T Nation

How Much? How Hard? How Often?


Just recently, somebody asked me if my previous post "HOW TO GET BIG FOR REAL" was just a simple case of rebelling against the system, or the ranting of a lunatic. Well, this lunatic seems to be happy with the results, and my wife, well, she is happy too, not to mention a little stressed at the fact that she now has to be nice to me in order to keep me by her side ( just kidding honey, you know I love you).

I wanted to comment on a PM reply here, sent by a member of the website which sort of explained me why there is so much confusion on the whole subject of lifting the weights. His question was about frequency and failure. I really need to start off by telling you all that my empirical experience is that failure is a relative concept with a thousand variations. Here are a couple of examples for you:

I know the typical H.I.T. guy who thinks he has to fail in terms of form. This means, not to be able to maintain the tempo parameters or form parameters in an exercise. Then there?s your H.I.T. hardcore who thinks that he has to reach failure, period.

Meaning that he can?t lift the barbell anymore and call for help to his spotter so the bar doesn?t crush his ribcage, and of course, this means that in his last reps, his tempo parameters and form went out the window and he just did sloppy reps, but he did reach failure.

Now, for all of you folks out there who think that one concept is right and the other is wrong, let me tell you: failure is the inability to perform a given movement. You can choose between option ?A? and option ?B? as stated above, and what will change for real is your gains: strength or size.

Failure in terms of execution failure (breaking form and tempo) is a good way to work the muscle to the edge, and stay there, standing on the point of a needle, very close to the abyss of injury and it will result in hypertrophy, to a desirable point, not a dramatically heightened one, but you won?t get injured.

Mechanical failure (not being able to lift the weight even if breaking the tempo and form parameters) can make you big, but it will definitely make you strong, as well as dense, but it will also lead to injury sometime, but it will teach you to lift more weight.

You can?t train to failure and train often as well, if you think going to failure is actually being unable to move the bar, and you can?t train once a week and get big if you think that breaking form and tempo is reaching a ?good? failure.

You have to know the difference between those concepts, like you know when you get drunk with a keg of beer and drunk with 4 bottles of vodka. It is a matter of balancing out intensity and recovery.

I knew a guy who trained in the local bars in the park near to my home. Every day of the week, he was there, just playing soccer and walking his dog. But 4 days a week, he was hitting the chest with one of two exercises. On Mondays and Thursdays, it?s dips, and on Tuesdays and Fridays, it?s pushups. The same scheme goes for the back, and 6 years later, he keeps using the same scheme, using a periodic layoff after 7 or 8 weeks of exercising.

As far as legs go, playing soccer 5 or 6 days a week (considering that only 3 of those 5 or 6 days are really intense games, and the rest just good old recreational friendly matches) give him tremendous size and endurance, not to mention strength.

His physique could be exposed in a typical Men?s Health or Men?s Fitness mag, or American Health and Fitness mag (heck, even on women?s porn, which I know Mrs. Savage?s friends used to read until she met me and so did they) and he is definitely strong, not to mention he could outlast the energizer bunny on terms of endurance. So he must be doing something right, huh?

This guy taught me a valuable lesson. You see, I always thought that you needed to train often, but leave it at a 2 or 3 workouts a week kind of frequency, use around 100 or 200 reps per muscle group a week and also count the tempo between 402 and 201 and anything in between.

He taught me that you can get big out of a 10X tempo and a 30 reps set just by pumping your muscle in the right way, combining intensity with frequency as you should feel right with, as it provided you results in mass and strength.

I say that tempo is overrated to my friends, and that is because tempo is a variable, not a constant. I could lift a load in a 402 tempo, and use said tempo to reach, let?s say, my 5RM. Then if I changed my tempo to 201, I would use the same load and discover that it changed and that at a 201 tempo, this was my 10RM load. Yet, I would stick to the one that gave me the best pump.

The ?pump? is that good old feeling that blood is rushing into the tissues and your muscles are going to grow bigger at the next rep. Knowing it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling of joy when the session provides it and makes you crash and burn in self-pity and melancholy when it doesn?t.

Yet, I know people who can get a pump out of 10 reps with a 402 tempo and guys who need 15 reps with more weight and a 201 tempo to feel it too, and both would actually use almost the same weekly volume of total reps per muscle group. So, the tempo concept is variable, relative, and a pain in the ass.

So why do we follow it? Because it teaches us how to apply our strength, and measure our effort. It teaches us what kind of form to use, and what level of tension to provide the body, what type of contractions should we employ to stimulate muscle growth. To put it simply, it teaches us how fast to move to differentiate hip-hop from R&B dance steps.

I would like to say that people are starting to listen to their bodies and train enough. Chad Waterbury has great programs, and I can swear by Quattro Dynamo and Perfect 10, which just came out this week, just as well as I can swear by Christian Thibaudeau?s Optimized Volume Training and Pendulum Bodybuilding or Shoulder?s Overhaul, not because they worked for me (except QD) but because I have seen it work on different people, from newbies to old lifters.

