Written by Ron Harris
Get Jacked: 10 Training Secrets of the Pros - Part 1
Why do the pros look the way they do? It’s a question just about all of us had at one time or another. Many mistakenly believe the answer lies in pharmaceutical assistance, yet there are many thousands of gym rats loaded to the gills with every drug known to man who look nothing like the pros. Genetics are certainly a heavily mitigating factor, truth be told. But beyond the DNA, the pros are also very different in how they approach their training. How so? Let me break it down for you!
There Are No “Mandatory” Exercises
You could easily believe that there are certain exercises you “have to” do for each body part, or else be eternally doomed to suffer insufficient development. Many pros prove that it’s just not true. Phil Heath has a pretty damn great back. His rear double biceps shot is arguably the very best in the world today, displaying a ruggedly thick back that appears to be a veritable mountain range of muscular lumps and ridges. We all know that you can’t build a truly thick back without deadlifts. But here’s a little secret— Phil doesn’t do deadlifts and never has! Various forms of rows and pulldowns have built that incredible back. Dorian Yates never did a single barbell squat as a pro, yet his legs were good enough to win six Mr. Olympia titles along with nine other pro wins in a relatively brief seven-year career in the IFBB, thanks to leg presses, hack squats and Smith machine squats. The barbell bench press is certainly considered a mandatory exercise for chest training, yet many modern pros have abandoned it for safety reasons. Jay Cutler won four Mr. Olympia titles without any bench pressing, preferring the Smith machine and dumbbells. The point is, pros don’t waste their time or take unnecessary risks with any exercise that they don’t get results from and/or feel may lead to injury. And neither should you.
There Is No Such Thing as “Perfect Form” for All
The “form police” are everywhere, and you only need to read comments under any YouTube clip of any bodybuilder training to hear their admonitions and scathing critiques. Pro bodybuilders are especially susceptible to their online diatribes about improper form, because many of them veer far from what is widely believed to be “correct” form. They may do their reps too fast, they may appear to involve other muscle groups and their range of motion is often not even close to full. If you aren’t sure what I mean, do a YouTube search on any of the following men: Ronnie Coleman, Branch Warren, Juan Morel or Johnnie Jackson (or check the MD site’s video archives). All of those men use what is ostensibly bad form— yet they all became freakishly massive, training that way with very heavy weights. By the same token, men like Dorian Yates, Dennis Wolf and Dexter Jackson, just to name a few, train with much stricter, more controlled form. All of these men use the type of form that they found worked best for them. In some cases that was strict, while in other cases it was almost sloppy. You can’t know which type works better for you unless you give it a chance, and you might even find that a mix of both works best. But the pros all know, either outright or instinctively, that the concept of “perfect form” is a pretense. What matters most is feeling the muscle work and getting a pump. Whatever it takes to achieve that for you is what you should do, regardless of whether outside observers approve, or if it happens to fall into the lines of proper form or not.
Volume Is an Individual Matter
There is a long history of high-volume training in the pantheons of pro bodybuilding. The great Arnold Schwarzenegger spent five hours a day split into a.m. and p.m. workouts, six days a week. The late Mr. America’s Steve Michalik’s “Intensity or Insanity” training system was based on as many as 100 sets per body part— you read that correctly. Ronnie Coleman won eight Mr. Olympia titles training for roughly two hours a day, six days a week, hitting each body part twice in that time. Both Juan Morel and Maxx Charles have been known to train for up to three hours at a shot. Then you have the other extremes. Dorian’s workouts lasted about 45-60 minutes, with four training days a week and three complete rest days. Yates believed in just one all-out set per exercise after a few progressively heavier warm-ups. His Heavy Duty training predecessor, Mike Mentzer, did even less. Most pros these days are somewhere in the middle of those two ends of the volume scale. It’s common to ask, how much should I be doing in the gym? Some people will quickly rattle off the accepted standard of x amount of sets per body part, x amount of time per workout and x number of workouts per week. The pros don’t follow any set parameters on how often to train or how much training each body part should receive. They do as much as they need to, no more and no less. For some of them, that constitutes a lot more time in the gym than others. That certainly doesn’t make any of them wrong, as each man found that a certain amount of volume gives him the best results, and doing either more or less isn’t as effective.
Your Body Will Tell You How Much Rest You Need
In addition to training volume, training frequency is another area in which the pros rarely conform to a standard paradigm. Most train five days a week, or will go for anywhere from two to four days before taking a day off. Yet it’s not uncommon for some to go for periods of two or more weeks without taking a single day off from the gym. Jon De La Rosa saw some of his best mass gains as a pro between the 2013 and 2014 seasons doing that. And he’s not unique in that aspect. While some pros do have a set schedule for when they will train and when they will take a rest day, it’s far from unheard of for others to wait until they feel they need a break to stay home from the gym. They will also take extra rest days as needed, especially if they are starting to feel run down or are experiencing nagging aches and pains. Letting your body dictate how often to train actually makes a lot more sense than randomly assigning set training and rest days without respect to energy levels, sleep and nutrition or how your joints feel. The pros train as often as they feel is productive, and take rest days when they need to. This type of flexibility is more productive in the long run.
Nobody Is Too Advanced for a Coach
Five-time Arnold Classic champion and former Mr. Olympia Dexter Jackson certainly knows how to train himself after more than 25 years of experience with the weights. Why would he need a coach? Simply put, nobody knows everything, and all of us fall into habits over time. We often tend to do the same exercises in the same order, the same way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a regular gym rat or a Mr. Olympia— we all fall into comfortable patterns of familiarity that typically lead to stagnation. A few years ago, Dexter knew he needed a change, and headed out west to work with the Trainer of Champions, Charles Glass. Glass introduced new exercises as well as plenty of new twists to old exercises, and Dexter’s physique thrived on the changes. Hany Rambod has helped dozens of pro bodybuilders bring up lagging body parts by showing them new techniques and devising new routines to follow. John Meadows has gained notoriety in recent years for revamping the workout routines of pros like Fouad Abiad, Mark Dugdale and several others. Dante Trudel’s DC Training has helped pros David Henry and Dusty Hanshaw pack on loads of fresh new muscle mass. And despite being the greatest 212-pound bodybuilder in the world for the last four years running, Flex Lewis has followed the Y3T Training System workouts designed by his coach, Neil Hill, for over 10 years. What I’m getting at is that few of us are able to objectively assess our training, and figure out what needs to change to see new gains. Seeking out help might seem like an ego blow to some of us, but many pros check their egos at the door when it comes to improving their physiques. If a good trainer or coach can help them become better bodybuilders, they don’t hesitate to employ their services.
.....continued next week.