…Have you ever noticed all the people who come into the gym and do the same training every time? You know who they are. They are the skinny guys in the dingy T-shirts, sans belt and with baggy cargo shorts that come down to their shins.
…These misinformed wannabes always do the same exercises, the same sequence of exercises, the same sets, and the same reps and take the same amount of rest between sets and/or exercises. They move their training weights in the same mindless, drone-like ways, never incorporating new or maturing training principles. They usually are accompanied by a so-called “training partner” who does nothing but chatter endlessly about Monday Night’s football game.
…This sad, albeit real, commentary being the case, is it any wonder so many people who ostensibly pump steel look the same year after year?
…Remember muscle growth is caused by a response to varying forms of progressive changes in resistance. In other words, growth occurs as a positive change to imposed stresses. Changing parts of your exercise plan forces your body to adapt to that new stress and this fosters additional muscle growth. Change also increases interest and enthusiasm, helping to stave off boredom and body accommodation.
…So, if you don’t change your training in some way from time to time it’s probable that your mind will rebel and your muscle mass will stop growing. It’s as simple as that. These guys in the gym who all look and train the same-they never ever figure out the nuance that makes one a growing bodybuilder.
…With all the varied ways you can change your training, there’s no excuse for stagnating, at least not for a long time. Yes, even 270-lb. Mr. Olympia, Ronnie Coleman hits plateaus, but there are several ways to keep the muscle gains rocking.
VERY STRICT FORM VERSUS SLIGHT CHEATING
…Most individuals, realistically, do not use good, strict form, being more interested in lifting a lot of weight. They convince themselves that they are getting bigger and better. These body-men suffer from the delusion that total weight lifted always causes a direct one-to- one individual muscle growth hypertrophy response. Well — maybe.
…Do you think that merely heaving up a lot of weight in the two- hands curl most effectively works your biceps, or maybe your lower back and forearms?
…If you have been cheating on your exercise form, it might be better to both lower the weight and slow the movement down for focus and concentration on the individual muscle. For instance, why not work on dumbbell concentration curls once in awhile instead of throwing up a bunch of cheat-ass, swinging barbell curls which just makes your spinal erectors bigger?
…On the other hand, if after every set your biceps burn with fantastic pumps and your biceps are growing and improving, don’t take a vacation from what you are doing. But, if you experience some sudden biceps stall, don’t continue to do what you’ve been doing — instead EVOLVE to a better form of training!
…Jeff Everson notes that there was a time when he did almost all heavy barbell cheat curls with good results, but soon enough he suffered forearm, low back and elbow injuries of a chronic nature and his muscle volume almost seemed to go backwards. Jeff then switched to strict standing dumbbell curls and Scott concentration curls (preacher curls) and his biceps grew like bamboo. (True — it was a form of pygmy bamboo.)
…But let’s be clear. Strict curls are not necessarily better than cheat curls or vice versus. Working the muscle correctly always counts most and change may make all the difference to enhance changes in that muscle.
…You can also vary how you cheat. The “normal” way of cheating in bodybuilding, that is to say, besides using 60,000 mg. per day of steroids, is to use a weight where you can get 6 strict reps. Then you follow by cheating-out another 2 or 3 reps. That works once in awhile, but why not do the cheating reps first and your stricter reps next?
…Say what? Well, after your warm-ups, select a weight heavy enough so that you have to cheat up the first 5-6 reps. Then drop your weight down rapidly and on your second subset, do strict reps of 10 or 12 with no cheating. The mantra might be “cheat then strict,” rather than “strict then cheat.”
HEAVY WEIGHTS/LOW REPS or LIGHT WEIGHTS/HIGH REPS?
…Whatever you do, don’t lock yourself into one pattern of training. Change your training frequently.
…Another kind of change facilitating growth is to change your rep scheme. If you always do 10 reps, your body will adopt to that stress. If you constantly mix up your rep scheme, doing some heavy-weight/low-rep exercises with some light-weight/high-rep exercises, your total muscle mass may be in for a surprise and actually respond better.
…Changing rep schemes work, whether you do it every-other-workout or by weekly cycles. You can even bomb and blitz a muscle group with both high and low reps DURING the same workout. Squats and calf raises are prime examples. You might limit the bulk of your squat sets to reps of 10 or less, but you might want to go as high as 30-50 reps on the calf raise.
