Think there is one best training program out there that will suit all lifters? Think again. "But, the scientific evidence shows that lifting heavy weights with low rep ranges produces the best way to maximize gains," is a statement that we see constantly in emails in response to our weekly newsletter and on the forum boards. Heavy weight/low rep training may be backed by scientific evidence for maximum muscle gains, but at what cost? What is the point of packing on mass quickly only to lose it through the de-conditioning effects of nursing a chronic or massive acute injury?
Backers of heavy-duty training usually dismiss the injury arguments of former followers due to the inability to execute proper form. But, training injuries even happen to the big names in the business that engage in pushing those very heavy weights.
From today's Jeff Willet's continuing discussions of injuries he records in his daily training journal to Dorian Yates' injuries from High Intensity Training and old-timer Dave Draper who suffered a rotator cuff tear with biceps involvement to Jean-Pierre Fux who tore the vastus medialis of the left thigh and the patella ligaments of the right leg during a squat photo shoot, are we really to believe that these guys are executing improper form?
Richard: I've even predicted injuries before they occurred. When Dorian Yates was winning the Mr. Olympia contests with a radical high intensity program, I commented to some fellows in the gym, "If this training routine is actually used by Dorian, I predict he will begin to have serious injuries. NO ONE can train in that fashion, with that degree of intensity, and not begin to rip his body apart!" Well, I hate to say I told you so, but not long after that Dorian had a series of injuries including a torn bicep, pec, and quadriceps. Am I psychic or prescient? NO WAY! But one didn't have to be prescient to predict Dorian was headed for trouble. The same superhuman drive that allowed Dorian to achieve the pinnacle of bodybuilding success also caused him to follow incautious training.
Many pros train with very light weights. In fact, one particular pro bodybuilder known for his amazing arm development hardly trains his arms at all. He does a few pumping movements with cable bicep curls and creates huge biceps. This is the same guy who has complained about the enormous amount of drugs he has to take to compete in the pros!
So what's the point of all this? If you aren't on massive amounts of tissue building drugs AND if you are over 40 and you want to produce the maximum amount of lean muscle tissue with a minimum of injuries, read on!
Whether you are a novice, intermediate or advanced lifter that's new to the gym or lifted for a lifetime you must take into account your individual differences and goals when designing a workout program. The secret is periodizaton! Yes, indeed. Add in periodization techniques where cycles are created to optimize muscle fiber stimulation during the heavy weight/low rep phases and allow for adequate recovery to avoid over training during less intense periods and you've got the foundation on which to build and change training programs while minimizing the possibility of training injuries.
Different muscle fiber composition allowed Arnold Schwarzeneggar to gain success through high set training, while Mike Mentzer gained fame with the low sets of High Intensity Training. Each man evaluated his situation, chose the training program to maximize his genetics and achieved success. Richard found success while training for the Mr. Universe contests with twice per day training, tempo changes and heavy weights with set reduction as he got closer to contest time.
Richard: When I was learning all I could about training and diet as I attempted to create the best physique I could within my genetic limits, I discovered there were contradictory theories about the best and fastest way to develop muscle. In fact, I was around when Arthur Jones revolutionized the fitness equipment industry with Nautilus machines. The picture of Mike Mentzer and me, in fact, was taken at the old Nautilus facilities in Deland, Florida. Mike and I had both been offered positions with the company. I declined for a number of reasons while Mike decided to stay for a few years.
Jones shocked the bodybuilding world with the publishing of "Nautilus Training Principles, Bulletin No. 1" in 1970 when he declared that "the best results are usually produced by three weekly workouts of less than one and one half hours each." The wisdom at that time was that volume was the key so that the stars of the day, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane, were doing split and double split routines in which they divided up the body parts into two or three workouts performed over six days per week up to twice per day. Jones began an era that rejected the very routines that were producing the most outstanding physiques imaginable up to that time. Now a major training fad is to work each body part only once a week on a split routine where only one body part is worked per day with days off every two or three days.
So what's the truth? Unfortunately, the truth is that the truth is complicated! Choosing a training routine becomes even more complicated for baby boomers because of physiological changes that occur after 40. Just as the biochemical individuality of human beings necessitates different nutrient levels for optimal health, so physiological individuality necessitates different types of training to maximize physical development.
When I was a competitive bodybuilder I experimented with a variety of training splits, sets, repetitions, etc., until I began to develop the routine that produced the results I was after. This varied depending on whether I was attempting to build size or maximize my muscularity by reducing my body fat levels. One thing I discovered after years of trial and error (I'm a slow learner!) was that I couldn't just train at maximum intensity year round. In other words, I discovered the principle of periodization! As I've gotten well beyond the 40 year old mark I've been forced to really apply this principle to protect myself from injuries that hinder progress.
