Last month I discussed eight key lessons for bodybuilding success. Here are eight more lessons I wish someone had drummed into me when I started bodybuilding more than 30 years ago.
1) Don’t Be a Training-Volume Victim
Low-volume workouts are best for most bodybuilders. Few drug-free bodybuilders have the recovery ability to grow on high-volume workouts. Bodybuilders who do well on them are genetically gifted for bodybuilding or drug-assisted or both.
Use abbreviated training and do no more than 20 work sets per workout (not per bodypart, per workout!). That’s the upper end of the spectrum. Many bodybuilders will be better off in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 work sets per workout. And some may need even fewer sets to make the best gains.
2) Avoid the Intensity Trip
When I got off the volume trip, I continued to waste workouts because I got into the intensity trip. I used to believe it wasn’t possible to train too hard’that it was only possible to train too long. Now I know that it’s possible to train too hard and too long. For several years I had an intensity mania. I believed that exercise intensity was the route to bodybuilding success. But training to failure wasn’t sufficient’I regularly trained beyond positive failure, with negative reps and forced reps. I didn’t gain any muscle during that period, and many other bodybuilders also found that the ultrahigh-intensity approach was deficient.
You must train hard, but you don’t have to train beyond failure or even to positive failure. Most trainees, however, don’t work out hard enough, while hardcore bodybuilding enthusiasts often overdo it.
3) Lose the Progression Obsession
Handling ever-greater exercise weights isn’t a guaranteed route to bigger muscles. The biggest muscles aren’t the strongest, and the strongest muscles aren’t the biggest. For most bodybuilders most of the time, however, gradually increasing exercise poundages is the best form of progression.
To make small weight increments, use microweight plates of only a quarter or half pound each. Alternatively, you could substitute several large washers for each microplate.
Suppose, for example, you’re stuck at two sets of six reps on the bench press with 245 pounds. If you put five pounds on the bar, your reps would drop, you’d struggle and probably stagnate. But, if you added just half a pound, you’d probably still get your two sets of six reps, and then you could add another half pound the following time and probably still get your two sets of six. Nudge up the bench press smidgen by smidgen, and over time you’ll add substantial weight to the bar’and some muscle to your chest and arms.
Apply the same approach to all your exercises. Such small increments aren’t necessary for beginners, but they are invaluable for more advanced trainees.
How you increase exercise poundages is critical. An exaggerated focus on progressive weights is detrimental because it leads to sloppy exercise technique and loss of rep-speed control. Never compromise exercise form or rep-speed control just so you can add more weight. The watchwords are correct technique and rep-speed control’even at the end of a set, when the reps are hardest!
3) Choose Your Core Moves Wisely
Different groups of comparable exercises have the potential for producing similar results. Find a group of predominantly multijoint exercises that you can train with safely and consistently’and that you can get progressively stronger on. Then stick with that group for a long time. They are your core exercises.
If you can squat safely and progressively, do barbell squats. If you can’t, forget squats. Try leg presses, parallel-bar deadlifts or hip-belt squats instead. They can all produce terrific results’if you do them safely, consistently and progressively.
If you can bench-press safely and progressively, then do barbell bench presses. If you can’t, forget it. Parallel-bar dips, dumbbell bench presses, incline-bench presses and Hammer Strength machine chest presses are all good alternatives. ALL 4) Give Free Weights the Nod
With a barbell and dumbbell set you can do the same exercises anywhere in the world, with consistency. Free weights are almost universal in commercial gyms, but good machinery isn’t. The exercise-technique instruction for free-weight exercises is the same for all brands of free-weight equipment but not so for machinery, where, for example, the instructions for one brand’s squat machine are different from another’s. Therefore, try to give priority to free weights.
If, however, you have access to generally good machinery, you can substitute some machine movements for comparable free-weight exercises’but tread carefully. Even some of the better machines can cause irritations and injuries for some trainees. (The same, of course, can be said of free-weight exercises if you don’t perform them correctly.)
Features of good machinery include the ability to accommodate a variety of body types (through adjustment of seats, back pads and movement arms), smoothness of motion and ease of entry and exit.
Although high-tech machinery can be useful, it’s not essential for making progress. Free weights alone, properly used, have proven to be tremendously effective.
5) Prioritize for More Size
Don’t train your better bodyparts first in a workout. Structure your workouts so that you train your weakest areas first and your strongest areas last. For example, if your hamstrings are flat and weak, but your quads are full and strong, do leg curls before squats or leg presses. And train your weak areas every bit as seriously as you train your strong areas.
6) Heat Things Up
Don’t skimp on warmups. Better to warm up too much than not enough. Beginners may need only a single warmup set per exercise, but experienced bodybuilders may do three warmup sets each for squats, bench presses, leg presses and other big exercises. Do at least one warmup set for all other exercises regardless of where in your routine you’ve placed a given exercise.
7) If You Keep Doing What You’re Doing, You’ll Keep Getting What You’re Getting
If what you’re doing isn’t working, change something. More of what hasn’t done you good over the past couple of months isn’t going to do you any good over the next couple of months.
Compare your training with what I’ve covered in both parts of this article. If there are big differences, perhaps it’s your training that’s mostly at fault. If there aren’t big differences, however, the major problem may be what you’re doing or not doing outside of the gym.
Most bodybuilders have major problems in and out of the gym. It’s no wonder that they make little or no progress. Training is essential, of course, but most trainees give it exaggerated importance compared with another pivotal component of success. For example…
Recuperation from training. If you don’t get your recuperative system in order, you won’t make good progress with your bodybuilding. That should be obvious, but do you really get at least eight hours of sleep every night? And do you really eat every three hours or so’healthy, protein-rich food rather than junk that over the course of the day provides a slight surplus of calories? Most bodybuilders don’t, and thus they hamper their recovery abilities.
If you want to maximize your bodybuilding progress, maximize your recovery machinery. Without it you won’t progress well, if at all, even if your gym work is perfect. IM