Hello again, dear readers. I hope in my previous six articles you have learned many new things about nutrition and supplementation, but from what I understood from the questions you sent me, you want a "perfect" bodybuilding program in order to get as big as possible.
As I said, there are four different parameters that you should always have in your mind if you want to reach your maximum genetic potential.
- Your nutrition
- Your recuperation
- Your supplementation and
- Your exercising
So far I have discussed, in detail, the first three. Now it's about time to give you, after almost 11 years of experience, which bodybuilding program can make you better.
Before I start, just always remember that in order to reach your 100% maximum, you have to put equal emphasis to all of them. It should not be, as I hear often, "John I am not sleeping good, but I am eating right," or vice versa. Even if some guy in my gym tells me, "John, my supplementation is perfect but I don't care if I eat right," then again I tell him he is doing absolutely nothing!
Let's say that if these four things can make you reach your idea of "perfect", they are equally 25% each, right? So don't put all your eggs in one basket.
If you want to be the best, you have to treat yourself to the best strategy possible. And the best strategy is never to skip a meal, (but to allow your body to cheat once per week), never forget to take your supplements, (but remember which supplements to take at what time), and never forget that after your "battle" in the gym, where you fought with huge weights (huge at least for you), you have to take the "warriors" rest after the battle has finished. So never forget to sleep at least 7-8 hours every night.
So let's start!
As some of you friends might remember, I am following the HIT system the last 3 years, experiencing incredible gains. Until late 1996, I was a little bit frustrated with my training, because even though I was 30 pounds bigger naturally from the day I started, I was feeling like something was wrong with my training. Four sets of every exercise, 15-20 sets for big muscle groups and 10-15 for smaller. Almost two hours in the gym each time, pyramiding my sets, either increasing the reps and reducing the pounds or the opposite. I have tried almost anything, but I was not satisfied. I was feeling that I could go one step farther, but I was not sure what I should do.
Of course, as I said previously, if my nutrition, supplementation and recuperation was not optimum I would experience little gains. But why couldn't I reach my full potential? The answer was easy. I was overtraining!
I thought it was normal to train 4-5 times per week. And spending, as I said, almost two hours every time in the gym and I was just hoping that the next day I would have a better workout. But the more I was training, the more I was feeling that I could not achieve my goals. So many of you might wonder, what happened that I started using the HIT program? I was lucky enough to read, at that time, one of the best bodybuilding magazines. I guess you have observed so far that I don't like to advertise anything in my articles. However, if this magazine did not exist, I would probably have missed my chance to get as big as possible naturally. It's name? "Muscular Development".
I still remember when "Muscular Development" advertised the great Mike Mentzer who at that time, was writing articles for them. I was curious to read them because I knew his books "Heavy Duty I and II", had great success.
Also, I wanted to know what the "mentor" of the great Dorian Yates thought about the right bodybuilding training.
I admit that at first I was skeptical about his articles. I was thinking: "Hey, how can you do so few sets, and get such big results? How is less better and not more? How on earth can I get bigger if I spend only 30 min in the gym only twice per week"? But I told myself that since I have tried almost everything and I had been "stacked" to a certain point, why not also try HIT? I promised myself that if I did not experience something good, I would change it after 12 weeks. That was my "deadline" that I was giving to the HIT system.
The first week I wanted to lift more, for more hours, and I was angry that I had to stop at a certain point. The second week the same, but after my training I was actually feeling good. The third week I started realizing that I was able to lift more pounds. And finally, the fourth week, I started understanding the concepts that had to do with the HIT system. Until that time it was impossible to realize that less is actually more. HIT is not only a training program, but something much more. You learn how to get the "best" in the "least" affordable time. Even though I find the HIT program by Mike Mentzer the best that someone could use, I made a few small modifications to the program, and I believe that it can produce even better results. Changing means "progress" for me.
Beyond HIT System
In order to help you best understand the HIT system and the things that I have added to it, I prefer to make this part, a kind of "question and answer" session. I have included the 10 best, most common questions that I have heard in my gym from people that are thinking of starting the HIT system but are not sure yet. So let's see the 10 most frequent questions. (Hopefully, many of them are also your questions.)
1) "John, why can't I weight train 5-6 times per week with the HIT system and for as many hours as I want?"
First of all, ask yourselves why steroid users have better workouts? Simply because the roids that they take, make them available to train repetitively as soon as 24 hours. So if one of these guys can train 5 times per week, and still have optimum recuperation, what is the potential for a natural trainer? Here is the rule that you have to remember forever! High intensity=bigger time interval between training days. Low intensity=smaller time interval between training days. But HIT means High Intensity Training. So where does the optimum lie for you?
The optimum training has to do with your time spent in the gym. If you train 6 times per week, for two hours each training session, you are over training, right? But in contrast, if you train only one time per week for 30 minutes you are under training. So the truth is somewhere in the middle. Two to three times per week, for one hour at most. You don't need more because bodybuilding is not an aerobic sport. It's one of the few (if not the only), anaerobic.
