There has been a lot of talk in the High Intensity Training community and HIT Forums about abbreviated workouts; performing a one or two set workout. In first hearing this the layman who has not trained in HIT fashion would glaze over this as some ridiculous assertion. I guarantee you that this type of workout is nothing to glaze over, if you understand the body’s limited resources and what it takes to stimulate strength and muscle.
In the past two days, I have had the pleasure of talking with two people, one from my bodybuilding past, a close friend and one I just recently met through a friend of a friend, who brought me back to reminisce about the days of old, when I first started bodybuilding.
Alex, who is a high energy presence at Nautilus Exercise Equipment and I, reminisced about the old hard core gyms, where men extremely strong by even today’s standards, would do crazy things prior to a set, because their psyche was so into their set. Alex spoke of a gym called BG gym… BG standing for Blood and Guts… where there are still holes in the wall next to the squat rack where one of these extremely strong men, after chalking up and taking a good sniff of a capsule of ammonia, put his head through the wall, hit a stud and with head bleeding proceeded to squat with hundreds of pounds to exhaustion. How many sets like that do you think one could do? (without the bleeding of course!)
I have memories of a picture floating around somewhere (maybe still) in Upstate New York of a guy named Bill, in a power rack, with an army helmet on and no shirt, with a thousand pounds on his shoulders after doing half squats with it. There were no hundred pound plates in the gym so the spotters tied 45 pound plates onto the locked collars to bring it up to on thousand pounds. The bar was bending around his shoulders. Crazy right… only one set could be performed, it is all she wrote!
You can tell what I am getting at. After performing sets like this, how many other sets to failure do you think the body is capable of without using every resource necessary to not only compensate but overcompensate for the exhaustive effects of the workout. Let me put it another way… how many 10 second exposures, three feet from the sun can you endure, before your body disintegrates? Remember exercise is only the stimulus; we grow muscle outside the gym!
While speaking to my close friend Jimmy last night, with whom I grew up with, it was evident that still today, many of those training in the gyms these days, do not have a thorough understanding of how muscular gains are made. However, Jimmy and I do, and I am going to share!
Jimmy was an amazing athlete and still is. Years back when we were in our twenties, Jimmy and I would train at the same dungeon together. I call it a dungeon because that is what it resembled. There was no flashy equipment unless you call a plate loaded leg extension machine and a lat pulldown machine flashy. It was all about strength for us because we knew that strength was always followed by size. The stronger you get, the more muscular you will become.
Jimmy stood 6’3″ and weighed 310-320 naturally, no drugs. Although what I am about to tell you was not his normal routine, he sometimes enjoyed the change by working up to 400 pounds for press behind the neck, 315 pounds for barbell curls, 500 or 600 pounds for shrugs. But this was not his core workout; this is not how he got to his amazing size and strength.
THE CORE ROUTINE
His core routine was the bench press, the squat, the row and deadlift… just three exercises. He didn’t waste time on the small exercises usually that didn’t matter. At the time, we didn’t use wrist raps either, we used chalk! You know, hand chalk? Or do you? It would always be, “Jimmy, pass the chalk!” before a heavy lift as it was about grip strength and you are only as strong as your weakest ink!
While we talked last night, Jimmy shared a story. While deadlifting at his regular gym, another younger guy was deadlifting next to him, he was in his mid twenties. Jimmy, the gentleman that he is, offered his chalk to this young man prior to doing his set of deadlifts. The young man responded…”What is that?”
In the days of wrist wraps and shinny equipment, elevator music in corporate gyms and little noise or gym screaming or grunting prior to a set, I reflect a great deal on what set the foundation for our success. It was the basics! It was the desire and it was the mindset, that “no matter what” mindset! What we did worked. We trained with abbreviated routines, we trained for strength and our physiques showed it. We ate well and were not worried of a bit of fat on our midsection. Our motto was, “Don’t make your waist smaller, make your shoulders wider”. Because it is the illusion in bodybuilding that makes the difference, which is why a man with the right symmetry and body type looks pounds heavier than he normally is. Remember Dorian, tales are told his waist was almost 40 but you would never know it!
MIKE MENTZER, THE THINKING MAN’S BODYBUILDER
Mike Mentzer, still my bodybuilding hero to this day, years later, validated what we already knew to work. Not because we put the thought into it like Mike did, but because that is the way Jimmy and I trained as bodybuilders in a power lifting gym! It was all about strength. We never worked down; just up to our “work set” we called it. We hardly did anything but big exercises and didn’t want to waste energy. When we felt still tired when our next workout was scheduled, we would go and eat and not worry about it. We would come back stronger the next day.
Mike taught us why it worked so well. Mike established the true theory of High Intensity Training and with that theory reasoned and experimented to the point of no doubt, that an abbreviated routine is the most productive step toward reaching your muscular goals. I am so very grateful for his work and his contribution to bodybuilding. I don’t think that anyone so far has had such a profound affect on the bodybuilding community.
WHAT EXERCISES COUNT
The next question is what exercises are the best. Well, with strength in mind, Paul Anderson, who is my strength hero, knew and understood that strength truly comes from the legs and back. So this is where the focus should be. The basics… squats, deadlifts, rows or high pull and to round it off, a pushing movement in the order of a press, bench or dip. Where is the arm work, shoulder work and calve work you ask? No need. Believe me if you do this right, none is necessary. Both Jimmy and myself, without doing any direct arm work or shoulder work for months experienced huge arms by even today’s standards. Jimmy’s taped over 20 inches and mine 18 ¾ inches. Without doing a curl for months I could barbell curl 225 or more for reps! My calves responded similarly, as did my shoulders with a 275 press behind the neck without doing them!
I am currently experimenting with just such a program and once perfected in the gym, I will release it on my website but in the mean time, stick with the basics for best results.
Jimmy, pass the chalk! And the ammonia capsules! 🙂