Rules and guidelines are for newbies. Rules are needed by those who don’t know how to read their body’s feedback, understand the rudimentary concepts behind training, and don’t have the experience to program their training optimally. If you have spent years training, the rules no longer apply.
First, let’s understand that the vast majority of people who weight train think they have it all figured out. Most have it wrong, while some have it so wrong that it’s laughable. Training for a few years—or even five years—will rarely give you enough experience to have an advanced understanding of how your body responds to a lot of different stimuli. Anyone reading this who has trained for over ten years will admit that they know significantly more now than after five years of training.
Second, let’s understand that I am talking about people who have been training for decades—people who know exactly what makes them grow. A lot of people who have trained for decades will sometimes still get lost in the “rules.” When you get to the point that you know what works and what doesn’t, or you are limited by injuries, the rules need to change.
Programming will always evolve as you get older, wiser, and more knowledgeable based on understanding the feedback from your training. The people who make the most progress over decades of training are not always the hardest working people in the gym. They sometimes take days off, and they may not push a workout if they aren’t 100%. Though this may get them down-votes for not being hardcore, this isn’t a game about how much of a badass you are; it’s a game of longevity and progression. We all see guys in the gym who look exactly the same as they did three years ago. Those guys either can’t read or analyze feedback or just don’t care to progress.
Here are some rules that should be thrown in the trash:
1. No specific exercise is the best for everyone.
If an exercise doesn’t feel right, doesn’t target the intended muscle as it should (and your mechanics are solid), and doesn’t give you results, drop it and forget about it. What someone told you in the gym or what you read in a magazine is not the last word.
If you respond better to dumbbell flyes than you do barbell bench press, you would be a fool to go against dumbbell flyes because some clown on the Internet who has 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube says that dumbbell flyes are a shitty exercise.
Some people do not get great leg development from squatting. I know that statement flies in the face of most of what you read on elitefts, but my point is that the rules don’t always apply to everyone. If hack squats, leg presses, or (god forbid) squats on a smith machine work well for you, it will behoove you to do what works for you.
2. The volume vs. intensity debate should be thrown out.
Some people grow better from lower volume and higher intensity, while others grow better from higher volume and lower intensity. There is no one way to train. When I was younger, high-intensity training worked very well. As I close in on forty years of training, high-intensity training is not optimal for me. It causes more injuries, and it stresses my CNS so quickly that I can be over-trained in as little as three weeks.
While I’m on the subject of intensity, throw out what the Barbarian Brothers said in FLEX Magazine in the 80s: “There is no such thing as overtraining, only undereating.” That is a great soundbite that has stuck with too many people over the years. Maybe the Barbarian Brothers couldn’t overtrain, but the rest of us most certainly can (and do). You are not a Barbarian Brother, and you and I are not Kevin Levrone who could train his chest twice a day and watch it grow.
3. Training frequency is individual.
As a teen in the 80s, I did a 3-on, 1-off training rotation. I did it because Lee Haney did it. I wish my dumbass had not wasted an entire year of “meh” progress and painful shoulders because that type of frequency was not optimal for me. Some people grow very well training each muscle group once per week, while others can progress best by training each muscle group twice per week. Some people can train six days a week and grow like crazy, while others (like myself) will overtrain very quickly on this schedule. The best training schedule is the one that produces the best results for you.
Rep ranges, grips, machines vs. free weights, use a belt/don’t use a belt, wrap your knees/don’t wrap your knees, to infinity and beyond. The basic rules simply do not apply. After logging years of training and being able to read feedback, you should know better than anyone what your training should look like. If you can’t analyze feedback, you are almost certainly wasting a lot of time and effort, opening yourself up to potential injuries.
Ken “Skip” Hill has been involved in the sport of bodybuilding for almost forty years and competing for twenty-plus years. Born and raised in Michigan, he spent 21 years calling Colorado home with his wife and their four children. Four years ago, he and his wife traded the mountains for the beach, relocating to South Florida. His primary focus is nutrition and supplementation, but he is called upon for his years of training experience, as well. He started doing online contest prep in 2001 and is considered one of the original contest prep guys (when the bodybuilding message boards were still in their infancy). Skip’s track record with competitive bodybuilders is well-respected, and he also does sport-specific conditioning, including professional athletes.