Also, many scientific studies have said that our natural growth hormone levels start declining dramatically after 40-45 minutes of training with weights. After that point, the more you train, the more you lose! So you won't get bigger if you spend countless hours there. But you will get big, if in less than an hour you mentally "challenge" yourself to lift your highest potential. (Highest until your next training.)
2) "Is there a reason why I should do slow, controlled reps when I use the HIT system?"
Since I mentioned the word "lift", it's time to learn something important about the HIT system. When I say "lift your highest you can", it does not meant you will lift the weights, and you will bounce them up and down for few seconds, and then claim that you lifted the heaviest weights possible, because:
a) "Highest" means to lift the weight and to perform no less than five, and no more than eight reps.
b) "Highest" means to spend no less than six and no more than eight seconds for every rep you perform.
c) "Highest" means to spend four seconds at your eccentric (negative) movement, and 2-4 seconds for your concentric (positive).
d) "Highest" means finally, to spend no less than 30 seconds for every set you perform, (i.e. at least 5 reps for at least 6 seconds per rep=30 seconds), and no more than 64 seconds (i.e. at most 8 reps for at most 8 seconds per rep=64 seconds).
If you perform your sets as I have just described, 99% of you will never get injured. HIT is the safest training method, in contrast of what many believe. The point is every rep to be a slow controlled rep, and to stay FOCUSED for these 30-60 seconds. Muscles start getting stimulated if you spend at least 30 seconds for every rep. You want muscle hypertrophy, don't you? Visualize that you are a human working machine and for less than an hour, you will do your best you can. So forget chatting between your sets, and stop looking at the girls/guys that are trying to exercise also. If you want to reach your ultimate target, you have to do your best. But if you are not mentally ready yet to go to the next level, then sorry, but HIT is not for you. So it's totally counterproductive if you take a huge weight and only perform 3-4 reps, and finish your set in 10-15 seconds, because you are doing nothing at all, except if you want to enter in some powerlifting contest!
3) "Hey John, I was benching 300 pounds before, and now that I am spending at least 30 seconds for every set, I am not able to lift more than 250. Why?"
Well friend, if you want to enter in some powerlifting contest, or you care when people ask you how much you bench press, you can continue using your own program. But if you want to get as big as possible, and see people looking at you, asking you what you did to get bigger, then you can trust HIT! The point is to put your "ego" away, and to start a completely different way of training. Do you care more about maximum pounds lifted or body appearance? If you vote for the second then follow my advice.
4) "Now what about sets? Should you do only one set per exercise? And how many sets in total are the optimum?"
Well friends, this is something that depends only on you. Let me explain. If you just started using the HIT program, most likely you won't be able to concentrate long enough to give your maximum effort for that specific set. Mental focus is a tremendous weapon you can use when you train. If you are totally concentrated for the set, then 1 set is enough. But many times we can not stop at the point that we want, and we stop sooner. Something in our mind always says that if you perform the expected, (i.e. six reps) you don't have to do another since your target number was reached. Or maybe something distracted you when you were training, and you could not do any more sets. Do you know how many times the same thing had happened to me? How many times I could have done 1-2 more reps but I was not MENTALLY concentrated to perform them? Thousands!
So what does one do? Simply add one more last set. Of course some people are in "the highest level" of the HIT system, and they can do their best using only one set. (Remember the example of the one that uses the least amount of time spent in order to get the best results possible?) But for most of the people it's not something you can change from one day to the next. People that just now start using the HIT system, should perform two sets for every exercise until they are MENTALLY able to reach their full potential using only one set. And here is the main thing. You don't need more than 6-8 sets for large muscle groups (chest/back/shoulders/legs), and no more than 2-4 sets for small! (Biceps/triceps/calves). If you exhaust your muscles with more, wouldn't it be counterproductive? Of course!
5) "How many days do I spend in the gym every week?"
Well this depends again with your lifestyle. There are many different variables that can determine that. (Your nutrition, your supplementation, and your recuperation, are the most important, but there are also a few more.) For example, people that are working hard everyday, and spend 8-10 hours at their jobs, should not train more than twice per week, for optimum results. The same for athletes that have included bodybuilding in their program. (It's not good to train more than two times per week, when they also have 4-5 basketball/football/soccer practice sessions per week.
But for a specific category of people that have jobs that are not physically demanding, take the latest "cutting-edge" supplements and sleep at least 7-8 hours every night, as I have said,they are able to train three times per week. Also for students or people that are working part time, it's much easier for them to weight lift three times per week. Up to three times per week is the maximum amount for me. Remember that you should never train for two days in a row.
After your "battle" in the gym, where you were mentally and physically challenging yourselves, you should give yourself at least 48 hours till your next "battle". Remember, the more intense your trainings are, the more time you should spend for recuperation. Avoid over training like "The Plague." For you guys who wonder why you can not workout more times per week, I will give you one perfect example that Mike Mentzer said a few years ago.
