Periodization for bodybuilders: parts 1-3

  1. Thumbs up Periodization for bodybuilders: parts 1-3

    Here's a great article, some of you may be familiar with it allready, but I've never seen it any of theese threads, so here it is......

    ion for bodybuilders: Part I
    by Lyle McDonald

    Okay, before I get started I want to make sure everybody is sitting down. In this article, I'm not going to talk about diet, leptin, setpoint or anything like that. Instead, for the first time in a very long while I'm actually going to write a training article. I know, you're shocked, which is why I asked you to sit down first. People tend to forget that I actually started life as an exercise physiology nerd. In fact, I spent years studying it. Then I got more interested in nutritional biochemistry and that's been my focus for the last several years. Basically, I still follow exercise physiology research, it's just not my main focus.

    Okay, with that out of the way, onto the topic of this article: periodization for bodybuilders. Now, if you go into most gyms, you'll usually find people working out in vastly different ways: there are your pumpers, the guys who go heavy all the time, etc. But, for the most part, the guys who pump always pump and the guys who go heavy always go heavy. Most bodybuilders tend to stick to a fairly static rep range (could be 6-8 or 10-12 depending on what theory of growth they ascribe to) but it's rare to see a given individual change that much. HST'ers are a notable exception (more on HST below).

    Basically, it seems like bodybuilders are pretty much the last folks to jump on the periodization bandwagon. As above, most of them tend to stick with the same types of training year round and they pretty much always go balls to the wall. The idea of changing anything (except maybe exercise choice to 'shock the muscle' or what have you) just doesn't seem to be as prevalent among that subculture.

    The problem with non-periodized training

    Before tackling the issues of periodization, let's look at some of the problems inherent in non-periodized training. One problem is simply that people get bored doing the same thing all the time. Mental staleness can be as real as physical staleness and changing something about training (whether it's exercise selection, exercise order, rep count, or whatever) can rekindle interest in working out. More interest usually makes people work harder and that alone can generate results.

    A second issue is that, even for bodybuilders, there are different components that can be trained/manipulated which contribute to maximal size. Of course there's actual myofibrillar hypertrophy (an increase in the size of the contractile fibers). There's also sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (an increase in non-contractile components of the muscle such as glycogen, water, minerals, mitochondria, etc). Capillary density can also be improved (increasing nutrient availability to muscle fibers). You get the idea (note: this topic is discussed in greater detail in my Ultimate Diet 2.0 book, pimp, pimp).

    A third issue, of course, is one of physical adaptation. Over time, the body seems to adapt to a given training style. More accurately, it stops adapting (positively anyhow) and may actually start regressing. Changing training variables from time to time (even if it's simply to back off the intensity and build back up again) can help to prevent physical staleness.

    What is periodization?

    At its simplest, periodization simply refers to some sort of methodical (or semi-methodical) variation in training. Changes can occur in terms of volume, intensity, exercise selection, rep speeds, rest intervals and any other of the myriad training variables. Most athletes periodize to one degree or another. Usually the goal of periodization is to develop fitness towards specific competition periods (or even a single major competition, think Lance Armstrong in the Tour De France).

    Obviously competitive bodybuilders will periodize towards their competition but I think that even recreational bodybuilders (guys who just want to be big and ripped or just plain big) can benefit from structuring their training as well. That structuring, regardless of the specific type, goes under the heading of periodization. So with that basic introduction, I want to look at some of the common models of periodization and then move into how bodybuilders might approach periodizing their training.

    Linear periodization

    Perhaps the most common (at least the most well known) model for periodization is the simple linear periodization model (usually being accredited to a Russian scientist named Matveyev). This model starts from a fairly high volume of low intensity activity and moves gradually towards a lower volume of high intensity activity (the model is actually a bit more complicated than that and I'd suggest anyone who is truly interested in the topic pick up Mel Siff's "Supertraining" book for a more detailed discussion). So an Olympic or powerlifter would move from fairly high volumes with a low intensity (intensity being defined here as % of 1 rep maximum) to a low volume of high intensity activity. So the powerlifter might move, over the span of 16 weeks, from a rep count of 12-15 to 10-12 to 8-10 to 6-8 to 5 then to triples and doubles, finally peaking for the meet.

    Bryan Haycock's HST program is essentially a linear periodized model moving from 2 weeks of 15 reps to 2 weeks of 10's to 2 weeks of 8's to 2 weeks of 5's to 1-2 weeks of negatives, then a week break after which they begin the process all over again. I should note that it is also periodized within a given 2 week cycle, moving from a submaximal weight to basically a repetition maximum (RM) load by the end of the 2 week cycle.

