Going from Beginner to Advanced Trainee in Record Time
By: Lawrence Hosannah
So you have been training for 6 months or more and you are really proud of your accomplishments. During the past few months you have packed on enough muscle to fill out those t-shirts that either hanged off your once bony frame or your t-shirt has become less tighter around the waste. No longer do people say "You do?" when you say "I've been working out, in fact you don't even have to ask people compliment you on your physique without any coaxing, poundage that used to feel as if they were bolted down now fly through the air with the greatest of ease, not to mention the your new found 6-pack which so called friends in the not so distant past referred to as flab-dominals, you now have some real muscle to go with that lat spreading-bodybuilder walk.
Having acquired some knowledge on the working of your body and how to coax it into growth you now feel ready to take your body to the next level. No longer satisfied to just build a 16 inch arm and a 185lb bench press you now want it all, hell even the Olympia stage doesn’t seem to far off any more. You know what you want, you can taste it, and why shouldn’t you have it? Hell you've been putting in the work, eating your required 6 meals a day, training hard, taking your supplements, and you can't think of anything else you want to do with your time (well maybe hang out with the fine young ladies or guys at your high school or college wouldn’t be a breach of your Spartan lifestyle)(If you are not in college I'm sure that you still can appreciate the finer things in life). You my friend have been bitten and infected by the bodybuilding bug.
Despite your having added a considerable amount of muscle, definition and strength to your frame in the last 6 months or so, and haven taken your arms from 13 1/2 inches to 16 inches (or what ever gain you have realized), and despite the fact that you are starting to acquire the coveted V-taper, you're still not happy. I mean why should you be? You have seen the bodybuilding magazines, the photographs on bodybuilding.com, and have been to a few contests and have higher physique goals for yourself. Nice little cuts, and a bit of muscle is not for you, you want to take your body to the advanced level, and why not? You are smart, disciplined, driven and know what you want, not like those other people in your gym who haven’t made progress in months. You want 20-inch guns (or more), a thick dense chest, and a back as cavernous and jagged as the Rocky Mountains, thighs that spell power, a tight sculpted cobble stone midsection and razor sharp definition.
So you have great goals, how do you go from a man or woman who looks like they stay in decent shape and turn yourself into a person who is in phenomenal shape? Basically how do you circumvent the hazardous territory and go from the beginner stage and get to the advanced stage.
Due to nature of the territory (we will call it the intermediate stage) most people get stuck in their physique transformation or progress slows down to a painful snails pace. Most people who set out on a journey to go from the beginner stage to the advanced stage never make it, some give up from the lack of forward movement seen, others continue on but find themselves in the same place despite months of effort, others make slow progress, some acquire special chemicals to carry them to their destination, and others find a map that shows them a clear and distinctive way to reach their goal.
What if you had a clear map to get you to your ultimate goal, would you use it? “I would”, you say. Unfortunately there is no definite and clear map. But there does exist a rough map that despite not giving you every nook and cranny on the map will provide you with the major crossroads, vantage points and pit falls on the map. Would you use that? I'm sure you would; well read on here is your rough map.
Going from the beginner stage to the advanced stage (intermediate level)
The first 6 months to a year of training is when most fresh trainees acquire their best gains, the body is still new to the onslaughts of training and it changes fairly rapidly. At this stage each week or so brings new gains in strength, muscle and definition. During this stage it seems that whatever you do in the gym you see a positive difference. People who haven’t seen you in a few months are flabbergasted (I've been trying to find a way to use that word for months) by your progress.
During the beginner stage you experiment with a variety of new exercises, sets, muscle group splits, repetition tempos, and sets. You also try a variety of supplements to argument your training, you've got to have your supplements. The simple routine you probably started off with has now become a potpourri of exercises to work each muscle from top to bottom, from inside to outside, after all you're now a serious bodybuilder you have to do what the pros do to look like them. right?
Unfortunately the quick gains that you realized earlier are starting to slow down, you no longer see a weekly or even a bi-monthly gain, hell you feel as if you might be losing muscle, how are you going to reach your physique goals by walking backwards?
Well let’s refer to the rough intermediate map I mentioned early, to see where you are now, and try to get you back onto the road to progress and advancement.
