A Review of Bodybuilders and Their Training Methods

By Mike Croskery



Bodybuilding is a unique sport which involves the assessment of a competitor’s overall muscle symmetry, muscularity, and presentation skills in comparison to the other athletes in an appropriate weight or height class. Each contest consists of three rounds. The first round assesses the competitors overall symmetry and muscularity. The second round is the free posing round where the athletes present to the judges a posing routine that emphasizes his or her best body parts as well as their level of conditioning. Round three is the comparison round in which the athletes are compared against one another through a number of compulsory poses. Throughout all three of these rounds the judges are evaluating muscular definition, muscle shape, presentation, muscular symmetry, and other aesthetic qualities of the individual athletes.

The sport of bodybuilding has been growing since the first "Most Perfectly Developed Man in America" show in 1939 created by physical culturist Bernarr MacFadden (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985). Presently, the sport has a highly organized administration system that ranges from provincial and national associations and federations to the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) which governs bodybuilding competitions around the world and has a membership of 152 nations (Weider, 1994).

In order for bodybuilders to achieve their competitive condition of massive musculature with very low levels of body fat, the athletes combine heavy resistance training with aerobic exercise and a restrictive nutritional program. Many different training programs, techniques, and nutritional strategies are used that are unique to bodybuilding and will be discussed throughout this chapter. In addition, there are several interesting physiological characteristics of these athletes a rising from their state of training and physical condition. These will also be discussed later on.

Physiological Description of Male and Female Bodybuilders

Bodybuilders and resistance-trained individuals have certain physiological characteristics that are unique compared to other athletic or sedentary groups of people, but there are also similarities between the two groups as well. These similarities and differences will be discussed in the following sections.

Physiological Description of Systems

Muscle Ultrastructural Characteristics

In general, male bodybuilders have larger whole muscle cross-sectional area as well as an overall net increase of connective and non-contractile tissue (Macdougall et al. 1982, 1984) than gender matched control groups (Alway, Stray-Gundsen, Grumbt, & Gonyea, 1990; Sale, MacDougall, Alway, & Sutton, 1987) and female bodybuilders (Alway, Stray-Gundsen, Grumbt, & Gonyea, 1990). However, when connective and non-contractile tissue is expressed as a ratio with cross-sectional area there is little difference among the three groups. In 1982, research into the ultrastructural muscle characteristics of elite bodybuilders found that the individual muscle fibers in bodybuilders are generally not significantly larger than those of the trained controls used in the studies (Tesch & Larsson, 1982; MacDougall, Sale, Elder, & Sutton, 1982). MacDougall et al. (1982) has hypothesized that the lack of significant difference in fiber areas between bodybuilders and controls could represent that a muscle fiber has a maximum growth potential or ceiling that it reaches in cross-sectional area. Later research performed by MacDougall, Sale, Alway, & Sutton (1984) did find larger fiber areas in trained bodybuilders than in the untrained control groups. However, the differences in fiber areas were not significant between the elite and intermediate bodybuilders even though the biceps areas were significantly different. In addition, Tesch, Thorsson, & Essén-Gustavsson (1989) found that bodybuilders had greater fiber size than both Olympic weight lifters and powerlifters.

As previously mentioned, the fiber areas between elite and intermediate bodybuilders are relatively the same size. Certain studies have found that male (Tesch & Larsson 1982; Sale et al. 1987; MacDougall et al. 1982) and female (Alway et al. 1989) bodybuilders have a greater number of fibers compared to gender matched trained and untrained controls. Although, male bodybuilders did have larger fiber areas compared to female bodybuilders, they did not have greater fiber numbers (Alway et al. 1989). In contrast to this, Sale and colleagues (1987) found that male bodybuilders did have greater fiber numbers in the biceps brachii when compared to female bodybuilders. Perhaps the differences between the two studies could be a result of sampling error or differences in the training history of the subjects (Alway, 1989). However, it has been proposed that the large differences in muscle cross-sectional area in humans could be due to greater fiber numbers and increases in individual fiber areas (Tesch, 1982; Tesch, 1988; Sale et al. 1987; Alway et al. 1989).

The greater fiber numbers in bodybuilders could indicate that hyperplasia (from fiber splitting or satellite cell activation due to the high volumes of work used by competitive bodybuilders) is a possible explanation for the enlarged whole muscle cross-sectional area but not individual muscle fibers (Tesch, 1982). Increased numbers of fibers within a trained muscle could also be due to genetic endowment (MacDougall et al., 1984; Tesch 1982). If this was the case, then individual muscle fiber cross-sectional area would be the main determinant of the overall larger areas in whole muscle cross-sectional area in bodybuilders and other trained individuals.

In both men and women bodybuilders, overall slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fiber areas appear to enlarge in relation to one another as a result of heavy resistance-type training (Tesch, 1982). Although contractile protein synthesis is greatest in fast twitch fibers and can result in individual fiber cross-sectional area growth of 90% or more of their previous size (Tesch, 1988), bodybuilders tend to have greater numbers of slow twitch fibers than fast twitch fibers (Tesch, 1988; Tesch, 1982) thus resulting in an equal ratio of total growth of fibers in comparison to one another. In other words, selective fast twitch hypertrophy is not evident in bodybuilders (Tesch, 1982).

Women do experience muscle hypertrophy (Alway, 1989) as evidenced by the extremely muscular physiques shown by female bodybuilders when competing. However, there are several differences between male and female bodybuilders when it comes to certain muscle characteristics. Male bodybuilders generally have greater increases in fast twitch fiber areas, although do not generally have more fibers in the biceps brachii in comparison to women bodybuilders (Alway, 1989). Perhaps one reason why female bodybuilders have generally less total muscle mass then their gender counterparts (Alway, 1989) is that females might have fewer total fibers (Sale et. al, 1987) and therefore fewer fast twitch fibers in which hypertrophy does not occur at as great a rate compared to males in addition to less muscle mass to begin with than males.

Strength Characteristics

Bodybuilders are able to generate higher peak torque values than untrained males and females. This is at least due in part to the overall larger muscle cross-sectional areas of the bodybuilders (Sale et al., 1987). However, when expressed as a ratio of peak torque to cross-sectional area the resultant values are similar between the three groups (Sale et al., 1987). Isokinetic strength characteristics are similar between bodybuilders and powerlifters except in ankle plantar flexion where power lifters appeared to have more strength (Sale & MacDougall, 1984). These results most likely reflect training habits and the state of training of individual muscle groups between the two groups (Sale & MacDougall, 1984).

When males, both untrained and bodybuilders, are compared to untrained females and normalized for strength at various joint angles and velocities several unique results are seen. When strength is expressed as a ratio of peak torque to cross-sectional area, females obtain significantly higher values at the higher Isokinetic velocities and joint angles than both males and bodybuilders (Tsunoda, O’Hagan, Sale, & MacDougall, 1993; Sale et al., 1987). Increases in impact torque at the higher velocities were also greater in female and male controls than bodybuilders (Sale et al., 1987).

