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The Finishing Touches

Physique refinements for peaking properly

Many people who read bodybuilding magazines believe that the athletes pictured are always in top shape. They’re not aware that, except for training shots, physique photos are taken within a bodybuilder’s two-to-four-week peaking period, usually right before or after a competition. Magazines want to publish only the most impressive physique photos. Consequently, many of the people I’ve spoken with think they need to be in top shape all the time. Well, I don’t know of anyone who is.

In my 48 years of training I’ve been out of shape as often as I’ve been in top condition. Every year my goal is to reach a physical peak relative to my condition the rest of the year. I did that during my 22 years of competition, and I still do it to some extent these days. In effect, I start from scratch every year. After I reach my peak, I go into a maintenance-training phase for a few months, cutting down on my workouts but paying special attention to my weak points. My goal is to improve weak points so that when I start training harder again (usually in the spring), strong points and weaker areas are more evenly matched’and I’ve improved proportion.

Not that I ever get that far out of shape. I’ve learned that if I reach an absolute peak during a year, it’s best to compensate by training less intensely in the off-season. That enables me to put more into my workouts when it counts most. What differentiates peak training from regular training is my focus on finishing touches, which means getting more definition and bringing out all the little muscles without losing muscle mass. It happens gradually during the three months preceding competition or my peaking date. The factors most important for this are:

1) Not trying to lift heavier weights all the time but rather cutting down on rest periods between sets. Normally I rest long enough after a set to be strong for the next set’usually about three minutes. When peaking, I cut that down to about 30 to 60 seconds. If I’m training with a partner, it’s just long enough to let my partner do his set. More work in less time spells intensity and develops definition.

2) Stretching and posing between sets. Immediately after I finish my set, I hold a stretch for 15 seconds and then tense the muscles for 15 seconds. The stretches and tensing involve the muscles I’m working. If I stretch between sets, but I don’t tense the muscles or pose between sets, I’ve noticed less definition because of that. Do both if you want to get ripped.

3) Practice holding poses for progressively longer periods at some time during the day. Training with Arnold in the ’70s, we got together for ‘posing clinics’ after workouts when a competition was near. We’d critique each other’s posing routines and learn the best body positions and sequence of poses, always opening and finishing with our best shots. I’d start with an arms-overhead pose and finish with the stomach vacuum. We’d always do as many photo sessions as possible before a competition because that brought out muscularity. The last two weeks prior to the contest I’d pose at least an hour a day, and that made all the difference. The last week’s workouts weren’t as important as practicing posing. Think about it: Bodybuilding competition is about posing, not working out. Sure, you gotta train, but that’s not what you do onstage. Most competitors don’t practice posing enough. They leave it to the last minute, and it shows. Try working up to holding each pose for one minute and see how your body changes. (The Summer ’03 issue of my Building the Body newsletter is filled with hints on posing to prepare for competition.)

4) My aerobics program usually consisted of running 1 1/2 miles a day. But the last month I discontinued aerobics (aerobics does harden you up, but bodybuilding competition isn’t about aerobics) and devoted that time to posing. Also, I gradually upped my total reps on abs. The last month I’d go to the gym a second time during the day and do a thousand nonstop reps on abs. That generally took me a little over a half hour. I’d do something like crunches supersetted with leg raises, four sets of 50 reps each; Roman-chair situps supersetted with hanging kneeups, four sets of 50; and 200 seated twists. Though I no longer do that, my abs always improved when I worked them every training day with a minimum of 200 total reps.

Diet, of course, is paramount, but that’s a topic for another issue. There’s a lot of free information at my Web site ( In addition, my ‘Train with Zane’ video is packed with exercises and stretches so you can start developing those finishing touches.

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