The consensus among people today is that in order to get big and strong, you need to be hitting the gym 4-5 times per week. The vast majority of people look to the top bodybuilders of today, and assume that the way they train today is how they go to where they are.
As a result, the most popular training setup among new gym-goers is a bro-split, such as that followed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Mr. Olympia prime. The assumption is that if they follow his same training methodology, they’ll eventually start to look like the Austrian Oak too.
But sadly, that’s just not true.
Most new lifters are totally unsuited to high frequency, high intensity style training like that followed by the top bodybuilders of today. They certainly shouldn’t be training like Arnold, Franco and the other golden-era guys if they want to see optimal results over the long-term.
Not only are all top bodybuilders using massive amounts of anabolic steroids to enhance their recovery, but they are also finely tuned athletes who need to do an incredible workload to see any adaptive response at all.
If you’re in your first few years of training, then there is absolutely no need for anybody to be training like a IFBB Pro!
A natural, relatively inexperienced lifter is not going to be able to consistently make gains over several years if they try to hit the gym 5-6 days a week for 2 hours at a time (required if you’re going to follow Arnold’s classic routine).
You’ll find it extremely hard to progressive add volume or intensity, you’ll put excessive strain on your joints, and you’ll quickly burn-out.
It’s not just too much for your body either. For most of you, your life will quickly get in the way. For professional bodybuilders, this isn’t a problem. But following a classic bro split is usually unworkable if you have a full-time job, friends, hobbies, and a family.
So Why Are These Routines So Popular?
We think the reason why so many people – especially those who are new to weight training – choose to follow a bro-split is because they are told to do so by pretty much every mainstream bodybuilding and fitness magazine out there!
You see, the fitness industry has no interest in teaching you how to get big and strong.
If they did, then they’d quickly go out of business! If you learned how simple (but difficult) building muscle really is, then you wouldn’t need to keep going back to their website or buying their magazines.
And if you stop going to their website or buying their magazines, then they wont be able to sell you supplements, eBooks, or ads any more!
So they need to keep peddling you gimmicks, overly-complicated workout routines and broscience. That way, you’ll always be spinning your wheels and wondering if there’s a different magic routine out there that really will work for you.
What Really Works? – Frequency vs Volume
Gaining muscle is a straightforward process. It is simply a matter of stressing your muscles, allowing them to recover, and then stressing them slightly more again. Repeat this over a long period of time and your muscles will grow.
It’s honestly that simple.
However, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
There are three variables you can play with when designing your training: volume, intensity and frequency.
Volume is how much total work a given muscle is getting done.
Intensity refers to the effort exerted or load lifted in a given exercise.
Frequency, obviously, is how often you are training.
By playing with these three dials, you’ll eventually find a way of training that is sustainable, effective, and fun for you.
If your primary goal is adding on good quality muscle mass, then the best way to train is to follow a relatively infrequent, intense, low volume routine.
This obviously wont be true if you already have a well developed physique, are a highly trained athlete, or have different goals.
But for a guy who is just starting out in the gym and who is looking to first and foremost add on some mass, high intensity, low volume, relatively low frequency is the way to go.
This is because you don’t require much training stimulus to trigger an adaptive response. Your body isn’t used to any strain whatsoever, so anything you do will result in growth.
We often refer to this as “noob gains”, and it’s a real phenomenon.
Starting with low volume and low frequency gives you lots of room for progressive overload, while the high intensity is simply the best way to stimulate muscle growth and strength increases.
Sample Minimalist Bulking Routines
Here are a few sample minimalist bulking routines for new, natural lifters looking to add on some muscle mass. They are designed for people with lives; jobs, families, and commitments. They can be banged out in the gym in 45 minutes or less. But they aren’t a compromise. Far from it. We think they offer the beginner (and even intermediate trainer) the best start in the gym they can possibly hope for.
Full Body 2x Per Week
Squat 3 x 5
BB Row 3 x 5
Dips 3 x failure
Curls 3 x 15
Calf raises 3 x 15
Deadlift 3 x 5
Bench press 3 x 5
Chins 3 x failure
Skull crushers 3 x 15
Hamstring curls 3 x 15
Upper/Lower 2 x Per Week
Day 1 – Upper
Close grip bench – 3 x 5; 1 x failure (dropset)
Overhead press – 3 x 5; 1 x failure (dropset)
Weighted chin-ups – 3 x 5; 1 x failure w/bodyweight
BB Curls – 2 x 10
Day 2 – Lower
Squat – 3 x 5
SL Deficit Deadlift – 3 x 5
Lunges – 3 x 10
Cable Crunches – 3 x 10
Push Pull Legs 3 x Per Week
Day 1 – Push
Bench press – 3 x 5
Overhead Press – 3 x 5
Weighted Dips – 3 x 5
Day 2 – Pull
Barbell Rows – 3 x 5
Weighted Chins – 3 x 5
Stiff-legged deadlifts – 3 x 5
Day 3 – Legs
Squats – 3 x 5
Lunges – 3 x 10
Calf raises – 3 x 10
These templates can obviously be tinkered with; swap exercises, decrease the intensity and go for 5 x 5 instead of 3 x 5, whatever.
What you shouldn’t do is add in more exercises, swap compound lifts for isolation movements, or attempt to add in significantly more volume.
If you follow these templates, you recover properly, and you eat plenty of food, YOU WILL GAIN MUSCLE MASS.
The numbers 3 x 5 indicate sets and reps. However, you can’t just come in, do three easy sets of 5 with 60% of your 1RM and make gains.
3 x 5 means three DIFFICULT sets of 5. You should really be grinding out those last few reps. Every set should be hard. Your body wont adapt to stress if there is no stress!
As soon as you can hit 7 reps on your last set of 5, up the weight by 2.5kg, or roughly 5lbs. On a barbell, that would be 1.25kg either side.
If you can’t get 3 reps on your last set for any exercise, drop the weight by a full 5kg and start working up again.
This is a routine for the long term. After 6 months of following this program, sleeping and eating, it might be worth adding in more sets, an extra exercise here and there, and so on. Then after a year, you should consider switching routines.
We recommend switching exercises every 6-12 weeks.
We don’t mean swapping the bench press for flies. We mean swapping the flat barbell bench press for incline dumbbell bench press. Stick to compound exercises as much as possible. We only added in curls because people love doing curls!