The idea of joining a health club can be intimating to the beginner. After all, isn’t everyone going to be extraordinarily built and strong? Not necessarily, you see, most gyms are stocked with members trying to either lose unwanted body fat or add some muscle to their frame. Luckily, these days there are plenty of clubs from which to choose. Try to find one that is well equipped and staffed with professionally-certified instructors. Look around the gym and get a feel for its atmosphere. A good club will have an energetic vibe that is conducive to the progress of its members.
Guys train with weights for lots of reasons. Today, before I ever begin to design a workout program for any of my new students, I first learn what kind of person I am dealing with. I learn about their athletic background, asking them if they have ever trained with weights before, and if so, what principles they used and for how long. I check to see if they ever participated in any sports such as gymnastics, football, swimming, etc. I ask them if they have a history of injuries, and I learn about their goals, as I try to find out just what they seek in our sport. In general, I try to educate myself on the person to which I will be offering training advice. Through my experience, learning about the type of person I am dealing with saves the both of us time and energy. As soon as I begin understanding my new student’s goals, I start to explain what natural bodybuilding is all about.
I teach them about some of the basic benefits derived from our sport such as improved overall physique, increased physical strength, the ability to rid unwanted stress, added personal confidence, improved athletic capabilities, a better general appearance with a more positive outlook on life, and of course, (starting right with the first workout) a substantial increase in one’s health. After the novice begins to understand what natural bodybuilding is all about I then proceed to lay out an exercise program designed to meet his or her needs.
I always start new students with a basic workout, training them three times a week, on alternate days. I start them with ten to twelve exercises, with emphasis mostly on the show muscles. On their first week of training, they perform only one set of each exercise. The second week has two sets, and finally, the third week has three sets per exercise. On all exercises, I time them to a one-minute rest period between sets. As they perform each exercise, I check their form, correcting any faults that may occur. I teach them the proper way to breathe, explaining the relationship between exercises and respiration. Moreover, I show them ways to help them achieve their gains faster, which results in an upswing of their motivation. In general, I am trying to get the novice off to a good start by increasing the possibilities of them making it through this first and most difficult stage.
Bodybuilding is like climbing mountains. To reach your highest summit takes great perseverance and fortitude from deep within yourself. As you climb towards the mountains peak, you are bound to encounter obstacles and dangers that can derail your efforts. By using an intelligent and well-planned exercise program as your compass, you are guaranteed to climb the most awesome mountain imaginable, as your goals become reality.
When you pass the beginning stage of bodybuilding, you should be proud that you made it through the most challenging stage and that you are ready to continue onward to the top of the mountain. As you become an intermediate bodybuilder, your enthusiasm should be burning stronger than ever since you have gained more knowledge on how to achieve your quest in the safest and shortest time possible. By applying this strong desire into your bodybuilding lifestyle, you are sure to succeed.
It is important for the intermediate bodybuilder to plan his training into progressive stages. The last thing you want to do is follow a Mr. America style training program, because you would eventually burn out. You have to build your body’s recuperative powers up slowly, increasing the training intensity a little bit at a time. Natural bodybuilders are aware it takes years to become true champions. They also know that once they have achieved their goals, their gains are there to stay for decades.
By applying this bit of sensible advice into your bodybuilding lifestyle, you can be assured of continued gains in the muscle you seek. Realizing that a championship body takes years to develop is a step in the right direction. Too many new trainees think that all they have to do is pop a few Big Ds and presto, instant Mr. Godzilla. It is a shame, because one day they are going to wake up and it is going to be too late. After decades of traveling down the anabolic highway the sport of bodybuilding has finally began to get back on the road towards health and longevity. It is up to you, the natural bodybuilder, to help guide others on this same path by setting an example for the masses to follow. Your presence on the physique stage, at the gym, and in your local community has a positive influence on others…use it and make a difference!
