Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Back to the Basics: Old-School Bodybuilding for Real World Results

     If you're looking for a program to pack on the muscle mass and the power, or if you're looking for a program to bust you out of the (dreaded) plateau you have encased yourself within, look no further.  Sometimes, you just have to go back to the basics.
     A lot of time when lifters go back to the basics they end up doing some crappy, gutless routine where they train their whole body with something along the lines of 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.  They got the full-body routine part right, but the rest of it pretty much blows.  Enter Old-School bodybuilding; the kind of full-body programs that used to be employed by the likes of Anthony Ditillo, Reg Park, and Marvin Eder.  We're talking the real friggin' deal.
     Okay, I'm not going to waste your time with any rambling.  Let's get right to what the "real deal" actually looks like.  Here are my "rules" for Old-School Bodybuilding:
     1. Use a full-body workout 3 days each week.  The most popular days are usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  But any three non-consecutive days will work.  Personally I enjoy a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday program.  I like to have my Fridays and Saturdays off; I'm well rested on Sunday from not working, and it kind of gets me energized before I have to go back to work on Monday.
     2. Squat at each workout.
     3. Perform 5 to 7 exercises per workout.  In addition to the squats, perform 1 lower-body pulling exercise (such as deadlifts), 1 to 2 upper body pushing exercises (bench presses, dips, overhead presses, 1 to 2 upper body pulling exercises (chins, bent over rows, dumbbell rows), and 1 curling movement.
     4. For each exercise, perform 3 to 5 sets (not counting warm-ups) of 4 to 8 reps.

     That's it for the rules.  Simple?  Heck yea, it is.  But it's also highly effective.  Here's an example of what a week of workouts might look like:

Monday
Squats: 4 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 reps
Dumbbell Bench Presses: 3 sets of 6 reps
Weighted Dips: 3 sets of 8 reps
Wide Grip Chins: 4 sets of 6 reps
Dumbbell Rows: 3 sets of 8 reps
Barbell Curls: 4 sets of 6 reps

Wednesday
Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps
Stiff-Leg Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8 reps
Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 4 sets of 6 reps
Close-Grip Chins: 4 sets of 6 reps
Bent-Over Barbell Rows: 3 sets of 6 reps
Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets of 8 reps

Friday
Squats: 4 sets of 5 reps
Rack Pulls: 4 sets of 6 reps
Flat Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 3 sets of 8 reps
Wide-Grip Chins: 4 sets of 6 reps
Reverse Barbell Curls: 4 sets of 6 reps

     I should say that this program is deceptively simple.  It doesn't look like much on paper, but trust me: it packs a punch once you start performing it.  By the last workout of the week, you should be a little fatigued, but that's fine.
     Train hard on it for 3 to 4 weeks, then take a "down" week where you do the same program, but you cut your poundages used in half.
     Make sure you eat plenty of food while on this program (or anything similar to it).  This routine isn't for getting "cut" - it's for gaining a lot of muscle mass in a short period of time.  Eat at least 4 good-sized meals each day, and drink plenty of milk.
     Don't believe this program will work?  Give it a try and you'll be so surprised with the results that you might never go back to more "conventional" training again.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The 3 Keys to Being Strong, Feeling Great, Looking Good, and Being Healthy

