Bodybuilders And What They Can Teach Us
Bodybuilders; Keep the template, alter the protocols
Dorian Yates (above) at his awesome peak: 261-pounds sporting a 3% bodyfat percentile. Known for his mind-blowing mass, what really separated him from all big men bodybuilders that came before him, was his ability to get absolutely shredded. Look how crisp and fat-free his serratus and intercostals appear in this photo, 261-pounds with shredded obliques. I was with him for three hours the morning after he won the 1995 Mr. Olympia. He was doing a post-victory photo shoot with Ralph Dehaan while I interviewed him for M&F. Dorian would build his off-season bodyweight to a few biscuits shy of 300-pounds eating 6,500 calories. He would then whittle down to 260, never letting his calories drop below 3,500. Look how fat-free his skeletal face is.
Back in the 1990s, I worked as the main training article writer for Muscle & Fitness magazine. Dr. Jim Wright (RIP) brought me onboard after reading my articles in Powerlifting USA and MILO magazine. Jim had been the head of the United States Army’s research division experimenting with performance enhancing drugs and their potential for military use.
In WWII, the Nazi’s issued methamphetamine tablets to their frontline shock troops on a widespread basis. Nazi doctors were the first to isolate and use testosterone for athletics. The German scientists experimented with supplemental testosterone in preparation for the 1936 Berlin Olympic game. Insofar as military use, the Germans used testosterones for its aggression-producing attributes. The military scientists wanted to bottle psychotic behavior. High doses of raw testosterone induced what they sought.
The US Army was looking to construct the super soldier and Colonel James B. Wright oversaw the science and medicine part of the project. They discovered, for example, that dianabol, a synthetic steroid, improved resistance to radiation. Jim retired and became the science editor at Flex magazine.
The boys at Muscle & Fitness needed a training editor and Jim suggested me. I got the job and generated 83 feature articles during my tenure. My job was to interview the top bodybuilders in the world on how they trained and ate. At the time, the Weider Empire was on top of the world, M&F was the largest selling fitness magazine in the world. We had 500,000 monthly newsstand sales and 2.5 million monthly subscribers.
As a national level powerlifter and lifelong student of the Iron Game, I was ideally suited to write training articles. I knew training inside and out and when I interviewed the bodybuilders, I really interviewed them. I quizzed the hell out of them on how they lifted, what type and how much cardio they did, what kind of diet did they used, both in-season and out-of-season.
I wanted to know for myself, I wanted to add their knowledge, particularly on diet and cardio, to my own athletic data base. With one notable exception, Dorian Yates, all the high-level bodybuilders of that era (and previous bodybuilding eras) used a high-volume, moderate-intensity resistance training approach.
The topflight pro bodybuilders of the 1990s were spending 15 to 20-hours per week training. Long lifting sessions were now coupled with endless cardio sessions. To me, the 90s approach to bodybuilding was a sophisticated extension of the old Arnold-Franco-Robbie-Zane-Sergio volume training template. Only now, atop 90-minute long daily weight training sessions, the elite bodybuilders added another 45-60 minutes a day of cardio.
The inclusion of cardio into the bodybuilder template was resisted tooth-and-nail. Bodybuilders and bodybuilding experts hated cardio and offered up the “irrefutable science” that cardiovascular exercise was detrimental and should be avoided. Cardio tore muscle down! Irrefutable science! They pointed to cherry-picked studies and left out vital study parameters – like the participants that tore muscle down were expert runners logging 40 + miles a week and under-eating.
Regardless the details, what could be worse than tearing muscle down?! That was all the bodybuilders needed to hear and all they needed to reject cardio. Indeed, cardio most certainly will tear down muscle – assuming you are an underfed elite runner with a worn-down immune system, a vegetarian existing on refined carbs and eating spaghetti noodles “for energy” before a race. Under extreme circumstances cardio will most certainly tear down muscle, but not so much for bodybuilders riding a stationary bike for 45-minutes and then drinking a replenishment shake immediately afterwards.
What changed the minds of mainstream bodybuilding world vis a vis cardio? The cardio deniers started getting beat on a regular and routine basis by bodybuilders that did cardio. Results change minds. Those early cardio users were the pioneers that created the first generation of the modern huge-yet-ripped bodybuilder. Before cardio, sub-5% body fat percentiles were only obtained by guys weighing 180-pounds or less.
With the widespread inclusion of cardio, big men were able to obtain ultra-low body fat percentiles formerly the exclusive domain of smaller, lighter-boned bodybuilders. The modern bodybuilding template was birthed: weight training, cardio, nutrition, the bodybuilding triad, the bodybuilding lifestyle.
The classical bodybuilder approach towards resistance training is distinctly different from the resistance training used by an athlete seeking to increase strength and power. The bodybuilder’s goal, their only concern is attaining maximum muscle size. Freed from having to increase strength or improve performance, bodybuilders can “pump” a muscle, over and over, using a variety of exercises. To increase a targeted muscle’s size, bodybuilders repeatedly engorge a muscle with blood, inflating and purposefully overinflating.