    There are other linear approaches to periodization out there as well although they may be structured a little bit differently. Ironman magazine has long recommended that bodybuilders train in 8 week blocks, taking 2 weeks to ramp up the intensity (in this case defined as effort, taking each set to positive failure) and then working full bore for the next 6 weeks to make strength and size gains before backing off for 2 weeks and ramping up again.

    Anyone familiar with the basic Hardgainer magazine approach should know that Stuart McRobert and the rest of the HG crew has generally recommended a similar approach; take several weeks to ramp up training and then work full bore for some period of time (some HG authors use cycles of 12-16 weeks while at least one recommends extending the cycle, adding weight to the bar, for as long as you can).

    Tudor Bompa and Fred Koch (who seems to have stolen Bompa's approach pretty much verbatim) have both suggested a linear periodized scheme for bodybuilders that is more along the lines of bulking and then cutting. You start with a few weeks of anatomical adaptation (basically low intensity training to condition connective tissues), then move into hypertrophy training (generally a fairly high volume of work in the 75-85% 1RM range), then to maximal strength work (85% 1RM or less), and then to cutting (a strange program centered around 100-200 reps per exercise, something I find profoundly silly).

    On and on it goes. As I said above, linear periodization is probably the most common approach to periodizing. But it has problems.

    The problems with linear periodization

    In recent years, linear periodization has come under fire from a number of different strength experts. Vladimir Zatsiorsky (author of "Science and Practice of Strength Training"), Charles Poliquin and powerlifting guru Louie Simmons all jump to mind. The problem, they note is this: while you are training one biomotor capacity (i.e. muscular endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength), the ones not being trained are going to hell (ok, not their exact words). But you end up detraining one capacity while you're developing another.

    For example, a powerlifter working in the 10-12 rep range (more of a hypertrophy range) is going to be losing maximal strength capacity (and all of the adaptations that go along with that). An endurance athlete doing nothing but low intensity endurance training is detraining leg speed (for sprinting) and lactate threshold capacity (the highest intensity that they can maintain without accumulating too much lactic acid). Studies done years ago found that athletes moving into low rep ranges (for maximal strength) frequently lost muscle size. Adding back even one high rep set (remember this, it's important) frequently prevented the problem.

    Solution number one: nonlinear periodization

    One of the first proposed solutions for the problems above was something usually referred to as nonlinear periodization. Both Poliquin and Zatsiorsky recommended alternating 2-3 week blocks where a given capacity was emphasized and others were trained at maintenance.

    So a Poliquin type program might entail 2-3 weeks of 10-12 reps, 2-3 weeks of 5-6 reps, 2-3 weeks of 7-9 reps (the return to high reps help to avoid muscle loss), 2-3 weeks of 3-5 reps, etc.

    Zatsiorsky's approach was slightly different but he was addressing the needs of other types of athletes. Basically, working in 2-3 week blocks, specific biomotor capacities (i.e. strength, power, endurance) would be emphasized while other capacities were trained at maintenance. So a 3 week block where aerobic endurance was emphasized would see lactate threshold training worked at maintenance and then the focus would switch, lactate threshold would be emphasized while aerobic endurance was maintained. I should mention that Bompa did occasionally give lip service to that type of alternation in his books; you'd alternate a few weeks of maximal strength training with a few weeks of hypertrophy training.

    Solution number two: conjugate periodization

    Conjugate periodization has probably been promoted most heavily by aforementioned powerlifting guru Louie Simmons. Claiming that old school linear periodization is dead (nobody tell Ed Coan), Louie believes that conjugate periodization (developed, of course, in Russia) is a superior way to train. For a more detailed examination of the conjugate system, I'd suggest "Supertraining" by Mel Siff. As well, there is a rather long article dealing with the development of the conjugate training in the Elite FTS Articles section at Elite fitness (

    In his system, all aspects of powerlifting performance (bar speed/technique, maximal strength, hypertrophy, general physical preparation) are trained at the same time, simply with a different emphasis on each. Bar speed and technique are trained with speed work (10 sets of 2 or 8 sets of 3 with a submaximal weight), maximum strength is trained with multiple low rep sets and hypertrophy is trained with multiple higher rep sets. General physical preparation consists of sled dragging and other exercises (folks interested in Simmon's system should read everything on the Elite Fitness website). Perhaps more related to the conjugate system is the introduction of specific exercises (done on max effort day) that specifically support the competition lifts. Weak points are determined regularly and new exercises are introduced to address them. Ideally, one exercise builds on the last exercise with the lifter's overall performance going up.

    Some other options

    Of course, the above hardly describes all of the possible options available. One is to simply combine training and train different aspects of the muscle in the same training cycle. An old skool (you're all elite and **** when you spell stuff wrong) approach to training was to follow warmups with 3-5 heavy sets of 5 (training a combination of maximal strength and myofibrillar hypertrophy) with multiple sets of 12-15 (training sarcoplasmic elements).

