Are you building muscle?

Are you making progress right now in your workouts? Many of you are not, even though you’re dedicated and disciplined. You show up for your scheduled workouts, you never miss one, and you work out hard, don’t you? So why aren’t you getting the results you want?

There can be many things that contribute to a lack of progress: unrecognized fatigue that adds up after successive workouts, or perhaps you’re not doing the right exercises you need to do at the time, or maybe you’re not working as hard as you think; maybe you’re even working too hard. And there’s nutrition, too, of course. Maybe you’re not eating the way you need to eat right now.

Then again, maybe you are doing all these things right. So why aren’t you gaining?

You might not believe it, but the situation described of slow gains or no gains is surprisingly common, despite sometimes tremendous efforts. Particularly for us natural bodybuilders.

Natural bodybuilding—bodybuilding without drugs—is a more difficult proposition than the more popular, visible kind, bodybuilding using drugs.

Natural bodybuilding has a much smaller margin for error. If you don’t get your workouts right for whatever you’re trying to do at the time, you won’t gain. Drug-free bodybuilding doesn’t allow most bodybuilders to get away with gross overtraining, doing unproductive exercises or set and rep schemes. The same thing is true with nutrition; if you are eating the wrong way for you, all your gains will come to a halt.

So what can you do? The answer isn’t necessarily to work harder, but to work smarter. You’ve heard that a lot, but what does it mean? Small changes can often solve the big problem of no gains, and it might not take much to tweak your workouts.

Let’s say you’re working out four days per week, each muscle group twice per week with one exercise per bodypart for three or four sets each. This is a popular style of workout for many naturals and it can be very productive. Take chest work, for example. Most bodybuilders would do bench presses in this workout, for something like 6-8 reps for their three or four sets.

Most bodybuilders need to work on their upper chest as well, but they don’t want to abandon the bench press, so what do you do?

The Three Plus One Set Workout

You don’t want to add several more sets; that risks overtraining or at least a continued lack of gains. Do three sets of benches instead of four, and with the fourth set do the incline bench press with a barbell for 8-12 reps. Pick a weight that’s challenging enough for the reps but there’s no need to go limit reps or failure.

What will this do? Surprisingly, because the mid and lower chest has already been worked first, the upper chest will usually respond well to the one set. You may get as much or more out of this one set than you would multiple sets of inclines, as the shoulder tendons and ligaments are already warmed up and the blood flow from the nearby lower and mid chest will make it easier to work the upper chest. Just by changing one set you may boost your gains.

This approach can be applied to every muscle group in your workout.

For your shoulders, let’s say you’re doing the behind the neck press. Just do one fewer set and add lateral raises with dumbbells as your second exercise, for one set. Instead of just rows for lats you can choose from a number of back exercises. Try chins to the front or pulldowns as your second back exercise. Barbell curls and dumbbell concentration curls go well together. Lying tricep extensions followed by pushdowns on a lat machine will work the triceps thoroughly. Wrist curls and a set of reverse curls is a good combo for forearms.

Squats and front squats or hacks will build and shape your thighs, while standing calf raises on a calf machine followed by bodyweight only calfraises, donkey raises or even seated calf raises, to work the soleus, will do the trick for your legs. You can choose from nearly endless ab exercises, though the standard crunches and leg raises will be fine. (Yes, those ab exercises work despite what critics say.)

The key is to pick a combination of productive exercises for your muscle groups. Productive exercises for you. Everyone’s different. This slight change in your workout will give you some variety, cause you to renew your concentration—which is a key to getting great workouts—and should deliver additional size and shape to your muscle groups.

Try the three plus one set workout to boost your progress.

Three Plus One Set Workout

(Work either four-day split or six-day split)

  • Chest: Bench Press + Incline Press
  • Shoulders: Behind the Neck Press + Lateral Raises
  • Back: Bentover Rows + Chin (to front)
  • Biceps: Barbell Curls + Concentration Curls
  • Triceps: Lying Tricep Extension + Triceps Pushdowns
  • Thighs: Squats + Hack Squats
  • Calves: Calfraise + Seated Raises
  • Abs: Crunches + Leg Raise

Greg Sushinsky is a natural bodybuilder who has trained for several years. He is a professional writer who has written extensively about bodybuilding, with numerous training articles appearing in Musclemag International, Ironman magazine, Reps! and others.Greg continues to train hard and enthusiastically.  He strives to maintain a lean, proportionate physique,  write and publish on bodybuilding, and continues to do and pursue many writing and publishing projects in his other areas of interest. He continues to advise and consult with bodybuilders, athletes and fitness people. Read Complete Bio.

Articles by Greg Sushinsky

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