The other day I was thumbing through a few of my old muscle magazines, and I had to laugh out loud at some of their absurd titles: ‘I Cried for My Pecs’ (Is that how he finally solved his chest problem? If so, then I’m off for a very productive weep!); ‘No-Frills Calf Workout’ (ever heard of a frills calf workout?); ‘Hercules Reincarnated’ (beg pardon?); ‘Herculean Back Routine’ (Hercules, as you can see, is a very popular figure among bodybuilding journalists). Further back I found ‘Inside Mohamed Makkawy’ (written by his proctologist perhaps?) and ‘Bombing for Arm Balance’ (can ‘Rocket Launching for Symmetry’ be far behind?).
All of those articles promised the moon in muscle growth, but not one of them explained why or how their methods would actually deliver on their promises. There was plenty of rhetoric and advertisements boldly proclaiming to have the ‘secret’ to muscular massiveness. To any student of kinesiology or physiology their claims were ludicrous, and to any layperson wanting to know the best way to train, their claims were downright dangerous.
It seems at times that bodybuilding has forsaken truth for mysticism: If you take this ‘magic’ supplement or perform this ‘magic’ exercise, everything will come your way. These views no doubt persist because of mankind’s inherent desire to take the easy way out. Given a choice, most people will take the path of least resistance.
It’s primarily out of instinct. Our ancestors no doubt discovered that the more energy they conserved while still obtaining the desired results, the more energy they had left for other important activities such as thinking, building, the creation of language and so on. Modern man is no different. If a fellow hears from one chap that he can achieve his objective of increasing muscle mass and strength only through brutally hard training’which, while brief and infrequent, can induce nausea, deep fatigue and momentary muscle debilitation’and then along comes another chap who says all he has to do is increase his supplementation or perform several magical pumping/flushing, high-volume, triple-split, zip-zop, blitz-bomb routines that in no way tax the central nervous system’which is why they don’t work, incidentally’which do you think he’ll choose? If you said ‘the brutally hard routine,’ you’re out of your mind. The magical routine is the more appealing, but unfortunately, it can deliver no results. Whereas one is hard work, the other is, well, a jolly good time.
Let’s set aside the realm of mysticism and concern ourselves with reality. You want a routine that has an efficient, result-producing base from which you can deviate from time to time for the purpose of specialization. What follows, divested of nonessentials, is that routine:
Squats 2 x 15-20
Chins 2 x 8-12
Bench presses 2 x 8-12
presses 2 x 8-12
Preacher curls 1-2 x 8-12
Seated French presses 1-2 x 8-12
The Four Pillars of Hypertrophy:
1) The best routine is one that produces results (muscle growth and strength).
2) Muscle growth and strength are obtained through supply and demand.
3) The greater the demand on the muscles, the quicker the adaptive response from the central nervous system to supply that demand, providing you get enough rest and nutrition.
4) The greater the intensity of your training:
‘ The greater the demand on your muscles.
‘ The shorter the workout.
‘ The greater the need for rest and recovery (48 to 96 hours, minimum).
The Routine Explained
Squats. Performing squats involves no fewer than 15 different muscle groups, which puts squats at the top of the muscle-building chart. To start, place your legs about shoulder-width apart, with the barbell resting on your trapezius muscles, directly behind and at the base of your neck. Step back and away from the bar pins and, keeping your chin up and your back straight, begin your descent. Lower yourself until the backs of your calves come into contact with your hamstrings’a movement that should take four seconds. When you’ve lowered yourself to that position, begin to smoothly ascend back to the starting position, imagining that you’re pushing the floor away from you with your legs. Repeat that procedure for 19 additional repetitions. Add weight and try for 20 again on your second and final set.
Undergrip chins. Chinups, like squats, also work several muscle groups, thereby stimulating tremendous overall muscle growth. To begin, grasp the chinup bar with a palms-up grip (some of you may require straps to reinforce your grip for the required number of repetitions). Slowly begin to contract the muscles in your arms and try to touch the bar to your lower chest when you’ve reached the apex of your ascent. Hold that contracted position for a two count, and then lower yourself slowly (four seconds) back down to the starting position (making sure the latissimus dorsi muscles are constantly contracted throughout the movement). Repeat for at least eight repetitions. Rest for one to two minutes, and then repeat for another set of seven repetitions.
Bench presses. Every third week or so perform this exercise first in your routine in order to test your upper-body progress. When testing for strength, as opposed to building it, do your first set for only five repetitions, rest briefly, and then perform singles with a one-to-two-minute rest after each until you eventually hit a weight that you can’t lift (do no more than five sets of singles). Obviously, a training partner is a necessity for maximum-single attempts; however, when training for muscle mass and power, perform no more than two sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Start by removing the weight from the pins and, with arms locked out, hold it directly over your chest. Lower the bar to your chest in four seconds, pause, and then slowly press the weight back up to the starting position. Repeat for seven to 11 more repetitions. Rest for one to two minutes, and then perform your second set.
