When searching for the internet, or even talking to trainers, you will get an infinite number of routines. How should one choose a routine that is best for him? Is there any logic about it at all?

I'm not addressing the exercises themselves but to the general diversion of muscle groups across days of the week. It looks like every mix is possible even when I'm looking for the most recommended routines. Of course most of the routines don't include any explanation other than "you will see the results in X months".

The only logical thing about routines that I've heard is that it's better to do the Biceps exercises the same day you do the back, and Triceps on the shoulders + chest day, because the big muscle exercises also effort the according arm-muscle. This way you provide full rest for the Biceps/Triceps when it's not their workout day.

Is this true, can I have more examples for this kind of sense in the vague world of routines?

I'm working out since August and my results are not satisfying enough. I'm not looking for reasons of why I didn't grow up the way I wanted, but for a fresh routine to become more motivated and consistent. It's just so hard to pick one, and it seems so... consequences-full.

I'm having 4 workout days a week.

4 Answers 4


I think the main reason you're not getting the results your looking for is you're working out too often. Unless you take illegal and questionable supplements your body is not going to have time to recover and the result is that you're actually breaking down muscle tissue instead of building it up. You also don't want to exercise for more than 30-45 minutes at a time because it increases cortisol hormone which is catabolic. If you want to increase muscle you want a high level of anabolic hormones (like testosterone) and a low level of catabolic hormones (like cortisol or adrenaline).

Remember that it's not the weight lifting itself that builds muscle tissue. It's the hormonal changes induced by the weight lifting, the resting time in between lifting and the food that you eat that builds muscle. Given that weight lifting is actually catabolic in nature and breaks down muscle tissue you want to find the perfect sweet spot of lifting just enough to induce a hormonal change while minimizing how much muscle is broken down.

This should form the scientific basis on selecting a training program.

There are widely different opinions on exactly where this sweet spot is and depending on genetics and whether supplements are used this sweet spot will be different for you compared to others. The best way to find your sweet spot is to track progress by using an exercise log and a measuring tape (MyoTape is good as you can use it with one hand). You want to increase weight or time under load (this is a more accurate measurement than number of repetitions) almost continuously. If you stop progressing for several weeks you're either not getting enough rest (add more rest), not enough food (eat more) or your body has adapted to your current routine (find a new routine).

There are also other factors that can change your hormonal balance such as too much alcohol or smoking (can decrease testosterone) or too much stress or too little sleep (increases cortisol).

I've studied various weight lifting workout strategies lately and the approach that seems to be based on the most recent research is the high intensity training (also called "HIT") approach outlined in for example Body by Science. It recommends one workout per week of extremely high intensity.

I am personally doing a split version of that program roughly twice a week. I combine this with low level cardio (brisk walking) for about 5 hours per week and about 1 high intensity interval training session per week (5 minutes of tabata interval sprints at 90-95% heart rate maximum).

I've been doing this routine for about 2 months and almost doubled my 7 repetition maximum. Before that I've done several years of more "traditional" weight lifting of medium intensity several times a week with only moderate gains. I've plateaued the last 2 weeks though so I might swap things around a little bit but I will probably stick to a high intensity/low frequency approach.

Nutrition is also important but that is a different topic.

  • Hey Jon, thanks for your answer. I think it's possible that I was overtraining: my routine was chest-shoulders-triceps,back-legs-biceps, rest, chest etc. again, back etc. again, rest, rest. I used to try to achieve muscle failure on all of the exercises so maybe it wasn't a good idea to wait just 2-3 days between each workout on the same muscle group. I guess I will give HIT a shot. If I got this right, it means I should train to failure and use more weight & less reps so I can give the muscles enough stress that they will actually NEED a full week to recover? Mar 12, 2011 at 13:28
  • Can you please provide some insights about the following article (don't need to read all of it, just the last 7-8 paragraphs)? intense-workout.com/workout_frequency.html . That what I was talking about how there isn't a single approach or an accepted conclusion about routines. Meh. Mar 12, 2011 at 13:35
  • Yeah I think if you train to failure then 2-3 days recovery is not enough for that muscle to fully heal. I would say more weight, fewer sets (I do only 1 set) and fewer but SLOWER reps. I use a cadence of 5 seconds up and 5 seconds down.
    – Jon Tirsen
    Mar 12, 2011 at 23:59
  • 1
    I think if someone says "this is exactly how to do the perfect weight lifting routine" then I would say they probably have no idea what they are talking about. There is no perfect routine that works for everyone. Most important is to track your progress and if you stop progressing then something isn't working (too little rest, wrong nutrition, too much stress, adaptation to the routine). I log my progress with JEFIT (for Android mobile phones) and I used to use iFitness (when I had an iPhone) but paper works equally well.
    – Jon Tirsen
    Mar 13, 2011 at 0:03
  • What a coincidence! You mention JEFIT below already.
    – Jon Tirsen
    Mar 13, 2011 at 0:15

Starting Strength

This is a fantastic place to start, do some reading, stick to the program and you will get stronger and bigger - guaranteed.

If you are a relative beginner I believe it is much more beneficial to start with a strength program like this. Otherwise you may struggle to see benefits of a bodybuilding program without the core strength you will gain from Starting Strength.

  • I'm training since August (7 months or so) so I don't think I qualify for a beginner, and sadly I currently can't do too much with my legs due to medical problems, so the Starting Strength doesn't look like the best thing for me. Still, thanks :) Mar 12, 2011 at 13:30
  • 7 months is still "beginner", or just barely "intermediate".
    – Eric
    Jul 28, 2014 at 2:32

I've never had more success than training like a powerlifter.

  • Train no more than 4 times (I train 3) a week (hit a muscle once a week - but very hard)
  • Work out how much food you need and eat it (don't under-eat!)
  • Every workout should aim to beat previous all-time bests (either more reps or more weight)
  • Regularly measure body composition (fat/lean mass) to you can track progress

Strength = Size = Strength!

The first month after adjusting my program to follow the above principles I put on 2.5 kilograms of pure muscle & I put 40kg on my deadlift, 10kg on my bench, and 20kg on my squat. I also lost nearly a kilogram of fat.

Planning your reps and weight & beating previous 1RM's every week (or attempting to) means that there are no more wishy-washy workouts that you 'hope' resulted in muscle growth. If you can lift more weights in a months time (by setting weekly goals) then you have more muscle tissue! Good luck!


Here's a great book: http://www.amazon.com/New-Rules-Lifting-Maximum-Muscle/dp/158333338X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299858336&sr=8-1 that talks about the 6 basic moves that should be in any strength work out (deadlifts of course being #1). Full body exercises are the best, don't worry about your biceps and spend some time reviewing your diet. One of the biggest recent improvements I've made recently is keeping a log of what I'm doing as I work out - it provides insight to where I'm lacking and reinforces the good.

  • The log is actually a great thing which I'm gonna start now that I have the awesome JEFIT app for my Android. I don't like the idea of buying a book because A) so much information is already in the internet B) a book at most times represent just one opinion or research, I don't like to trust a single source of information. Thanks. Mar 12, 2011 at 13:33
  • I don't disagree about a lot of information being on the internet, but I must be old fashioned, because I've found having a few good books helps - motivational also Mar 14, 2011 at 1:19

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