Even if you're relatively new to the sport of bodybuilding, you've undoubtedly noticed that much of the information out there tends to be contradictory.
One guy recommends 20 sets per body part while another guy does only six sets. Your training partner takes his creatine in the morning with protein and you read it was better to take it immediately after your workout, mixed with grape juice.
Joe does his cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, but Bill says that will cause you to lose muscle mass. Who do you believe? How do you sort things out?
You've been reading muscle magazines from cover to cover and perusing web sites like this one in search of the magic routine, diet plan and supplement regime that will finally transform you into a Jay Cutler clone.
Does it even exist? When you come across it, will you "instinctively" know that it is indeed the holy grail of bodybuilding? Well, I've got news for you. This article might be the key to unlock the mystery of your seemingly endless quest.
A Bit Of History
The great Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with Joe Weider, developed many of the current techniques and training principles in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of these techniques were tested by Arnold himself. The results were staggering. He won seven Olympia titles and Weider is now a household name.
Much of their ideas and philosophies were based on volume training, which is the 20-sets-per-body part routine. Larger muscles, like the legs, might need 25 sets. Smaller muscles, such as the biceps, need less. Maybe 12-15 sets. This is the way most bodybuilders trained. No one really questioned it. You just did it.
The idea was to keep volume training until you could listen to your body and then you would instinctively know which combination of exercises worked best for you.
"Intensity Or Insanity"
There was another school of bodybuilders that took the volume training one step further. Serge Nubret, who you might remember from the film Pumping Iron, did up to 40 sets per body part.
Steve Michalik, a former Mr. America, would perform around 75 sets per body part. He called his training "Intensity or Insanity." I'd say that was appropriately named.
Mike Mentzer's "Heavy Duty" Style
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, a feud started about training philosophies. Another guy by the name of Mike Mentzer came upon the scene.
He started challenging the high-volume gurus and came up with his own low-volume, high-intensity training routines. Many of Mike's ideas stemmed from Arthur Jones, who was the creator of Nautilus machines.
Mentzer called his training style "Heavy Duty".
About 10 years later, a British chap, by the name of Dorian Yates embraced many of Mentzer's ideas.
Yates didn't agree with everything in the Heavy Duty style of training, but his workouts were short-duration, high-intensity, and driven to absolute muscular failure with very few sets—much like Mentzer's.
Where Are We Today?
So, where does that leave us now? In a state of confusion perhaps? Arnold, Nubret, Mentzer and Yates all developed tremendous physiques, but their training styles differed greatly.
Arnold won seven Olympia's and Yates only won six, so does that mean Arnold's style was better? No, of course not. Does it mean that if you train like Arnold or Yates, you'll look like them? Nope. It doesn't work like that either.
Factors For Training Needs
Let's face it. We all know someone who trains less than we do, and with less consistency and intensity, may grow faster than we do. It's a fact of life.
The Arnold Schwarzenegger's of this world were literally born to be bodybuilders. Some guys have cows instead of calves and they hardly train them. Other guys will train their calves until they puke and there lower legs still aren't over 14 inches.
Why Is This?
The tendency for some to continually blossom with muscle growth is dependent on many factors and variables, including genetics.
Bones and Muscle Fiber:
Bone structure is one factor. If you have a large bone structure, you will have a greater tendency to be able to hold more weight on your frame.
Your body won't resist producing more muscle when you've provided conditions for growth. Larger bones might also allow you to handle heavier weights, which help in stimulating muscle growth.
Muscles are made up of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. The ratio of these fibers plays a vital role in how fast you can grow and how much muscle you can pack on.
Distance runners have many slow-twitch fibers and it's fairly obvious they don't have the genetic gift of attaining an abundance of muscle mass.
Some guys will start to blow up and expand before your eyes once they've crossed over to the "dark side." They might not even be taking as much as another dude in the gym. As with any prescription medications, people's bodies will react differently.
Steroids and performance-enhancing drugs will work really well for some but not as well for other people. It also needs to be noted that side effects are harsher for some individuals.
You never know which one you'll be genetically gifted for—results or side effects. For this reason alone, it's not worth crossing over to the dark side. Stay natural!
High-carb. Low-carb. Eat red meat. Don't eat red meat. Fats make you fat. Carbs make you fat. (Eating too much makes you fat—period.)
