Am I Doing Enough In My Workouts or Should I Add More To Them?

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers and diet professionals at every level.

44 thoughts on “Am I Doing Enough In My Workouts or Should I Add More To Them?”

44 Comments

  1. Great article and points as always. I see this quite a bit at the gym. People do 4-5 exercises per body-part each day. Doing half of that, twice as often, (like in the programs offered here) ends up being about the same amount of exercises in the end. People also don’t realize that it is the feeding and rest that builds the muscle and not the tearing of it. We know that too much cardio can hinder results just like too much of a calorie deficit. Why isn’t it then common sense for one to realize that too much training can also hinder progress? More and more is going to produce less and less until an injury occurs and you are out for months. This is coming from a guy with surgery on both elbow tendons due to overuse and a lack of rest in previous years.

    There also has to be some kind of diminishing returns or we could just do 100 sets per bodypart to get bigger. By exercise 3 or 4, you are already tired and begin to lift light weights, or do half-assed reps to where they really don’t do much other than keep your “pump” going. Might as well just do a set of pushups if you want to feel that upper-body pump without overtraining. If you are still at 100% after a few exercises, then you probably just didn’t do enough on the first ones.

    Keep spreading the word (except for squats, keep them away from MY rack dangit)!

    • Exactly right. Few people in the gym realize the importance of progressive overload and think just the act of “going to the gym” and doing a bunch of things is what produces results. So based on this, they wouldn’t even notice that they’re not recovering because they’re not even trying to progress in the first place.

      They’re just trying to feel as much pump and soreness as possible, and the dumber you train and the worse you recover, the more this tends to happen.

      Which of course helps explain why most people in a typical gym are weak and look like crap.

    • “More and more is going to produce less and less until an injury occurs and you are out for months.” DrSeRRoD is so right about that. I can make claim to surgeries on both shoulders and it was not fun. I sure wish I would have known that the magazines I was reading 20 years ago (about the only source of bodybuilding information I had available to me then)were not meant for the average, natural person. It was/is just wrong to tell people not on drugs to exercise like they are.

  2. Wow! I had to laugh so hard when you said horse shit. I have to agree with you. When I was in college, I’ve always wanted to have that awesome body, and I’ve used the workout program recommended from Men’s Health magazine but it was always too much for me and I typically ended up being drained during the middle of workout and couldn’t finish. I thought that maybe I was not cut out for it or that maybe I need to build more stamina or endurance.

    Few years later, I came across your website because I have joined a gym near my work and I was looking for a good workout program that’s designed for a beginner like me. Thank God I’ve come across your website because I have to say that it really DID help me a lot. I have seen the progress. I have increased the weight progressively over the 5 weeks and simultaneously lost weight. I am 26 years old, currently weighted at 180 and I’m 6 feet tall. I was 188 when I started this program. I started small of course with the light weight – learning all the right forms as recommended by your myriad of articles (I’ve really enjoyed reading all of them. Your language is superb as they’re really straightforward and straight to the point concisely – not many authors can do this, in my opinion).

    But I have to admit, in the beginning, I was really embarrassed because there I was sitting lifting low pounds while being surrounded by huge bulky guys lifting 100+ lbs. But I was pretty positive and had faith in your workout program as you said it will work – guaranteed, so I took your word for it.

    I feel stronger and better. At the end of each workout, I always feel good and stronger. I’m surprised that the next workout, I’m always feeling ready and eager to start because typically with the “horse shit” workout I’ve used in the past, sometimes I had sore and not looking forward to it.

    So I just want to say thank you so much for your benevolent work and your dedication to this work. I’m sure you have helped out so many people out there and I’m really grateful.

    I just have one question for you:
    At the beginning and end of each workout, I tend to do a cardio to warm up and work up the sweat. What I want to know is, how much is enough? Sometimes, I ran 1 mile for 10 minutes, sometimes under 1 mile. But I don’t want to jeopardize the risk of injury to my legs. Sometimes, I want to do cardio for like 30 minutes. I don’t want to do it on non-workout day and prefer to do them on workout day. Any advice?

    Thanks so much! Sorry if this is not the right place to post my question.

    • Thanks for the compliments dude, awesome to hear how helpful the site has been and how well it’s all been working for you so far. And I’ve definitely been there feeling embarrassed early on. One day I need to tell the story of one of my first times bench pressing at the gym when I was in high school. It’s pretty funny in a sad, pathetic way.

