Q: I’ve been using the program from your book and am at 220 pounds [fairly] lean. I want to change my routine to bulk up to 250 by next February while staying this lean. I was using the push/pull/legs routine, but I’ve switched to a new program. I’m currently consuming 5,000 calories a day, and it’s working for me. Can you give me your input on my new split.
Monday: Chest, triceps, abs
Tuesday: Back, biceps, forearms
Wednesday: Delts, traps, triceps
Thursday: Legs, abs
I’ll be using four exercises for the major muscle groups and three for the minor. How does this look for my bulking? I’m aiming to gain 30 more pounds and then lean out to compete.
A: The routine you’ve listed is a four-days-on/one-day-off program that gives you five days of rest for most muscle groups because you’re splitting over four days. That should give you one more day of rest than you were getting with the three-day split you were doing previously.
This is a good routine for you to follow for bulking up. I hope you are focusing on using the basic exercises with heavy weights. The best repetition range for building muscle mass is six to eight.
This is a good routine for taking your training to the next level because, by splitting your body over four days instead of three days, you train fewer bodyparts in one workout and so will be able to train harder.
The only negative with this program is that you train four consecutive days without a day off. If that doesn’t bother you and you feel you can give 100 percent to each workout without a rest day during those four days, then keep up with this routine.
If you feel that you’re getting burned out or you are just too exhausted from the previous day’s workout to give each training session 100 percent, then don’t hesitate to take a rest day during those four days of training. I like to take a day off after two or three consecutive days of lifting.
You can also cut back the volume of your training by eliminating some exercises or sets. You said you’re doing four exercises for the big bodyparts and three for the smaller one, but it’s important as well to keep track of how many total sets you’re doing at each training session.
I like to keep my total sets per workout under 25. That allows me to do enough exercises to work each muscle group effectively but not so many that I overtrain the muscles or overdeplete my body as a whole. You need to train a muscle from all angles for complete physique development, but at the same time you don’t want to waste effort with ineffective exercises.
For example, if I were going to train back and biceps, here’s a typical workout I would use:
Close-grip pulldowns (lower lats) 2 x 8-10
Wide-grip chins (upper lats) 3 x 6-8
Barbell rows (midback thickness) 4 x 6-8
T-bar rows (back thickness) 3 x 6-8
Deadlifts (lower-back thickness) 3 x 6-8
Incline curls (biceps) 3 x 6-10
Barbell curls (biceps) 3 x 6-8
Hammer curls (brachialis) 2 x 8
Total sets: 23
That’s plenty of sets and exercises to work the back and biceps from all angles with the most effective movements for bulding muscle. There are five exercises for the back, including two for lat thickness, one for the lower-back muscles, one for the upper lats and one for the lower lats. That adds up to 15 sets for the back.
The biceps need much less work because they are a smaller muscle group. I do two exercises for three sets each for the biceps and add hammer curls at the end of the workout to build the brachialis muscles and the forearms.
Q: I appreciate the time and honesty you provide. I have enjoyed your thread, books and videos. Now I will turn 65 next summer and want to return to the bodybuilding stage. I haven’t competed since I was 35. I have continued to work out over the years even with a bad lower back and bad shoulder. I was primarily a powerlifter, 242-pound class, and I entered bodybuilding on the side at 185. Placed as high as second in the state. Still pretty strong, but I can’t do the heavy weights without injury. I weigh 260 at 5’6” and worry about the saggy skin when I lose. I usually do chest and triceps, back and biceps, and legs for three workouts a week and walk on the treadmill for two miles at each workout. Do I need to ramp it up?
A: If you’re thinking about getting back onstage, your main consideration will be getting as lean and ripped as possible. Having promoted and judged many bodybuilding competitions, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the competitors who do well or win are almost always the most ripped.
If you currently weigh 260 pounds, you should get on a good diet now so you start leaning out and losing fat slowly. Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to do anything crazy like overdiet or perform an excessive amount of cardio in order to get ripped in time for the show.
Even if you have to diet for a full year to get ready, that is preferable to not giving yourself enough time. You mentioned the possibility of loose skin. I’ve noticed that the masters competitors who have tight skin usually stay lean all the time. The skin is not very forgiving as we get older, and it loses elasticity, which leads to the loose skin appearance. If you stay lean all the time, your skin can remain tighter when you get really ripped.
Your training routine is fine. I’ve found that as I get older, my joints and tendons need more recovery time, so I only train each muscle group once a week. If you feel that you are fully recovered on the three-days-on/one-day-off routine, then you should keep doing it.
When I get ready for a contest or photo shoot, I do a maximum of four days a week of cardio. I prefer a combination of high-intensity, interval cardio and steady-state cardio. I do each two days a week.
I like to start my fat-loss program with just the diet first and then add the cardio after several weeks of dieting. That gives my body time to adjust and change according to the diet. I will only do as much cardio as I need to and then let the diet do the rest.
As for the diet, I think you should begin by writing down exactly what you’re eating now. That will give you a better idea of how many calories you need to eat in order to start losing fat. You want to eat just below your maintenance number of calories so you lose the fat slowly without sacrificing any muscle tissue.
I got great results while eating a moderately high-protein diet (1.25 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight) and then adjusting my carbs and fat to lose bodyfat. I started my diet by keeping the fats and carbs low—40 to 50 grams of fats and around 200 grams of carbs per day. As I got leaner, I was able to increase my carbs because my metabolism was getting faster.
I have used this type of diet with success over the past few years. You may need a diet that is lower in carbs, with more fat in order to lose fat. Everyone is different. For me, the lower-fat, higher-carb diet worked great. Good Luck!