Hi everyone, this is my first post here and I’m not sure if there’s some sort of introduction policy – at any rate, this post will serve as a sort of history, and I ask a question at the end. Feel free to just skip down to the question part if you want!
I’ve been training (horribly, for the most part) for about seven years now. I would estimate about 10% or less of my total workouts have built any muscle at all. Nevertheless, I started off at about 140 lbs, 6’, ~8% bf my junior year of highschool and made my way up to ~255 lbs at 6’3", ~10-15% bf, so I have at least seen some level of success, if only briefly.
Until recently, I had always been very averse to reading about bodybuilding on the Internet or in books, preferring to just experiment in the gym. It’s hard to know who to trust in this shady business! I slowly became more comfortable turning to this site for information however, after reading Thib’s beginner series articles, the quality of which was instantly apparent to someone who had, unfortunately, spent years learning these things the hard way.
About six months ago I read Bricknyce’s Bodybuilding Bible thread, and learned about ramping sets. I know it may sound pathetic, but I had gone well over six years without ever trying anything other than straight sets, 4 x 5-15 reps! This sparked a big turning point for me, and I was inspired to learn everything I could from these boards. I got to thinking about what worked and what didn’t.
I read about DC training and low volume approaches in general. I had always scoffed at HIT style training and never thought twice about it until just recently. I read MODOK’s bodypart twice weekly thread and something just clicked…
After reading MODOK’s thread I thought back to the time when I made my best gains. With about four years of training under my belt, I finally realized that muscle building required food, and lots of it (please understand, I was very, very stupid and prejudiced coming into bodybuilding – it’s a miracle I’m not dead yet after the idiotic things I’ve put myself through).
At the time, I ramped up my daily caloric intake to a very strict, clean 4,500 even though I was just a measly ~185 pounds. Summer had just begun and by the time I went back to school, I was up to 215, with only a minor dent in ab visibility. Sadly, I went back to eating crappy dorm/frat food and things have never been quite the same since.
During this time I used a 3 way split: legs/shoulders, chest/triceps, back/biceps, and abs everyday. Lots of volume per workout: 3-5 exercises per body part, 4 sets of 8-12 each (or 12-16 for legs). I did this cycle twice a week, and took Sunday off… well, at least that was the plan.
See, I also ran two miles each way to the gym and, needless to say, I was completely exhausted all the time. I probably made it to the gym an average of 4-5 times per week, often missing days because I literally felt sick at the prospect of running down to the gym (on a full stomach too, ugh).
But I was able to keep up with such a demanding routine, nonetheless, and I consistently added weight to the bar every workout in the big lifts. I saw massive growth on everything but my arms (thus began my grotesque muscle imbalances).
The point is, I was able to make good beginner gains, but as time went on it became clear I still had a lot to learn if I was ever going to get the kind of body I wanted (which, by the way, is not that of an IFBB pro – I’m not that delusional!). In the ensuing 2-3 years I did manage to gain another 30 lbs or so, but a higher proportion of it was undoubtedly bodyfat.
I hurt myself countless times. I gave up deadlifts for good, blew the hell out of both my shoulders, got serious pain in my tricep tendons, acquired some chronic strains in my biceps tendons, had to deal with chronic lower back pain, and worst of all have seen my poundage PRs gather dust. At the end of my freshman year of college I benched 225 for ten reps; tonight, four years later, I did it for seven.
But I am getting smarter. In the past couple of months I’ve corrected tons of little mistakes in form, workout structure and diet. The biggest hurdle was probably realizing I just didn’t have the hip flexibility for a full high bar olympic style squat. Also learning how to tuck my elbows and retract the scapula on bench press. Of course, I still have a long way to go.
As I mentioned earlier, MODOKs bodypart twice weekly thread really set my imagination off. I thought back to that summer of incredible gains, how much I loved working every bodypart twice weekly on a three way split – after all, hitting a bodypart just once a week never felt right to me.
