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Training A 39 Year Old Body For Competition After 15 Years Off...Naturally!

After writing the article I had a lot of people ask me how I was making so many changes so quickly (and naturally) at 39. For this reason, I then wrote an article on supplementation and dieting.

In my first article that I was asked to write after stepping on stage after 15 years titled, " 39 Year Old Bodybuilder Goes Back To His Roots To Overcome Adversity." I discussed how bodybuilding had positively affected my life from an early age, and how by turning back to it at 39, it got me through a rough period in my life, while also inspiring others.

After writing the article I had a lot of people ask me how I was making so many changes so quickly (and naturally) at 39. For this reason, I then wrote an article on supplementation and dieting.

Since the release of these articles are received even more questions from many bodybuilders, young and old asking me about training routines. So, this article is about the training routine.

I do want to preface this article with saying that my routine is far from perfect, but at 39 years old, and considering the commitments I have at work, and outside work, the routine I used below is what worked for me to get me back on stage, and into the winners circle as well.


Off Season Routine

During the off season routine I typically will keep my reps in the 6 to 8 rep range, and approximately once a month attempt a max (1 to 3 reps) to gauge my strength gains.

My off season routine also differs from my pre-contest routine in that I will perform less variety of exercises and less total sets eliminating most "finishing" type exercises like cable work, rows, and most machines (with the exception of the leg press, smith machine and calf machines).

Pre-Contest Routine - 10 weeks out

  • Day 1 - Quads, Hamstrings
  • Day 2 - Chest, Shoulders Triceps
  • Day 3 - Back, Bicep, Rear Delts, traps
  • Day 4 - Rest (Cardio)
  • Day 5 - Repeat cycle
Pre-Contest - 3 weeks out, lower weight, increase detail exercises, increase # of angles and exercises, quicken pace to increase intensity, hold, and squeeze and stretch more in between sets

The Actual Workouts

Quads Training

Legs are the most important muscle group for several reasons. First and foremost legs are the largest muscle group. Because they are the largest muscle group they will affect your metabolism and hormone secretion more than any other muscle group.

By working your legs hard you will indirectly be growing other muscles because of the greater hormone secretion that will result. Additionally, to cut up and increase your metabolism you need to work your legs hard as well.

For this reason I always start my training cycles with quads. I save the leg bicep work for last because my hamstrings have always responded quickly and because it is a smaller muscle I can suck it up after blowing out my legs to oblivion. I want every bit of power for my quads and don't want to do them without 100% energy.

My off-season leg workout is fairly simple. 4 to 6 sets of extensions to warm up followed by 6 to 8 sets of leg presses or squats. Leg extensions are also good because they can really bring out the separation between the vastus medialis and rectus femoris.

I will then finish off with 4 sets of extensions or free weight barbell hack squat for a great pump. Pre-contest time I will add 8 sets of additional definition work by doing lunges, front squats, or step-ups.

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Hamstrings Training

Typically for hamstrings, I usually perform just 2 basic (lying and seated ham curls) exercises for 4-6 sets each utilizing 8-10 reps to failure in a pyramiding fashion (up and down).

I squeeze and hold each rep, which helps me maintain hardness and separation and a nice round like bicep. Pre-contest I might add stiff leg dead lifts. For quads, I always begin with 4-6 sets of leg extensions followed immediately by 3-4 sets of free weight hack squats or leg presses in a heavy pyramid style.

Then I will finish with 4-6 more sets extensions. Pre-contest I may add front squats, step-ups, front and reverse lunges. Every other workout I will replace the leg press with 6-8 sets of squats in pyramiding fashion (up and down).

I train calves about 2 times a week and I always train them apart from legs. Also, I perform them at the beginning of my workout and squeeze very hard.

Total workout time: 45-60 min. 60-75 minutes when squatting.

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Calf Training

Here is my simple routine for diamond cut calves; 4 sets of seated calf raises and 4 sets of standing leg raises. 10-12 reps to failure in a pyramiding fashion (up and down).

I squeeze and hold each rep, which helps me maintain hardness and separation. Pre-contest time I add 4 more sets and step the pace up.

Total workout time: 15-20 min.

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Back Training

I always begin with 6 sets of front pull-ups using only my bodyweight in a nice steady controlled fashion without swinging. Pull-ups are great for back width and really hit the Lattissumus Dorsi (lats) while also working the rhomboids and lumbar (lower back) area.

Because width is so important to me to balance thick legs I then follow pull-ups will use a narrow grip to stimulate other portions of the latissimus and other secondary back muscles. Lat pull downs are followed by 4-6 sets of close grip pull downs.

I will finish the work out with either Bent Over DB Rows to work my lower lats (and indirectly work my rhomboids, shoulders and seratus) or Seated Rows, which work the entire back area. I complete 4 to 6 pyramided sets in the 6-10 rep range for all of the movements.

During pre-contest time I will add a couple of "finishing exercises" like seratus pull downs, cable rows utilizing various handgrips or Straight Leg Dead Lifts (works the lumbar area and the leg biceps (hamstrings) or T-bar rows. Previous injuries prevent me from attempting heavy bent over rows or deadifts.