    Along those lines, John McCallum recommended warmups followed by 3 sets of 5 (3 minute rest) followed by 8 sets of 10 (with 30 second rest!) for maximum size gains. It's almost power training followed by German Volume Training.

    In my Ultimate Diet 2.0 (pimp, pa, pimp, pimp), there are three different workout types (high rep/short rest, medium rep/medium rest, low rep/long rest) cycled through the training week to achieve specific responses and adaptations (it's also integrated, of course, with changes in diet but I said I wouldn't talk about diet in this article). The old Bulgarian Burst/Serious Growth system was similar in design: high reps early in the week, medium reps in the middle of the week, low reps at the end.

    The above described type of training can be very workable but that's not really the point of this article: I want to talk a little more specifically about how bodybuilders can apply basic periodization concepts to their training.

    But since this thing is already 2 weeks late and running long, I'm going to chop it at the halfway mark and leave everybody hanging (especially before Justin flies out to Austin to bitch smack me for making the issue late). In part II I'll talk about more specific applications of periodization for bodybuilding.

  2. Periodization for Bodybuilders Part 2
    by Lyle McDonald

    In part 1 of this article, I discussed some basic periodization concepts and mentioned some of the major writers on the topic. Yet, somehow I managed to miss one of the primary proponents of having bodybuilders perform different types of training to maximize appearance: Fred Hatfield. With his concept of Holistic Training, Dr. Squat may have been one of the first to formalize the idea of training different 'components' of a muscle to maximize/optimize growth and appearance. So let's look at that briefly.

    Holistic Training

    In his original holistic training schema, Dr. Hatfield proposed using three different intensity/rep ranges to optimally stimulate a muscle. This included sets of 4-6 done explosively, sets of 12-15 done rhythmically and sets of 40 done fairly slowly. Different types of workouts were done in a fairly complicated cycling pattern (Hatfield called this ABC training) and, frankly, keeping everything straight was a huge pain in the ass. As a starting point, there's fundamentally nothing wrong with this schema although I'm going to tech it up a little bit in a second. I also feel that Dr. Squat left out a type of training of utmost importance to the bodybuilder: pure strength training. I'll discuss that below.

    Different fibers, different 'parts' of the muscle, different types of growth

    I'm going to assume that anybody reading this magazine has a basic understanding of fiber types. In (very) brief, there are three major types of muscle fibers: Type I (or slow oxidative), Type IIa (fast oxidative/glycolytic) and Type IIx (fast glycolytic). The old Type IIb fibers turn out only to exist in animal models; IIx describes the highest threshold fibers in humans. Each fiber type has a distinctive physiology in terms of force and growth capability, fatigueability, etc. Type I fibers have the lowest force output and growth potential and take the longest to fatigue and Type II fibers have a higher force output and growth capacity and fatigue more quickly with Type IIa being intermediate between Type I and Type IIx. We might simplistically look at the rep schemes of holistic training as hitting a given pool of motor units: sets of 4-6 for Type IIx, sets of 12-15 for Type IIa and sets of 40 for Type I. This isn't necessarily incorrect although it goes a little beyond that.

    Dr. Hatfield may have been one of the first Americans to latch onto the idea that there were different components of a muscle that contributed to muscle growth. This goes along with the European idea of myofibrillar vs. sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (this topic is discussed in greater detail in my UD2 book, I am the mother-f*****g PIMP). Myofibrillar hypertrophy refers to growth of the actual contractile component of the muscle fiber while sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to growth of everything else: glycogen, water, minerals, mitochondria and capillaries. The key thing to note is that each component requires a differential type of stress to stimulate growth.

    Pure strength training

    As I mentioned above, the one thing that Hatfield (as I recall anyhow) left out of his holistic training was pure strength training. This can describe a lot of different types of training but let's define it hear as anything below 5 reps. Heavy sets of 2 and 3 (doubles and triples) with a near maximum weight for example. The key thing to realize is that strength production is a combination of both muscular and neurological factors: a variety of neural adaptations takes place in response to pure strength training that increases strength output without making people bigger. I know that there is a long-held belief that there is an absolute relationship between strength and size but it's not that simple: athletes like power- and Olympic lifters increase strength without getting any bigger all the time and they do it by maximizing neural factors.

    Now, I suspect that most bodybuilders could give the first **** about being strong; the sport is all about being big and freaky. But I will argue that improving the neural components of strength will help you get even bigger in the long run. The reason, actually, is fairly simple. Stimulating myofibrillar growth means imposing some combination of tension, fatigue and damage components onto muscle fibers (stimulating sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is more about fatigue and energy depletion than tension per se). By improving strength in low rep ranges with pure strength training, bodybuilders can use more weight in higher rep ranges. This means more tension, more damage and more ultimate growth. It's also nice to actually be as strong as you look: too many big but ultimately weak bodybuilders walking around out there in my opinion.

