T Nation

Instinctive Training


Well, I've been reading some interviews from pros, and quite a few of them mention that they will train bodyparts instinctively. For example, lets say a guy normally trains arms every 5 days or so, but on the fourth day he doesn't feel like training back, so he trains arms there. Or, the guy decides to skip his rest days and train everyday for a week or so before taking a rest day. I guess the same could be said about exercise selection and overall volume as well...

Does anybody here have experience with training like that? I find it interesting because I've always relied more on my instincts than anything else in life, and I would like to eventually learn how to train like that....I kind of see this as the ultimate progression in training...


Using your instincts in training doesn't necessarily mean training at random though... You got to be able to keep the big picture in mind there. Anyway, that kind of thing is usually done by more experienced guys.
Training whatever you feel like training a particular day is also not the only aspect of this.

Professor X does it, I don't know many others on this site who do (with success lol, I guess every other beginner does it as well but fails to see any real progress due to lack of experience and common sense).

Might want to ask about in in the "professor X: a request" thread. Not that there's that much to say about it though, you're right, you progress into it... But usually once you're already pushing the boundaries in bodyweight and strength compared to your height and you've done enough regular training and gained enough experience to be able to do this effectively.


Some people lack the skills or ability for any thought-out planning they might do to be any better than their spur of the moment ideas.

When this is the case, then it is better for them not to plan.

That said, for those that do have the skills where considered thought involving many factors is able to come up with plans generally better than repeated spur of the moment efforts, still there are times when on the fly it should be decided to do differently, due to immediate facts not known or predictable at the time of planning.

As for "instincts," man does not have instincts with regard to choice of barbell exercises.


Well, I don't think there is a "bodybuilding Instinct" that tells you to do something on a certain day, but a person can determine if he feels rested or not or if he feels like he can handle more volume on a certain day. At least I can already, and I've only been training for a short amount of time. I don't think "instinctive training" means you just do random exercises according to your mood that day...Not at all...

I think there is an art to it...At least that's the way I see it...

I know it is something that would take a lot of experience to understand. I may be thinking beyond my experience level, but I would eventually like to work my way up to training like this. I'm making fairly good progress on a standard split, so I probably wouldn't gain much from changing my training now. However, I'm going to keep it in the back of my mind....I don't like relying on a split for some reason..I guess I trust my judgement better...


You mean you trust your spur of the moment judgment better than your considered, planned judgment?


There are two ways to think about it. A plan is more structured, and plans for the future. But there is no way to know if this plan is right, and you could be planning to do things wrong.

It doesn't really matter which method you use as long as you get results. Then you make little changes and see if you get better or worse results.

I think regardless of which method you use, it is important to be in touch with your body so you have an idea of knowing what is going on.

If you decide to hit arms after only 4 days of rest instead of 5, what was different? Were you able to progress, did it feel harder? etc... If you can train every 4 days instead of every 5 and still increase the amount lifted, then go for it. And its always good to have a plan, AND a backup plan even when using instinct. If you go to hit arms after 4 days instead of 5, and all of the sudden say, "oh crap, i should have waited till tommorow". Then think logically. Either train freaking hard like normal, and take a good 5-7 days to fully recover. OR, cut down your volume a bit. Maybe you realize on the first set that you aren't going to be able to get 5 sets of 5 with your workign weight. Instead of decreasing the weight and getting all your reps in, maybe just do 3x5 and stop.

You see, its very complex, but none of that really matters as long as you are making progress.

But like CC was alluding to, its always good to have a plan, and pay attention to your results.


Both have their flaws. How can you possibly judge something a week before its even happening. You have no idea how you are going to recover and how you are going to feel. And the spur of the moment judgement is plagued by emotion and lack of adequate feedback to make a good decision.


No offense, but I treat patients daily and anyone who has held a scalpel will tell you that you have to be skilled enough to anticipate what can happen...but that NOTHING always goes according to plan. Biology isn't some static entity. Because of its variability, the person who understands his body well would be doing himself a DISSERVICE if he ignored observing how his body is responding and simply based his actions on a written pre-made insta-program.

I don't train "instinctively". That is simply the word now used because common fucking sense has died.

No, I don't map out my programs in advance. I do what NEEDS to be done. Why anyone believes this equals some sort of haphazard ignorant approach makes no sense to me.


Although my workout plan has some structure, I go into the gym every time with a blank canvas and although each picture turns out with many similarities, not one is alike.


As much as I totally agree with your approach PX, it just doesn't work for everyone cause some people who are just weak ass pussies mentally WON'T PUSH THEMSELVES to a level unless they have been told and cajoled and shown that they can do it.

As you've said before, and I've paraphrased, alot of people are just afraid to get under and push a weight that scares them.

Does this mean they won't get results? No, but I would say that in the long term they won't be as well off as someone who knows how to push themselves.