     "Are you on a training program or are you working out?"  These words were uttered by that great immortal of the iron game, the one and only Vince Gironda.  I have always found this quote to be the most important one for training success—and probably the reason why it has been so often uttered by trainers other than just me.
     Just "working out" won't cut it.  Never has.  Never friggin' will.  No way.  No how.  You must be on a training program.  Ideally, you must be on a training program that is built around achieving your specific goals.
     Which brings us to the title of this post.  What are your training goals?  No doubt they change over the years.  They have definitely changed for me.  When I first started training, I wanted one thing and one thing only: to be as muscularly big as humanly possible.  And, you know what?  I achieved this goal by eating everything in sight (and making sure that I consumed plenty of protein along the way), taking the appropriate supplements, and following specific training plans that were built around gaining muscle.
     As the years went by, my goals changed.  I became interested in powerlifting, and so my new goal was to be as strong as humanly possible while staying at a lean bodyweight.  This worked, too.  At my best, I could squat and deadlift more than triple my bodyweight quite easily and I could bench press more than double my bodyweight.  (All of these lifts were made without the aid of supportive equipment or any kind of performance enhancement drugs.)
     And now my goals have changed again.  With age comes wisdom.  (At least, it should; I've meant plenty of old coots who were not wise in the least.)  I no longer just want to be the strongest sumbitch walking the planet, nor do I want to be the biggest.  Nope.  Now, don't get me wrong, I still want to be strong, and I want to look good.  But I also want to feel great and be healthy.  I want my mind to function properly.  I want my body to perform at optimal levels so that I can do more than just lift big weights and little else.
     My training—like so much in my life—has become Integral.
     So what follows are I consider to be the three essential "keys" to designing a training program that allows you to be strong, look great, feel great, and be really healthy.
     Key #1: Squat a lot.  The squat, in all of its varieties, is the best exercise you can do.  If you want bigger arms, a bigger chest, or a larger back, trying to do so without the squat will limit your gains.  Want a big bench press?  You better squat more.  It acts as nothing less than an "anabolic stimulus."
     It increases your appetite, improves your digestive system (when performed regularly, and when done "butt to the floor"), and even increases your sex drive.
     Another great thing about it is that you can train the movement regularly, allowing you to reap its benefits almost continuously.  The reason you can train the squat so frequently is because you don't overtrain your movement pattern on squats as you do with other exercises.
     Keep in mind that your goal with squats is to not just get stronger and look better, but it's also to feel better and be healthier.  For this reason, don't be afraid to mix it up.  For instance, one day a week, you could squat heavy for several sets of 5 or 3 reps.  Another day could be your high-rep day when you train in the 25 to 30 rep range for just a couple of sets.  And a third day could be devoted toward moderate repetition training, doing something such as 4 sets of 8 reps.
     Also, try changing the kind of squats you do, too.  You can do wide-stance squats.  You can do high-bar, close-stance squats like the Olympic lifters perform.  You can do front squats, and you can do box squats.  Oh, and don't forget about my personal favorite: bottom-position squats done in the power rack.
     Key #2: Use a Wide Variety of Training Tactics.  This ties in to what I was just saying about squats.  You want to mix it up.  And mix it up a lot.
     When training in the weight room, perform a wide variety of training tactics.  Change the number of sets you perform.  Change the rep ranges you use.  Don't be afraid to do heavy singles at one workout, and then ultra-high rep training at another.  (And when I say ultra-high reps I mean high reps, as high as 75 to 100 reps per set.)  For a few weeks, perform nothing other than full-body workouts.  For a few more weeks after that, perform an upper-body/ lower-body split program.
     And don't just train in the weight room, either.  Find a sport that you like to train in, and train in it hard for 2 to 3 days each week.  (For myself, this means martial arts; which, by the way, is a fantastic athletic activity to combine with weight training.  Don't believe me, just look at the mixed martial artists.)
     Do some bodyweight conditioning exercises anywhere from 1 to 3 days each week.  Push-ups, one-arm push-ups, hindu push-ups, bodyweight squats, hindu squats, and burpees are just a few of the bodyweight exercises that really work wonders.
     Key #3: Don't Just Eat for Strength and Muscle Size.  Eat for Health, too.  You are what you eat.  Yeah, I know that's been said so many times that it has become a cliche, but it's the truth.  Put good stuff in if you want to get good stuff out.
     When I was younger, and my only goal was massive muscle size, I didn't worry so much about health.  I have, of course, changed my tune as I get older.  But I wish I would have done it when I was younger also.
     How do you eat for strength, muscle size, and health.  I think it's pretty easy, actually.
     First things first.  Make sure you cut out your starchy carbohydrates.  If you're lean, you can get away with eating a little starchy carbs.  If you're not lean, don't go anywhere near the damn stuff.  I'm talking about pasta and breads mainly.  And anything that comes in a blasted box.  (In other words, don't go near cereal or cereal bars.)
     You need carbs, no doubt, but get it in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables.  And get them from darker carbohydrates: sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole-grains.
     Also, stay away from the white stuff.  That's a tip I've heard Jack LaLanne say several times: if it's white don't eat it.  White potatoes, white rice, sugar, flour, salt.  The white stuff just ain't good.
     And last, but certainly not least, eat plenty of good protein.  Chicken, fish, beef, and eggs (whole, not the panzy-ass egg whites) should be staples of your feel good, look good diet.

     I'm sure there are some other keys I could have added, but these three should be the cornerstone of any good program.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama

Just Bow
Putting my right and left hands together as one, I just bow.
Just bow to become one with Buddha and God.
Just bow to become one with everything I encounter.
Just bow to become one with all the myriad things.
Just bow as life becomes life.
     Kosho Uchiyama's final poem, completed on the day that he died.

     Kosho Uchiyama has long been my favorite of the modern day Zen masters.  Trained in the Soto lineage of Zen (Soto is one of the two main branches of Zen in Japan; the other is the Rinzai tradition), he seemed to "get it" better than any of the other Zen masters of the late 20th century.  Often crude, earthy, and witty, his style was simply more down to earth than others I have read.
     My favorite of his books is "Opening the Hand of Thought."  It contains in it one of the most profound explanations of what good religion should look like.  I call this way of approaching religion—and approaching life, for that matter—the 4th way.  By this, I mean that Uchiyama's approach to spirituality (his approach to a nondual way of living a meaningful life that I like to term True Spirituality) stands outside of the 3 ways that most people in the world look for meaning.
     Here are the words from Uchiyama himself:
     "Probably the vast majority of the 4 billion people in the world today live only in terms of pursuing material happiness.  In thinking about their lives, almost all of the people devote their energies to the pursuit of material happiness, or health, or prosperity.  In contrast to that is the second way of life in which we look to some Absolute to be the the authority in our life, depending on a god or some idea to validate our way of life.  A third approach is to search for some sort of philosophical truth—but so often what we find is something that has little or no connection to ourselves as individuals."
     Uchiyama then goes on to explain in the rest of the chapter how good religion—True Spirituality—stands outside of any of these three ways.  Think about that for a moment?  What does a life lived look like when it stands centered in this fourth way of being?  (And of Being, for that matter.)
     If you think that now I am going to supply you with some sort of answer—as if such a thing was even possible—you're mistaken.  No matter how lucid, how well this would try to be explained, words would fall short.  As words always fall short when discussing the True Nature of things, the True Nature of my life, and your life, and the life of all who live and breathe and walk—and, yes, die—on this planet.
     Besides there are a lot better writers than I who have tried to explain it.  And, of course, they fell short, as well.
     Despite the fact that words can never reach that summit, they can at least point to that undeniable, ineffable truth.  For instance, this often-quoted passage from Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto school, points very well to Uchiyama's fourth way of living:
     To study Zen is to study the self.
     To study the self is to forget the self.
     To forget the self is to become one with the myriad things of the universe.

     And for me to add any other words would just be pointless.