    Intensity zones

    So with that introduction taken care of, let's talk about intensity zones, since that is a key concept to all periodization schemes. The one problem I had with Hatfield's scheme is that it wasn't necessarily specific enough. As coaches like Charles Poliquin have pointed out, the issue of time under tension may be just as important to the overall growth stimulus as rep count per se. That is to say that 5 reps done in 60 seconds (a very slow tempo) isn't the same as 5 reps done in 30 seconds or 5 reps done in 5 seconds. The first would be most likely to stimulate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the second myofibrillar hypertrophy and the third pure strength and power. As another example, I've seen folks perform 40 reps (Hatfield's 'long' set) in 40 seconds which is defeating the purpose: a timed set of 60-120 seconds with no focus on reps would be more beneficial. So let's look at the different intensity zones.

    Strength training: The goal of pure strength training is to improve the neural components of strength production. Weight should be 85% of 1 repetition maximum or higher. Sets should last 20 seconds or less. Generally 5 reps or less done with a 2-3 second negative. Lift as fast as possible. Typically compound exercises such as squats, bench press, power clean, deadlift, etc. are chosen. Isolation exercises can be used for this type of training but your form has to be perfect or you'll probably get hurt. Strength athletes commonly do many, many sets (6-10 sets of 2-3) but they are usually only focusing on a handful of lifts. A bodybuilder may need to hit more bodyparts which would mean cutting the total number of sets done.

    Intensive bodybuilding method (or power bodybuilding): The goal of this zone is to increase myofibrillar size and muscle density. This zone also increases maximal strength although not to the degree that pure strength training does. Weight would be in the 80-85% of 1 RM range. Set length ranges from 20-30 seconds. A generic approach might be repeat sets of 4-6 reps (think Max-OT) on a 3-4 second down, 1 up tempo. Rest periods should be about 3 minutes between sets. Depending on volume tolerance and the number of exercises performed, anywhere from 2 to 8 sets per bodypart might be done. As with strength training, compound exercises are usually preferred; isolation exercises can be done but only with picture perfect form.

    Extensive bodybuilding method: The goal of this zone is a combination of myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy with the lower end of the range (6-8 reps) being more geared towards myofibrillar growth (with some strength gains) and the higher end of the range (10-12 or even 15 reps) geared towards more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Due to glycogen depletion, there will be an increase in glycogen and water (pump growth) storage, especially in the higher rep ranges. Weights should be in the 70-80% of 1RM range with set length lasting from 30-45 (or 60) seconds. Rest periods are generally 1-2 minutes. Anywhere from 6-12 repetitions or so on a 3 down, 2 up tempo. Anywhere from 3-6 sets might be done. Anal compulsive bodybuilders could probably subdivide this category into two different ranges, one spanning the 6-8 rep range and the other spanning the 12-15 rep range. A mix of compound or isolation exercises can be done in this zone.

    Really extensive bodybuilding method (I'm not good at thinking up clever names for training like the other writers in this field): The goal of this zone is purely sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, with the emphasis on capillarization and mitochondria more so than on the other components such as glycogen. As I mentioned above, I think the best approach to this type of training is to forget about reps and do 1 or 2 timed sets of 1-2 minutes with the goal being continuous movement. I would generally recommend isolation exercises above the compounds on this one. Admittedly, you'll see god if you try to squat continuously for 2 minutes (which I once had a mountain biker I was training do) but you tend to fatigue cardiovascularly when you use those types of exercises.

    Training vs. maintaining loads

    Ok, now you're thinking that there's no way in hell you can possibly hit everything I described above; you'd be in the gym for 4 hours every day. Obviously trying to follow 6 sets of 2 in the squat with 4-5 sets of 4-6 with 2-3 sets of 12-15 with 1-2 sets of 1-2 minutes would be an absurd workload.

    One thing to realize is that though I've made it look like each intensity zone is a distinct entity, please understand that that's not the case. As I indicated above, there is a certain amount of carryover between zones and it's better to think of training on a continuum. So even though intensity bodybuilding has as its main goal myofibrillar growth, there are still going to be strength gains. Sets of 6-8 will generate similar (but not identical) adaptations to the 4-6 rep range and the 12-15 rep range will generate similar (but not identical) adaptations to the 1-2 minute range. This allows for some consolidation of training when you start designing programs.

