I.C.E. Program #6 - Progression Of Training!

You start as a beginner and progress until you are an advanced bodybuilder. How do you know where you are right now? What should you do during each stage in between?

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Article Summary:
  • The earliest beginners will mainly focus on getting themselves used to training.
  • Intermediate trainers usually have a hard time remaining humble which hurts their progress.
  • Advanced lifters are so knowledgeable that they probably don't need to read this.
  • Gradually increased pressure enhances the capabilities of our bodies and improves our tolerance to stress. If changes are made in a radical manner our body cannot process the overload and will succumb to excess pressure. That's why I urge you not to look at the success of some of I.C.E.'s greatest pupils, like myself, and attempt to take on a routine that will undoubtably kill you or at least get you injured or severely over-trained. Training should progress. If everyone could handle 22 sets for 8 workouts per week the word over-training would not be such a buzz-word today, I assure you.

    The key principle to this entire system of training beliefs, if you recall, is to match your training to your recuperation and not the other way around. So it's the amounts you can lift in the kitchen that will determine your overall workload in the gym. Should you do it the other way around your recuperation will always be playing catch-up and never quite succeed in letting your body recover fully, since the stress of training is always a bit higher than the recuperation you give it.

    In this case over-training is the least of your concerns because most likely it will take an eternity to gain any lean mass. To follow the way of thinking of the bodybuilding community I have kept the terms beginner, intermediate and advanced, but let me express my objection to such limited terms. I think this kind of typecasting is unnecessary and degrading for some iron junkies. I know beginners who have a far more advanced physique than most intermediates, which is why it is not right to have such a hierarchical structure because these beginners are obviously much better at what they do than their intermediate counterparts. However, since these terms are most widely understood, we'll have to make do. I have added another stepping stone however and divided the first two classes in level I and II.

    RELATED POLL
    What Level Of Bodybuilder Do You Think You Are?

    Level I Beginner.
    Level II Beginner.
    Level I Intermediate.
    Level II Intermediate.
    Advanced.

    The trick to progressive success in bodybuilding is paying attention and making sure you have done all the things you needed to do before moving on to the next level. Trust me, I helped develop the program and I only recently started considering myself advanced. Don't be so cocky as to think that just because you are an intermediate bodybuilder that you can jump in at level II intermediate training. Most likely you'll either be a level I intermediate or a level II beginner.

    There is a reason why people remain intermediates so long: because that's the time when they consider themselves the pinnacle of knowledge and would rather listen to their own narrow-minded and half-assed theories than put in the work they need to. Most often you will find that these are the people that use a certain program, but with their own tweaks in it. Don't get me wrong, I was like that too.

    To be honest it was the foundation that got me where I am today, but I traveled a long road of research after that too. I don't disapprove of this hit-and-miss technique, in fact I encourage it. But if that is your idea of training, I.C.E. is not for you. It was made for those that can derive their own needs from it and fulfill them to the letter.

    So pay attention to the progression and make sure you get your things in order before you start making plans for the next level. Only when your nutrition has evolved to the next level and you stop growing on your current level are you ready to move on.

    Make Sure You Get Your Things In Order Before Thinking Of Moving To The Next Level.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Make Sure You Get Your Things In Order Before
    Thinking Of Moving To The Next Level.


    Level I Beginner

      Only the newcomers to our sport will have to start here to accustom their bodies to training and stress. Most of the others will have progressed beyond this point, with or without much work. It's pretty much a given. At this point at least a minimum nutritional requirement has to be met and that is that you are consuming more than 10 calories per pound of lean bodyweight and at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. The rest is irrelevant.

      A beginner can grow on almost anything and the idea of this level is to adapt the muscles to training. At this point you will use two, maximum three, exercises per body-part at three sets each. Read the article on sets and reps to determine your rep range, but stay on the low end of it for your first exercise, because that will be the mass exercise. Pick a compound movement to fill that slot, things like bench presses, squats, deadlifts, military press, barbell curls and lying extensions.

      Get someone to help you with the proper execution of these exercises because this will be crucial to future success and even more important to avoid injury once you start handling real weight on these exercises. Especially deadlifts and squats can be tricky. For your second and possibly third exercise, pick an isolation movement. On the contrary to popular belief, getting acquainted with isolation movements and learning to let your muscle move a weight without assistance of other muscles is the first step in the all important mind-muscle connection.

