We’re told over and over that in order to be successful at something, we need to be consistent. But consistency not tempered with intelligence is as bad as inconsistency when we are being intelligent. You can run east looking for a sunset and no matter how consistent you are, you still won’t find a setting sun.
When it comes to consistency with natural bodybuilding workouts, here’s the caveat: Be consistent with your workouts when you’ve found a muscle breakdown/recuperation schedule that’s effective. If the one you’re using for any of your muscles is ineffective; STOP being consistent.
When an individual starts a bodybuilding regimen, he or she usually adopts a workout schedule obtained from a magazine, book, or fellow workout enthusiast. The muscle building neophyte follows this weekly workout/rest day schedule that’s been written out or endorsed by a self-proclaimed bodybuilding expert. These schedules are usually rigid; work your deltoids on Tuesday, rest them X number of days work them again. Three days on two days off, or four days on three days off, etc. etc . whatever.
But let’s ask a pertinent question: If you work your deltoids today (assuming you work them hard), what guarantee do you have that they’ll be recuperated and stronger by next Monday, or whenever your etched-in-stone schedule tells you to work them again? The recuperation of your deltoids through the process of protein synthesis will take whatever time is needed. None of us are capable of making a deal with our muscles; “I’ll work you once a week if you promise to grow at that rate.” Put differently, our muscles have no idea what day it is.
Yet this is exactly how most people treat the workout and recovery process. They act like they’ve signed some kind of pact with their muscles in which the body has agreed to a specific and fixed number of days in which to repair and grow. Moreover, they assume that even with all the variables inherent in a workout (intensity levels, set numbers, rep numbers) and the variables affecting recovery (stress levels, sleep patterns, cortisol fluctuations), everything will just fall in to place if they follow their schedule. In addition, it’s often implied that if we’d just eat a calculated amount of calories above our basal metabolic rate, we’re sure to pack on that sought-after muscle.
But what if something’s off? What if you work your quadriceps today after having given them a bit more intensity of effort than usual on your last leg workout? In this case, it’s quite feasible that you’ll need an additional day of rest in order that your quads are fully recuperated and stronger as you go in to this next workout. If that’s the scenario and you go ahead and work them anyway (because “today is your leg day”), you could end up running a deficit on that muscle’s recuperation. That’s because after you’ve worked them while they’re in a state of under-recuperation, it’s likely you’ll need even more recovery days for your quads to get stronger on the next go-around. This is how hard-training people often end up in a frustrating situation of working out and making no gains. Their rigid adherence to the status quo throws them into a perpetual state of over-training.
The solution to this is a change of bodybuilding workout strategy. Many “experts” have it backwards. They keep telling us to be consistent with our training schedule while having us “wing it” in the gym; you know “confuse” our muscles. They’d have us wasting half our days measuring out every ounce of our food while turning our workouts into random and arbitrary selections of exercises, sets, and repetitions. In other words, they have us unmeasured in the stimulus (workout) while treating the subsequent recuperation time requirement like it’s not the wild card that it is. No wonder there are so many frustrated natural bodybuilders.
Recuperation between workouts is when growth occurs and it varies from one individual to another. It even changes at different times within the same individual. Our muscles don’t just automatically recuperate within a certain number of days because that’s the number of rest days on which we’ve decided. The tissue might recuperate and grow within that window of time and it might not. Our muscles can be stimulated to require more or less recuperation time by fluctuations in training intensity and/or an exercise set added or subtracted here and there.
When muscles don’t recuperate within the time we’ve allotted, a downward spiral is usually begun. In fact, we oftentimes work a muscle even harder when we find it’s not responding. This can cause us to “knock it in the dirt” even further. When it’s been further knocked in the dirt, it might end up needing a couple weeks of rest to get back on a growth trajectory. Think about it; you’re adding tissue breakdown on top of previously unrecovered tissue breakdown.
To prevent this, do yourself a huge favor. Yes you need to keep your body in positive nitrogen balance by eating plenty of protein during four to six meals a day. You need to eat a few hundred calories more than what your Basal Metabolic Rate requires each day. You need to get enough sleep and not let stress get the best of you.
But in addition to these things, use a training system that allows close monitoring and adjustment of your ratio of rest days to workout days. Make adjustments to this ratio in accordance with feedback you get from your workouts.
Above all, don’t treat your muscles like they know what day it is through consistent adherence to a workout schedule that isn’t working.