A possible explanation for these differences in strength could be that the larger muscle mass of males and bodybuilders results in more muscle fibers "bulging" when in flexion. This would result in a more oblique line of pull to the muscle tendon (Sale et al., 1987). In addition, the greater fiber numbers in males and bodybuilders could cause an extension of the tendon plate into the muscle which would also result in a more oblique line of pull (Tsunoda et al., 1993). Therefore the decrements in strength would only be apparent at higher velocities and smaller joint angles. Females would not have this problem due to their fewer fiber numbers, and smaller individual fiber cross-sectional areas, resulting in a more parallel line of pull to the muscle tendon and therefore a more efficient contraction (Sale et al. 1987). Another explanation for this apparent loss of force in the higher velocities for bodybuilders could be due to the training characteristics of their particular workout programs (Alway et al., 1990).

Although males and bodybuilders may have more fibers than females, fiber type distribution does not affect overall force production (Alway et al., 1990). In fact, their are no significant differences between the two groups when trained female bodybuilders are compared to untrained men for lower body strength (Bond, Gresham, Tuckson, & Balkisoon, 1985). In general, overall strength increases according to corresponding increases in overall muscle mass but does not when expressed as ratios to individual fiber cross-sectional area (Bond et al., 1985).

Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance Characteristics

Aerobic power of male bodybuilders varies from approximately 42.7 ml/kg · min -1 (Spitler, Diaz, Horvath, & Wright, 1980) to as high as 50.8 ml/kg · min -1 (Häkkinen, Alén, & Komi, 1984). When these values are expressed as a ratio to lean body mass, depending on the body fat percentage at the time of the test, aerobic power can sometimes rise by greater than 7 ml/kg · min -1 (Fahey, Akka, & Rolph, 1975). Females have corresponding VO2 max values from 39.5 ml/kg · min -1 (Elliot, Goldberg, Kuehl, & Catlin, 1987) to 47.24 ml/kg · min -1 (Carlson, MacDonald, & Payne, 1988). When these values are expressed as a ratio to lean body mass, the result can be an increase by as much as 10 ml/kg · min -1 (Carlson, MacDonald, & Payne, 1988). The aerobic power values obtained for bodybuilders were only slightly higher than the untrained controls, significantly higher than powerlifters, yet lower than wrestlers used in the experiments. Although bodybuilders do participate in aerobic exercise to reduce body fat levels, the type used and the amount done is probably not enough (especially in the males) to have resulted in a large rise in aerobic power.

Häkkinen and colleagues (1984) found through examining neuromuscular and anaerobic performance characteristics of elite power athletes (powerlifters, wrestlers, and bodybuilders) that anaerobic power for a 1 minute maximal power test did not differ between the three groups. Wrestlers were quicker to produce a 30% force production in an isometric contraction than bodybuilders, with powerlifters being the slowest of the three groups. The wrestlers were also significantly more efficient at using elastic energy during drop jumps than both of the other groups. These differences were attributed to by sport specific training over many years.

Chronic Enzyme and Related Physiological Responses of Bodybuilders

Bodybuilders have shown increases in the number of capillaries per muscle fiber but when expressed as a density value, an overall decrease due to the counteractive effects of enlarged muscle fiber areas is observed (Tesch, 1988). In addition to decreased capillary density, bodybuilders have also shown decreases in myofibrillar volume density (although there is a net increase in myofibrillar proteins) and mitochondrial volume density (MacDougall et al., 1982). Bodybuilders do however show an increase in cytoplasmic volume density when compared to trained controls (MacDougall et al., 1982). Perhaps this increase in volume could be related to increased muscle glycogen stores and possibly excess fluid as a result of anabolic steroid use (MacDougall et al., 1982).

Due to the nature of their training, bodybuilders could have increased substrate stores as a result of their training when compared to untrained controls (Tesch, 1988). Resistance training has shown to increase substrate concentrations of adenosine triphosphate, creatine phosphate, creatine, and glycogen in trained muscles (MacDougall, Ward, Sale, & Sutton, 1977). In addition, evidence of increases in the volume of intracellular lipid within the resistance trained muscle could also occur in bodybuilders (Tesch, 1988). Bodybuilders also appear to differ in certain enzyme activities in comparison to untrained controls, Olympic weight lifters, and powerlifters. Mainly, citrate synthase activity was increased in slow twitch fibers and myokinase activity in fast twitch fibers of bodybuilders in comparison to the other three groups (Tesch et al., 1989).

Acute Effects from Bodybuilding-Type Training

Two types of training were investigated by Essén-Gustavsson and Tesch (1990) and Tesch, Colliander, and Kaiser (1986) to examine the acute physiological responses of bodybuilding-type training. The first method involved a more traditional style of training that incorporated training the leg muscles for 20 sets with repetitions in the range of 6 - 12 per set. Each set lasted approximately 30 seconds with a 60 second rest period between sets and exercises and total performance time lasted 30 minutes (Essén-Gustavsson & Tesch, 1990; Tesch et al., 1986). This exercise protocol produced reductions in adenosine triphosphate, creatine phosphate, and glycogen concentrations (Tesch et al. 1986). Glucose levels, glucose-6-phosphate and alpha-glycerophosphate increased by 10, 6, and 2 times respectively (Tesch et al. 1986). Blood lactate levels reached a peak of approximately 13 mmol · l -1 and decreased to approximately 11 mmol · l -1 upon cessation of exercise. Essén-Gustavsson and Tesch (1989) have also found that this type of training can slightly increase free fatty acid and glycerol concentrations in the blood with significant decreases in triglyceride and glycogen content after the exercise bout when compared to pre-exercise conditions. Lactate levels and glycerol-3-phosphate also showed a significant increase in post-measurement (Essén-Gustavsson & Tesch, 1989). Therefore, in summary, it appears that this type of training relies on energy from phosphagen breakdown, glycogenolysis, and lipolysis (Essén-Gustavsson & Tesch, 1990; Tesch et al., 1986).

The second method that researchers have examined is a training method that uses short rest periods of approximately 10 seconds between sets with 30 to 60 seconds of rest between exercises with a total set load of approximately 25 to 30 sets. Kraemer, Noble, Clark, and Culver (1987) compared the physiological responses of powerlifters and bodybuilders and found that there were no strong differences between the groups except that bodybuilders appeared to better tolerate this type of training stress. Both groups heart rates were approximately 180 beats per minute, peak plasma lactate levels rose to over 21 mmol · l-1 , rates of perceived exertion where slightly higher (but insignificant) in the powerlifting group. High ratings of perceived exertion were positively correlated to high lactate values. Rises in plasma cortisol, plasma epinephrine and norepinephrine, and dopamine levels were also similar between the two groups. Decreases in eosinophil counts and plasma volume were again similar between the two groups.

The main differences between the two groups were that bodybuilders used a higher percentage of their 1 repetition maximum for the bench press and leg press to perform the exercise protocol and 100% of the powerlifters reported clinical symptoms of dizziness and nausea compared to only 11.1% of the bodybuilders. The lack of the clinical symptoms in bodybuilders could indicate a better lactic acid buffering system and tolerance compared to powerlifters (Kraemer et al., 1987).

The study done by McKillop et al. (1988) followed a similar exercise protocol and showed physiologically similar results in bodybuilders. Creatinine levels rose on exercise and zinc and phosphate levels fell during the exercise period. In addition lactate levels rose to 14.1 mmol · l -1 at 45 minutes into the exercise and fell to 8.3 mmol · l -1 upon cessation of exercise. Creatinine kinase also rose during exercise, as did albumin.