      But remember to always perform the compound movement first. Feel free to combine muscle-groups and get creative to find what works best for you. You can still afford a few mistakes at this level, I suggest you use them to get to know your body and find out which muscles respond well and which don't.

      Avoid the most common beginner mistake and don't focus on just the body-parts you want, like chest and biceps. Give as much attention to all body-parts, only then will you be able to see your true strengths and weaknesses. And believe me, I wish there had been someone to tell me this when I started out.

    Give Attention To All Body-Parts Not Just The Chest And Biceps.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Give Attention To All Body-Parts
    Not Just The Chest And Biceps.


    Level II Beginner

      This is the most advantageous stage to jump in for most people. Here you need to fulfill a nutritional requirement of 1 gram protein per pound of bodyweight and consuming 500 calories more than 10 calories per pound of bodyweight. You should also make an attempt to keep a balance of 50 percent carbs, the majority from complex sources, 35 percent protein and 15 percent fats. The exact amounts are irrelevant, but you should have an idea of this notion and apply it in this stage.

      Your training will progress as well. You'll need three exercises per body-part, but you are still starting off with a compound movement. Keep intensity high by pacing your reps and keeping rest-times short. Pick your exercises with care so you can stimulate as much muscle as possible.

      Use 3 sets per exercise to begin with, and as you start feeling you can handle more raise the bar to 4 sets per exercise. Never keep a set routine for longer than 8 weeks, your muscles will benefit more from the variety. Keep your compound exercise but rotate the other two exercises.

      Start by getting more sleep, something in the nature of 7-8 hours per night at least. Should you find your progress starts coming to a halt this could be helped by an increase in calories or an extra hour of sleep. The idea of this stage is to lay as much foundation as possible. Thick and dense muscles are the result of limited but very intense training with compound exercises. Once you feel good about your progress, but no sooner, you will use your next plateau as the sign of progression to an intermediate level.

    Pick Your Exercises With Care So You Can Stimulate As Much Muscle As Possible.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Pick Your Exercises With Care So You Can
    Stimulate As Much Muscle As Possible.


    Level I Intermediate

      The nutritional requirements are basically the same except you will attempt to eat 800 to 1000 calories more than 10 per pound of bodyweight. Protein intake will be cycled between 0.8 grams per pound on resting days and 1.2 grams of protein per pound on workout days. This cycling will have a fluctuation effect on the muscles that will start storing more protein in order to prepare for heavier work. Also the increase in carbs on rest-days will assure plenty of glycogen for longer and more intense sessions of training.

      Rest should be up to 8-9 hours minimum if you want to secrete enough GH to build muscle. This stage can be quite long because it is the one that will give you the most mass. Per body-part assess your weak point and select the most isolative exercise for that area of the muscle. This will be your initial exercise and you will do two pump sets (high end of the rep range) and two heavier sets to kick off training.

      Now do 4 to 5 sets of your preferred compound exercises, though to avoid stagnation or difficulty I suggest you switch to dumbbells if you can. Not for squats and deadlifts of course, but for chest and shoulder presses and arm exercises. This will develop a more even physique. Since this is the most important phase for mass, maintaining proportion and symmetry is important to prevent spending too much time on level II, as I have.

      It may be best to bring your dietary balance to 45-35-20 because the extra fat will provide more energy and better use of protein. Also the transport of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals is increased with fat ingestion. Get clean fats though like olive oil, canola or flax. The stuff in cans and plastic bags (like chips) is rancid because of prolonged storage.

      The key is not to leave this stage until you feel happy about your size. 85 percent of your size has to be achieved here. Feel free to experiment with extra calories, training cycles and shock principles if you find your training stagnates. You should never need more than 15 percent body-fat, if you exceed that, your problem is probably not your nutrition.

      Next to your two first exercises you'll do two more isolation exercises for a total of 6 sets. Be it 3 and 3 or 4 and 2, it doesn't matter. The idea is to stimulate fibers that haven't been stimulated individually yet while keeping your pump going. Once you lose your pump its time to leave the gym.

      I refer you to my article on intensity because this stage in your training is probably the best time to get acquainted with which methods work best for you and incorporate them in your training. When applied correctly each will increase the intensity of your workout and thus the need for recuperation, so take your time to ease in to this. Avoiding and dealing with plateaus is the main worry in level I. Some people take 2 years or more to complete this stage, so do not progress until you are happy about your size and weight.