      Regarding a cardio warm-up, it should really just be a few minutes of light and easy activity just to get blood flowing and break a sweat. For most people, this should take about 5-10 minutes (sometimes less). You definitely don’t want to turn it into anything even close to a typical cardio session and tire yourself out before you hit the weights.

      As for doing an actual session of cardio and how much to do and when to do it, that’s the kind of stuff I’ll eventually cover when I start writing some cardio articles or a cardio-specific guide. It’s on my to-do list for sure.

  3. Great article, the late great Mike Mentzer often said, the more you do OVER what is required to build muscle, the deeper the hole you dig into your recovery ability.
    And he also pointed out the stonger you get, and the more you lift, the less volume you should do.

    • I definitely agree with that first part 100%. As for the second part, some advanced people actually find they need MORE volume in order to continue making progress… especially when hypertrophy is the goal.

    • Few exercises (if any) should ever be done rapidly. But calves especially tend to benefit most from a slower-than-usual negative, a pause at the bottom, and a squeeze at the top.

      The people you see just bouncing the weight up and down 100 miles an hour on various calf machines are wasting their time.

  4. Love, love, love the article. Yikes, I am SO guilty of all the points. It’s tough to change. When I learned to lift weights, it was 3 sets of 15. Period. That was it. I always “felt” so much better (because I got that amazing pump) if I did more, more, more. Strength training takes all that away. No more pump. Lots of rest time in between just a few sets. It took a whole lot of adjustment for me to get used to that. I still find myself pacing the floor until it’s time for the next set. I was conditioned to do lots and lots and I still struggle with it. –Thanks for pointing it out and reminding me to stay the course.

  5. This article is a keeper and I’m going to read it every Monday before the training week to get my mind right and set.

  6. I’m 60 years old. I been working out for about 1 year steady. For my age can I use your weight training method? Do I have to do something else as in reps, sets, rest and total volme. I want to get the most out of my workout.
    Martin

    • Generally speaking, the older we get, the less volume, frequency and intensity we can handle. So, while it’s impossible to say for sure, it’s probably a safe guess that at 60, you’re not going to be able to optimally recover from training the same way you could at 20, 30, 40 or even 50… so some type of adjustment will probably need to be made to make it work.

      For example, the 3 day upper/lower split instead of the 4 day version, maybe 1 less set here and there, maybe move the stuff in the 6-8 rep range up into the 8-10 rep range (and the 8-10 stuff into the 10-12 rep range), etc.

      So yeah, in general, you’re probably going to need to cut back somewhere. But, this is one of those times where you’re mostly going to need to listen to your body and monitor your progress and adjust based on what happens and how it all feels.

    • I’m 60 years old, but love to lift as heavy as I can. I can’t do any of the three big lifts any more because of three hernias, and two shoulder operations with 5 pins now. But for the first time ever, I get a kick out of direct arm work & heavy dumbell work for chest and shoulders. when I say heavy, I’m sure many do more than I, but I do go up on some sets useing 80 to 125 lb dumbells.

      my issue seems to be too much volume leading too some unusal soreness and probably not good recovery. How much volume is enough to keep my strength up and recover properly?
      I have no intention of ever stopping, I have been going to the gym for 45 years, but I’m for the first time at a lost for good lifting at 60 years old,HELP!!

  7. Man, such a cool article and a super cool website. I actually paid heed to your advice and i was feeling super bad that i don’t return from the gym sore as hell and writhing in pain. I still persisted with the “very light” training schedule and i actually see myself getting stronger each week.

    I am still having trouble with the weight loss but i guess i need to nitpick my diet a bit more.

    Kudos n keep up the great work !

  8. I have a question though.I don’t doubt what you’re saying but can you please explain why exactly more volume is ruining your workout? I’m on a full body 5×5 routine and I’m progressing each week so I have no complaints but I’m just curious,that’s all.I am aware that one of the main reasons is recovery.In a full body routine like mine,for example, where I work back in every workout, I need to be recovered in 48 hours so I can be ready for the next workout.So if I did more than 5 sets of 5 I might not recover in time.And of course I know that the goal is progressive overload and if I end up using much less weight in my 8th set or so because I can’t sustain the same workload,it will do nothing for me.Is there any other reason besides what I’ve mentioned?

