Q. Hey Ron!
I'm a big fan and a (very) longtime reader. I'm a dad of three in my forties, and still training hard as I can given all the fun aches and pains that come along with it. Anyway I had a question which I know you have answered, but I can't find it.
Should we as natural and non-pro people who workout with weights be doing more or less than the pros? I have heard arguments for both sides:
1) "Normal" people meaning non-HGH, non-competing people should be doing more volume and more work than pro bodybuilders. Pros are genetically gifted and taking lots of drugs, so they can do very little and still see huge gains. As a "normal" lifter you need to do more and work harder than pros to see great results.
2) Normal lifters should be doing a lot less volume and intensity than pros. Due to pro's genetics and drug use they can handle a lot more volume and abuse to their bodies without overtraining and injury. Natural folks can't handle that much work without getting injured or overtrained, so they should be doing a lot less.
Thanks for any help Ron.
And thanks so much for all the invaluable FREE advice over the years.
Great question Brandon! This is debated all the time, and with good reason as there are so many factors that play a role beyond even the ones you mentioned. 'How much should I be doing?' is a question I get on just about a daily basis. People want exact prescriptions and numbers, as in how many sets for each bodypart. We can lay out general guidelines of course, but they won't be optimal for everyone. But because so many guys over the years and even today do look to the pro training articles to model their own workouts after, let's get right into whether or not an average trainer, not using performance-enhancing drugs and not making a living from their physique, should be doing 'high-volume,' which in itself is a nebulous term that means different things to different people. For the sake of argument, let's just agree that there is a difference between shorter, abbreviated workouts that can be completed in roughly 40 minutes versus far more involved workouts as performed by most pro's and top amateurs, that generally would take at least an hour to complete if not 90 minutes or more.
For most people in Brandon's situation, I do NOT feel they should be training with as much volume as the pro's, though I don't ever feel less training intensity is needed. Intensity should always be high, except for specific periods where you back off after anywhere from 6-8 weeks of high intensity. The key is always going to be recovery, because without it there is no muscle growth. I've said this before many times, and I'll say it again. HGH is so effective not so much because they 'cause' muscles to grow. It's more that they 'allow' muscle to grow by maximizing recovery and repair. Think about it. Their main medical use for many years was for people such as burn victims and AIDS patients who were in very real danger of 'wasting away' to death. They were administered not for their anabolic, or muscle-building properties; but for their anti-catabolic properties - meaning they allowed the body to retain its muscle mass even in the face of muscle-wasting diseases and trauma. Assuming you are training hard enough, you are stimulating muscle growth. The problem is, your body fights very, very hard to PREVENT muscle growth. Just training hard itself causes a massive release of the catabolic hormone cortisol. Ironic, isn't it? It stands to reason that more and more training is going to cause even more cortisol to flood your system and make muscle recovery and growth nearly impossible. Steroids are powerfully anti-catabolic, so they counter and overcome the evil cortisol.
Rest and nutrition also play key roles in recovery and growth. In addition to drugs, the aforementioned pro's and top amateurs often have sponsors that allow them to sleep and eat as much as they need to. Many sleep 8-9 hours every night and take a solid hour's nap every afternoon on top of that (especially those who train on a double split, twice a day). They don't miss meals - ever. Those two things are quite advantageous.
Would pro's be able to make the same gains from training much less than they do, which is often anywhere from 15-30 working sets per bodypart and training with weights five or even six days a week? Though only a rare few like Dorian Yates and David Henry have done so, I tend to think they could. But they genuinely enjoy training and actually prefer doing more. I happen to think many do more than they need to. When I see a quadriceps routine that features squats, leg presses, and hack squats along with leg extensions and lunges, all for 4 working sets each, I suspect it's overkill and a bit redundant in terms of exercises that essentially do the same thing. But they're not going to overtrain, so it's not a big deal. I feel the average person would overtrain their quads doing that much, especially if they are on a split where they hit quads more often than once every 7 days.
So to answer the questions in brief:
1) Normal people should definitely not be doing more than the pro's. They will not be able to recover and grow from such a high workload.
2) Normal lifters should be doing less volume, but not using less intensity. I would also highly suggest not training more than two days in a row without a day off to allow the CNS (Central Nervous System) to fully recover before training again.