Anthropometric and Body Composition Description

The most unique aspect of bodybuilders is their anthropometric measurements and body composition. This is due to the fact that bodybuilders are required to show large, balanced musculature in combination with a very low level of body fat. Typically, male competitive bodybuilders range in body fat percentage from 9.7 % during the off-season to 5.9 % during the competitive season (Heyward, Sandoval, & Colville, 1989). Female competitive bodybuilders range in body fat percentage from 16.8 % to 9.5 % for non-competitive and pre-competitive states (Heyward, Sandoval, & Colville, 1989). Elliot and colleagues (1987) emphasize that such low levels of body fat in females have previously led the athletes to experience menstrual abnormalities, although none were reported in their study.

Analyses of skinfold data on males showed that body fat was not uniformly distributed all over the body as is typical of the general male population. Body fat during the non-competitive phase was more centrally located on the trunk (namely the back and abdomen) in competitive bodybuilders when compared to the arms and legs (Spitler, Diaz, Horvath, & Wright, 1980). For female bodybuilders the trend appears weaker. Although one study involving female bodybuilders had largest skinfolds on the thigh, abdomen, and subscapular, other studies have shown that the triceps also should be included in this list (Heyward, Sandoval, & Colville, 1989). However, when female bodybuilders reduce body fat for a competition the greatest change in sites occurs at the thigh and abdominal sites (Heyward, Sandoval, & Colville, 1989). Although it is important to have a low level of subcutaneus body fat in order to display high levels of muscular definition, there is a very low correlation between body fat level and placing in a competition (Carlson & MacDonald, 1988). Another interesting fact about female bodybuilders (at least Australian female bodybuilders) is that they are not typically larger than average females or female athletes (Carlson & MacDonald, 1988).

In data published by McArdle, Katch, & Katch (1991) the average height and weight of 11 Mr. Universe bodybuilders was 170.6 centimeters and 84.2 kilograms respectively. The average height for female bodybuilders was approximately 160.6 centimeters and average weight was 53.4 kilograms. However, these measurements may be impractical due to the fact that many bodybuilding federations use weight class divisions which result in many bodybuilders with varying body weights. All muscular girths were from 17.9 % to 77.9 % deviations larger than the average untrained reference group with the last one being the flexed upper arm circumference. The non-muscular girths (abdomen, hips, wrist, knee, and ankle) were 27.7% to 29% deviations smaller than the reference group. The ratio between the non-muscular and muscular girths was 1.396 and illustrated that excess muscle did exist. Although female bodybuilders showed larger muscular girths (except in the thigh which was 1.6% deviation lower) in general from 3.4% to 19.4% deviations (the chest being the largest deviation measurement) and smaller non-muscular girths by 6.1% to 12.1% deviations than the reference group, the ratio from non-muscular to muscular girths was much lower with a value of 1.097. Perhaps this illustrates that although the female bodybuilders appear to have larger muscles, they actually have better shape and refinement (McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 1991).

Training Methods


Physical development of the body has been practiced for many years. The lean, well-muscled physique was popular amongst the Greeks in ancient times and experienced a renewed interest in the late 1800’s and has been popular ever since. During the early part of the twentieth century, training for this type of body image was an equal combination of calisthenics, isometrics, and weight training. After the 1940’s, the weight training portion became much larger and more prevalent in the training programs of bodybuilders (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985). The exercise techniques and weight training programs used by the top bodybuilders between the forties and the early sixties were quite similar to those used by the Olympic lifters of that time as well. This may be partly due to the fact that many of the champion bodybuilders of that time were also champion weight lifters as well (Weider & Reynolds, 1989).

During the seventies and early eighties, bodybuilding training became more distinctive to the sport. New training methods were being developed and used by the athletes for gaining muscular size. The most popular training routine used before competition for advanced bodybuilders was using a large number of sets (usually from 15 to 20 total sets per body part) and lower repetitions per set for building mass and higher repetitions for muscle definition (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985). Aerobic training, such as jogging, was beginning to be recognized as a valid way of losing body fat to show the shape and separation of the muscles that had been developed.

During the late eighties and mid-nineties, bodybuilding has begun to become more popular all over the world and consequently there is a wealth of information available on the topic. Unfortunately, the information can often be clouded with inaccurate claims, media "hype", and unfounded results. Currently, there is a multitude of training methods being used by bodybuilders around the world. The most popular methods and some of the more uncommon methods will be discussed in detail in the following section.

Common Training Methods

"High Intensity" Training

This method of training has been popularized through the writings of Mike Mentzer (1993) and Ellington Darden (1984; 1989) who give much credit to Arthur Jones (an exercise physiologist and research scientist who developed the Nautilus exercise machines) for providing the basis for their training programs. This type of training method is used primarily for building muscle mass in a minimal amount of time. The theory that the authors base their training philosophies on, and also believe that it is the best way to train to gain muscle, is due to the fact that they believe their methods are scientifically valid.

The training structure and philosophy of this program emphasizes low volume workouts with heavy weights and high perceived exertion levels. Additionally, longer rest periods between training sessions for muscle recuperation is emphasized. Although Mentzer and Darden do have some small differences between their training approaches, in general they appear to have similar philosophies on training for muscle hypertrophy.

Mentzer (1993) and Darden (1989) believe that it is the intensity of effort during a resistance training session that causes muscles to grow. Darden defines intensity as "going all-out, not almost all-out. It is taking each set to your absolute limit, not almost to the limit." (1989, p.26). In other words, "intensity" for bodybuilding purposes is more related to high perceived exertion levels through decreased rest periods, heavier weights, resultant high lactate levels, or a combination of all three. Therefore training to momentary muscular failure is a necessity for this type of training as the authours believe that it is the last few repetitions of a set that causes muscles to enlarge. The authors believe that only this type of training can cause an adaptive response within the muscle and therefore cause it to enlarge (Mentzer, 1993).

In addition to the workouts being "intense", the training should also be brief as well. Mentzer (1993) believes the workout should be brief due to the limited resources of the body to grow. Brief workouts are necessary due to the extreme stressful nature of the exercise routines. If workouts were not brief in nature then overtraining would result (Mentzer, 1993; Darden, 1989). Mentzer (1993) believes a muscle needs a minimum of 72 hours of recovery in order to grow whereas Darden (1989) believes that the whole body should be trained 3 times a week.

A high-intensity training routine according to Darden (1989) should include only 1 set per exercise with 1 - 3 exercises per muscle group with the whole body being trained in one session, 3 times a week, with at least 1 day of rest between training days. However, Darden (1989) believes that beginners and intermediate bodybuilders should do more total exercises (16 - 20 and 12 - 16 respectively) for the whole body than the 8 - 12 recommended for those who are advanced. In addition, each set should contain a range of 8 - 12 repetitions. When 12 reps are reached the individual should then increase the weight by approximately 5% in order to continually challenge the muscles (Darden, 1989).

Mentzer’s high-intensity approach (dubbed "Heavy Duty") is similar to the one previously mentioned although it differs in a number of ways. Primarily, more time is allotted to recovery between training body parts. The whole body is typically trained only once per week by dividing the muscle groups into three separate training days (Mentzer, 1993). For example: on Monday chest, shoulders, and triceps would be trained and then followed with a day off from training. Wednesday would have back and biceps being trained followed by a day of rest, with legs and abdominals being trained on Friday followed by 2 days of rest. As the individuals become more advanced, more recovery time may be needed (Mentzer, 1993). One set should only be used for each body part with a repetition range of 6 - 10. When 10 repetitions are reached the individual should increase his or her weight by 10%- 20% in order to be down to 6 repetitions again (Mentzer, 1993). With such a low volume per workout, total workout time is usually quite brief, approximately 30 minutes.

