A top bodybuilder has been quoted as saying that reading some of today’s fitness and bodybuilding magazines is like reading a comic book. We have increasingly been moved to think along the same lines in that we notice there’s often more fantasy than fact contained between the front and back covers.
Articles promising “12 Pounds Of Muscle In 30 Days” or “Two Weeks To Rock Hard Six-Pack Abs” blare out from glossy covers, luring the unsuspecting inside. The fact is, not even the genetically blessed and pharmaceutically enhanced can hope to build twelve pounds of muscle in a single month, and unless you’re already close to single digit body fat, rock hard six-pack abs aren’t going to show up in two weeks without the help of a skilled plastic surgeon.
To help separate fact from fantasy, let’s look at what it really takes in the gym if you want to be a natural champion. Now, this is not a typical sets & reps article. Such articles can have a definite value, but Lee Haney, Arnold Schwarzenneger and the Natural Champ Charles Hawkins could get together and write out an exact routine and it still wouldn’t work for a lot of people, simply because most people would not work the routine. When Arnold, Lee, Hawk or any champion train, they bring a gym bag of confidence, desire, focus and highlevel intensity. Without those and other factors, even the best routine is little more than words on a piece of paper.
The truth is (there’s that word again) that there are a number of variables in successful training. Among these variables are frequency, intensity, duration, volume, use of progressive overload and exact exercise selection. Let’s take a brief look at each:
*Frequency refers to how often you train, both in terms of total workouts and number of training session for specific muscle groups or skill sets. Like each of the variables, this is dependent to a degree on your level of experience. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to break in on a schedule whereby you train the whole body each workout, training three times a week, with at least one day’s rest between sessions. More advanced trainees can split their routines to work different body parts and/or skill sets on different days, but we recommend that most individuals have at least two ‘rest’ days per week.
*Duration refers to how long you train. The duration factor is more of a constant than some of the other factors as beginners, intermediate, and advanced trainees alike should generally follow the same time guidelines. If your goal is building lean mass, increased strength, and/or optimizing your ability to generate maximum explosive power, you should train approximately one hour to an hour and a half max per session. Over and above this time frame intensity and performance begin to degrade, certain unfavorable hormone changes start to occur, and you rapidly approach the border of overtraining.
Remember, when it comes to resistance training, you can train long or you can train hard, but you can’t do both. The idea is to train hard.
*Intensity is a measure of how hard you train. For sake of simplicity, we can measure intensity in terms of approaching momentary muscular and/or cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary failure. A rule of thumb for resistance training exercises is that the last rep of the last set should be the final rep you could do in passable form. We do not necessarily recommend going to complete muscular failure, at least not on a regular basis for trainees who do not fall into the advanced category, and we most definitely do not recommend going to complete cardiovascular failure. The legendary Lee Haney summed it up succinctly when he said, “Stimulate, don’t annihilate.” That principle worked for Lee – it’ll work for you.
*Volume is a measure to the total amount of work performed. Bear in mind that volume is correlated to the other variables, particularly intensity and duration. If you train with high intensity, your volume – and duration – will automatically be adjusted accordingly.
*Exercise selection: It is axiomatic that, all other things being equal, the harder an exercise is, the better it is for you. For maximum results, concentrate on the compound movements that involve more than one joint and muscle or muscle group at a time. Isolation movements do have value, but in general they should be relegated to second tier level. You’ll build twice the size, strength and functional power in half the time by doing such exercises as squats instead of leg extensions, dips instead of tricep pressdowns, and bench presses instead of pec deck flyes.
The secret to getting maximum results in minimum time from your training lies in finding the right combination of frequency, duration, volume, intensity and exercise selection and combining that combination with consistency. In future issues, we’ll elaborate on each of these variables…and yes, we’ll give you sets & reps reps.