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Information overload for the newbie: what do I do?

I am a newbie to this site, but not necessarily a newbie to working out. I have been doing searches and have been reading a lot of articles, and I have to say, all the different tips really confuse the hell out of me. I basically don’t know where to go from here. I’ll lay out who I am, and what I’ve done, and what I want.

I’m 28, and have been lifting off and on for 5 years or so, really. I’ve got the kind of body that seems to put on muscle easily, to a point, and then I plateau and lose interest. I’m 6’1”, 178, and would describe my body as an ectomorph type with limited fat but very good muscle definition. I lift for strength, and to look good (more so the latter). I want to know how to get better. Below I have summarized the 3 upper body exercise days I devote time to (I know, I should do legs too – I never have to this point.), weights, and reps. I’ve basically just added weight to the exercises I do, and try to do lots of sets. This was my routine the past week:

Shoulder day:
Seated overhead Dumbbell presses (weights per dumbbell) : 15 x 20 lbs, 12 x 40, 10 x 55, 8x 70, 8x 70, 6x70
Shrugs (standing, on a machine you mount plates on): 20x 90 lbs, 18 x 180, 15 x 270, 12x 360, 10 x 430, 10 x 430, 10x 430
Rows (seated, pulling the weight toward me, on a metal device you mount plates on): 15 x 90lbs, 10 x 180, 8x 200, 6 x 200, 6 x 200, 8x180
Side extensions, dumbbell: 15 x 20 lbs, 10 x 30 lbs, 8 x 40 lbs, 6 x 45, 6x 45, 10 x 35

Chest day:
Bench press: 12x 120, 10 x 210, 8 x 245, 6 x 265, 4 x 315, 4 x 315, 12 x 210
Incline bench: 12 x 120, 10 x 180, 8 x 210, 8 x 210, 7 x 210, 10 x 120
Dumbbell Flys (weights are per dumbbell): 12x 25, 10 x 40, 8 x 55, 6 x 65, 6 x 65, 8 x 55 Incline Flys (identical sets and weight)

Arms day:
Hammer curls: 12x 20 lbs, 10x 40 lbs, 8 x 55, 6 x 65, 6x65, 5x 65, 8 x 55.
Triceps extension (EZ curl bar, lying on a bench, the poundages listed are per side:) 12 x 25, 10 x 45, 8 x 55, 6 x 65, 6 x 65, 30 x 35

These above are basically what I work, and have been doing for about the past six months, incrementally adding weight for each exercise as I go. The above is what I did this week, and I rotate the exercises in this order, so that I’m at the gym about 5 times a week. I want to know:

  1. Does this look ok, or should I change it up?
  2. For bench, what grip should I use for chest strength and size? I discovered I have been using a wide grip all along; since my mission is to make my chest bigger, is this the right thing to do, or would a more moderate grip benefit me more?
    3.) What other exercises should I implement?

Sorry if this has all been covered before. It’s just that all the information here on the site is really overwhelming…I basically want to know if there is anything standout about my workout that doesn’t look so hot. My priorities are visible muscle increases and strength. I eat a protein shake daily, and use no other supplements.

Thanks for any advice.


Newbie: Diet is more important to obtaining your stated goals of visible mass increase and strength. You can train like a demon but if your caloric needs are not being met/exceeded, you won’t make the gains your after. Read the “Massive Eating” and related articles plans by Berardi on this site (esp. Calorie Needs: Part 1). You need to sit down with a caculator and do some figuring and then follow the sound and well researched advice found in these articles. My guess is that after doing your basic homework, you will find that you are doing something wrong in this department (esp., perhaps, as it relates to protein intake). One further piece of advice. Stick to and follow mostly the articles and advice found on this site (esp. when it comes to supplements and the like).

I’ll just address the info issue. Shugart and JMB have both refered to one important principal when digesting new info: read most everything, BUT be selective in what you actually need to apply to YOUR current training/diet/etc, and then finally, actually incorporate this new info. into into your overall plan. (They had a catchy phrase for this process-I forget:( ) What all this means though is, you don’t have to do everything. Not only would it be stupid to try, not everything will really work for YOU and only you. This is why you must choose carefully. For example, though I read most of the training aticles here on TMAG, such as Meltdown and Renegade training, I have and probably always will just stay with the basic, tried and true bodybuilding workout: heavy compounds, compliment w/ iso, and a good dose of cardio work on the treadmill. And ya know why?: cause I have always and am currently making great gains! So, why switch? Also, keep in mind that to be truly successful in this game, it needs to be lifestyle-able, in that it’s something fairly simple and something you enjoy. I have this in my program. Just my opinion though. I do love and use JMB’s Don’t Diet though. Finally, if you ask why I say read most everything it’s because to, once again, be successful long-term, you need to be well-read on all T-related topics. It only benefits your training/suplementation. And there’s no better place to do all this than where your reading these very words. So, get readin boy!

Guys, thanks for the tips. But can you be more specific about what I can do to improve my regimen? I already eat plenty, and am well aware of protein intakes and total calories. I am more concerned with the exercises I do, because I am simply not sure if I should change it up, or just keep it. I am indeed absorbing all I can here, but some comments on what I’m doing right now would be appreciated.

