Bill Pearl chose to entitle his 638 page magnum opus on all things bodybuilding ”Key’s to the Inner Universe.“ The book is aptly titled in that it captures the beauty of the bodybuilding lifestyle; a journey in which one can use the ongoing human experiment of physical refinement as a means for personal growth in a broader sense.
With decades of training under my weight belt, I can unequivocally state that training has had a pronounced effect on my life. So pronounced that I have chosen to make a profession out of helping others reach their physique goals.
In my personal journey, I have found a number of programs and training principles that are particularly effective. While on your own quest for discovery, I recommend that those of you looking for ideas consider following the attached program (or one of the ones that will follow it in subsequent issues).
This is an ideal training program for the bodybuilder who:
Has just passed out of the “beginner’s” phase and is ready for something new to spur added gains in strength and body weight.
An intermediate or advanced bodybuilder who has ”hit a wall“ as to strength and mass gains.
An experienced bodybuilder who has limited training time available and wants to get the most out of the least time spent.
I have personally used this program for all of the above reasons at one time or another. The first time I used it was as I prepared for my first year in college on a track and field scholarship. At 6’1" and 170 pounds, I knew that I had to add size to be a successful collegiate athlete in my specialty – the discus. That summer my bodyweight increased from 170 to 192 using this training program.
The next time I used this program was twenty years later. I was a pretty successful competitive bodybuilder by now. I’d been winning or placing high in regional shows for three years, but needed to add some more muscle to go to the next level. I’d been training harder and harder, using every new intensity technique and each new piece of ”revolutionary exercise equipment“ that came on the market, to take it to the next level, but I’d hit a plateau – in both strength and mass. Now, don’t think I didn’t know what I was doing, I combined a lot of research with a lot of practical knowledge, but still my progress had stalled. I dug deep into my experience and remembered that only one time had I made the kind of gains in a relatively short period of time that I was trying to achieve now. And, that’s when I went back to the routine I had so successfully used two decades earlier. The result – my next contest I came in eight pounds of competition lean muscle heavier and won a national master’s USA title.
Note: Just to make everything clear, I did not use this routine right up to the show, but for an eight-week period before my 16-week pre-contest workout. However I attribute my jump in weight to the effects (and after-effects) of this program.
Finally, here I am again – nineteen years later – and I’m using the workout again. I’m not making the mass gains as I did earlier in my career, but I am adding strength every workout as I am consciously lowering my bodyweight. My goal now is to get leaner while maintaining strength and increasing my muscular endurance.
Now, here’s the program. Yes, I know it doesn’t look like much on paper. But remember, I’ve been lifting for forty years and have literally tried every workout there is. For an eight-week period I guarantee you that you will gain as much or more from this basic program – if you follow it to the tee – than from any other workout out there.
Now, here’s the program
Yes, I know it doesn’t look like much on paper. But remember, I’ve been lifting for forty years and have literally tried every workout there is. For an eight-week period I guarantee you that you will gain as much or more from this basic program – if you follow it to the tee – than from any other workout out.
Monday Bench Press: warm up, then 2-3 sets x 12 reps Bent Row: warm up, then 2-3 sets x 15 reps Breathing Squat: warm up, then 1 set x 20 reps Breathing Pullover or Rader Chest Pull: 1 set x 20 reps Straight-leg Dead-lift: warm up, then 2 sets x 15 reps
Wednesday Shoulder Press (front, behind-neck or with dumbbells): warm up, then 2 sets x 10 reps Barbell Curl: warm up then 2 x 10 Parallel Bar Dips: 1 x as many as possible, if you reach 30 reps, add weight.
Close-grip Chin with hands facing you: 1 set of as many reps as possible, if you can’t make fifteen reps on your first set, add a second set so that the cumulative reps equals fifteen. (“Cumulative reps” mean you add the reps that you got both sets together.) Add weight if you ever get to 30 reps on your first set.
Ab work Calf Work
Friday Repeat Monday’s workout, adding weight to any exercise that you reached the goal number of reps on the first set. Doesn’t look like much? Let’s give it a try.
