by Bob Hoffman
Irregular training is one of the first principles that has helped so many to success. Your muscles quickly become accustomed to the work they are asked to do. That’s why light methods which bring results in the beginning soon cease to make progress possible. This is because the muscles quickly become accustomed tot them, and there is no defining system of progression. If you start out with five-pound dumbells and never increase the poundages, your muscles will become just strong enough to handle that poundage; they will grow only enough to consummate the work demanded of them. You seldom see a pick and shovel laborer who is strong. He performs about the same work day after day, year after year. His muscles become tough enough to continue that particular form of work and never become very strong or well developed. Mail carriers, delivery men, tennis players, marathon runners, carpenters, or even bricklayers have only average strength; a certain form of endurance is built so that the muscles can continue to do the work asked of them – the workman to work his seven or eight hours, the tennis player to play his five sets, the distance runner to run his marathon. The muscles of these men become just strong enough to do the work asked of them and then the advancing years cut down their ability so that they can no longer do this amount of work. They have no surplus. If they had enough strength, such as the barbell man, they could lose a part of this strength and still be vastly stronger than average men, and able to continue to participate without great fatigue.
Something must be done to jolt the muscles out of their regular routine. Therefore, irregular training has its work to do. I popularized this principle of training because it’s a method that I used during a score of years of intensive and successful athletics. I also observed that the strongest men were foremen or bosses of some sort who seldom used their muscles, but occasionally would lend a hand at lifting, moving objects or unloading heavy material. After that they had plenty of time to rest, usually of days’ duration, during which their muscles would be built up and be ready for additional severe demands made upon them some time in the future.
So many of the old time strongmen were butchers. Swoboda, Turck and Steinbach of Vienna held in turn the world’s record in the two hands continental jerk. The strongest man was considered to be the one who put the most weight overhead. The world is a big place and these Viennese butchers led the world for generations. There must be some reason for it, I thought. Old time butchers would work very hard on their actual butchering days, using crude and simple old time methods in
There were old time sailing men such as John Y. Smith who had great power. These men would work desperately hard for days at a time in rough weather. This would be followed by days of almost nothing to do, certainly nothing very vigorous. Other strong men worked on beer delivery wagons; they would handle the heavy barrels and kegs on delivery day and have days of rest in between. Stevedores became powerful men. They worked long hours when a ship was in. Steve Gob, one of the most powerful men of his weight in the entire world, a man who pressed 270 and totaled 835 officially, has done considerable work as a stevedore. At times he worked intensively for thirty hours or more at a stretch, at one time earning $62.00 in continuous work. Then there are long waits between ships. This type of very hard work followed by long rest periods had built strong men, while those men who were continually at it built only a form of endurance.
A study of these results proved one thing: that great demands must be made upon the muscles at times. This we do on the heavy or limit day of training – a day, usually once a week, in which the ambitious lifter works up to or beyond his best of the past. We train very hard on this day. Strangely, there is an exhilaration to training in this intensive manner. More glycogen is released by this hard training than is required; there is a surplus which accounts for the great feeling of strength, energy and wellbeing that advanced barbell men feel on this hard day of training.
It is not possible to train to the limit always, in spite of the rest period which is sandwiched between the training days. More than a single day of rest is required, therefore we generally rest Friday and Sunday, training to the limit on Saturday. That’s also why we usually do not train as severely on Monday as on other days as it is the first training day following the heavy Saturday exertion. With my preferred training system this is a lighter day, one of the exercise days and not a day for the lifts. Variety is possible during these lighter training days. It can consist of selecting the amount of weight which can be handled for ten repetitions. One day of the week it is desirable to select a weight which can be used fifteen times; at other times it is wise to follow the heavy and light system ( I will go into deeper detail on this later), or the three times five, or the five times five system.
Irregular training has proven to be one of the main roads to your physical desires. Kindly remember that your muscles quickly become accustomed to a steady routine with about the same resistance always or even with gradual increases. You must jolt these muscles out of their familiar rut and this is done with irregular training. In the years of my own training and in coaching many ambitious barbell men, this system of irregular training has proven itself best to me.
Once a week the athlete should work up to or beyond his limit. That is the day when you break your own records, handle poundages you never lifted before, or exceed the maximum repetitions you have ever made with a certain poundage. The other training days you work out rather moderately. On the first of these, Monday, you could exercise about eighty percent of your limit and two days later about ninety percent of your limit.
Between these heavy days you can, if it suits your ambitions and the time available, have dumbell days, as a partial rest between more vigorous movements of as additional exercises after the harder barbell exercises. The moderate dumbell days will develop your muscles from many different angles, make them more shapely and stronger. They will tone the muscles and prepare them for the harder days to come. In the dumbell movements you will find that it is at times possible to handle heavy bells and in other exercises from ten to fifteen pound dumbells is sufficient. When I was using this system in my athletic endeavors, each Saturday I would have races or time trials in training. This of course was my limit day. Two other days I trained quite hard, and two days I took things easy striving for better form and better muscular coordination.