The bodybuilder weight training strategy is to reduce training poundage. This one act enables long sessions filled with more pumping sets, higher reps, more exercises, a quicker pace, shortened ROM, “non-lock” techniques that promote “bigger pumps.” Here is Frank Zane’s classical Old School high-volume chest routine. This routine was done three times a week…
Bench press 8 sets of 10-reps
Dumbbell incline bench press 6 sets of 10
Decline dumbbell flyes 6 sets of 10
Pullovers across bench w/dumbbell 6 sets of 15
Zane weight trained twice a day, six days a week. Each week he performed 78 sets of chest, 45 sets of triceps, 45 sets of abs, 72 sets for deltoids, 75 sets for back, 60 sets of biceps, 24 sets of forearms, 48 sets of thighs and 60 sets of calves. His weekly set total came to 507. Zane was a lazy slacker compared to the 700 + weekly sets racked up by Arnold, Franco and Sergio.
Then along came Dorian Yates doing 70 sets a week, not 700. As I pointed out in articles in Muscle & Fitness, Yates got really big because he figured out a way to get really strong. He trained like a powerlifter, a powerlifter that added forced reps to finish a top set. Like a lifter, Yates trained each muscle (each lift) once a week.
He used bar-bending poundage and his strategy was to work up to one all-out top set; ride the poundage to positive failure before having Leroy, his fearsome training partner, step in and administer one or two expertly applied forced reps. Then onto the next exercise. One (all-out top set) and done.
Using this “less is better if less is heavier strategy,” Yates built mind-blowing size. Even if muscle-building results were equal between Dorian’s low-volume high-intensity approach and the classical Arnold/Zane high-volume moderate-intensity approach, using Occam’s razor I would say, “Sign me up for the 70-set a week school, not the 700-set a week school.”
Volume training, pump, pump, pump, is akin to flogging a muscle to death. The Yates approach recognized that getting stronger, way stronger, made muscles bigger, way bigger. In a bit of an oversimplification, a man with a 400-pound bench press has a hell-of-a-lot more pec, delt and triceps development than a man with a 200-pound bench press.
While Frank Zane was performing 78 sets of chest per week, Dorian Yates did 9 sets of chest per week. While Frank Zane was doing 8 sets of 10 reps using 235-pounds in the flat bench and incline pressing 205 for 6 sets of 10 three times a week, Yates was warming up with 4-5 sets before incline pressing 435 for 6 reps + 2 forced reps. Then two sets of dumbbell flyes, two sets of pec-dec and he was done chest training for the entire week. One all-out set per exercise, move onto the next exercise.
Cardio was the missing piece to the bodybuilding puzzle. Bodybuilders became fitter and leaner because of aerobics. Ironically, it was discovered that bodybuilders grew larger muscles because of constant cardio: fit bodybuilders were able to train harder, longer, more often, and recovered far quicker.
Cardio builds and strengthens heart and lung muscles while improving circulatory functions. Cardio causes the metabolism to spike, an exceptionally good thing for someone seeking leanness. The human machinery functions optimally when fit, strong, and fed pure fuel. Bodybuilder dieting is all about cleaning up the food content.
As mentioned, bodybuilding is fundamentally about nutrition. Disciplined, planned, sustained nutrition is coordinated with intense, consistent, hardcore exercise to create a muscled-up, fat-free physique. The triad, lifting, cardio and nutrition, are skillfully juggled to coax progress and transform the physique.
Nutrition: the bodybuilder establishes a multiple meal eating schedule. Mini meals break the day’s calorie allotment into smaller amounts. These power-packed meals are eaten at equidistant intervals and refuel the body all day long. Rather than eat 3,000 calories in three square meals, better to eat six, 500-calorie mini-meals. Cleaning up the food selections is the first order of business. Anyone not willing to clean up the diet has zero chance of bodybuilding success. The world is littered with muscled-up, strong, fit, FAT athletes. Clean eating combined with intense, consistent exercise (mainly cardio) is the eternal bodybuilding prescription for leanness.
Cardio: Cardio is coordinated with diet to whittle off body fat. Through the skilled use of timed exercise and strict eating, the body is maneuvered into a metabolic situation wherein it is forced to mobilize and oxidize body fat. Cardio flushes and cleanses internal organs. The circulatory system needs stressing and strengthening as surely as the external muscles. The fitter the bodybuilder becomes the leaner he becomes. Aerobic exercise done first thing in the morning is called ‘fasted cardio.’ Fasted cardio accelerates fat burning in the absence of glycogen. Hardcore weight training and intense aerobic exercise accelerates a sluggish metabolism.
Resistance training: classical bodybuilding resistance training stresses the pump, the purposeful engorgement of a muscle with blood. Moderated poundage enables the bodybuilder to plow through 3-4 exercises per muscle group, hitting three to four muscle groups in each training session. Each muscle is trained 2-3 times per week. At the other extreme, bodybuilding minimalists like Dorian Yates grow powerlifter strong and grow powerlifter large. Regardless which of these generalized directions are selected, the volume-and-pump approach or the train-like-a-lifter approach, application, tenacity, and intensity are the key to sparking hypertrophy and building muscle.
The bodybuilder Triad, the balanced combination of resistance training, aerobic exercise and highly disciplined nutrition, is flawless perfection, a supreme balance that cover all bases, strength, leanness, function and health. Every aspect of human life is improved by systematically practicing the three legs of the bodybuilding triad.
However, we reserve the right to “switch out” the protocols used by bodybuilders within the three legs. We have our own weight training protocols, our own cardio and nutritional protocols. While we salute the genius of the generalized bodybuilding template, we reserve the right to insert our own protocols and procedures, modes and methods. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water but switch out some of the component parts.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.