…You can vary your workouts on different days, too. You might pyramid up to a heavy triple in the squat one workout and do straight sets of 15 reps your next leg workout. Or maybe you pyramid up to 3-5 reps in the squat and then quickly strip some weight from the bar and do some high-reps.
…Don’t be afraid to evolve! Sometimes, even a set of 50 reps works
…Too many bodybuilders always do bench presses first, then inclines, then flyes. Why? Although in general, you want to work your big muscles in compound movements first when you are fresh, there’s is no rule that says you ALWAYS have to start a workout with multiple joint movements and end it with isolation movements.
…Why not begin every 4th – 5th workout with your isolation movements and do your multiple joint exercises last? For example, begin your chest workout with machine flyes. Then do dips, 35 degree incline dumbbell presses and finally a couple of sets of bench presses. This “changing” may make your chest muscles ache like the metaphorical Instinctive Principle says it should (and this is what that is).
…You’ll find that you have a totally different feeling starting with isolation movements because you are fresh and strong and can handle much greater poundage than you could at the end of the routine. Doing dumbbell flyes with 50’s when you’re fresh is a different stress than doing 30’s when you’re bushed at the end of your workout.
…Many bodybuilders want to be strong on all their exercises. One of the ways to get strong on all exercises is to begin every body-part workout with a different exercise from the previous workout. Start your triceps workout with one-arm dumbbell kickbacks instead of ending it with that exercise as is usually the case. You’ll be able to use much more weight and make sure you are strengthening a multi-headed muscle from all angles.
…Every one of your muscles can be attacked with a number of exercises so there is no excuse for using the same exercises all the time. Changing exercises doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do a completely new exercise, although it can.
…By using a wider or narrower grip on the bench press, and varying your elbow direction, you may hit your pecs in a different way.
Lowering the bar higher or lower on the pecs may work different areas of the pecs (clavicular versus sternal fibers).
…Of course, the angle of the bench can be changed so that you stress different fibers too. The standard theory suggests that the higher the incline, the more you shift work to your clavicular pectoral fibers and deltoids.
FULL CONTRACTION VERSUS PARTIALS, CONSTANT-TENSION REPS AND REST INTERVALS.
…Okay, you can change exercises and sequence. You can change your reps and sets too. What about exercise style? Full range of motion is not always desirable.
…Again, a way to growth is via evolutionary change. For example, change your exercise range. If you normally do full-range movements, from complete extension to complete lockout, try stopping 20 degrees SHORT of lockout, maintaining constant-tension on your muscles.
…We wonder why so many bodybuilders always take the same rest time between sets, for example, 2-5 minutes? Because —altering rest between sets alters “intensity” and changes the type of stress on your muscles too. If you’ve always taken 5 minutes rest between sets and you reduce it to 45 seconds to a minute, you’ll experience a wicked change within your muscles and body in general. And vice versa.
…Remember, in general, the longer you rest, the more immediate recovery and the more weight you can use and — the stronger your muscles become. Less rest fosters vascularity and local muscle endurance. We suggest that you mix it up, varying your between- set-rest time.
NOTHING “SET” IN STONE!
…What would happen if you suddenly used 10% more weight on all your exercises? You might just grow, huh? Instead of doing 4 sets of bench presses for 10-12 reps, instead, try 6 sets of 6 reps? Believe us, your muscles will feel the difference.
…What if, instead of doing three exercises and 4 sets of each for your upper back, you do just two exercises, but do 6-8 sets? Or, what if for only one workout you did 10 sets for chest when you normally do 4 sets? All represent a change in stress, and again, changing stress can lead to new muscle.
SUPER-SLOW OR EXPLOSIVE?
…Several people are now experimenting with slow-speed training. In our view, with optimum slow-speed training, you may take 10-15 seconds to actually make a full repetition, up and down. Believe it or not, this is very intense because there is no loss of motor unit recruitment due to momentum. Seriously, a couple of slow-mo sets can really pump your muscles. But we think the best thing about slow motion is that you greatly reduce your chances of injury because you MUST use lighter weights without jarring or jerking motions (yet the “intensity” or hardness of the lifts stays high).
…In our opinion, less positive affirmations can be conferred upon training with super fast-speed reps, although some trainers are experimenting with this in an effort (they believe, perhaps erroneously) to activate more white or explosive muscle fiber. With super fast reps you move a somewhat lighter weight as fast as you can, with the idea of developing power, the ability to move an object over a given distance faster per unit time. Certainly, it’s a different stress on your muscles.
