Any other gym-goers out there?

As I mentioned once or twice a while back, my favorite hobby is going to the gym, picking up heavy stuff, and putting it back down again. It clears the mind, it’s fun to do, and it makes me both look and feel better.

However, I have a problem that I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to solve. Supposedly, one of the hardest muscle groups to spur into growth is the calves. Oddly, they’re by far my best point. Hell, I’ll admit it, I have hot calves :cool:

But not one other part of my blob-like body will respond to weight training. It’s intensely frustrating! I’ve tried varying resistance, rep ranges, different exercises, and it’s all for naught. Has anyone else had this experience, where one muscle group responded fabulously to training while others lagged behind? How did you remedy it?
For the record, I train clean (no supplements other than a good diet, no performance enhancers). I lift four days a week on a two day split with a three set, 8-12 rep range for all of my exercises. I’ve stopped my cardio altogether because, even though I need to shed some body fat, I’m having trouble putting on muscle mass.

I had good luck with Darden’s Super High Intensity Training (stupid acronym, if you ask me) routine. You pick a weight that’s too heavy for you to do 3 sets of 8-10 reps. Once you can do that many cleanly, you add 10%. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. If you do it right, it’s pretty fast and effective.

If you’re trying to bulk up, the three-sets of 8-12 reps is specifically what’s holding you back.

Go for higher weights and fewer reps. Vary the routine. Perform the sets painstakingly correct.
If you’re not increasing the weight you lift, you’re not increasing the mass of muscle used to lift it.

I disagree. 3 sets of 8-12 reps has worked very well for me, although I don’t do that every time. Most days I’ll do that, and other days I’ll do 5 sets of 5 reps, or add a 4th really heavy set and do partials, whatever to keep my body from adapting. The biggest problems I see with people not being able to put on muscle is either their body has adapted to their training, they’re not eating enough, they’re not doing exercises with proper form, or they’re doing a lot of isolation exercises when they haven’t even established a base.

I only go to the gym in the winter, so am just thinking about heading back in for another 4-5 month stint. Always good to read a weight-lifting thread, I have had some good advice here. Count me in as someone who doesn’t get the 8-12 rep, 3 set routine if you’re aiming to build muscle mass.

This maybe a simplistic way of looking at things, but if your one-time max weight on an exercise is x, then the weight you can lift 12 times, for 3 sets, is miles below that. So you’re basically not lifting a heavy weight (as far as your body is concerned), rather you’re lifting a quite moderate weight for more reps, which is classically the antithesis of muscle-building weight-training.

Soul - It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’ve been lifting for some time, then it’s not surprising to hit a plateau and you might need to shake up your workout. You build based on overworking and the body reacting to damage; if your workout isn’t stressing your muscles then you won’t achieve anything other than maintenance and burning some calories, which in and of itself isn’t enough. I’d ask - are you still a bit sore after workouts?

If you want to get a slimmer look, then 10+ reps with moderate weight for 3 sets is right on. Alternating muscle groups also works here - like if you alternate biceps / triceps neither will get huge but both will get strong and increase your lean muscle mass. Very slowly increase the weight you’re lifting - like no more than 10% per month, but rather increase the repetitions. I am doing this now for rowing, because this not only increases strength and lean muscle mass (and therefore helps you lose weight) but also increase endurance. Also increase the amount of cardio you’re doing to 40-60 minutes 3 times per week; swimming is excellent for this.

If you’re looking to bulk up, do 10 or less reps for 3 sets and do more weight. Don’t alternate muscle groups but alternate days - i.e. M-W-F legs / back / triceps, T-Th arms / chest / biceps, giving your muscle groups time to recover. Week on week, slowly increase the weight so it’s always heavy as your body adapts. Don’t alternate push / pull muscle groups (i.e. biceps / triceps, or hamstrings / quadriceps) on the same day but on opposite days. Limit the amount of aerobic fitness you’re doing as well, as this can result in less muscle mass growth, but still do 20 minutes of cardio 3 times per week.

I’d start using protein shakes like Promax with creatine, and I’d do 5-6 small meals per day with 1 or 2 of them being protein shakes. Also, be sure to get some protein in your body within 45 minutes of finishing your workout. Whey protein works best.

All together that should work to increase muscle mass, and either bulk up (few reps) or slim down (many reps).

The Cocky Watchman - I too am a winter gym-goer; I usually try to get in shape for summer outdoor sports like triathlons, adventure racing, and rowing, and the only time I can really bear to see the inside of the gym is when it’s cold and rainy outside. But if you’ve a grassy space to play in, and don’t mind too much looking like a bit of a tit, then you can do isometric exercises that will give you a weights-like workout for pretty much all your major muscle groups without too much trouble. So you don’t have to lose anything muscle-wise during gym-free summers, even if it’s harder to make it grow.

