After your first month of training you should be noticing some substantial changes in your physique and your health. In terms of appearance, you’ll have firmed up considerably, probably put on between five to 10 pounds (depending on your diet) and, for perhaps the first time in your life, become aware of numerous muscle groups that spoke to you with twinges of pain on the days after your workouts. Not real pain, mind you, but a constant probing sort of sensation that let you know that some sort of activity (namely muscle stimulation) had occurred there.
That’s all good, however, as those twinges mean you stimulated muscle growth’which is, after all, the reason you started bodybuilding in the first place. Last month on your beginning program you performed a total of two sets per bodypart, trained three days a week and used a mostly straight-sets approach, performing one set of a given exercise, resting and then performing a second set of the same exercise before moving on to another.
This month you’ll continue to train three days a week on alternate days, taking weekends off, but you’ll do three sets per bodypart and use a method known as forced reps. Even so, you’ll never do more than five direct sets for any bodypart, and even that will occur only when you’re specializing on a lagging muscle group.
Specialization. Although you’re still a few months away from any specialization efforts, learning about the technique ahead of time will help you develop a keener eye for assessing your physique. Specialization means that your training focuses on a specific bodypart for a limited period of time. For example, if after a few months you notice that your arms are huge but your legs look like a television stand’s, then you should specialize on your legs. It’s easy for one bodypart to overshadow another, and the earlier you detect such an imbalance, the easier it will be for you to address it.
Supersets. You used a superset in last month’s routine, but it’s always a good idea to review. Supersetting is when you perform two different exercises back to back, taking no rest between the sets. You do rest after you complete each superset, for as long as necessary, before starting the first exercise in the cycle again.
Forced reps. You do these at the very end of a set, when you can no longer complete a full repetition. When you hit that failure point, a partner, friend or spotter assists you in completing several additional repetitions by lifting some of the resistance for you. You still attempt to complete the contraction yourself, and it should be difficult, as your partner provides only enough help for you to barely complete each forced rep. Don’t allow your partner to lift the weight for you. There seems to be a tendency, even among professional bodybuilders, to take a thank-God-you’re-here approach to forced reps, whereby the instant their partner starts to assist, they drop their own involvement entirely. Sure, they grimace and groan and stamp their feet in an effort to hoodwink the partner into believing that they’re really putting their last ounce of energy into the rep, but the poor training partner suddenly gets a hernia from assuming the full brunt of raising the resistance at a mechanically disadvantageous position.
A forced-reps set is brutally hard and should have you wishing your partner were suddenly out of town’or anywhere other than in the gym with you. The fact that forced reps makes your set more intense and, consequently, more difficult is why it’s is so effective at stimulating muscle growth. Try to remember this maxim: The harder you train, the faster you’ll grow. It’s a truism that will serve you well your entire training life.
Spotter. This is simply another name for the training partner or friend who assists you. Whenever someone stands behind you to make sure that a bench press weight doesn’t pin you to the bench or helps you complete your repetitions, he or she is said to be spotting you.
A Comment About Diet
One of the biggest misconceptions in bodybuilding today is the idea that you must take a magical combination of vitamins, minerals and protein supplements to build large muscles. I’ll cover the subject of nutrition as it applies to muscle building and fat loss later in this series, but I’d like to at least touch on a few dietary facts here.
First of all, if building muscle were as easy as taking a supplement, you wouldn’t need to train at all. The fact that you cannot ‘eat your way to a great physique’ should be self-evident, but, nevertheless, aspiring bodybuilders spend thousands of dollars on supplements that do little more than enrich the color of their urine. In the beginning stages of bodybuilding diet is anything but complicated: If you want to get bigger, you should train hard and eat. Pure and simple, eat anything you want, whenever you want. Just make sure that you eat a balanced diet, for it serves your bodybuilding program little good if your diet is lopsided in favor of one of the macronutrients’fats, proteins or carbohydrates.
If you tip the balance in any direction, make it in favor of carbohydrates, as they provide the fuel for your weight-training sessions as well as being your brain’s primary energy source. Carbohydrate foods are the ones that happen to taste the best’pasta, bread, sugar, fruits and so on’so it’s certainly not a burden to eat ample quantities of them. For trainees who are looking to lose fat (I say fat as opposed to weight because there’s a major distinction), simply reduce your food intake slightly. Keep it slight, however, because drastic calorie reductions actually cause your body to slow its metabolism in anticipation of a paucity of food. That, of course, is counterproductive.
The most effective route to fat loss is to train intensely to stimulate muscle growth and reduce your food intake slightly’say, 500 calories below what would otherwise be necessary to maintain your present bodyweight’and, again, keep your diet balanced or tipped in favor of carbohydrates. With that strategy you’ll lose fat while at the same time increasing your muscle mass and improving your health and vitality.
