An Interview with Dr. John Ziegler
by Morgan Norval
(Morgan Norval) Q: Dr. Ziegler, you have been associated with the weight game for a long time. In fact, you were the team physician for the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team when we were the best in the world. In addition to this, you have personally trained some of the greats of bodybuilding, Vern Weaver and Val Vasilieff, to name just two. Let's talk about the bodybuilding game for just a moment. With your background you must have some ideas about the best way of training for ultimate physical development.
(John Ziegler) A: Well, one thing i would not do and that is train every day as some of our so-called champions are alleged to be doing. In fact, I'll go further. The six day a week routine is the biggest myth in bodybuilding!
Q: Why is that, doctor?
A: Because over a period of time, the human body just can't take it. Oh, don't get me wrong, you can come in to the gym and lift feather weight poundages all day not and not get overly fatigued. But, if you do this over a long period of time, not only won't your body grow, because it has easily become accustomed to the minimal stress your body has put on it; but boredom will quickly set in. your lack of progress will reinforce this boredom and the trainee will soon find more and more excuses for skipping training until he finally ceases altogether. If he is that rare individual that is stubborn, he will stick to the same boring routine with the same meager results.
Q: Then you can easily overdo it, can't you?
A: You certainly can. I'll give you a good example. Take the old Chinese coolie; he pulled people around all day in his rickshaw. He did this hours at a time EVERY DAY of his life. Now this gave the coolie tremendous endurance, but as far as brute strength was concerned, he was very weak. His appearance was scrawny and thin. He had wiry muscles but little strength.
Q: I see the comparison, and I hope the readers do likewise. But then, Doctor, what is it that causes a trainee's muscles to respond and grow?
A: You must keep placing more stress on the muscles in order for them to grow. You see, the human body is a very adaptable organism. It is constantly adjusting itself to new conditions it may find itself facing at the moment. When you train and use a certain weight in an exercise for a certain number of sets and reps, that muscle gets used to that type of condition and will rapidly adjust its response to cope with those conditions. Having made this adjustment, it will no longer respond with increased growth. However, if you increase the repetitions, but keep the weight the same, your muscles won't get bigger but you will increase your endurance. I don't think the judges of bodybuilding contests have any interest in a contestant's endurance.
I recall with great pleasure what my good friend, John Grimek, said many years ago: 'Dr. John, always remember, you can't build big muscles without handling heavy weights; and nobody can lift heavy weights in their routine more than three times per week.'
Q: Well, Doctor, I'm curious about one thing I recall reading years ago that either you or Bill March said, that to get maximum strength, never do over three reps in any lift; in other words, use heavy weights and low reps. This seems contrary to the West Coast training philosophy of two workouts per day, six days per week. Obviously, with your background and medical experience, you know something they don't. Would you please explain it?
A: (He said this with a sly smile) As you know, I don't build bodybuilding equipment and I have never had any financial interest in or ownership of any gymnasium. Therefore, I approach problems without any economic interests at all. I'm only a physician and surgeon practicing medicine. I'm well aware that if my income solely depends on a gym I owned, I would, naturally, advocate a trainee using it all the time and at the same time, sell all the equipment and food supplements I could.
But to answer your question, trainees should be following the theory of Dr. Selye, which I have followed in my own medical research for the last fifteen years, which is that stress is the sole factor in increasing one's strength and resistance to anything. By this I mean, in its simplest terms, that exercise with increased resistance will stimulate skeletal muscles to grow in size and strength. But, and I can't overly stress this, only of the body is given time to recuperate from such stress. Daily workouts do not allow this and if followed to any great length of time, the trainee will end up like the Chinese coolie I spoke of!
Q: Could you briefly explain Dr. Selye's theory? I'm sure most bodybuilders have never heard of it. I hadn't until your mentioned it.
Note: Gotta find the date of this interview. It's from a later version of the Rader, smaller size IronMan mag.
A: First of all, this theory was developed by Dr. Hans Selye, who is a medical doctor. He is professor and director of Experimental Medicine at the University of Montreal School of Medicine in Canada. So his credentials are above reproach. In a simple word, stress is only a stimulus causing beneficial results to the human body when used properly.
Q: I think most people are under the impression that stress is harmful. I mean people generally hear of stress in conjunction with some problem, either mental or physical causing harm.
A: No, stress is definitely not always harmful. But getting back to Selye. Stress is, in essence, a force that causes the body to produce a defense reaction for survival against it. In our case, stress is created by using our muscles against a forced resistance (weights, pulleys, etc.). This stimulates our muscles to respond in a defensive way to be better able to resist such stress stimulation in the future -- a true muscle defense system.
But, and this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, to achieve this defense (larger and stronger muscles) there must be a rest period of at least one day for this increased resistance stress to develop.
In basic terms, in your workouts you gradually increase the resistance to your muscles (this is the stress period) and the rest periods give your muscles time tot react to the ever-increasing stress. For this exercise-type stress to be beneficial IT MUST ALWAYS REMAIN WITHIN PHYSIOLOGICAL LIMITS. This means never overload your maximum level and ALWAYS follow this with a rest and muscle repair period. As there are no two people in the whole world alike, these rest periods vary with each individual for his best results.
Q: At least one day, as you said, but sometimes it may require more than one day?
A: That is correct and you can see it perfectly illustrated in the 'Great Sticking Point Problem', which I've seen in many hundreds of lifters and bodybuilders. it is always a result of too much stress and not enough repair time. They all have progressed again when they learn their muscles are overworked and fatigued from too little periods of rest.
Now a word here about the results of OVERSTRESS. (Always remember that stress within your physiological limits, including adequate rest is a beneficial defense reaction from your muscles).
It is my opinion that OVERSTRESS is the number one enemy of all athletes. In its minor form 'STICKING FORM' results.
In its medical form DAMAGE and TEARING DOWN of MUSCLE and LOSS of STRENGTH results.
In its maximum form, DEATH of tissue EXPOSED to the stress result.
In its total form DEATH of the INDIVIDUAL results because he has exposed himself to more stress than his total body can respond to.
Q: Can you give another example of overstress besides the 'sticking point problem' which most or all bodybuilders have experienced?
A: One well known form of OVERSTRESS is the weekend gardener. He sits at a desk all week pushing papers. On Saturday he takes his tools and goes to his garden and chops with a hoe all day long. Ergo comes Saturday night and his palms are covered with burning blisters! These will recover if they were the result of mild puttering in his garden. This is an example of the results of stress in a minor form.
Let us carry this illustration further and take it into the medical form of stress. The blisters rupture and become infected, with new blisters forming under them, resulting in damage and tearing down of skin tissue. Now medical help is required.
If he went 'ape' as they say, and reached a maximum form of OVERSTRESS, there is death to the exposed tissue, in fact to all twelve layers of the skin. His only hope now is surgical, consisting of whole skin grafts.
OVERSTRESS in its total form causing death of the individual is seen in many ways. From an extremely febrile patient over many days (temperature 105-106) to the pathetic but common form of overexposure to the tropic sun on an individual's first day exposure to it. Results: fourth degree burns over more than 80% of his body and in spite of all medical aid -- death.
Q: My head is swimming with this new knowledge. In fact, it raises many questions in my mind concerning specific routines, equipment, etc., but I realize you are a busy man and I have already overstayed my appointment. Perhaps you will be so kind as to permit me to return and talk to you again on these other matters which our interview has raised. I'm sure that IronMan readers would be interested in reading about it also. Thank you, Dr. Ziegler.
Enjoy Your Lifting!