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Bodybuilding – A Practical Approach


Despite mainstream belief, there is far more to bodybuilding than just building huge muscles for the purpose of aesthetics. For our purposes here, we will look at the wide range of affects bodybuilding can exert on our physical bodies that can enable us to achieve our potentials through a wide range of modalities. That being said, we can use these principles to “build” our bodies into a variety of different states. We can gain muscle and size, we can gain strength and explosive power and we can build for endurance and conditioning. Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel – as a whole host of general concepts have evolved that lend themselves to each of the particular goals.

To stay more properly aligned with the general theme of this website, we will approach bodybuilding more from the angle of antiaging and general health enhancement. This is because, if not performed to damaging extremes, bodybuilding usually generates a whole host of benefits. These benefits have been well documented and include such things as greater bone density, lower blood pressure, a better hormonal profile, better sleep, better posture and in short, a multitude of aesthetic and performance enhancements. Lastly, an overall effect as referred to in fundamental #3 – a more muscular body with a lower body fat ratio that is capable of adapting to a variety of stresses and strains. As demonstrated in so many arenas, bodybuilding is one of the most effective tools for maintaining a healthy and youthful body – one that both performs and appears pathologically younger than it’s true chronological age.

Let’s start with an abbreviation of general theory and move on to some practical applied principles. Although I want you to have some basic theory so you’ll understand how to develop your own programs, I will give you specific routines and programs later in the course of this program.

Of course things can get really complicated and twisted around, but it is always going to come back to these three basic concepts where because of the close relationship, rarely is one more important than the other:

1. Generating a stimulus, stress or work load in a manner that will encourage the body to grow or adapt to meet that new challenge.

2. Adequately resting for the required period of time to allow the body to rebuild itself and recover before the next stimuli event.

3. Providing the body with the macro and micro nutrients to the ultimate level that the body requires to support the processes of this adaptation.

Sounds easy doesn’t it! Let me assure you, it’s a lot like the proverbial formula for moving a mountain – one shovelful at a time. Easy to talk about, but much harder to carry out. Sadly enough, achieving your human potential through all the steps throughout this site will, at times seem nearly as difficult. Still, I am confident that through practice and perseverance you will develop your mindset and habits to safely carry out the steady progression it takes to “move your mountain”, even if at only one shovelful at a time.

Generating  Proper Stimulus:

Now, let’s talk about the ways to create stimulus and workload through resistance exercise to coax the body into becoming adaptive and anabolic. The fortunate thing here is the fact that almost everything works – for a while. That means that no matter what manner of lifting you perform, light weights for high reps or heavyweights for low reps, you will get some results – until your body begins to adapt and become accustomed to this burden. A standard practice would be to begin curling a certain amount of weight on a preplanned routine and schedule and slowly increasing the weight as your repetitions climb to a certain point as you grow. An example of this would be bench pressing a theoretical 150 pounds for 5 – 7 reps for five sets (a series of reps without stopping) in a workout. When your repetitions go beyond the 7 reps for all of those sets, you simply increase the weight by a small amount and carry on in your following training days. Of course, there are many variations of this one training concept alone.

A general guideline to consider is that lighter weights and higher repetitions often lean more toward endurance and conditioning while heavier weights for fewer repetitions are often associated with building more size and strength. However, in our quest to achieve maximum stimulation, we will often find ourselves bouncing back and forth and combining those two paradigms.

One of the most common methods for achieving maximum effect is what might be called the pyramiding routine. This is where each set stair steps up to a heavier weight for each following set until only one repetition can be performed. This is very common with compound movements such as bench presses. However, don’t get stuck in this limited modality because you can pyramid up, then back down and a whole host of other ways to increase maximum stimulation. It is more than simply beating your muscles to death with high volumes of work load. It is the manner in which we keep the body guessing and constantly attempting to adapt to these new schemes. In the definition section, there will be a whole list of different types of sets that you will be able to use to create this “muscle confusion”. Above all else, you will need to use your creativity to keep mixing things up in an ongoing manner to keep your body guessing and to keep it in that anabolic/adaptive state. Keep in mind, that through all of your “mixing it up” cycles, it will always make good sense to eventually revert back to lifting heavy weights. By heavyweights I mean a weight that you can perform with good form and function to place the load on the muscle fibers without using momentum for only a few repetitions. Although cycling to intermediate and light weights is effective in this confusion process, it is fundamentally sound to stress the body (especially in compound movements) with the heavyweights that cause the release of anabolic hormones. Consider making half of your cycling efforts with heavyweights. (Bear in mind – in many cases we are referring to advanced methods here). Because of all of the other modalities we can achieve with bodybuilding, I recommend cycling weight training exercises with plyometrics and other full body calisthenics to aid in muscle confusion and to develop coordination. Above all – this will assist drastically with developing that anabolic/adaptive state for the condition known as muscle confusion.