As an intermediate trainee you have to apply different rules in order to move forward
The beginner stage
What worked for you in the beginners stage, and what is going to work for you in the advanced stage will most likely not be appropriate for you now. The reason for this is that the goal of the beginning stage should be to build a foundation and the goal of the advanced stage is to refine development.
When a sculptor creates a sculpture his first goal is to set a foundation, she may use a wire structure attached to a base to lay clay or other material on later. This wire and base is joined together solidly in order to support the material to be added to it. In the same way a beginner trainee should set up a foundation with foundation exercises, basic nutrition, proper rest, and proper mind set. Everything is built on this frame and base so care must be given to the proper construction.
At this stage it is recommended that trainees train their entire physique 2-3 times a week on non-consecutive days with weights. Exercises during this stage should be basic compound exercises such as barbell squats, deadlifts, bench press, chin ups, bent over rows, over head press, bicep curls, etc. It is not recommended that trainees add any isolation exercises such as leg extensions, side raises, and concentration curls, etc. those exercises are best left to later stages. During the beginner stage correct form is learned, the trainee learns how to stretch, warm up, etc. For trainees with excess body fat the addition of 3 or more days of moderate pace cardiovascular exercise will help speed along the fat burning process.
During the beginner stage all muscles are worked fairly evenly with no particular specialization on a particular muscle group.
The advanced stage
The advanced stage is one of refinement; at this point you should be as close to your maximal size as possible. Emphasis should be placed on balancing your physique and on tweaking. A good example of a bodybuilder who understood that refinement was necessary is Arnold Schwarzenegger during his early years he built up a considerable amount of muscle bulk, after competing again a more refined Frank Zane and not taking first place changed his program to refine his muscular development, and the rest is history. A sculptor at this stage will put in the detail, polish and refine his/her creation, giving the work a finished look.
The intermediate stage
During the intermediate stage a trainee has acquired some experience on how his/her body responds to exercise, nutrition, and rest. With jubilation he/she rejoices at how certain muscles respond really well, at the same time the trainee is all but aware of the muscle groups that seem to lag behind. At this stage trainees who wish to continue making gains should train not only hard but also intelligently, pushing their muscles hard but not over-training.
A sculptor at this stage would begin to place clay on the wire giving the sculpture contour, volume and shape. The smart trainee will do the same. He/she will apply muscle in key places to fill out the frame and develop an aesthetic package. During the travel through this stage a trainee should no longer train the entire body on one day but split the muscles up into 2-3 training sessions to be able to apply the correct intensity to each region. Lagging areas should receive special attention although all muscles should be thoroughly worked.
Here are some general guidelines to follow:
1) Split the muscles into 2-3 distinct training sessions, with the largest muscle groups occupying different days. The largest muscle groups are the Back, Chest, and the thigh-buttock complex. The reasons for doing this are:
a) Training bigger muscle groups has a greater anabolic and fat burning effect on the entire physiology than does training smaller muscle groups.
b) Bigger muscle groups require more energy to train properly, if you leave them for later on in the training day you might not have enough energy to work them intensely.
c) By splitting big muscle groups over the week you can spread out then natural anabolic and fat burning effect.
d) Due to the increase in training ability that trainees acquire it becomes easier to over-train when big areas are grouped together (this tends to apply to training the back and legs together; training the chest with the other big muscle groups shouldn’t cause over-training unless other guidelines are broken).
2) Keep your set count down to maintain intensity and reduce the chances of over-training.
Typically in the intermediate stage trainees add lots of exotic exercises and lots of additional sets, this combined with greater poundage lifted often leads to gross over-training (i.e. smaller weaker muscles) which is the exact opposite of what we want to achieve. As a trainee advances he/she should add and take away exercises with precision, this means adding or subtracting exercise program for a good reason.
What is a good reason to add sets? If you wish to add an additional exercise to a muscle group which you are specializing on this might help increase the amount of progress achieved, even though this can usually be taken care of by increasing your intensity of effort (training closer to temporary muscular failure). What is a good reason to take away sets? When you feel depleted, over trained, when your strength plateaus, this might jolt you back into the progression road.
