I love high-intensity, maximum-poundage training, but after seven years of it, I’m feeling warning twinges. Is it possible to have it all — namely, the training style I love, as well as safety and continued gains?


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Ask your question another way: can you still make gains if you fail to heed the warning twinges, and something rips? Obviously not, but that doesn’t mean bodybuilding as you know it has to end. You simply need to repackage your high-intensity, maximum-poundage training.

With only seven years of bodybuilding experience, you’re still in the toddler stage of a sport that involves a lifelong journey of learning, and one of its lessons is to develop a keen sense of your body’s limits. That’s a difficult lesson to master. Since your dreams and desires have no limits, you expect the same from your flesh and bones, and I shouldn’t have to explain the consequences of that attitude.

We all know better, but I, like you, felt I had to explore those limits, so I kept lowering my reps and doing them with more explosive force in order to use more weight. Inevitably, things started giving way, and in the mid-’90s, about halfway through my Mr. Olympia run, I began suffering one injury after another. I realized that if I expected to keep my Mr. O winning streak alive, I’d have to continue my highintensity, maximum-poundage training, but somehow I’d have to do it safely.

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That’s when I was saved by what I had learned over the years. I knew that my mind and body were not separate entities, but instead were one and the same. They had to communicate with each other, the mind sensing the body and the body warning the mind of danger. For that to happen, I had to gain more control over my repetitions: I could no longer explode mindlessly against weight that the muscle could not lift on its own, just for the sake of blasting out a new poundage record. My reps would have to be slower and higher, and my concentration would have to be raised in order to extract the greatest intensity and maximum resistance from every contraction.

The advantage of this style would mean that the numerical weight would be less, but more of the muscle would be involved for a longer period and it would be pumped to a greater volume with blood. Where I had reached failure in the six- to eight-rep range, I now reached failure in eight to 10 reps, and the burning fullness was much tighter.

I also began exerting more discipline over the execution of each rep. Instead of abruptly exploding off the bottom, I began transitioning smoothly into the upward motion, feeding in maximum power as the movement progressed. This distributed the muscular overload through a broader range of motion.

In concert with these modifications, I also found that I was able to accelerate my gains anew by incorporating machines with my old faithful free weights. With only the latter, my physique had stabilized in terms of separations; machines enabled me to target those individual muscles with isolated resistance. It was a change long overdue. After 11 years of training, I was now hitting muscle fibers that had never been properly fatigued.

In the big picture of my training, these modifications were so minor that I didn’t even regard them as changes. They were more on the order of adjustments. I adjusted the number of reps, their explosion, the weight and my concentration, and I added the use of a couple of machines. That’s no more than any bodybuilder might change in a given workout. Everything else remained the same: workout frequency, bodypart splits and my usual one main set to failure, plus a couple of forced reps. Those parameters worked in the past; the adjustments made them better. – FLEX