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Information Overload: Confusion About Programs


Nowadays theres so much information out there that its ridiculous. And the world of fitness is especially bad. So many people out there come up with some training program and hail it as the best, the one, the only thing that any reasonable person would do. Some are simple. Some are complex. They all have some argument to back them up. And most of them seem to make sense too, which is just more confusing. Some of them say that the way to go is heavy weight and low reps. Others say that the way to go is low weight and high reps. Some say to just to 3-5 sets. And still others say 14-20 sets.Some call for you to train full body, three days a week and others do body part splits 6 days a week. You get the picture.

Now i dont think that theres any ultimate program for any person or any set of goals, but i do think that some are better suited to some purposes than others. Since there seems to be a lot of experienced lifters on this forum, i was hoping that some of you could help me sort through this mess.

My basic info:
age 16
weight 162 lbs
height. just shy of 6 feet
body type. pretty much a straight up ectomorph
time lifting. about a month and a half
current program: right now im trying Starting Strenght but add some ohter exercises. Pullups, pushups, curls, rows for example. seems fairly straight forward which is why im doing it.

Goals: Gain about 20 more pounds, achieve the following:
300 lbs squat (i would like to get this as 5RM not 1RM)
Double BW Deadlift (1RM)
100 lbs Overhead press (5RM)
160 lbs Dumbell Bench Press (i dont have a partner to bench with and two 80s are the largest DBs available to me.
50 pullups
300 lbs (total, including BW) pullup

I realize that some of these goals are very far off, and there may be holes, but these are jsut what i have set in stone rights now. Whatever I end up doing I want to make sure that it will be functional and that it will improve my athletic performance.

So here are some specific qiestions (and if possible please explain and back up your answers because i dont want to just end with more unexplained information.):

I'll take this chance to define some terms (though im not sure these are the official definitions) so that way i can get so clear answers.
Strength : Defined by the amount of weight one can lift 1-10 times.
Strength Endurance: (where strenght gains diminish and endurance gains increase) Defined by the amount of weight one can lift 10-15 times.
Enudrance: Defined by the amount of weight on can lift 15+ times or the maximum reps of an exercise that one can perform (given that they can perform at least 15 reps)
Functional Strength: Strenght and/or endurance gained from training which will help to improve athletic ability or the performance of everday activities (such as lifting boxes). from what i understand this usually excludes isolation exercises .

1) Is it necessary to do many sets (like 14-20) with multiple exercies in one session to fully workout a muscle groups?
2) Will this type of training increase functional strength?
3) Is thers a more effective way for ectomorphs to gain weight than people with other bodytypes? If so what does this include?
4) Do programs which encourage high reps and sets increase muscle mass and endurance more than strength? Are they even useful for gaining strenght?
5) Do programs which require low reps and sets with heavy weight improve strength more than endurance and muscle masss? Are they even useful for gaining mass?
6) If i want to gain all of these things, should i try to blend these types of programs together?
7) Do different rep ranges really affect hypertrophy?
8) Should i just concentrate on the basic big lifts and eat a lot?
9) Should i as a beginner even worry about any of this stuff?
10) Can i gain mass with heavy weight and low reps?


there's a VERY big factor you're missing here and that's diet. Different rep/sets schemes could help you get big if you eat the part, but won't do shit if you eat like a bird.

These are all good questions to have, but I'd keep them in the back of your head for right now and let experience fill in the missing links along the way. The best thing you want to do is stick to a program and keep a positive attitude. It looks like you're already doing it, so just stick with it. Then come back a year or two and answer those 10 questions for yourself as they apply to YOU. Don't try to "blend" programs. That starts a bad trend. Since you're so new to lifting you will probably get bigger, strong, and leaner.


thanks man. but yeah i forgot to say anything about my diet. i definitely dont eat like a bird. i still have to work on eating a bit more but im getting there. i drink a gallon of milk a day, at least 160-200grams of protein i dont know how many carbs i just try to eat plenty of fruits and veggies and i dont count calories. as of now i only have two ways of gauging how much im eating: whether or not i can stuff anything else in my face, and how big my shits are. :slightly_smiling:


also another question i had. how much cardio should i be doing while bulking? obviously not so much that im burning up all my calories. and i guess thats really what it depends on. but would a 20-30 minute run be good? or is that too much?


honestly, while bulking I'd limit cardio to what you feel you HAVE to do or really want to do, because you just really enjoy it (like hoops with the friends, skateboarding, etc.) If you have to blow off steam with a 20-30 min run, go for it. But it's by no means mandatory.


I'll try to just tackle (1) and (2) to help you out.

It's not necessary to do any amount of sets, because the amount of work you get in a set may be totally different than another guy. I would say that, for beginners, you should definitely do multiple sets per exercise. An advanced guy might come in and do one rest-pause set of a certain exercise, but because he's got a well-developed mind-muscle connection and excellent technique, he can push himself incredibly hard and he might only need that one set. That's probably not going to happen for a beginner. So I would advise at least a couple sets per exercise.

As per number of exercises, per muscle group, it really depends on how you are setting up your split. I would say that you should do at least 3 exercises in a workout, and maybe more like 5 or 6. I don't think you need redundant exercises, but it's tough to get a complete stimulus with just a couple exercises. It also depends on how many times per week you are working those muscle groups. If you are doing a total-body split, then you might only do one or two exercises that work your legs each day. If you are doing a split where you only work legs once a week, then you're going to need to do several exercises for complete development.