I no longer get delayed onset muscle soreness, but I generally have to wait about ten minutes after finishing a workout before I can get the strength up to hit the showers (on leg day I can’t get down the stairs, chest or shoulders prevent me from getting my backpack up).

beowulff, that acronym had me chuckling. I think what others said, and what you implied, is probably correct: I just might have hit an adaptation plateau. Thanks for the replies, folks!

OP: What kind of response are you trying to get? Do you want size, or definition? Either way, you’re probably going to need to adjust your diet. Can you post your routine as well as a typical day’s food intake?

So you think the protocol that you don’t follow consistently is working great for you? How’s that work?

My calves are so well-toned from the gym that I can no longer zip up my thigh-high leather boots. I’ve not had them very long and I think I’ve only been able to wear them twice.

I have nothing else to add, I just wanted to vent.

I’m 6’1" at 270 pounds right now with about 22% body fat. My ultimate goal is about 225-235 pounds at 8% body fat, which means I’m going to need to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat to achieve my goals. I’m bulking up first because my experience has told me that increasing my metabolism by increasing muscle mass helps me lose fat much faster than trying to lose fat on a base metabolism plus cardio.

I’m on a two day split, Monday/Thursday and Tuesday/Friday. For the record:

Shoulders: Arnold DB Presses, Lateral DB Raises, DB shrugs
Upper Arms: Standing BB Curls, Tricep Cable Pressdowns, Hammer DB Curls, Seated Overhead Tricep Presses
Thighs: Squats, Leg Curls, 45 Degree Leg Press
Abs: Cable Crunches

Chest: Flat DB Bench, Incline DB Bench, Flat DB fly
Back: Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns, Bent Barbell Rows, Wide Double-Overhand Deadlifts
Calves: Seated and Standing Raises
Abs: Cable Crunches
Forearms: Wrist Curls, Reverse Wrist Curls

My daily food intake varies, but stays around 2000-2400 calories daily. If I remember my calculations from way back when correctly, I need to bump this us by over 1000 calories, but good god I feel like a fatass when I do that.

Sounds like a good workout, and if you can hardly lift your arms after then it’s plenty strong.

Food intake is another thing - if you’re 6’1 and 270, you’re burning more than your intake by just sitting there, so it must be what you’re eating rather than how much.

I’d shift towards low-GI foods (like whole grains, brown breads, etc…) and lean heavily towards more protein less carbs in your diet, and I’d try to get up to 5-6 small meals a day, and lean those meals towards slightly larger ones in the morning and during the day, and much smaller ones at night. If you eat 6 times per day, I think you won’t have any problem upping your total calories a bit. Protein shakes to replace 1 or even 2 of thoes meals, especially right after you workout, might help as well.

And have you tried shifting your workout days?

I’d drop two of the arm exercises and concentrate on the big muscle groups like legs and back.

5 sets of 5 (with one or two lighter warm-ups) works best for me for increasing muscle mass. The only other tip you can try is to work circuits, where you do one set of each exercise for a given body part and repeat until you have five sets, instead of five sets of each exercise in a row. So you would do one set of DB benches, one set of pulldowns, one set of seated calf raises, one set of cable crunches, one set of wrist curls, and then do DB benches again and so on. Normal rest periods between sets - this is not super-setting.

It sometimes gets you dirty looks for hogging the equipment, but it often will break you out of a training rut.


Don’t give up on the cardio, either (as much as it sucks to do cardio). Best time is first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach…I go for 20 minutes (plus crunches), and I shoot for 4 times a week (three is more realistic, though - I really hate waking up to run). That’s not so much that it will sacrifice muscle.

I have a similar problem as your calf dilemma. My legs are big, and it’s easy to get them that way. I can just look at a squat rack and they’ll grow. My chest, OTOH, is my eternal frustration.

To remedy the situation, I try and apply the fundemantals I use on my legs to my chest: basic exercises, with full reps, perfect form, and high intensity. Add to that a good dose of healthy food (actually, 6 small meals spaced evenly throughout the day), lots of H20, a regular sleep schedule, and patience, and you should see progress.

OK, that’s helpful.

Here’s a question: why are you prioritizing lateral dumbbell raises over squats? The former exercises one joint and a negligible portion of your body’s muscle mass, whereas the latter exercises three joints and all of the biggest muscles in your body. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put squats at the top of the list?

The way I think of this is that there are two types of exercises, primary and supplemental. Primary exercises have you lifting heavy weights with multiple joints; supplemental exercises involve lighter weights or single joints. The primary exercises have the highest bang for your buck and you should center your program around them. They can be broken down into categories: a posterior chain movement, a squatting movement, an anterior chain movement, an upper body horizontal press, an upper body horizontal pull, an upper body vertical press, and an upper body vertical pull. The main specific exercises are the deadlift, the back squat, the hanging leg raise[sup]1[/sup], the bench press, the barbell row, the military press and the chinup (or pulldown, if you can’t do chinups).

I guarantee you, if you focus on improving all of those lifts, you’ll get bigger. And sometimes you’ll have to use supplementary exercises to do so, but you should always be prioritizing the primary ones.

