Sunday, January 2, 2011

Split Training for Body Bulk - John McCallum

Charles A. Smith, center.

Split Training for Body Bulk
by John McCallum (1964)

I left the car in the parking lot and walked over to the gym. It was a hot day and the traffic was heavy. A fat woman was trying to park a new Chevy in front of the gym. She cut in too sharp and jammed against the curb. She sat peering over her shoulder and gripping the wheel tight with her pudgy hands. She was wearing a schoolgirl hat but her face was big and red. I wondered if her husband still thought she was pretty.

Two teenage girls were looking at the muscle pictures in the gym window. One whispered something in the other’s ear and both giggled.

I opened the door and went in. It was cold inside. A fan was blowing in one corner and the air felt nice. The fan swung around slowly and you could smell the leather and the paint and the freshness of the new lumber on the lifting platform.

The “Big Man” was working out as he said he would be. He was finishing a set of hyperextensions and he had a crowd around him. I wondered how he liked working out with everybody watching.

He finished the extensions and got off the table. He walked over to the squat rack and began loading the bar.

He was wearing a full sweat suit and lifting boots and he looked big as a house. I saw him when he won his title but he was a lot bigger now. His shoulders rolled out like two ski slopes and his back looked wide enough to paint pictures on.

I went over and spoke to him. “I phoned last night about some information,” I said. “Remember?”

“Oh, sure,” he said. “Glad to see you.” His face was tanned and when he smiled his teeth were strong and white and even.

“You’re looking good,” I said. “You’re heavier now, aren’t you?”

He grinned, “Getting old and fat, I guess.”

“I wish I looked so old and fat.”

He laughed easily. “Anything special you want to talk about?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I wanted to ask you about split training. You use it, don’t you?”

“Sure,” he said. “All the time.”


“Just suits me best, I guess. I don’t like to spend all day working out. By splitting it I can do each section faster and easier.”

“You’re doing that today?”

“That’s right. Legs and back today, shoulders, chest and arms tomorrow.”

“Do you want to go on with your workout? We can talk between exercises.”

“Sure,” he said. “That’s good. I’ll tell you what I know about it as we go along.”

He piled plates on the squat bar.

“I usually warm up with hyperextensions and then go right into the squats.”

“Do you like doing squats?”

“Gosh, no!” he said. “Does anybody?”

He did five sets of squats, five reps per set. He alternated light pullovers with the squats. He started light and worked up heavy and I never saw anyone work harder.

I walked over to the fountain and got a drink of water. The water gushed up high and clean and so cold it hurt my teeth.

He finished the squats and I went over again. He was breathing hard now, sweat filming his forehead and running down both cheeks. “Boy,” he said, “those things hurt everything but your eyeballs.”

“Good exercise though.”

“The best. I figure a guy could build up on squats alone.”

“Do you always do them?”

“Oh, sure. For bulk anyway. You know, it’s a funny thing – when I first started I didn’t use to do any squats. Just curls and stuff. You know? When I started squatting I gained more in three months than I had in the previous three years.”

“I can believe it. You’re working on bulk now, aren’t you?”

That’s right. And power, of course.”

“How do you work split training for bulk as compared to, say, definition?”

“Nothing to it,” he said. “I just juggle the number of days a week I work out.” He got up and took a couple of deep breaths. “I don’t want to cool off too much. Do you mind if I do my next exercise?”

“No,” I said, “Go ahead. I like watching you.”

He walked over to the lifting platform and loaded the bar. He cleaned it smoothly and went into front squats. For a guy who didn’t like squats he really put out. He was pouring sweat and gasping when he finished the fourth set of ten.

He got a drink of water and came over and sat on a bench with me.

“You know,” I said, “I get tired just watching you.”

He laughed. Sweat was running into his eyes and he pulled some slack in the front of his sweatshirt and wiped his eyes off. “I wouldn’t want to be doing these outside today. It’s sure hot, isn’t it?”