As far as "functional" strength goes, that is a terrible can of worms to open up and hopefully won't derail the thread. Suffice to say that, at your age, the most functional thing you can do is to simply add lean muscle mass. If you are a more advanced athlete in a particular sport, then you can start worrying about what is "functional" or not. I don't know many dudes who can deadlift 500 pounds who struggle with carrying their groceries. There's no reason isolation exercises can't be functional as well. Ever shake the hand of somebody who can curl 100 pound dumbbells?

Hope that helped.


yeah, that definitely helped but im still a little confused about the answer to my first question. are you saying that the less frequently you work a certain muscle group, the more work it takes to stimulate it during that workout? because that seems to make sense.


Kind of. For instance, if you were training legs just once a week, you might do 4 or 5 exercises in that session, but if you train them 3 times a week in a full-body split, you might only do 1 or 2 exercises each time.

It's not that it takes more to stimulate the muscles if you work them less frequently, it's that you need to balance work and recovery. Imagine if on Monday you did 5 hard sets of squats, then 5 hard sets of deadlift, then 5 hard sets of leg press, then 5 hard sets of leg curls and leg extensions, then 5 hard sets of walking lunges, and 5 hard sets of calf raises. Tuesday and Wednesday you would barely be able to walk. Depending on just how hard you went, you would have to wait until Thursday or Friday, or possibly even the next Monday to be recovered in order to train hard again.

On the other hand, you could probably do 5 hard sets of squats and leg press on Monday and be good to do deadlifts and leg curls on Wednesday. Or you could do 2 sets of all 4 of those exercises and be good to do another 2 sets on Wednesday.

Not saying that any of that is what you should or should be doing necessarily. Just remember that when you train a muscle more frequently (3 days a week, for instance), those muscles shouldn't be totally wiped out or you won't be able to recover in order for your next workout. On the other hand, if you only train once a week, you need to do more work since you won't be stimulating the muscles again for 7 days.


okay i get it. but another thing which has been confusing me for a while is that a lot of people seem to say that you need to do multiple exercises for each muscle. i understand doing multiple exercises for one muscle group. like doing doing just pullups for back wouldnt be good enough because you're leaving out other muscles like the traps somewhat and the lower back. it looks like a lot people talk about doing multiple exercises for the same muscle in the same workout and several sets per. so whats up with that. it doesnt even make sense to me. how can you do 5 sets of 3 exercises for ONE muscle, without using extremely light weight or burning out? my legs are done after 3 sets of 5 or 6 squats and 1 set of 6 deadlifts. i dont get it.


1) No. Most people can progress nicely using 3 sets for 3-5 exercises per muscle group.
2) All strength is functional. Think about it. OK, so you're not going to walk down the street shrugging your groceries, but the strength you gain from shrugs is functional because your traps are a support structure for picking up heavy shit.
3) In general, I've seen only one difference between the way an ecto (a real ecto, not just some guy who's underfed) and an endo gain weight is how 'clean' each one has to eat. An endo needs to keep it fairly clean to ward off excessive fat gain, where an ecto can throw caution to the wind. Fried chicken, BBQ pork, double burgers, humongous steaks, tons of carbs... Damn I love bulking.
4) Yes and Questionably. There is a chance that the vascular growth from high rep sets could improve a muscle's recovery, which would help in strength gains later. But 20-rep sets themselves are not going to build the strength you're looking for. 1-5 reps is the way to go.
5) Yes and Yes.

I'll have to edit and finish this later. Gotta go to work....

6) If you're talking elite-level strength and elite-level conditioning, one is going to detract from the other. At mediocre levels, you can have all of the above.
7) Yes, but there is always an 'optimal'. 20-rep sets are not optimal for hypertrophy, and neither are heavy singles and doubles. Somewhere in between those lies your 'optimal'. Your job is to find it. It's usually 8-12.
8) If you're talking about compound lifts only, then no. Your program should hinge on the basic compounds, but you need isolation work in key areas if you want complete development.
9) Sure, but don't get hung up on small shit.
10) Abso-fucking-lutely. For me, three to five sets of five reps is where it's at.


1) No
2) "Functional" doesn't mean anything. It's totally subjective to what your pursuit is.
3) Stop with this ectomorph BS. Just eat progressively more food until you reach your desired weight, adjusting amounts and macronutrient ratios as you go to keep bodyfat in check. That's the same way anybody gains weight.
4) Higher rep workouts help you get stronger at higher reps, and to a small degree lower reps. And vice versa.
5) See (4), same concept.
6) Yes. You get good at something by doing it.
7) If you continually get significantly stronger in any rep range over a long period of time, hypertrophy WILL occur.
8) Yes.
9) Not most of it.
10) Gaining weight has virtually nothing to do with how you exercise, it's all about food.

You're over-thinking things. Stop it. Stick with and master the basics, and you'll figure out msot of the other stuff along the way if you just pay attention to how your body responds to the things you put it through. Less talking, more doing [experience] is what you need.


@ OP I would definitely heed the advice in this thread. These are some people who have spent plenty of time under the barbell.


thanks guys. i really appreciate all this feedback. im glad theres a place where i can get advice from people with experience. im definitely feeling a lot better about the way i've been doing things.


When you are a beginner you do not have the work capacity to do 3-5 sets of more than like 2 exercises with any decent weight.

As you progress you will be capable of doing a higher volume of work for a muscle in one session while still useing a heavy weight, say 5 sets of 3 exercises like you mentioned.

I am one who believes that most beginners prob shouldn't be doing more than 2 exercises for one muscle in a workout because on the third the wieght will be so light that it wont be much benefit. This may mean that you should do multiple bodyparts in a single session and train each more than once a week.