Rest times between sets for both training methods can vary between no rest and up to 5 minutes. Both authors also regularly employ certain bodybuilding training techniques in their training programs such as supersets, pre-exhaustion sets, continuos tension, slow motion repetitions, pre-stretch, and full range repetitions. Occasionally they might also use other higher intensity techniques such as negatives and forced reps. All of these techniques will be discussed in detail later on.

Volume Oriented Training

This type of training appears to be one of the more popular ways that competitive and recreational bodybuilders are using to try to gain muscle mass and prepare for competitions. This is most likely due to the fact that many of the bodybuilding and fitness magazines, such as Muscle & Fitness, Flex, Musclemag International, and Ironman to name a few, feature routines by professionals who tend to train with fairly high volumes. One of the larger proponents of volume oriented training is the very popular Joe Weider, who pioneered many of the training methods used by bodybuilders during the development of the sport.

Weider (1989) believes that a competitive bodybuilder’s training regime should be divided into 2 sections: off-season training and pre-contest training. Generally, off-season training is used to increase overall muscle mass and to improve muscle symmetry among body parts. This involves using a training program that incorporates a low repetition range of 3 to 6 with compound exercises in accordance with a total number of sets in the range of 8 to 10 per body part twice a week (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). Training is carried to momentary muscle failure and rest between sets is in the order of 60 to 90 seconds with little aerobic training to supplement the weight training (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). Training techniques that are often used in this phase are ones such as forced reps, negatives, and burns (Weider & Reynolds, 1989).

The pre-contest phase of a bodybuilder’s yearly training cycle is intended to decrease body fat to a minimum level and "harden up the muscles" (Weider & Reynolds, 1989, p. 424). During a pre-contest phase, total volume more than doubles resulting in the trainee using 18 to 20 sets per body part with only 30 to 40 seconds of rest between sets. Higher repetition numbers of 10 to 15 per set are used during this stage of training, although momentary muscle failure is not always achieved or is necessary (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). Each body part is trained three times a week with exercises that tend to isolate specific muscles better than compound exercises do (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). Techniques such as peak contraction, continuous tension and Iso-tension are used along with more aerobic exercise to help bring out more muscle detail and separation (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). When this type of training is used to prepare for a contest it "can leave you constantly fatigued" (Weider & Reynolds, 1989, p.424).

Schwarzenegger (1985) agrees with this type of volume training. For beginners he recommends training each body part twice a week using approximately 10 and 15 sets for most body parts with a rep range of 2 to 15 depending on the exercise and body part being trained. While an intermediate lifter would follow a similar program, only train each body part 3 times a week. Schwarzenegger & Dobbins (1985) have also given guidelines as to when an individual should move on to their advanced training program which incorporates training the body in 2 sessions during the day for 10 - 23 sets per body part with repetitions from 4 to 20 per set. The guidelines set forth by Dobbins and Schwarzenegger (1985) to define an advanced bodybuilder as one who has "gained 15 pounds or more of muscle mass, put about 3 inches on your arms, 5 inches on your chest and shoulders, 4 inches on your thighs, and 3 inches on your calves" (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985; p.170). Competition training is similar to advanced training, although a greater variety of training techniques are used, and sets per body part can go as high as 48.

It is important to note that the beginner and intermediate bodybuilding programs developed by Weider & Reynolds (1989) do not have such high volumes. Typically, a beginner would train his or her whole body three times a week with a total of 3 to 8 sets per body part for 6 to 15 repetitions per set. An intermediate may train different body parts on different days, with an increase in the total number of sets performed per body part. Both techniques tend to emphasize the importance of achieving a "pump" or a sensation of fatigue in the body part at some point during the workouts in order to stimulate muscle growth .

There are many different theories put forth by Schwarzenegger and Weider as to why this type of training is best to stimulate muscular hypertrophy. The most popular is that muscles grow from progressive resistance. In other words, as the resistance is increased while staying in a required repetition range, the body is stimulated to adapt to the workload and subsequently grow (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). Lifting heavier weights in good form is emphasized as "their is a direct, linear relationship between strength levels and muscle mass" (Weider & Reynolds, 1989, p. 77). Weider (1989) also believes that "intensity" is essential to muscle growth. Many of Weider’s views on training are based on his own personal experience and observations from training a large number of bodybuilding athletes. The theory for his construction of certain training routines lies in the principles and techniques that he uses as the basis for his routines. These principles and techniques will be discussed later on.

According to Schwarzenegger and Dobbins(1985), volume training is necessary because it takes a large volume of work to recruit all the muscle fibers in the target muscle and sufficiently stress your muscles to cause them to grow. Similar to Weider, "intensity" is important for growth as well as progressive resistance. Schwarzenneger also addresses the concept of muscle pain and workouts. Muscle pain resulting from lactic acid build-up and delayed onset muscle soreness supposedly indicates that the muscle will now be forced to adapt and grow larger (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985).

Moderate Volume Training

This type of training appears to be becoming more popular as bodybuilding trainers and authors learn more about the importance of muscle recovery and its implications towards hypertrophy. This training philosophy appears to be in the middle of the two previously mentioned methods. Typically, an intermediate individual who trains with this method will use a total set range that varies between 6 and 8 for each body part once to twice a week during the off-season of a competitive cycle (Kennedy, 1989; Kennedy & Weis, 1986; Reynolds 1988). However, pre-contest cycles usually have greater volumes and are similar to the volume oriented training approaches. The repetition range is usually 5 to 15 per set and also varies according to what training phase the trainee is currently in (Kennedy, 1989; Kennedy & Weis, 1986; Reynolds 1988). Lower reps are generally used during the off-season. Higher repetitions and greater volumes are used during a contest preparation cycle.

Various training techniques are also incorporated into their training programs. Sometimes this is to create variety in the training routine, while other times it used for a specific purpose (for example, super-sets and burns are often used because it is believed that it will "harden-up" a muscle and cause the muscle to show more definition) (Kennedy & Weis, 1986).

This type of training is based on a theory similar to the volume oriented training approach with one important difference - recovery. Although pre-contest volumes between the two methods are similar, body parts are not trained as frequently during the week since it is believed that the more recovery time given between training sessions, the more beneficial it is to muscle growth. From my own personal experience, this type of training method tends to be more successful and motivational for the individuals who use this type of training than the two previously mentioned methods. Perhaps this is the reason why it appears to be gaining more popularity in the bodybuilding media and among the bodybuilders themselves.

Personal Experimentation Training

This training philosophy is sometimes practiced by the more experienced bodybuilders. This type of training generally lacks any long term structure and could be described as an agglomeration of several different training techniques and methods, both unique and established, in order to stimulate the muscles to grow. This training technique is similar to the "specialization" training techniques used by bodybuilders to try to develop a certain body part more rapidly than his or her other body parts. The main difference between the two methods is that the individuals who use this personal experimentation method use "specialization" techniques for the whole body. The trainer’s line of reasoning appears to be along the lines that the body needs to receive a new and challenging stimulus in order for it to adapt and subsequently grow. Therefore the individuals then train their muscles with what they believe to be a new and unique stimulus.