“Sure is,” I said. “Listen, you say you juggle your workout days?”

“That’s right.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, when I’m working for bulk and power like I am now, I work out four days a week. Two days on legs and back, two days on upper body.”

“Is that enough?”

“Oh, sure. That means I work my whole body real hard twice a week. That’s lots to grow on.”

“I guess it is if you work that hard.”

“Sure. Actually I don’t think I could do my whole body at one workout. I wouldn’t have anything left when I got to my arms.”

“So you leave it to another day?”

He laughed. “That’s right. Run away, work again another day.”

“And how about shape or definition?”

“Then I work out six days a week. Three on legs and back, three on the rest.”

“Sounds tough.”

“It is. I don’t do it very often though. Just before a contest or exhibition.”

“What about stomach work?”

“I do some every workout day. When I’m working for bulk I do a little and when I’m working for definition I do a lot.”

“I see.”

“Of course I change the exercises a bit.” Do you want to talk about my definition program?”

“No,” I said. “I’d rather stick to your bulk program, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure,” he said. “Anything you like.” He got up. “Do you mind waiting a minute?” I want to do some calf stuff.”

“Go ahead,” I said. “I’ll catch you when you’re finished.”

He went over to the calf machine. I got up and wandered around the gym. I went to the door and looked out. The fat lady had her car parked and the two girls were gone. I went back and watched his calf raises.

He did four sets of 20 and came over and sat on the bench again.

“What do you concentrate on for bulk?”

“Heavy stuff. Squats, rowing, cleans and so on. I do a heavy exercise for five sets of five and then something lighter for four sets of 10 to pump the area.”

“Like your squats and then the front squats?”

“That’s right. I do that with the big muscle groups. Five sets of five to the absolute limit, then four sets of 10 with something lighter.”

“What about your calves?”

“No. Calves and arms are small muscle groups. I just do one exercise for those parts moderately heavy. They grow from the other heavy stuff.”

“Yours sure did.”

“Too many beginners waste their time doing curls when they should be working their legs and back. Get the bulk and power. The arms will come along.”

“You specialize on your arms sometimes though, don’t you?”

“Sure. But not when I’m working for bulk.”

“And you figure four days a week are best for bulk?”

“That’s right. And power, too. Two day legs and back, two days upper body and a little gut work every workout day just to keep it in line.”

“Sounds good. What do you do next?”

“Well, I’ve done my leg work – squats, front squats and calf raises. Now I do a straight power exercise.”

“What’s that?”

“Power cleans. I figure that’s one of the best.”

“Go ahead. I’ll watch.”

He went over to the lifting bar and loaded it up. He chalked his hands and gripped the bar carefully. He pulled. The bar came up like it was going into orbit. He whipped his elbows under and dipped his knees slightly. The bar crashed onto his chest. He lowered it to his thighs, dipped and pulled again from the dead hang. He did five sets of five and the sweat ran down his face and sprayed out every time the bar hit his chest. He came over to the bench and sat down. He was gulping air and he kept flexing and straightening his fingers.

“Jeez,” I said. “You really put out, don’t you?”

He laughed and wiped his sleeve across his eyes. He looked like he’d been under water. He ran his fingers across his eyebrows and the sweat beaded and coated his finger. “You gotta work,” he said.

“Not many work as hard as you do.”

“Maybe that’s the difference.”

“What do you do now?”

“Rowing,” he said. “Five sets of five. Then I finish off the lats with four sets of 10 on the chins.”

“And that’s it, eh?”

“Yep. Except for one set of leg raises. 25 reps.”

“That’s not really too long a program, is it?

“No,” he said. “But it’s heavy. That’s the beauty of split training. You can work each part to its limit but you never do too much on any one day. That way your muscles get all the work they need and enough rest to grow on.

“What days do you do this?”

“Mondays and Thursdays legs and back. Tuesdays and Fridays upper body.”