    This is also where the whole concept of periodization comes in. The thing to realize is that it's unrealistic to try and hit all components of a muscle sufficiently all at once. Even endurance weenies, who are known for trying to shotgun their training (distance one day, hills another, intervals a third, technique a fourth) are learning that it's better to focus on one or two components of training during a given cycle and maintain everything else with the focus changing throughout the training year.

    So in any given 6-8 week cycle, you would choose to focus on one or two of the above components (there are 4 total but remember the overlap) and simply maintain the others. What does this mean exactly? Research has found that, in both endurance and strength training, the amount of work you need to maintain something is far far less than what's needed to increase it. In general, you can cut the volume and frequency by 2/3rds as long as you maintain the intensity and you can maintain a given capacity for quite some time. So say you were doing 6 set of 2 twice per week to improve strength in the squat during one cycle. In the next you could maintain by performing 2 sets of 2 once or twice per week. The same would hold for the other components of training.

    I guess while I'm on the topic, I should address training frequency briefly. In the example workouts I'm going to present in part 3 (sorry, I have to get this finished or Justin will have my head), I'm going to assume a bodypart training frequency of twice per week since I consider that, on average, to be the minimum for natural trainees to make good gains in strength or size. All of the numbers below assume that frequency. Obviously if you use a different bodypart training frequency, you'll have to adjust training to compensate.

    With that said, here's a chart indicating both training and maintaining loads for each of the different intensity zones of training.

    Type Training Load Maintaining load
    Strength training 6-10 sets 2-3 sets
    Intensive bodybuilding 2-8 sets 1-2 sets
    Extensive bodybuilding 3-6 sets 1-2 sets
    Really extensive 1-2 sets 1 set

    In the third and final installment of this series, I'll finally get to some more application, giving some sample workouts for different emphases.

  3. Periodization for Bodybuilders Part III
    by Lyle McDonald

    Okay, late as usual (I warned you, Justin), it's time to present part III of this series of articles on periodization for bodybuilders. If you haven't already, go read Part I and Part II first so this will make more sense.

    Training Zone Recap

    I finished the second part of this article series by giving some volume recommendations for both improving and maintaining loads for the four different components of training: pure strength, intensive bodybuilding, extensive bodybuilding and really extensive bodybuilding. Without recapping that entire article, I'll simply summarize the loading parameters for each below.

    Type of training Reps (%1RM) Rest Tempo Set length Exercise
    Strength training 1-5 (85%+) 3-5' 2-3/0/X 20" or less Compound
    Int. bodybuilding 4-6 (80-85%) 2-3' 3-4/0/1 20-30" Compound
    Ext. bodybuilding 6-8 (75-80%) 1-2' 3/0/2 30-40" Compound
    10-15 (70-75%) 1-2' 3/0/2 40-60" Or Isolation
    Really extensive N/A (60-65%) 1' 2/0/2 60-120" Isolation

    Notes: Tempo reads X/Y/Z where X is the lowering speed, Y is the pause, Z is the lifting speed. Some coaches add fourth value for the pause at the top. Rest intervals are in minutes, set length is in seconds. The really extensive zone should be timed for 1 to 2 minutes (up to maybe 3 if you're a masochist) without focusing so much on reps. If you must count reps, 15-30 reps on a 2/0/2 tempo works fine.

    Volume recommendation recap

    Along with training zone parameters I also gave some volume recommendations for both training and maintaining loads, recapped below. I should probably have noted that these numbers don’t necessarily reflect volume per exercise but rather total volume per bodypart. So if you want to do two exercises for chest in a pure strength training cycle, you could do 3-5 sets of flat bench press and incline bench press or what have you. This is the same for the other loading zones.

    Type of training Training Load Maintaining load
    Strength training 6-10 sets 2-3 sets
    Intensive bodybuilding 2-8 sets 1-2 sets
    Extensive bodybuilding 3-6 sets 1-2 sets
    Really extensive 1-2 sets 1 set

    One thing I didn't mention is that, in general, within any given workout, you would work in the same order. So for any given bodypart, strength training comes first (if it's being done at all), intensive bodybuilding second, extensive bodybuilding third, really extensive bodybuilding last. Additionally, if you've never worked in the pure strength training rep range, you should spend at least 6 weeks (if not longer) working in the intensive bodybuilding zone to prepare your connective tissues for the heavier loading.

    So now I can finally give some sample routines, right? Well, not quite, I have a few more topics to cover first.

    Another comment on rep range emphasis

    Within any given cycle, unless you are specializing (see below), you're probably best off picking a primary training emphasis, a secondary training emphasis and a maintenance training emphasis. Once again, this is simply to avoid having to try and hit everything at once. As you progress through a training year, obviously those training emphases will change (this is the whole point of periodizing in the first place).