So many choices...what does one do? One expert will recommend a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. A pro bodybuilder says you should eat at least two grams per pound of bodyweight. Don't eat fruit or eat fruit to help cleanse your system.
When it comes to supplements, what works? What doesn't? Did Mr. Pro really get that big from using Ultra MegaMassive 3700 Muscle Booster? They can't all produce steroid-like results, can they? What do you need? How much are you willing to pay? Does anyone really know what's best?
Putting It All Into Perspective
Hopefully we can make sense of all this conflicting information. The important thing to do is to analyze and compare the information that you assimilate.
Look for things in routines and diet that have similarities. Are there exercises that everyone seems to do? What foods are recommended time and time again from various athletes and trainers? Which supplements do most people use?
You get the idea. Deciphering all the similarities will guide you down the path of discovering your own "magic formula."
Eating correctly is a huge factor in gaining muscle size. Yeah, you've read it before. Tell you something new, right? Well it's true. If you're still not eating six times a day, start tomorrow morning. Every huge dude does this. They might even eat seven or eight times.
For breakfast, eat five or six egg whites scrambled with two yolks, a glass of milk with a scoop of whey protein in it, and a bowl of grits or oatmeal. Two hours later have a Meal Replacement Shake. For lunch eat a chicken breast, a cup of rice, a salad and an apple. Have another protein drink mid-afternoon.
Before your workout, take in a scoop of whey protein and some dextrose. Take the same thing immediately afterwards. For dinner, have a steak, a potato, some veggies and a couple slices of bread. Have another MRP protein drink before bed. Repeat the process the next day and for the next five years. Now look back at how far you've come.
Persistence, dedication and planning are what bodybuilding eating is all about. Just eat and wait to grow. It takes a while sometimes, but it's worth it.
Finding The Right Routine
This is what I've discovered in my 25 plus years of training when it comes to finding the best exercises and the perfect set and rep combo.
First of all, don't waste your time by trying out a new routine every couple weeks. Any routine that you experiment with needs about two to three months to see if it really works or not.
Secondly, don't waste your time on a routine that sounds like some new high-tech routine that involves super-slow, high-rep, followed by low-rep and then has you doing some silly bounding exercises while balancing on one leg or something. Routines like these are published everyday and rookies fall for this garbage all the time.
Remember what I said about similarities? Don't look for a routine that's radically different. Find one that's stood the test of time. It's called old school and it works!
Train each body part only once per week. For example, hit your chest hard on Monday and give it a full week to recuperate. Don't fall for training everything two to three times per week.
You'll end up overtraining.
Sets and Reps:
If you want size, keep your reps between four and eight. If you want cuts, keep your reps between four and eight.
You need to train heavy to gain size and doing between four and eight reps allows you to use heavy weight. Always concentrate on building muscle. Don't increase the number of reps to burn off fat. Burn fat by doing cardio and eating less.
For sets, do about two to three warm-ups on your first exercise and only one on your next exercises. Do three to four heavy sets on each exercise. For large body parts, do 12-15 sets and for smaller ones do eight to 10.
Stick with basic combination exercises for mass. Forget the isolation movements.
If you want a big chest, do heavy inclines and flat bench presses. Don't waste your time on cable cross-overs—unless you use them as a light warm-up.
Hit your back with barbell rows and deadlifts.
Do squats and/or leg presses for your thighs.
Keep your workouts to less than an hour. Marathon workouts will lead to overtraining.
Finding The Supplements
Next you need protein; whey protein and MRP's are great. Find a brand and flavor you like. I like ProLab, EAS and AST. Also pick up some dextrose to add to your protein before and after your workouts.
You might also want to try a green tea pre-workout energizer to give yourself a boost in training. Beyond that it's up to you if you want to try other supplements or not. Stick with these basics and you can't go wrong.
Get Some Sleep
The last big secret in muscle growth is getting enough rest. Sleep is important. Try to get at least eight hours per night. Resting is really important too.
Don't expect to make huge gains if you play basketball two hours a day, go running in addition to weight training. You can't burn a candle at both ends so ease up on the cardio when you want to put on some size.
There you have it—the basics and the magic formula. This is a no-nonsense, old-school, hard core approach. It's not fancy, but bodybuilders have been making gains on a program similar to this for years. Give it a try and join the ranks of the big boys!
Good luck and train hard!