Such programs are often developed based on information obtained through the current bodybuilding magazines, from other bodybuilders and resistance-trained individuals, and by the training individuals themselves. Such programs are sometimes characterized by extremes in training methods (huge amounts of sets, huge amounts of repetitions, varying the structure of the workout each session) and utilizing unique and peculiar exercise movements with both free weights and machines to isolate a certain aspect of a muscle in order to cause it to hypertrophy at a greater rate.

Support for this type of training is based on the fact that sometimes apparently fast results are seen in weight gain, a particular body part measurement, or in the quick increases in tolerance and strength to the training method developed. However, due to the unstructured characteristics of this type of training, one particular routine is rarely consistently followed for longer than several weeks. After this time period either the individual becomes over-trained or frustrated at the lack of progress that he or she believes should be occurring with this "new" type of training. Unfortunately, often the individual will then attempt another "state-of-the-art" training method developed to cause muscles to grow, and the cycle begins again. Consequently, from my own personal observations, this appears to be one of the largest reasons that some bodybuilders fail to improve with time.


Power Factor Training by John Little

This training technique surfaced in the early nineties. Training routines were based on the premise that the greater the total workload placed on a muscle (weight x repetitions x sets) over a given unit of time than what was achieved at the previous workout, the more likely growth was stimulated (Little, 1993). This ratio of workload to time is called the Power Factor. By calculating the Power Factor and comparing it to previous results, Little argues that it becomes easier to monitor training progress, recovery, and consequently growth (Little, 1993).

For example, a typical workout that would result in a higher Power Factor than a conventional workout using 11 total sets with repetitions from 3 to 15 per set for a total workout time of 30 minutes would incorporate 6 total sets of 30 repetitions per set for a total workout time of 10 minutes (Little, 1993).

Bulgarian Bodybuilding Training Program by Leo Costa Jr.

This training technique was supposedly modeled after the Bulgarian Olympic weight lifters training routines. Briefly, the training technique incorporates training the whole body two to three times a week with up to 3 training sessions per day. Each training session is limited to approximately thirty minutes and focuses mainly on compound movements. Sets per muscle group are not particularly high and repetitions vary from set to set.

Common Training Principles and Techniques

As previously mentioned, there are certain training techniques and principles that bodybuilders use to stimulate the muscles to grow, become more defined, and increase vasculature through increasing "intensity". The rationale for the last statement is common among bodybuilders because it is believed that the harder the muscle is worked, the more it will grow (Darden, 1989; Mentzer, 1993; Schwarzenegger, 1985, Weider, 1989).

Even though many different types of training methods are used to cause muscles to grow, there are several training beliefs that are quite common among bodybuilders. They are as follows: (1) each set of an exercise must be done until momentary muscular failure occurs; (2) the higher the "intensity" (usually indicated by high lactic acid levels and perceived exertion of a lift) the better the stimulus for muscle growth; (3) muscle soreness indicates that you have stimulated growth; (4) slow controlled movements are generally better for maximum muscle hypertrophy than fast movements; (5) large body parts require more sets than smaller body parts; and (6) between 48 and 96 hours of recovery is needed for each muscle group to fully recover.

Training Techniques

1 to 10 system

This method involves doing a maximum repetition at the beginning followed by immediately removing enough weight from the exercise in order to be able to just get 2 repetitions followed by a drop in weight to be able to get 3 repetitions, and so on until 10 repetitions is reached (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985). The authors believe this technique is useful in stimulating muscle growth because the muscle is working to its maximum all of the time.

21’s or "Platoon System"

This technique is characterized by 3 sets of partial ranges throughout the full range of motion of a muscle. For example, when this technique is applied to biceps the person would do a certain number of repetitions (usually 7) for the first third of the range of motion for that exercise. The individual would then immediately do the same number of repetitions in the middle third of the range of motion and finish the exercise by doing the same number of repetitions again in the last third of the range of motion. This is believed to cause the muscles to grow due to the fact that it stresses the muscles in a way that the muscles are not accustomed to (Schwarzenneger & Dobbins, 1985).


This technique is applied by performing 12 to 15 partial repetitions at one end of the range of motion of an exercise after the trainee can no longer perform the required number of repetitions designated for the set. This method is used to stimulate the muscle to grow and increase muscular definition (Weider & Reynolds, 1989)

Cheating Reps

Cheating Reps are somewhat self-explanatory. An exercise is performed in strict form for a certain number of repetitions. When the person can no longer perform any more repetitions in strict form, exercise technique becomes loose and the individual lifts the weight by using other muscles to create momentum or a better mechanical leverage. This is believed to cause greater muscle growth because the muscle is working "past failure" (Weider, 1989, p.99)

Continuous Tension (W)

This training technique involves performing an exercise slowly and strictly with no pauses at either ends of the range of motion. As a result sets can last much longer than normal. Continuous tension is suppose to help muscle to grow and become more defined by making the movement more "intense" and therefore harder to perform (Weider & Reynolds, 1989).

Cumulative Repetitions

There are two ways that this technique can be implemented in a training program. The first way applies only to body-weight exercises or similar calisthenic movements (pull-ups, dips, push-ups, etc.). For example, an individual begins by doing one chin-up; after 2 seconds of rest, he or she performs 2 repetitions; then after another 2 seconds of rest, he or she performs 3 repetitions. This style is continued until the individual is unable to perform the required number of repetitions suitable to the progression. This technique can also be applied in a similar fashion to free-weight exercises except that there is a 10 second rest between cumulative sets instead of the 2 second rest period. This technique claims to be able to build strength, power, size and endurance when a resistance progression is also utilized (Kennedy & Weis, 1986).

Descending Sets , Strip Sets, Multi-Poundage System, and Drop Sets

Although there are many different names for this technique, it is performed in a similar fashion for all four methods. The person who chooses to use this technique would begin as if he or she was performing a normal set. Once momentary muscle fatigue is reached the amount of weight on the bar is immediately decreased and more repetitions are performed. For example, the Multi-Poundage System (Kennedy & Weis, 1986) begins with a weight that can be lifted twice followed by a drop in weight to allow 4, 6, 8, and 10 repetitions. A total cumulative repetition load is given as between 25 and 32 repetitions. Strip sets are performed in a similar manner except that the first set involves higher repetitions and the amount that the weight is reduced varies as to how low in weight the bodybuilder chooses to go. Essentially, this is another method of increasing "intensity" into a bodybuilding workout.

Feeder Workouts

Feeder workouts for a certain muscle group are performed approximately 24 hours after the workout of the same muscle group. The workouts involve using 1 to 3 sets of 20% to 30% of the weight that was used for the muscle group during the previous days workout. Kennedy (1989) believes feeder workouts are beneficial for muscle growth because they help to improve recovery ability, tissue repair, and blood circulation.

Flushing Method

This method as developed by Schwarzenegger and Dobbins (1985) involves isometric contractions (by using light weights) for approximately 10 seconds in a specific muscle group immediately after they have just been trained. This is performed in order to improve muscle separation.

