The increase of intensity inherent in a correctly designed weight-training program is what distinguishes bodybuilding from calisthenics and most forms of aerobics. Yet many bodybuilders fall into a patter of exercise that's more akin to calisthenics than to bodybuilding. Unless you provide an overload of some kind, your muscles will remain as they are.
Professional actors, who are warned not to let their muscles get too big, keep them "toned" by using lighter weights and higher repetitions. Many bodybuilders train the same way, wondering why their gains come slowly or not at all.
Overload isn't necessarily limited to increase in poundages. If you use the same weight as you used in your previous workout but add a rep or two, you overload the muscle. Even reducing the rest between sets constitutes an increase in training intensity and thus an increase in training overload conducive to growth.
It stands to reason, then, that if you want to make consistent gains, you simply cannot become complacent in your training. Even so, there are several problems that can arise with this system. Since heavy weights take their toll on the recovery process, some people advise a high-intensity technique based on performing only one set of each exercise to failure. The difficulty here is that recovery is relative. Some people can handle a greater volume of exercise than others, and for them one set may not be enough. Also, you've got to hit the target every time because you've only got one set in which to do it. When you do multiple sets, usually at least one set accomplishes the goal of stimulating the muscle.
All things considered, a stronger muscle is generally a bigger muscle. Skeptics may point to many powerlifters and weightlifters who are undoubtedly strong but who show little evidence of the extreme muscle size common in top-level bodybuilders. For example, Fred Hatfield formerly held the world squat record, yet his thigh development pales in comparison to that of elite bodybuilders like Kevin Levrone and Paul DeMayo.
The reason for this involves the different training styles of bodybuilding and powerlifting. To train for maximum lifts, powerlifters usually perform multiple sets of low repetitions with occasional one-rep maximum lifts. In contrast, bodybuilding programs include a combination of high, low, and medium reps.
The low-rep programs that powerlifters use develop some muscle, but they also condition neural mechanisms and connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments. Because of their more varied patterns of repetitions, exercises and sets, bodybuilding programs build other aspects of the muscle, such as increased glycogen deposition and sarcolemma, that promote a greater degree of hypertrophy, or growth.
To get bigger McMuscles, you must focus on the muscle fibers that account for the greatest degree of hypertrophy. These are the fast-twitch Type 2B fibers, and they're activated in a specific recruitment pattern. In essence, your brain senses the degree of stress applied to a muscle and activates only the number of fibers you need to complete a movement. Low-intensity exercises, such as aerobics and working out with light weights, activate mostly slow-twitch, or Type 1 and Type 2A fibers. To get the size-building 2B fibers, you need to "cut to the chase" by lifting heavier weights.
As any experienced bodybuilder will confirm, however, lifting heavy all the time increases your chances of injury. It's not the muscles that cave in under the load but the joints and ligaments. One way around this is to use the currently popular technique of periodization or cycle training.
With cycle training you divide your long-term training into periods that emphasize different muscle aspects and frequently alternate phases of heavy and light workouts. For example, you might have a hypertrophy phase, where for two to three months you use medium-heavy weights for 8-10 reps per set. Then later in the cycle you might do another phase, a heavy-training period that emphasizes reps in the 4-6 range. This is the one most often ignored by bodybuilders.
The question then becomes, "Why not combine the best of both worlds? Why not build the strength of a powerlifter coupled with the muscular size of a bodybuilder." Combining the two training approaches allows you to build strength and size simultaneously. You don't need to train as heavy as a powerlifter, but you must use enough weight to build the strength needed to activate those deep-lying Type 2B fibers that produce muscular size increases. How to do this is the essence of power/mass bodybuilding.
To get the most benefit from power/mass bodybuilding, you need to keep a training log in which you note all the exercises, weights and reps of each workout. The goal is to increase either the weight or the reps at every - or at least every other - session.
Recuperation is also important in power/mass bodybuilding. If you overtrain, you won't get stronger, and you progress will cease abruptly. Again, the question of how much training constitutes overtraining is relative. Some lifters can use a three days a week, one on/one day off split and make rapid gains. Others, particularly intermediates who've been training for two years or less, will probably respond better to a four day a week split, working each muscle group twice.
The core of a power/mass program involves starting each muscle group with a compound, multi-joint basic exercise. These movements include the following:
- Bench press
- Barbell Row
- Barbell Curl
- Overhead Press
You follow each compound exercise with one or more isolation movements, such as flyes for chest, laterals for shoulders, seated cable rows for back, etc. The key here is that you go as heavy as possible for 4 to 6 reps in the compound exercises and you do them first in the bodypart routines.
Two other good technique to use in power/mass bodybuilding are forced reps and negatives. Actually, either method by itself has limited value, but if you combine the two techniques you get a whole different animal. Let's say you just completed a set of six reps of heavy bench presses. Your training partner helps you pump out another three reps but makes you really work at it, and at the top of each rep he lets go so that you can lower the bar completely on your own. You resist, taking at least four seconds to lower the weight. This guarantees increased training intensity and makes those stubborn Type 2B fibers stand at attention.
To prevent injuries use a pyramid rep scheme on your heavy, compound lifts. For example, do 5 sets of bench presses in a rep pattern of 15, 8, 6, 4, 3. Start out with a light warmup set, then add weight on each subsequent set. You can attempt maximum singles once in a while, but be aware that singles increase the chance of injuries while adding little muscular development, relative to slightly higher reps.
On the isolation movements do 3-4 sets per exercise, 8-12 reps per set. Use strict form and concentrate on the full range of motion. A specific EXAMPLE of a power/mass routine is detailed below.
One advantage of this type of training, besides developing muscular strength and size, is that you build more permanent muscles. In other words, if you miss a few workouts you won't shrink like a cotton shirt that's been washed in hot water. Bodybuilders who use "pump" routines often find that their gains are ephemeral; they never build the deep muscle elements that make for lasting gains.
Again, the key to this type of training is OVERLOAD. You must constantly try to gradually increase either the weight or the reps, particularly in the first compound exercise for each bodypart.
Sample Power/Mass Split Layout
Squat - 5 x 15, 8, 6, 4, 3
Leg Extension - 4 x 10
Hack Squat - 3 x 8
Stiff-Legged Deadlift - 3 x 15, 10, 8
Leg Curl - 3 x 10
Seated Calf Raise - 3 x 8-12
Donkey Calf Raise - 3 x 12-20
Standing Calf Raise - 3 x 12-20
Bench Press - 5 x 15, 8, 6. 4. 3
Incline Flye - 4 x 10
Flat Flye - 3 x 8
Dips - 3 x 12, 10, 8
Pushdown - 3 x 8-10
Pulldown - 5 x 15, 8, 6, 4, 3
Pullover - 3 x 8-10
Seated Cable Row - 5 x 15, 8, 6, 4, 3
Rear Delt Machine (or free weight sub) - 3 x 8-10
Press Behind Neck - 5 x 15, 8, 6, 4, 3
Lateral Raise - 3 x 8-10
One-Arm Cable Lateral - 2 x 8-10
Barbell Curl - 3 x 12, 10, 8
Concentration Curl - 3 x 8-10
Crunch - 3 x 12-20
Hanging Knee-ups - 3 x max reps.
Enjoy Your Lifting!