The question of "how much to train" has plagued athletes of every sport for centuries. No other sport enthusiast has pondered this question with as much concentrated confusion as has the bodybuilder. Recently I gained some insights into this enigmatic problem that I would like to share.
Valencia, California is a bit north of L.A. and enjoys a dryer, smog free, almost desert-like climate. It rarely rains here in the summer. Contrary to this rule it rained one Sunday afternoon. I spent my time catching up on correspondence from trainees from all over the world.
After a few hours of constant writing I needed a respite. I rarely watch TV but as a diversion it can sometimes prove wildly entertaining. I clicked on the set and began to half listen. There was Frank Shorter, Olympic marathon runner. A few key words began to catch my attention. Within seconds I was transfixed.
The interviewer and Shorter were in the midst of discussing the work of a certain East German doctor, who had been given much of the credit for the Deutschlanders' tremendous strides in international competitions in all sports for both men and women. This brilliant physician had finally grown weary of the totalitarian rule imposed upon him and defected to West Germany. Of course, his services were immediately utilized by the Western Zone team. Within a few short months the West Germans began to take their toll of international first place laurels. In the best tradition of his newfound "capitalism" the doctor has become a sports medicine consultant to several Olympic teams. he is being paid quite handsomely by these teams; our own included.
The show had now affixed my interest 100 percent. This doctor was obviously on the track of some discovery that was highly relevant and valid. Shorter began to demonstrate some of the methods he had been exposed to. First, he ran two miles at 65% of maximum effort. His time was a bit over 9 minutes (amazing for an "easy" effort). Before the panting marathoner could say as much as hello, his blood was being drawn. The doctor had a mini-lab set up right on the track. He had a centrifuge for special mixing of blood samples into the various testing solutions. The famous athlete's blood was tested for oxygen content, carbon dioxide level, sugar levels, and lactic acid build-up.
Always suspicious of "miracle" improvements, I had already begun to lose some interest. I had drawn a premeditated conclusion that this medical "wizard" was pushing some new exotic foreign steroid. The reality was happily different. He had come to some conclusions that I had suspected for a long time. His extensive scientific testing and screening had proven one irrevocable fact. Most athletes that he had encountered on first meetings were overtraining! No other country's competitors were more prone to this mistake than the United States team.
In America today we live in a society of excesses. Advertising has never stopped drumming one thought into the American public: "more must be better." If a 200 horsepower engine is good, then a 300 horsepower motor must be better.
We live in a land of overdoing, overeating, overdrinking, oversmoking, overpolluting. Why we feel that we must overindulge in everything is a mystery.
There is a certain amount of training that is perfect to induce maximum muscle growth. Any more becomes detrimmental. You can reach a point of diminishing returns; throwing your body into a catabolic, rather than anabolic state.
Our country was built on the "Puritan Ethic." This theory of hard work equals success, was applicable to the early settlers and farmers. The harder one worked the richer his rewards in this life and the next.
In bodybuilding this rule does not apply. Muscles must be cleverly coaxed and "fooled" into growth patterns. They cannot constantly be "blasted," or "blitzed," of bullied into forced growth. Shock techniques do have a place in the overall training spectrum. Your body must be exposed to every possible training technique until you find the perfect system for your personal needs.
Every man has different tolerances to work load, intensity of training, nutrition, frequency of training, etc. The proper selection of sets and repetitions for an individual's personal needs is a highly speculative process. You must experiment with various combinations until you arrive at the right amount of work for you at that time. Strive to determine a workout that will yield maximum pump and stimulation of muscle fiber with minimum sets and reps. Utilize the various pieces of equipment that are now available to you to work on the deficient areas of each muscle group. For instance, if you need pectoralis minor (upper pec) then you must use the incline bench first and foremost in your pectoral routine.
At present we are engaged in an experiment here at the Valencia Health Club. Several students and myself are experimenting with 8 to 15 sets per bodypart twice weekly. Some students find 8 or 9 adequate while others feel 15 are superior.
Here is a sample routine designed to build size:
12-15 sets of 3 different movements.
Bench press with bar high on chest: 4 sets, 12, 10, 8, 6 using increasing weight as repetitions decrease.
Incline dumbbell press: 4 sets, same reps and weight increase system.
Flat bench flyes (with full stretch):
Chest and Back -
One dumbbell pullover across bench: 3 x 12 fully stretched.
Wide grip chin or lat pulldown: 4 x 10.
Long cable row with straps: 12, 10, 8, 6 with increasing weight.
Close grip row with head supported: same as above, working for full stretch.
Lower Back -
Hyperextension: 4 x 8.
Still legged deadlift on bench: 4 x 12.
Press behind neck, non-lock,12, 10, 8, 6.
Standing side lateral: 12, 10, 8, 6.
Bentover lateral: 12, 10, 8, 6.
Lying extension: 12, 10, 8, 6.
Triceps pull: 12, 10, 8, 6.
Pressdown: 12, 10, 8, 6.
Strict curl: 12, 10, 8, 6.
Preacher curl: 12, 10, 8, 6.
Incline curl: 4 x 8
Reverse curl - 4 x 8
Wrist curl - 4 x 12.
Parallel squat: 20, 15, 12, 10 non-lock with heels on block.
Hackslide: 4 x 15.
Leg Curl: 4 x 15.
This routine is fairly vigorous. Intermediate bodybuilders may do 3 or 4 sets of 2 exercises (rather than 3). Determine your own best recuperative rate and apply the above theories.
Enjoy Your Lifting!