When a lot of sets are done it becomes harder to maintain the proper effort in order to trigger a positive response in a trained muscle. Remember that you have been training for 6 or more months, your body is used to training so it will require harder sessions in order to throw it out of its comfort zone. Besides high intensity and shorter duration work has been shown to induce up surges in testosterone and Growth hormone two hormones that aid the muscle building process. (Note: growth drug using bodybuilders can train longer with lots of volume and still make great progress due to the anti-catabolic and anabolic nature of the drugs they use, if you don't use growth drugs then you have to be more precision based with your training to avoid over-training).
How many sets should you use, well that depends on many factors such as genetics, stress levels, how much sleep you get, your ability to train hard with good form among many others. A good rough guideline is:
For the thighs, back 5-8 hard sets each (not counting warm up sets) will more than suffice
For the chest 5-6
The shoulders 4-5
Biceps and triceps 3-5 hard sets each
Forearms 3-4 hard sets
Calves 4-5 hard sets
Abdominal and oblique region 3 sets each
Neck 4 hard sets
3) Train predominantly with compound exercises and few isolation exercises.
Overcomplicating the process is one of the quickest ways to slow down your muscle growth, K.I.S (Keep It Simple). Compound exercises should be your main course to continue adding quality muscle mass, to burn additional body fat and to ramp up strength gains. The addition of isolation exercises serves as a means to bring up areas that lag slightly or portions of muscle groups. Isolation movements should only be included to bring up an area; if an area is progressing fine adding additional movements might slow your progress, if it ain't broke… don't fix it.
For example if you have seen very good overall growth but your shoulder width still lags behind your chest development it would most likely be advantageous to add dumbbell side raises as an adjunct to your shoulder presses and upright row exercises.
When using isolation exercises I recommend that you keep sets at a minimum just enough to send the message so to speak.
I also suggest that you start a muscle group with a basic compound exercise first then moving on to the isolation exercise and then back to a compound exercise if necessary. This allows you to overload the bulk of a muscle with a heavy compound exercise, isolate a specific region and thrash it further, then go back to a compound exercise to give it it's come-up-pence.
4) Compound movements to use. I have found the following exercises exceptional in building outstanding physiques.
a) barbell squat (all stances, various depths)
b) deadlift (all stances, various depths, various styles)
c) parallel bar dips (various depths)
d) chin-ups and pull ups (various styles, widths)
e) bent over row (single arm or duo, different grips, and body angles)
f) upright row, high pull, power clean (different grips, and heights pulled)
g) bench press (different grips, depths, with barbell or dumbbells)
h) overhead shoulder press (different grips, various depths, various styles)
Add in a some of the following exercises to round out your program:
a) Barbell or dumbbell curls (various grips and angles)
b) Barbell or dumbbell pullover (straight arms or bent arms)
c) Calves raise (two leg or single, leg press, standing, or donkey)
d) Neck work (various angles)
e) Forearm work (various exercises)
5) Train at or close to temporary concentric muscular failure, especially if you are drug free. All the big gains lay in that territory where most men fear to tread. Basically temporary concentric muscular failure is that point at which despite your best efforts you can no longer complete another full concentric (muscle shortening portion) repetition in reasonable from despite your greatest efforts. To achieve a high level of muscle and might it takes hard work over time it's that simple. You can also make good gains training a repetition or two shy of muscular failure, but probably not of the magnitude that training to the point in which you cannot complete another concentric repetition.
6) Keep your workouts on the short side. Generally testosterone and HGH output starts to decline after 10-45 minutes of high intensity exercise. You could train for longer but then you wouldn’t stimulate the muscle to growth very well not to mention the rise in cortisol levels that is typical of high volume drug free training. The rules are different for the trainee who is training without enhanced testosterone and HGH levels; he/she has to work with their body not against it.
Typical work out length should last 30-45 minutes of high intensity output, this does not include proper warming up, stretching before and after the session. Add it all up and the maximum length you need is 45-60 minutes.
7) Train infrequently for quicker growth.
