Bodybuilding That Isn’t B.S.
written by sean hyson
Strength coaches have a real gripe against bodybuilders. They say bodybuilders “poisoned the well”. You can’t train an athlete or a housewife anymore without her asking when “leg day” is, or having to argue that the exercise she’s doing is working fine, even though she can’t feel “the burn”.
Nearly ALL of the modern-day, mainstream terminology pertaining to fitness is derived from bodybuilding training. Specifically, bodybuilding from the 70s and 80s (when Joe Weider and Arnold Schwarzenegger became household names). Moreover, the entire perception of gyms, working out, and the fitness lifestyle that both draws people in and keeps them away can be traced back to… bodybuilding.
You can see then why trainers and coaches who have degrees in exercise science and nutrition, real-world experience training athletes and special populations, and an understanding of the work of Verkoshansky, Prilepin, and other Soviet sports scientists, feel a little frustrated.
So much of bodybuilding is just bullshit. Made-up exercises, unproven techniques, faulty nutrition. It’s purely trial and error. Yeah, such-and-such workout or set-and-rep scheme worked for this guy, but it ran this other guy into the ground. As much as bodybuilding preaches about finding the approach that “works for you”, it’s pretty much useless in helping you identify one. It always comes back to three sets of 10, rest-pauses, peak contractions, and a bunch of other crap that wouldn’t have nearly as much impact as just adding weight to the bar every week and following a written program.
At least, that’s the PERCEPTION.
The fact is, I have nothing but respect for the early bodybuilding pioneers. So do a lot of the strength coaches I know. I consider it a great honor to work at Muscle&Fitness now, a magazine that arguably did more to popularize working out and educating people about it than any other entity in the past 70-plus years. I do recognize the argument that bodybuilding is more mythology than science, but the fact is, when you apply some science to that mythology, you get something pretty amazing.
Frederic Delavier is the author of the Strength Training Anatomy books, which have sold more than two million copies worldwide. He’s a bodybuilder who thinks like a sports scientist, and his latest book, The Strength Training Anatomy Workout II, does the best job I’ve seen yet of taking a wide array of outside-the-box bodybuilding concepts and making them read like a formal text. Unlike so many other bodybuilding experts, Delavier quotes studies that support the use of all the old “Weider principles”. He outlines when and how to use them, and at the same time flatly says that some of them are just junk.
Here are some of the most interesting tips I picked up.
TOUCH THE MUSCLES YOU’RE TRAINING.
Joe Weider used to always harp on the “mind-muscle connection”, and it makes perfect sense. We all know what a powerful effect the mind can have on the body, so thinking about the muscles you’re working while you train them could enhance the results. The problem is one of practicality. How the hell do I concentrate on how my quads feel when I’ve got 400 pounds on my back in the squat? I’d rather think about how I’m going to stand back up again without breaking in half.
Don’t bother with this idea on the heavy compound exercises, but you can use it on isolation lifts like curls and leg extensions, and Delavier says it’s a great first step toward bringing up a weak muscle group. Since one of the main causes of an underdeveloped muscle is a lack of neural input to it, actively thinking about it and feeling it work will help develop the neuro-muscular connection. Furthermore, placing your hand on the working muscles, or having a partner do so, will increase your awareness of it. This is easy to do on dumbbells curls, done one arm at a time.
PRE-EXHAUST THE RIGHT MUSCLES.
When we were dumb kids who first started training, we all screwed around with “pre-exhaustion.” We read an article recommending it or heard that Arnold or Ronnie Coleman used it and suddenly decided that this was the answer to the problem. “My chest won’t grow so I should do dumbbell flys before bench presses.” By the time we got to the bench presses, we found that we could only use half the weight we usually did. Now how exactly did that help us grow our chests? The pecs were fatigued so the triceps took over more, defeating the purpose.
Delavier recommends pre-exhausting smaller muscle groups, ones that don’t effect your performance as much on compound movements. These include the rear delts, biceps, and triceps. If your rear delts are lagging, you could do bentover flys before you get into rows or pullups for the back. The flys aren’t going to fatigue the lats, so you aren’t negatively effecting your back workout. But the rear delts get worked on rows too, and they’ll give all they have left. This is efficient bodybuilding training.
“After you practice this superset for several weeks, the back of the shoulder will be recruited more during back exercises… it will have a greater tendency to be sore after a back workout. This is a sign that the structure of your motor recruitment has been altered in favor of the back of the shoulder.”
DON’T JUST DO INCLINE PRESSES TO BUILD YOUR UPPER CHEST.
One of the longest raging debates between strength coaches and bodybuilders is whether or not the “upper chest” even exists. The coaches say it’s all one big muscle, the pectoralis major, so simply “build it and it will come”. But the bodybuilders swear you can bring up ANY area with enough attention to it. As we already discussed, the mind-muscle connection is a powerful thing…
More interestingly, the majority of studies show that incline presses DON’T target the pec fibers that attach to the clavicles any better than a flat press, although some studies say they do. Delavier argues that unilateral presses and flys work the upper bundle of pec fibers best. With bilateral work, both shoulders are driven backward supporting the weight, putting them on stretch and causing greater delt recruitment. Working one side at a time means using less weight, therefore the shoulder stays in place and doesn’t get as involved.
Thanks, Uncle Joe.
You can buy Delavier’s books HERE.