Q: I know I’m supposed to work all the muscles, but I’m not sure how to put a good routine together. I see so many different kinds in IRONMAN that I don’t know which one to try. Right now I train whatever’s not sore and take a day off when I don’t feel like going to the gym or I have a paper to write. Am I doing things right?
A: Your confusion about which type of routine to follow is justified. They all work for a time, including Heavy Duty, volume, double splits and many others. The instinctive-to-a-fault training principle you currently follow is quite hit-or-miss, however, with an inherently high risk of overtraining. The only gauge you’re using to determine how often you should train a bodypart is whether or not it’s still sore from the previous workout. That isn’t a very effective marker for many people, since not everyone experiences delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
I’ve known very well-developed men and women who rarely got sore following their training sessions. Conversely, I’ve also spoken with many bodybuilders who tell me they’re constantly sore somewhere, yet they don’t always exhibit above-average development. Certain people have muscle groups that rarely, if ever, get sore. That may have to do with their possessing below-average motor neuron recruitment pathways to that muscle or muscle group.
The fact is, because your back isn’t sore, you may think it has properly recovered from your last training session when it’s still repairing and supercompensating. By training it before its regeneration process is complete, you inflict further damage. That’s the textbook definition of overtraining, and it’s a death sentence for any additional muscle growth.
Many people who undertrain are actually bigger and stronger than those who overtrain. All you really need to do is make sure bodyparts get at least three days of rest, probably four for legs and back. Keep in mind that you work triceps as assisting muscles when you train chest or shoulders, biceps during back training, front delts during chest and rear delts during many back exercises. Also, your nervous system needs a break every two days if you’re an average trainer. Here’s a sample routine that fills that criteria:
Day 1: Chest and triceps
Day 2: Back
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Shoulders and biceps
Day 5: Legs
Day 6: Off
Cycle begins again
You can design your own combinations based on the rules of recovery above. IM