When it comes to making gainz, we all have a limit of how much we can improve over any given period of time. Most of us want to increase muscle mass and also decrease fat. So for the sake of clarity we will limit this post to the goals of muscle gain or fat loss, although this concept relates to many other goals in life.
Both of the above goals have a limit. No matter how hard you train, or how you eat, there is a physiological limit to how much muscle can be built or how much fat can be lost (without losing muscle) in a given amount of time.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine the maximum amount of pure muscle you could build in a week was 0.5 lbs. This number is actually possible for some newer trainees and would amass to 25lbs of muscle in a year, which would be a great achievement.
What this means is on average over the year this trainee might only be able to build around 30g of muscle per day. And yes I understand growth would never be this mathematically linear, but bear with me.
Ideally what we want is to able to reach this maximal amount of growth (0.5lbs / week) while doing the minimal amount of work. The reason for this is not laziness, rather it allows us to milk our progression strategy for the longest possible period of time. We all will eventually stall or get to the point of extremely slow progress and the longer we can prolong our progression strategy before we stall, the better.
Now imagine our trainee could maximise their growth potential (0.5lbs / week) by doing 10 sets per workout and going 1 rep short of failure. While doing 30 sets could have a few benefits such as greater time to practice form. Doing any more than 10 sets or training to failure would have it’s disadvantages, including more time in the gym, greater risk of injury and lower energy levels. Another big issue is we’re giving our body a larger stressor than required. For which it would adapt to sooner, effectively reducing the amount of progress we could've made with the same amount of effort.
If you start off doing a tonne of work, guess what the next progression is? A tonne + 1.
It’s one of the reason why the newbie who starts their weight training life with a program designed for the current Mr Olympia often lose motivation. They are taking on something above their current level and can burnout easily. Even those that manage to battle through will often stall early in their lifting life. As once their bodies adapt to the initial huge stressor, it is very difficult to add any more volume or intensity to the current regime to progress further.
Popular old school training routines such as “Starting Strength” are a good example of a slow, deliberate progression. Trainees start with the bare minimum and progressively overload from week to week.
Another prime example of this issue is a trainee who wants to lose body fat and immediately creates a large calorie deficit and adds cardio everyday. Yes they will lose weight fast for the first couple of weeks, but the body will soon adapt and can fight back to ensure it's survival. It’s not uncommon to see someone eating less than 1200-1500 calories and doing 2+ hours of cardio to have any chance of losing further weight.
If you do not work with the body, it will not work with you.
The obvious question now is “How the f**k am I supposed to know what the minimal amount of effort required is to reach my goal?”. Clearly this is not an easy task to determine accurately.
However there are some guidelines which will help:
First and foremost you must have a goal in mind. This is crucial, without a goal you are shooting in the dark.
Have a way to track your progress, usually a combination of body weight, body fat and body measurements are best.
If you’re a new trainee or have taken a long period of time off training. You’ll be amazed how the smallest changes to your current routine can elicit positive changes. Start slowly and do as little work as you can from the beginning. This could literally be doing 1 set per exercise as part of a 15 minute workout or cutting 50-100 calories from your daily diet.
Monitor your progress.
Do not add any extra work until your results start to slow or stall. For muscle gain this could be extra volume or intensity. For fat loss this would be creating a slightly larger calorie deficit, either by eating less or burning more calories.
Continue to monitor your progress.
Avoid using as many additional extras such as extra cardio or intensity techniques (drop sets etc..) for as long as possible. Again add in the minimal amount of additional work to continue progress towards your goal.
By following these guidelines you could effectively add in small changes week after week to continue your progress for the maximum amount of time. This allows you to avoid one of the big newbie mistakes of doing too much, too soon and then having nowhere to progress to.