Recently, four-time and reigning Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler has been posting a lot of training videos on his Web site, www.JayCutler.com, as well as on YouTube, as he begins gearing up for his attempt at a fifth title. Rather than simply be grateful that they have so much access to the world’s top bodybuilder—for free, I might add—many have expressed their disapproval of Cutler’s training style.
The main complaint seems to be that Jay doesn’t train as heavy or with as much intensity as they feel he should. “I train harder than that,” is a common refrain. “His last rep doesn’t look that much harder than his first!” They frequently point to Branch Warren and Ronnie Coleman as two examples of men who do in fact exhibit the strength and intensity in the gym they feel is sufficient. Both are, or were, known for handling stupendous poundages and filling the air with grunts, groans and curses. Jay definitely appears more subdued in the gym. Yet he’s never dodged the issue of “not training hard enough” and makes no apologies for his workout style.
He trains as heavy as he needs to in order to get the feeling in the muscle he is after, and no more. As he often points out—you’ve heard it from me many times—bodybuilding is not weightlifting or powerlifting. You do need to become stronger to gain mass, but that becomes less critical the longer you’ve been training. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can continue getting stronger forever. Eventually you either reach your full potential, or you accumulate so many injuries that training superheavy becomes impossible.
Younger trainees simply can’t grasp the concept. It’s like trying to explain snow and ice to an isolated tribe in the Amazon rainforest. When you’re young, your body is amazingly resilient. You can abuse it in any number of ways, and it bounces right back. I vividly recall hurting things like my shoulder or lower back in my early 20s and feeling fine again within days. Now, in my early 40s, that would be more like months.
Jay turns 38 this year and has been training hard and heavy since he was 18. He knows all about injuries. For several years he suffered from bulging disks in his lower back that made it impossible for his right arm and leg to receive the proper nerve signals, and they became noticeably smaller than his left arm and leg. He’s also had the standard wear and tear that you’d expect would bedevil a 300-pound longtime trainee.
Jay goes to at least one type of therapy such as chiropractic or deep-tissue, a day. He spends more money on various therapies to keep his body “tuned up” than many Americans earn in a year. Do you really think he would want to risk even more injuries and issues by training heavier just to satisfy bitter fans who can never build the mass Jay has achieved?
Just to remind everyone: On a scale of genetic gifts, Jay Cutler is higher than 99 percent of the population. In his first year of training he went from 180 to 250 pounds. Okay, start theorizing that chemicals made it all possible, but I’ve seen plenty of young men use plenty of drugs in my time, and I’ve never seen a progression as rapid as Jay’s. When it comes to getting huge or ripped, it’s tough, sometimes, to admit the reality of rare “freaks” who have outstanding genetics. Hey: You work twice as hard as Jay does for 10 times as long and see how far you get.
I’d like to draw a comparison between Jay and a theoretical UFC champion. Let’s say there’s a UFC heavyweight who wins every time he steps into the octagon. Suppose he isn’t known to train as hard as his opponents in preparation for fights or even as hard as most of the other fighters. Still, every time he fights, he emerges victorious. Who’s going to go around saying he doesn’t train hard enough? I seriously doubt whether average UFC fans would even care. They’d just enjoy watching him win every time. Yeah, yeah, that’s an oversimplified analogy, and fight prep is critical, but you can see the point.
Bodybuilders want to believe that the hardest-training man is always going to be the champion. In the case of Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman in their competitive prime, maybe that was true. With Jay, though, it’s more like the smartest-training man is the champion. Let’s not forget, either, that Steve Holman has been pointing out in IRON MAN for a few years that with higher training volume, you don’t have to go to total failure on your sets to make gains. Cutler has always trained with very high volume.
So how hard should the rest of us train? I say as hard as you can, safely, and with an eye on recovery. Nobody can train superheavy all the time and to complete failure, week after week and year after year, without consequences. Eventually your body will start to show signs of wear and tear. Had I realized that early on, I definitely would have incorporated periods of doing higher reps or supersets instead of spending my teens, 20s and 30s constantly beating up my joints and connective tissues with heavy, heavy weights every time. I’m certain I wouldn’t be dealing with arthritis in both shoulders, a big bone spur in one, elbow tendinitis and recurring lower-back pain. I’d probably be the same size, perhaps bigger.
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.