Lou Ferrigno's Mass Class

Before and after he was the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno was bodybuilding’s ultimate behemoth. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was winning Olympias at 235, Lou was 275. And when Dorian Yates was collecting Sandows at 265, Lou was 315. In fact, the future not-so-jolly green giant first broke the 300-pound barrier in the off-season at the age of 20—an unprecedented muscular body weight in the early ’70s. At 6'5", he towered over competitors, but whereas most tall bodybuilders have trouble filling out, Ferrigno carried his mass proportionately with pleasing symmetry. He’s the best over-6'2" bodybuilder of all time, and if he hadn’t spent 17 years off posing stages, he may have collected a mantel full of Sandows. In celebration of what was and what could’ve been, Lou serves up his 30 best tips for hulking mass.


“On chest-pressing movements, I see a lot of bodybuilders use an excessively wide grip. My grip for all my chest presses is only slightly wider than shoulder width. That gives me both a better stretch at the bottom and tighter contraction at the top.”


“Focus first on the exercises that work the largest muscles and several muscles together. Get stronger on these basic lifts, and you’ll grow. You could get a tremendous full-body workout with just squats, bench presses, and barbell rows.”


“The dumbbell pullover is excellent for tying the chest and back together, hitting the serratus, and stretching the rib cage. I like higher reps on pullovers: 10 to 15 per set and sometimes as many as 20.”


“Everyone remembers that scene in Pumping Iron when I’m doing shoulder presses and shouting, ‘Arnold!’ over and over. I used Arnold to motivate my workouts. Coming up I looked up to people like Steve Reeves, Larry Scott, and Sergio Oliva, and I read a lot of comic books: Superman, Batman, and, of course, the Fantastic Four, with the Hulk. From an early age, I wanted to be as big and powerful as the Hulk. Those are the kinds of images that drive you through your hardest workouts.”


“You can’t let yourself get too fatigued from a single beyond-failure set—at least not near the start of your workout. If you do, your strength level will be too low for you to do justice to the rest of the workout.”


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“I spend time at home before my workout thinking about what I have to train, the exercises, how I want to feel as I train, etc. I try to erase all negative thoughts from my mind. Then I go to the gym and put 100% into my workout.”


“Do benches in at least every other chest workout. They’re the single best exercise for pecs, and they’re great for shoulders and triceps.”


“Abs are not just for little guys. Even at 6'5", my abs were always among the best in any contest I entered. It’s no wonder, since I gave them a lot of work. This is my giant set ab workout. I did all four exercises without resting. Then I rested for two to three minutes and did the next giant set. I repeated that one or two more times.”

Hanging Leg Raise: 3–4 sets, 15–20 reps

Roman Chair Situp: 3–4 sets, 50 reps

Bench Leg Raise: 3–4 sets, 30–40 reps

Crunch Side Bend: 3–4 sets, 30–40 reps


“I prefer to work biceps with triceps, rather than hitting them on separate days. I usually start with biceps and finish with triceps, but sometimes I superset bi’s and tri’s.”


“I do shrugs with a barbell or dumbbells, but I feel like the best exercise for my traps is the upright row. I sometimes do barbell upright rows, but I prefer to do these with a cable, because I feel a stronger squeeze at the top. With upright rows, it’s essential to get your elbows as high as possible.”


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“I never use the same training program twice. I constantly play with exercise selection, the order of exercises, the body angle with which each exercise is done, poundages, sets, reps, pace, everything. That way, my muscles are unable to adapt to a specific routine.”


“I get size without going super heavy. Really heavy weights almost always lead to some form of injury. This is especially true on chest and shoulder presses, because there’s a tremendous temptation to bounce the weight to cheat up a few more pounds.”


“Whenever I don’t feel like doing another workout or eating another chicken breast, I only have to remind myself of the benefits of this lifestyle. I owe everything to bodybuilding. The training I did to build my physique taught me how to work toward a goal with great intensity and total dedication. Bodybuilding has also taught me to be persistent, to be self-reliant, and to look at myself objectively. And most important, bodybuilding dramatically improved my self-image, allowing me first to achieve average confidence after years as a shrinking violet, and later to assert myself as a bodybuilder, actor, and public personality.”


