Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Old School Muscle

     The following article is a combination of a couple of different articles I wrote for some different magazines, and a few brief posts that I've written on this blog in years' past.  I hope you enjoy the outcome—and find that it offers some valuable insight, AND a kick-ass training program for packing on the mass!


Old School Muscle
Training Strategies of the Classic Bodybuilders

     Most bodybuilders today think that newer is always better; doesn’t matter if it’s the latest pill, protein powder, diet, or workout program.  Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not always the case.  I think it’s time some of the old-school training strategies once again saw the light of day.  In fact, I think if you combine many of the ideas of the “old-timers” with today’s state-of-the-art supplements, the results could be amazing.
     In the following article, I’m going to outline many of the best strategies the old-time bodybuilders had for building slabs of muscle mass—and then I’ll outline a sample program using these strategies.  It’s time for an old-school resurrection.

Enter Old School

     The following training regimen is based on principles that a majority of old-time bodybuilders adhered to.  Before we get to the nuts-and-bolts of the program, let’s look at a few of these principles.
Principle #1—Don't go by the mirror, go by the weight on the bar.
     One of the major mistakes current bodybuilders make is to assess their progress based on the results they see in the mirror.  A lot of this has to do with the way they lift.  When you train for the pump, you often go by feel, and never make many strides toward increasing the weight that is used.
      There are a lot of problems with going by "feel" or "looks."  Often, your memory lies to you.  You think you look better than you did three months ago when, actually, there isn't any change (or you look worse).
     While bodybuilders of the past enjoyed the benefits and the feeling from getting a good pump—they often called it “chasing the pump”—they worried more about increasing their strength.  It's the reason they used methods like 5 sets of 5 (a favorite of Reg Park's), 5 sets of 5/4/3/2/1, and heavy singles.  With these techniques, the emphasis is on performance, though the looks will soon follow.
Principle #2—Train through the soreness.
     I know this method's going to be a bit controversial, given all the emphasis in muscle magazines the past two decades or so on giving your muscles enough time to "recuperate" and "repair" (although I do think the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way).  Let me explain, and maybe I'll have a few converts (especially once you put the method to proper use).
     I think it's mistakenly believed that bodybuilders of the past trained so frequently (usually 3x weekly for each bodypart) because they simply didn't know any better.  But if you were to ask the great Bill Pearl if he would change the way he used to train considering all the new "knowledge" about recovery, he would flatly tell you, "no."
     One of the reasons bodybuilders who train each bodypart once-per-week get so sore is because, well, they train everything once-per-week.  This never allows you to increase your rate of recovery, because the demands are never placed on your body to do so.  Sure, if you start training everything two, or even three, times a week you're going to be sore, but after a couple of weeks the soreness will subside.  Then, look out, because it's growth time.
Principle #3—Train long, not hard.
     A favorite quote of Arthur Jones goes something like this: "You can either train long, or you can train hard, but you can't do both."  And everyone seems to immediately assume that the answer is to train hard.  Not many consider that training long might be the better option.  Bodybuilders from the past, however, understood this well.  It's the reason Bill Pearl always advised taking sets about two reps short of failure.  This allows one to perform more sets.
     This training long option doesn't necessarily have to apply to the length of the workout.  It applies more to the duration spent on an exercise.  For instance, what do you believe is the better sets/reps method for the squat?  Three sets of ten reps or ten sets of three?  Three sets of ten is definitely the "hard" method, even though both schemes involve the same total workload.  And if you were to ask this question in the gyms of today, you would undoubtedly get the answer that three sets of ten is the best.  Any lifter who trains with me, however, would immediately know my answer.  Ten sets of three is the better method.  Though both involve the same workload, only the ten sets method allows for maximum force to be applied on every rep.  It also ensures that all reps are performed with perfect form, and none are taken to failure.
     Principle #4—Perform only one or two exercises per bodypart.
     When Reg Park was in preparation for a bodybuilding contest, he would always perform multiple exercises-per-bodypart (sometimes as many as eight), but he didn’t train this way in the off-season.  He was adamant about using only one to two exercises-per-bodypart, as were the vast majority of other lifters from his era (and before).
     There are several benefits to the multiple sets of one exercise approach.  One, it allows you to get really strong on your core exercises: benches, squats, deadlifts, curls, overhead presses, etc.  And remember, you are worried about the weight on the bar.  Performing multiple sets on bench presses, for example, allows you to improve your synaptic facilitation on the lift, or what Russian strength coaches would call "greasing your groove."  Basically, the more you perform the exercise, the better (and, therefore, stronger) you get at it.
     Another benefit is it allows you to really focus on the bodypart you're training.  I can't tell you how many times when I was performing the multiple exercises method that I lost focus (and pump, strength, etc.) when, after a couple of sets on my first exercise, I moved to something else.
     Vince Gironda called one-exercise-per-bodypart training the "honest workout."  Why?  Because he knew it worked like no other.
The Old School Mass from the Past 5x5 Program
     The following is a program for almost 4 months of training.  Don’t be fooled by its simplicity when you first look at it.  And make sure that you move through it progressively by following each phase.
Phase One
     Perform the following workout for 4 weeks.  The weights lifted do not include warm-ups.  Be sure that you perform 2 to 3 warm-up sets on each exercise before proceeding to your work sets.  Make sure that you train on 3 non-consecutive days per week.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work of your choice
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     Rest 2 to 3 minutes between work sets.  After you have finished 4 weeks of training, perform a “down week” where you perform the same workout, but you cut your weights used in half.
Phase Two
     This phase will also last four weeks.  The first week, your body may have to adjust to the increased workload, so there’s a possibility that you will still be sore on days 2 and 3.  That’s okay—train through the soreness.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Weighted Dips: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Seated Behind-the-Neck Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     Rest 2 minutes between work sets.  Following 4 weeks of this workout, be sure to take another “down week.”  On this week, cut the weights and the number of exercises in half.
Phase Three
     Phase three is a killer.  It’s so tough that there’s no way you would be able to finish it unless you have first completed phase one and two.  With that in mind, perform the following phase for only 3 weeks before taking a “down” week.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Weighted Dips: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Wide Grip Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bradford Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     When you are done with this phase—and after you’ve taken your “down” week—you will probably want to try something different.  You could continue with full-body workouts, but start using the 5/4/3/2/1 method, or 5 sets of 3s or 2s.  Either of those methods can be productive.  Another option would be to perform some split workouts, but only split your body two ways, and follow the same principles.
     One final thing: Make sure that you get plenty of sleep and eat plenty of protein every day.  This program requires that you take your nutrition and recovery methods seriously.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

