By Strength Oldschool
The contents of this article is based on over 20 years training experience. Any recommendations made within this article, should you decide to follow, you do so at your own risk. Please always consult a doctor before attempting any new kind of training program. Strength Oldschool will not be held responsible for anyone who attempts any routines or suggestions made within this article.
** TO ALL BEGINNER / SKINNY LIFTERS - PLEASE READ THIS ARTICLE **
For those of you who are not familiar with myself, I’ve always loved old school bodybuilding i.e. Arnold, Sergio Oliva, Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Steve Reeves, Franco Columbu, Serge Nubret etc. The bodybuilders back in the pre-1980's era trained each of their body parts as much as three days a week - They were strong, very muscular and had aesthetic physiques (Massive shoulders, tiny waists, big arms, big calves, everything was in proportion).
Unlike today's crop of bodybuilders who are winning Mr Olympia titles with glaring weaknesses i.e. no calves and massive stomachs etc. The sport of bodybuilding has certainly gone down hill - Watch this video. However, thanks to old bodybuilding magazines, bodybuilding books and the Internet, we can learn from the old school bodybuilding legends and keep the sport of classic bodybuilding alive! I competed in both powerlifting and olympic lifting in my early 20’s and basically love to weight train. I’ll be honest though, I’m like most people out there. By that I mean, I don’t always have the energy to train, sometimes I’m too busy to train, life is like that, it gets in the way at times. I don’t eat healthy all the time, I do love my cakes, I like beer and I do eat a little too much junk food from time to time. Some day I plan to create a diet plan for myself to see how ripped I can get but in the meantime I’m enjoying training and following the sea food diet, where I’ll eat what I want, when I want ha ha! I’m a natural trainer, always have been as I don’t believe in resorting to steroids. Within this article, I am going to detail how natural lifters can train most effectively to achieve muscle and strength gains in the fastest time possible. This is old school training at it's best and beginners should definitely take note. If you follow any of the suggested routines within this article, I guarantee you RESULTS!
IS THERE A MAGIC ROUTINE FOR MUSCLE GAINS?
Now the question you have probably asked yourself many times (I know I have) is whether or not the ‘Ultimate’ training program really does exist. Is there a training program / routine out there which is magical enough to transform any kind of flabby / skinny physique into a muscle god? And the answer in my personal opinion is YES and NO!
I say ‘No’ because in all honesty, through my 20+ years training experience, I have always changed up my training routines. That has entailed changing certain exercises, number of sets, number of reps, the number of days that I train, switching from full body workouts to split routines, to abbreviated training programs etc. The mind always gives out before the body does and I’ve found that a particular training program may last only a few months at most, sometimes only a few weeks before my mind begins to get bored and workouts become tedious. You end up simply just going through the motions and as a result, you begin to lose interest in your training. You basically stop looking forward to your workouts and that’s when you know something needs to change. Now obviously everyone is different and there’s more to training than just the training program you follow. Other factors come into it like how much sleep you’re getting, how much food you eat, how much stress you’re under, how busy your life is…These things are all extremely important and can very easily determine how long you will stick with a particular training program. So let me explain further. Grab a protein bar, a chocolate bar, crisps, a beer, cup of tea, protein shake, whatever and relax, read what I have to say and hopefully what I write will help you evaluate your own training program.
HOW TO MAKE GAINS
Even though I’ve stated that I have always switched up my training in some kind of way, there were a couple of things which I always kept in my training routines or resorted back to…
1. Basic Compound Lifts
2. Full Body Workout (3 times a week)
Let’s talk about no.1 first….
1. BASIC COMPOUND LIFTS
You CANNOT go wrong with basic compound lifts in your training routine. Seriously, unless you have a medical condition or an injury preventing you from training on basic exercises then I HIGHLY recommend that you stick with basic lifts. For example, Bench Presses, Squats, Deadlifts, Barbell Rows, Military Presses. These power exercises as I like to call them will hit more than one muscle group at a time. By using a barbell you can train them hard and do your best to get as strong as you possibly can on each of those lifts. Once you get pretty strong, as long as your eating enough, I guarantee you will make gains on your arm development without the need to actually do any direct arm training whatsoever! If however, the aspiring bodybuilder in you badly needs to train arms directly then I’d recommend sticking with ‘THE BASICS’ i.e. Barbell Curls, Dumbbell Curls, Lying / Standing Skullcrushers and Dips. My little tip training wise would be to only do ‘ONE’ bicep exercise and ‘ONE’ tricep exercise in each of your (Full Body) workouts. I see no point in including two to three exercises for biceps and triceps in one workout unless it’s a 'shock' routine and you’re simply trying to mix things up for variety. But these kind of training workouts should be done only once a month or so. For a newbie to training, I’d recommend that person to leave out direct arm training completely and just focus their efforts on getting stronger on the very basic compound lifts for the first year. Eat well, get the protein in you and watch yourself GROW!