While we've been discussing the importance of remembering the Theory of Individual Differences in program design, we need to emphasize a factor all of us baby boomers have in common. Like it or not, we are getting older. Fight it, redefine it, but deal with aging in program design.
Physiological Changes That Occur After 40
- Longer recovery periods are necessary
- Metabolic rate slows down
- Starting in mid-40s, 30-50% of muscle mass gained in youth is lost in a de-conditioned state
- Loss of bone density
- Range of motion diminishes
- Endurance decreases
- Hormonal fluctuations increase
- Joints stiffen
- Elasticity is lost in tendons and ligaments
(For more information on the physiological changes that occur after 40, see Diane's article, Hitting the Gym After 40.)
Periodization training provides the answers to all seeking lean muscle mass because it takes into account individual differences, but is critical to the over 40 crowd due physiological changes.
Without getting too technical, periodization training breaks down long-term training into cycles that take into account intensity and recovery. Generally, cycles will last four to six weeks, with smaller weekly micro-cycles inside each macro-cycle. Each cycle brings with it change in terms of volume and intensity. Due to the inverse relationship between volume and intensity physiological adaptive responses are eliminated.
Adaptation responses should be avoided at all costs! Look around the gym and you'll see numerous people that faithfully tend to their workouts five days per week, month after month. But, they never vary their routine, so the body adapts to the load and no longer responds to the stimuli. As a result, no changes occur to their physique. Variety, in an organized plan is the key to avoid the dreaded adaptive response.
Overloading the muscles is the key to stimulate muscle fibers which in turn will cause the growth of lean muscle mass. But, while in theory we can understand the goal of progressive overload for each workout, the concept fails miserably when applied to real life. Expected growth at each workout session is physiologically impossible and psychologically exhausting to the point where it can be detrimental to training and leaves the body prone to injuries.
Cycles of gaining mass through heavy weight/low rep sessions should be worked up to gradually. For example, periods of high rep ranges (15-25) lead to a cycle of 12-15 reps, then 8-12, 6-8 and finally the very low rep range of 4-6. The physical and emotional toll of the heavy weight/low rep phase should be followed by a less intense phase to renew reserves both physically and emotionally. In addition, inside each weekly cycle, plan a lighter workout to restore energy reserves and decrease psychological stress that will in turn will allow you to produce the energy needed to train harder at the next intense workout.
Diane: Shortly after Juliette Bergman made her stunning comeback at the Olympia in 2001, she helped design a training program for me. Juliette employs this very theory of mixing light and heavy workouts within each week. Using an upper body/lower body split, Juliette suggested hitting the upper body twice per week. All sets were taken to failure with the first attack of the upper body using heavy weights and days later, the upper body parts were hit again using moderate weights. Lower body workouts followed the same pattern and alternated between upper body training days.
Creating the optimum periodization training program is highly individualized and the nuances of the program design require volumes of written work. Rather than re-write the book, we'll turn to some of the industry's top gurus for some convincing evidence for lifters of all ages to engage in the concept of periodization training. In Tudor Bompa's book, Serious Strength Training, he discusses the goals of Phase One: Anatomical Adaptation (AA). After reading Bompa's program development goals to build a solid foundation and reviewing the physiological changes that occur in the body after the age of 40, baby boomers should feel compelled to implement these training techniques into their workout regime.
- Activate all of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the body, so they will better cope with the heavy loads of subsequent training phases.
- Bring all of the body parts into balance. That is, to begin to develop previously neglected muscles or body parts and restore symmetry.
- Prevent injuries through the progressive adaptation to heavy leads.
- Progressively increase the athlete's cardiorespiratory endurance. (p.55)
Here are additional reading recommendations that will allow you to create your own long-term periodization training program with a goal to maximize gains while minimizing injuries. And that, baby boomers, will be the key to our continued success in the gym now and in our senior years.
For further information, please check out:
1. The Poliquin Principles. Charles Poliquin
2. Scientific Bodybuilding. Also known as Hardcore Bodybuilding. Frederick Hatfield
3. Serious Strength Training. Tudor O. Bompa and Lorenzo J. Cornacchia
Coming soon... An article featuring more photos and stories from readers with the theme, "I love to lift!" If you would like to be considered as part of this upcoming column send us an email.
Richard and Diane
Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC.
Richard Baldwin, Member. Legendary Physique, LLC.
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Copyright 2004. Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved.
The advice given in this column should not be viewed as a substitute for professional medical services. Before undertaking any exercise or nutrition program, Legendary Fitness, LLC advises all to undergo a thorough medical examination and get permission from their personal physician.