This system of training will work well for you if you are one of those ambitious fellows who wish to gain the limit in strength and development. If you are one of the “keep fit” enthusiasts, one fairly hard barbell day will be sufficient, with two other moderate training days per week. In fact if you are willing to work hard two days a week, you will not only manage to maintain your physique but improve it somewhat. We must remember though that a definite amount of work is necessary to make real gains. I often say that two training periods a week permit you to hold your own, to maintain your physique, three days permit you to gain slowly, but four days of training, at least, permit much more rapid gains.
Concerning repetitions – there are some men who have managed to gain with rather high repetitions in some exercises, deep knee bending for instance. I consider ten sufficient in this movement, with a heavy weight. Fifteen may not be too many with a more moderate weight and if a very heavy weight is employed I prefer the heavy and light system, or a series of bends consisting of five repetitions each. But there are some who try to reach thirty. A weight must be light to begin with or one will never get to thirty. While it is light, little results are obtained in strength and development. Some endurance is created, but usually so many repetitions leave a man shaken, tired, with “rubber legs,” so that he is reluctant to train another day. We have worked out a system of training which does not make great demands upon your nervous energy; rather it builds up these internal qualities so that you have them when they are needed.
Except in some easy movements such as rise on toes, shoulder shrug, the straddle hop, the breathing pullover and similar dumbell movements at which up to twenty counts can be utilized successfully, fifteen should be the maximum number of movements. If you want to specialize on a movement, practice it ten times, or five times if you are especially anxious to build that particular part. This way you can use sufficient weight to build muscular power and shapeliness of the muscles. Occasionally there is a superman like Weldon Bullock, the first seventeen-year old boy in the history of the world to successfully clean & jerk 300 pounds, or a Louis Abele, who has made the sensational lifting total of 940 and can perform more heavy knee bends. But these strong men are the exception, who merely prove that the average man should not attempt what they do. Abele has tremendous stores of vital energy; he will sleep ten and even twelve hours after a hard workout, soundly and well. But these men take several breaths between each squat when the going gets hard – so their apparently high repetitions in the deep knee bend are really a series of strength feats. Far better to be satisfied with the weight you can handle from ten to fifteen repetitions.
Even ten repetitions start out easily enough for the first five or six; they become really hard at eight or nine, so that the last one or two are very difficult to perform and are done with a great expenditure of nerve force. This is good for you at times, but not more than once a week. It will soon cause exhaustion for some, rather than rapid progression. Yet it is necessary that heavy weights be used to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments, to build the maximum of muscular strength development, and this is why the heavy and light system is so advantageous.
We must remember that at least ten repetitions are required to bring maximum blood to the working muscles. Tissue must be broken down, demands must be made oxygen and, later, more nutrient must be required by the working muscles before the blood comes to its rescue. To combine this psychological fact with the need at times to handle very heavy poundages we need the heavy and light system. With this method a weight is selected which permits seven or eight repetitions. Almost immediately some of the weight is removed, ten to twenty percent, and the same movement is performed with this lesser weight for seven to eight more repetitions. We try to reach fifteen in all with this system. You will find that the second series, even with lighter weight, is as hard or harder than the first series.
There is another way to practice this heavy and light system. Using a really heavy weight, one that will permit only three to five repetitions, continue removing weight until the aggregate number of repetitions reaches fifteen. This would be three times five of five times three. The heavy and light system is normally practiced but once per week, although a host of men have received good results by practicing it every training day. Added strength, development and weight are the usual result of handling these heavy poundages. It is a good way to exercise when you are tired and lack pep.
Many men have had good success by practicing only those movement for the upper body one day, and the lower body exercises on another day. Tony Terlazzo, in particular, as trained with this approach. The theory is that the major portion of the body’s blood will be kept in the part of the body in which the muscles are involved, that more energy can be applied to this part of the body, and that all around better results will thus be had.
In order to obtain all-around benefit in strength and development it is necessary to include in the training program exercises which come under the following five classifications:
1. Exercises for building muscles and strength. Exercises to develop the ligaments, cartilage, tendon and even add to the size and thickness of the bones.
2. Exercises to build vital force, strengthen the internal organs, improve the process of elimination, improve circulation, develop the endurance of the lungs which is commonly called wind.
3. Exercises to increase speed, prevent possible slowness, stiffness or sluggishness which could be the result of utilizing too many slow exercises in a training program.
4. Stretching exercises – those which make the body more supple, flexible, and keep it constantly youthful.
5. Exercises which develop timing or coordination, which develop control and command of the muscles, balance and exactness in all movements.
A good arrangement, possibly the best training method for the majority of physical aims is to perform exercises Monday and Thursday, lifting and lifting assistance movements Wednesday and Saturday with the limit day taking place on Saturday.