Are You Training Upper Body Too Much?
It’s a common problem.
People massively over train the muscles they’re so desperate to grow.
They think more is better.
More sessions. More exercises. More sets.
You want your chest and shoulders to grow, so you train upper body three times per week, with a focus on those areas and EVERY SINGLE EXERCISE thrown in.
Your buddy told you that 5 sets of 10 was the way to make serious gains, so your workouts now contain about 500 total reps and you’re in the gym for 2 and a half hours at a time.
You also read that Arnold did dumbell pullovers, so you’re doing 5 sets of those. Jay Cutler does cable crossovers, and Kai Greene supersets them with dumbell flyes AND he does lots of weighted dips, so you’ve got to do that too.
But then you notice your sternum is getting really sore, your elbow feels inflamed, it hurts when you grip a dumbell and your shoulder is doing a weird clicky thing it wasn’t doing before.
Stop this madness!
More isn’t better just because it’s more.
Are 10 chinups better than 1 chinup… yes.
Are 30 chinups better than 10 chinups (if spread across several sets). Probably.
Are 300 chinups better than 30 chinups?
Are 3,000 chinups better than 300?
You start to see my point.
Where Does It Become Too Much?
There’s a point of diminishing returns. Where the extra work you are putting in is getting you less of a result each time.
Could the guy doing 300 chinups in 59 sets have gotten the same result from doing 30 chinups across 3 sets of 12, 10 and 8?
Eventually all that work becomes counter productive. Beating up your muscles more and more is not going to make them respond more. You’re just reducing your ability to recover from that session and go again in a couple of days. How are you going to progressively overload with that training style? You won’t be able to add more weight because you’re in no shape to lift it. You’ll have to just keep adding more sets. Where does it end?
What you want to do is hit at least the minimum effective volume and stay away from the maximal recoverable volume (volume = weight lifted x total reps).
There’s a certain amount that won’t be enough to stimulate anything, especially once you’re already adapted to SOME training. You need to do more than this (obviously).
But once you’re doing more volume than you can recover from, you’re basically wasting your time and hampering your own progress. If you keep doing this, you’ll find you end up lifting less and less over time as you’re just making yourself more and more beaten up with every workout until you’re in no shape to be lifting weights.
What is the minimum effective dose?
How much is “enough” to be effective for stimulating hypertrophy and strength gains?
The answer to this is highly individual. It will vary from person to person. What I can say confidently, however, is that it’s nearly always FAR less than what most people are doing.
You just need to look at your routine really critically and be brutally honest with yourself. Probably over 50% of it can be cut. If you’re hitting the major muscle groups with 10-15 hard sets per week via compound exercises, then that is probably enough to get results.
This is great news!
You can actually spend far less time in the gym than you thought you needed to.
I suggest you try it. Cut as much as you can from your routine until you’re doing 10-15 hard sets per week for each muscle group, just using compound exercises. A 3 day split workout is more than enough.
A full body routine following that thinking might look like this:
Full Body A:
- Barbell Back Squat – 3 sets
- Barbell Row – 3 sets
- Barbell Military Press – 4 sets
- Lat Pulldown – 2 sets
- Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets
- Walking Lunges – 2 sets
Full Body B:
- Deadlift – 2 sets
- Front Squat – 2 sets
- Incline Bench Press – 3 sets
- Chinups – 2 sets
- Seated Dumbbell Press – 4 sets
- Seated Cable Row – 3 sets
What is the maximum recoverable volume?
Again, the answer to this will vary as it is very individual.
What I can confidently say, is that many people are well past the point of diminishing returns. They’re doing a lot of work that is not really adding anything meaningful in terms of the time they spend in the gym. Those 5 sets of lateral raises are probably not going to do much extra for you if you hit shoulders twice with heavy overhead pressing with barbells and dumbells.
Play around with less volume. Cut from your routine ruthlessly and see how you respond.
My guess is that you won’t notice any difference if you only keep the absolute essential exercise.
And if you’ve been REALLY struggling with making progress, you might find you suddenly start making it, as you’re no longer under-recovered from your insane gym sessions!
You have to remember, pro bodybuilders are pros for a reason. They’re not like you and me. They can recover from a load of volume because they’re hyper responders and they have a god-like work capacity and ability to recover. 99.99% of the population are NOT like that. So stop following their routines. There’s also a lot of drug use in those circles which enhances the recovery capacity further and increases the amount of meaningful work that can be done.
Don’t Forget The Importance of Rest Days
I hope I am stressing enough the importance of rest and recovery.
You need to prioritise recovery, especially once you’re 30 and above.
It might be a little unnecessary to do a 5 or 6 day program, especially when you can probably get great results doing a 3 day program.
As mentioned, more is not better. Don’t think that you’ll get better results doing a 5 day program instead of a 3. The 3 day program has more rest days, so you may be feeling 100% every time you step into the gym – which could be an advantage overall.
Don’t Forget Deloads
Deloads feel counter-intuitive to some people.
Why would you go to the gym, but lift at 50% of the weights you usually use, or for 50% of the reps you usually hit?
Because it allows you to recover.
OK, so you don’t actually have to go to the gym on your deload at all, but doing so can help with momentum and getting you excited to lift heavy weights again the following week.
Deloads should be programmed in every 6-12 weeks, to allow your body to FULLY recover from all of the accumulated fatigue your body gets from weeks and months of consistent over-reaching. Your rest days aren’t enough for this. Every now and then you need a FULL reset.
You’ll actually make much better progress doing this, as this will get you back to 100% for the following week. Compare this to the person who doesn’t take deloads and just keeps getting steadily more fatigued. They might be working at 80% of their ability and only getting worse, because they’re so fried from pushing it so hard all the time.
Going to the gym every week and ALWAYS trying to lift more than before might seem like it will get your results faster, but it won’t. You’ll hit a block because you won’t be fully recovered. And then you’ll be stuck there until you give your body the rest it needs.
Do you want to get in your best shape ever and finally achieve your body goals?
Shoot me a DM on Twitter and ask about online coaching. I’d be interested to hear from you and see how I could help you out.