What did running and playing sport for so many years teach me? That you always have something left. I have applied this to the weight training context for the last year and a half to good results.

So I'm starting to think this whole "instinct" thing is more borne of experience and attitude rather than some mystical genetic/behavioral trait.

Paralysis by Analysis.

See that all over the place in the forums, Dankid being a great example.

In the clinical context and doing invasive work with humans, I am totally for planning out procedures, and preparing for all possible contingencies owing to the variability that comes with working on the human body.

Skill & Experience will take care of the unexpected.


1) Did you read my previous posts in full.

2) Some people have the experience and skills to know pretty well, a high percentage of the time, what will happen a week before it's happening on a given plan. Others do not have the experience or do not have the skill. If their planning is that bad, they should not plan. It seems clear you would fall into that category since you find it bizarre that someone could predict what their body will be ready for and able to do a week in advance. I suggest then that you do not plan.


Professor X, either you did not read my brief posts in full or you are choosing to make a strawman argument. I stated plainly, "there are times when on the fly it should be decided to do differently, due to immediate facts not known or predictable at the time of planning."

As for your quotation of me, you're treating the statement in isolation where it is not clear that what I am objecting to is not it ever being the case that at the time, due to new facts, one's immediate judgment is indeed more appropriate to use than what could have been previously expected, but to a belief that having a split and otherwise planning is inferior to just training bodyparts whenever and however one feels like it because judgment at the moment will be better than planned judgment based on experience.

Now if planned judgment based on experience is poor, then of course for that individual that may not work well.

I have not seen your posts where, when people ask about your training, you have had to resort to "I just train whenever and whatever exercises according to whatever method feels right at the moment." In fact you've been able to write quite a lot about the methods that you are pretty consistent in using. You may not call this planning, but having proven methods and employing them the majority of the time -- making exceptions as need be -- is the opposite of the "train whatever, whenever, however one feels like it according to the moment" that some think is ideal, because it's supposedly "instinctive."


Days and muscle groups remain the same and I have a pretty good idea of what I'm after going in, but it isn't uncommon for me to change things up on the fly during a workout. Which exercises, order, even volume sometimes depending on how I feel.

Ordered instinct? I don't know. I wouldn't change my schedule or skip days ever without planning to except in emergencies. That doesn't mean somebody else couldn't, but that's a bit too instinctive for me.


Just as a note, the OP was viewing this matter as being one of not wanting to "rely on a split" but instead train bodyparts when the mood strikes (though he did not use that latter phrase.)

It's one thing to realize that a bodypart could use for example more sets than previously anticipated for that day, or needs less, or ought to be trained at a differing weight. It's an entirely other thing to figure that regardless of experience and knowledge, one can't plan a split that is better than just acting on the spur of the moment.

Now a given individual's planning ability may not allow him to do so, but to say that in general such planning is inferior to spur of the moment, I cannot agree with.


I think every experienced lifter learns to listen to his body and adjusts training accordingly; at least he should.

I have a master plan for my workouts to ensure I'mg getting balanced muscled development, but there is built in flexibility as well. I never do exactly the same workouts from one week to the next, but the overall pattern is consistent.


Again, to the OP and to you, there is a huge difference between not going by a planned routine yet having done this so many times over that I know what needs to be trained and how and can make immediate decisions on the spot....and someone who is simply doing whatever whenever.

If I get to the gym to train shoulders, I sit on the machine and my shoulder joint is hurting BEYOND that of a minor discomfort or simple strain that can be trained past, the idiot is the one who trains shoulders anyway simply because it is on the schedule. The smart guy is the one who immediately starts training biceps because he knows he trained back 2 days ago, his biceps are rested, and he is going to do whatever muscle group stresses that joint the least.

If that is what we mean when discussing "instinctive training" then yes, that IS the smarter way to approach training long term.


I think I get what you guys are saying...I probably should have called this thread "Listening to Your Body", and there would have been less confusion.

But, I think I need to defend myself here also...I don't train based on mood...I'm a bit more scientific :wink:

Yesterday, I decided to hit forearms with a touch of rhomboids because I was wearing a RED shirt and the gravitational pull of the moon and the alignment of planets let me know it was optimal to train those body parts...So I'm not some retard just training biceps when he feels depressed, alright :wink:...I make scientific calculations and permuatations on the fly....and, I'm basically on the next level of bodybuilding...When you guys get to my level, you will see the light...


What scientific calculations do you make?


I do lorentz equations...with a dash of Pythagorean theorem thrown in the mix obviously lol...

No seriously...I had similar reasoning as X in my initial example...I assumed maybe the guy's back was hurting, so he moved the back day over and trained arms instead....I never thought "Instinctive Training" meant training body parts at random or picking random exercises....Not at all...

And, like I said before...I'm doing a regular split, and I see no reason to change it if I'm making good progress already...


Then this thread was a waste of time.