Q: I’m an aspiring natural bodybuilder, and I was wondering if a natural bodybuilder needs more rest than a pro bodybuilder on steroids. For example, should I limit my workouts to four days a week in order to get the amount of rest the muscles need to recover?
A: Yes, a natural bodybuilder needs more rest than a bodybuilder on steroids. I currently train only four days per week, working each bodypart once a week, except for abs and calves.
Steroids enable the body to recuperate much faster through improved protein assimilation and a higher testosterone output. A natural bodybuilder would quickly overtrain if he attempted to follow the same routine as a professional bodybuilder.
I prefer training only four days per week because it gives me three full days of rest. Some bodybuilders like working out five to six days per week, training only one bodypart at each workout’they divide the body over five or six days instead of four, as I do. For example, they might train chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, legs on Wednesday, shoulders on Thursday and arms on Friday.
I don’t agree with that method, as it requires you to hit the gym five days in a row. I believe that hard and heavy training necessitates rest and recovery. I know from experience that my training is much more productive when I have a full day of rest following a heavy workout instead of training the very next day when I’m still wiped out from the brutal session the day before.
When you’re designing a training program, you have to take into account the stress on the body as a whole, not just on each muscle group. Although you may not be overtraining any particular bodypart by hitting the gym five or six days in a row, you’ll most likely be overtraining your body overall.
Using heavy weights on basic exercises such as squats, deadlifts and barbell rows takes a toll on the nervous as well as the muscular system. To ignore that stress and continue to train on a daily basis will eventually lead to overtraining and will slow or kill your progress.
I’m currently training chest, arms and calves on Monday; legs and abs on Wednesday; delts, traps and calves on Friday; and abs and back on Saturday. That gives me sufficient rest between workouts as well as enough recuperation for each bodypart.
I also prepared that schedule with some thought to avoiding overtraining my lower back and shoulders, which are vulnerable to injury because they’re involved in so many exercises. The lower back, for example, works during many basic back exercises in addition to leg training movements such as squats and stiff-legged deadlifts. For that reason, I separate my leg and back workouts by three days to give my lower back plenty of rest.
Since the shoulders play a primary role in both shoulder and chest workouts, it would be a mistake to train the two bodyparts on consecutive days. I set up my routine so they’re separated by four days.
Q: I’m 16 years old, 6′ and weigh 203 pounds. I can bench-press 300 pounds. I’m looking to turn about 10 to 20 pounds of fat into muscle. Can you tell me how much cardio I should do so I don’t over- or underdo it? Also, I’m cursed with thick skin. Any suggestions on helping me get a little bit more vascular?
A: First of all, congratulations on building so much size and strength at only 16. I have to correct you on one of your statements, though. You said you wanted to ‘turn about 10 to 20 pounds of fat into muscle.’ Fat and muscle are two separate tissues; one can’t turn into the other or vice versa; however, it is possible to lose some fat and then build more muscle.
You’re right to assume cardio will help you in your quest to burn excess bodyfat. I recommend starting out doing cardio three days per week. Too much cardio can burn up muscle tissue and affect the size and strength of your muscles.
I recommend performing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. The reason that’s so effective is that your blood sugar level should be very low due to fasting overnight while you were sleeping. As a result, when you begin your cardio exercise, your body will have to tap into stored bodyfat for energy. ALL I prefer using the treadmill for my cardio workouts. I walk at a fast pace for 30 to 45 minutes with the treadmill set at a high incline. With no carbohydrates to use first thing in the morning, my body has to break down the stored bodyfat for energy, which helps me get ripped. You should also closely examine your diet if you want to lose some fat. Make sure you’re eating six small meals per day. That helps stimulate your metabolism, and it lets you better absorb the nutrients you take in. It’s much easier for your body to digest a small meal than a big one. Protein should be your first priority in designing a nutrition plan. Eat some type of complete protein food at each one of your six meals. Some good choices are chicken, turkey, tuna, lean beef, fish and egg whites. You can also supplement your diet with protein drinks, which you would probably find useful, since you’re in school all day.
Carbs are key as well. You have to consume enough complex carbohydrates for energy. You want to choose carbs that are high in fiber and low in sugar (foods that won’t stimulate the pancreas to release too much insulin, which can lead to fat storage). Carbohydrate foods that meet those requirements include oatmeal, brown rice, green vegetables, sweet potatoes and beans.
Stay away from processed and high-fat foods. Most teens regularly indulge in fast food or junk food, but you should resist the temptation and stick with the foods that I recommend. You can do all the cardio in the world, but if you eat too many processed foods, you won’t lose any fat. Diet is much more important than cardio when it comes to reducing bodyfat.
To stay on your diet, plan what you’re going to eat the next day the night before. Prepare your food ahead of time and have it packed so it’s ready when you get up the next day. If you don’t have your food with you, it’s going to be easy to stray from your diet and eat some fast food. Preparation is the key to maintaining a proper diet.
Q: I’m 15 years old, and I want to know the best routine for me to get bigger and stronger lats. I have a pullup bar at home.
A: Chinups to the front of your neck using a wide grip are the best exercise for developing wide lats. At 15 years of age you have a big advantage in performing that movement because you’ll be able to make your shoulder structure wider by doing it. Your bones are still growing, so you should take advantage of the opportunity.
Begin by doing four sets of 10 to 12 reps using your own bodyweight. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder width and pull yourself up until your collarbone touches the bar. It’s extremely important to arch your lower back when doing chins. That will force the lats to contract at the top of the exercise. Hold that position for a second before lowering yourself down for a full stretch. Don’t lock your elbows in the bottom position, as that takes the tension off the lats.
When you get strong enough to easily do four sets of 12 reps on wide-grip chins, start adding some resistance to make the exercise harder. Get a weight belt that lets you attach plates or a dumbbell around your waist.
When I was your age and training at home, I used to wrap a 25-pound plate in a towel and hold it between my legs. After I completed the maximum number of reps, I would drop the weight and continue doing more repetitions until I reached failure. As a result, I always had wide lats. When I entered my first contest at 16, I had the widest rear lat spread in the show.
In addition to chinups, do some rowing movements for the lats. Chins will develop lat width, but you also need to work on the thickness of the back for complete development. Barbell rows and one-arm dumbbell rows are excellent for building thickness into the belly of the muscle. If you combine width and thickness, you’ll build a back that inspires awe and admiration wherever you go.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Natural Mr. Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at www .naturalolympia.com. You can write to him at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free 1-800-900-UNIV (8648). IM