Seated behind-the-neck presses. With the bar in the same starting position as in the squat exercise, sit down on the nearest bench. Keeping your back straight, slowly press the weight from behind your neck until your arms are completely straight and the bar is above your head. Lower the bar slowly’for four seconds’to the base of your neck, and then repeat for a minimum of eight repetitions. Rest for one to two minutes, and then do another set.
Preacher curls. Make sure that the bench you’ll be using for this exercise has a very steep (90 degree) incline so that there’s resistance in the position of full muscular contraction. Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width grip, starting from the position of full extension. Slowly’in two seconds’raise the bar to throat level, being sure to hold the completely contracted position for a two count before lowering the bar in four seconds. Repeat for at least eight repetitions. An additional set is recommended for beginners but not essential for advanced trainees. Seated French presses. Although dips are arguably the best triceps exercise, your chest and delts may be too fatigued at this stage for you to train your triceps adequately with that exercise. Not to worry, however, as the seated French press is a great triceps isolator. To perform this exercise properly, grab an EZ-curl bar at the bends nearest the center. Press the weight overhead. Now, instead of lowering your elbows, keep them stationary (beside your ears) and lower only your forearms until your hands are as far down toward the center of your back as they can go. The time structure is the same’two seconds up, four seconds down. Repeat for at least eight repetitions. Beginners and intermediates can do a second set, but it’s not necessary for advanced trainees. ALL Perform this routine three times a week, which will give your body 48 to 96 hours for recovery and growth of the skeletal muscles. If you’re an advanced trainee, work out once every third day (e.g., Monday, Thursday, Sunday, and so on). That will give you 72 hours between workouts, the recovery time your advanced strength requires for muscle increase.
It’s essential to work very hard at these six exercises, as your results will vary with your effort. You should raise every repetition of every set in two seconds, hold the position of full muscular contraction for an additional two seconds, and then slowly lower to the starting position in four seconds. The slower cadence will ensure that it’s your muscles rather than momentum moving the weights, which will greatly enhance your results. When you reach the higher rep number in good form, increase the resistance by 5 percent.
I mentioned earlier that Hercules is popular with bodybuilding scribes, and I’m no exception. It’s been said that there’s a seed of truth in all myth, as for example in a story of Hercules as a young man having to make an important life decision.
Young Hercules saw two women approaching him. One of them ran to get to him first. She was tall and handsome and decked out in bright clothing, with her cheeks rather too red to be natural. ‘Young man,’ she said, ‘I see you’re in doubt about what to do in life’what path of life to follow’and so I invite you to follow me. You shall have the easiest and pleasantest life in the world, no hard work and no dangers’you shall eat, drink and be merry. Others shall work, but you shall have the enjoyment, and you shall be as happy as the day is long.’
Hercules asked, ‘What is your name?’
The woman answered, ‘My real name is Pleasure, but my enemies call me Vice.’
By this time the second woman had caught up to them. Like the first, she was handsome, but in a different fashion, being stately and dignified and of noble bearing. Her dress was all white. Truth was in her eyes and modesty in her manner. She said, ‘Young sir, I know your parents and your breeding and how you’ve been educated and brought up’which makes me hope that you will be a good workman of noble deeds. I will not deceive you with promises of pleasant things, but I will tell you the truth: Nothing that is really good can be got without labor and hardship, for so the gods have ordained. If you wish to enjoy the fruits of this earth, you must plow and sow and reap and mow. And if you wish your body to be strong, you must make your body the servant to your mind and fear not labor and sweat. And just in the same way, if you wish for the love of friends, you must be good to your friends. If you wish for honor from the citizens of your city or your native land, you must work for their benefit, and you must defend them from enemies without and tyrants within. If you choose to follow me, I can make you great and truly happy.’
Hercules asked, ‘And what is your name?’
She answered, ‘My name is Virtue.’
Then Pleasure piped up, ‘See, Hercules, what a hard road she puts before you! Not a scrap of pleasure in it!’ But Virtue said, ‘Such pleasure as she is offering you leads only to surfeit and weariness. He who tries to be happy never succeeds, but he who does noble deeds gains happiness without trying.’
Legend has it that Hercules resolved to follow the hard road and to put away from his mind the craving for pleasure. And so in your training, as in your life, do not be duped by those promising pleasure or the easy way out. As Virtue said to Hercules, ‘Nothing that is really good can be got without labor and hardship.’ That’s especially true in bodybuilding; there’s no such thing as magic in stimulating muscle growth’only labor and sweat.
Coupled with proper nutrition, this routine will provide all of the muscle growth you should ever want. But it requires very hard work and dedication. There’s relatively scant pleasure to be found in this sort of training. The pleasure lies in the results of having trained, in the form of better strength and health and the satisfaction that comes from forging your body in the fire of your will. That’s the hallmark of the true bodybuilder.
Editor’s note: John Little is a leading innovator of bodybuilding training. Watch for his latest book, Fast Mass: The Max Contraction System, in early 2004. IM
‘ 2003 Northern River Productions.