THE SPLIT ROUTINE
For example, the deltoids are composed of three different muscle-heads: frontal, lateral, and posterior sections. Together they make up the entire deltoid region. Now at this stage of the game it would be foolish to concentrate on just one section. Let’s say you’re training the shoulders. Instead of performing the Behind Neck Shoulder Press, Military Press, and Alternate Dumbbell Press, which concentrate mainly on the frontal deltoid, you’d be better off performing the Behind Neck Shoulder Press, Standing Side Lateral Raise, and Bent Over Lateral, which work all three heads of the deltoid region, giving you a more complete and squared off look. By applying this basic idea to your exercise schedule, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy by not having to balance out your physique’s symmetry later on. In addition, you will have a better understanding of your body’s proportion, shape, weak, and strong points.
Now, there are many different variations of the split routine. When advancing from training three times a week to the split system, I usually suggest breaking the body parts up into two separate routines, training a total of four times per week. If you have a year or more of steady training, and your goal is to pack on slabs of muscle and gain loads of strength, then four weekly workouts is for you. For example, on Monday and Thursday, you could train your chest, back, and shoulder groups, and on Tuesday and Friday, you could devote your energy to bombing your thighs, calves, arms, and abdominals.
Many of my students do well with this type of training system. The body easily accepts the transition from three workouts per week to four. As a matter of fact, a good deal of my students usually go on to add a fifth training day by performing some light work on their weaker body parts.
HIGH OR LOW REPS?
After training for several decades, I’ve learned that my body responds best to a low to medium rep scheme, which for me is between three and ten reps. After warming up with a light set or two of high reps, I usually perform my heavy sets in the range of five to six repetitions. On exercises such as the Full Squat, Parallel Dip, and Deadlift, I gradually add weight through the sets until I have reached a peak of one to three heavy repetitions. I like the way the heavy weights feel and enjoy the big gains they bring to both my physique as well as my strength. Remember, when training heavy it is important to warm up by gradually pyramiding the poundage from a light weight to heavier poundage in order to prevent the risk of serious injury.
When teaching beginners how to train, I combine high repetitions (twelve or more) with light weights so the new trainees learn how to perform the exercises prescribed in a proper and complete form. The trainees find that this combination puts little strain on the actual muscles being worked, and helps to ensure that they will continue with their bodybuilding ambitions. Although the higher repetitions provide less resistance than the heavier steel, they do build more endurance than the lower range of repetitions. The higher repetitions also tend to pump more blood into the muscles and help add new growth to the body part being trained. If you have a muscle group that does not respond well to a low/moderate repetition scheme, performing higher repetitions may be what is needed to shock that stubborn area into new levels of growth.
HOW MANY SETS?
When the educated and well-spoken Mike Mentzer came along, he rocked conventional thought. Mentzer believed that training intensity, not volume, was responsible for his championship form. In his younger years, he had built a championship physique through high volume training. However, he believed bodybuilders could make similar if not better gains through a training concept he coined, “Heavy Duty.” Mentzer believed bodybuilders could train hard or they could train long, but could not do both. He equated a bodybuilder trying to perform high volume with high intensity to a runner trying to sprint a marathon. In his opinion, it was impossible to do both.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Too many exercises, sets, and reps will only hamper your ability to recover from your grueling workouts. Through many decades of training at various gyms, the one mistake that I have repeatedly witnessed by bodybuilders is that they continuously overwork the muscles that they are trying to grow. Unfortunately, this only leads to fatigue, decreased strength, loss of muscle mass, and an increased heart rate, with little desire to return to the gym. When searching for your training threshold, gradually increase your workload to meet your body’s recuperative powers. Be patient. It will take some trial and error to find your training limit, but once you do, you will be better able to navigate your training towards greater gains without having to worry about the negative effects caused by overtraining.
