A Look Into Bodybuilding

how to build muscleIf you know me, you’d never thought that I would have written this.

It’s kind of funny though, because in the past year, I’ve come full circle on my views of building muscle and bodybuilding.

If you asked me a year ago what to do to build muscle, I would tell you to only doing heavy ass combination lifts for full body workouts.  Now, my answer may be a bit different.

Here’s how change works:  at first an idea crosses your mind then you totally forget about it.  A month later, the thought will cross your mind again.  The frequency will then start to increase until it’s all you can think about.  Soon, you are experimenting with your initial thought or you are actually changing something.

The idea of isolating muscles in training first occurred to me a year ago after reading an article by Dan John.  I forget which one it was, but in it, he said something like “as we age, the need for hypertrophy increases exponentially”.  Later on, he then went on talking about doing barbell cheat curls to further develop arm size.

This finally led to me playing around with different types of biceps curls.  Now?  I absolutely love doing curls with Fat Gripz.

Over this past year, I’ve experimented with adding some isolation exercises to my workout routine.  It started out with curls.  Later, it evolved into calf isolation, triceps, posterior deltoid, and upper traps.  Soon, it will be pullovers and loaded abdominal flexion exercises.

My Old Philosophy

Train functional exercises and only functional exercises.

My New Philosophy

If making your muscles grow big is your required function, then do whatever is possible to make them grow (unless it causes pain).

An example of this could be elbow pain and cable triceps extensions.  I know a ton of guys who complain about this pain while training the triceps.  Obviously, my new philosophy would be to stop doing this exercise.  To tell you the truth this pain can easily be taken away by using Fat Gripz or strength bands.  Problem solved.

How to Build Muscle…

If you look at the old body part splits of classic bodybuilders, it seems to be a pretty balanced program.  In Robby Robinson’s The Black Prince, he describes the workout protocol when he first started training at Gold’s Gym:

“…everyone was grouping body parts and working a three-days-on, one-day-off routine.  They were using three to four exercises for legs on a Monday, three exercises for chest and three for back on Tuesday, and nine total exercises for shoulders and arms on Wednesday.  With Thursday off, the cycle would begin again on Friday for their leg workouts.  Everyone in the gym was following the same training routine…”

Later on, he describes the chest and back workout,

“We started with chins and alternated them with the flat bench presses for five sets.  The next exercises were the incline barbell press and the T-bar row for our backs and then dumbbell flies and long pulley rows.  We finished with a barbell pullover press or across a bench with a dumbbell, to chisel in the wide back taper to a small waist look…with only 35 sets, I wasn’t doing nearly as many exercises and it wasn’t as draining as some of my total-body workouts, but it was brutal, with more intensity compressed in half the sets.  This is where I first learned the value of short, sweet, intense workouts.”

I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like the typical bodybuilding workout you find on the internet or in magazines.  It sounds like hard ass work to me.  Another thing you have to remember is that this was before Robby started using drugs to improve his physique.

When Dan John first met Robby Robinson, the biggest lesson Dan learned was that if Robby was plateauing, he would go back and forth between chin-ups and bench press until he couldn’t push out another rep.  Again: hard work.

As you can see, bodybuilders are pretty damn good at getting in a balanced workout.

Body Part Splits

The program above is a type of “body part split”.  For muscle gain, I’m personally starting to think that you need to incorporate a phase like this.  One thing we need to think about though is, should we always be training with a split for muscle gain?  Right now, I say “hell no”.  But here’s my theory:

For intermediate muscle gain, each program should work its way towards a body part split; transitioning from total body to body part splits – general to specific.

So, your phases could look like this:

Phase 1

Total Body 3 Days per Week

Phase 2

Push/Pull Split 4 Days per Week

Phase 3

Upper/Lower Split 4 Days per Week

Phase 4

Body Part Split 3-5 Days per Week

If each phase lasts a month, then you will have a 4 month program geared towards massive muscle gain.  The focus of the first phase should be 99% compound exercises and 1% isolation (if any).  This should evolve into 80% compound exercises and 20% isolation in Phase 4.

A Note on Beginners

I think that beginners should always focus at least a year on Phase 1.  Great programs for beginners are simple ones like 5×5 or Starting Strength or New Rules of Lifting for Life.  After this solid year of Phase 1 (3 days per week full body), they can work their way up to phase 4; month by month.  Once they finish Phase 4, they can go back to another month of Phase 1.

The reason I suggest this is because you need to master the basics before doing some advanced stuff.  The key is to get your body strong enough so that when you start isolating body parts, you can lift with the appropriate intensity to make your muscles grow.

What’s in Store for Me

As of right now, I’m slowly making my way towards 8% body fat using this method.  Upon reaching this goal, I will maintain 8% for a few weeks and then either start a muscle gain program similar to the one above.

I’m not joking.

I think it’s important to experiment with everything before I can figure out what works the best.  This advice could also be taken for guys on the other end of the spectrum – the guys who only do body part splits and high rep drop sets.  I bet you that they could grow way bigger if they played around with full body workouts with minimal isolation exercises and big compound movements every once in a while.

Here’s a secret.  In order to get better, you need to figure out what will get you better.

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