Q: Are the high-volume workouts used by pro bodybuilders in the 1970s effective?
A: The bodybuilding magazines of the ’70s and ’80s frequently included workouts that were seemingly impossible. Twenty sets per bodypart, hours upon hours of heavy weights, taking nearly every set to failure and often collapsing to the floor in exhaustion. Amazing! The truth is, however, that those workouts were often made up to embellish the story, to make the subject of the article seem larger than life.
That said, a system of planned overtraining can be very effective for blasting through strength or size barriers, but I usually give workouts like these to elite trainees or to athletes with competent coaches who can drive them to complete the sessions. Why? Because the program is so difficult that it’s extremely tempting to quit. With that warning, let me tell you how to do it right.
I’ve used this method, which I call the super accumulation program, with the athletes of the Canadian national speed-skating team for years, and they’ve won a record number of medals. Twelve members of the Canadian national luge team also used my program. In 1991 I prescribed the workout to the luge athletes and then had to leave for three weeks; when I came back, I found that four of the athletes, including André Benoit, were physical and mental wrecks. They had obviously overtrained. One athlete said in all seriousness that he thought he was developing Parkinson’s disease! The eight others obviously had made some compromises to make the workout easier, as they did not display signs of exhaustion.
The kicker is that after a five-day layoff, the four athletes who did the program as prescribed showed significantly greater increases in strength than those who did not. How much stronger? Benoit ended up being able to perform wide-grip pullups with 123 pounds, an accomplishment that earned him the nickname “The Flying Squirrel.” In fact, the following year at the Albertville Olympics, Benoit and his partner Bob Gasper broke the Olympic record for the fastest start in the luge.
This program focuses on reaching a higher stage of resistance by creating deeper inroads into recovery ability. Think about a coiled spring. The more you compress it, the more powerfully it will recoil when released. The trick is to ensure that you provide enough rest after that inroad is created.
When most trainees get weaker, they stop. On this program that’s a mistake. You have to go until you get much weaker. You must shoot for a drop of 20 percent in strength. So if the weight you use for a certain exercise is 100 pounds for sets of eight, then at the end of the two weeks you should have a hard time doing sets of eight with 80 pounds. If you lose more than 20 percent, that’s even better. I’ve seen guys lose as much as 40 percent. Genetically skinny guys, ectomorphs, may lose more. Mesomorphs may lose less.
Try this type of training if your main goal is hypertrophy. You’ll be training nine times a week for two weeks on this schedule:
Monday, Wednesday and Friday: Train twice per day
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings: Train once per day
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
A1: Back squats, 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0 tempo, rest 100 seconds
A2: Leg curls, 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0 tempo, rest 100 seconds
B1: Lean-away chinups, 5 x 4-6, 4/0/1/0 tempo, rest 100 seconds
B2: Dips, 5 x 4-6, 4/0/1/0 tempo, rest 100 seconds
A: Snatch deadlifts on platform, 10 x 6, 5/0/1/0 tempo, rest 3 minutes between sets
B1: Seated dumbbell presses, palms facing each other (semi-supinated), 5 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0 tempo, rest 100 seconds
B2: One-arm dumbbell rows, 5 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1 tempo, rest 100 seconds
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday Mornings
A1: Front squats, 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0 tempo, rest 100 seconds
A2: Kneeling leg curls, 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0 tempo, rest 100 seconds
B1: Close-grip pronated pullups, 5 x 6-8, 3/0/1/1 tempo, rest 100 seconds
B2: Incline dumbbell presses, 5 x 6-8, 3/1/1/0 tempo, rest 100 seconds
After you train to near death for two weeks and then take five days off, now what? Go to the gym and do your Monday morning workout from the loading phase. Take a day off. Then do Tuesday’s workout. Your goal here is to evaluate your progress. Prepare yourself to see some major gains. After that you can start the cycle all over again if you choose.
You will find that this type of program is extremely difficult, but it helps to keep your eyes on the prize. If you can get through the two weeks of loading and then properly execute the five-day recovery period, you will exceed your previous strength and muscle-building goals.
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.com. IM