(Sometimes a reader will email me a question that needs a full article to answer properly, and sometimes it’s an answer I think many people will benefit from hearing. This is one of those times.)
QUESTION: I just recently started putting your weight training advice into action and using your recommended workout routines. However, it’s all a lot less than I’m used to doing. There’s less total workouts, and less sets and exercises for each muscle group in each workout.
By the time I’m done, it just doesn’t feel like I’ve done enough. I still have plenty of energy left and just feel like I could have done more. So I just wanted to double check with you: are you sure I’m doing enough in my workouts?
ANSWER: Now this is a question that seems to come up a lot, especially among beginners and early intermediates.
If you’ve been checking in on the comments section of The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine, then you’ve probably seen me answer some version of “am I doing enough” about a dozen times already. And come to think of it, I’ve likely done the same via email at least twice as many times over the last year.
I figure that’s a pretty good sign that it’s time to turn my answer into an article. So, here we go…
6 Reasons Why You Think You’re NOT Doing Enough
Before we can determine if you’re truly doing enough in your workouts to optimally produce the results you want, there’s a much more important question that needs to be answered first.
And that is, why the hell does everyone automatically assume that they’re not doing enough in the first place?
In my experience, there’s usually 6 factors that cause this. And they are…
1. What You Read
We all read bodybuilding and fitness related magazines, forums, blogs and whatever else we can find, don’t we? And the first thing we’re all interested in are the workouts, right?
We want to know exactly what the guy or girl with the awesome looking body did to get that awesome looking body. Why? So we can use that same workout and get those same results. Duh. There’s just one small problem with this line of thinking…
Most of what we read online and in magazines is horse shit, especially the workouts.
And the most common horse shit factor among them is the crazy amount of work being doing. The total amount of workouts per week, exercises per workout, exercises per muscle group, and sets per exercise. It’s almost always all WAY TOO MUCH for any natural, genetically average person to recover from and progress with.
But the fact that the people using these workouts sometimes still get great results anyway (most often thanks to the magic of steroids and various other drugs) screws with our perception of what is and is not “enough” when it comes to our own workouts.
More about all of this here: Bodybuilding Workouts SUCK For Building Muscle!
2. What You See (Part 1)
Similar to #1, we often see the same type of “blast the crap out of your muscles” routine in action in our gym, and we sometimes see them being used successfully by people who happen to look pretty good.
But again, what we’re seeing isn’t exactly what it seems. For starters, it’s once again the magic of steroids and/or amazing genetics that allow these far-less-than-ideal workouts to still work well anyway. More about that here: Steroids vs Natural: The Muscle Building Effects Of Steroid Use
And second, that small minority of exceptions makes us ignore the large majority of people in our gym who are using similar routines loaded with WAY TOO MUCH of everything and look like crap as a result.
Instead, we only see the 1 or 2 drug users/genetic badasses getting great results from it, so we focus in on what they’re doing (a million sets of a billion exercises) and assume that’s what should be considered “enough.”
3. What You See (Part 2)
It’s not only steroid use that throws off our perception of how much we truly need to be doing in our workouts. It’s also the rare super advanced genetic freaks, who, from time to time, may legitimately be natural as well.
I’m talking about some of the well known superstars in the diet and fitness world: the elite level powerlifters and “natural” bodybuilders.
(And by “natural” I mean both 100% legitimately natural their entire life, and ”I was natural enough to pass a drug test once.” Big difference between the two that most people claiming to be “natural bodybuilders” don’t care about).
They may not be using the type of laughably high training volume mentioned before, but they are still often doing WAY MORE than most of us need or could possibly handle and recover from.
But most of us average people don’t realize this, because we all think we’re above average. We’re all insane enough to assume we should be doing what the super advanced genetic badasses are doing. In reality, none of us are anywhere near that level (and most likely never will be) and therefore shouldn’t attempt to train like they do.
“Enough” for them is damn near always going to be more than enough for us.
4. What You Feel Mentally
Then of course we have our silly natural instincts and the built in mindset that more is better. Meaning, the more sets and exercises and workouts you do, the better your results will be and the faster they will come.
On paper, this sounds about right, which is why we’re all probably guilty of thinking it at some point. I mean, it’s at least partially true in most other aspects of life, right? The more you work, the more money you’ll make. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. The more you do, the better it will be. Right?
With weight training or really just exercise in general however… that couldn’t be more wrong.
Since we need to account for everything from recovery to overuse injuries, the “more is better” mentality is the complete opposite of how we should be thinking when it comes to our workouts. Instead, we need to think in terms of doing just enough to optimally stimulate progress, but not so much that it cuts into our ability to make that progress.
That’s a fine line when it comes to weight training (or exercise in general), and getting the best results possible means ensuring we don’t cross it.
5. What You Feel Physically
A lot of people seem to base the effectiveness of their workout on what they “feel” as a result of that workout. Unfortunately, that’s a terrible idea.