This month we alter the routine marginally by adding some new exercises and subtracting a few from last month’s program. The reason you switch exercises occasionally is to avoid mental and physical staleness’the inevitable result of engaging in unaltered activities for prolonged periods. We’ll keep some of the exercises, such as squats, due to their intrinsic value as proven muscle builders.
Squats 3 x 15
Pullovers 3 x 15
Upright rows 3 x 12
Alternate dumbbell presses 3 x 12
Bench presses 2 x 10-15
(After your first set of bench presses, increase the weight by 20 percent and perform one more set of six reps, with your partner forcing out four additional reps, for a total of 10.)
presses 3 x 12
Standing dumbbell curls 1 x 15, 2 x 10
Lying triceps extensions 1 x 15, 2 x 10
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 15
Squats. Perform these as described in last month’s program: Lower yourself slowly, taking four seconds, and then go back up to the starting position in two seconds for the required number of repetitions. Then move directly to the second exercise in the superset.
Pullovers. This exercise was also in last month’s program, and you should perform it in the same manner. Remember to lower the bar slowly as far behind you as possible and pull it over to your chest in a slow and deliberate fashion.
Upright rows. This is an excellent exercise for both your trapezius and deltoid muscles; that is, the back and shoulders. Take an overhand grip on a barbell, which means your palms should be facing your thighs, with your hands six inches apart. Keeping your body straight and stationary, slowly pull the weight up to your collarbones. Keeping the barbell in close, slowly, in four seconds, lower it back to the starting position. Remember that your development will come faster if you work your muscles during both the upward and downward portions of the exercise. Repeat for the prescribed number of reps.
Alternate dumbbell presses. This exercise is a little complicated in terms of proper execution, but it’s an excellent shoulder developer. Clean two dumbbells to your shoulders and sit on a bench, preferably one with a back support. Slowly extend your right arm overhead until it’s locked out, then lower the dumbbell slowly, in four seconds, back down to the starting position as you begin to extend your left arm overhead. Continue until it’s locked out under the resistance and your right arm is back at your shoulder. Try to keep your body as straight as possible, although a slight roll from side to side is permissible as you press and lower the dumbbells from your shoulder to overhead.
Bench presses. Use the performance style described last month, but don’t be afraid to really push for those last few reps on your third set. Your partner should assist you just enough to allow you to complete your repetitions’not to make the exercise easier for you. Remember to concentrate fully during both the raising (positive) and the lowering (negative) portions of the movement.
Behind-the-neck presses. Again, use the same form as outlined last month, but start with a light poundage to warm up your entire shoulder girdle. Take a deep breath before pressing the weight up smoothly to the fully extended position, and then lower the resistance twice as slowly back to the starting position’for two seconds up and four seconds down. Add about 20 percent more weight than your warmup poundage to the bar, and perform two more sets. You may not be as strong on this movement as you were last month. It’s not that you’re becoming weaker, but rather that the previous four exercises involved your deltoids to a greater extent and so your shoulder muscles are more fatigued. Battle through the fatigue to get your prescribed number of repetitions while maintaining perfect form.
Standing dumbbell curls. Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at your sides with your palms facing forward. Slowly curl both arms up until they’re at shoulder level, palms up. Pause briefly in that fully contracted position, and then lower the dumbbells slowly, in four seconds, back to the starting position. Perform your first set as a slow, controlled warmup set, supersetted with the next exercise, and then increase the resistance by about 20 percent.
Lying triceps extensions. Lie on an exercise bench, holding a barbell or EZ-curl bar directly over your chest. Slowly lower the resistance, in four seconds, to a point just behind your head. From that fully extended position slowly press the resistance back up to the top. Just as in the preceding exercise, use your first set as a slow, controlled warmup and then add approximately 20 percent more weight to the bar and perform two more sets, supersetted with the previous exercise, of 10 repetitions.
Stiff-legged deadlifts. You performed this exercise last month as well, but it’s one of the best whole-body movements in existence. Using an over/under grip, in which one palm faces your thighs while the other palm is up, grab a moderately weighted barbell and, with your arms straight, stand upright so that the bar is resting across the fronts of your thighs and your back is straight. Slowly, in four seconds, lower the resistance to the floor, making sure to keep your legs bent ever so slightly and your back flat. Do not lock out your knees. Due to the nature of this exercise, it’s not necessary to use a lot of weight. You don’t want to strain your lower back; you simply want to concentrate on stimulating the muscles that support it. Repeat for the required number of sets and repetitions.
Once again, you train on three alternate days per week, the objective being to stimulate muscle growth with your workouts while giving that growth a chance to take place during your days off. Muscle growth is a slow process, solely contingent on the intensity levels you generate in your training. Train hard, eat a balanced diet’modified to suit your objectives’rest to recover and grow, and by the end of this month you’ll notice a substantial muscle mass increase’which, of course, you’ll need for next month’s routine!
Editor’s note: John Little is a leading innovator of bodybuilding training. Watch for his latest book, Fast Mass: The Max Contraction System. IM