How much is enough?

IMG_20150517_101515There are many aspects of bodybuilding that still confuse me greatly. However, there’s one question in particular that perplexes me more than any other: How much is enough?

The question of how hard to train, and how often, still has me beat on the best of days. It’s also likely the single biggest driver of program changes for me, and probably many others. Why? Because the question of splits, rep-ranges and protocols can not easily be untangled from the questions of load, volume, frequency and intensity.

Just as with protein consumption, my strategy to this point has been saturation. Why? Because the topic of protein needs, intake and synthesis has to be one of the most well studied yet still unclear aspects of bodybuilding, and so the average guy like me just consumes more protein than they think they should throughout the day… just in case.

And my approach to training is not all that different. I am genuinely certain that there must be some nominal amount of training that is enough to stimulate the maximal hypertrophy response, and there are tombs of literature out there on the subject. However, because I can’t be sure as to how much that is, not in terms of splits, loads, volume, sets, reps and protocols, I do it all. I saturate. I work hard, really hard, do all the protocols, train as much as my body can accommodate without failing, and hope it comes good. And of late, it’s working, having seen some good results. But not without cost; something my aching (and aging) tendons and joints reminds me of every day.

What I really want to do is enough. 

Don’t get me wrong, I actually love training. And even on my worst days, once I get into the gym and get going, I love it there. Training more is seldom a chore. But the older, smarter me, still wishes I could train optimally, performing just the right volume of training at just the right level of intensity.

Take this week, for example. I’ve had a fewer days to train this week due to travel back to England and some other commitments to work around. Hence, I settled on four, non-consecutive training days, and decided to work an upper/lower split, twice in the week. Yesterday was the first of the lower body sessions, and here’s what I ended-up doing:

  • Warmups
  • Sing leg, Leg curls: 4 x 10
  • Leg extension: 4 x 12
    • superset with Stiff legged deadlift: 4 x 12
  • Squat machine: 3 x 12 (slow, no lockout)
  • Calves: 3 x 20

Rest intervals were at most 90 seconds, and as you can see, rep-patterns solidly in the hypertrophy range. Obviously, the loads are important, so I’ll do my best to color the intensity.

Hamstrings are relatively weak, as compared to my quads, so weights were light. But I trained the four sets using an increasing pyramid and reached positive failure (for full ROM) on the last set.

Leg extensions were short of positive failure, pyramiding up to around 160lb. But they still fucking hurt, to be clear. This was no cake-walk. The SLDL superset was quite a way short of failure, largely due to my lower back being a mess right now from squatting and all the travel. Still, it was decent work.

The squat machine was hard. It’s an over-the-shoulder affair, not unlike a calf raise machine, but with a full swing arm and large foot plate for varied placement and maximal ROM. I like it a lot. I did 1 x 12 with 90lb on the machine, and then tackled two more sets at 180lb. Reps were slow, with a three-second eccentric and one to two second concentric, stopping a good two to three inches short of lockout. This keeps maximum tension on the quads and leg structure. Depth was great, breaking parallel, so glutes and adductors were getting worked too. It was hard. Very hard. Would guess I had maybe a couple of reps in me when I stopped, but thats about it.

So… was that enough?

I genuinely have no idea. After all my years of training, I am still unsure.

It seemed hard enough at the time, but it’s left me wondering. Wondering enough for me to think about it all day yesterday and write 750 words on the subject this morning.

It’s a constant battle. How much is enough? Should I do more? I better do more. Do more. More.

I sincerely wish I had a better sense of such things.

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