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#4: Intermediate and Advanced Training

  • Written by Denis Pedneault

201002_bodysculptingQ: Denis,

Great article for beginners! What you say makes perfect sense. However, what do you recommend for someone who is not a beginner anymore and would be considered "intermediate" or even "advanced"?

Thanks in advance.

. . . Marc Roberts

A: Hi Roy,

It’s good to hear from people like you who are interested in building muscle in a sensible and intelligent way (the only effective way if you don’t use drugs, as you are not allowed to take it easy or take short cuts). In the "beginner" program, we covered the problems that someone starting out might face, so now, let’s move on to the more experienced athlete. In that article, I also discussed most of the basic principles about individualization and specificity, so we’ll go right to the interesting part of the exercise program.

Once the athlete has mastered the basic movements and is accustomed to a certain amount of volume and intensity, he will have to increase certain aspects of the workout to make further gains. Furthermore, by now, you should have focused on developing your exercise form and your "mind-muscle" connection so that you’re ready to build and sculpt your physique the way you want it. That’s the beauty of bodybuilding; it gives you the power to do so.

Usually, as a bodybuilder becomes more and more experienced, he will train even more efficiently and, thus, will be able to impose more stress on his musculoskeletal system. Now that your body is used to the mechanical stress of strength training, most of the results you’ll get will come from increased muscle fiber synthesis instead of from neuromuscular adaptation. This is a two-edged sword, since you now have a greater capacity to vary your exercises more (by increased training intensity), but it also means that you will have to pay much more attention to how you "split" or "plan" your training, as it will have a direct effect on your recovery, which is essential to muscle growth. Otherwise, you’ll just end up exhausting your system.

This is where it gets tricky and when most of the bodybuilders spoil their shape (balance and symmetry), because they forget their overall exercise program. Remember when I stressed the point of individualization? Now it is going to be even more important.

What I usually do to begin with is make a brief morphologic evaluation of the individual, looking for imbalances and/or strengths and flaws. As I do this, I also ask questions about how the training went and listen for any pertinent comments about it. Then, and only then, will I be able to determine what the person needs in order to plan the right exercises for them.

Normally, I will take what’s necessary from the initial program and move on to a more specific routine. I will often prescribe a program composed of 2-3 exercises for each major muscle group (depending on the needs) that will be repeated 3-4 times a week (depending on the person’s time, schedule and, again, their individual ability to recover). This means that you now have the opportunity to work specific areas of the body that need more attention.

Most of the time, to avoid incurring imbalance and altering the recovery process, I’ll use variations in exercise biomechanics instead of altering the training volume too much. This enables me to be even more specific about how an exercise is going to be performed and to focus on a particular muscle group. If possible, I will slowly incorporate new training techniques such as supersets, antagonist compound sets, and circuit training. Once again, the program could be performed on machines or with free weights, depending on what’s available or more suitable (especially if you incorporate special techniques like supersets).

I will also try to incorporate some variations in the rep range in order to test the individual’s reaction and see how he responds to either light or heavy loads. I also like to use "split routines," since they allow the person to slowly increase the volume while gradually decreasing the frequency of training (that is, for the same body part). Split routines such the always-great "push-pull" or "upper/lower body" are just perfect.

This is an example of a "push-pull" split program I would use:

Day 1

Quadriceps (front of leg) superset

Squat (or substitute)

Leg extension

12-15 reps

10-12 reps

Pectorals (chest) superset

Bench press

Fly

6-8 reps

8-10 reps

Delts (shoulders) superset

Shoulder press

Lateral raise

6-8 reps

8-10 reps

Triceps (back of arm) superset

Dips

Triceps extension

8-10 reps

10-12 reps

Day 2

Hamstrings (back of leg) superset

Stiff-leg deadlift

Leg curl

12-15 reps

10-12 reps

Mid-back superset

Rowing

Reverse Fly

6-8 reps

8-10 reps

Upper-back superset

Pull-up

Pull-over

6-8 reps

8-10 reps

Biceps (front of arm) superset

Chin- up

Biceps curl

8-10 reps

10-12 reps

Low-back extension (single exercise)

15-30 reps

Once again, this example may look simple at first, but it allows the individual to work all the major muscle groups equally and specifically while experimenting with a quite large rep range (6-15) and intensity training techniques (supersets). Since every exercise has its primal antagonist (worked on alternate days), it also ensures that the routine doesn’t encourage overall imbalances. We can also use more bodyweight movements (like chin-ups and dips) that will work the main stabilizers of the shoulder girdle (important if you’re looking for a big and full upper body). I choose to use supersets to benefit from the anabolic effect of short rest periods.

This program will be repeated in alternated fashion 2-4 times a week, depending on the individual response to training (need for more frequency or more recovery). Each superset could be done 1-3 times, again depending on the individual’s ability to stress his own musculoskeletal system. That means that if you are very efficient at taxing your body, you may only need 1-2 sets to reach optimal stimulation (when you’re not able to perform another set while staying in the prescribed rep-range). On the other hand, someone who hasn’t developed his mind-muscle connection may need 2-3 supersets in order to reach momentary muscular failure. Try to focus on achieving intensity (quality) rather than increasing training volume: quantity will never replace quality.

Thus, you will repeat a particular superset 1-3 times before moving to the next superset. Just take some time to catch your breath between each superset and then move on (don’t waste unnecessary time). The program is specifically designed to increase intensity without compromising recovery. If you follow these guidelines, it shouldn’t take you more than 30-45 minutes to complete each workout. Never train more than one hour, as hormonal levels and recovery are altered past this point.

Also note that this is just an example of the routine, and that changes will have to be made if needed. For example, you may want to substitute one upper body superset for a second lower body one if you need more muscle mass in your lower body. I would stick to the program as long as there seems to be significant progress (usually 8-12 weeks) and then do the whole process all over again to ensure improvement.

I hope this will help you design an ideal training split for your own particular physical condition. Only when you pay careful attention to details can you build a physique that is not just great, but outstanding!

Have a great workout!

Sincerely,

. . . Denis Pedneault, Canadian Champion 2005, 2006

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