THE PROGRAM IN DETAIL
Monday and Friday 1. I started with the bench press (I now use the incline press due to too many years of doing the flat bench first in my workout.) Warm-up, but don’t wear out. Let’s say your working weight will be 245 pounds for your two sets. Start with some active stretching, then six to ten reps with 135, five reps with 185, and finally one rep with 225. Now add a ten-pound plate to each side and get psyched. The goal is twelve reps. Don’t hold back. This is the set that counts. If you reach twelve reps on your first set – stop! Rest three minutes then try to get twelve reps again. It doesn’t matter if you do or not, you made your goal so you add five pounds next workout (just a measly 2 ½-pound plate to each side). If you do not reach twelve reps on either set, then stay with the same weight next workout.
2. The next exercise is the bent row. You follow the same basic procedure as you did for the bench press but your target is fifteen reps. This one will surprise you, especially if you have been doing sets of ten or fewer on this exercise. You can just about get fifteen reps with what you thought was your ten-rep limit. You will be breathing when you’re done though. If your working weight is going to be 185 pounds, you’d do a warm-up set with 95 (optional), 135 for six to eight, and then go to 185 and try for fifteen. Remember the warm-up set is just that – a warm-up and that the work sets are WORK! If you get fifteen reps on either set add five pounds for your next workout. If you think these five-pound jumps are silly or too easy just remember that you will do these same exercises for sixteen workouts over the next eight weeks and a five pound jump per workout equates to a 75 pound increase over the length of the program. Just think about that! 3. Now comes the keystone of the program – the breathing squat. This exercise has been around longer than You may want to try the traditional approach to the breathing squat as your weight increases and your physical conditioning improves. In this approach you take five, full, deep breaths before each rep – even the first. On your sixth breath – hold it – squat to slightly below parallel – come up as you blow out the air – then five more breaths and repeat until you get twenty or even twenty-five reps. Whew!
Each workout add ten pounds to the bar if you successfully completed your twenty reps the previous workout. Since there are two squat workouts per week, you’ll be using your original ten-rep max for twenty reps by the end of the third week. After that add five pounds each workout for the final five weeks. Believe it or not, you’ll be squatting for twenty reps with fifty pounds more than your previous ten-rep max. No wonder this program works!
Let me warn you. This exercise is not easy. If it is you are not taking it seriously enough. You’ll want to stop before you hit twenty, maybe even feel dizzy, but don’t quit – get twenty!
4. After your set of twenty-rep squats, lie down lengthwise on a bench and do twenty reps of the straight-arm pullover with a very light weight (fifteen to twenty pounds is all you need). The purpose of this exercise is to inhale as much oxygen as possible so take the deepest breath as you can each rep.
An alternate breathing exercise that I used is called the Rader High Chest Pull (invented by and named after the aforementioned Peary Rader). Stand and grasp a stationary, overhead object about one foot above your head (door frame, cable crossover upright) so that you are standing about eighteen inches away from it. You are going to pull down with your arms while simultaneously inhaling deeply and lifting your chest as high as possible. Your arms do not really move but you’ll feel a contraction in your lats and an uplifting of your chest each rep. Twenty reps work for this one too.
5. The final exercise is the straight-leg dead-lift. You will eventually work up to a pretty fair poundage in this exercise but start conservatively. Remember, you have sixteen workout sessions where your goal is to improve five pounds per session. Keep your back flat when performing this exercise. Warm-up as on the other exercises, then two work sets striving for fifteen reps as your target on the first set. Same weight for as many reps as you can get on the second after a three-minute rest period. Add five pounds the next workout if you reach fifteen reps on your first (or second) work set.
I know the program looks too easy, and maybe it is. Maybe the reduction in volume is why it works.
Brian Danyi does this exercise with his back leg raised about a foot off the ground. This combines the unilateral strength balancing benefits of a one-legged squat with the shape-enhancing properties of a lunge. Brian credits this unique movement for this leg separation. Stretch and “feel” are emphasized over poundages.
Free-Floating Lat Handle
Try this simple variation made from two single pulley handles instead of a solid one-piece rowing handle. In addition to better “feel” and less strain on your wrists and elbows, this option provides a fuller range of motion. For a wider grip, attach the handles together with 18-22" of chain, clipping the center of the chain to the cable.