“I’d say diet is 60% of the battle in bodybuilding, and training is the other 40%, but without the mind—that proper motivation and focus—diet and training both sink to near 0% effectiveness.”


“I do a lot of forced reps. I reach failure or near failure, and then my partner removes just enough stress for me to get two to three more forced reps.”


Lou Ferrigno's Mass Class


“My shoulders were built mostly with overhead presses. I do both behind-the-neck barbell presses and front presses, either with a machine or a barbell, in most every workout, five sets of each. That’s 10 sets of overhead presses before I get to the laterals and front raises.”

Behind-the-neck Press: 5 sets, 10–12 reps

Front Press: 5 sets, 10–12 reps

Dumbbell Side Lateral: 5 sets, 10–12 reps

Dumbbell Rear Lateral: 5 sets, 10–12 reps

Dumbbell Front Raise: 5 sets, 10–12 reps


“Prior to a contest, I tense my muscles a lot between sets, and I also practice posing at home. Joe Weider taught me how to use iso-tension to bring out more details in the muscles.”


“I feel like I get more out of alternate dumbbell front raises if I raise the dumbbell either up the center line of my body or slightly across the center line.”


“My favorite exercises for quads are leg extensions, hack squats, and front squats, keeping the reps in the 10-to-15 range. There were times when I went heavy for lower reps. However, I’ve always made my best leg gains with moderate reps.”


“I wasn’t one of those lucky guys whose forearms grew just from holding weights. I worked very hard for my forearm development, training them three times per week. I mostly stuck to barbell wrist curls and reverse curls, but I sometimes did barbell reverse curls, too.”

Wrist Curl: 5 sets, 15–25 reps

Reverse Wrist Curl: 5 sets, 15–25 reps


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“Occasionally, I do my side laterals with a cable. These allow me to raise the handles well above shoulder level and maintain tension, so I get a longer range of motion.”


“For the first few years, I was weighing myself and measuring my arms and chest. It was inspiring to see those numbers getting bigger. But eventually the mirror became a much more useful tool than the scales or the tape measure. The mirror, photos, and objective observers will tell you that you’re gaining muscle and losing fat in the right places.”


“The secret to chest development is to hit it from all angles: incline, decline, flat, presses, flyes, dips, cable crossovers, and pec deck. There are a lot of ways to work your pecs.”

Bench Press: 5 sets, 8–12 reps

Incline Press: 5 sets, 8–12 reps

Decline Press: 4 sets, 8–12 reps

Flat or Incline Flye: 4 sets, 10–12 reps

Dumbbell Pullover: 3 sets, 15 reps

Cable Crossover: 3 sets, 10-15 reps


“I like to devote one calf workout to the soleus muscle with seated calf raises (10 to 12 sets of six to 10 reps) and the next calf workout to the gastrocnemius with standing calf raises (10 to 12 sets of 15 to 20 reps).”


“Recuperation is the forgotten component of muscle building. Try to get at least eight hours of quality sleep each night, and try to find ways to relax both your body and your mind outside of the gym.”


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“On exercises like chest and shoulder presses, squats, and leg presses, when you lock out and fully straighten your elbow or knee joint it’s a resting point. There’s very little stress then. This is why I usually like to stop my reps a little short of lockout. But this can change near the end of a set when I might need those little rests to keep going.”


“Keep your muscle flexed on the negative portion of the movement, and never let gravity do the work for you. If you’re working both parts of the movement, positive and negative, you get twice the workout.”


"At various times, I trained with other pro bodybuilders. If I train with a partner, I want that person to be as strong as I am and go with the same intensity I do. I need someone to push me on every set. A partner isn't just there for someone to talk to; that would only hurt my workout. A partner is there to drive me to use more weight and get more reps."

Watch Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger train together >>


"To grow consistently, you need a willingness to learn from experience. Monitor what works best, what works less well, and what doesn't work at all. Then be willing to change. Sometimes a favorite exercise isn't that effective. And sometimes the exercise you hate doing is exactly the one you need to do every time, because it works."


"When hitting back, think of your hands and arms as merely tools between your back and the weight. Bring your elbows down and/or backward with back flexion. Think of a tug-of-war competition. In a tug-of-war, pulling with your arms will exhaust you quickly because you'll fail to maximize power. You have to pull with your back. Forget your arms." – FLEX