Before we go any further, let’s keep in mind that this “muscle confusion” that is needed for that anabolic/adaptive state is generated from more than just varying our weight and rep scheme. We can also vary our exercises so we stimulate the muscles from different angles (hence the need to use different exercises) as well as varying the length of rest between sets and days of occurrence. By substituting various exercises say, dumbbell presses and flys for bench presses, we create different mind-body links, maximum load at different points as well as change the momentum of the movements. This adds additional load to stabilizer and assisting muscles. These are simply more means and methods to achieve proper stimulus to gain the most effect for our cause. By changing the amount of rest between sets and most importantly days of our routines, we drastically affect our recovery as well as confusing our body as to what to expect. This statement brings us to the next concept.

Split Routines For Stimulus and Rest:

A split routine is simply a way of dividing muscle groups up for various workouts on particular days. Why is this important? Whole body workouts are normally reserved for general conditioning and endurance type training. They certainly have their place and are very common for those wishing to tone and tighten while building various levels and types of conditioning. For most bodybuilders, or those wishing to drastically change the musculature of their bodies, whole body exercises simply require way too much energy at a given time to produce much results. Additionally, you end up doing nothing for days at a time waiting to recuperate. With a split routine you focus specifically on certain muscles or groups and drive all of your energy at that time into those specific exercises and sets. Then on the following days, you concentrate on other muscle groups while the original group(s) rest(s). Another benefit of a split routine is that you can control the type of stimulus you apply and therefore have another tool to create muscle confusion.

Imagine doing a wide grip pull-up (palms forward), the muscle directly worked is the latissimus-dorsi (or lats). The muscles indirectly worked (or assisting) would be the biceps. You would then have a choice in whether to go ahead and work the biceps directly in the same workout with bicep curls or let them rest for a few days and then hit them directly in a separate workout. By choosing the latter, you would have in essence hit them twice in one week, once directly and once indirectly. By arranging and rearranging this particular routine, you can change the amount of stimuli, workload and the rest/recovery time the aforementioned muscle groups receive. Not only can you find the proper amount for yourself, but you will have the tools at hand to routinely change and continuously create muscle confusion to keep your body in that anabolic/adaptive state. This direct/indirect relationship has other names such as overlap, assisting muscle groups and so forth. The only thing that matters is that you understand the relationship and how it applies to your workouts through split routines.

With this concept in mind, we can more easily move on to various routines and how we can use them in combinations with various exercises and types of sets to create continuous progression.

One of the simplest split routines is basically a 2 split. Day 1 you would perform upper body exercises and day 2 you would perform lower body exercises. This is simple and clean because everything is direct workload/stimuli. You can vary the days of rest such as day 1 is upper body, day 2 is rest and day 3 lower body. You can even rest another day before starting the cycle over again. The problem with this exercise scheme is that your sets are imbalanced. The upper body day has more muscle groups and therefore more exercises and sets required then the lower body day. So many in fact, that it may be difficult to generate enough specific workload to get the most favorable results. Fortunately, there are a multitude of split routines to choose from that will better serve our purpose.

Let’s take another example, referred to as a 3 day split. With this, Day 1 would be upper body push muscles, Day 2 would be upper body pull muscles and day 3 would be legs. My favorite way to perform this split is to double it up and allow each body part to be performed twice per week in this manner.

Monday – upper body push                     

Tuesday – upper body pull

Wednesday – legs (& abdominals)

Thursday – upper body push

Friday – upper body pull

Saturday – legs (& abdominals)

Sunday – rest

Important definition: Upper body push muscles would be the muscle groups pushing a weight away from the body and would be evident in exercises such as bench presses, dumbbell presses, chest flies, lateral raises, tricep extensions, military presses and the like. Upper body pull muscles would include the muscle groups that pull the body toward a handle or a weight toward the body and would be utilized in pull-ups, chin-ups, shrugs, rows, bicep curls and the like. Legs, of course, would be squats, leg extensions, calve raises and such.

