'Bodybuilding Gurus':
All their mundane workouts explained

by Scott Abbett


Is there really anything new under the sun?

If you buy into the hyped marketing of many online ‘bodybuilding gurus’, you’d think that each one of them had devised some incredibly unique method of training for muscle growth. It seems every one of them was once a ‘skinny guy’, with all the gut-wrenching humiliation that implicitly goes along with that (i.e. “couldn’t get the chicks”… “last one picked for team sports”… etc.)

Then, on a fatefully miraculous day, an altruistic and muscle-bound dude sat down and revealed the formula for muscle growth to the would-be muscle building guru. Naturally, these “truths” were closely guarded secrets that would never be found in the bodybuilding magazines, which are (according to the guru) corporate rags run by or catering to no-less than a “supplement mafia.”  It’s only after the secrets were passed onto him that the once painfully skinny guy would begin seeing tens of pounds of rock-hard muscle added to his body within weeks.  He’d then go on to become one of the ‘bodybuilding gurus’; dispensing all his wisdom to the hungry masses of skinny guys. You’d think with these compelling lead-in stories, the bodybuilding gurus would have something truly unique to offer. But I’ve seen many of their workout courses. Surprisingly, none that I’ve seen appears much (if any) different than the workout routines described in the hardcopy bodybuilding magazines. Most of them simply explain a 3 or 4 day split routine in which a trainee works each muscle once or twice a week. Further adding to their ordinariness, most of them advise their readers to perform 3 to 4 sets for each exercise and between 1 and 3 exercises per body part. On top of this, the authors of most of these courses dispense with the ‘earth shattering’ advice to… (get this)… “increase the workout weight whenever possible.”

Well… dang… if we’d only known.

Three-Day Split = Commonplace

Dumbbell Lunges

So how do the basics of one of these mundane courses appear?

Most that I’ve seen are either 3-day or 4-day split routines. This means that a trainee splits his or her routine into 3 or 4 different workouts and typically performs each one once per week. A very simple schedule for a 3-day workout split would be to train Legs on Monday, Chest/Shoulders/Triceps on Wednesday, and Back/Biceps on Friday. This is a standard push/pull split-up for the upper body. That means the ‘pushing’ movements are performed during the Chest/Shoulders/Triceps movements on Wednesday and then the ‘pulling’ movements are done with the Back/Biceps exercises on Friday.  For this simple split routine, the sequence of workouts could be arranged another way without any real difference; the Leg routine could also be done on either Wednesday or Friday instead, for example.

Another common variation of the 3-day split is to perform Chest/Back on Monday, Legs on Wednesday, and Shoulders/Arms on Friday.

Either one of these arrangements of exercises makes sense for a 3-day split. Whatever way it’s done, the strength of this split is that it actually makes sense from the standpoint rest days for each muscle group: The muscle tissue gets 6 days of rest and it’s a consistent 6 days. As long as that remains the exact amount of recuperation time required given the tissue breakdown from workouts, this split can produce some fairly long-term bodybuilding gains.

Four-Day Split = Break Up the Workouts More

Bodybuilding gurus will often throw the 4-day split into their courses as if it were something new. For example, you might see a 4-day split in which each muscle is worked once per week, just like in the 3-day split. This would simply necessitate splitting the body parts until they require one additional day, usually making Monday, Tuesday/Thursday, Friday into the workout days. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday are rest days away from the gym. So you might see something like Legs on Monday, Chest on Tuesday, Shoulders/Triceps on Thursday, and Back/Biceps on Friday. Or it might be Chest on Monday, Legs on Tuesday, Back on Thursday, and Shoulders/Arms of Friday. Any way you split it, you’re still working each muscle once a week with 6 days of consistent rest for the muscle tissue. The benefit is that you can reduce the length of time in the gym for a couple of workouts (compared to the 3-day split) in trade for working out one more day each week.

3-Day Split that Appears like a 4-Day Split

Another variation of the 3-day split creates a ‘staggered’, or inconsistent inter-workout recuperation time. In this version, you’d still split things up into only three different workouts, such as Chest/Shoulders/Triceps – Legs – Back/Biceps. However, you’d work Chest/Shoulders/Triceps on Monday, Legs on Tuesday, Back/Biceps on Thursday, and then Chest/Shoulders/Triceps again on Friday. After taking the weekend off, you’d begin the cycle on the following Monday with the next workout in the sequence, which is the leg workout. So the following week would be Legs on Monday, Back/Biceps on Tuesday, Chest/Shoulders/Triceps on Thursday, and Legs on Friday. And so on; the next week would begin with Back/Biceps on Monday.

