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The Power of Movement

In bodybuilding, everything seems to work if you let it. [But] this is the paradox: If you keep doing more and more in your workouts, your body reaches a point where it responds less and less.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but accepting the efficacy of high-intensity training is difficult for me. In bodybuilding, everything seems to work if you let it. Serge Nubret trained eight hours a day, while Mike Mentzer advocated training every fourth day at most, and both developed great physiques. Lately I’ve read that HIT advocates are training once a week, whether they need it or not. While I don’t believe in training all day every day, I don’t think that training once a week will do much for my body, even if I do static contractions and train to failure. I don’t want to be a failure.

Training every other day seems to be a sure way to get more rest. When I do, I’m more motivated and stronger and train harder in my workouts. Going into workouts with lingering soreness seems to dampen my enthusiasm for more intense training. So when my schedule permits, I rest longer between training days. Training less frequently but harder seems to fit better into a mature bodybuilder’s lifestyle. That’s the key to offsetting overtraining.

Getting into peak condition has always meant increasing the volume of my workouts to sharpen muscular detail. That involves increasing the number of sets and exercises in each workout, along with doing more aerobics and dieting more strictly. The key is to burn more calories by training more (and more frequently) and taking in fewer calories by eating less. The body becomes a slightly smaller, more defined version of its former self. Every time I trim down to gain more definition, I always lose a little muscle size and strength. The overall effect, however, is worth it because I do look better. It seems as if getting in peak muscular condition always leads to overtraining. I’ve had to keep doing more in my workouts as my body adapts to the increasing workload.

This is the paradox: If you keep doing more and more in your workouts, your body reaches a point where it responds less and less. That’s overtraining, and although it eats up bodyfat, it cannibalizes muscle as well. The body eats itself to sustain what’s left of it. The point, of course, is to know when to cut back on training and severe dieting before overtraining occurs. In training for physique competition, I was overtrained one week before the show. By resting more the last week and taking a good three days off immediately preceding competition day, my body rebounded and was up to the task right on schedule.

My workouts have become more abbreviated but more intense in recent years. Whereas I did as many as 70 total sets in a workout (check out some of the workouts in Mind Body Spirit Personal Training Diaries), I now seldom do more than 20 total sets in a workout. Those sets, though, are done with good form, slower negatives than positives and with stretching between sets. I don’t go to failure, but I do incorporate drop sets (decreasing the weight after a certain number of reps when it starts feeling too heavy) when I’m in good enough shape to need them. I always do a drop set on seated calf raises and get a tremendous burn with only one set. So by getting a burn at the end of each set, which is facilitated by drop sets, I’m getting more out of my workout with fewer sets.

I even use static contractions when I do front overhead presses on my Smith machine. On my very last rep I hold the bar in place until it begins to lower by itself. That’s a very intense technique, and it would be too much to do static contractions on everything. It causes deep soreness, and I can’t imagine doing it on every exercise. I’ve spent almost 50 years building my body by focusing on movements. Static contraction has its place, but not on every exercise. I’ve found that workouts that consist of only static contractions don’t build shapely muscle and can result in injuries, such as muscle strains, hernia and broken capillaries. They’re way beyond the limits of a mature person looking for good muscle tone, health and longevity. Heavier weights do build muscle, but there’s a limit to how much your muscles can accommodate. Keep training heavy, and you’ll find your limit’and it will be accompanied by injury. It’s just not worth it.

Developing shapely muscle is all about how well you perform the movement of each exercise’negatives slower than positives, moving the weight through the range of motion to best isolate the muscle you’re working, doing all that with rhythm, getting a pump on every set. Movement is something you can’t explain or show in a book or magazine; you have to see it to know it. In the past I’ve recommended that people come and train with me in my Zane Experience programs in my private gym in San Diego. Whereas that’s still the best method for learning good form in your exercises, there’s now another, less-expensive way.

I’ve just finished filming and editing my ‘Train With Zane’ workout video. The emphasis is on movement. It’s almost an hour long and shows all the exercises in my three-way-split routine. There’s no question about how to do it right’you can see for yourself. By the time you read this, my video will be available. For more information visit my Web site,, or call 1-800-323-7537. IM

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