Forced Reps

This method is a partner assisted repetition. Once the trainee has reached momentary muscle fatigue upon completion of a number of repetitions, a few more repetitions are performed with the assistance of someone to help lift the weights. Often this assistance is provided at the "sticking point" in the exercise for 1 to 3 repetitions. Dr. Franco Columbu believes this method is beneficial to bodybuilders because "you have pushed your working muscles far past the failure point, thereby generating a great deal of muscle hypertrophy." (Weider, 1989, p.100)

Heavy-Light System

This system incorporates a compound and an isolation-type exercises performed in successive session. In order to apply this technique to one’s training, the person performs 2 sets of 6-8 repetitions in a normal fashion until the completion of the second set. At this point he or she immediately goes to an isolation-type exercise for the same muscle group being trained and performs 10-12 repetitions using the new exercise. This technique is suppose to build muscle mass, power, and muscle shape (Kennedy & Weis, 1986).

I go/You go

This training technique requires two people and is a method for increasing the "intensity" of a workout. The technique begins by performing a set of an exercise in a normal fashion. However, as soon as he or she completes the set the partner immediately begins his or her set. As soon as he or she finishes the set, the other training partner starts to perform his or her set again. Basically, the trainee’s rest periods are as long as it takes for the training partner to complete their set. This technique is continued until the required number of sets are reached by each training partner (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985).

Instinctive Training Principle

This training principle relies on the intuition and experience of the advanced bodybuilder as to what type of training is best for him or her at any given moment (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). A bodybuilder who incorporates this principle into their training routine might not use as much volume for a certain body part because it feels as if it might be overtrained.


This training technique involves doing repeated isometric contractions of a muscle group for 8 - 10 seconds at a time with 10 seconds rest between repetitions for total of 30 - 40 repetitions. This technique is supposed to "harden" the muscles and give more muscle control and is usually used for 6 - 8 weeks preceding a competition (Weider & Reynolds, 1989)

Isolation Training (S)

This training technique uses exercises that help to isolate a specific muscle more than compound exercises do in the belief that it helps to shape that particular muscle and improve its separation from the other muscle groups (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985).

Jettison Technique

This technique is similar to drop-sets or descending sets except that the person uses elastic cables as well. The bodybuilder applies this technique by setting up a barbell with the proper weight on the bar to allow 16 repetitions while the elastic cables are attached to the bar. Once the individual reaches 16 repetitions, he or she release the cable and immediately performs more repetitions. Once muscular failure is reached again, the weight on the bar is decreased by one third and repetitions are performed until failure once again. This is supposedly one of the more effective techniques for building muscle (Kennedy & Weis, 1986).

Multi-Exercise Sets

This technique uses a different exercise for each training set for the same muscle group. The theory behind this training style is that the muscle is trained at all different angles and therefore provides " a shock (to the muscle group) which will force the maximum amount of response from the body" (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985).

Muscle Confusion

Muscle Confusion simply involves changing the workout around from what is typically done in order to provide a new stimulus to the muscles that are being worked. This helps to provide motivation and stimulate interest in training and is also believed amongst bodybuilding circles to stimulate muscle growth (Weider & Reynolds, 1989).

Negative Reps or Retro-Gravity Reps

These are eccentric contractions performed with 130% of the maximum weight lifted in the exercise being used. One repetition is performed every 30 - 60 seconds for a total of 8 - 10. Weider and Reynolds (1989) believes this type of training leads to increases in muscle mass, muscle quality, and power and should only be performed every 3 - 4 workouts.

"One-and-a-Half" Method

This method incorporates doing one normal repetition followed by a partial repetition for half of the normal range of motion. This partial repetition is to be performed slowly, with a pause at the top for a couple of seconds before lowering it down again. No suggested repetition range is given, although the rationale for this technique is to stress the muscles in a unique way (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985).

One Day Blitz Method

This method involves training a body part for 12 hours. Every hour 3 sets of 6 - 8 repetitions are performed in the normal manner. In between the sessions on the half-hour mark 3 sets of 10 - 12 repetitions are performed. This sequence continues for 12 hours for a total of 72 sets. This technique is designed to "shock your muscles into new growth" (Kennedy & Weis, 1986, p.55).

Partial Reps

The Partial Reps training technique involves performing partial repetitions once momentary muscular failure is reached during a set. This technique is oriented towards increasing "intensity" of a workout (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985).

Peak Contraction

This technique is designed to orient the greatest amount of tension on the muscle when it is in its fully contracted state. This is done by choosing an exercise where the greatest amount of tension occurs when the muscle is fully contracted. For example, side laterals and machine curls are exercises that work well with this technique. This technique "greatly enhances muscle mass and density" (Weider & Reynolds, 1989, p. 140) and "will etch the deepest possible striations across each muscle group" (Weider & Reynolds, 1989, p. 141).

Pre-Exhaustion Principle

This technique is oriented around the belief that in compound movements the synergistic muscles fatigue before the prime mover muscles do and therefore the prime movers do not receive the most amount of stimulus. Accordingly, a technique was developed that was to address this issue. The Pre-Exhaustion Principle involves training the prime mover of a compound exercise (such as chest in the bench press exercise) with an isolation type exercise (in this case, dumbbell flyes) immediately before the compound exercise in order to fatigue this muscle in the belief that it would be worked to its maximum when performing the compound exercise. Forced Reps are also sometimes added to the end of the set with the compound exercise in order to increase "intensity". This technique is used to "shock .... muscles into new growth (Kennedy & Weis, 1986, p. 91).

Pyramid Training

This technique begins with doing 12 - 15 repetitions on the first set. The remaining sets incorporate less repetitions for each succeeding set with corresponding heavier weights. Once the peak weight has been reached with the accordingly minimal amount of repetitions for that weight, the bodybuilder begins to drop the weight again and perform more repetitions, ending with a repetition range similar to what he or she began with. Often bodybuilders will only do half of this technique, ending the set at the peak amount of weight. Still others prefer to do a "reverse pyramid" where they begin with the heaviest weight and then work down to a lighter weight for more repetitions.

Priority Principle

The Priority Principle involves training a certain muscle group at the beginning of a workout and sometimes as well after a rest day. The theory behind this is that no one is able to train a muscle group with the same "intensity" at the end of a workout as at the beginning (Schwarzenegger & Dobbins, 1985). This technique is often used to improve body symmetry by prioritizing a specific body part accordingly.

Quality Training

Quality Training involves reducing the amount of rest between sets to approximately 30- 45 seconds while trying to use the same poundage as previously when the quality training was not applied. This technique is believed among bodybuilders to increase muscular definition (Weider & Reynolds, 1989).


This technique is used by bodybuilders to increase muscle mass and power. A near maximal weight is chosen for the first rep. Once that rep is completed a rest of approximately 10 seconds is taken before attempting the next repetition. The third weight for the third repetition following a 10 second rest is usually decreased by 20%. Following this, a 15 second rest is taken and the fourth and final repetition is performed (Weider & Reynolds, 1989).

Riot Bombing

This technique is essentially volume training for 2 particular muscle groups. The workout is structured by choosing 2 opposing muscle groups with one exercise for each muscle group (for example, biceps and triceps) and performing them in superset fashion with 30 seconds rest for 20 sets each exercise. Repetitions are performed in a full pyramid style beginning with 10 repetitions and going to the peak of 4 repetitions and then back up to 15 repetitions. (Kennedy & Weis, 1989).