The beauty of the aforementioned split routine is that everything is direct and therefore very controllable by the types exercises and sets you perform. You don’t accidentally work any particular muscle more than you directly plan to. Additionally, this routine hits each muscle group twice a week so it’s easy to go heavy on the first day of the week and then go light with high reps for time in the week for a different effect. It also uses about the same amount of sets each day so you don’t have one day that is extremely grueling and the next day very light, unless you simply choose to do so. Another advantage to this scheme, like many others, is that it revolves back around on the same day of every week. For example, you know that every Monday and Thursday you will be performing your bench presses and such. This is great for us creatures of habit and especially if you have other people joining you for your workouts on particular days.

There are only a few things about this split routine that I don’t like. First, it doesn’t allow for the working of opposing muscle groups – say biceps and triceps. In some routines, opposing muscles are worked back-to-back to create a synergistic or pumping affect of each other. This routine unfortunately has no room for that, but when you think about it there is something wrong or rather imperfect with most routines. Remember earlier we said that nothing really works at its best for very long. The other thing that could be wrong with this routine is that twice per week may be too often for most people to hearing muscle group and to recover thoroughly. We can manage that by reducing the sets and amount of work performed during each workout. We must remember that at our greater age, we cannot recover like we once did. Therefore, we must be constantly aware of this scenario. We must strive to hit the muscles hard and to use maximum effort but to get the workout over quickly to avoid wearing ourselves down beyond the point of our ability to recover.

Another great solution is to add another day of rest in between the cycles. To do this, we have to get past the hangup of having the cycles evolve back to the same day each week. The only other possibility is to skip one day (but a different day) each week and continue the cycle. One possibility would be to add as many rest days into our cycle as we feel we need to continue to make progress. It might look something like this:

Monday – upper body push

Tuesday – upper body pull

Wednesday – rest

Thursday – legs (& abdominals)

Friday – rest

Saturday – upper body push

Sunday – upper body pull

Monday – rest

Tuesday – legs (& abdominals)

You get the picture, we have simply modified a simple and straightforward routine to give you a few more days of rest. Of course, none of this is set in stone – you can keep moving it to suit your schedule and of course to keep your body guessing by creating different amounts of rest while constantly changing the recovery period. With this basic framework you can also easily apply any of the various exercises and sets within this straightforward routine.

As you can see, a major purpose for the manipulation of your routines is to gain adequate rest. I cannot stress enough the importance of resting sore muscles and taking days off when your joints and muscles ache. Even more importantly, is getting adequate and regular deep sleep. That means finding the time and the environment that you need to sleep enough as to wake up feeling refreshed and energized. Sleep is a major time for repair and growth as well as a time when many of the anabolic hormones are secreted to their maximum levels. To ignore this for very long will result in the failure to reach your physical and mental potentials.

In the routines/set section, I will give you additional routines to follow and just as important various types of sets that are designed to create different types of stimulation and therefore add to the muscle confusion. After all, we have to keep the body guessing to keep it in that anabolic/adaptive state.

Remember the basic concepts we referred to at the start of this chapter:

1. Generating a stimulus

2. Allowing adequate rest

3. Providing the body with the macro and micro nutrients to the ultimate level that the body requires to support the processes of this adaptation.

I’m sure you see how sets and split routines apply toward concepts #1 & #2. However, the third pillar or concept is just as important and of course your human potential cannot be accomplished without it.

Providing the ultimate level of nutrition:

Although we will delve much more deeply into this discipline in the “Nutrition 101″ section, we will now briefly cover the basic requirements and concepts for a nutritional level that will support these bodybuilding concepts.

Our bodies are in a constant state of repair, and hopefully a state of growth as well. We must find means and methods for keeping a consistently high level of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients circulating through our blood stream at all times. Of course the easiest way to do that is to be continually ingesting the foods and substances that make up these chemical requirements. The biggest step in the right direction would be to apply the principles we’ve learned in #1 of the “Fundamentals”. “Avoiding toxins, irritants, poisons and empty calories” will result in the majority of your food being of high nutritional value. The avoidance of trans fats and processed sugars will not only allow you to avoid some damage to yourself but will allow you to consume more of the foods you need for growth and repair as you strive toward your maximum human potential. That of course, would bring us to #2 of the “Fundamentals”, “successfully pursuing a diet with an extremely high nutritional value to low caloric ratio”. I’m sure you see how these two fundamentals link together and work hand-in-hand.