    So you might choose the intensive bodybuilding method as your primary emphasis, pure strength as a secondary emphasis and extensive bodybuilding (picking the higher end of the range since that overlaps with the really extensive range) for maintenance. This might mean warm-ups followed by 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps for maintenance of pure strength (which always goes first), then anywhere from 2-8 sets of intensive bodybuilding work (your primary emphasis which always goes second). Finally, finish up with 1-2 sets of 12-15 reps to cover extensive bodybuilding and really extensive bodybuilding zones. Alternately you could do 1-2 sets of 10-12 reps and 1 timed set to finish out the bodypart.

    Bodypart Overlap

    In part 2 I talked about the issue of rep range overlap, pointing out that the different training zones overlap with one another, allowing for consolidation of training (since it would be impossible to hit everything in a single workout).

    In addition, I want to mention the issue of bodypart overlap, since this further allows bodybuilders to decrease how many sets are necessary per workout. For example, consider a workout where you’re training bench press quite heavily. You've done 6 sets of 2 reps for pure strength work, 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps for intensive bodybuilding work, and 1-2 sets of extensive work. Let's also say that you're training shoulders and triceps in the same workout, both of which are worked during the heavy chest work. Obviously it would be overkill to try and work either shoulders or triceps at full volume. It might even be overkill to do either in all repetition ranges. During heavy bench sets of 3 reps, the triceps and deltoids are both getting some work in that rep range.

    As a result, you would really only need a few total sets for both triceps and deltoids to round out the workout. Basically, this allows you to use heavy compound exercises to get a lot of work done for the smaller muscle groups so that fewer sets are necessary in the first place. Frankly, outside of the occasional arm specialization routine, it's rare for me to prescribe more than a couple of direct sets for biceps or triceps—I let heavy pushing and pulling take care of it.

    The same goes for pulling exercises: if you've worked the hell out of your back, your biceps have already gotten a ton of work. Doing more than a few sets for biceps would be not only unnecessary but complete overkill.

    Bodypart emphasis

    This leads into my final comments on bodypart emphasis (which could and should be an article all in itself, I can expand in part IV if there is interest). I want to introduce this by saying that, for all but beginner and maybe intermediate bodybuilders, it's usually impossible to bring up all bodyparts at once. Rather, focusing on one or two upper body muscles and one or two lower body muscles, while maintaining the others, works much much better. So in most of my sample workouts, at most two bodyparts are emphasized while the others are trained at maintenance levels.

    On that note, the first bodypart (or two) that you work in a workout will generally receive the greatest training effect. So if you want to bring up your shoulders (strength or size), train them first in the workout, putting chest second and working it at maintenance levels. Will this hurt your chest poundages? Yes. But it's better than the converse where chest training will limit how much emphasis you can put into your delts.

    So when you're focusing heavily on chest and back, plan on working delts and arms at maintenance. If you want to focus on delts, work chest and triceps at maintenance. If you want to focus on triceps, work on chest and delts at maintenance. The same goes for pulling exercises. Legs are a little more complicated because the amount of overlap isn't necessarily as great. Hamstrings are certainly worked during compound leg stuff but it's not quite the same as how hard delts or tris are worked during heavy benching. This means that you can use more volume for leg exercises (there are also fewer bodyparts to worry about: quads, hams/glutes and calves) and the sample workouts will be setup that way.

    At the same time, my comments on bodypart emphasis still hold: if you always train quads (squats) first, this will limit how much energy you have left to train hamstrings. I think that's a big part of why so many bodybuilders have terrible hamstrings. Putting hamstrings first and quads at maintenance is a way to avoid this common problem. Another approach (that can also be used for upper body) is to make one leg workout a quad emphasis workout and the other a hamstring emphasis workout with volume set accordingly. For upper body you might make one workout a push emphasis (with light pull meaning back/bis worked at maintenance) and the other a pull emphasis (with light push meaning chest/delts/tris worked at maintenance).

    Training frequency, splits and volume

    Although I could most assuredly write pages on this topic itself (I need to get off my ass and stop with the fat loss **** and write a training manual), I only want to make a couple of comments for the purposes of this article.

    As I said in part II, I don't think naturals should train a bodypart any less frequently than about once every 5th day (or twice a week on average). Of course, this isn't an absolute, but I find it to be generally true. Train a bodypart any less than this and growth simply isn't optimal. This gives a few workable possibilities for splits depending on recovery. One would be to use a Charles Poliquin split like:

    Day 1: Chest/Back
    Day 2: Legs/Abs
    Day 3: Off
    Day 4: Shoulders/Arms
    Day 5: Off


    I would personally put some maintenance chest/back work on day 4 but that type of split would be workable for folks who have a very flexible schedule during the week, overall good recovery or are using steroids or even some of the new prohormones. Arguably my favorite split is an upper/lower split (also workable for powerlifting). This is good for people who need to train on the same days each week or who don't have the recovery to train as often as the above split.

