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Front Delts and Overtraining

I used that routine when I was 21 years old in an attempt to build up my mass and gain weight. I incorporated all the basic exercises and used heavy weights for six to eight reps. Along with a lot of good eating, it bulked me up from 205 pounds to 230 pounds.

Q: I just read your book Natural Bodybuilding, and it’s one of the best. I really like your suggested routines, and I tried one for a week:

Monday: Chest, delts, triceps
Tuesday: Back, biceps, legs
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Chest, delts, triceps
Friday: Back, biceps, legs
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Off

I felt it was a little much on my front delts, however, because I hit them with flat benches, inclines, military presses and upright rows. They were sore the next few days and hurt when I tried to hit them again three days later. I wanted to stick with a very similar routine where I hit each muscle two times per week. It seems no matter what kind of routine you do, even when you work shoulders a different day, your front delts are getting overtrained because they’re involved earlier in the week when you hit chest. I’ve been stressing about that, so your advice would be much appreciated.

A: The routine you’re using is an excellent one for the intermediate bodybuilder who wants to gain size and strength. You’re training each muscle group twice a week but only working out four days a week. That gives you three full days of rest for recuperation and growth.

I used that routine when I was 21 years old in an attempt to build up my mass and gain weight. I incorporated all the basic exercises and used heavy weights for six to eight reps. Along with a lot of good eating, it bulked me up from 205 pounds to 230 pounds.

You’re right about stressing the front deltoids by training chest and delts in the same workout. When you do chest exercises, such as bench presses, incline presses and dips, the front delts work just as hard as the pecs. Following up those exercises with more work for the front delts, like military presses or dumbbell presses, can cause even more stress.

After a certain point the intermediate routine becomes more difficult to follow because, as the muscles get bigger and stronger, you stress them more, and the recuperation time increases. That’s why more advanced bodybuilders need more days of rest before training those muscles again.

A person who is just beginning weight training can work each muscle group three times a week with only one rest day between workouts. That’s because the workload imposed on the muscles is small enough that recuperation can take place in only one day. As the muscles become stronger and larger, you can train them harder. That requires more rest time before you can train the same muscles again.

You might want to change your program to a more advanced routine, working your body over three days as opposed to only two. That would give each muscle group more rest time.

I suggest switching to the three-days-on/one-day-off program, which would give you four days of rest for each muscle group instead of three. Here’s an example of how you could split it up:

Day 1: Chest, triceps, biceps
Day 2: Abs, legs
Day 3: Delts, back, calves
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Cycle begins again

You don’t train each muscle group twice a week on this routine. Instead, you work each one twice every eight days. I think that would help your front deltoids recuperate.

Even though you’d have only one rest day between your chest and deltoid workouts, the routine would still be better for recuperation than your current one because you wouldn’t be training deltoids on the same day as chest. That should prevent your front delts from being overtrained.

Q: Here is the split I am using. What do you think of it?

Monday: Quads, hamstrings, abs
Tuesday: Lower back, traps, calves
Wednesday: Chest, triceps
Thursday: Back, biceps
Friday: Shoulders
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Rest

Isn’t it more beneficial for me to hit the gym five or six days a week like this, rather than four? I understand the need for recovery, but I thought hitting the iron hard for five days straight would help me grow while on a calorie surplus. I’m thinking that if I train only four days I might put on excess fat. What do you think?

A: Many bodybuilders follow a similar routine. They train a different muscle group each day, taking five or six days a week. The reasoning is that, as long as they’re not hitting the same muscle group two days in a row, they can train every day without taking a break.

That doesn’t work for natural bodybuilders because the body as a whole needs rest. When you train every day, even though you may be working different muscle groups, you’re not giving your body a chance to recuperate.

That’s especially true if you’re training very hard and heavy. Basic exercises—squats, barbell rows, deadlifts, bench presses, shrugs, military presses, etc.—are very taxing. If you use enough resistance on those exercises to limit yourself to a very tough six to eight reps, you should be thoroughly exhausted when you’re finished with the workout.

I’ve had workouts that wiped me out not only the day that I trained but also the next day. I remember squatting with 455 to 500 pounds during my leg workout, in addition to all the other exercises I did that day, and being drained of energy that night. It’s the same when I do a heavy back workout consisting of barbell rows, T-bar rows and deadlifts. When I’m finished with a training session that requires all my energy and concentration, my energy supplies are down to zero.

If I went to the gym to train on the day after a workout like that, I wouldn’t be giving myself a chance to recuperate. The workout would most likely not be productive, and I’d be further draining my limited energy stores.

I like to take a full day off from training after my leg and back workouts. They’re the most physically demanding because they’re the biggest muscle groups. Plus, squats, barbell rows, deadlifts, stiff-legged deadlifts and leg presses are probably the hardest and most demanding exercises that you can do.

I think you should eliminate the lower back, traps and calves workout and train those muscle groups with other bodyparts. For example, train your entire back on the same day. You can train traps with delts and calves with almost any other bodypart.

Here’s how I suggest you split up your muscle groups:

Monday: Chest, triceps, calves
Tuesday: Quads, hams, abs
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Shoulders, traps, calves
Friday: Back, lower back, biceps
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Rest or begin cycle again

That routine will give your body a complete day of rest after two days of training. You should notice a big difference in your recuperation and energy.

You mentioned that training six days a week would help you stay leaner than if you took only four days a week to train your entire body. That’s a common misconception.

Although you’re definitely burning more calories by training six days a week, that doesn’t automatically translate to a leaner physique. The best way to get lean is to watch your diet.

By taking in fewer calories—and fewer carbohydrates—especially on your rest days, you’ll reduce your bodyfat. Training every day won’t make up for eating too many calories. Even if you added cardio every day, you’d still get fat if you ate too many calories.

On the other hand, if you go to the gym every day and train heavy and hard, it will be only a matter of time before you become overtrained. To improve muscle growth, you need recuperation. A much better plan is to schedule several rest days per week so your muscles—and your body as a whole—can recuperate and grow.

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