Running or "Up-and-Down" the Rack

This technique is also similar to pyramid training and requires a full rack of dumbbells in 5 pound increments. The bodybuilder begins with an exercise and performs six repetitions. Once fatigue has begun, he immediately goes to a lighter pair of dumbbells and performs the same exercise again. This technique is repeated until the person can no longer perform the exercise with proper form or has reached a pre-determined number of sets. This technique can also be performed in reverse by beginning with a light pair of dumbbells and going to a heavier pair (Kennedy & Weis, 1986; Schwarzenneger & Dobbins, 1985).

Shock Principle

The shock principle is a based on a theory that when a muscle becomes accustomed to the training process and ceases to adapt (i.e. grow), the muscle needs to experience a new and unique stress if the growth process is to resume. This is often done by applying one of the training techniques described in this section.

Single-Rep System

After performing a proper and complete warm-up, the individual performs ten single repetitions with 94% of his or her maximum with 70 seconds of rest between each single repetition attempt. Each week the person using this technique is suppose to add an additional 2 single repetitions (Kennedy & Weis, 1989).

Staggered Sets

The staggered sets training technique involves doing a certain number of sets of a particular exercise interspersed among sets for other body parts. This helps to decrease time required for the workout and helps to alleviate the boredom of performing many sets for the same muscle group without any variety (Weider & Reynolds, 1989).

Super-sets, Tri-sets, & Giant Sets

This training technique is performed by choosing 2 (Super-sets), 3 (Tri-sets), or more (Giant sets) exercises and performing them one after another without a rest until the first set of exercises has been completed. The individual then rests for 60 to 90 seconds before returning to the beginning exercise and performs the sequence again. This technique is often used in pre-competition training routines and by advanced bodybuilders.

Zane’s Method

This particular method was developed by former Mr. Olympia, Frank Zane in order to quickly improve any body part that lagged in development behind the rest of the muscle groups. It involves training that particular body part for 3 consecutive days with 25, 15, and 10 total sets respectively for the muscle group. This is followed by one day of rest followed by 2 consecutive days 25 and 4 sets respectively. This technique is followed for approximately 2 weeks (Kennedy & Weis, 1986).

Nutritional Practices of Bodybuilders

It is the combination and manipulation of diet and exercise habits of competitive bodybuilders that help them to ultimately achieve the low levels of body fat that are typical at the time of the contests. A pre-contest male bodybuilder’s diet typically consists of 40% protein, 11% fat, and 49% carbohydrate (Leiner, Bazarre, & Ainsworth, 1994).. Similarly, a female bodybuilder’s pre-contest diet consists of 39% protein, 12% fat, and 48% carbohydrate (Leiner et al., 1994). Research by Heyward and colleagues (1989) showed lower values for percentage of calories from fat (8% for males, 3% for females), a higher carbohydrate percentage (63% for males and 72% for females) and a lower protein percentage (28% for males and 21% for females). During pre-contest preparation, the diet alone chosen by the female athletes contained amounts of zinc, calcium, and Vitamin D that were below the recommended daily allowances (Kleiner et al., 1994; Heyward et al., 1989). Males were below the allowances in Vitamin D (Kleiner et al., 1994). During non-competitive states, dietary practices of male bodybuilders resulted in micro-nutrient values, as well as overall caloric intake and calories from protein that were higher than the recommended daily allowances (Heyward et al., 1989). Female bodybuilders consumed approximately 82% of the recommended daily allowance of calories during the non-competitive phase.

As evidence by the amount of advertising that supplement companies purchase in the bodybuilding magazines, many bodybuilders also consume food supplements (Brill & Keane, 1994; Grunewald & Bailey, 1993). Supplements are usually consumed in the belief that the supplement will help in attaining more muscle size, weight gain, fat loss, improved recovery, or increased energy (Brill & Keane, 1994). Typically, different types and amounts of supplements are consumed during the off-season and pre-competitive phases of a bodybuilders training program.

Although this information may indicate certain trends in dietary practices, the nutritional practices of bodybuilders still remain highly individualized. The amount of individual variation, obtuse theories, general information, and nutritional strategies that have been developed for bodybuilding is enormous and is constantly growing. It is during the last couple of days before a contest when bodybuilders try such dietary manipulations as high protein diets, low carbohydrate diets, low sodium diets, high sodium diets, high fat diets, carbohydrate loading, fat loading, sugar loading, combined with water restriction and sometimes diuretics in order to maximize muscularity.

Training Splits

Training splits for bodybuilding were developed to reduce the amount of training time when doing greater volumes and therefore train the body with sufficient intensity through out the whole workout (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). Typically, the whole body is trained over 3 to 6 days, while each body part can be trained 1 to 3 times a week. The training splits can also vary depending on what phase of training is being performed. Some more advanced bodybuilders will divide their workout days into two or three sessions - a morning, afternoon and sometimes an evening workout. This type of training split is called a double or triple split training schedule.

Various Types of Common Split Routines

Previously, the more popular workout splits usually resulted in the whole body being trained over 3 or 4 consecutive days followed by one day of rest before the schedule is repeated again. Currently, since greater emphasis is being placed on muscle recuperation, the training splits are incorporating more rest days when no training occurs. There are many variations of split training routines, and the routines usually change according to the individual’s present training phase. The following are some training splits that emphasize muscle recuperation between workouts:

Day 1 Rest Day 2 Day 3 Rest Cycle Repeats


Day 1 Rest Day 2 Rest Day 3 Rest Cycle Repeats


Day 1 Day 2 Rest Day 3 Day 4 Rest Cycle Repeats

Workouts that neglect recuperation or emphasize higher weekly volumes might resemble something like this:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Rest Cycle Repeats


Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Cycle Repeats

The structuring of each workout when using a certain type of split training is important when considering the recuperation of individual body parts between sessions. There are countless variations on individual workouts to be used in conjunction with split routines. Once again, the workouts can vary accordingly to the appropriate phase of training. For example some variations could include:

Day One Day Two Day Three










Day One Day Two Day Three









Day One Day Two Day Three Day Four









Double and triple split routines can also be incorporated into workouts of bodybuilders. This is usually performed by equally splitting the workload between the morning, afternoon, and/or evening sessions. In addition, splits can also vary depending on what muscle group the bodybuilder is trying to develop or emphasize.

Disspelling Common Bodybuilding Myths

Many of the bodybuilding techniques and methods that have been discussed do not have the physiological basis to support what is believed. Unsubstantiated claims and inaccurate information could possibly be one of the largest reasons for lack of progress among bodybuilders. Certain physiological concepts and reactions will be discussed in order to either support or dispute some of the more common training methods and techniques.

Perhaps one of the most commonly used words in bodybuilding is "intensity". When a bodybuilder refers to the word "intensity" he or she is essentially describing how difficult a certain exercise regime, set, or protocol was to perform. In other words, he or she gauges his response on whether or not he or she believes that they had pushed themselves as much as possible (with "high intensity" being an all-out effort to complete the set). Therefore "intensity" becomes very much a subjective interpretation of the workout.