For an ectomorph, I’d say that you are definitely overtraining in regards to your rep and sets range. Keep your bench sets to something like: 8x210, 8x245, 6x265, 4x315, 2x330. (don’t do incline and flat bench on the same day. Alternate each week to develop chest evenly. Concentrate more on the negative than the positive. Eat 6xday, spaced over 2.5 to 3 hrs in protein rich foods and moderate complex carbs, and make sure you take EFA’s. Oh yeah, and patience. My personal approach is back & biceps monday, Chest & triceps thurs, legs Sunday.

So, you want specifics on what you need to do to improve upon the routine you posted here? Well, first of all, from what I have just read, you’ve performed something like 23 total sets for your delts. I certainly hope that with the high volume of sets in your routine, you’re eating enough. Additionally, you’ve been performing the same routine for six months. And you also speak of hitting plateaus - now if you have, in the past, used a similar routine as you have outlined here, it’s no wonder that you hit those plateaus. Time for a change.

First, I would cut down that volume. Also, it sounds like you need to read Chris Shugart's "Heirarchy of Needs". As well as ANY article by Ian King and/or Dave Tate. And ANY Dawg School article. I really, really, advise you to read all those I listed above! (And the FAQ)

Sure, all the info on this site is overwhelming. It was for me when I discovered it about 4-years ago - so I simplified it all for myself. If you want to improve your bench, do a search using "bench" or "chest workout" as your subject. For legs, simple, use "leg training".

In the end, you'll have to do some work in researching what you need to do (reading, trying out one of the MANY programs outlined in T-Mag) - we all have.

So, my sets are too high? How many should I do? I consider the first two “warmup” ones, because I don’t really feel any effort in doing those ones, and the last couple of sets are only for a few repetitions each (3, 4?) This is too much? I thought that for your maximum poundages, you’re supposed to do a few sets so that your total reps over a few sets is more than just 2 or 3…I just don’t “feel” like I did enough if I top out at the higher weight and only lift it 2-3 times for one set. Does this actually benefit me?

These workouts only ever take me about an hour to do, and I limit my rest between sets to a minute or less. I don’t know, maybe I expected more. Like, Let’s say I look at my chest exercise - well, that’s 28 total reps maybe 4-5 times a month. It doesn’t seem like enough somehow.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to get out of research here. I’m just hoping for some guidance from the gurus.

Specific advice? Here you go:

  1. You’re overtraining. Cut back on the sets. 2. You need to start working legs, splitting your leg workouts (i.e. quads one day and hams another). Change your mindset and prioritize your legs for a YEAR to get them equalled out. 3. Try training four days a week instead of five. 4. Pay more attention to your nutrition. If you’re not gaining weight, it’s because you’re not eating enough. 5. Go back to T-Mag issue number one and start reading all the articles by Charles Poliquin. Then read what Ian King has to say about recovery issues. 6. Take all of the advice given by those who’ve posted above - it’s all good. 7. Stop being “on and off”. Bodybuilding is a lifestyle. 8. Realize that any routine is only as good as long as it produces gains for you. Once that stops, change. 9. There is no magic, “best” workout - unless perhaps it’s what the other guy is doing. 10. You almost undoubtedly need to focus on getting more protein in your diet. At your weight, at least 230g per day.

    Well? What are you waiting for? Good luck!

You are grossly overtraining your upper body and undertraining your lower body. Look through T-Mag for EDT, 5X5, HST or Ian King’s Super Strength or Pain programs. Pick one and stick with it for 3 months, including legs. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the progress you make when you train sensibly. good luck and keep us informed.

a lot of people already stressed the points, but i’ll say them again. Start training legs. Considering the upper body weight and volume you do, you must be pretty big up top for 178 lbs. This makes me wonder that you can bench more then deadlift or squat. Anyways, maintain upper body and prioritize legs. Split into narrow squat and deadlift days. Other then that i believe your drive is there and you should see results from your efforts. laters pk

Guys, again, thanks for the tips. A few things;

1.) Yes, I can bench more than I squat. It’s embarrassing.
2.) I don’t look very big on top at all. My muscles are not terribly big, but are very dense. I wouldn’t mind if they looked bigger, even if this meant they weren’t technically as strong. For example, my biceps measure only 16 inches.
3.) By ‘overtraining’ and ‘reduce sets’, are you guys saying that because I should dedicate more effort to my legs, or because that many sets is simply bad? I never feel tired or anything when I do this routine…I actually have to stop myself when I’m benching or curling the big weights, because part of me wants to do 10 or more sets. If I’m only lifting a big weight a few times, it just doesn’t seem like enough. I want to punish the muscles into growing, you know? Don’t worry, I have the ‘lifestyle’ down, I won’t even tip back a beer anymore. I just want to see some results for the effort I’m putting into this.
4.) My bench press grip - which should I use for chest development? Wide, medium, close?

Thanks again for all your help. This site is amazing, I say that in all honesty.

Specifically, go to :

read everything!

