A few weeks out from Jay Cutler’s attempt to win his fifth Mr. Olympia title, I was on the phone with him talking about his preparations. When I asked him for an updated training split, he gave me one but was quick to point out that it wasn’t very accurate. It wasn’t that he was trying to keep any secrets from his rivals. “If you ask me what I’m training tomorrow, I honestly don’t always know,” he said.
That will sound lazy or haphazard to many of you. Maybe he’s such a genetic freak that it doesn’t matter what he trains or when. Not so, though I won’t argue his freak status. Jay knows well after 20 years of training that rigidly following a specific sequence isn’t always in his body’s best interest. For example, he had trained legs the day before we spoke. Normally, according to the split he listed, chest would follow, but a brutal quad workout in the late morning and hamstrings and calves in the evening had wiped him out. Even after four meals were down the hatch the next day, the reigning Mr. Olympia didn’t feel up to hitting a large bodypart like chest. Instinctively, he knew that if he did, he wouldn’t be able to give it his best. So instead, he trained arms.
To many bodybuilders, breaking the sacred sequence of the split and training anything out of its assigned order would be blasphemy. When they say rules were meant to be broken, though, it truly applies to training. Keeping an open mind and being flexible will spell greater success for you in the long run than blindly adhering to stringent stipulations. I can rattle off a few cases for you.
Let’s say that no matter how great your technique on squats or deadlifts or how much you warm up, you find that you always hurt your lower back doing them, resulting in crippling pain that severely hinders your training for weeks or months afterward. If you listen to what your body is trying to tell you, you’ll drop those two exercises from your routine. Many, of course, would stubbornly persist and continue the endless cycle of injury and rehabilitation for no reason other than “everyone knows” you have to do squats and deadlifts.
Or say you’re like me and arms are a weak point on your physique. Training dogma insists that arm growth is best achieved through the use of free-weight staples like barbell curls and skull crushers in the eight-to-10-rep range. Perhaps you’ve followed that doctrine for years and have nothing to show for it but notice that you do get better contractions in your biceps and triceps when you use more machines and cables and bump the reps up to 12 to 15. Sadly, most bodybuilders wouldn’t dare switch, because “everyone knows” heavy free weights are the best way to build huge guns.
Back to the original issue of working -bodyparts in sequence—Why should you have to do that? Maybe you have a certain bodypart that responds so well and grows so easily that you could and probably should only train it every other week or even less frequently. That would enable you to devote more time and energy to the other areas of your physique that need more attention. It would be foolish of you to adhere to the idea that you can’t train any bodypart until every other bodypart has also been trained—but it’s very common.
The bottom line is that you should never blindly accept anything regarding training as being the gospel truth, whether you heard it from someone, read it in a magazine or online, or it’s something that’s been passed on for generations in gyms all over the country. The rules of training are that there are no rules. Try out as many different exercises, rep schemes, splits and so on as you can, and use your experience and results to determine how effective they are. In the end, all that will ever matter are your results.
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.