As previously discussed, there is a belief that the more "intense" a workout, the better the stimulus is for growth (Parillo, 1995). However, an "intense" workout could possibly be due to high lactic acid levels as shown by Kraemer and colleagues in a study where bodybuilders had high lactic acid levels in accordance with high perceived exhertion levels. (Kraemer et al, 1987). Lactic acid causes muscular fatigue in the worked muscles partially due to increases in acidity and inhibition of certain enzymes (predominately phosphofructokinase, a rate-limiting enzyme in glycolysis (Fox et al., 1993)) necessary for fast energy production (McArdle et al., 1991) as well as possible interference with the muscle’s ability to release calcium (Stamford, 1985). Consequently, muscle fibers cease to contract or "drop-out" of the muscle contraction resulting in less motor units being recruited and therefore a less forceful contraction. In addition, muscle fiber drop-out occurs particularly in the large fast-twitch fibers due to their predominately anaerobic characteristictics. Therfore these fibers fail to receive the necessary stimulus for growth in comparison to the non-fatigued fibers (usually slow twitch fibers). Lactic acid produced by the working muscles circulates throughout the blood resulting in an overall increase in blood lactate concentration (Tesch et al., 1986). This can therefore result in other muscles being affected by increased lactate levels other than the specific muscles that were exercised. The effect on these other muscles would also be less forceful muscle contractions due to a decrease in the number of possible recruitable fibers. In summary, techniques that result in muscle fatigue due to high levels of lactic acid are potentially not as good muscle growth stimulators as techniques that do not.

The question of how much volume is necessary to cause an optimal increase in muscle size has yet to be discovered. Popular high and moderate volume routines have the potential to pre-dispose the training individual to overtraining. This could be partially be due to the fact that performing high volumes of sub-maximal eccentric contraction has been shown to result in high levels of muscle damage (Ebbeling & Clarkson, 1989). Consequently, longer recovery times are necessary and full strength recovery back to normal levels can take up to 10 days and sometimes even longer (Ebbeling & Clarkson, 1989). By repeatedly exposing the muscles to high volumes wothout adequate recovery time, the muscle fibers are unable to recover and subsequently hypertrophy. However, chronic bodybuilding-type volume training could possibly result in an increase in muscle fibers (Tesch & Larsson 1982; Sale et al. 1987; MacDougall et al. 1982, Alway et al. 1989). This could possibly make the technique useful during certain phases of a periodized plan.

Mentzer’s and Darden’s "High Intensity" approach uses low volumes, but "intense" sets to stimulate muscle growth. Relatively high percentages of a one repetition maximum could potentially recruit many muscle fibers in the specific muscle (Vander, Sherman, & Luciano, 1990) and therefore increase the potential for stimulus of whole muscle growth. However, many of the "High Intensity" techniques can result in high lactic acid levels or muscle damage from heavy eccentrics. As previously mentioned, this could result in less muscle fiber recruitment and longer recovery times respectively. In addition, whether the low volumes used in this type of training is enough to stimulate significant muscle growth or hyperplasia over time remains to be investigated.

Many bodybuilders seem to equate muscle soreness with muscle growth. Perhaps this could be due to the swelling and decreases in ranges of motion of the exercised body part for a few days following a training session (Ebbeling & Clarkson, 1989). Unfortunately, if severe muscle soreness is present, muscle damage has most likely occurred (Ebbeling & Clarkson, 1989). As a result, longer recovery times are necessary and net whole muscle growth could possibly be limited.

Another belief that is popular among bodybuilding circles is that pushing a muscle "beyond failure" by using forced repetitions will stimulate it to grow. Once a fiber fatigues it ceases to contract until it re-establishes itself metabolically through generation of energy substrates or by uninhibition of certain enzymes (Fox et al., 1993). Helping an individual perform more repetitions by lifting the weight would not result in the fatigued fibers contracting. The increased psychological stimulation of performing a forced repetition may result in recruitment of previously inactivated fibers but this still needs to be investigated.

There is a belief among bodybuilders that certain exercises can selectively enlarge a particular area of a muscle. For example, it is common to hear that preacher curls will build muscle on the lower section of the biceps (Weider & Reynolds, 1989), concentration curls will add height or "peak" to the biceps (Weider & Reynolds, 1989), and that cable crossovers help to develop the inner portions of the pectoral muscle (Schwarzenneger & Dobbins, 1985). It is a well established physiological fact that a muscle fiber either fully contracts or does not contract at all (Fox et al., 1993), thus ruling out any potential for a greater contraction or disruption at a certain specific portion or length of a fiber with subsequent greater growth and regeneration in that area. Increases in satellite cell behavior and satellite cell migration at an injured area of a muscle fiber has been reported with possible myofiber formation and branching from the injured area (Schultz, 1989). However, there has been no evidence to suggest that certain sections of muscle fibers can be selectively injured from a contraction which would suggest that the site of muscle fiber injury would most likely be more of a random occurrence along the length of the myofiber.

Certain techniques often claim to make a muscle appear more defined or "striated" and "cut". Muscle definition is a combination of muscle size and the amount of water, body fat, and other tissues covering a particular muscle. Chronically performing many more sets of higher repetitions over a long period of time may increase caloric demand of the exercise session and deplete glycogen stores (Tesch et al., 1986) which ultimately may aid in reducing body fat levels combined with some degree of hypertrophy of the exercised muscles. However, there are better, more efficient, and faster ways to lose body fat and gain muscle mass than the method previously mentioned.

Another common belief is that muscles need to be "shocked" into growth by utilizing unique and strenuous techniques (Weider & Reynolds, 1989). However, the techniques used to create this shock could result in higher levels of muscle damage, soreness, and high lactic acid levels which would most likely not contribute in a positive way to muscle fiber growth in the long term. Muscle growth is a slow process and requires time before visual effects are noticed. By training properly and efficiently and avoiding excessive muscle damage and lactic acid, muscle growth could possibly occur at a faster rate than if these principles were ignored.


Male and female bodybuilders generally have greater numbers of muscle fibers (particularly slow twitch fibers) and greater muscle fiber cross-sectional area than gender matched control subjects. However, females may have lesser fiber numbers and slower rates of hypertrophy in their fast twitch fibers than male bodybuilders. Bodybuilders also have more forceful maximal voluntary contractions than untrained controls but have lower peak torque values at smaller flexion angles and lower impact torques compared to the control groups and particularly females. This has been attributed to the large muscle fibers having a more oblique pull on the muscle tendon due to increases in fiber number and the "bulging" effect occurring with the hypertrophied fibers.

The types of training that bodybuilders participate in to cause increases in muscle mass vary in volume from a few sets per muscle group to greater than 20 sets per body part often with resultant high lactic acid levels. In addition, there are a variety of techniques that these athletes use in the belief that it will cause greater increases in muscle size, shape, and definition compared to the more traditional types of resistance training. Split routines are popular in bodybuilding and allow the athlete to train his or her body parts with greater amounts of volume and "intensity" through shorter workouts.

In general, male bodybuilders tend to meet the recommended daily allowance of nutrients during an off-season diet thorugh food alone more so than female bodybuilders. Pre-contest nutritional practices of male and female bodybuilders tend not to meet all the dietary needs through food alone. Therefore, many types of supplements are often used to help meet these potential nutritional deficiencies and also due to the belief that it will help their training. There is a large individual component where diet is concerned and many bodybuilders have there own unique dietary habits that they practice right up to the contest.

Training techniques that chronically result in high lactic acid levels, excessive muscle damage, and soreness are probably not the best techniques in order to stimulate muscle growth. Muscle definition is a result of low body fat and minimal water retention combined with well developed muscles and not necessarily the sole result of a specific weight-training technique. In addition, it is probably not likely that certain exercises will result in selective hypertrophy of a certain area of an exercised muscle.


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