Let’s look at some basic structures of food so we can have a better idea of what we’re working with! For general purposes, we only have to deal with 3 macronutrients – proteins, fats and carbohydrates. By juggling the amounts – as well as the proportions of each, we can not only control the total caloric intake but we can often manipulate other properties such as insulin response.

Here are some basic values for us to apply in the majority of our diet strategies:

1 g of carbohydrate = 4 cal

1 g of protein = 4 cal

1 g of fat = 9 cal

Additionally – 1 ounce of lean meats such as chicken and fish contains approximately 7 g of protein. Naturally, meats that are marbled with fat or hamburger would have a higher fat content and therefore less protein. A good estimate for hamburger would probably be 5 g of protein per ounce of meat – depending on how lean the meat was.

Now remember, I stated earlier in this website that you are going to have to become a student of the things you want to become. Here, you’re going to have to learn to take a look at food labels. This is especially true of your package goods and most particularly your carbohydrates. It’s amazing how many things we routinely consume without us even realizing exactly what it was!

Let’s get back to the construction of a diet for a would-be bodybuilder. A 200 pound individual would need approximately 200 g of protein per day for growth and repair. Some health professionals advocate a much lower amount – you’ll simply have to make your own decision here. Most proponents of bodybuilding always recommend around 1 g of protein per pound of body weight. You would also need nearly 40 g of healthy fats and the remainder would be made up with around 400 g of carbohydrates. It would look like this:

200 g protein = 800 cal

40 g fat = 360 cal

400 g carbohydrate = 1600 cal

total calories = 2360

Typically, a good starting guideline would be to take your body weight X 12 – 14 to get a basic metabolic rate. That means the amount of calories you need in one day to pretty much maintained your weight. A word of caution, this will vary between individuals due to genetics, age and the amount of physical work they perform. A simple solution with this diet is to adjust your carbohydrates up or down slightly depending on your goals and whether you are gaining or losing weight.

It’s important to break the above numbers up into approximately 6 meals per day. This ensures a consistently high (as much as reasonably possible) blood serum level of the nutrients and building components the body require for repair and growth. Generally speaking, it is not fundamentally sound to consume only a few large meals per day and have hours and hours per day with those blood certain levels we spoke of decline drastically. Also keep in mind, a body that is fed every few hours tends to have a higher metabolism and therefore is less likely to pile on extra body fat. The old-timers would often summarize by stating that the body is less likely to store fat (energy) when it learns that it doesn’t need to because it is being fed every few hours.

Let’s take a quick look at how this diet would appear when the aforementioned numbers are stretched out over 6 meals:

Meal #1 = protein 35 g – fat 6.5 g – carbohydrates 66 g

Meal #2= protein 35 g – fat 6.5 g – carbohydrates 66 g

Meal #3= protein 35 g – fat 6.5 g – carbohydrates 66 g

Meal #4= protein 35 g – fat 6.5 g – carbohydrates 66 g

Meal #5= protein 35 g – fat 6.5 g – carbohydrates 66 g

Meal #6= protein 35 g – fat 6.5 g – carbohydrates 66 g

There you have it – but your diet may not look exactly like that. First of all, it will fluctuate around your ability to adhere to it. Secondly, you may find that you have to adjust those numbers as you gain or lose weight. If needing to increase the carbs to assist with your muscle development, I recommend the meal immediately after your workout having the most carbs of the day. This is because of the need to replace the glycogen in your muscles that has been spent during your strenuous workout. Additionally, if you are going to have an insulin release or even a spike, then immediately after a brutal workout is about the only time you would want that to happen.

Although this is basically a mathematical representation, I will itemize some diet plans with a variety of suggested food selections in the “Nutrition 101″ section.

Another approach for structuring the diet would be to have the majority of your carbs early in the day while your insulin sensitivity is the greatest. High insulin sensitivity means that your body is reacting well to insulin and is less likely to store the sugars as fat.

This is the importance of understanding the structure of your food as it pertains to bodybuilding and the growth/recovery phases that follow. We can actually use our food like it was a drug to manipulate an insulin response immediately after exercise. Why would we want to do this? Insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone. The danger of it, is that it can cause the storage of excess fat. The beauty of it – is that we can use it to help to enhance the glycogen and nutrient loading in a muscle that has been worked heavily. Take these two examples, when you’re sitting around watching television and eating potato chips, insulin direct sugars to go to storage as fat because the energy is not needed now. Our bodies are very well designed to waste nothing and store it for later. When you’re exercising hard, your insulin sensitivity goes up and insulin directs the sugars to go to the muscle for glycogen where it is needed.

