for the individual.
[/quote]

Is there an article or something out there by Poliquin or Simmons that discusses trainee profiling (all that comes to mind is Poliquin’s fire/wood/whatever article from a while back)? I’d be pretty interested in it if this were the case.

I’m with you on this one, though. I eat the same shit every day and have been doing the same general routine (with small modifications here and there) for quite a while now.

Then again, I’m a very list-oriented person who does much better with strict routines and scheduling than not (this goes for everyday life as well as with the iron).

As long as I have a plan to follow, I can stick with it for however long I feel without getting bored with it.

I wondered about this for YEARS… it wasnt until i knew that i realised what i did to find out. Stuck at it.

I believe it is simply a matter of training a minimum of 3x a week consistently, doing whatever program you like for whatever time you like (i find that i need 6-8 weeks to see physical improvement) and you will learn over the years…

It was no more simple or complicated than that for me…

I eventually learned what works well for my body… i am still learning of course, but the more you know the better you can potentially gain.

JJ

im a mix between the whole “programs getting monotonous” thing.
for diet its fine, i rarely change much in my diet. sometimes i’ll introduce a new food or meal, but in general it’s the same and i dont mind at all. that could be because i really like the taste of all my food.

for my training routine it’s a bit different. i find that even when i get good results i like to look around for new things. not always, sometimes i find the current routine very interesting, but other times not so much.

for example right now i’m following the New Rules of Lifting routines by Alwyn Cosgrove. at first i wasnt getting good results with FL-1 but once i did carb cycling it was a lot better (another confirmation that i react better to cycling my carbs).

now i’m doing the hypertrophy routines and it’s been going pretty well, a little slow but i think thats mainly diet. But even though the results have been good i’m getting a little tired of it. that probably has to do with 1. its a very straight forward somewhat standard routine with no isolations or anything fancy 2. since i’ve really become active on this site i’ve seen so many different routines i want to try lol (hss-100, DC, EDT, westside, etc…)

I must say, i have followed very few training programs… i do occasionally - and i like some of them. Take DC, i played with it and i know that i will at some point really take it on board… but not just yet as i am using too high volume to transfer without missing the work psychologically.

But the point is, after years of tinkering, i know what exercises work, what rep ranges i like and volumes from low to high, tempos and advanced techniques (to a degree, still plenty to learn!) - and i make programs for myself. I think/find that no-one knows my body like i do - and as i am a trainer, and i specialise in muscle/composition, i train myself.

So whether i am doing 1-4 sets per bodypart, 8-12 or upto 20, training at 25-30 reps to failure or training my 1RM - it is exactly when i need to do so in relation to recovery, results, progress and mentality.

I am a big believer in making your own training sessions - sure for the first year or two follow programs, but after that if you cant construct a decent program based on some of the things you have learnt about your body - then maybe its time to find a new hobby!

I DO hold alot of value in many of the programs i read about here - but more often than not, i dissect it to find out the methodology behind it and why it is supposed to work, and rebuild it around what i find ALSO works for me - usually creating a personalised version of an excellent and educated program.

I completely agree. This is the way ive always done it. Everything will work surprisingly long as you push hard to milk it and eat to gain strength (didn;t beat the logbook, eat more)…

I do have some idea how I respond to different exercises, what muscles recover quickly and what muscs get a pump, but as far as a routine is concerned…just because a routine gave me fast gains at one point does not mean it will do the same again at a later stage. Ditto for diet, except for general ideas like low carb tolerance, etc…

[quote]shizen wrote:
I don’t think you’ll ever know what is ‘best’ since its hard to gouge. But if your getting results with a certain program, then continue to do it.

If your not making progress then try something different, or tweak your diet program ext. Even people who have been lifting for like 10+ years still are experimenting with new ideas.

Don’t focus too much on developing the perfect plan. Just do a program that is giving you results and stick with it.

For myself while at the gym, going low reps with high intensity and low amount of time between sets is best for me. If I’m there for more then hour or so lifting I’ll lose my intensity and it just becomes boring.