Overhead Triceps Stretch
(on Pullover Machine)
Looking for a good exercise to work the long head of the triceps? If your gym has a Nautilus selectorized Pullover (or similar) machine, you’re in business! Stand behind the unit, bend forward resting your forehead on the top of the back-pad, grabbing the center of the rotary arm with an over-grip (about six-inches between your thumbs), you can perform strict overhead extensions.
I know this is a lot less sets than you are used to. It was for me too. But think about doing twenty reps in the squat with a weight fifty pounds more than your current ten-rep max eight weeks from now. Imagine how that will affect your metabolism, particularly your anabolic hormonal environment. There is nothing that will increase your natural growth hormone levels than a single set of twenty rep squats as described above. And, when you have completed this program and go back to a more traditional type of program, envision first the increased strength and muscular endurance you will have developed, and second how you will respond to the varied stimulus of increased volume with the heavier weights you have achieved.
1. Shoulder Press – do one light warm-up set of eight to ten reps, a heavier warm up set for five to six reps, then two all out work sets with a target of ten reps. Use the same weight for both work sets. If you get ten reps on your first (or second) set that means you go up five pounds next week (or after the first couple of weeks 2 ½-pounds, if possible). This workout is performed just once a week for a total of eight workouts over the course of the program. Still, it will be very difficult to increase five pounds each week in the press and curl. I’d recommend getting some 1-¼ pound plates or "platemates" and taking them to the gym with you so you can increase just 2½ pounds per week on these exercises.
2. Barbell Curl – same procedure as shoulder press.
3. Parallel Bar Dips – no warm-up needed but do the first few reps very slowly to avoid injury. Do as many reps as you can for one set. If you can do thirty or more reps, add a tenpound plate your next workout. Don’t neglect this exercise. It’s been called the "upper body squat" and will have some very positive effects on your triceps, chest, shoulders, and serratus.
4. Close Grip Chin – Hands should be six to twelve inches apart with your palms facing you. Do as many reps as possible. If you can’t make fifteen reps on your first set, rest sixty seconds and do another set. If you get nine reps the first set and six the second – that’s your target, fifteen reps. Try to add at least one rep each workout shooting for thirty. If you ever get to thirty reps on your first set, add a ten-pound plate.
5. Ab work is optional, you could do a couple sets of crunches or a couple sets on the ab machine. 6. Calf work is also optional; I recommend three sets of twenty reps on the standing calf raise.
I found there are five keys to the success of this program:
1. The breathing squat – work hard, don’t quit until you reach twenty, and add weight every single workout.
2. On the exercises which you do just two sets – treat these like a “heavy duty” workout. That first set needs to be all-out, but if you reach the target rep number, and are feeling lazy that day, it’s OK to stop. You’ve reached your goal for that exercise, that’s your sign to add weight next workout. The second set should also be very difficult. It is probably unnecessary, but I do it in case I slacked even a little on the first set.
3. Add very small weight increments consistently throughout the entire program. If you make your target reps on a particular set, no matter how hard it is, add a small amount of weight to your work sets the next time.
4. Have a "one-set" mentality. Don’t think in terms of I have four sets of ten to do so I’ll hold back a little on the first set. The first set is the one that counts. The second set where indicated is just in case you left a couple of muscle fibers unscathed on the first set.
5. Recovery is important. Don’t add a bunch of exercises or sets. This program is perfect as it is.
Nutrition through Four Decades
Chapter One 1965: The first experience I had with this program was also the first time I realized that nutrition is very significant when it comes to strength and muscle mass gains. I drank two to four quarts of milk per day. I used Weider Crash Weight Formula #7 for one week and actually gained five pounds that week. Whoa, that told me something, "If you want to gain weight, you need more calories." After the seven cans of Crash Weight (yes, you drank a can a day), I made my own – two quarts of milk, one cup of dry milk powder, peanut butter, and chocolate syrup or honey. Over eight weeks I gained 22 pounds, certainly not all muscle, but I’d been stuck at 170 pounds for two years prior.
