Are You Overtraining? How to Build More Muscle

How to build more muscle

By Charles Glass

Q:

I have been lifting weights for about five months now. Originally, I was working out on a full-body routine twice a week, and doing cardio four times a week. My goal was originally just to get back into shape. In the first three months, I went from 220 pounds at 25% body fat to 212 pounds at 16% body fat, roughly putting on 13 pounds of lean mass. I am 6-foot-1 and other than my lower stomach, show fairly good definition. I changed my workout schedule to work out every body part only once a week, because I changed my overall goal to building more mass. But I think my workout schedule is not working. I will not list it here because it is very long, but to give you an idea, I counted up sets and reps that I do on chest day and realized I was doing 20 sets of different presses at 8-12 reps, plus 4 sets of dips, 4 sets of flyes and 4 sets of pullovers. On other days the amount of work per muscle is around the same. I do chest and calves on Monday, back and abs on Tuesday, I’m off on Wednesday, shoulders and traps on Thursday, legs on Friday, biceps and triceps on Saturday and off again on Sunday. It takes about two hours per workout with one to two minutes between sets. It’s frustrating because I feel like I am working 10 times harder than I did the first three months but I am barely making any gains.

I feel like I give myself enough time to let accessory muscles recover and I make sure to do all of the mass-movement exercises as well as isolation exercises. My diet is good, and I’m definitely eating enough protein and carbs broken into six meals a day, but I’m still not making gains as well as I was the first three months. In fact, I don’t think I’ve gained even 1 pound of muscle in the last month even though I’ve been plenty sore. The only answer I can come up with is that I must be overtraining. I don’t get eight hours of sleep at night, but that can’t be helped because I’m in medical school and on average get about five to six hours a night. I also don’t work out at the same time every day because I have to train whenever my school schedule allows. The only thing I noticed is that my rear and side delts are not stimulated as much as the anterior region, and I feel like they may fall behind. Do you think that it would be OK to add lateral and bent-over raises to the workout as well? And if so, when could I do them?

Lastly, I don’t understand exactly what classifies you as a beginner, intermediate or advanced trainer. I’m already much bigger than most of the guys in my gym and lift more weight for reps than most, so I don’t know how long I should be doing these “beginner” workouts before I start doing harder workouts. Is there a certain size one should be, or weights that you should be lifting, before moving on to harder workouts?

Charles Glass

A:

Wow, you are a stickler for detail, because that’s one of the most involved questions I have ever gotten! I actually had to read it a couple of times through to figure out what you were actually asking me. You answered your own question about your stalled progress by coming to the conclusion that you have been massively overtraining. As a general rule of thumb, you normally don’t want to do more than 12-15 work sets for the torso muscle groups like back, chest and shoulders. For legs, you can go up to 20-25, but for biceps and triceps, try to limit the sets to about 9-12 each. You may see that trainers sometimes do more than this, but you have to always keep in mind that these are elite athletes who typically can tolerate a higher volume of exercise and recover. They also usually are able to sleep more and eat more often than average trainers. You are worried that your front delts are starting to overpower your side and rear delts, and this could become more pronounced if you don’t start doing some side and rear lateral raises. You are correct in this assumption. It sounds like you are ready to start splitting your muscle groups up into three or four different training days. You can do this any number of ways. One is to do all the pushing muscles of the upper body one day (chest, shoulders, triceps), all the pulling muscles on a second day (back, biceps) and legs on a day of their own. Or, you could do something like this:

Chest and biceps

Legs

Shoulders and triceps

Back

What classifies someone as a beginner, intermediate or advanced trainer? In my mind, it all comes down to two main factors: knowledge and experience, and how much progress you have made since you started training. You can’t simply go by how long someone has been training. There are guys out there who have been working out for three, four or five years – but they don’t look all that different from when they started. That’s because they never took the time to learn more about proper training and nutrition and apply it. So you could have someone who has been working out for as long as 10 years and is really still a beginner! Then you can have someone who has only been training one year, but has put a lot of time into learning, reading and applying as much as possible. Get it? This guy may have put on 30 pounds of pure muscle and doubled his strength. In just one year, he would be considered an advanced trainer in my estimation. Obviously, you are an extremely intelligent man who is not afraid of hard work, as evidenced by the fact that you are in medical school. Continue to learn and work hard, and I am sure you will achieve all your training goals!

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