Diet I can’t eat the same thing everyday thats boring, I found high fat, protein diet is best for me. Diet is still something I’m still working on, its very monotonous since I’m not a great cook. [/quote]

[quote] Brook wrote:
I must say, i have followed very few training programs… i do occasionally - and i like some of them. Take DC, i played with it and i know that i will at some point really take it on board… but not just yet as i am using too high volume to transfer without missing the work psychologically.

But the point is, after years of tinkering, i know what exercises work, what rep ranges i like and volumes from low to high, tempos and advanced techniques (to a degree, still plenty to learn!) - and i make programs for myself. I think/find that no-one knows my body like i do - and as i am a trainer, and i specialise in muscle/composition, i train myself.

So whether i am doing 1-4 sets per bodypart, 8-12 or upto 20, training at 25-30 reps to failure or training my 1RM - it is exactly when i need to do so in relation to recovery, results, progress and mentality.

I am a big believer in making your own training sessions - sure for the first year or two follow programs, but after that if you cant construct a decent program based on some of the things you have learnt about your body - then maybe its time to find a new hobby!

I DO hold alot of value in many of the programs i read about here - but more often than not, i dissect it to find out the methodology behind it and why it is supposed to work, and rebuild it around what i find ALSO works for me - usually creating a personalised version of an excellent and educated program.[/quote]

Yea I think thats smart and hopefully i can get close to a full understanding of what works for me eventually.

I’ve made 2 programs for myself in the past, one was based on HST principles and another was a push/pull/legs split. both worked pretty well, i think next time i do a push/pull/legs i’ll try working the same muscle every 6 days instead of 7.

[quote]tribunaldude wrote:

I do have some idea how I respond to different exercises, what muscles recover quickly and what muscs get a pump, but as far as a routine is concerned…just because a routine gave me fast gains at one point does not mean it will do the same again at a later stage. Ditto for diet, except for general ideas like low carb tolerance, etc…
[/quote]

i had one routine that worked great for me the first time (first bulk so newb gains), the second time i did a little modified and it worked pretty well but about average. the 3rd time idk what happened because it wasnt just that routine but when i did it and for some time after my results were awful

Maybe I had it easier than some people in this regard because all the old tired ideas actually held true for me right out of the can.

No pain no gain, if it doesn’t get you sore it isn’t working, etc.

It works out to a simple and largely quantifiable progression.

If I can make the target muscles really hurt while doing it, it’s an exercise I keep even if I don’t use it all the time.

If I work those exercises until they really hurt I’ll be sore… every time.

Sore muscles for me grow as long as I feed them and rest them enough.

That’s pretty much it.

If I have hard time feeling a movement I don’t do it because I know if I don’t feel it in the gym I won’t feel it the next day and I won’t grow. I could make something up really advanced sounding, but I’d be lying.

I will say there are different “shades” of feeling and soreness. Drop sets feel different than rest pause for instance and then produce a vaguely different flavor of soreness as do different rep ranges assuming very hard work.

Don’t know about anybody else, but this has been a pretty airtight method for me.

[quote]pumped340 wrote:
I have wondered this myself. It seems like most things just give about the same results if diet is in check, I’m not sure how you would find out which particular factor works for you[/quote]

To do this properly you would have to keep all factors under control and then vary one at a time for a long period, e.g. keep training and diet the same and introduce creatine, or keep all the same but do squats.

Not many people do this diligently, and personally i cant set a couple of years aside to experiment on what makes the marginal gain higher but would focus on mainstay proven factors.

I suspect, in practice, most people dont know what works best for them in this way as we are always varying too many things - sleep we get, food intake, supplements, exercise selection and intensity - to really get a handle on it.

As a result someone might conclude that doing a new exercise or taking a new supplement was ‘the factor’ but actually it was just a set or mild changes in sleep, diet and exercise that helped (or hindered.

As I said I would focus on that which has been studied in the main; seems solid compound exercises and enough protein, good foods and calories are pretty much 90% of it.