Instinctive training is a popular principle in bodybuilding. It suggests that as an advanced trainee, you know your body best. You can make changes to your routine during a workout or train without a plan at all.
With this system, you usually still focus on a body part for a given day but just use whatever feels right without any forethought. You may know you need to work your chest. You have no idea though how many exercises, which ones, and the number of sets and reps you will use until the workout itself. You rely on yourself and not the program.
Instinctive training brings many questionable assumptions and defends a lot of poor practices. Much of training involves going against your instincts. Reason and self-discipline teach you to overcome short-term fleeting desires for long-term greater rewards. It also lacks a standard definition, and some would define it as something simple like taking a week off when needed, a sensible idea that has nothing to do with instincts. I suggest avoiding instinctive training for these reasons.
Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.
– John Steinbeck
- It justifies bodybuilding.
You go for the pump and the burn. You perform many harmful isolation and machine exercises with endless variety to blitz the muscles from all angles. You need more volume for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Different exercises build either mass or shape, despite the fact that a muscle either contracts at a strong length or a weak length. You apply advanced techniques that actually involve more work with less weight, a quality associated with endurance.
Tension has been established as the main stimulus for size and strength. Tension comes from that squeeze you feel when a muscle contracts. Adding weight should remain the focus of any sensible program since it leads to more tension.
Bodybuilding may make the muscles look bigger due to more blood flow. It may feel satisfying to handle lots of lactic acid. None of these factors matter though in creating tension.
- It encourages more exercises and sets with less intensity.
We all like to feel busy and productive by investing more time into a task. You eventually hit diminishing returns though. In lifting, this can occur with as little as anything beyond one properly performed set.
Instead of putting the effort into working hard through additional reps or weight on your hardest set, you just tend to add more exercises and sets with instinctive training. Your body has a limited amount of resources and you should conserve them wisely.
This tendency occurs due to instincts that favor laziness.
- Your instincts encourage the path of least resistance.
Your instincts encourage you to eat too much and act lazy. The feeling of a job well-done during exercise comes from education. We get the long-term rewards only after tolerating the pain of a tough workout. Those that use instinctive training usually gravitate away from the toughest exercises like heavy squats. They do too much with too little effort, such as avoiding training to failure.
- It makes it harder to measure progress.
Progress is the most important part of any routine. Consistency allows you to build and retain skills. Without it, you lack the measurability to determine if the program works well. Numbers give you objective feedback toward your goals unlike feelings.
- It may prevent balance.
With a good plan revolving around the big three, you balance all the major muscle groups. With instinctive training, no such guarantee exists. You train body parts on a whim and may provide too much or too little work for some muscles.
- Fun should never supersede results.
The unexpected can feel exciting. This has no bearing on proper exercise though and can invite danger. Going a step further, exercise should be productive first and foremost, not necessarily fun. Enjoyment should only come as a side effect of a good program. Results will keep you much more motivated versus the temporary joy of something new.
Avoid Instinctive Training
Any routine that creates tension in the major muscle groups will allow you to get bigger and stronger. Someone with the right potential for bodybuilding while taking steroids will have much more room for error. For everyone else, getting results means getting things right time after time again. Use the best routine possible and make adjustments only as needed.
Humans aren’t so different that the requirements of exercise vary much between us. We know that tension is the main stimulus for size and strength. Any routine that fails to focus on adding weight will fail eventually. Although some may have imperfect methods, never forget how very strong the best bodybuilders have grown.
If a muscle or joint feels weak, it certainly makes sense to hold off on training. Many will lump in this good idea with instinctive training to then justify all the other nonsense associated with it. This has more to do with common sense.
Relativism is a dangerous trend. Some believe that a bad exercise could work well for the right individual, even though anatomy and biomechanics show that certain exercises work poorly for everyone, just more or less safely. This sort of thinking allows any bad idea to seem valid and this logic drives the concept of instinctive training.
Use the best program you know instead and avoid instinctive training.