Friday, April 18, 2014

Big Beyond Belief, HIT, Phil Hernon, and Other Things from the '90s




     Before you even begin this post, let me warn you: it may be one of the most rambling things I’ve written.  This is primarily because I’m not sure if I know exactly what the hell I’m going to say—which has never exactly stopped me in the past, mind you—but I do have several things on my mind as of late.  (Add to the fact that I’ve not written too much in the last few weeks, and so I knew I needed to get something on my blog.)
     It all started a few days ago when my friend Josh texted me—I hate texting, but I must admit that it has become a pretty good way to communicate with friends who live several states away—and wanted to know if I remembered the book “Big Beyond Belief” from the mid to late ‘90s, and wanted to know what I thought/think about it.  Did I remember it?  Heck, yeah, I remembered it, I proceeded to tell him.  Hell, I shelled out a hefty $50 for the thing, at a time when I had little money to begin with!  (Keep in mind that this was before the internet—or, at the very least, the internet was in its infancy and no one actually used the thing.  Nowadays, it’s much easier to get information about a program without shelling out that sort of money.)  What do I think about it?  I think it had some interesting ideas, and it helped me to realize that perhaps—just perhaps—overtraining wasn’t the scourge of muscle growth that I had been led to believe, and had often written about in some of my articles, up to that point.  But the programming wasn’t good—or isn’t good, I should say, for those of you who may actually want to try it.
     For those of you don’t know, Big Beyond Belief was one of the most hyped things advertised in all of the bodybuilding magazines in the mid ‘90s.  (It wasn’t the most hyped thing.  That award goes to the supplement “Hot Stuff”.)  It was the third book in a serious of “Serious Growth” training manuals published by a dude named Leo Costa.  It touted itself as some sort of system of lost secrets of Bulgarian training.  I don’t know how much money Costa made off the whole enterprise, but I’m guessing that it was a lot.
My old, tattered copy of Big Beyond Belief
     I read the book from cover-to-cover several times, and then proceeded to try it for a couple of months along with my training partner Dusty, with Josh of the aforementioned text occasionally doing a workout with us.
     The results were nothing spectacular.  If memory serves me correctly, we put on a few pounds of muscle each.  But we were doing everything else “correctly” at the time, as well, from a nutritional and supplemental perspective, so who knows if we would have gained any more or less with a more “traditional” approach.  Also, we both kept our bodyfat percentages around 6-8%, so I know that, at least, the two or three pounds we gained in those 8 weeks was purely muscle.  (Okay, perhaps it was actually intra-muscular water weight, and not pure muscle gain, but I’ll save exactly what that means—or at least what I mean by that—for another post.)
     I will say this much, however: it worked better than another popular training program that became hugely successful in the ‘90s: high-intensity training, more popularly known as H.I.T.  (I’m not going to get into all the reasons why I find the traditional form of H.I.T. training to be bad.  You can read about my problems—and how I would fix—H.I.T. here.)
     The problem that I have with both H.I.T. and Big Beyond Belief is that neither one seems to understand how to properly program the workouts based on their own principles.  Big Beyond Belief, for instance, works on the premise—one that I agree with—that the more frequently you train each muscle group, the faster will your gains come.  (So far, so good.)  It then explains that you get the most results with frequent training by using something called micro-periodization.  Basically you use a periodization scheme where you rotate between different rep schemes/loading protocols during the course of a week, instead of breaking them into weekly phases, such as macro-periodization.  (At this point, still good.)  But Big Beyond Belief then misses the point—and begins to go “off the rails”—by recommending too many high-rep days during the week.  For such a system to work—and it definitely can work—more neural work needs to be performed for much lower reps.  A “high” rep day should probably be in the neighborhood of 6 reps.  (Most of my posts on HFT follow just such a protocol, or my “30 rep program.”)
     (To tout a program that I didn’t write, if you want to use a training system that involves both high-frequency training and high-rep days, I recommend Chad Waterbury’s Quattro Dynamo training.)
     All of this brings us around to the 3rd subject from the title of my post: a bodybuilder from the same era named Phil Hernon.  Phil was essentially the spokesman for the first two Serious Growth training manuals.  In every one of the ads touting the system in Iron Man, or Muscular Development, or MuscleMag International, you would see the hulking physique of Hernon, who, to be honest, just looked bigger than many other bodybuilders from that era; even some of the pros.
Phil Hernon sometime in the mid '90s

     In 1996, Hernon got his pro card. (I think that was the year.  If I’m incorrect, and if anyone knows the details, please feel free to correct me in the comments section.)  I remember it because he beat out the more popular bodybuilder—and favorite to win the competition—Craig Titus (who was later convicted of murder, but I’m not sure on those details).  Titus stormed off the stage when he was announced as the runner-up, and Hernon’s place in bodybuilding history was secured.
     It was at this point that you began to see some training articles about or “written by” Phil Hernon.  And here’s the interesting thing: the articles touted Hernon as being a proponent of H.I.T., the one training system, out of all the training systems, that was the complete opposite, the exact antithesis, of the Serious Growth manuals.  But here’s where it got more interesting: when you read the articles, or looked at the training regimen, you realized that Hernon was very decidedly not using typical H.I.T. methodology.  Sure, he was training each bodypart with minimal sets, and often going to momentary muscular failure, and, sure, he was only using a two-way split, but he was training each muscle group 3-days-per-week, and often rotating rep ranges.
     Hernon, or so it seemed, had learned how to properly program his training.  He had essentially come up with an amalgam of both programs, and, in typical Bruce Lee/Jeet June Do fashion, kept the good stuff from each methodology, and tossed out what didn’t work—or, at least, didn’t work for him.