    You Should Try Switching To Dumbbells For Your Chest, Shoulder, And Arm Exercises.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    You Should Try Switching To Dumbbells For
    Your Chest, Shoulder, And Arm Exercises.


    Level II Intermediate

      Build it, then sculpt it. That's the order of business for a successful bodybuilder. If you have attained proper mass then it's time to move on to this stage. It can be a particularly long stage, but it doesn't have to be if you paid close attention to symmetry in the last stage. The main work we will focus on now is enhancing the symmetry and cuts in your physique.

      In Level I mass at any expense was the main drive but now you are going to have to cut down to about twelve percent to be able to see your progress where cuts are concerned. A focus on ab-work and exercises like dips, upright rows, hammer curls, reverse pushdowns, squats with feet close together and such should be implemented. No longer is the compound movement a necessity. If you feel that it's needed by all means keep it, but you don't have to bother with the likes of bench presses and military presses when better exercises are available. Keeping squats in the regimen is a must for most people (only a minority can grow on leg presses alone) and doing occasional deadlifts will keep strength levels up.

      The complexity of this stage is that of nutritional cycling. Protein levels should go up as carbs go down and keep cycling that. Keep between a 40-40-20 and 50-30-20 balance. At the same time cycle your calories with about an 800 calorie difference, always staying well above 10 per pound of lean bodyweight. Your protein intake is between 1 and 1.5 grams per pound.

      Stay anabolic but attempt to keep a pretty tight body-fat percentage. Training will consist of strict targeting isolation exercises that hit each muscle at every possible angle, about three or four of them at three to five sets each. Compound exercises are optional. If you use them make sure they are one of the first two exercises you do.

      After completing all that do 4 sets of the cutting exercises described above to add the finishing touches to your physique. Squeeze every last bit of energy you can out of the exercise so that you are left with nothing. Nothing at all. Then get your post-workout shake. You will see the improvement in your physical appearance almost immediately.

      Cuts and vascularity will improve without extreme changes to your body-fat. Keep this up until you can look at yourself in the mirror and say that except for a bit of fat this is the look you want. In the advanced stage you will make improvements in both cuts and size, but much slower. So the intermediate stages are the meat and potatoes of bodybuilding. They should be sixty percent of your overall development.

    In This Level Cuts And Vascularity Will Improve Without Extreme Changes To Your Body-Fat.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    In This Level Cuts And Vascularity Will Improve
    Without Extreme Changes To Your Body-Fat.


    Advanced

      The advanced stage is very complex and I can't give you much solid information, but if you have been doing I.C.E. for a while chances are I don't need to. You should have perfected your instincts and developed a close relation with your body that allows you to feel what is best. Instinctive training will no doubt play a bigger role than anything else. At this point you should know what exercises work for what purpose and so on.

      For me, as an example, that meant I hardly ever did compound exercises, I knew the exact number of sets I would have to stick to for every body-part individually and I knew that I only had to train abs four months. Things like that you discover along the way. Personal knowledge that works for you. So I won't bore you with training details here, because most likely if you are advanced you probably won't be listening to what I say anyway.

      A few nutritional tips: Stay on the top side of your protein spectrum consuming a little more protein, say 1.3 to 1.6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight will avoid catabolic reactions. Of course getting the right protein becomes important too. You'll need to vary sources to get a mix of milk, egg, meat, vegetable and whey protein. That's a must.

      Your calories should have gone up drastically by now since your bodyweight has increased as well, but you can easily eat 20 calories per pound of bodyweight. You should also consider increasing the rate of complex carbs as opposed to simple carbs. You'll also need to get acquainted with fat-loss diet and exercise. But I won't discuss that here. Fats should be at least 20 percent of diet, they will become very important.

    You'll Need To Vary Protein Sources To Get A Mix Of Milk, Egg, Meat, Vegetable And Whey Protein.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    You'll Need To Vary Protein Sources To Get A Mix
    Of Milk, Egg, Meat, Vegetable And Whey Protein.


    Conclusion

    That is the basic progression of training. It has very simple, vague guidelines you need to follow, but however vague they may seem, they are in the strictest sense the minimum requirements for each stage. Obviously there is no need for progression as long as one level gives you gains. If that means you are an Intermediate Level I for 5 years, by all means do, it can only aid your physique if it makes you grow.

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