Because of this occurrence, this is also an excellent time to include your fast acting protein powders and creatine monohydrate as well as any other supplements you may be using. As you can probably see, it is extremely difficult to get the ultrahigh levels of nutrition without the use of supplementation. Simply eating 200 g of protein per day can be a chore in itself. The answer? Drink approximately 50% daily protein requirement in easily mixed protein powders. The same can be said for a multitude of other nutritional requirements. To attempt to achieve the maximum level of nutrition possible is probably wise to supplement in a wide range of modalities ranging from basic multivitamin/minerals to the more specific compounds commonly used in athletics today.

You now have a basic understanding of the nutritional phase and how it pertains to building a better body. There will be much more information (not just pertaining to bodybuilding) in the “Nutrition 101″ section.

To recap on this entire section:

Creating adequate stimulus: Not only do we need to apply maximum effort in our exercise routines, but we must costly change the weight and repetition scheme and basic modality of the type of sets we perform periodically to constantly create muscle confusion. The easiest way to do this is to use a variety of different types of sets as well as periodically changing the entire routine. I will list a few different types of sets for you to use below. For additional new routines and sets, refer to the “Routines/Sets” section.

Set: A series of repetitions in one cluster. Picking a way up and performing a bicep curl for a number of times before setting it down would be considered a set.

Pyramid Sets: A series of sets with each one increasing the weight lifted until a desired maximum is reached. An example would be a benchpress of 150 pounds X 6 reps, 170 pounds X 4 reps, 185 pounds X3 reps and perhaps finally 200 pounds X 1 rep.

Descending Sets: Reducing the weight of each set as you progress. Often used toward the end of a workout were fatigue is setting in.

Drop Set: Similar to the descending set, but usually performed as one set with no rest in between. An example would be shoulder pressing with 2 – 45 pound dumbbells until fatigued and immediately exchanging them for 2 – 35 pound dumbbells and continuing. This of course can be compounded even further by reducing the weight again with no rest.

Supersets: Performing an isolated movement directly connected with a compound movement. An example would be performing a benchpress set and then moving immediately to dumbbell flies. Very closely related to and often interchangeably with giant sets.

Antagonistic Sets: (opposites) This would involve working muscles that were total opposites. An example would be performing a bicep curl and then immediately performing a tricep extension. These type of sets totally rearrange the routine that she would be performing. In the routine referred to so far, muscles to be exercised were grouped together as upper push, upper pull and legs. Many routines incorporate the use of opposites as will be seen later.

Routine: This is the basic routine shown at the start of this section. It is effective in basic and can be enhanced by using the different types of sets as well as adding additional days of rest in the cycle. It would be performed as follows with the general exercises.

Day 1: Upper body push muscles. Bench presses, side raises, military presses, dumbbell presses and tricep extensions.

Day 2: Upper body pull muscles. Pull-ups, chin-ups, rows, shrugs and bicep curls.

Day 3: Legs and abs. Squats, leg extensions, hamstring curls, calve raises, deadlifts.

Day 4: Upper body push muscles. Bench presses, side raises, military presses, dumbbell presses and tricep extensions.

Day 5: Upper body pull muscles. Pull-ups, chin-ups, rows, shrugs and bicep curls.

Day 6: Legs and abs. Squats, leg extensions, hamstring curls, calve raises, deadlifts.

Day 7: Rest

Remember, this simple program can be enhanced by adding days of rest to stretch out the length of the cycle. Just as importantly, you should try the various types of sets to change the stimulus to keep your body guessing and pursuing the anabolic/adaptive state. See the “routines/sets” section for more.

Allowing adequate rest: Use various routines and the days of rest they present to allow your body to adequately recover from each workout session. It’s also keep in mind that consistently working toward getting a good nights sleep is essential in pursuing your maximum potential.

Providing the ultimate level of nutrition: The information in this section should provide enough to get you started. I hope this has opened your eyes as to the value of high levels of nutrition as well as your need to become a student of your own diet. I hope you will refer to other sections in this site such as “Nutrition 101″ to further your understanding. Remember, if you simply abide by the first couple of fundamentals and avoid toxins and empty calories as well as pursue a diet high in nutritional value, then you are in the upper percentile of society already. This alone will spur you along in your pursuit of your own human potential!

I wish you great success in that pursuit !!

Tommy Atlas

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