Looking back at my 23-year competitive bodybuilding career, I sometimes reflect on why it lasted so long. From my first contest at age 18 to my last at 41, I managed to continually improve my development, most of the time in subtle ways. At different periods there were competitors who were very good and who beat me, but I remained dedicated to my training and decisive about my goals. As I continued to train and enter competitions, those who threatened my success eventually disappeared from the scene for one reason or another. Job, family, financial burden, loss of interest and motivation all seemed to play a part. It seemed that the lifestyle choices I made led me to improve and outlast competitors. Being a schoolteacher allowed me free summers to focus on getting into contest condition. Moving to California put me in the midst of the champions of the ’70s, and seasonal training helped me reinvent my physique each year and persevere in my workouts until I reached the top.
Simply stated, seasonal training means adjusting the frequency and intensity of your workouts in the same way nature defines and manages each of the four seasons. Each season has a theme or a goal.
Winter has maintenance as its theme.
Springtime means growing’depicted by the color green.
Summer’s intensity is glowing lava, red hot.
Autumn is maturity, harvest, ripeness, not rot.
Maintenance. My physical peak would always come in autumn. That made sense because that’s when all the big competitions took place. By 1968 I was competing only once a year’first for the Mr. America and Mr. Universe and then for the Mr. Olympia. After the tremendous effort I expended getting into top shape, I had to ease into maintenance training. The two themes for maintenance training are healing and specialization. Some kind of injury almost always flared up during my contest training, so I’d get therapy and train around it. Also, I’d ask myself, ‘What needs more work? What bodyparts could still improve?’
Answering those questions, I’d channel my training and focus on improving lagging areas while doing very little for the strong areas. By the time winter turned into spring and I started training everything hard again, I’d have a different look to my body. That was important because judges weren’t satisfied with seeing the same body every year. My goal was not only to be better than everyone else but also to be better than I’d been in the past. The word maintenance is misleading because it implies staying the same; however, the body never stays the same. It’s always changing for better or worse in some way.
My winter maintenance programs consisted of training every other day, working half my body one day and the other half the next. A program that worked very well for me at this time was chest, shoulders, arms and abs one day, and back, legs and abs the other day. I’d do extra sets at each workout for specialization. My goal was to get weak areas to improve, not to bulk up all over and then have to shed the extra pounds later. The longer I trained, the fewer weak points I had. The most recent winter specialization I’ve done included more treadmill and abdominal work.
Growth. Come spring, I felt like training harder. That seemed to occur on its own, as the days became longer. There’s definitely a connection between amount of sunlight and training desire and intensity. As spring ages into summer, the days get longer and longer, and I grow stronger in my workouts. My goal for spring is to gradually build my exercise poundages through consistent workouts.
Since I train with my Zane Experience clients, I get a lot of workouts with many different partners, as spring is my busiest time of the year. I shift into a three-way split routine, training back, chest, shoulders and abs on day 1; rest on day 2; work legs and abs on day 3; train arms and abs on day 4; rest on day 5; and then repeat the cycle. That length of time is perfect, allowing enough time for each part of the body to heal and grow stronger. As a result I’m stronger at each workout. My goal is not only to get stronger and grow more muscle but also to develop more muscular hardness. I’m not pushing for extreme definition’which comes later in the year’just good solid gains.
Intensity. As the summer sun heats up the day, my body feels warmer and stronger. Wearing less clothing also makes me more aware of how I look, so I’m more focused on what I need to do in my training. I compress my workouts into training three days in a row and resting the fourth day, using the same three-way split routine. I need lots of rest with that kind of training, so I take an hourlong nap in the afternoon and start getting a little sun. I limit my exposure to the sun to one hour three days a week on average.
My workout goal is increased intensity, which means doing more work in less time. So instead of pushing for heavier weights in my exercises, I concentrate on doing more sets in less time without sacrificing the amount of weight I use. I rest just long enough between sets to be able to go heavier on the next set. That’s usually not more than two minutes. Typically I do three sets of every exercise, 12 reps on the first set, 10 on the second and eight on the third. I stretch for 15 seconds between sets, and I begin tensing the muscles more right after I stretch to increase definition. I superset a lot during the summer training seasons, as it gives me a great pump and lets me do more work in less time. By the end of the summer, I’m getting closer to what I want to look like for the year.
Maturity. I reach my physical peak during the month of October. The intensity of summer training keeps progressing, and I start adding posing at the end of my training program. I may visit the gym twice on some days, usually to work abs and aerobics for 40 minutes in the late afternoon or evening. My diet becomes very strict, and I have more photos taken to be sure of exactly what I look like from all angles. Then, based on what I see in the photos, I adjust my workouts accordingly. If my lower outer pecs aren’t shaping up, I’ll add machine dips supersetted with decline dumbbell flyes. If my biceps aren’t peaking the way they should, I’ll do drop sets on dumbbell curls. The body matures and peaks, and then the day of reckoning arrives (these days it’s photo sessions, not contests). And then I begin to cut back on my training and dieting and ease into maintenance. That’s nowhere better described than on page 221 of my Personal Training Diaries: ‘Now my training trend has come to completion. I’ve peaked by going through all seasons: winter maintenance, growth of spring, intensity of summer, the colors of autumn leaves are brightest just before they fall’can’t help thinking all’s well and done. Time to fall is time to float, for a lotus blossom.’
Editor’s note: Frank Zane’s detailed Personal Training Diaries are available personally autographed. See the ad in this issue or visit www.frankzane.com to order and check out his other products and services. IM