By Greg Merritt Flex
HALF SCIENTIST AND HALF MONSTER, BEN PAKULSKI IS THE DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE OF BODYBUILDING.
No one in the IFBB Pro League today applies greater scientific rigor to their workouts than Pak- Man. Armed with a degree in kinesiology, he is forever seeking the latest training research, and if you’re lucky enough to converse with him, he can explain the proven logic behind the technique of his every exercise. So he’s Jekyll, the scientist. But he’s also Hyde, the monster (in a good way).
Hyde-like, he’s capable of conquering bar-bending weights, and he brings a ferocious intensity to the gym. At first glance, some of his methods seem bat-crap crazy, but they’re only mad in relation to the norm—plodding through the same routine workout afer workout and expecting to magically expand muscles without asking anything extra of them. Now what sounds crazy? Pak-Man is rare among bodybuilders for applying his brain to his workouts at least as much as his body. And as the following 10 factors illustrate, he has some unique and uniquely efective ideas about training.
1) GET TENSE, STAY TENSE Let’s start with the fundamental concept behind all of Pakulski’s workouts. As he says, “This is the most important thing to understand when it comes to building muscle.” Weights don’t build muscle. Intensity doesn’t build muscle. Volume doesn’t build muscle. Those are all just tools. How you use them is the key. What builds muscle—or, more precisely, what stimulates muscles to grow larger when they recover— is increased tension. “If you want to carry more muscle tissue, you must subject your body to increased tension on a regular basis and allow it to recognize a long-term need for building muscle,” Pak-Man explains. This is why proper form is so important to him. You have to know how to maximize tension on the targeted area in order to fully stimulate the muscle.
Time under tension (TUT) is crucial. This is the total duration during which a muscle is stressed. Pakulski recommends sets last 40 seconds, and his favorite tempo for achieving this is an eight-rep set with each rep lasting five seconds with slow eccentrics (lowering the weight) but explosive concentrics (rais- ing the weight). “Getting up to 60 seconds is also very efective,” he says. “This doesn’t mean you stop a set that you could easily extend well beyond 60 seconds just because the time range is up. Go until you reach failure, and increase the weight for the next set.” Also, don’t, for example, squat 10 reps that are essentially 10 singles, pausing for several seconds between each rep. Keep working, extending the TUT until the set is complete.
2) OVERTRAINING IS OVERRATED “New research shows that over- training is about as likely as winning the lottery,” Pakulski contends. “Overtraining is a state that exists systematically throughout your entire body, not within one muscle. It’s a chronic condition that afects your central nervous, endocrine, and muscular systems. As long as you’re giving your body adequate rest and time to recover, overtraining isn’t even a thought.” You’re not going to overtrain because of what you do in the gym. You’re going to overtrain because of what you don’t do out of the gym—nourish and rest your body sufficiently.
3) DOUBLE TROUBLE As with everything in Pak-Man’s program, the practice of doubling up daily workouts for the same body part is based in science. He wants to keep his workouts short (less than 50 minutes) to maximize the hormonal environment for growth. His first daily workout focuses on fast-twitch muscle fibers with heavy weights and explosive concentrics. Necessarily, his rest periods between sets are lengthy (two to four minutes), so he can’t get in many sets in 50 minutes. Therefore, he returns to the gym 4–5 hours later (after two meals and a nap), and he does a second workout for the same body part, focused on exhausting the muscles with lighter weights, shorter rests (40–60 seconds), more isolation exercises, and techniques like supersets and dropsets. To over-reach a weak area, he recommends training the same body part twice daily every other day over five days (six workouts total for that body part). Then take three days of from the gym to foster recovery and growth.
4) REACH FOR IT Because he doesn’t worry about overtraining, this year’s runner-up at the Arnold Classic favors a lesser-known “over” concept: overreaching. “If you want to grow, you have to do more than your body is used to,” he states. “There are at least 30 ways to approach weak-body-part training, but none is more effective for immediate growth and feedback than overreaching. The point of overreaching is to tax your body so much that it sees a need to adapt and grow.” This is where you need to think outside of the box. Your muscles are used to the same old exercises and set and rep schemes, and just tinkering with those variables—as valuable as those changes are—will probably not shock stubborn areas into new growth. Thus, one of Pakulski’s favorite overreaching methods may seem wacky—training the same body part twice in the same day.
5) FLUCTUATE TEMPO To work both fast and slow-twitch fibers, vary the rate at which you raise and lower the weight. There are many ways to do this, but the key is to maintain the formula of raising the weight at a rapid or moderate pace and lowering it at a slower pace. Though slow concentrics will increase TUT, they’ll also decrease the speed of muscular contractions, which, over time, makes you weaker. In contrast, fast concentrics boost strength. So, go down slower and up faster. With those precautions understood, you can and should still fluctuate the tempo at which you lower the weight, pause (or don’t) at the bottom, raise the weight, and pause (or don’t) at the top. “Try to change the rep tempo every three to six weeks,” Pak-Man advises.