3 On/1 Off Redux


Three On/ One Off Redux
A New Twist on an Old Classic


     When I began lifting weights – sometime in the late ‘80s – there was really only one training split that most bodybuilders used: the three on, one off scheme.  For any of you unfamiliar with this split, it works like this: You split your body three ways, and then you train for three days straight before taking a day off.  After your day off, you begin the split over again.

     Most bodybuilders of that era trained legs on one day, and then split their upper body into two sessions; some lifters trained antagonistic bodyparts together on one day – chest and back, or biceps and triceps – while others would train all of their push muscles on one day – chest, shoulders, and triceps – and their pull muscles on the other day – back and biceps.
     But the three on, one off split eventually fell the way of the dinosaurs.  In the early ‘90s Dorian Yates entered the scene, bringing with him his “blood-and-guts” style of training.  This training consisted of minimum sets, heavy weights, ultra-intense sets (which might be an understatement), and plenty of rest between workouts.  It didn’t take long for other bodybuilders to follow suit.  Within a decade, almost all of your top bodybuilders were taking a week off between training each bodypart, and hardly ever training more than two days in a row without taking a day off.  The same, more or less, still holds true today.
     But I think there’s a lot of value to the three on, one off split.  It just needs a little tweaking.  Get ready for a 21st century three on, one off redux.
Principles of Three On/ One Off Mass Building
     First, let’s look at what I believe are the “keys” to rapid muscle growth if you are going to use this program.  This will allow you to understand why my version of the three on/one off program is designed the way it is.
     Key #1: Frequent Training – I know that this one is a bit controversial, considering all of the emphasis these days on giving your muscles enough time to “rest and recuperate.”  But you can’t argue with this: The more frequently you can train a muscle, the faster it will grow.  The secret is in training just enough to stimulate the muscle so that you can train it again a few days later (which is a real benefit of this training split).
     Key #2: Heavy, Multiple Set Training – One of the most effective forms of training that anyone can perform is “neural training”; in other words, using heavy loads for multiple sets.  These kind of workouts tend to produce “mass that lasts” more so than higher-repetition training.  What you must keep in mind with neural training, however, is that you can’t go overboard with maximal loads to near failure.  You must always leave something in the tank, so to speak, when incorporating this method.
     Key #3: Don’t Forget the High Reps – Neural training may be highly effective, but you don’t need to neglect the benefits of getting a good pump, which helps to build muscle via sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
     Key #4: Stay Away From Training That Induces Too Much Trauma on Your Muscles – The good thing about neural training (when not taken to failure) and high rep training (also when not taken to failure) is that you can recover from these sessions relatively fast.  The kind of training you don’t want to perform on a three on, one off program are maximal and even sub-maximal loads taken to the point of momentary muscular failure or beyond.