You see, the goal of your workout isn’t to feel tired, drained or trashed at the end. Your goal isn’t to get tons of pump. Your goal isn’t to feel sore as hell the next day. Instead, your only real goal is to make progress. After all, that’s the one and only indicator of a successful workout.
But for whatever reason, people seem to think there is some correlation between “feeling like you did enough” and “doing what’s needed for optimal results.” There isn’t.
For example, you can do 1,000 sit ups and it will surely “feel” like you did something. You didn’t. You can do dumbbell kickbacks for 10 sets of 20 reps 7 days a week using 3lb pink dumbbells and it will also “feel” like you’re doing something. You’re not.
Unless your goal is to waste time and burn a couple of calories, there’s a million things you can do in your workouts that will make them “feel” effective despite being anything but. So, if you feel like you could have done more by the end of your workout, that is most likely a good sign. Feeling completely dead at the end is usually a sign that you’re doing way too much.
Remember, your goal isn’t to “feel” like you’re doing enough to get results. Your goal is to actually get results. Which means, don’t base the effectiveness of your workout on how it felt. Base it on what really matters… which is the amount of progress you made.
6. What You’ve Previously Done
Due to the other 5 factors mentioned above, it’s pretty common to start out using a workout that involves doing a shitload more than we should have ever been doing.
I’ll be the first person to raise my hand here. I did what I saw in magazines. I did what the big guys in my gym were doing. I added more to my workouts based on my natural “more is better” instincts and how much pump and soreness I was experiencing as a result. Chances are most of us have been there at some point.
But the thing is, when you reach that point, it makes everything else you do after that seem like it’s not enough. At least initially.
I mean, if you’re coming from doing some typical “destroy your muscles from every angle” routine, and you became used to that “feeling” right… then training correctly will most definitely “feel” wrong to you. It will look wrong, too. When you’re used to seeing 5 sets of 6 different chest exercises each “chest day,” 3 sets of 2 chest exercises each “upper body day” will look insane to you by comparison.
Again, I’ve been there, so I totally get it.
But, that doesn’t actually make it wrong or “not enough.” It just means that you’re used to training like an F-ing idiot, and your perception of what’s right/wrong and what enough/not enough should look and feel like is completely off.
So saying that “it’s a lot less than I’m used to doing” would only be a negative thing if what you were used to doing was actually… you know… not stupid. But, more often than not, it probably was.
If Anything, You’re Asking The Wrong Question…
If you ask me, this whole conversation is the opposite of what it should be. Here’s why.
I’ve seen TONS of workouts over the years for a variety of goals from a variety of sources. Guess what? The majority of them sucked. Why? 95% of the time, it’s because they involved doing way more than they should.
I’ve also seen TONS of people fail to get the results they want from their workouts. Why? Well, half the time, it’s actually their diet, not their workout, that is the problem. But when their workout is the reason for their crappy results, it’s almost always because they’re doing too much and almost never because they’re not doing enough.
Seriously. Do you know how many people improved their progress by adding more to their workouts? Not many. Do you know how many improved their progress by doing less? Plenty. Ask any remotely experienced person and they’ll all tell you the same.
So if there is any assumption people should be making about their workouts when their results suck, it’s that they’re probably already doing too much, not too little.
So, Am I Doing Enough?
The only way to answer this question would be to know exactly what you’re doing, exactly what your goals are, exactly what your experience level is, and exactly how it’s been working for you thus far.
Since it’s impossible to know these answers in advance, here’s what I can tell you for sure…
- If you’re using my Beginner Workout Routine, then YES, you are definitely doing enough.
- If you’re using my Muscle Building Routine, then YES, you are definitely doing enough.
- If you’re using any of the programs included in The Best Workout Routines, then YES, you are definitely doing enough.
- If you’re using any other highly proven and intelligently designed workout routine put together by a reputable, knowledgeable and well respected creator, then YES, you are probably doing enough. (Although, considering the fact that everything is marketed to fit that description regardless of how shitty it is and the fact that most people can’t tell the difference, I’m tempted to tell you to just ignore this part altogether.)
Oh, And Another Thing…
It always annoys me a little extra when someone asks me if I’m sure that there’s enough in one of the workouts I’ve designed. I mean, do you seriously think I would have put it out there if I thought it needed more added to it?
Trust me, if any more was needed or beneficial, I would have already added it myself.
But the truth is, every workout routine you ever see me recommend is already proven to work. It’s already been tested, tweaked, and adjusted to be as effective as possible. Adding more beyond what is laid out will almost always hinder (or completely eliminate) that effectiveness. The same goes for any other proven and intelligently designed workout routine that’s out there.
So, for anyone that’s wondering if they’re doing enough in their workouts and are considering adding more things to them, here’s my simple advice: stop.
There’s about a 95% chance you’re either already doing enough or already doing more than enough, and maybe a 5% chance that adding more will actually have a positive effect on your results.