Total workout time: 50 min. off-season. 65-60 minutes pre-contest.

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Bicep Training

Biceps are trained separately from triceps, as I want to maximize both parts size. Off-season I begin with 6-8 sets of alternating dumbbell curls using the pyramid scheme. I do standing and/or sitting dumbbell curls in the 6 to 10 rep range progressively going heavier until failure.

I then pyramid back down. Training is competed in 15 minutes when I can't squeeze the biceps any further.

Pre-contest I do the same as above and then add 3 or 4 of the follow exercises performing sets one after the other without more than 10 seconds of rest (EZ curl bar, dumbbell hammer curls, curls supinating wrists, front double bicep cable curls, alternating dumbbell curls with the elbows pointing outward, bent over dumbbell concentration curls, alternating curls while lying reversely on incline bench arms dangling, etc.)

Total workout time: 15 min. off-season, 15-25 min. pre-contest.

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Rear Deltoid Training

I perform 6-8 sets bent over rear deltoid flys as heavy as I can, then finish up with 2 to 3 sets of light reverse rear deltoid lateral flys while lying face down on an incline bench.

Pre-contest replace the 6-8 sets bent over rear deltoid flys with 6 sets of rear deltoid lateral flys while lying face down on an incline bench. I then perform either 4 to 6 sets of slow controlled reverse pectoral flys, squeezing my rear deltoids (delts) sharply for a great finishing contraction.

Total workout time: 20 - 25 min.

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Trap Training

6 sets of dumbbell shrugs. Off-season I also add 4 sets of barbell shrugs in front and in reverse. On occasion, I add 4 sets of upright rows.

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Chest Training

My favorite training day of the cycle, because chest and shoulder work give me amazing pumps. I begin this training session with chest, because I have very big front and side deltoids. I always concentrate primarily on the upper pectorals (chest) first, because if you have a great upper chest the rest will follow.

I use primarily all free weights. Mixing dumbbells and barbells. The only machine I use consistently is the smith machine for concentrated slow intense incline movements. Incline work (whether it is dumbbell, barbell or smith machine work) will comprise half my workout followed by 4 - 6 sets of flat (or decline) presses or fly's.

I rarely use other equipment unless it is pre-contest time when I am adding exercises or angles, or if I am short on time or energy stores. I will also add dips, pectoral (pectoral (pec)) deck and/or cables occasionally, and more regularly during pre-contest time.

Dips is an excellent chest mass builder and a favorite of mine because I can quickly and easily alter the angle and my hand position so I can work all areas of the chest and get the freaky chest cuts and separation that many can not get from basic angles.

Total workout time: 40 min, 50 min pre-contest.

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Shoulder Training

Afterward chest, I move directly into shoulder training, concentrating on my front and side deltoids (delts). I usually warm up with dumbbell presses or side laterals depending on my preference for the day. I then move to heavy dumbbell presses because they are an excellent shoulder mass builder.

The beauty of using dumbbells is that you not governed to using set width grips as you are with barbells and also you get a greater rang of motion. I also utilize a strict reverse press keeping my palms facing me at all times, and a few different variations of side lateral movements that give me a HUGE pump and burn!

Pre-contest time I use moderately heavy dumbbell; while off-season I try to do no more than 6 reps. I pyramid the weight. I will also add two additional movements such as: reverse dumbbell presses, 1 arm cable lateral raises, 1 arm front cable raises.

I pyramid all my shoulder work except for the cable finishing exercises.

Total workout time: 30 min off-season, 40 min pre-contest.

Total workout time: 25 min, 35 min pre-contest.

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Triceps Training

During the off season I keep the triceps training fairly simple: 4 sets of 6-10 reps of pushdowns, 4 to 6 sets of rope tricep pushdowns. Total workout time: 10 -15 min.

Pre-contest time I perform the reverse extension with the short spinning bar (3 x 10) and then I choose two of the following exercises to provide further detail.

The two exercises will be chosen from any of the following (3 sets of dips leaning forward, reverse rope extensions from the far head extending out, 1 arm dumbbell overhead extension, kickbacks, and reverse grip 1 arm triceps extension.).

Total workout time: 20-25 min pre-contest.

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Forearm Training

None. My forearms are built from years of dead lift gripping of the bar without straps, so I do not do forearm training, however if your forearms are in need of development my suggestion would be to superset wrist curls and reverse wrist curls for 3-4 sets utilizing a higher rep range of about 15-20 reps.

Just enough to get that intense burn feeling.

Total workout time should not be more than 15-20 min.

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Abdominal Training

I do not do abdominal work in the off-season. My pre-contest routine is very simple but effective. The most important part of my abdominal work out is the contraction. I go slow and focus on perfect form.

I have very small movement not huge contractions when I contract the abs and hold the contraction. The following is the abdominal workout I employ 1 month (4 days a week) out from a contest.

Total workout time: 30 min.

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Cardio Training

I perform anywhere from 20-30 min. of cardio 3x a week pre-contest. If I am behind in my conditioning I will go 5 days a week. I prefer the mornings when possible.