…If you do fast reps with bodybuilding though, we suggest that you do them only through a partial, mid-range of motion (not to lockout so there is less chance of extension injuries). For instance, seated, supported midrange overhead dumbbell presses to quickly flush/pump your deltoids with blood. This also is a good way to train if you have chronic sports injuries in your capsules that show up at the end of the range of motion, both in full flexion and in full extension.
…Our point is that you may wish to occasionally vary the speed of your reps.
ALTERNATE TRAINING METHODS
…Most bodybuilders “go straight”, meaning they like to do sets in the conventional manner. However, there are many other ways to blast and build, like supersets, compound sets, pre-exhaustion sets, tri-sets, giant sets, partials and extended sets. (Planet Muscle does not suggest that you do forced reps or strictly negatives.)
…If you are dragging, not looking forward to your training, or if you are not getting your usual pumps and have maximized your nutrition and sleep etc, then don’t hesitate to try something besides straight sets.
…Our first Mr. Olympia (1965/1966), Larry Scott, was one of the first top guys to really stress the concept of constant changing of training principles. The Golden Boy with the 21″ loaded guns recommended that for one week you do straight sets for medium reps. Then, the next week you do push-pull training (grouping chest-back and biceps-triceps or quads-hams). The following week you might do compound sets (supersets within the same bodypart group or the same muscle). The next week you might add extended or pre-exhaustion sets.
…In extended sets you take a weight to failure, then quickly strip weights from each side and, without rest, continue another set to failure. With pre-exhaust, you do a set of an exercise that directly fatigues the prime mover, such as lateral raises for medial deltoids, immediately followed by an exercise that brings in additional muscles, but works the prime movers again — like dumbbell presses. Finally, Larry’s next week might be back to a week of straight sets.
…Really, while none of these training systems is inherently superior to any other, their value is in the change.
YOUR SYSTEM — COMBINING MUSCLE GROUPS.
…It would appear that a major problem for many bodybuilders is how often to change their training routine or system. Well, in fact, this is the master nuance of developing as a bodybuilder, to gain an understanding of your body and how it responds (or doesn’t
respond) to a given level of intensity, frequency and volume of work and how various exercises and training methods/days (sets and reps) affect you.
…So, if you’ve been training on a three-day-on and one-day-off system and feel stale, then try changing to a two-day-on, one-day- off, or two-day-on and two-day-off (very few natural bodybuilders can do a four-day-on or five-day-on and a one-day-off routine). In fact, most bodybuilders need MORE rest rather then less.
…Knowing when to change your routine is an evolving process, something you learn over time and doing so helps you avoid the deadly duo of boredom and stagnation.
…Most bodybuilders experiment radically with body part groupings. If you always train your chest with shoulders and upper back with your biceps, there’s no edict preventing you from training biceps and triceps together or training your chest with your upper back. Change the stress — it makes your body grow!
…And naturally, as we mentioned earlier, you should occasionally change the order of your exercises.
Growth is a function of a response to a positive stress or change. Therefore:
1) Do not be afraid to change your exercises or your exercise order.
2) Occasionally alter your body-part training order. You don’t always have to train your calves or hamstrings AFTER your quadriceps.
3) Change your routine system often. Train every other day, to a two-on and one-off or two-on and two-off, or three- on and one- or two-off. Mix it up.
4) Change how you group body parts during workouts. Nobody will arrest you if you decide to train your deltoids with your biceps instead of with your triceps.
5) Vary the amount of time you rest between sets.
6) Vary your sets and weights.
7) Strict reps are good. Cheating in bodybuilding won’t earn you detention after class.
8) Medium-to-higher reps are OK, so are full, partial and constant-tension reps.
9) There is no rule that you have to train at a certain rep speed. You might want to try slow speed training as a way to increase muscle tension.
…Training is evolution. It’s nuance and variety, so use varying training principles to change the stress. Straight sets are the standard, but supersets, compounds and extended sets can jolt any muscle to new growth. Life is really about responding to various changing stresses.
…Progressive positive stress is best for big muscles. This does not always mean that you always have to constantly increase your training weights. That is one way — but NOT the ONLY way to muscle Nirvana. Changing the many known and proven variables that make muscle building happen, forces you to answer to a new stress. Hopefully, evolution will keep your BOD changing and growing!