Although it is an unpopular subject among bodybuilders in the '80s, I believe that the style of training employed by the old-time lifters (i.e. incorporating fast lifts and coordination exercises) was RIGHT, and that the pump-for-pump's sake muscle bloating style of today's bodybuilder is WRONG.
Of course, every trainee has the right to train in whatever manner he sees fit. However, the balanced, athletic type of workout makes for a better all-around development (physically), and a much healthier personality and lifestyle (mentally/emotionally).
I suspect that the main reason why the high multiple-set pumping style of training for isolated muscle groups is popular today is because trainees believe that it will lead to optimal size. This is incorrect. Optimum size results from good basic training, and one's optimum size, per se, is determined by heredity, not training.
Yes, a person can successfully pump his working muscles to greater size temporarily when he follows a superhigh-set approach to working out. But such size is very temporary, indeed. Rarely does it last more than a few hours following the workout. It is not real muscle size increase.
The actual and ultimate size development that one acquires will be determined by hard training and by hereditary potential. By pushing and training hard on the basic, proven exercises, plus eating properly and getting enough rest, one's physique "fills out" to whatever nature has set for its natural limit in size and power. Several years of steady, quality training will build the individual's body to approximately its potential level of development. A rare few who are super ambitious and work brutally hard will acquire a bit more development; but this is exceptional.
A trainee who accepts reality and is not conned into following the outrageous pitches that appear in print about special systems, courses, programs, diets, etc., will ultimately develop the best physique that he or she can, in addition to enjoying training. The trainee who makes it his business to acquire useful and coordinated muscle will enjoy the fitness, health and self-mastery that everyone should be enjoying from barbell training.
There are a few basic barbell or dumbbell movements that impart the speed, coordination, dexterity and useful muscle that I am talking about. The following fine movements, sadly neglected by many traineestoday, will also produce very solid muscle gains:
- The power snatch
- The power clean
- The two-hands clean and press
- The heavy dumbbells swing-lift
Note: The repetition snatch may also be used, buy many who follow a bodybuilding program find the practice of the full lift exhausting; so simpler power-style snatches may be used instead.
Every reader who trains seriously and who is not engaged in the regular practice of some other athletic endeavor should incorporate a couple of repetition sets of one or more of these fine movements into his routine a couple of times a week.
Now, on to this month's questions . . .
Q: How can I avoid going stale?
A: We all go stale occasionally. A perfectly smooth career in training in which no staleness, slumps or setbacks are experiences is sheer fantasy. However, it is certainly feasible to conduct your training in a manner that minimizes periods of staleness and allows you to enjoy relatively steady progress.
First, understand that training should be varied. No two workouts ought to be identical. On days when real fatigue is present, hold back! If you train hard when what you need is rest, the end result is often staleness.
Second, vary such things as your set-rep scheme, the actual exercises (don't waste time on nonproductive movements), and the pace with which you work out. This helps to keep interest at a peak, which alleviates boredom and staleness.
Third, have specific training goals. People always find that a definite goal helps focus their energies. You can set whatever physical training goals you wish - but make them realistic, and be sure that you keep reminding yourself of their importance.
A basic principle of good training that reduces the instances of slumps and stale training periods is to follow a very hard workout with an easy, mild training session. Do not try to keep hammering away at your body with endlessly demanding heavy workouts. Some men can drive themselves furiously this way for a couple of weeks or so. Unfortunately, the end result is almost always a period of zero training! So what's the gain? When these fellows resume their workouts, they find themselves back where they started. Be sensible. Train in varying levels of intensity and your body will find itself better able to respond and grow.
Q: Should a new routine be done just for variety, or only when an old routine fails to yield results?
A: Either approach is a good one. Variety makes sense so long as the new training movements are of the same quality as the old ones. Basic barbell curls can easily be alternated with heavy dumbbell curls, etc. As long as you like what you're doing, and as long as it constitutes quality exercise, you're following a viable method.
When an old routine fails to yield results, it makes sense to shuffle things around a bit! Interestingly enough, trainees often discover that an exercise they once found unproductive will, at a future date, prove very productive indeed. Again, as long as the basic, sensible principles of training are adhered to, little can happen except results!
Q: I was told that the pullover-and-bench-press was a wasted exercise because it prevented one from using really heavy bench press weights. Is this true?
A: It is true that one uses a lot less in the pullover-and-bench-press than in the simple bench press; however, it is not true that the pullover-and-bench-press is a "wasted" exercise! It is a fine exercise that produces outstanding upper body development.
When training in the pullover-and-bench-press it is necessary to focus on good, strict form, and to work to maximum extension in the bent-arm pullover portion for optimum results. This builds the upper back. Anyone who tries this movement for several weeks will become convinced of its value.
I recommend the pullover-and-bench-press especially for athletes who use weights for the purpose of strength building. The movement is rarely employed today, but it is very productive.
Q: How many warmup sets are necessary before going all-out?
A: This depends on you. Some people find that one basic warmup exercise at the start of their program is all that they need. They do not employ warmup sets for the individual exercises that they do in their program. Others find that a single warmup set per exercise is plenty. Still others use two or even three progressively heavier warmup sets before going for their heavier sets.
My general recommendation is that when you are following a particularly heavy program (using sets of, say, five or less reps before quitting), you should do at least two progressively heavier warmup sets (I use three). This is for safety's sake, as it allow the working muscles to be adequately "primed" so that the heavy sets can be done with heavy poundages. Lots of warming up helps.
When training on a regular of "normal" workout (one that is not especially oriented toward all-out heavy sets), one warmup set is more than enough for almost anyone. In many cases, and for certain exercises, a warmup set may be completely omitted (e.g. lateral raises when preceded by heavy presses; the presses have already achieved all the warming up that is necessary).
One excellent way to employ warmup sets is by doing a somewhat higher count of reps, then adding weight and dropping a rep or two, and continuing in this manner until the one or two heavy sets are completed (with low reps, naturally). An example of this might be when doing squats; first set, 12 reps; second set, 10 reps; third set; 6 reps; fourth set, 3 reps; fifth set, 1-2 reps (adding weight for each successive set).
Q: Do people who train with weights live longer?
A: Frankly, I don't know. I tend to believe that sensible physical training done throughout one's life would certainly aid in prolonging the lifespan (when combined with good diet, rest, a healthy outlook and of course an absence of destructive habits). But I have no "scientific" evidence to support my contention.
One thing I'll swear to, though, is that following a planned, regular program of physical training will add quality to one's life, however long it may (or may not be) in years! Being in shape, feeling good, being able to perform well and looking one's best is a great asset in life and is certainly enough of a reward to make weight training desirable for everyone.
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