The Redux Training Program
     The following program involves two different phases.  Each “phase” lasts for three days.  After taking a day off, the second phase is performed.  This form of training is often called micro-periodization (as opposed to macro-periodization).  With micro-periodization, the training will fluctuate during a week of training, allowing you to train multiple aspects within a short period of time.
Phase One: Neural Training
     The first three days of training focus on using near maximal loads for multiple sets and low reps.  You should be able to recover from these workouts within 72 hours.  Keep in mind, however, that you may be sore at first, especially if you have never performed this kind of training. Don’t worry if this happens.  Train through the soreness and your body will adapt in no time.
Day One: Neural Leg Training
Squats – 10 sets of 3 reps.  After warming up with two to three warm-up sets, load the bar with a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure.  Use this weight for all 10 sets.
Donkey Calf Raises – 5 sets of 10 reps.  Calves tend to respond better to higher reps, hence the lack of neural training on this exercise.
Day Two: Neural Chest and Back Training
Incline Bench Presses – 8 sets of 3 reps.  After warming up with two to three warm-up sets, load the bar with a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure.  Use this weight for all 8 sets.
Wide Grip Chins – 8 sets of 3 reps
Day Three: Neural Shoulder and Arm Training
Standing Military Presses – 8 sets of 3 reps
Barbell Curls – 6 sets of 3 reps.  Once again, use a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure.  Perform less total sets, however, due to the indirect work your biceps received with all of the chins the day before.
Lying Triceps Extensions (a.k.a. skull crushers) – 6 sets of 3 reps.  As with the barbell curls, there is no need to perform more than 6 sets on this exercise.  Your triceps have already received plenty of stimuli from the military presses and the incline bench presses.
Day Four: Off
Phase Two: Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy
     The following sets should be taken a few reps shy of muscular failure.  None of the sets listed include warm-ups.  Perform at least one warm up set for each exercise.
Day Five: High Rep Leg Training
Hack Squats – 2 sets of 25 reps
Walking Lunges – 2 sets of 30 reps
Stiff Leg Deadlifts – 2 sets of 25 reps
Standing Calf Raises – 4 sets of 30 reps
Day Six: High Rep Chest and Back Training
Wide Grip Dips – 2 sets of 15 to 25 reps
Incline Dumbbell Flyes – 2 sets of 20 reps
Feet Elevated Push-ups – 2 sets of 20 reps
Wide Grip Pulldowns – 2 sets of 25 to 30 reps
Close Grip Pulldowns – 2 sets of 25 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Pullovers – 2 sets of 20 to 25 reps
Day Seven: High Rep Shoulder and Arm Training
Seated Dumbbell Presses – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Lateral Raises – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Curls – 2 sets of 20 reps (each arm)
Concentration Curls – 2 sets of 20 reps (each arm)
Lying Dumbbell Extensions – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Bench Dips – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Day Eight: Off
Closing Remarks
     This program is designed for building muscle mass, so make sure that you’re consuming plenty of calories every day.  As a starting point, consume at least 12 times your bodyweight in calories on a daily basis (although 15 would be even better).  And be sure to get plenty of protein.  Eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily.
     When not training, make sure you rest and relax as much as possible.  And I don’t just mean to sit around on your couch, watching television mindlessly.  That kind of behavior can actually be very “non-relaxing.”  Take a nap, practice a relaxation technique (such as meditation), and read a book.  Relax and grow.
     After two to three weeks on the above program, you may want to rotate to some new exercises.  Just make sure that the new exercises are as equally demanding as the originals.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

High-Volume "POF" Workouts


     Sorry for the long delay in posts.  I will try to make up for it this month by publishing numerous posts/articles.  Here's the first:
   