“What do you do for the upper body?”

“Well, I work it in groups. Same as today. Heavy and light.”

“What exercises do you do?”

“I start with the chest. Bench presses five sets of five, then incline dumbbell presses four sets of 10.”

“Just a sec,” I said. “I better write some of this down.”

“Sure. I’ll do my rowing now.”

He went to the bar and did his rowing. Five sets of five. I scribbled down some notes and wandered around the gym some more. I got another drink of water and went over and looked at the pictures on the wall. There was a row of muscle shots. All the big names. Some of them would give a tailor a heart attack.

He finished his rowing and we went back and sat on the bench.

“O.K.” I said. “I’ve got your chest exercises. What comes next?”

He was puffing still. I should have let him catch his breath. “Shoulders,” he said. “Press behind neck, five sets of five. One arm military, four sets of 10.”

“And that’s all for the shoulders.”

“Sure. That’s plenty for bulk.”

“And then what?”

“Arms. I alternate curls and french presses four sets of 10 each.”

“Some of the guys do more arm work than that, don’t they?”

“Sure. So do I. But not when I’m working for bulk.”

“Fine.” I scribbled it down. My handwriting looked like chicken tracks and I hoped I’d be able to read it after. “And is that all?”

“Except for the gut. One set of sit-ups. 25 reps.”

I wrote it down.

“Time for the chins,” he said.

He went to the chinning bar and tied a plate around his waist. He jumped, grabbed the bar and did chins with a wide grip. He did them smooth and easy but was pulling hard on the last few.

“You’re almost finished,” I said.

“Except for the leg raises.”

I looked at my notes and said, “Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. You work out four days a week for bulk.”

“And power.”

“Yeah, bulk and power. Two days legs and back. Two days upper body.”


“You concentrate on the heavy exercises. Do them five sets of five and pump the arms with something lighter four sets of 10.”


“Your leg and back workout is: warm up with prone hyperextensions, squats – 5x5; light pullovers between sets; front squats – 4x10; calf raises – 4x20; power cleans – 5x5; rowing – 5x5; chins – 4x10; leg raises – 1x25.”

“That’s it.”

“And your upper body workout is: bench press – 5x5; incline dumbbell press – 4x10; press behind neck – 5x5; one arm military – 4x10; curls and french presses – alternated for 4x10 each; sit-ups – 1x25.”


“What about your diet,” I said. “I guess you eat a lot on a bulk program, eh?”

He put his head back and laughed. “That’s for sure. My wife’s crying all the time.”

I grinned. “Women are like that.”

He was still laughing. “The grocery bill came the other day. It looked like a ransom note.”

“It averages out, though,” I said. “You don’t smoke or drink, do you?”


“You’d make it up there, then.”

“Uh, sure.” He walked over to the incline board and rattled off 25 leg raises like a machine gun.

I stood up. “Well,” I said. “I guess I got it all. And you’ve finished too, eh?”

“Yep,” he said. “I’ve had it.” He was soaking wet. Sweat was running down the front of his neck and a circle on the front of his shirt was wet and dark against the blue cloth.

“Well look,” I said. “I want to thank you very much. You’ve been real good about this.”

He smiled and said, “That’s O.K. Glad to help.”

“You’re doing your upper body stuff tomorrow then?”

“Yep. That’s right.”

“Do you mind if I come in and watch?”

“No,” he said. “Not at all. Glad to have you.”

“Good,” I said. “I’ll see you then.”


We shook hands and I walked out. It was hotter than ever outside. The sun came in on an angle and the heat bounced off the sidewalk like a blast furnace.

The fat woman’s car was gone. The car in front had a gouge in the rear fender and there was glass on the road.

Two little boys and their mother were looking at the muscle pictures in the window. One of the boys had on a T-shirt and he was fooling around imitating the poses. His mother spoke to him and he stopped clowning around and they all stood quietly and looked at the pictures.

Article courtesy Jay Trigg.

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