Are Fitness Pros Making Weightlifters And Bodybuilders Wimps? (Part 1)

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Are Fitness Pros Making Weightlifters And Bodybuilders Wimps? (Part 1)
© Doug Champigny,
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

If a powerlifter or bodybuilder from the 1970’s or 1980’s walked into the average gym today they’d be horrified. Watching the people exercising would make them think they were in a foreign country, one where their strength athletes were either sadly lacking in muscle education or, quite simply, wimps.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Workout Wasn't For Wimps - Is Yours?

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Workout Wasn’t For Wimps – Is Yours?

Back then, they knew that you needed to tear down your muscles to make them rebuild bigger and stronger – just as bodybuilding and powerlifting athletes do today. What’s different today is the expectation of what the body can survive and recover from, and just how to push your body to those limits safely.

These days fitness pros, bodybuilding magazines, gyms and even certified personal trainers will tell you the optimal workout, whether for muscle mass or strength training, ranges from 30 minutes to an hour. They’ll tell you that you can’t lift heavy enough and go any longer than that, and that if you’re not exhausted after an hour your weights are too light. They’ll tell you that weightlifting for more than an hour produces too much cortisol that destroys your gains.


Dane Fletcher, editor of the Primal Muscle blog, recently posted this about Arnold Schwarzenegger and his early training:

…if you’ve seen the pictures of Arnold when he arrived in America, you can tell he sure didn’t have full physique balance and development. His calves were small, and his shoulders weren’t incredible either. He adjusted his training, opting for 6-days-per-week training sessions, allowing every muscle group to be hit with 90 to 120 minutes of training, TWICE per week. This is a huge step up from even what today’s pro bodybuilders (given their advanced access to pharmaceuticals) are using for volume training. Arnold knew how to work!

How Often Do You Lift Weights?
That’s right – to build his huge muscle mass Arnold Schwarzenegger trained 6 days a week, week in and week out. As you can imagine, his workouts weren’t with little pink dumbbells either – having started his weightlifting career in Europe as a competitive powerlifter, Schwarzenegger never used light weights. Yet no one can assume he wasn’t able to recover fully with only one day off per week – no signs of overtraining in the fantastic body he built, and no one that could defeat him in the Olympia most years!

How Long Are Your Weightlifting Sessions?
Pay careful attention to the math in Dane’s quote – in 6 days Arnold hit each bodypart twice, meaning he was training at least 2 bodyparts per day to get the whole body in every three days. So 90 minutes to 2 hours of weightlifting per bodypart means being in the gym for THREE TO FOUR HOURS per day, 6 days a week. Compare that 18 – 24 hours of training per week to today’s recommended 2 – 3 hours per week, and you may realize why you haven’t been growing at the speed bodybuilders did back then, whether you’re on the juice or not.

And what many people don’t realize is that while Arnold Swarzenegger was the pinnacle of bodybuilding in those days, the weight training regimen of the other pros, and even serious amateur bodybuilders, was much the same. And not as much has changed today as you might think. If you train in a REAL gym (as opposed to today’s ‘Butt-Floss and Hairspray gyms’), watch the biggest, most muscular bodybuilders and strongest powerlifters that train there. Seldom will you see them in there for less than two hours per session, or 60 – 90 minutes if they’re training on a twice-a-day split.

Can you build lean muscle in three 90-minute weightlifting sessions a week? Sure. Can you get stronger doing 3 short powerlifting workouts per week? Of course. But don’t look at the physiques of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman, or the strength of Andy Bolton or Derek Poundstone and expect to match them, or even come as close as your genetics will allow, with those ‘wimpy workouts’.

Instead, lift heavy, lift often, eat big and sleep a lot!

Next post, we’ll delve into how this all came about and just WHY so many people are trying to make YOU a wimp… 😉 See you then!

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3 Responses to Are Fitness Pros Making Weightlifters And Bodybuilders Wimps? (Part 1)

  1. Craig W. says:

    I think that the advice to train 3 times per week in 90 minutes sessions is usually given to regular people that have a job, a family and a very limited free time…and are not interested in getting huge. On the other hand, any pro bodybuilder knows exactly how much to train, and treats this as his full time job. I’m sure that the pro bodybuilders of today train just as much as Arnold was training back in the days…
    Craig W. recently posted..An Inspiring Interview with Melissa Bender (Therapist, Yoga Instructor and Fitness Lover)My Profile

    • Hi, Craig – Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to comment! I really do appreciate it…

      I’d be more likely to agree with you, except for 3 issues. First, they’re not talking about 3 90-minute sessions, but 3 sessions TOTALLING 90 minutes – i.e. 30 minutes per workout. I do agree that 3 90-minute workouts would suffice for most recreational lifters.

      Second, I challenge the viewpoint that people have very limited time. I’ll deal with this in depth in a future post, but the real issue is priorities, not time available. We all have 168 hours per week – even if you’re working 60-hour work weeks (which few actually do), and sleeping 8 hours a night, that still leaves 52 hours a week of discretionary time per week, or more than 7 hours a day. Funny that every client who tells me they don’t have time for longer workouts still manages to watch 3-4 hours of TV per day…

      The 3rd issue is more contentious… This series is aimed at the aerage iron athlete, not pro bodybuilders. Pro bodybuilders use $50k worth of steroids and other drugs per year, just to come in a pound or two heavier, even slightly lighter, than the same show a year earlier. Either they really have truly maxed out their physique, or have limited their full potential by not maxing out their genetic potential BEFORE they hit the juice, causing their body to change the types and amounts of natural hormone production to compensate for the artificially-increased levels in their bloodstream. While I suspect it’s the latter, we don’t have any examples of natural bodybuilders who hit the peak of the natural sports ladder, really maxed out naturally, then started an intelligent regime of scientific workouts combined with medically-supervised chemical enhancements. Until that happens, I don’t think we’ll ever know what the true potential is of the human body under such extreme conditions.

  2. Pingback: Are Fitness Pros Making Weightlifters & Bodybuilders Wimps? (Part 2) | Getting Back In Shape With Doug Champigny

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