5 Ways to Vary Your Training for Explosive Muscular Growth

Q: I hope you will answer a quick couple of questions. I am 5'8 and about 155 pounds. I have been lifting for probably 25 years. That has been very consistent for the past 17-20 years. Unfortunately, I have been around the gym for so long that my workouts have always been either the classic chest/tri, back/bi..... You know the rest. Or I have combined chest and back, legs, shoulders and arms (4 day routine). 

I have recently read a lot from Layne Norton and others on training at least twice per week. Upper/lower rest upper/lower. I have been following that type of program for probably 6 months. I have changed it up with exercises and even did Layne's upper/lower rest and the 3 day hypertrophy. 

With all that said, I have weighed the same for the 17 years - give or take. I have been 160-165. I would like to put on 5-10 pounds of muscle. I feel that I am a little more advanced than a beginner, but I would think I would be classified as an ectomorph (hard gainer). 

Question: would you recommend lowering the exercises? Or switching to a full body? I have never done a full body, because I love doing legs.


T bar.                               4 sets/superset with push-ups
Pull-ups.                                       4 sets/ superset with dips
Seated row.                                  3-4 sets
Incline dumbbell                          4 sets
Side laterals.                               3-4 sets/ superset with front
Dumbbell shoulder press            4 sets
Barbell curls.                               4 sets
Nose breakers.                            4 sets
( usually vary the reps heavy weeks, medium and light - just started pyramiding after reading your article on the main movements) 

Squats ( mix it up freq. - dumbbell, front, split, etc).   4-6 sets
Stiff leg dead lift or leg curl.                                        4-6 sets
Leg press.                                                                   4-6 sets
Lunges.                                                                       3-4 sets
I mix it up with extensions and lunges as well. I am usually doing 20 sets of legs. 
Calves.                                                                        6-10 sets

I struggle with calves so I have recently been killing them 2-3 times per week and I am finally seeing a response.

So, I will mix the exercises for the 2nd round of each of the days listed above. Either machines or seated versus standing or other variations.


J. Piller

My Answer: Given that you've been training consistently for 20 years, you're definitely not a beginner.  Ectomorph, yes.

Question is how have you been varying your workouts during those 20 years?  Varying between split routines and full routines will keep you from getting bored, but it won't jump start new gains in size.

There are a number of reasons why people don't gain weight:

  1. They don't vary their caloric intake.  To jump start growth you should be eating a high calorie, high protein diet.  This is a no-brainer, and I'm sure you know this given your 20 years of training. The problem is that if you eat a high calorie, high protein for a long time, your body will become accustomed to it.  To jump start growth, you have to vary your diet.  You have to reset your metabolism by alternating between high and low calorie, high and low protein, high and low carbohydrate.  In Strength and Physique: High Tension Exercises for Muscular Growth,  I go over the ZigZag Zone diet, which varies calorie intake to help you consistently make gains in size and weight.
  2. They don't vary the intensity of their training. Conventional bodybuilding training is different from other training, because bodybuilders tend to subscribe to "block training." They don't periodize their training.  The most that bodybuilders do is figure out what exercises they like, what kind of split routine to do and that's it.  It doesn't vary.  In Strength and Physique: High Tension Exercises for Muscular Growth, I go over the concept of "density" and "decompression" phases.  These phases allow you to vary the intensity and volume so that you consistently gain strength and muscle.
  3. They don't vary their sets and reps. Volume (sets and reps) is another dimension that needs to be modulated in order to sustain growth.  For some reason, this particular dimension is static in a lot of bodybuilding programs.  What's the typical set number for each exercise?  3-4.  And yet you should really vary the number of sets from workout to workout.  In Strength and Physique: High Tension Exercises for Muscular Growth,  I go over the concept of "microcycling," where you modulate the volume by varying the sets and reps to sustain muscular growth.
  4. They don't vary the tension of their exercises. I'm very surprised that most people do not use set extenders.  They don't do drop sets or trisets.  Set extenders are very powerful tools that allow you to extend the time under tension a muscle goes through when it's being worked.  Greater time under tension means greater growth.
  5. They don't time their rest periods. This is the one dimension of a training program that nobody keeps track of, and yet this one dimension has a profound effect on whether you lose fat and gain muscle and on your hormones.

Q: In regards to your post on Circuit Training with Weights, what if I am just doing a 20-minute Insanity workout for my cardio? Will working out with weights really boost my cardio enough that I don't have to do Insanity or any type of long cardio?

My Answer: Yes working out with weights should improve your conditioning as long as you follow low rest periods (10-60 seconds) and higher reps (8-12+).


Q: I recently saw a video talking about making lean gains. And he mentioned that beginners of bodybuilding (0-1 year) can gain 2-3 pounds/month lean muscle at so called "honeymoon" phase under good training and nutrition. After the beginning phase, like intermediate and advanced phase, the muscle gains per month would be slower and less.1-2/month for the intermediate and 0-1/month for the advanced. What do you think about it? And how does that honeymoon phase work that well?

Thank you so much for your help!! 

All the best, 

My Answer: You will gain muscle at a faster rate in the early stages of your training.  This is because weight training is a shocking new stimulus, and hence your body responds with growth in an effort to protect itself.  After awhile, however, your muscles no longer respond to weight training, and growth no longer comes as easy.

So what's the solution? Well if you're doing the same damn thing over and over, then your muscles simply habituate to the exercises.  Your muscles become stronger, but they don't grow any larger.  So you have to change the program.  Ever notice that when you switch programs, there's a honeymoon phase where you make good gains?

The key to sustained growth is intelligent variation of your training.  Once the honeymoon's over, you got to move on to a different program.
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