    Monday: Lower body (squat emphasis for powerlifting, or quad emphasis for bodybuilding)
    Tuesday: Upper body (bench emphasis for powerlifting, or push emphasis for bodybuilding)
    Thu: Lower body (deadlift emphasis for powerlifting, or hamstring emphasis for bodybuilding)
    Fri: Upper body (light bench + back emphasis for powerlifting, pull emphasis for bodybuilding)

    For folks with even poorer recovery ability, the above could be changed to a three day/week program alternating workouts. So each workout gets hit three times every two weeks.

    Monday: Lower body
    Wed: Upper body
    Fri: Lower body
    Mon: Upper body
    Wed: Lower body
    Fri: Upper body

    In this scheme, I wouldn't make any of the days a specific emphasis but volume could be cut back to allow everything to be hit.

    On the topic of volume, you'll note that I gave somewhat large set ranges for the different types of training. I wanted to comment on that for a second. I have found over the years that individual volume tolerance is, well, individual. Young males with high testosterone levels can adapt to higher training volume while your classic 'hardgainer' frequently does better with lower volume (but higher frequencies and avoiding failure). Women generally need less volume than men and older individuals can't handle the same volume as younger folks.

    So whereas a young male with high testosterone levels might do 8 sets of 6-8 reps (Intensive bodybuilding) for a given bodypart, a similarly aged male with low testosterone levels or a female or older male might only need/be able to handle 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps per bodypart. Just keep that in mind in the sample workouts; I'll be using rather 'average' volume recommendations but you can adjust them up or down depending on your own personal recovery capacity.

    Alternately, you could probably apply some of the autoregulatory concepts going around, training any exercise until a given percentage of strength is lost, if you don't know how much volume you can handle. I'll also note that volume tolerance can both be improved (by gradual volume increases over time) and detrained (by doing HIT/low volume **** all the time).

    A Word on Progression

    Bodybuilders make a ****pile of mistakes that prevent them from realizing their goals. That alone could be fodder for an entire book. Here I want to focus only on one thing: progression. Unless you're drugged or genetically superior, your muscles only respond by getting bigger if you continue to challenge them. Within the context of this article series, progression means adding weight to the bar. Now, there are tons of different ways to progress weights and this is too long (and overdue) as it is. I'll only make this comment: you should strive to add weight to the bar whenever you can do so in good form. So if you get to the high end of a rep range and feel like you have a rep left over, add weight at the next workout. This will probably drop you to the low end of the rep range and then build up again. For really extensive bodybuilding, you would increase weight when you got to the high end of the time range. Just remember that, in general, if you're not getting stronger, you're not getting bigger. And if you're not getting bigger, you're not getting stronger. So if you're not adding weight to the bar over time, you're just another bozo wasting his life in the gym with nothing to show for it.

    And, finally, some workout examples.

    I should mention that, for all workouts, exercises for multiple bodyparts can be alternated or supersetted to cut down on gym time. As well, exercise selection is somewhat arbitrary; don't take it as holy writ. You can substitute one compound exercise for another and one isolation exercise for another depending on what you have available at your gym or to meet your preferences. Note also that proper warm-ups should be done prior to the first exercise for a given bodypart. So for the first chest, back or quad exercise do warm-up sets. For the second exercise, warm-ups usually aren't going to be necessary unless you simply want to perform them.

    Workout 1

    The first workout is a leg workout with an emphasis on quads and hams; calves are at maintenance (or can be worked another day). No pure strength training is being done (this would be a training cycle for someone who wanted to prepare themselves for a strength training focus). The primary focus is on the intensive bodybuilding zone, secondary emphasis is on the extensive bodybuilding zone and maintenance work is in the really extensive bodybuilding zone.

    Exercise SetsXReps Rest Tempo
    Squat: 3-4X4-6 3' 3/0/1
    *Note: Can perform leg curl if SLDL is too much for low back 3-4X4-6 3' 3/0/1
    Front or hack squat*
    *Note: Can also leg press 2-3X4-6 2-3' 3/1/1
    Lying leg curl 2-3X4-6 2-3' 3/1/1
    Leg press 1-3X10-12 1-2' 3/0/2
    Seated leg curl*
    *Note: Can use standing leg curl 1-3X10-12 1-2' 3/0/2
    Leg extension 1X15-20 N/A Slow or Timed
    Seated leg curl 1X15-20 N/A Slow or Timed
    Standing calf raise*
    *Note: Pause at bottom of each rep 3-4X6-8 2' 3/1/2
    Seated calf raise 2-3X12-15 1.5' 2/0/2

    Workout 2

    This is a continuation of the previous workout. The focus is on quads with a pure strength training emphasis, secondary emphasis on intensive bodybuilding and maintenance for extensive/really extensive bodybuilding. Hamstrings and calves are being maintained across the board.