Imagine your body as a sponge, and your weight training as a finger that pushes that sponge. Optimum weight training (your finger), will push that sponge (your body) and it will create a small hole, but after a while the hole that has been created will get erased. Now, the more often you weight train intensely, your finger will push again and again on that sponge until a point that this small hole won't get erased again. It won't have the appropriate time to recover. The bigger the hole, the more difficult it is to become the sponge (your body) as it used to be and instead of getting better, it's getting worse.
6) "Is it better to exercise with free weights or machines with the HIT system?"
Remember, HIT means heavy duty work. You won't go to a gym and play with some new fancy machines and then feel happy that you had a good training. Machines for me are good, only if you have been injured and you need to perform specific exercises that won't injure you worse. If you want to get big, you should use free weights, period! (The only exception that you will see, are in my next week's article: front pull downs for the back, cable push downs for the triceps, two exercises for calves and the lying leg curls machine for your hamstrings) Also forget any kind of exercises where you start every set with each hand separately. (i.e. concentration curls for biceps or one arm dumbbell rows for the back). You have to finish as soon as possible, and you don't have time and much energy left in order to lift with each hand separately. With that way it's like performing 1 set more, so why lose precious time?
7) "And what about isolation exercises? What should I do?"
Forget isolation exercises! If you want to get bigger, they don't belong in your program! Remember what the words means! Isolation! (Only small exceptions can be made here.) If you want to get "nice" cuts, increase your cardiovascular activity and reduce your caloric consumption. As I said before, they are good (like machines), if you have been injured and you can not lift heavy. At that time, of course, you will include them, and also one more time that they are useful is when you have finished your bodybuilding season, but you don't want to take 3-4 weeks off. At that time, instead of lifting heavy again, it's better to reduce your training intensity and have a program using only isolation exercises.
The same also after your "summer" vacations when you have not touched a "dumbbell" for the last 3-4 weeks or more. Instead of feeling painful for a long time, do some isolation exercises.
So in conclusion, when you want to get bigger, forget isolation exercises. Do them only when you are back in the gym after a long time, or when you don't want to stop but you have to reduce your training volume in order to avoid over training, and finally when you are injured.
8) "What about warm up sets? Do I have to do them, or can I start immediately with the sets I have to do?
Don't even think about starting your HIT program if you have not done a few warm-up sets first. Also, you should always start by doing 5-10 minutes on the treadmill or stationary bicycle in order to increase your body temperature. Now about warm-up sets, remember something important. You don't have to do SLOW controlled reps for warm ups! (Preferably, what most of you are doing, 1-2 second concentric and 1-2 second eccentric). But always your reps should be very controlled even if you don't spend a long time for them.
Before you start your real sets, for every body part, you should do two warm up sets. The correct training is to do 20-25 reps for your first warm up set. (But know that you are able to do as high as 30 reps). About your second warm up set, you should slightly increase the weight, and perform 15-20 reps. (But again, you should be able to do as high as 25). Just remember not to spend all your precious energy on your warm up sets. You should start feeling a small "pump" on your muscles, if you want to avoid any possible injury.
9) "What about abdominals? Should I do abs with my HIT program and with what style"?
Yep, you should do abs. Of course, their shape is determined by 80% your cardio exercising and food consumption. But it's good to spend 15 minutes in the gym doing them. Now how many times per week? Since abs are just another muscle group, don't train them more than once or twice per week. In the program that you will see later, I have not added them on a specific day, because I think it has to do with you and how you feel. But the best is to do them on the day that you will finish with your weight training as fast as possible. So it's totally up to you, which of the 2-or-3-day split that I will give you, when you will add the abs, and also if you would like to perform them once or twice per week.
Here are the best exercises for abs:
a) Cable crunches or crunches, for upper abs (2 sets of 50-60)
b) Hanging leg raises or reverse crunches, for lower abs (2 sets of 20-40)
c) Cross over or step over crunches, for obliques (1 set each of 20-30)
For best results, you can perform the first three, one day and the other, on your next training day (ie cable crunches, hanging leg raises and cross overs on training day one and crunches, reverse crunches and step over crunches on training day two). Just remember that you have to finish after 15 minutes at the most.
10) "And finally John, should I always use the same exercises or not?"
You should change the exercises every week in order to avoid muscle adaptation. The more mass exercises that you use, the better your body will not be able to re-adjust. You see, our bodies are extremely adapted machines. The more often we use the same exercises, the easier for them to get adapted. (And that's bad because adaptation also means stagnation.) Of course, some exercises can not change (such as dead lifts or leg presses), but around 80% of them should be different from week to week.
This was my first article for the HIT program. I could have written both parts of the HIT program articles at the same time, but it must be a "step by step" process. Learn first, what is behind (and beyond) the HIT system, and next week you will know everything! I will include a bodybuilding training program for people who want to train either twice or three times per week. Also as a "bonus" for your patience I will give you the best mass exercises for every body part. Stay tuned!