This is the first chapter from my ebook Weight Training for Beginners, available here. If you're tired of being small and weak, this ebook is for you. No more excuses.
If you have ever looked at any of the most famous and popular bodybuilders’ routines, you may have noticed that they usually look something like this:
Monday: Chest Tuesday: Back Wednesday: Off Thursday: Legs and shoulders Friday: Arms Saturday: Off Sunday: Off
Within the fitness and bodybuilding community, the previous style of training is commonly called a “bro-split”, a type of training in which you directly hit each muscle group only once a week. While those routines are certainly much better than doing nothing, they are not optimal for muscle growth in natural lifters. A natural lifter should try to work each muscle group directly at least twice a week. The key here is the rate of protein synthesis in muscle cells. Muscle protein synthesis is the process through which your body repairs the micro-tears you create in your muscles when you exercise or make your muscles work hard. Although it is a constant process, the rate of muscle protein synthesis becomes elevated after resistance training. This is the process through which new muscle is built. When you work out, micro-tears occur in your muscle, and by repairing them you can make your muscles grow. The elevated rate of muscle protein synthesis lasts for approximately 24-48 hours after you train, maybe even 72 hours for a novice lifter. What this means is that after you hit the gym, your muscles will grow only for up to 48 hours after your training session. Now you’re probably starting to realize the problem with bro splits. Let’s say you train chest on Monday. Your body will repair your chest muscles approximately until Wednesday… and that´s it. Now you have five days of no growth until it’s time to hit chest again next Monday. That’s five days of dead time in which you could’ve easily squeezed in another chest workout. Now you’re probably thinking “Wait a minute. If I obliterate my chest muscles with 20 sets on Monday, they will be sore for the next six days. Doesn´t that mean that my chest hasn´t finished recovering and is still building muscle?” While that may seem reasonable, the answer is no. That pain you experience for the next few days after you work out is called DOMS or Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, and it actually has nothing to do with muscle growth. If you have ever done any kind of physical activity, you probably have experienced DOMS. For lifters, specifically, they occur mainly after a particularly intense workout, when you try out a new exercise and when you haven’t lifted for a while and get back to working out. They can also occur in every muscle group, but everyone experiences them in some parts of their body more than others. The important thing to know here is that there is no direct correlation between DOMS and muscle growth. Even though DOMS do cause some degree of muscle fiber damage, it is also true that measures of muscle damage are poorly correlated with muscle soreness. In other words, it’s possible to experience DOMS with almost no indication of muscle damage, and also possible for severe damage to muscle tissue to happen without you feeling sore (Newman, 1988).
Back to our original point, no, DOMS don’t mean your muscles are growing, which completely negates the argument that you have to feel sore after you work out. This also means that you can grow a lot of muscle mass without having to experience DOMS.
Taking all the previous information into account, we can now start to think about what would actually be an optimal workout schedule. We know that it’s better for natties to train each muscle group more than once a week, and we know that DOMS are not a direct indicator of muscle growth. This brings us to the next big point, which is training frequency and workout volume.
Let’s say that you are doing a bro split, and on Monday you blasted your chest with 15 overall sets. Let’s assume that due to the high volume of that workout you would experience DOMS for the next three or so days. However, on Wednesday, even though you can barely touch your chest without suffering, you remember that you read in this book that you should hit each muscle group more than once a week. So you hit the gym and bang in another hard 12 sets of chest exercises (while you are still sore), the same volume as Monday. What you would notice in this workout is that you can’t perform at the same level that you did on Monday, due to DOMS. Studies have shown that working out while sore can actually affect your workouts negatively, as they could alter motor patterns, causing a reduced activation of the desired muscle and potentially decreasing your force capacity by up to 50%.
So where am I going with all of this? Until now we’ve learned that you should hit every muscle group directly at least twice a week due to muscle protein synthesis, that DOMS don’t necessarily indicate an effective workout or muscle growth and that they can actually be detrimental if you work out while you are still sore. So how should you actually train? Well, taking everything I’ve written before into account, the logical and most effective way to train would be a workout that sacrifices a little volume every day so that you don’t feel sore for the next few days, but that allows you to hit every muscle group more frequently. Let me explain by giving you 3 examples of how you could split your workouts, depending on how many days a week you can get (or prefer to get) a workout in.
3 days per week: Monday: Full body Tuesday: Rest Wednesday: Full body Thursday: Rest Friday: Full body Saturday: Rest Sunday: Rest
4 days per week: Monday: Upper body Tuesday: Lower body Wednesday: Rest Thursday: Upper body Friday: Lower body Saturday: Rest Sunday: Rest
5 days per week: Monday: Upper body Tuesday: Lower body Wednesday: Rest Thursday: Push (chest, shoulders and triceps) Friday: Pull (back and biceps) Saturday: Legs Sunday: Rest
I think by now you get the point: it’s better to sacrifice a little volume each workout (the total amount of weight you lift, calculated by multiplying weight lifted by reps performed), in order to train each muscle more frequently and to optimize your training to the maximum level possible. This means doing fewer sets each session but hitting each muscle group every two or three days, instead of every seven days. In conclusion, if up to this point you´ve been following a bro split type of training, it´s not that you´ve been doing things wrong, it´s just that you have probably been misled by fake natural athletes and famous bodybuilders who –because of steroids (this will be explained further in the next chapter)– can afford to train differently than the rest of us. You probably still made some gains following their workouts, but you could’ve probably gained more if you had started right from the beginning. Don’t worry, though; most of us started doing some things wrong, but through consistent learning, researching, and experiencing what works well and what doesn´t, we can all start optimizing our training and gradually doing it better week by week.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, be sure to check out the Ebook here. Use the promo code SIMPLEMAN1 to get 20% off!
References  McLester J, Bishop P, Guilliams M. Comparison of 1 day and 3 days per week of equal-volume resistance training in experienced subjects. J Strength Cond Res. 2000;14(3):273–281.  MacDougall, J. D., Gibala, M. J., Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDonald, J. R., Interisano, S. A., & Yarasheski, K. E. (1995). The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology = Revue Canadienne de Physiologie Appliquee, 20(4), 480–486. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8563679  Sikorski EM, Wilson JM, Lowery RP, Joy JM, Laurent CM, Wilson SM-C, Hesson D, Naimo MA, Averbuch B, and Gilchrist P. Changes in perceived recovery status scale following high volume, muscle damaging resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res 27: 2079–2085, 2013.  Natural lifters  Trost Z, France CR, Sullivan MJ, and Thomas JS. Pain-related fear predicts reduced spinal motion following experimental back injury. Pain 153: 1015–1021, 2012.  Paulsen, G, Mikkelsen, UR, Raastad, T, and Peake, JM. Leucocytes, cytokines and satellite cells: what role do they play in muscle damage and regeneration following eccentric exercise? Exerc. Immunol. Rev. 18: 42-97, 2012.