  For years—back when I was writing almost monthly for IronMan magazine—IM’s editor-in-chief, Steve Holman, penned many articles on his personal brand of high-intensity, briefer-is-better, training: something Holman called “positions-of-flexion” training, or just POF for short.
     Holman first revealed this “new” form of training sometime in the mid ‘90s.  I can’t remember the exact year, but I think it was sometime in ’94 or ’95, and it was highly touted by IM as a new “state-of-the-art” form of high-intensity training.  (IM took advantage, at the time, of the rising popularity HIT was experiencing, especially under the incarnation of it that Dorian Yates was espousing as the key to his Mr.O dominance.)
     POF was based on something that I thought—and still do think—to be fairly inventive.  Holman’s thought was that if you trained a muscle using only one (at least, it was usually just one) exercise for each “position-of-flexion” for that particular muscle—a midrange exercise, a stretch exercise, and a contracted exercise—then you could better enhance growth—not to mention achieve an out-of-this-world pump—with minimum sets.
     At the time, I experimented with some of the POF principles, but I never “test drove” the program exactly as it was written.  During those years, I was primarily training with a lot of volume, a lot of intensity, and a lot of rest between each workout for each muscle group.  While the POF strategy employed the second and third tactic that my training employed, it most decidedly did not employ the first.  Nonetheless, I thought, at the time, that it was good form of training, and I still do—with some minor adjustments.
     What follows is a high-volume approach to POF training that I still think is highly effective.
     First, however, let’s briefly (one again) outline the three variables of training, and how they should be properly manipulated in order to achieve muscle growth.  The three variables are volume, frequency, and intensity.  Two of the variables should be high, while the third variable should be low.  The exception is, however, if you decide to keep all three variables moderate.  A case in point, for instance, would be the classical three on/one off program used ad nauseam by bodybuilders in the ‘80s.  In this case, if you train with, say, a three-way split, and perform 9 sets for each muscle group—3 exercises for 3 sets each, for example—without training to the point of momentary muscular failure, then you are using a program that has a moderate amount of volume, a moderate amount of intensity, and a moderate amount of frequency.  (This isn’t my favorite form of training, but there is a reason that it worked for a lot of bodybuilders for quite a long time.)
     For the sake of discussion, the reason that Mentzerian HIT training sucks, and the reason that the original POF training will only work for so long, is because HIT keeps one variable high (intensity), while keeping the two other variables (volume and frequency) low.  This also, possibly, is one reason why Arthur Jones’s original variations of HIT were so successful.  Jones kept intensity high, volume low, but frequency relatively high by training each muscle group 3-days-per-week.  And one reason that Mentzer’s style of HIT often worked for lifters is because the lifter’s that employed it were coming off of programs where all three variables were high, and so the reduction of two of the variables drastically improved their results.  But, alas, I don’t have time to discuss all of this here, so we’ll just save it for another post—or comments at the bottom of this post.
     The most popular manipulation of the three variables among bodybuilders these days is to keep intensity and volume high (sky high, in some cases) while keeping frequency low.  This is the reason my training in the ‘90s was so effective at building muscle mass.  When you train this way, and consume a lot of food while doing so, it can be a very effective program for adding slabs of muscle.  This is currently, for instance, how almost every pro bodybuilder on the planet trains.  And the pros also (duh) add enormous amount of exogenous testosterone to this mix, which enhances this form of training even more.  (I won’t get into all of the details, but I think anabolic steroids work even better for muscle growth when the lifter trains this way compared to any other form of training.  But that, as they say, is for another tale.)
     Here is an example of what a POF program would look like using the high-volume, high-intensity, low-frequency model:
Day One: Chest
  • Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Incline Flyes: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
  • Cable Crossovers: 6 sets of 20 reps
Day Two: Legs
  • Sled Drags: 5 sets for distance, adding weight each set
  • Squats: 6 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Sissy Squats: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
  • Leg Extensions: 5 sets of 30 to 50 reps
Day Three: Shoulders
  • Standing Overhead Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • One Arm Overhead Dumbbell Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps (each arm)
  • One Arm Lateral Raises: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps (each arm)
  • Close-Grip Barbell Upright Rows: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
Day Four: Back
  • Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
  • One Arm Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps (each arm)
  • Power Snatches: 4 sets of 3 reps
  • Dumbbell Pullovers: 4 sets of 20 reps (perform these “cross-bench” style)
  • Bent-Over Lateral Raises: 4 sets of 20 reps
Day Five: Arms
  • Close-Grip 3-Board Bench Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Skullcrusher/Pullovers: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
  • Dumbbell Kickbacks: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps (each arm)
  • Barbell Curls: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Alternate Dumbbell Hammer Curls: 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps
  • Concentration Curls: 4 sets of 20 reps (each arm)
     Take days 6 and 7 off, then repeat.
     If you want to perform some calf work, not a problem.  Every couple of days, perform a couple sets of standing calf raises, a couple of sets of “donkey” calf raises, then a couple sets of high-rep bodyweight only calf raises.