These schedules that change up the number of rest days make very little sense to me. Why? Because if we determine that a certain number of rest days will optimally recuperate muscle tissue, why would a different number of them optimally do the same thing? When you put that 4-day split on paper, you’ll see that each muscle gets 3 days of rest, followed by 5 days of rest, followed by 4 days of rest, followed again by 5 days of rest, and finally back to 3 days of rest again. What’s the rationale behind this? If we say this is effective, we might as well say that inter-workout recuperation time really doesn’t matter very much – an assertion I would label as categorically untrue.

So what do the bodybuilding gurus give us for workout schedules? Let’s look at some of them laid out vertically:

2 or 3 Weekly Whole Body Workouts (Mon, Wed, Fri or Tues, Thurs)
{usually for beginners}

Front Lat Pulldowns
  • Barbell Squats
  • Stiff-legged Deadlifts
  • Flat Bench Press
  • Military Press
  • Wide-Grip Pull-ups
  • Bent Over Barbell Rows
  • Standing Barbell Curls
  • Triceps Extensions (skull crushers)
  • Crunches

When the above whole body workout routine, or something similar, is espoused by online bodybuilding gurus, it’s typically recommended that each of the listed exercises is done for 2 to 3 sets. The rationale behind such a routine for beginners is that it constructs a foundation of size and strength upon which more detailed muscle routines can be built.

Does it work?

Given that many muscle building gurus will assert that a beginner's body will often respond positively to any routine, it's funny they have the gall to spell out such a specific manner in which the beginner should train. Hey, nobody said that along with dispensing generic information that can be found anywhere, you couldn't also regularly contradict yourself when you're a "bodybuilding guru."

2-Day Split (Mon, Wed, Fri) {with staggered number of rest days}

This is a 2-day split in which the working of all muscle groups is divided into only two workouts. However, the workouts are done every other day with the weekends off, effectively staggering the rest/recuperation time for each muscle. In this way, it’s similar to the 3-day split “that appears like a 4-day split”; it possesses a staggered number of recuperation days. Let’s just make it simple by illustrating the schedule below:

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Mon: Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs


: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms


: Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs



Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms

With this schedule, it appears at first glance as if each muscle’s worked once one week and twice the next. In actuality, each muscle gets 3 days of rest one week and 4 the next. It keeps alternating this way. Again, when you see this type of schedule, you’ve got to wonder why one amount of recuperation time is accepted as right at one time and another amount at another time. Either the tissue is optimally recovered and stronger after 3 days or after 4 days; it hardly makes sense that it would be both.

It’s similar to the 3-day split that shares this commonality of staggered rest days. Let’s look at that staggered-rest, 3-day split written out in vertical form:

Mon: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves

Wed: Off

Thurs: Back, Biceps, Abs

Fri: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

Sat: Off

Sun: Off

Mon: Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves

Tues: Back, Biceps, Abs

Wed: Off

Thurs: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

Fri: Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves     … etc…etc…

3-Day Split/Each Muscle Twice-Per-Week Routine

For those who haven’t figured out that intense bodybuilding training done once a week (naturally/without steroids) can easily over-train the tissues, the schedules based on working each muscle twice a week can still seem feasible. Therefore, some of the online bodybuilding gurus – especially those who’ve used steroids but are now hawking ‘natural’ bodybuilding courses – mistakenly think if one workout produces growth, two per week can magically double that progress.

The way this is usually done using a 3-day split is to work out for 6 consecutive days each week and then take just one day off. So it could appear like the following example:
Standing Bent Bar Curls

Mon: Chest/Back

Tues: Shoulders/Arms

Wed: Legs

Thurs: Chest/Back

Fri: Shoulders/Arms

Sat: Legs

Sun: Off

The Bodybuilding Guru’s Schedules: Just how mundane are they?

So am I being harsh by labeling these typical schedules outlined by online bodybuilding gurus as being commonplace and mundane? Hardly!

Think about this: What you usually hear from these self-proclaimed renegades is that the information in the bodybuilding magazines is useless because it’s pedaled by shills for rip-off bodybuilding supplement companies. Fair enough; it sounds like it might be a compelling reason to develop some counter-orthodox information. The only problem is that once you pay for the information being sold by most of the online bodybuilding gurus, you find out that their information isn’t even close to being counter-orthodox; it resembles what’s become ubiquitous in bodybuilding and fitness.