    • If you’re doing so much volume that you’re exceeding your capacity to recover, you’re not going to be capable of progressing. So yes, the main reason you don’t want to do excessive amounts of volume is recovery. But everything else (progression especially) is built around sufficient recovery.

      Another good reason to avoid more volume than you need is to prevent various overuse injuries that can come from doing way too many sets/exercises.

      • Thanks for answering ! By the way…I hope to see you post more often this year.In an older post you’ve mentioned that you could write 10 000 articles just based on the questions you get in emails and you will never run out of things to talk about lol.I’m guessing you are a busy guy so I understand.But it would be great to see you start posting more often.Have you ever considered or would you consider starting a youtube channel?I think youtube could use more people like you with all the broscience and bad advice going around over there haha.

        • Oh, the material is definitely there. 10,000 articles might actually be an understatement. 😉

          It’s mostly just a matter of finding the time for it all. I originally wrote about 1 post per week. But when I’m working on other big projects at the same time (which I am… you’ll hear more about it soon), posting frequency slows down a bit.

          But, once the big project is finished, it will pick up again… at least until the next big project starts.

          And yeah, doing stuff on YouTube is one of the MANY things on my to-do list.

  9. So far, every morning before I go to the gym for my 3 days full body split I open this website and give everything another read over. Your articles always cover the most important, if not everything! Thanks for putting together such a comprehensive and helpful website!

    I did have a question though, that I can’t seem to get a solid answer on. I am doing the beginner workout and there are some exercises that I feel I am blowing through too quickly, such as the Tricep Press Down. So I add a little bit more weight to keep the progression. But should I have increased the weight or should I have added more reps/sets? And mind you, I’m going through the sets feeling as though I could do that particular exercise for the next thirty minutes, and that’s how I gauge when I should be increasing something. But I guess my question is, what should I increase, setsxreps or the weight?

    • Happy to hear it!

      As for your question, you increase the weight when you reach the set/rep goal for a given exercise. So if the goal is to do 3 sets of 10 reps on some exercise, and you can do that with some amount of weight, it’s time to increase the weight by the smallest increment. You might now only be able to do 3 sets of 8. Your goal in this example would be to increase in reps until you work up to 3 sets of 10. When you get that, add weight again and repeat this process.

      More here: https://www.aworkoutroutine.com/how-often-to-increase-the-weight-you-lift/

  10. since i started following your programs, I feel like am progressing almost ll the time and that makes me feel like am going heavy too soon, is it normal???

  11. But what if your goals are mostly endurance-oriented, both muscular and cardiovascular, i.e. the muscle growth rate is not completely disregarded but is secondary to endurance improvements? Will the volume of the beginners routine be optimal for that purpose as well?

    • The beginner routine is designed for strength gains and muscle growth. If you care more about some other goal, you should use a program specifically designed for that goal.

  12. That part at the end of the article that you said annoyed you… I did that a few months ago…

    Sorry about that. Didn’t know it bugged you that much.

    Another article about common sense. Nice job.

  13. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere shrugs are one of the few things you don’t mind being added in. I’m moving up from your beginner routine to your muscle building routine. I was wondering where I should put them and what rep range would be appropriate?

  14. After decreasing my volume, I gained 21 pounds of muscle when lifting in the 3-5 rep range with 2 years of weight lifting experience.

  15. Would you mind explaining why the fat loss+maintenance workout is similar to the muscle building workout? If we aren’t building muscle and trying our hardest to maintain strength, wouldn’t a more basic routine like version 1 of targeted workouts or something similar be the way to go?

    I ask because I’m trying to lose BF and feel a bit more drained during my workouts, and seems like I’m doing more than needed if I’m not building muscle at this point. For example lateral raises, I like doing them but what’s the point if I’m in a calorie deficit anyway? Is a calorie burning thing?

    I also workout at home and don’t have access to machines and cables. If I’m able to keep my strength with say the bench press, is DB flys really necessary? Or is there an optimal volume per muscle group when fat loss is the goal?

    Thanks for all your help and really enjoy reading your articles. Just have been curious about this lately!

    • I assume you have one of my books? If so, read my introduction into the FL+MM routine along with the various information contained within its chapter. It explains why that adjusted version of TMBWR is ideal for maintenance.

      As for lateral raises and flyes… I don’t consider them necessary for maintenance, so they could be dropped if needed/preferred. I do think they are beneficial, though.

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