Better to train simple and smart. Judging by the reaction most people to my training philosophy, they must think that pro bodybuilders throw around superhuman weights, perform exhaustive triple drops and negatives, and spend endless hours training every day in the gym. That may describe someone else’s training routine, but I’ve developed a far simpler system that meets my needs.
I rarely vary my routine. It’s always three exercises down for four sets of 12 reps per body part. No forced reps, drop sets or other techniques. Whatever body part I’m training, that’s my routine. And I’m usually done with my workout in 45 minutes.
People who watch me work out are very surprised to see how I train, especially with the low volume of weights that I use. I train with light weights for two reasons. First, I’m a firm believer that to get a high-intensity workout, you have to train with your head, and second, using low volume helps me avoid injuries.
With lighter weights, you can concentrate 100% on the exercise, the motion and the speed of the movement, rather than having to think about getting the weight up that final inch. You can concentrate on the finer points when you know for sure that you can get the weight up.
I used to train heavier in the past, but I’ve found that with lighter weights, I can increase my intensity and my gains. More is better only in terms of intensity, not of poundage.
While this method is instinctively easy to follow, the training itself is anything but. My priority is to put every ounce of mental and physical effort into the exercise. I focus on the burn rather than the weight, something that many beginners fail to do. I continue to add weight on successive sets but make sure to get my reps.
Just because the workout is regimented doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes. My three exercises per body part are chosen form a pool of movements that I favor, and I rotate the order to provide just enough variety in my training. If you alternate the order of your routine, you can provide some variation to your workout. Whatever exercise you do first should get the most effort. Sooner or later, every exercise should become a priority in your workout.
Train with moderately heavy weights so that you can develop 100% intensity in your movement. Work up to 70-75% of your maximum weight — no more — but use 100% of your head in the exercise.
While I stick with 12 reps, I don’t become fixated on numbers. The amount I use comes from experience. I know what works for me, and my ideal happens to 12. You may achieve an optimum pump with a different number of reps. Part of the reason for this difference is genetics. You can’t expect to use my workout and get the same results. You need to experience for yourself what works best for you. Still, don’t forget to try different combinations. If there’s another rep in there, do it.
Also experiment with other training factories — exercises, sets, rest periods and speed of movement — to see which give you the best feeling. Don’t indiscriminately add more weight and try to lift like the big boys. Don’t feel that you must use the intensity techniques many of the pros. Overdoing it can push you into the no-growth zone of over training. Gauge for yourself how your body best responds.
The system I use is ideal given my genetics. With it, I was able to add 25 pounds of solid muscle in the 10 months after I won the light-heavyweight class at the World Amateur Championships in 1993. Though I skipped this year’s Mr. Olympia, there’ll be plenty more of me to see next year, as I plan to add another 15 pounds to my current 235-pound frame.
My streamlined, nothing-fancy system works wonders for me. I’ll leave the gimmicks to the other guys.