Answers to Common Questions
Q: Should I use a full body routine or a split routine?
A: Generally speaking, new lifters can benefit more from a full-body routine done multiple times per week, and based around compound movements. Advanced lifters, who have the strength, intensity, and mind-muscle connection to handle higher workloads need more recovery time and so will benefit from a multi-day split. Try this as a starting point:
0-18 months lifting: Full-body routine done 3 times per week based around compound movements.
18-36 months lifting: Upper Body / Lower Body or Push / Pull split done twice per week (4 lifting days)
36+ months lifting: 3 or 4 day split routine
Q: I want to work out intelligently and make steady progress. How should I proceed?
- Do some research and select your routine (see thread listed above as a starting point).
- If you've selected Starting Strength, HST, or some other established routine, follow it exactly for a least the first time through.
- Keep a journal detailing each exercise, how many reps you completed, and what weights you used.
- Each week, focus on making "progression" from the previous week.
.....Example: If you were supposed to bench press 180 lbs for 3 sets of 8, then note in your log what you did.
.....If you did 180x8, 180x8, 180x5 (you couldn't complete the last set of 8), then the next week try to complete all three sets of 8.
.....Once you have hit 180x8, 180x8, 180x8, then add 5-10 lbs. the next week.
- Every 6 weeks or so, de-load by dropping all your weights by 50% or take a week off entirely. The following week, pick up where you left off. This lets you recover from accumulated fatigue of your muscles and central nervous system.
- Be honest with yourself. If you can't complete a rep with good form, then don't count it. Don't add weight if it only means you're compromising your form. You're only cheating yourself, not impressing anyone else.
Q: What's the difference between Compound and Isolation exercises and which should I do?
A: Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups at once (Example: squat, deadlift, bench press). Isolation exercises work a single muscle or muscle group. (Example: preacher curls, leg extensions, tricep pressdowns). Try to use compound exercises as the core of your routine to add mass, and then add specific isolation exercises to further your specific goals. A common mistake by beginners is to ignore the majority of the compound exercises and focus too much on isolation exercises for their "mirror" muscles (biceps, abs, etc.).
Q: Why are squats and deadlifts recommended so often?
A: Compound movements, which work multiple muscle groups at the same time, promote overall strength and hypertrophy and are very efficient in terms of gym-time. Squats and Deadlifts are the ones most beginners shy away from since they can be "intimidating", but they are very beneficial. The primary compound lifts are:
- Bench Press
- Rows (barbell, t-bar, etc.)
- Pullups, Chinups, & Dips
- Military Press / Seated Overhead Press
You can and will get big by doing these exercises. Please learn and use good form on these exercises!
Q: How many sets and reps should I do of each exercise?
A: There is no perfect answer, and there is a place for a great variety of set and rep ranges. Different people and different muscle types respond to different stimulus, so you should experiment to see what works for you. However, general guidelines are as follows:
Do 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps to build strength
Do 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps for hypertrophy
Do 4-5 sets of 12-15+ reps for muscular endurance
Your best bet is to vary your set and rep ranges, since the above is not any sort of "absolute". You will gain some degree of size and strength by following the rule of progression with any rep range.
Q: How long should I rest between sets?
A: This depends on your goals and the exercise in question. Whatever rest period you choose, try to keep it constant week to week. This will help you ensure strength gains are not just the result of longer and longer rest periods. Very generally:
90-120 seconds for heavy, compound exercises
60-90 seconds for heavy isolation exercises or medium compound exercises
30-60 seconds for medium or light weight endurance type sets
Adjust these based on your own needs once you gain experience.
Q: I've been working out regularly and am getting stronger, but I'm not getting any bigger.
A: Eat more. Seriously.
Q: I've plateaued on (insert exercise here) what should I do?
A: If you've been stuck on at a certain weight on a certain exercise for 3-4 weeks in a row then try this:
- Take a week off, either entirely or of any work on the muscle group in question.
- Drop your weight about 20% from where you were stuck
- Each week add back 5-10 lbs to your lift until you've reached and exceeded your sticking point.
- Also make sure you are eating enough and resting enough.
Q: How do I get visible abs?
A: You have to drop your body fat to see your abs. Forget about mindless repetitions of crunches. You can't spot reduce fat, you have to drop your overall fat level through proper nutrition.
Q: What do I do if I can't do a pullup/chinup (or only a few)?
A: Set a chair under your pullup bar and place one foot on the chair. As you do a pullup, assist yourself with your leg just enough to enable you to do the exercise. After you reach the top, stop using your leg and lower yourself with only your arms (this is a negative). Repeat. Lat pulldowns will also help, but are not a complete substitute for practicing with the chair and negatives.
Q: Should I train to Failure? What does that mean, anyway?
A: Training to failure means performing an exercise until you cannot physically complete another repetition. There are many different takes on training to failure. Generally, this technique works better for advanced lifters, and when used selectively. It is not necessary to train to failure to grow. If you are training a muscle group multiple times per week (such as on a multi-day full-body routine), you will be better stopping 1-2 reps shy of failure and focusing more on progressing your weight and reps week-to-week. Leave failure training to those who are advanced enough to know if it works for them.
Q: What's all this stuff about "Overtraining"?
A: When you train too often, at too high of an intensity, and don't allow enough recovery time, you can enter a state called Overtraining. You've essentially over-taxed your system and need to take a break to recover. Symptoms include: stalling out on your progression, no desire to train, illness, fatigue, etc.
If you think you're overtraining...don't worry - you're probably not.
If you still think you're overtraining...don't worry - you're probably not.
If you still, still think you're overtraining and are too tired to even worry about it - maybe you are. Deload.
Q: I may have an injury. (State nature of injury). What should I do?
A: Give it some rest, ask your mother, or see a doctor. Nobody can diagnose you over the internet and you're likely to hurt yourself further by listening to bad advice.
DISCLAIMER: Many people have made strength and size gains with almost any type of program, split, rep range, program frequency, etc. Nothing is absolute, and no strategy is perfect for everyone. Don't be afraid to research, ask questions, and experiment to determine what's right for you.