6) UNIQUE LIFTS Here are four exercises that Pakulski does on some leg days that most trainers never do:
ONE-LEG PRESS Working one side at a time lets you focus more on the muscles of each individual leg. You may also find you can comfortably go deeper by toiling unilaterally. Pak-Man keeps his foot low on the sled and doesn’t rest between taxing his left and right wheels.
REVERSE HYPEREXTENSION Whereas when you do a back extension (popularly called a hyperextension) your legs are locked and only your torso moves, this lif reverses that. Your torso is held steady on a high bench while you’re facedown, and you lif your straight legs up behind you, from down to at least parallel with your torso. This targets the glutes and hamstrings.
SAFETY-BAR SQUAT The owner of arguably bodybuilding’s best legs does a variety of free-weight squats—back, front, dumbbell, and safety bar. The latter differs from a normal back squat because the (padded) bar rests higher on your traps, the resistance is set more forward (sort of halfway between a front and back squat), and you can free up your hands to avoid tumbling over if you fail on a rep without a spotter.
SISSY SQUAT We told you he does a lot of squats. He even sometimes does bodybuilding’s worst-named exercise. The sissy squat is performed by holding a support bar with one hand, standing on your toes and letting your knees go far forward and torso backward as you squat down.
7) BE A CYCLIST The use of cycling periods of different training styles is called periodization. It’s common in powerlifting, but less so in bodybuilding. Pakulski is a big believer in it for continuously stimulating growth. “Bodybuilding is unique because in order to grow you have to constantly shock your muscles with new training,” he states. “Charles Poliquin was a huge help for me in learning how to periodize my own training. There are so many different hypertrophy variables—just a lot of different things people can manipulate.” Pakulski recommends you cycle on and of periods, changing such components as the exercise weight-load (in relation to your one-rep max), workout volume, and length of rest periods. He details how to periodize in his online programs MI40 and Hypertrophy Max.
8) MIDDLE MANAGEMENT This is less of a training tenet than an anti-tenet. So many champion bodybuilders talk about avoiding standing exercises (especially deadlifts) with heavy weights because they’re afraid of thickening their waists or hips that Pakulski has to set the record straight. Workouts aren’t going to change your structure. For better or worse, your structure is based on the DNA-determined dimensions of your skeleton. Pak-Man has relatively wide hips and whether he deadlifts for low reps or never does a standing free- weight exercise his hip width isn’t going to change. (Luckily for him, he has ridiculously wide shoulders to overshadow his hips.) As for a bloated waist, he explains that it comes from “overeating, poor digestion, inflammation from food sensitivities, or liver inflammation.” He’s had some problems with bloating in the past but is controlling it by regulating intestinal inflammation due to food allergies.
9) GRAVITY RULES At first blush, this one may not seem unique. It’s such basic physics that most of us never think about it—there’s that thing called gravity that keeps us all standing on solid ground. But Pak-Man doesn’t forget about it, at least not when he’s in the gym. Talk to him about specific exercises, and he’ll probably mention how most people get ranges of motion wrong because they’re not cognizant that a free weight always wants to travel straight down to the floor. Gravity, remember? And combining that with Rule No. 1 about the primacy of tension, you need to always be aware of when a muscle loses tension because the weight is no longer traveling up or down against gravity but on a more parallel plane. Tension is lost on the parallel plane because the weight wants to get back to earth (or, at least, the gym floor).
For example, on dumbbell flyes, he instructs that you bend your arms on the way down to get a maximum stretch and then straighten your arms as you bring them closer together on the way up. Never let the dumbbells come inside of your shoulders because this lessens tension on the pecs at the same time it eases your struggle against gravity. His flyes are more like flye presses. On the other hand, you can do a more traditional flye movement with a machine or two cables because, with the weight stack(s) always fighting gravity, you can maintain tension throughout. Similarly, the tug of gravity is lessened on the upper half of a free-weight preacher curl. At the contraction, gravity is actually pulling your hand toward your shoulder. This is not true if you do those same preacher curls with a cable because you’re pulling the weight stack up even higher against gravity from stretch to contraction.
10) THINK BIG Pakulski weighs more than three bills in the off-season. And yet, always the scientist, this Dr. Jekyll knows the greatest key to Hyde-like monstrous muscles lies in what his mind can imagine. “If you want to achieve great things, it’s important to know that you’ll only ever grow, literally and figuratively, as big as the limits you place on yourself. If mediocrity is your goal then don’t ever consider anything more than the life you’re already living. If greatness is in your veins, stepping outside your comfort zone and setting bigger goals is a great place to start. Do something that scares you. You’re only as good as you allow yourself to be.”