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Ever since I can remember—way back to the mid 60’s—bodybuilders always have had a tendency to overtrain. If a little was good, then more was better. Makes sense in a way, but the body doesn’t respond to such thinking.
I can remember spending 2 to 3 hours in just one training session, which was not unusual. It was a full time job. Then when you add to that all of the eating and rest, and you’ve consumed an entire day. The body remained sore constantly and at the time the belief was if you’re sore, then you’re doing something right, and the muscles will grow. We didn’t accept the fact that we were always in a torn down state and not growing at all, or at least very little. Plus we believed that if we weren’t sore then we weren’t training hard enough.
It became a vicious cycle—the more you trained the lighter you became—and yet fat still covered the muscle, which meant you had to train even more. What was actually happening was that we were burning up muscle instead of fat. So basically we would kill the muscle temporarily—wipe it out. It’s deceiving and frustrating and becomes almost a sickness, or a trap, that most bodybuilders fall into. It’s not in our mindset to cut back, but sometimes that’s exactly what we have to do.
When I trained with Arnold in the 70’s we would sometimes, but not always, do split sessions. We would do chest and back in the mornings and abs, calves and forearms in the afternoons. We hit the beach in between those workouts, laying in the sun and catching a nap for our afternoon workouts. This was an awesome lifestyle that most people don’t have available to them, but it was perfect for training as we were able to fit everything in one day and still recover for the afternoon workouts. Luckily Joe Weider was paying Arnold and I was wrestling at nights, which gave us the income and freedom to allow us to live this lifestyle. Not everyone is that fortunate.
One summer the pollution levels were high in Los Angeles, which made it hard to train legs due to the need for heavy breathing. So we rented an oxygen tank and used it in between sets to give us more energy. It’s amazing how it really worked to boost our strength and recovery. Ever since that time, I keep one in my garage for those nonstop days and go out and hook myself up for twenty minutes. It revs me up for the rest of the day.
Even though those days were a blast and training was the ultimate high, I feel now that I wasted a lot of time in the gym when I could have been doing more productive and creative things with my time. But the gym dominated my time, just like everyone else’s, and I couldn’t see past that. We all had blinders on at the time, as do a lot of guys today.
I’d love to go back in a time machine and relive one of those days knowing what I do now, to really make the most of my time. And you know I’d bring a video camera with me!
Over the years I’ve changed my workout routines many times and experimented with old ones that worked and new ones that worked better. I remember when I first started and was able to do standing dumbbell curls for reps with 65 lb. dumbbells. I can’t do that now but back then I limited biceps to 3 sets of 3 exercises and my arms grew like mad. Later on I was doing 15 to 20 sets per body part and was in good shape, but felt tired and overtrained. I was afraid to go back to the 9-set routine for fear that I’d lose size, but in retrospect I probably should have.
But this isn’t the case now, as I’ve found that reducing all sets in all body parts has great value for growth and recovery. I took a week off once and went to Hawaii, during which time I only trained one day. I ate well, laid out in the sun and rested. At the end of that week I returned to do a wrestling show and everyone told me that I looked bigger and more ripped. I thought it to be impossible, but that week off did something right for me and changed my thinking.
Now at age 67 it’s harder to keep muscle mass, but with so many good supplements out there and and advances in training and nutrition science I have an advantage I didn’t back in the day. I’ve reduced my workouts to what I’ve listed below and find now that with less than an hour in the gym I can retain and even gain muscle. It’s similar to what we did in the 70’s, but just cut down a shade.
I’ll get into diet at a later date, but remember this “less is more” philosophy not only applies to training, but to life as well. Overdo it in the gym, or in any other aspect of your life, and you’re sure to burnout. Moderation is key.
Dumbbell Bench Press – 4 sets, 8-12 reps
Flyes – 4 sets, 8-12 reps
Pec Dec or Cable Crossovers – 4 sets, 8-12 reps
Dips – 4 sets, 8-12 reps
Pulldowns – 4 sets, 12 reps
Seated Cable Pull-Ins – 4 sets, 10-12 reps
Deadlifts – 4 sets, 10 reps (not too heavy – this rounds out the body)
Seated Smith Machine Press – 4 sets, 8 reps
Reverse Pec Dec – 3 sets, 15 reps
Seated Lateral Machine – 4 sets, 15 reps
Front Raises – 3 sets, 15 reps.
EZ Curl Barbell Curls – 3 sets, 8 reps
Seated Dumbbell Curls – 3 sets, 8 reps
Preacher Bench Curls – 3 sets, 8 reps
Triceps Pushdown – 4 sets, 12 reps
Dumbbell Kickbacks – 3 sets, 12 reps
Triceps Rope Extensions on Machine – 3 sets, 15 reps
Calf Raises – 6 sets, 15 reps
Leg Extensions – 4 sets, 15 reps
Leg Curls – 4 sets, 15 reps
Leg Press – 5 sets, 25 reps
Note: I repeat the same workout the following 3 days and do 100 reps of ab work every day.
Note: I’m limited in my leg training as I tore both quads in 2001 and had them repaired, but they‘ve never been the same, plus I’m overdue for a knee replacement.