DANGERS AT THE GYM
Probably, the biggest reason for injuries in the gym is when trainees try to lift more weight than they could possibly handle correctly. When it comes to using too much weight, I can write volumes on this. We are all guilty of pushing beyond our normal limits and I am no exception. I have crashed to the floor plenty of times when squatting heavy and have had more mishaps than I care to remember. However, if there is one exercise that trainees love to push more weight than they can handle, it is the Bench Press. Don’t ask me why, but the Bench Press has become the standard in the gym by which we measure our strength. In the old days, when someone asked how much you could lift, he or she was referring to the Military Press. This lift has been replaced by the Bench Press, which in my mind is an inferior upper body movement when compared to the Parallel Dip. Using too much iron in any exercise is a sure way to experience a serious injury. If you cannot control the poundage you are lifting within its biomechanical boundaries and if you have to jerk the weight in order to lift it, then that is a good indication that you are using more weight than you could handle.
Personally, I rarely use spotters. Nevertheless, if you have been training for a year or so you might want the benefit a spotter can bring to your workouts. Spotters are of particular benefit when maxing out on power-lifts such as the Bench Press and Squat. Many bodybuilders have seriously been injured while performing these movements and having a spotter by your side is one way to avoid injury. Make sure the person spotting you is strong and focused on what you are doing. The last thing you want is for him to be checking out some fitness babe while you are attempting a new, personal record.
The Cheating Principle allows muscle builders to train beyond their normal capacity and therefore should only be used by advanced lifters. This principle takes the muscle beyond its point of failure and can literally force it to grow. I like to use cheating movements to further my gains. Being a bodybuilder that likes to train heavy, I incorporate the cheating principle quite a bit into my training, but as I perform an exercise, I am sure to feel the resistance constantly in the muscle desired as I move the weight in the line of the exercise. When applying this principle to your training, make sure not to overdo it as so many trainees do. You must feel the weight in the muscle being worked. For example, when performing the Cheating Curl movement you should feel the biceps receiving stimulation throughout the entire exercise. If your back starts to spasm, it’s probably a good indication that you’re handling an excessive amount of steel.
Overtraining drains the bodybuilder’s energy and retards his progress in the gym. It is virtually impossible for the bodybuilder to make gains when in an over-trained state. Overtraining interferes with both the muscle and the nervous system’s ability to recuperate because it severely depletes our body’s glycogen stores and puts our metabolism in an unsettled state. We have all over-trained at one time or another. When I’m at the gym and have some extra time, I like to keep lifting the steel until the gym closes for the night. Sometimes this can be up to four hours of heavy bombing, which definitely falls into the category of overtraining. Have your basic workout planned before you enter the gym and when you are finished, put the barbell back on the rack and leave. Use your time wisely.
Another neglected factor in the gym is priming the muscle area to be trained. I remember Bill Pearl’s words in an article he wrote about warming up. Simply put, Mr. Pearl stated that if you did not have the time to warm up, then you did not have the time to train. Makes sense to me. Think of it as getting in your car on a cold winter morning. You wouldn’t just start the car and speed off…would you? If you had any kind of sense you would let the engine run a while as it primed its pistons for the road ahead. The same rule applies to weight training. If we neglect to prime our muscles before we lift the heavy stuff we are definitely going to breakdown our motors and crash before we get on the highway. A warm up is usually a high rep, low intensity, quick-paced exercise, or two, used to increase blood flow to the muscles. Performing a few light movements raises the temperature of the involved muscle, while decreasing blood viscosity and promoting flexibility and mobility. This is because a muscle with blood coursing through it is more elastic and pliable than a cold, stiff muscle. When I begin my workouts I start slowly, using very light weights, and increase the poundage with each set I perform. I am especially sure to warm up on every power movement I perform. For example, I usually perform the Barbell Squat in the middle of my thigh routine. Now, even though my thighs are burning by the time I get to the squats, I am still sure to start the exercise with a very light weight and get my form in a correct line before I increase the poundage. Warming up is necessary for a safe journey.