Generally the more developed and stronger you become the greater amount of recovery you will need to recover and pack on new muscle tissue. A beginner can train more frequently because they simply do not have the muscular, cardiovascular, and nervous system capacity to train at high levels. An intermediate has an increased ability to train hard, and despite his/her increased recovery ability will require more time (days of rest) to recover and build new muscle and strength. Let's say that when you started you could bench press 75lbs for 10 repetitions now after 1 year you can bench press 225lbs for 10 reps, your chances of being able to do that 3 times a week for weeks on end, if it is truly your 10 rep maximum, would be slim. Either you would have a super recovery system, growth drug assistance, or it truly wasn’t your max for 10 repetitions.
You must allow for the growth that has been stimulated to be realized, to do this simply train a day rest a day. Another option is to train 2 days then rest 2 days then repeat. A good rule of thumb is to get 4 days of rest a week if your goal is to build larger muscles (which it should be if you are an intermediate looking to build an advanced physique). Some trainees will make great progress resting 3 times a week. Most will need 4 days of rest a week, and some will need more rest days.
Be progressive train for strength and everything else will take care of itself.
It's really that simple if you do not get stronger you will not build larger muscles, and advanced physiques are made up of higher levels of muscle. You should be seeing a gradual increase in strength from week to week, this means an additional repetition or a lb. or two added from the week before. If you continue to lift the same weight for the same repetitions, no matter how good of a pump you are getting, or how cut up you have become, your muscles will not get larger in a year, ten years, never. Your focus should be on gradual increments in poundage and or repetitions over time.
9) As mentioned in guideline number 1 it is a good idea to train the biggest muscle groups on separate days. As an addition to this rule. Smaller muscle groups should accompany these bigger muscle groups. A number of training splits can be created from this guideline. Two examples of a split option are listed below:
Day 1. Thighs/calves/forearms
Day 2. Rest
Day 3. Chest/biceps/triceps
Day 4. Rest
Day 5. Back/shoulders/ neck
Day 6. Rest
Day 7. Rest
Day 1. Thighs/shoulders
Day 2. Rest
Day 3. Chest/back/forearms
Day 4. Rest
Day 5. Biceps. Triceps/ calves/abdominal region/neck
Day 6. Rest
Day 7. Repeat
These are not the only options you have a variety of splits can be used with good result. I can't over-emphasize the importance of building rest days into your workout program.
10) (This one is not a guideline but is very important) Acknowledge your genetic potential.
We all have different gifts; some of us have more raw material for bodybuilding than others. Most trainees despite their best efforts will never achieve a pro-level physique. How many people have the capacity to be over 7ft tall, or to ride a bike like Lance Armstrong does, not many. With that said you most likely have some gifts that you can take advantage of and optimize. A smaller framed individual would probably more suited to building an aesthetically pleasing physique with great detail somewhat similar to the physique on the famous Michelangelo sculpture of David. A larger framed individual would probably do better by focusing on building a thick dense physique, enhancing his/her gifts there. Of course you should still focus on bringing up lagging areas but you should also play up your strength.
Note: even the pros have weaknesses that are visible, over time they have learned to reduce the negative impact of these weaknesses and enhance their strong points. Whatever your particular genetic inheritance the chance of you building a well developed physique, which would turn, the heads of most people is high if you apply the right guidelines.
11) Combine the above guidelines with a sound support system.
The above guidelines must be accompanied by the following:
a) A balanced nutritional program that provides all the necessary macro and micronutrients. This means sufficient protein, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients required for optimal grow, fat loss and strength gain.
b) Sufficient rest and relaxation. Most people need a minimum of eight quality hours a night of sleep, few can get by on less for long, and others need an hour or two more. Along with this a 1/2 hour nap in the mid-afternoon will drastically speed up progression.
c) Keep a logbook to chart your progress. Keeping a logbook allows you to build a written history of what works and what doesn’t work for you. You can access the information in it anytime to discern what methods to use to continue progressing. A logbook also allows you to plan forward during a training cycle, to set goals which can be read regularly, and to avoid repeating variables that have not worked. You can log the following information:
1. Your goals
2. Muscle groups trained on a particular day
3. Length of the workout and possibly time of the day
4. Sets, repetitions, and poundage completed
5. Exercises used
6. General feeling during and after the workout along with any other important points.
How you proceed with your physique enhancing program has a direct impact on your results right now and ultimately what you achieve, by applying the guidelines above a beginner trainee can make a result producing transition into a more advanced stage, without encountering many of the pitfalls common at this stage.
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