Barbell training, more than any other method of physical culture, is effective because it allows for planned, systematic, carefully measured progressive resistance. Other forms of exercise permit increasing resistance of a sort, but not the way weight training does. Still, problems can arise. If you're a complete beginner, for example, you'll find that you progress steadily for about four to eight months. Then you begin to bog down. You go stale, and unless you get the right instruction, you become discouraged and frustrated and probably quit training.
You need a brief rest to let your muscles recover and your enthusiasm return, and then you need to change your training schedule. A change at the right time lets you continue to make progress for another six to eight weeks, at which time you need another change.
It will become clear after a few of these cycles that the road to physical perfection is strewn with pitfalls, setbacks and obstacles of all types. It is by no means a steady climb. In fact, it’s an up-and-down path full of twists and turns. Despite all the pains in the neck (or points lower), you have to keep your eye on the prize and keep increasing the demands for performance in the areas where you desire excellence.
A high volume of training is never as valuable as hard, systematic training performed correctly. Muscles grow when they are overloaded without being overtrained. Now, I do not mean to imply that greater and greater gains will be forever forthcoming. They won't. If you train well, you'll achieve your maximum development in two to four years. After that, you need to maintain your physique.
This is when training really becomes enjoyable. You can dabble in odd routines, nothing foolish, just interesting. You can start thinking of yourself as a finished product, and while your workouts will certainly be heavy from time to time, you train more by intuition and instinct than by focusing on long-range objectives.
I believe you probably reach your peak physically between 25 and 35. After that it's certainly possible to maintain a terrific physique (right up to your 70s and 80s, I think) but no one in his or her 40s or 50s can hope to compete with those in their late teens to mid-20s who train hard and are genetically gifted.
For that matter, you shouldn't even care much about trying to compete. As I see lifetime training, the goals ought to be the following:
- To build your maximum level of strength and conditioning.
- To maintain that level insofar as possible for the rest of your life.
During the building phase you learn a lot about yourself. You discover the exercises that suit you best, the set-and-rep scheme that works best and the length and frequency of workouts that are the most productive for you. There's no great figure in any field of physical endeavor who isn't extremely aware of his or her unique training requirements. For example, when the immortal Bill Pearl was developing his physique, he did so under the excellent tutelage of Leo Stern. After laying the foundation, however, Pearl went on to be his own trainer and guided himself to heights of development that remain awesome.
As the years reveal to you more of your own needs and results, you should leave behind the programs and routines of others. You'll know what length cycle works best for you, be it four weeks or 12. You'll discover how many sets produce results for you, how much sleep you need, what diet works best and you'll keep making progress.
I've often remarked that today, at 48, I'm more in love with barbell training that I was when I began in 1963 at the age of 16. I have no illusions about what I can achieve or how far I can go, but training is always exciting and enjoyable. My workouts vary, and I find that my health, condition, strength and ability with martial arts and general activities is fantastic.
After more than 30 years with those wonderful pieces of iron I am still not stuck in a rut. I have exciting long- and short-range goals and almost indescribable satisfaction at the end of every workout. The very nature of weight training makes it perfect as a lifelong pursuit.