Chapter Two 1985
By now, I knew nutrition was paramount. I’d also hooked up with Jim Heflin and Beverly International. My nutrition program at this time consisted of five meals per day. I took Beverly’s Super Pak, 100% Egg and Zero Carb protein, Ultra 40 liver and Mass amino tablets as my main supplements. Here is an actual daily diet from my notes.
Meal #1: 3 whole eggs, 3 additional egg whites, 8 oz. turkey ham, 1 English muffin (often I’d reduce the meat to four ounces and have a small whole cantaloupe with the above).
Meal #2: 16 oz. roast beef, 4 oz. provolone cheese, 1 medium red potato or 1 cup rice (or sometimes even a small bag of potato chips).
Meal #3: 2 oz. heavy cream, 12 oz. water and ice, 1-2 eggs, 3.4 cup (3 oz.) protein powder. I used the best available at the time . Beverly’s Zero Carb (casein based) and 100% Egg in a 2: 1 ratio. I sipped this drink for thirty minutes before training.
Meal #4: 12 oz. chicken breast or 8 oz. thighs (with skin back then), vegetables, salad.
Meal #5: same protein shake as meal #3 again sipped for thirty minutes before bed or tuna salad – 4 hard boiled eggs, 1 tomato, 1 tablespoon sweet relish, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 2 cans tuna (in oil, but drained).
Once a week I’d have a huge cheat meal – usually lots of ice cream and chocolate. I notice from my diary that I was really pounding the Ultra 40 and Mass aminos, sometimes taking fifteen at a time. In general, I’d take six of each per meal.
Chapter Three 2004
My goals are different now. I am not trying to add mass (realist that I am), but I find that I am adding strength in a higher rep range. In fact in the twelve to twenty range I’m stronger than I was ten years ago. To me, that’s pretty good improvement, especially since I’m also cutting bodyweight and bodyfat. The twenty-rep breathing squats are really having a positive effect on my metabolism and conditioning. They make cardio seem like a walk in the park (well, actually that is my cardio – a two-mile walk in the park).
Nutritionally, I’ve cut down on my food intake some. My supplement strategy relies a great deal on Glutamine Select Plus BCAAs to fuel my workouts and to aid in my recovery. I use one scoop first thing in the morning, then I sip three to four scoops mixed in a Beverly shaker during my workout. I have found that Energy Reserve (or Lean Out) is a great aid for reducing fat, improving muscular endurance (and endurance strength), and improving heart health. I take three to five tablets per day. Ultra 40 and Mass are still part of my supplement regimen as well as the Super Pak and Bev ZMA.
My current favorite shake is: two scoops Ultra Size [lately I’ve been using a new, prototype Beverly protein formula that is a little different than Ultra Size – the protein composition is still two-to-one casein to whey, with added egg – but the critical cluster of free form aminos (L-arginine, L-glutamine, L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine) have been added, the fat has been reduced and the protein grams per ounce increased to twenty grams]. I blend this with four frozen strawberries, a container of Dannon Carb Control yogurt, one to two whole eggs, and water to the 16 ounce level.
For my food meals I’ll go with either a lower fat protein (chicken, turkey breast, egg whites, etc.) with a complex carb (red potato, baked potato, oatmeal, English muffin, rye bread, sweet potato or rice) or a higher fat protein, i.e., beef and a low carb fruit and/or vegetables.
You should follow this training program for at least six weeks (preferably eight weeks). If you have been stuck at a certain strength plateau for a long time you might want to start with a four-week break-in period. Then follow up with eight weeks at all out intensity. During the break-in period, no sets are done to failure. You start with about 85% of your current rep maxes and build up to your current rep max over the first four weeks.
Please do not add more than one exercise per day to the program. Doing so will only compromise your gains. I know the program looks too easy, and maybe it is. Maybe the reduction in volume is why it works. All I know is that it has worked for me three different times at nearly twenty-year intervals. Reduced volume training has also proven extremely effective with thousands of lifters over the past century. Give it a try and experience the type of gains you may have previously believed were only possible for those "other" guys!