I thought about how, just like him, I hated doing all the dumb little flys and pullovers and three bench press variations. It always seemed like 90% of the benefit was just from those first couple sets of bench press, rows, pulldowns, squats, skullcrushers, bicep curls, etc.
------ Alright, here comes the question! (and most relevant details, lol) ------
So here’s where I find myself now, after years of experimentation and thinking everything over. I went back to a three way split, along with a rest day at the end.
Legs / Calves
Chest / Back
Shoulders / Arms / Calves.
On a good day, I’ll ramp up to a top set of about 5 or so nice, controlled reps to failure in the first exercise. This usually ends up being about 5-6 sets total, all in the same rep range. Then I’ll move on to the next exercise, do a set or two to get a feel for the movement, and then hit failure again at about 10 reps. I then repeat that process except in the 10+ rep range.
If I feel like it, I won’t bother changing exercises and will just do all three sets on the same exercise, dropping weight to hit the appropriate rep ranges. I haven’t decided which approach I like more yet – this is something I’m currently experimenting on.
(Astute readers may recognize this bit as stolen from the Phil Hernon thread that’s linked inside of MODOK’s once weekly thread).
So all in all, I do about 3 sets to failure (~10 s
12:40 AM - cephissus: ets total, which includes ramping) twice a week for most body parts.
I try to eat 5000 calories a day across five meals, at least 50g protein (probably more like 70) per meal, ~100 g carbs (I’m getting a little fat though, so I’m trying to cut this down a bit). Three solid meals and two shakes, usually. I’m currently about 245 lbs / 6’3" / ~10-15% bf.
Truth be told, dieting has always been the hardest part, and many days I probably only get more like 4000 calories.
So here’s the question, the part that’s always dogged me: while things may go good for a while, it always seems like, sooner or later, I reach the point where I just CAN’T feel my muscles working very well. They remain cold and unwilling to lift the weight! No matter how fast or slow I ramp up, whether I decrease my weight or just grit my teeth and try to push through it, my progression always stalls!
I’ll walk into the gym and just never know what the outcome is going to be like. I’ve had some of the best workouts of my life since I started lifting smarter these past few months, but they still mostly suck, and I’m really starting to lose hope – thinking I’m severely over-trained, adrenal fatigue, thinking I have horrible genetics, etc.
Tonight, for example, I did barbell rows. It felt good at first, just lifting the bar for ten reps. I got a little burn, some slight sensation going, but then as I did 95, 135, 155, 185… each set my muscles felt progressively duller and less responsive.
I want to lift with intensity, and trust me, I know and love the sensation of doing a mind-blowingly hard set (anyone ever read Thib’s Hungarian Oak Leg Blast article? I actually did that workout for 8 weeks… oh man) – it just seems physically impossible! I wish it were a matter of willpower, because I have plenty of that… but sadly it doesn’t seem to be the case.
I think to myself, “can I really be overtraining on just 3 sets to failure per bodypart, twice a week?!” when, just a few summers ago, lifting similar or even HEAVIER weights, I would routinely do 15+ sets to failure in grueling, 2 and a half hour workouts? In those days I would get huge pumps and deep soreness, adding weight to the bar every workout or two (ie every week).
These days I do less than half the volume, ramp my sets, have better form – in short, seem to do everything more intelligently – and yet I feel deflated and limp, cold and fragile. Sure, I’m a little older and don’t have as much youthful energy, but that doesn’t seem like it should make much of a difference to me.
Anyway, if you have bothered to read this far, thank you very much. I’ve put this post off for a long time since I don’t want to burden people with hopeless, confused, or obnoxious questioning, but I’m feeling particularly exhausted at this point, trying to figure out everything on my own.
Furthermore, I would also like to express my gratitude to members of this board and website such as Christian Thibaudeau, Bricknyce, MODOK, Professor X, Cephalic Carnage and others for their informative posts.