Ah, the golden age of bodybuilding. A flashback to the halcyon days of Arnold and Big Louie running around Gold’s Gym in shorts and knee-high socks lifting inhuman amounts of iron in the morning, slipping off to the beach for some fun and sun during the afternoon and then returning to Gold’s in the evening for another unbelievable lifting session. It was the 1970s, haircuts were bad, and gyms were dark places where serious bodybuilders held sway.
Fast-forward to 2010, and bodybuilding in the modern age. That sense of camaraderie and community is all but gone—in America that is. In Canada, especially in Quebec, what many remember as the golden age of bodybuilding is taking place in gyms throughout the province (minus the bad haircuts and socks for the most part).
A good introduction to the bodybuilding scene in Quebec is a conversation with Antoine Vaillant, a young Canadian amateur whose journey up the ranks has been meteoric. Starting with his first major show in 2006, Antoine has done four contests and never finished out of the top 10.
He won the ’06 and ’07 Canadian Junior Championship and then, in his first foray into the senior circuit, finished 10th in the superheavyweight class at the ’08 Canadian Nationals. In 2009 he finished fourth in the same class at the same contest, making him one of the fastest rising names in Canadian bodybuilding.
Despite his success, the 22-year-old is relatively unknown outside his country. That’s partly due to the parochial nature of the American bodybuilding scene, with its intense focuses on California and New York, and partly due to Antoine’s taking a global view when it comes to marketing. His current sponsor, Savage Nutrition, is a leading supplement retailer in Europe but virtually unknown in the United States.
When I talked with him, Antoine was preparing to leave for Lyon, France, to speak at a fitness convention. Clearly, he’s making full use of the multicultural advantages that come with being a French Canadian.
As interesting as all that was, what really drew me to Antoine was his approach to training—specifically, leg training, as he’s got one of the best pair in the amateurs on either side of the border.
Antoine got interested in bodybuilding after seeing a muscle magazine on the counter of a supplement store. He’s been hooked ever since. His favorite bodybuilders growing up were Kevin Levrone and Dennis Newman. His current physique ideal is Phil Heath (but bigger, he says), and his next competition will be the ’11 Arnold Amateur.
Wow, I just realized that my intro was all over the place, but then again, so is Vaillant’s leg routine:
Seated leg curls 4 x 15
Lying leg curls 3 x 12
Stiff-legged deadlifts 4 x 15, 12, 10, 8
Front squats 4 x 15, 12, 10, 8
Walking lunges 3 x 8
Leg extensions 3 x 50
Standing calf raises 3 x 15
Seated calf raises 3 x 12
The difference between my stream-of-consciousness scribblings and Antoine’s seemingly stream-of-consciousness training is that Antoine has a plan.
“Muscles work in different ways,” he said. “If you want to stimulate all of the fibers, you have to lift in all different ways.” For Antoine that’s especially important when it comes to the big muscle groups—legs, back, chest—or anything that benefits from compound lifts to grow. “The body is so adaptable,” he observed. “If you only work out one way, eventually you’re going to plateau; but if you can switch it up, you’ll continue to grow.”
Antoine’s secret, then, is to force change into his routine constantly. So, while the squat may always be a key ingredient in his leg program, he may switch from front squats to standard squats, Smith-machine squats or you name it. The important thing is to keep the body from adapting to what you’re doing.
“Take coffee as an example,” he said. “Remember the first time you had a cup? Whoosh! You felt like you were going to shoot through the ceiling. Now, eh? Two or three cups just to get going.”
For Antoine, avoiding adaptation means more than just doing sets of varying lengths. It also means changing up the workout by dropping and adding different lifts. For example, he doesn’t do three sets of 50 leg extensions at every workout, but he does complete that many sets when he feels he needs a shocker. There’s also cheating, which, when applied properly, can be a wonderful way to extend sets.
“There is such a thing as good cheating—controlled cheating, if you will,” he said. “On squats have a spotter and make sure to keep your lumbar supported with a belt. On leg extensions do partial reps at the end, but what you don’t want to do is switch over to bad cheating, where the target muscle is not working and the risk of injury is pronounced. When you cheat, having a spotter is key.”
The last thing to change is the type of workout being performed. That means changing the underlying goal. Antoine summed it up as follows: “For the first four weeks I’m strength training—heavy compound lifts with low rep-ranges designed to make me stronger. After that I move to four weeks of hypertrophy, using drop sets, forced reps and a host of other methods to extend the set. Finally, I train legs differently during the off-season, when I train them every other week, and precontest, when I train them weekly because I’m also shedding fat.”
The strategy is simple: Never let your physiology catch up with what you’re doing to change it.
Editor’s note: To contact Antoine Vaillant for personal training or other queries, visit www.AntoineVonline.com. IM
Vaillant Cardio Schedule
After every workout:
1) Spinning bike. After a five-minute warmup, the following intervals x 12 rounds:
• 15-second sprint
• 45-second cruise
Finish with a five-minute cooldown
2) 30 minutes on either the Jacob’s Ladder total-body exerciser or Step Mill Gauntlet
If you think his cardio routine is unusual, you’re right—especially in bodybuilding, where hourlong sessions on the treadmill are the norm. Antoine is a firm believer in interval cardio sessions followed by time spent on a climbing device. He feels that not only are the cardiovascular benefits greater, but the climbing apparatus also helps build muscle due to increased exertion. —C.C.
Antoine’s Off-Season Training Split
Day 1: Chest, back
Day 2: Arms
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Back
Day 5: Delts, chest
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off or legs
As his legs are a strong point, Antoine trains them only once every two-weeks. To fit them in, he typically works legs on day 7 of the above schedule. He trains calves and abs intermittently.