Friday, July 23, 2010

He's here to pump––you up!

I was a big fan of SNL in my pre-teen and teen years, doing the best "Ahnold" impersonation in elementary, middle, and high school. (Yet another subconscious factor that led me to study German in high school. That, and Indiana Jones!) Well, after a month on my four-day "A" workout, I've been reflecting and reading many articles online, and I've decided to take a step back in my training. Reviewing Arnold's 3-day routine as outlined in The Education of a Bodybuilder, I realize I'm still at the "foundation-laying" level and a 4-day routine is just beyond my capacities right now.

Plus, the point of a 3-day, full-body routine is to develop core strength, whereas the 4-day routine I'm currently doing is "for intermediate to advanced builders in their growth cycle," and a number of the exercises, I now realize, are more about sculpting or toning muscles inside larger muscles groups, rather than building all-around strength for the major muscle groups. Since I still intend to advance to Arnold's 4-day routine as outlined in The Education, which I'd call my "B" routine, I suppose I shall call this "new" 3-day routine "the Ur-Workout".

And it's not just what I read in The Education that's got me thinking. This article, for instance, endorses the same "high-intensity" training for a 3-day split: squats, leg extensions, leg curls, dumbbell pullovers, military press, cable rows, bench press, barbell curls, triceps press, pullups, bench dips, standing calf raises, and crunches. It is outlining a single-set circuit workout for the whole body, while I am a big fan of at least a three-set workout, so I merely note it to reinforce my point: I've put the cart before the horse with an intermediate-to-advanced 4-day split and need to work back from the ground up with shorter, harder workouts. I quote the article:

Stop thinking that more is better! Many bodybuilders who are used to high volume training would laugh at a bodybuilder who does one set per exercise and only works out three days per week. I ask them how many times a week they work their biceps.

Almost always, they say once per week. So they work their biceps, then they let them rest for 7 days in a row? After 1 or 2 days, their biceps are no longer sore, yet they wait another 5 or 6 days to work them again. Their biceps are slowly shrinking during this long rest period.

In our workout you isolate each body part three times per week with a full, heavy set. You hit it on Monday, let it rest one day, hit it on Wednesday, let it rest, hit it on Friday, and then give the poor muscle a two day break before starting the cycle again.

It raises an interesting point, and I admit I am mildly conflicted––ambivalently curious is a better way to put it––about whether to try this one-set, 3-day split or go with Arnold's 3-day program–– but indecision is a waste of time, so I'm sticking with Arnie on this new tack. I can always try the 3-day, 1-set routine sometime down the line, God willing.

In any event, here are a couple problems I see in my A routine, at least for my rank on the Great Chain of BBing. First, my workouts are lasting too long. The article I just cited exhorts,

"The workout should last no longer than 45 minutes! … Studies have shown that after 47 minutes of intense weight training, your cortisol levels shoot up. This means that the longer you workout after 47 minutes, the less results you will get and the more likely you will overtrain. So get in the gym, lift hard, stay focused, and get out."

As you may have noticed, my workouts currently take a minimum of 90 minutes, which, while it includes time for warmup and cooldown, still puts me a good 20 minutes over the "cortisol cutoff" period. As Arnold says in The Education (p. 181), the 3-day workout "should be done in 45 minutes, or at most, an hour." So, bad on me.

Second, partially as a result of the first error, I suspect I'm verging on overtraining. As Arnold says on page 191, "The worst mistake the average aspiring bodybuilder makes is attempting to do too much." On page 192 he adds,

"Training too much is as bad––if not worse––than not training enough. Somehow you will have to trust your body to tell you when you are overtraining. It lets you know through excessive aches and sprains. However, with the kind of program I've given you here I don't think it's possible to overtrain––and you shouldn't misread simple soreness."

Points well taken. Having done sports for most of my life, I am not squeamish about soreness––indeed, I relish it as a sign of growth––but, to paraphrase Arnold, I have an intuition lately that my body is "telling me" to change my routine a bit. Patience. Humility. Confidence.

What, then, is Arnold's 3-day routine? He explains on page 180, "These exercises are to be done three times a week, with one day between workouts for mending and setting. … In the beginning you will be training your whole body in one day. This should be followed by a rest day because it takes forty-eight hours for the muscles to recuperate…." Specifically, Arnold promotes ten exercises for each workout, done in three "pyramiding" sets, unless otherwise specified in the directions:

1. Bench Press 5X8,8,6,6,6 [i.e., 5 sets of 8, 8, 6, 6, and 6 reps]

2. Wide-grip Pullups 3X10

3. Military Press 3X10,8,6

4. Barbell Curl 3X10,8,6

5. French Press 3X10,8,6

6. Squat 3X10,8,6

7. Leg Curl 3X10,8,6

8. Standing Calf Raises 5X15

9. Situps 3X50

10. Wrist Curl 3Xfailure

(I am of a mind to add a bent-over barbell row, since I want to work my back more, so maybe I'll replace the wrist curl with a barbell row and do wrist curls on my off-days.)

As Arnold explains,

"There are no alternatives to these exercises. … If you try to get away from them the size of the muscle will go down. … Basic exercises work directly on the muscle. You fall into a groove and don't even have to think about anything except the pump and the form of the exercise. With the complicated exercises, you have to concentrate all your thought on the exercise and not the muscle. I think the reason some bodybuilders use delicate exercises, which I call chicken exercises, is that they don't feel confident with the basic movements or with themselves. … [Y]ou can't use as much as weight when you make the exercise difficult, so it takes away from the meaning of heavy training" (p. 180).

On page 192 he notes that how long you stay with this routine depends on your goals. "If you are training just to get in shape, you can stay with this program for six months. If you want to get into competitive bodybuilding, you will take less time… and may very likely move on to the next [4-day] program in three months." I am somewhere between "just for fitness" and "for competition," but either way I need to get the cart behind the horse and dig into the discipline of a beginner's foundation-laying.

So, I'll do A3 and A4 this weekend, take next week "off" to swim, jump rope, and stretch, and then begin "the Ur-Workout" the following week. The trick will be spacing it out over six days when my teaching schedule is fulltime again, but I'll cross that bridge when I get there. Arnold has long been a personal inspiration to me, and countless others, whether for fitness or for comedic relief, so can I really go wrong by sticking to his foundation training? I say not! Stay tuned.

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