Negative Reps is another training principle that can cause muscle builders painful injury. I find that negative reps are one of the most difficult and dangerous of all weight-training principles. This is because the amount of resistance used is overloading the muscle that is being trained. When bodybuilders train, they normally use weights that they are capable of moving in a positive motion. When negative (eccentric) movements are incorporated into the workout, heavier resistance is needed. To train in this manner you need an experienced spotter or a machine designed to move the poundage from you in a concentric motion.
Keeping your mind focused on what you are doing in the gym can prevent disaster. The easiest way to hurt yourself, or someone else, is not to pay attention to what you are doing. Years ago, while getting some 45lb weight plates off the plate-rack, I accidentally dropped one on my foot and instantly felt an intense pain that sent me soaring. Now, I did not drop the weight because it was too heavy, I dropped it because my mind was elsewhere and not focused on the task. The same applies to your training. When in the gym, watch the advanced bodybuilders and see how focused they are in their training. It is this kind of intense focus that helps prevent them from experiencing injuries. Their minds are in tune with their muscles. Once you acquire this same ability to focus, you too will enjoy years of injury-free training. One ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure!
When it comes to training accessories I have never had the need for knee-wraps or a lifting belt, but I have used training gloves and do use wrist-wraps on rare occasion to aid in my grip when pulling very heavy steel. Using knee-wraps during heavy squats may help to protect your knee joints. They do this by helping to increase external pressure and by distributing the strain across a larger area. Similarly, a lifting belt acts like a layer of muscle across your lower back as it distributes the strain of the weight away from your lower lumber area and into the belt itself. Bodybuilders find wrist-wraps useful during heavy lifts such as the Deadlift, Shrug, and Row. Wrist-wraps not only help prevent the lifters from dropping the heavy steel, but also allow them to lift heavier because they are attached to the bar and don’t have to worry as much about their grip. Earlier in my bodybuilding career, I experienced a tremendous amount of callus buildup on my hands. I was training several times a day and the calluses were very thick and covered my entire palm as well as my five fingers. I bought a set of weight training gloves and they seemed to help a bit with the callus problem. However, because of my intense lifting, the gloves kept tearing apart. Finally, after a dozen or so pairs I decided to call it a day and just train bare handed.
IF YOU EXPERIENCE AN INJURY
COMMON SENSE BODYBUILDING
Train for gains not strains. It is a great thing to lift mountains of steel as long as you do not fall and crash along the way. Know your limits! Be patient and give your body time to develop its maximum strength potential. When training with heavy steel be sure to have someone spotting you as a safety precaution. A good way to help guarantee steady gains with your training is to have a workout partner who is motivated and willing to push to the limit. Having someone there when you need to force out an extra rep or two is a great and safe way towards continued progress. Train with a partner who’s at the same stage of development and strength as you and who will be there to motivate you on days when you are down in the dumps.
Have you ever noticed that guys with he-man size physiques tend to get some extra respect wherever they go? Make no mistake about it, size matters, and the bigger you are the more you’re going to standout. Once you reach he-man proportions, you may be surprised to notice that people who were a bit unkind to you in the past have now become downright friendly. Now on the other hand, nothing turns a woman off more than an egomaniac who is full of himself. Learn to act in a low-key fashion while in the public view, and take an interest in what others have to say. The bigger and stronger you become the more essential it will be to develop a friendly personality. It’s just not all about you, and the sooner that sinks into your muscle-man brain the better off we’ll all be. While being dedicated to your bodybuilding is great, don’t forget to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Every once in a while take some time out from your training and experience the world around you. When on vacation forget about the steel and take a hike, swim, or just relax and take it all in. Advanced bodybuilders are like living works of art. Wherever they go, they bring their creation with them. Some guys like to display their masterpieces every chance they get. Men with muscle cars don’t race them at every corner they turn; the same principle applies to you, save it for the competition.