Case-in-point: While recently leafing through one of the major hardcopy bodybuilding magazines, I saw a cover story describing to readers how they could improve muscle growth by incrementally decreasing inter-set rest time over a period of a few weeks. I went wound up reading the entire article. The concept being disseminated seemed interesting, although I disagreed with much of it. However, what really stood out to me was the fact that the basic workout routine around which this concept was shared was a four-day split; each muscle was worked once-a-week – on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday. Each muscle worked was assigned about 4 exercises and each exercise was given about 3 to 4 sets.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these routines, as long as the inter-workout recuperation time is commensurate with the amount of tear-down inflicted upon the muscle tissue. Indeed, if a routine with a workout/recuperation ratio that’s identical or similar to any of these mentioned is effective for you, by all means, keep using it. Don’t change what’s working.

Creative” Bodybuilding Gurus: Throwing in some ‘Periodization’

As if in an attempt to break the banality of available information, some bodybuilding gurus have added ‘periodization’ to their programs. Of course, this is nothing new; the Eastern Europeans created this concept back in the 1980s. It traditionally consists of using a certain type routine for a few weeks (such as low reps strength training) followed by a few weeks of a complimentary routine (such as higher reps/hypertrophy training).
Kettlebell Presses

What’s become somewhat in-vogue among bodybuilding gurus is to sell periodization type programs built on the idea that one or two weeks of engaging a certain style of training can “catapult” or “slingshot” a trainees progress in subsequent weeks when hypertrophy training is adopted. For example, the guru might instruct trainees to go on a low glycemic diet for a week while simultaneously using a high volume/high repetition weight training program to burn fat. The guru might have them follow this with a week or two of a high calorie diet coupled with a heavy weight/low reps muscle building scheme. These typical 4-week periodization routines will often contain scientific-sounding buzzwords such as “planned overtraining” or “anabolic amplifier effect of food.” The theory behind them is typically the same: Some kind of ‘super compensation’ phenomena has been scientifically built into the program and will create a synergistic effect that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Do these programs work?

You’ve got to give some bodybuilding gurus an ‘A-for-effort’ in coming up with such routines. They sound compelling in theory. Matter-of-fact, I’d be tempted to jump onboard with such elaborate muscle building schedules if long-term experience hadn’t taught me to be wary of the hit-and-miss “science.” Just study the references cited in the bibliographies of such programs and you’ll see that the creator usually adheres only loosely to any research findings that could lend credence to his ideated periodization program. That’s understandable; most research experiments in resistance training haven’t tested the multi-pronged approach that these gurus are espousing, much-less any concepts as abstract and variable-ridden as “controlled overtraining” or “anabolic amplifier effect.”
My advice: follow them at your own discretion.

How to ‘One-Up’ the Bodybuilding Gurus: Be a Real Muscle Building Renegade

If you’ve followed the advice of courses and articles written by bodybuilding gurus and have been frustrated by your progress, here’s a simple and effective remedy to your dilemma. Since few of them seem able to think very creatively in problem solving, it won’t take much for you to out-think (and out-gain) them.
Natural Muscle Gains and Fat Burning Secrets

First, forget the whole idiotic notion that muscle building routines need to follow a weekly schedule. Think about it: Do you really think your muscle tissue knows what a week is? Bodily tissue that’s been broken down during a workout has no idea how long it’s been since you worked out or when you plan on hitting the weights again. The muscles don’t know that you plan on working them again within a week. Nor do they care. They’ll simply take whatever time they need to recuperate and grow. Moreover, they’re completely indifferent about your desire to build them. If the amount of stress you’ve inflicted on them requires nine days in order that they get stronger, your stubborn insistence on working them again in six days will only result in you hitting the start of a progress plateau. Not good.

Here’s my simplest advice: Don’t be like the online bodybuilding gurus; be a REAL renegade. Whatever cycle you’re using that’s resulted in a plateau, simply add one or two rest days to the cycle and see if you resume making gains. If that doesn’t work, add another rest day. In fact, keep adding rest day until your muscles start getting stronger between workouts again. You might ultimately end up with a schedule that looks something like the following:

Mon: Legs

Tues: Chest/Abs

Wed: Off

Thurs: Shoulders/Triceps

Fri: Back/Biceps

Sat: Off

Sun: Off

Mon: Off

Tues: Off

Wed: Off

Thurs: … Begin cycle again with Legs

You might need more or fewer days off than this; it depends on feedback from your testing.

Train intensely, and… intelligently.