Strato, it sounds like your interested in getting some mass put on up top more than anything. If so, then I advise that you cycle onto a “heavy duty” type of training phase wherein you up the lbs considerably and decrease reps from 3-6 (of course all warm-up sets should be much higher reps). When I plateau I do this. In addition to working up in weight and down in reps; I reverse this and work back down the other way with my last sets being nearly as many reps as my warm up sets (10-12). You need to bring the set to true failure with a good spotter (also, do partials). Start varying what your doing–switch things around. As one example, I vary my bench grip about every two to three weeks just to keep my muscles guessing. I have found that incline benching (with both bar and dumbells) is much more effective for chest development, for me, than flat benching. I rarely flat bench anymore. One other thing that I have found to be extremely helpful is experimentation. I do some exercises in the gym that might look strange but I have basically invented them for myself and they work for me to get at areas that I need development in. To your question of which bench grip to use–All three! BUT, experiment. If you want to add some mass to a certain area of your pecs, then find the exercise that give you a good pump (or moderate soreness) in this area. I did this with my pecs. I had great mid region development in my pecs. But they looked, to me, like big balloons. I wanted more mass in the outside to level them out and give them more width. I started doing cable crossovers (an exercise I had always neglected) and widened my grip. I also incorporated some moderate work on a decline press machine. In addition, I concentrated on keeping strict form–keeping my elbows out away from my side so as to prevent the recruitment of the triceps. In fact, on this last note, how is your form? Do you perform each rigorously perform each exercise with super strict form? This is critical for making gains. If you are moving big weight and not feeling fatigued then you may well be compromising your form. Do you perform each exercise with full ROM? My greatest gains began after I stopped compromising form and ROM.

Everyone has given you plenty of advice so far, but I have two comments. First your legs. You can’t build a house with out a foundation. Some coaches will tell you, and I tend to agree, your body will hold back the growth of your upper body if your legs aren’t growing proportionally. You need to prioritize the muscles that are your weakest, that means doing them at the begining of the week and first in your work out.

Second comment, tempo and training to failure. Do you pay attention to your tempo? If you are not “feeling” it on your last set, is it because your are slinging the weights around, or are you lifting in a controlled manner paying attention to your form? Also, training to failure makes it much tougher to recover. Dave Tate has written that you should keep a rep or two in the hole and stop at technical breakdown.

So to sum up, hit the legs and pay attention to form and tempo. If you like, you can split legs into hip and quad days. Do these first in your workout. Squats, Deads, Goodmornings, these will be your new favorite exercises. Homework: read.

Strato, I noticed that you mention only two exercises on Arm day: Hammer Curls and Lying Tricep Ext. Are these the only two exercises your doing on arm day? If so, you need to do far more to get some mass going up top. For Triceps I suggest the following: Close grip bench (keep your elbows in). Close grip dips. Standing (or kneeling) cable press downs (important to use neutral grip–with a rope is good). Then finish up with your lying tri exts. For Biceps: standing straight bb curl (close grip). Seated db curl (vary grip position between neutral and underhand). Db preacher curls. After this, work with the ez bar some to finish them off (lbs as needed). For chest–try incorporating the pec deck machine and cable cross-overs. Some think the deck machine is worthless but it has helped me. I have not found flyes to be as beneficial to my chest development as pressing movements–I rarely do them.

" I never feel tired or anything when I do this routine…I actually have to stop myself when I’m benching or curling the big weights, because part of me wants to do 10 or more sets. If I’m only lifting a big weight a few times, it just doesn’t seem like enough. I want to punish the muscles into growing, you know? Don’t worry, I have the ‘lifestyle’ down, I won’t even tip back a beer anymore. "

If you "punish the muscles" into growing, then shouldn't you be tired at the end of your "routine"? Its quality, not quantity. I have the perfect program for you, it's called "Beginners Blast Off". I know, you don't think you are a beginner, but you are. You need a fresh start. While you are doing this program, go back and re-read some of the articles in the FAQ. And this time, let them sink in.

I'm gonna finish my beer now.

Guys, thanks for the great advice. I have learned from you and articles here that;

1.) I ignore the eccentric motion of the weight…I flex the motion as quick as possible and then let it drop. This will change immediately.
2.) I have ignored legs to date. This will change immediately.
3.) I’ll eat more, even on off-days (I always hestitated to do this, because it made me ‘feel fat.’
4.) Yes, I only do two arm exercises. I need to add more.
5.) My form is always good, but I don’t have a spotter. For the supremely heavy weights, I do it until I can’t do a full one anymore and put the weight down. I have to change this, and do partials.
6.) I’ve always been going ‘max weight, max weight.’ It would seem that I should drop the weight a little and increase the reps to 8-10 to enhance muscle growth.

Thanks for all advice…I hope to make some gains in the next few months. I’ll also be adding Creatine…hopefully this will supercharge my results. I want to be a hard-packed 200 pounds.

  1. Good. 2. Good. 3. Probably good. 4. Maybe what you need to do is stop working arms directly and concentrate on heavy back and chest work (note the order here). 5. No, get a spotter. Preferably a good one. 6. Yes, that’s right.

    Finally, start a food log. That’ll help you more than anything. Oh, and what ko said. That was some very good advice.

    Good luck.