EVERY TRAINING PROGRAM WORKS... UNTIL IT DOESN'T!
It doesn't matter how much you love a certain program. It's physically impossible to keep progressing on it forever.
The fact is, if you want long-term progress you'll need to increase the demands of your training program. But how? Do you gradually increase volume? Do you focus more on intensity? Add more weight to the bar? Or is it something completely different?
"What should I do next?" is the most important question you'll ever ask when it comes to achieving your full potential.
THE SOLUTION: CHANGE THE TYPE OF STIMULUS
Volume, intensity, and progressive overload are important, but they can't be the long-term answer. All three have their champions:
The volume camp says that when the body adapts to physical training you need to increase the overall amount of work to force it to continue adapting.
The progressive overload crew says you need to focus on gradually adding weight to the barbell.
The high intensity team says the key to hypertrophy is going to failure, then there's no real need to worry about adding weight (you should when your sets get too easy, but it's not the main goal).
Well, they're all wrong... but also right in some regards.
The most important thing for continuous progress is NOT doing more and more volume. It isn't adding more weight to the bar every week either. And it's not taking your sets deeper down the high-intensity hole.
It's frequently changing the TYPE of stimulus you impose on your body.
Volume, intensity, and load increase the magnitude of the stimulus. But if you stay with the same program, you're still providing the same stimulus. Eventually the body becomes fully adapted to it. At that point, your body is essentially "immune" to the training.
You do your workout, it creates fatigue, and it might even give you a good feeling. But afterwards it only brings you back to the same level at which you started. A mere illusion.
You can't increase volume forever. Will you, at some point, have to do 100 sets per muscle group to keep gaining? Hmmm...nope.
Progressive overload isn't any better. You can't keep adding weight to the bar forever. If you start with a 250 pound bench, only adding five pounds per week would give you a 500 pound bench after a year. Afterwards, even if you could only add a pound per week, you'd still be benching 1000 after ten years of training. How many people bench 1000 pounds? Pure fantasy.
It's the same with intensity. While you can add strategies to go beyond failure (rest/pause, drops set, partials, etc.) at some point you can't hit failure ten times in a single set. The body won't be able to take it.
All of these variables are finite. The only thing you can constantly change is the nature of the stimulus.
For muscle growth, the key to long-term progression is changing the stimulus imposed on your body. This means changing HOW you do your sets – the tempo, the special methods, the intensity of work, the zone you're training in, etc. The more you change the type of stimulus, the less you need to increase the strength of the stimulus.
Of course, these changes have to be planned in a smart and progressive way. And they still have to make the body work gradually harder.
Your body doesn't want to add muscle. It's metabolically expensive and it's costly to build and maintain.
You won't add muscle unless your body deems it to be absolutely necessary. You do that by imposing physical stress (training) onto your body that it's not used to facing. If your body isn't used to that stress – and not adapted to it – the more trainable the body is.
"Trainability" is your potential to improve in response to certain stress. Every time you repeat the same type of stress, your body becomes more and more adapted to it, which decreases its trainability. Every time you repeat a certain type of stress you make that workout less effective.
If you repeat that type of training often enough, you will become fully adapted and there won't be any need to grow bigger. This is what I call "training immunity."
The more foreign a certain physical stress, the stronger it is and the less you need to increase its magnitude with high volume or high intensity.
I'm not saying you shouldn't train hard when the stimulus is new, but that you don't need to push volume, intensity, and loading to the extreme to stimulate gains. I'll give you three examples.
No, you don't have to rotate bodybuilding, gymnastic work, CrossFit, and Olympic lifting. I'm just illustrating that dramatically and frequently changing the nature of your training can help you progress faster, for longer, and without having to resort to extreme volume or intensity increases, which can be impractical and unpleasant.
The less experienced you are, the longer you can stay on the same program. Your body is so far away from its maximum potential that any type of training provides a very strong stress/stimulus. Newer lifters can use the same type of training for 12 weeks, although I still prefer to have some variation every six weeks.
The more experienced you are, the more frequent and contrasted the changes need to be. I like to change workouts every three to four weeks. Very advanced individuals like pro athletes might even need to rotate every two weeks!
Your take home message: variation is Key, get outta your comfort zone!