A: I believe that most people are lacking progress due to undertraining, not overtraining. Although there are no negative side effects in a physical sense, undertraining can take a toll on your motivation and self-esteem. Here are the biggest culprits when it comes to reasons for undertraining:
Rest periods. Beginners can stick with a generous 90-second rest between sets and get bigger—to a point.
Intensity (as defined by how close you are to your one-rep max). Beginners can improve their bench without doing reps lower than their 6RM—to a point.
Frequency. Beginners can gain weight training only three times a week—to a point.
Tempo. Beginners can ignore lifting speed and gain size—to a point.
Volume. Beginners can build their arms with only six sets per workout—to a point.
Here’s an equation you can tak to the bank:
Adaptation = Stagnation
All in all, if you don’t achieve more overall work, your body has no reason to progress. When most people sign up at the gym, they should ask for the “social membership,” not the “gym membership,” because their workouts revolve around 20 to 30 minutes of subintense training plus lots of resting and deciding which exercises to do based on where the cute girl is going next.
On top of that, every few weeks they go missing in action, so they lack consistency. Those people are undertraining and never see any real results. This approach never gets the job done.
Failing to manipulate your loads, rest times, tempos, duration and frequency is the fastest way to become undertrained. It’s about periodization, and if you’re not using it, you’re swimming upstream without a paddle!
Case in point—every single athlete who competed in the 2012 Olympic Games used some form of periodization, which is simply a plan that cycles different types of training. Likely your goal is not to make the Olympics, but there’s still a lesson to be learned.
You don’t arrive at the gym and bench-press 315 pounds. You design a plan preparing you to lift 315. You don’t just commence high-volume training. You cycle a high-volume phase, a medium-volume phase and an extremely low-volume phase. Anything else is a dummy’s approach, and a dummy’s approach is simply dumb.
It’s very hard to get leaner, stronger and bigger by accident. Progression is the name of the game, and many people are just hoping that showing up at the gym is enough to bring them progress. It might have been when you were 16 years old, but for many of you those days are long gone, my friend. Without progress you will be undertraining and have little to show for your social membership—er, I mean gym membership.
Self-check time. Okay, it’s time to be honest with yourself. How far have you come in the past few years? Some of you are nodding your head with pride, and good for you! Most likely you’re following some form of periodization and are experiencing the fruits of your labor. Keep rocking.
Some of you are realizing that you’ve been doing the same number of reps, sets and weights for months, maybe years, without changing anything. Maybe you’ve changed a few variables, but your frequency, duration and intensity haven’t changed. The ultimate self-check is to look in the mirror—that will tell you very quickly if you’re undertraining.
Here are a few tips if you think your suffering from undertraining syndrome:
• Train your weak bodypart twice a week. On a five-day split, you could do it on Monday and Friday.
• Start wearing a stopwatch and reduce your rest periods by 15 seconds on every set.
• Start following a tempo—doing a three- or four-second negative on most of your lifts will instantly extend your sets.
• Start training each bodypart twice a day—an intensification workout in the morning and an accumulation workout in the evening for the same bodypart. (Note: We teach that protocol only to our Hypertrophy M.A.X. members at www
• Get someone to create your workouts. Either hire a personal trainer or follow a periodized program like No Nonsense Muscle Building.
The only time undertraining is acceptable and encouraged is for planned deloading-and-recovery weeks. Other than that, just say no to undetraining.
Editor’s note: Vince Del Monte packed on an amazing 40 pounds of muscle in 24 weeks. Known as “The Skinny Guy Savior,” he offers courses to help you go from twig to big, including No Nonsense Muscle Building. For more information or to sign up for his free-tips newsletter, visit www.VinceDelMonteFitness.com. IM