Q: What is the right number of sets to use in order to obtain optimum gains?
A: There is no pat formula for everyone under all conditions. It would be better to summarize the right approach as follows:
For general bodybuilding purposes, two or three work sets per exercise of about 8-10 repetitions is almost always effective.
For those who have a very hard time gaining it is often recommended that they increase sets for four or five, drop the reps to between 4 and 6, and use no more than four or five basic exercises.
Never do high reps in a power program, however. The best approach here is about 6 to 8 sets, performing a decreasing number of reps on each sets as you add weight. For example:
1 x 8
1 x 5
1 x 3
1 x 3
1 x 2-3
1 x 2
1 x 1-2
1 x 1
The high number of sets is appropriate because the reps are so low, and the descending reps enable you to keep making all-out maximum lifts.
Q: To what extent do heredity and natural ability determine physical strength and size gains?
A: To a great extent. There is no way that a world class physique or superman powerlifting ability can be developed without a high degree of inherent potential.
The good news is that this in no way should discourage a rational person. People with perfectly ordinary potential can maximize whatever ability they possess and develop very well.
Strength, health and good physical condition and not to be enjoyed only by those with the genes to excel at iron sports. That would be like saying that only geniuses can read good books or cultivate their intellectual capacities. Yet many who could benefit from weight training are afraid to get started - or to train seriously if they are already working out - just because they're not naturals at it. Nonsense.
The idea is to FORGET YOUR "POTENTIAL" AND TRAIN FOR YOURSELF. That way you will be sure to attain whatever development YOU can attain.
Q: How often should I mas out in the power movements, the squat, bench press and deadlift?
A: The average lifter does much too much lifting to the limit. You should never attempt an all out effort on the deadlift more than once every three or four weeks. The same goes for squats, and you should never bench press to the limit more than once every two or three weeks.
One word of caution: When you do train all out for a new record single, do not do so in more than one movement per session. If you are really working to a solid maximum in, say, squats on any given day, you may think that you've got 10 times the strength you usually have, but you'd be lifting on adrenaline, not on newly developed muscle. You'll be drastically overworked, and the next workout will probably see you unable to push adequately in anything.
For the lifter, no less than for the bodybuilder, over-training is a serious problem. It's best to avoid it.
Instead, space you all out efforts well to achieve a sensible balance in your exertions. The idea, remember, is to keep on gaining, not just excel once or twice.
Another caution: Don't let your routine become too rigid. Sometimes you'll realize, when the all out training day comes, that you don't have the zest and drive it is going to require. On such days, let yourself be guided by how you feel rather than by your training plan. Serious injuries can easily result when your body and spirit rebel against the demands being made. Structure your workouts for steady strength increases, but don't let yourself become trapped into doing what isn't best for you at any given time.
Q: Which exercise is superior for bulking and thickening the lats - pulldowns or bentover rows?
A: I would have to say bentover barbell rows. Nothing seems to beat this exercise when heavy weights and relatively strict style are employed. Note that single dumbbell rows can be just as effective, but heavy weight is a must.
Lat pullowns are also excellent, and I would suggest that the best way to train is by combining both in a workout. Do a couple of hard sets of pulldowns to warm up your back, then do some prone hyperextensions to limber the spinae region. Follow that with two or three all out heavy sets of bentover barbell rows (say 6-8 reps per set). The bentover rowing movement is better for your purpose, but with a lat machine available it would be a shame to waste a chance to use it.
If it is a choice between the two exercises, however, opt for bentover rowing, definitely.
Q: Can you suggest a good way to combine Nautilus work with free weights?
A: It's very simple, really. You work one or two of the very basic Nautilus machine movements into your program and omit the barbell work that would normally be done for the bodypart(s) being trained by the machine. For example, use the leg machine for several weeks as an alternative to squats, the pullover-torso machine instead of rows, etc. Then do standard barbell/dumbbell work for the remaining bodyparts.
In my opinion the Nautilus arm machine is inferior to basic free weight arm work, and I would not employ that apparatus at all. However, you may find it useful.
I would also add that free weights are superior, in my view, to Nautilus work for maximum bodybuilding and power gains. So I caution you to never neglect basic free weight leg and back work. Nautilus equipment includes many excellent fitness and strength building machines, but it cannot replace free weights.
Q: You've discussed slumps and sticking points before, but I have been in a most discouraging slump for two months. Can you please help?
A: First, you've got to relax a little. You're compounding a slump with what seems close to panic! You CAN and WILL regain your previous physical development - and continue progressing. But you have to back up and start off with a nice, easy, manageable workout program.
It may seem contradictory, but set yourself up on a regimen that is way under your previous level. Use light weights and train easy at a pace that allows you to finish within 45 to 50 minutes without straining. I'm telling you to deliberately UNDERtrain for about three weeks, upping the intensity of your workouts only slightly during this time. Instead, let yourself finish training with the feeling that you could do a lot more.
After three weeks you can ease into heavier weights and more extensive schedules. At this point you can start pushing yourself a bit, but never overwork.
Hit your break-in routine for a steady two months, then back off a bit again. Change the program a little and reduce the weights you use. After that, you begin the building process once again.
By getting yourself comfortably back into a reasonable training groove, you'll achieve renewed enthusiasm for your workouts - and renewed gains in the long run.
Slumps and setbacks are normal and to be expected. Stay cheerful and keep your long range goals in mind. The right kind of persistence will see you winning.
Q: I cant seem to help cheating in my heavy sets, yet I want all-around development, not just bulk and power. So what do I do?
A: As long as you do a fair amount of strict, full range movements in all of your exercises, you don't have to omit cheating on heavy sets in those same movements. In fact, the very best way to do heavy sets for all around gains is to work most of the reps strictly, then do a final rep or two with whatever minimum amount of cheating you man need to complete the movement.
Cheating is incorrect when done either too often as a basic training style (i.e. always heaving the weights rather than working out with them), or out of laziness.
A WORKOUT SHOULD CONSIST OF WORK - hard work - and that means making yourself perform the necessary exercises in correct style.
From what you've described about your training, you shouldn't have to worry about excessive cheating.
Q: Will the reverse barbell curl help me to develop my biceps? I've stopped getting results from regular curls.
A: The reverse barbell curl certainly affects the biceps - but it's not intensely or directly enough to be effectively used as an alternative to basic barbell curls. Reverse curls hit the forearms, wrists and hands.
My advice is to try heavy dumbbell curls for a while. You can do them standing or sitting, one arm, alternate or simultaneous. The only requirement for making gains is that you use heavy dumbbells.
With respect to biceps development, it is sometimes useful to drop specific biceps work and try to push heavy back exercises. This can have a surprisingly good developmental affect on the upper arms. John Grimek once dropped everything in his training but heavy Olympic lifting. His arms grew in size and strength like never before. Remember that all forms of heavy rowing strongly affect the biceps muscles, as do lat machine pulldowns, cleans, and strict regular grip chins.
Also, guard against focusing on light, concentration-type exercises that limit poundages to slight amounts. This may pump up your muscles for an hour, but it will never result in lasting gains.