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Old School Still Rules!

Timeless Training and Nutrition Strategies

Ron Harris

You can’t stop progress, and in most cases it’s a wondrous thing. Take technology, for example. When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, even the concept of a basic cellular telephone that you could carry with you anywhere seemed as futuristic as flying cars. All we had were clunky rotary dial phones that were plugged into wall jacks. Now, everyone has a “phone” that can do almost anything including make calls, send text messages, take pictures and videos and send or share them instantly, navigate to any destination, video chat with others, and access the Internet to immediately find just about any piece of information your heart desires with a few taps and swipes. Bodybuilding has undergone a similar meteoric revolution in my lifetime. I remember Mr. Olympia champions that weighed as little as 185 pounds, with the heaviest of that classic era being Arnold at 6 foot 2 and 240 pounds. By the early 2000s, we had Ronnie Coleman crushing the Olympia stage like Godzilla at 5 foot 11 and 296 pounds with striated glutes. That brings up another major change— body fat. The old-school crew was lean, but nothing like the extreme condition we witness today. In the ‘70s, not one star ever displayed striated glutes, a clear Christmas tree lower back, or that dry, grainy look with veins on top of veins. Today, no one is even considered “in shape” unless his glutes are in. There have been numerous advances in training, equipment, nutrition knowledge, supplementation technology, and of course, performance-enhancing drugs. While I agree that some of these have proved to be superior, I submit that in many ways, the old-school guys had it right and some of our so-called “advances” aren’t superior at all.

TRAINING FREQUENCY

For many years, bodybuilders performed full-body workouts three days a week. By the time the original Gold’s Gym on Main Street in Venice was a thriving mecca, Arnold and company were hitting every body part twice a week, typically in split routines where they would train twice a day. The top men in the sport continued that split all the way through the 1980s. The only star to challenge the rationality of training so frequently was Mr. Universe Mike Mentzer, but few had the courage to switch over to his abbreviated style. It wasn’t until Dorian Yates exploded on the scene with his Mr. Olympia debut in 1991, taking second to the great Lee Haney, that “recovery” became a common term in bodybuilding. People always want to imitate what the champions do, and once Dorian began his six-year domination of the sport in 1992, legions of bodybuilders adopted his Blood and Guts style; training just four days a week and working each body part just once, with only one all-out working set to failure and beyond of each exercise. Giving the individual muscle groups additional time to recover between sessions did result in substantial mass gains for many, who had unwittingly been overtraining for years. Some did feel that they didn’t need quite so much rest time and adopted a five or six-day split routine with higher volume for each muscle group. This is more or less the way most bodybuilders train today, with a training week that might resemble something like this:

Monday: Chest

Tuesday: Back

Wednesday: Shoulders

Thursday: Legs

Friday: Arms

This type of split is enormously popular because it allows you to focus more on each muscle group without having to pace yourself because you have another body part or two still to cover in the same workout. Today’s bodybuilders are bigger than ever, so clearly this routine will be conducive to adding maximum mass. The quantity of the physiques has increased, but do they show better muscle quality, as in separation, detail, and seasoned maturity? That’s not even up for debate— no, they do not! Over the many conversations I had with Lee Haney working on his MD column, the eight-time Mr. Olympia was adamant that muscle quality had taken a big step backward over the past 20-25 years, and he pointed the finger of blame on the newer practice of working muscle groups only once per week. “That’s more like powerlifter type of training,” Lee would say, “and that’s why so many of these guys have that look— they’re big and strong, but the detail and quality in the muscles just isn’t there.” Muscles need to be trained more often to develop that polished and conditioned look. One might immediately assume this would lead to overtraining, and to be certain that could be a risk. But if one is on point with his nutrition and sleep and doesn’t go crazy with the volume at each workout, you can get both bigger and better working every muscle group twice a week. If you can’t get to the gym twice a day, you could try a push/pull/legs three-day split with a day off between each sequence.

EXERCISE SELECTION

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August 2019

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