Q: I’m getting back into serious bodybuilding after a two-year layoff. I’ve found that German Volume Training is too difficult for me—it’s hard to complete all 10 sets of each exercise with a significant amount of weight, and I’m pretty much wasted the next day. How can I make my workouts easier?
A: Let’s use an analogy. Imagine you’re a novice distance runner. You say, “Running 10 miles a day is too hard for me. What should I do?” What would the appropriate answer be? Maybe something like, “How about not running so far?” Get the picture?
The German Volume Training program is an amazingly effective workout to use for brief periods to stimulate hypertrophy, but it’s not for beginners—and I’m talking beginner in terms of training age. A 25-year-old professional athlete could still be considered a beginner in weight training. True enough, those who have a background in weight training can often regain their previous strength and muscle mass quickly, but that doesn’t mean they can jump into an advanced program like GVT. In fact, overestimating their conditioning is one reason so many weekend warriors quickly become the weekend wounded.
Without a base of muscular endurance a beginner would find it difficult to put the necessary effort into GVT to get the most from it, and the amount of work involved would likely result in overtraining. Ironically, a beginner trying an advanced program can do less-demanding workouts that would be more effective for them but would take less time. That brings up one of the major mistakes novice bodybuilders and weightlifters make: trying to follow the programs of the most elite.
In the ’60s and ’70s popular print magazines, such as Muscle Builder/Power, gave a lot of coverage to the high-volume training methods of champion bodybuilders. One of the most popular champs of that era was Dave Draper, and the magazine often reported that he would perform 20 sets per body-part. The truth, as published on his Web site, is that the “Blond Bomber” trained once a day, about 2 1/2 to three hours per workout, and during a typical workout he would perform five sets per exercise. A beginner trying to copy Draper’s actual workout, let alone the fictional ones being written up in the muscle mags, would quickly become overtrained. It was very unlikely that beginners could even complete those workouts.
The question of optimal training volume is also a hot topic in Olympic-style weightlifting, and I’m often asked to comment on how the elite lifters handle multiple training sessions per day. The elite European weightlifting coaches I’ve spoken with tell me that during the early years of training, their athletes try to increase their volume progressively. The key word here is years. About 30 years ago one U.S. national weightlifting champion attempted to use a lifting program he’d gotten from a coach who’d brought it back from Bulgaria. The result of that brief experiment was that he pulled his hamstrings five times.
I realize that many bodybuilding writers have attempted to create modified versions of the German Volume Training method, but they usually fail to produce the designed results. One reason is that they don’t understand the physiology of the workout protocols they’re changing. Often those workouts, as with Dave Draper’s fictional 20-set sessions, have never actually been used or proven to be successful.
So how would I modify the German Volume Training for you if you were my client? I wouldn’t. I’d prescribe another training protocol until you developed sufficient work capacity to handle an advanced program.
Q: Should calf exercises be performed fast or slowly? I’ve always used strict form on calf work, going slowly though a full range of motion with each exercise, but my calf measurements haven’t changed for months.
A: How about training both ways? The two major calf muscles are the soleus and the gastrocnemius, and each is made up of a different fiber type. The soleus is primarily a slow-twitch-fiber muscle, and the gastrocnemius is mostly fast twitch, so using a variety of training protocols for maximum development is a no-brainer.
Bodybuilders often neglect fast calf work—a big mistake. Look at elite volleyball players, ballet dancers or weightlifters—even without doing any direct isolation exercises for the calves, they often possess excellent calf development. Much of their training involves explosive movements with the calves that develop the fast-twitch fibers.
One way to incorporate fast-twitch training into your program is with barbell jump squats. Avoid dumbbells on this exercise, as it’s too stressful on the shoulders. Use a barbell or a sandbag with handles; the load should represent 25 percent of your bodyweight. Perform 12 reps for five sets, resting two minutes between sets—and wear a good pair of shoes such as cross trainers. Running shoes often encourage pronation of the foot—that is, rolling inward—which increases the risk of injuring the ankles.
When performing jump squats, make certain to go for maximum height, but keep the involvement of the knee extensors to a minimum. In other words, you want your heels to touch the floor for a minimum amount of time. If they do touch the floor during the exercise, you’re probably using too much weight for your present strength level.
I’ve had tremendous success with jump squats in increasing calf development. Using this type of training protocol, I’ve seen gains of 1.25 inches in calf circumference in just two months. Give it a shot!
Q: What’s your opinion of good mornings?
A: Good mornings have been a popular exercise among weightlifters for a long time, although most American lifters prefer to use the Romanian deadlift in its place to develop lower-back strength.
The good morning was also popular among the early professional bodybuilders, a group that believed it was important to be as strong as you looked. One of the greatest of those pros was Bruce Randall, the winner of the ’59 Mr. Universe title in the professional category. He would routinely use 565 pounds for sets of five reps on standing good mornings—knees flexed, back parallel to the floor—and it was reported that he’d done 685 pounds for a single.
The exercise has its critics, but when properly performed it’s effective—even for rehabilitation of lower-back injuries. That said, I would strongly advise against certain variations, such as doing it seated while holding the barbell across the front of your shoulders. That will make it difficult to support the weight—you’ll probably end up dumping the barbell on your knees—and you’ll easily force your lower back into a rounded position, a situation that your lumbar vertebrae will find highly objectionable. Likewise, a standing good morning with the knees locked will adversely stress the spine.
If you’re willing to give the exercise a try, don’t just follow the instructions you find in a book or magazine—nothing takes the place of hands-on instruction when it comes to learning proper lifting form. I would advise you to get instruction from a qualified personal trainer or weightlifting coach.
Q: What’s your opinion of ice massage for increasing recuperation? I’ve heard that gymnasts and football players often take ice baths to help deal with the stress of training and competing, and I thought it might help me recover better so I can train harder.
A: As you say, it’s common practice for athletes such as gymnasts and football players to use ice massage, also known as cryotherapy, to accelerate recovery between workouts. Besides being extremely uncomfortable, however, that practice is at best a complete waste of time. If you do your homework, you’ll find, as I did, that the scientific literature clearly shows that ice massage does nothing for offsetting delayed-onset muscle soreness—a.k.a. DOMS—from either a perceived-pain standpoint or histological studies.
Historically speaking, almost all football teams are understaffed in terms of athletic therapists and medical care. The athletic trainer or therapist cannot effectively attend to all the players who need care. Because of that, ice massage has been the tool of choice for many staff trainers, enabling them to keep players busy while they attend to the remaining 60 athletes. In fact, the lower you are in a team’s pecking order, no doubt the more likely it is that ice massage will be prescribed for you. That is why veteran players from the NHL often refer to athletic trainers as glorified bartenders who just hand out ice bags or ice in Styrofoam cups.
Not only is ice massage a time waster, but it also actually slows down muscle growth and recuperation. Dr. Mauro DiPasquale and many other colleagues agree with me. Inflammatory markers should not be suppressed immediately after a workout, as they trigger the supercompensation mechanisms that elicit the biological adaptations that bring about increased size and strength.
Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.net. Also, see his ad on page 239 of the September 2010 issue of Iron Man. IM