Chris Dickerson’s Training Philosophy (1981)

ironman-bodybuilding-fitness-magazine_1_e0f34dbdfd438d197511a149b6118c7d.jpgIt’s difficult to elaborate on my bodybuilding philosophy. Bodybuilding has become such an integral part of my life that it’s almost impossible for me to identify where the bodybuilding stops and the rest of my life starts.

I think it’s important initially to understand that bodybuilding is my life, and it has been my life since I became serious about the sport 15 years ago. To be a truly great champion in any sport — and particularly in one as all-consuming as bodybuilding — you must be so dedicated that the sport becomes completely woven into the warp and woof of your life.

What I can do in this article is give you my views on five factors crucial to any man’s (or woman’s) success in bodybuilding. These factors are training, nutrition, rest and recuperation, mental attitude and skin preparation. Let’s look at each of these individually.


In championship bodybuilding today it’s impossible to train with any principles that aren’t included in the Weider System. Like almost every champion bodybuilder, I cycle my training over the course of a year. My goals in the off-season are, first to improve my weak areas so they compare favorably with the rest of my body and, secondly, to continue adding muscle mass over my entire body. In my pre-contest cycles I strive to achieve maximum definition and to refine my body even more than I had for my latest previous competition. Every show I try to get better and better, and if I didn’t constantly improve, I don’t think I’d stay in the sport.

For the benefit of readers that are not familiar with how I train, let’s review my training methods. In general terms. In the off-season, I do a total of 8-15 sets per bodypart (sometimes slightly more on a lagging muscle group). I train six days a week on a split routine and generally my reps are in the 6-10 range, with the weights being as heavy as possible. Despite the heavy poundages. I use strict form on all sets, except for a cheating rep to two at the end of a set.

Before a contest I’ll gradually up the total number of sets to 18-25 per muscle group, and I favor isolating the muscles as much as possible. I also train much faster (20-30 seconds rest between sets, versus 45-60 seconds in the off-season). As a result, my exercise poundages are lighter than during the off-season.

I caution novice bodybuilders to remember that my methods are appropriate only for high-level competitive bodybuilders. You’ll have to pay your dues with less-severe workouts for several years before embarking on one of my routines. The biggest mistake that younger, inexperienced bodybuilders make is they overtrain. Don’t make this mistake, because it’ll only slow your progress.


The only concession I’ve had to make in bodybuilding as I’ve grown older (I’m now 40) has been in the area of nutrition. Everyone’s metabolism begins to slow down at about age 30. I just can’t get ripped up anymore on the type of diet I used to follow. I can’t use milk products during the pre-contest phase now, and I can’t eat junk foods more often than once or twice a week in the off-season.

During the off-season I try to follow a balanced diet that includes some milk products, white meats, red meat, eggs, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, salads, seeds and nuts, and other health-promoting foods. Since cooking ruins many of the vitamins, minerals and enzymes, it’s best to eat foods. Since cooking ruins many of the vitamins, minerals and enzymes, it’s best to eat foods that are as lightly cooked as possible.

I supplement my diet with extra vitamins and minerals all year round, but I use less during the off-season than just before a contest. When the pre-contest diet becomes very tight, a bodybuilder simply has to use food supplements to provide necessary nutrients that aren’t contained in the diet. Without the supplements, nutritional deficiencies can occur, and they keep you from reaching the highest possible peak.

My pre-contest diet starts with a gradual elimination of those foods that keep me form getting cut up. I get down to my strictest diet 4-6 weeks before competing. At its tightest, my diet consists of only broiled fish, broiled skinless chicken breasts, salads, fruit (twice a week), water and black coffee. It’s a struggle to stay on such a diet., but it really rips me to shreds!


If rest and recuperation weren’t so vital, I’m sure Joe Weider wouldn’t have written so many articles on it over the years. Indeed, without enough rest — which allows to proper recuperation — your body will simply not respond efficiently to the training and nutritional stimuli you give it.

I’ve often seen young, inexperienced, overly enthusiastic bodybuilders do marathon workouts and then miss out on their sleep by running around with their friends most of the night. This combination causes them to recuperate so little between workouts that they can actually lose muscle mass instead of making gains. What a horrible return for all the training effort put forth.

Except for the last few weeks prior to a contest — when it’s actually desirable to slightly overtrain — less training is usually better than more. Train less, sleep more, and you’ll recuperate so efficiently that your muscle growth rates will astound you.

I’ve found that I need a minimum of 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sound sleep every night. I also have to keep my mind as tranquil as possible, even though this is difficult before a major event like the Mr. Olympia. For full recuperation you have to plug every energy leak, including mental and emotional leaks.


A proper mental attitude is essential because your mind literally controls your body. The mental outlook of any champion bodybuilder going into a competition is consistently super-positive. Each champion has already rehearsed his victory in his mind a thousand times. He’s so sure in his mind he’s going to win that the actual act of winning it often somewhat of an anticlimax. It’s merely a matter of playing out the scenario before and audience.


I’ve personally been blessed with smooth and supple skin that seems to cling to my muscles. This is inherited, but the skin tone takes hours of sunbathing. And the luster of my skin comes from regular rubbings with almond or avocado oil. Just before a competition this oil massage becomes vital. Onstage you look like a diamond as the light reflects of a thousand hardened muscle features.

I would suggest that every bodybuilder spend time tin the sun, even though his skin may be the hue of ebony. Not only does that sun darken the skin, but it also tightens the skin by drawing subcutaneous water from the body. This tightening effect is vital because it makes the skin look thinner and the muscles stand out much more boldly.

Be careful with the sun. Don’t try to blitz a tan a week or two before competing, because you’ll undoubtedly burn yourself. Of course, sunburn is painful. More importantly, sunburned skin holds water like a sponge as the injured tissue tries to repair itself. This inevitably makes the skin look thicker and looser than normal, rather than tight and thin, as it would be when exposed to the sun correctly and over a long period of time.

The best times, to apply oil to your skin are when you’re going out to sunbathe and after you shower. Rub it over the body evenly and then massage it as deeply into the skin as possible. Even if you showered again right afterwards, oil would still remain in your pores. When the pores opened to sweat the oil would flood out to cover the body and reflect additional muscular highlights.


If you’re lucky enough to have good heredity and you’re persistent enough to stick with training for a long period of time, my five bodybuilding philosophy factors will help you to one day become a champion yourself. And even if you’re already a title winner, following the suggestions in this article will allow you to become an even greater champion. Just dig in and go for it.

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