And Shodan’s comment about the 5 x 5 is worth noting too. If you do more sets with fewer reps, you can end up lifting more weight for the same volume. That’s how you get better.

This is a little too vague. 2400 calories of clean food is great, but 2000 calories of junk food is not. Take a look here for something to think about.

You’re doing barbell bench presses, right? Next time, try attempting to move your hands towards each other after you’ve gripped the bar. This’ll get your chest to activate a bit more.

Squats make me ill. I don’t know why, but something about the motion makes me feel like I’m going to either faint, vomit, or both. I have no idea why! For a while, I thought it had to be my breathing, but I’ve focused on that and tried to make sure it’s good and steady and I’m now positive that the breathing isn’t my problem. If I do squats too early on, it makes me feel very blah throughout the rest of my workout. I wish I knew why, because I love squats.

My diet, on a more detailed level, is probably about 70% of the way to where it needs to be. I’m taking in about 0.5-0.7g of protein per pound of lean body mass.I don’t take in much sugar at all, but my refined carbs are still a little too high.

Shodan (et al), I’ve been thinking about what you said about 5x5 all day, and the more I consider it, the more I like it. I think I’m going to incorporate it into my routine.

I might have missed it but do you ever take easy weeks? If you’re training that hard every single time, you’re probably overtraining a bit.

I’m a gym-goer (With my gym-nazi wife).

I can almost feel the slaps coming, but I prefer using the machines for my large muscle groups (legs, back, chest), and free weights for the smaller ones (arm groups, leg specifics, etc.). Why? If I’m on a machine, I can duplicate (pretty close to exactly) the motion and arc of my lift. That way, I can concentrate on the weight variations and reps.

If I can offer an option to cardio (which I do, but hate with the intensity of 1,000 suns!), I’d recommend competitive sports. This is my routine during summer and winter. I alternate weeks (with alternate days, so my weeks are asymmetrical).

M/W/F/Su weeks:
General weight rotation
Competitive Tennis on Tuesday and Saturday AM
Highly Intense Sitting on Ass Thursday (OK, maybe 15 minutes of light jogging on treadmill at Gym)

T/Th/Sat weeks:
General weights
Cardio on T and Th (1/2 hour treadmill, 1,000 rope skips at home in the garage)
Slightly less competitive Tennis on SAturday AM

I like to throw in a run of two during the summer/autumn, and maybe some soccer as well.

Wow…I feel tired from writing that.


That’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t detract from the point: you aren’t focusing on the movements that will get you the best results.

I got out of doing regular exercise for a while, got back into the gym, hit a wall after making some decent progress, and found this place (Crossfit). Since I’ve been doing the kind of workouts they’ve got there, I’ve been having more fun with my workouts, pushing harder than I did when I was doing more conventional weightlifting because of the motivation, and I’ve gotten a LOT stronger on most exercises because the lifts and weights they prescribe are more challenging than most of the stuff I was doing before.

Doing my old routine I got stuck at around 5 or 6 pull ups for a month or two. I can crank out two or three sets of 10 pretty easily now. I couldn’t get past 110% of my body weight for deadlifts for a while either. Last week, as part of their “test and see where you are” qualifying lifts I managed to do just over 150% for two reps on the last set. I figure on breaking that next month. It took me what felt like forever to get past my own body weight in squats. I recently squatted a weight that I used to think was too heavy for anything but calf raises.

Try it, you might like it too.

Squats make you ill? Who does squats perfectly and DOES NOT feel ill afterward? They are a love / hate thing to me, I dread doing them because of how they make me feel, but love the results.

How many sets do you do? My suggestions:

Don’t work out the same muscle every day. For example you are doing shrugs and overhead presses on Monday, and then the next day you are doing Chest and some more back. OH presses work the back and chest as well as the shoulder. Personally I would do a back / Chest / Shoulder day and a Leg / Ab day alternating. Or the very least a Push / Pull alternating schedule.

You aren’t going to be able to gain muscle mass (unless right at the onset and not much, or you are on steroids) while on a low calorie diet. At 6’1 270 lbs, I would say that 2400 is certainly low cal, at your height and weight with only very moderate activity, you will likely burn 3000+. (I am 5’9 and less than 200 lbs and I easily burn 2600 with an office job). If you want to gain muscle mass you need to alternate your calorie intake and do an alternating bulking and cutting cycle. Aim for .5-1 lb a week on a bulk, and 1 - 1.5 lb on a cut and you should be ok. (That is 250-500 extra calories a day for gaining and 500 - 750 less on a cut) A 10 week cycle of each is typical, but you can do 6-8 weeks just fine.

Calves are funny creatures and people always complain about them. Most muscles you don’t want high repetition, but with Calves I have found that they work wonders (with the forearm and shrugs too). I typically do 15-25 reps with my calves. Sometimes I alternate that up with a maximal lift for 3-5 reps just to push the weight some.