So, I got to go, I don?t get paid to write for this mag, and I do get paid for doing my job, so it is time to return to those pesky schematics and also start the blueprints for my next project, so I have to go away now and go back to the real world, hoping you got the spirit of this post and also gotten something valuable from my experience.

See you soon, guys and remember, there?s no better advice than the one from somebody who has been there and done that, much before you did. Take care kiddies, eat well, and rest properly.


Very interesting post. Certainly got my head moving.




I Apologise if your post was a joke I'm too thick to get, but what are you on about? Training for the "pump?" Playing soccer creates legs of "tremendous size"? Does this word for marathon runners too?


I guessing you got drunk with a keg of beer AND four bottles of vodka right before you wrote this meandering drivel...


Pardon me for saying so, but shut the fuck up. If you've actually lifted with any soccer players, you would know that they have tremendous leg strength. Soccer players generate maximal amounts of force in short periods of time, similar to training with weights. When they get under the bar for the first time, they can already squat respectable numbers, in the 300s (at the high school level).

And as for the "pump", while it should not be the goal of your training session, it is a tool nontheless. It lets you know you're stimulating your muscles, and it also rushes blood into the muscle.


You should check out Ian Kings' work. He does a great job of explaining the manipulation of variables to achieve the desired results. Especialy t.u.t, combined with reps, sets, microcycles to macrocycles. It's realy good stuff. I shit you not.


hey knuckles, you seem like a nice kid ...but a 300 lbs squat isn't something anyone should brag about...it's something you keep to yourself until you can actually squat something...

the first time I did a 315 lbs squat in high school was about eight weeks after I started working out in a real gym (my senior year of high school...think I weighed about 165 lbs at the time) and I had legs about as thick as a broom stick, maybe slightly smaller...

I have nothing against soccer...but in no way does playing soccer create legs of 'tremendous size'...

and oh yeah...I have lifter with soccer players...they were all weak as shit...

anyways, good luck with your training!


Well, DPH, to put this in perspective for you, at the time, we were sophomores in highschool. At this age, a 300+ pound squat IS respectable for someone weighing 150 lbs. I dont know where you went to high school, but most kids at this age aren't squatting anything near that.

Also, I never said it created 'tremendous size', I said 'tremendous strength', which it does. Granted, a soccer player is not going to put up better numbers than someone who has been in the gym for a decent amount of time. But that's not the point.


I have trained with a few junior level (18-19 years) soccer players (we use the same gym). They have good strenght-endurance, like 50kg x 30 reps is no sweat, but they suck with heavier weights and 80-90kg staples them to the ground. I know EC wrote about some rowers who can do 15 reps with 90% 1RM, and it think something like that would be the case with majority of soccer players.

Yes, their game involves lot of sprinting, but it's never a maximal effort - or they simply wouldn't last 90 mins. If you look at distance runners (5-10km) and cyclists, they often sprint at the end of the race but it isn't the same kind of effort as 100-400m.


So you squatted almost 2x bodyweight (1.9 to be exact) after 8 weeks of training? That's phenomenal and shows great potential, provided you're telling the truth :slight_smile:

The first time I squatted was after a year of weight training on Weider-type stuff (read: leg ext + leg curls) and I could barely manage 30kg for 8 reps; after 2 months I did 40kg x 8. I'm a tall guy (6'5") who never did much sports until 17-18 years of age. Still, this example shows how genetics is a wonderful thing :slight_smile:


Oh, and thanks for the 'good luck', DPH.


come on knuckles...tremendous strength? soccer players don't even know what tremendous strength is...

there's not a soccer player on the planet that is even as strong as I am..and I'm not even close to having 'tremendous strength'...in fact I'm weak for my size as far as strength goes.

look, I'm not trying to knock soccer ...it's a great sport with alot of great athletes...but not one of them has even remotely ed coen like 'tremendous strength'.


I'd been lifting weights with my crappy home plastic covered weight set for three years prior to joining a gym...my friends and I were also constantly playing sports so I was in good shape...

the first gym I joined my simply awesome ...a true old school iron gym...from the get-go I had alot of very good advice on proper technique and such...I feel sorry for kids joining lame ass gyms like 24 hour fitness and such that's out there now.

the first time I tried deadlifting I pulled 365 lbs and within a month of being there I benched 225 lbs (also at 165 lbs and about eight weeks after joining the gym)...

kind of funny thinking about those old days...I never though of myself as being strong because everyone around me was so much stronger!

I'm still not strong though...


I'm definately NOT basing my use of the word 'tremendous' around powerlifting. Pretty much everybody is as weak as shit compared to Ed Coan. : P

But, relative to what other kids I see doing in our high school weight room, 300+ squat is impressive. Our record squat is something like 475. Most of the guys on the football team squat somewhere around 300-400. And most newcomers struggle with 135. In this kind of environment, 300 is impressive for someone who has never lifted before.


Never will be. :slightly_smiling:


I got a buddy who is a goalie for his college, he can squat over 400 pounds, I'd say that's A LOT stronger than most can do.


most americans are fat pigs that have trouble standing up under their own weight...so yes a 400 lbs squat is ALOT stronger than most...

but it sure as hell isn't 'tremendously strong'...not even close!