    Exercise SetsXReps Rest Tempo
    Squat *
    *Note: Use a 4-5RM load, X means lift as fast as possible 3-5X3 4-5' 3/0/X
    Lying leg curl *
    *Note: Can use SLDL 1-2X6-8 2-3' 3/0/1
    Front squat*
    *Note: Alternately work 6-10 sets of 3 reps in the squat and skip this exercise 3-5X3 3-4' 3/0/X
    Standing leg curl *
    *Note: Or use lying leg curl 1-2X10-12 1-2' 3/0/2
    Leg press 2-3X10-12
    or 1-2X12-15 1-2' 3/0/2
    Seated leg curl 1X15-20 N/A Slow or timed (1-2')
    Standing calf raise*
    *Note: Pause at bottom of each rep 2-3X6-8 2' 3/1/2
    Seated calf raise 1-2X12-15 1.5' 2/0/2

    For the second lower body workout of the week, the focus could be switched to hamstring dominant with a quad/calf maintenance. All I'm doing is switching out exercises here, putting hamstring exercises where quad exercises were in the previous workout and vice versa, in case you hadn't noticed.

    Exercise SetsXReps Rest Tempo
    SLDL or DL*
    *Note: Use a 4-5RM load 3-5X3 4-5' 3/0/1
    Leg press 1-2X6-8 2-3' 3/0/1
    Lying leg curl*
    *Notes: Alternately work 6-10 sets of 3 reps in the DL/SLDL and skip this exercise 3-5X3 3-4' 3/0/X
    Leg press*
    *Note: Or use leg extension 1-2X10-12 1-2' 3/0/2
    Standing leg curl 2-3X10-12 1-2' 3/0/2
    or 1-2X12-15
    Leg extension 1X15-20 N/A Slow or Timed (1-2')
    Standing calf raise*
    *Note: Pause at bottom of each rep 2-3X6-8 2' 3/1/2
    Seated calf raise 1-2X12-15 1.5' 2/0/2

    Workout 3

    Workout 3 represents a further continuation of the cycle. This is a move back to a quad/hamstring emphasis in each workout with pure strength at maintenance and the focus on extensive and really extensive bodybuilding methods (the extra strength from the strength cycle will mean heavier loads during the bodybuilding work). By picking a higher rep range for the strength work (meaning it overlaps with strength and intensive bodybuilding), the trainee can focus on extensive and really extensive bodybuilding methods.

    Exercise SetsXReps Rest Tempo
    *Notes: X means lift as fast as possible 2-3X5 2-3' 3/0/X*
    SLDL 2-3X5 2-3' 3/0/1
    Leg press 3-4X10-12 1-2' 3/0/X
    Leg curl 3-4X10-12 1-2' 3/0/X
    Leg extension 1-2X15-30 1' Slow or Timed (1-2')
    Seated leg curl 1-2X15-30 1' Slow or Timed (1-2')
    Standing calf raise*
    *Note: Pause at bottom of each rep 3-4X6-8 2' 3/1/2
    Seated calf raise 2-3X12-15 1.5' 2/0/2
    Seated calf raise
    (Expect to be screaming at the end of this) 1-2X15-30 1' Slow or timed (1-2')

    Ok, as usual, I'm over deadline and since I have company coming into town I don't have time to detail upper body workouts. So this will have to get folks started and I'll do a part IV. Setting up upper body stuff is a bit more complicated (more bodyparts to take care of) but my initial comments about exercise and rep range overlap for upper body as well. So if you're doing heavy 5's and 12's in the bench, you don't need more than a couple of sets of triceps (maybe 1-2 sets of 12 and 1 15-30 rep set). This is the same for back and biceps. If you use a split where you work chest/back one day and delts/arms (light chest/back) another, it gets setup just like the lower body workouts.

Similar Forum Threads

  1. Periodization Training for Bodybuilding
    By Grayson in forum Training Forum
    Replies: 9
    Last Post: 11-19-2013, 04:09 PM
  2. Shareware for bodybuilding info.
    By VanillaGorilla in forum General Chat
    Replies: 9
    Last Post: 12-01-2006, 09:45 AM
  3. AMAZING program for bodybuilders/fitness enthuasiasts
    By The Doberman in forum Training Forum
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 09-25-2005, 06:31 AM
  4. westside training for bodybuilder
    By slydeflex in forum Training Forum
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 07-13-2005, 07:04 PM
  5. O/T stretching for bodybuilding
    By whale in forum Training Forum
    Replies: 6
    Last Post: 01-07-2003, 02:07 AM
Log in
Log in