2. FULL BODY WORKOUT (3 TIMES A WEEK)
Full body training is an ‘Old School’ way of training. A lot of bodybuilding legends trained this way. Most notably, Reg Park and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It can be a tough way to train for anyone but the gains that can be made from creating a solid training plan are worth it. As a youngster around 17 years of age, I used to go the gym and train for around 3 hours a day (marathon sessions) 5 to 7 days a week. I’d train full body but I didn’t know how to train correctly. I wasn’t focused enough on basic exercises and spent much of my gym time hitting arms. T-O-T-A-L-L-Y F-U-C-K-I-N-G U-S-E-L-E-S-S!! I spent my youth buying a lot of bodybuilding magazines like ‘Flex’ and ‘Muscular Development’ basically wasting my money. Looking back, those magazines were all bollocks! To this day, they're all just full of advertisements...Why anyone would buy them today is beyond me? Eventually I came across two bodybuilding books which to this day I still highly recommend to anyone starting out training. They were ‘Keys To Progress by John McCallum‘ and ‘Arnold – The Education of a Bodybuilder‘. These two books made me aware of full body training and the importance of sticking with the basics. Most importantly they taught me that abbreviated training programs were just as effective if not more so for building muscle and strength. If I had known then what I know now, I would have been a giant by the age of 18! Full Body Training was the staple of my workouts back in my early 20’s right up to the present date. Yes over the years I have switched up my training routines but I always went back to full body training workouts as they always gave me satisfaction. I felt good on them. I believe 100% in Full Body Workouts. The trick however to make them successful is NOT to include so many exercises. Read on and I’ll explain further.
FULL BODY TRAINING – THE ULTIMATE TRAINING PROGRAM
At the start of this article I had asked…Is there a training program / routine out there which is magical enough to transform any kind of flabby / skinny physique into a muscle god?…To which I replied by saying YES and NO. More or less anyone out in the fitness / bodybuilding / strength training world would automatically agree that there isn’t just 'one' magical training program out there for everyone. But I honestly believe that Full Body Training is the Ultimate Training Program and can benefit everyone (of all training experience) but especially beginners. But to make a full body routine effective, you need to make your workouts as simple as possible, which for a lot of people, including myself at times over the years, can be challenging to do. In the past, I've written out full body training programs containing over 20 or so different exercises for just one workout!! Now... if I were to complete even just 3 sets per exercise, that’s a shit load of sets and no doubt I’d easily spend 2 hours + in the gym trying to complete all 20 exercises. Utter pointless and would result in myself giving up Full Body Training after just the very first workout! Even if I managed to complete the training and stay consistent by training two or three times a week, I'd easily burn myself out. With experience, comes wisdom and once you learn to apply your efforts to as few exercises as possible (which hit every major bodypart) the gains will come fast.
Keep reading on as I’ll explain further on how to properly write out a Full Body Training Program. But first, let me explain the advantages of Full Body Training Workouts.
THE ADVANTAGES OF FULL BODY TRAINING PROGRAMS
- Let’s say you train your whole body 3 times a week but you miss a workout. No problem – You have already trained every body part already, missing one day won’t hurt you at all.
- Training your whole body in one session, getting a pump in your back, your chest, arms, legs etc, there’s nothing like it. You feel great all over.
- Full Body Training comes in extremely handy for someone with a busy life style i.e. work commitments, family life etc. If you can only make it to the gym, once or twice a week, that is enough training to make gains on. You don’t need to spend 5 to 7 days a week in the gym. Who the hell even wants to spend that amount of time in the gym? Unless training is full time for you i.e. you are earning a successful living from that type of life style, then I wouldn't waste your time. Be smart, train wisely. Full Body Training will bring you results. Focus on basic lifts, get stronger, eat well and the results will come.
- Full Body Training is a great way to focus on basic lifts and get strong on those lifts.
- By training a muscle more often (2 -3 times a week) you can achieve muscle and strength gains FAST!
- Full Body Training is perfect for beginners – Kids starting out training can learn to master the technique of all the basic lifts through repetitive lifting i.e. training the same exercise more than once a week. Beginners will get used to a particular exercise so much faster by training that exercise more often. This will lead to better technique and greater confidence.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF FULL BODY TRAINING PROGRAMS
- The most common so called problem / disadvantage of Full Body Training Programs is “NOT” being able to include every exercise under the sun in one workout! This can be very frustrating for some lifters including myself at times throughout the years. But I’ve worked out a way to get round that on a Full Body Training Program which I’ll explain more later. Anyone who trains on a Split Routine will probably blast the shit out of their muscles with a variety of different exercises, maybe as much as 5 different lifts for one muscle group. And yes, if you perform a Full Body Training Program, you will quickly learn that you cannot include too many exercises or do too many sets per exercise. Otherwise you will easily spend 2 hours + in the gym and physically and mentally burn yourself out. This turns many people off from trying out Full Body Workouts because they watch their favourite bodybuilders / fitness enthusiasts on Youtube, performing umpteen different exercises per body part and so believe that in order to build muscle, they need to do the exact same thing. Which is total bullshit. To build muscle and get strong, you don’t need umpteen different exercises, stick with one, maybe two exercises max per muscle group and focus on getting stronger – This will be more than enough to get you serious gains.
Another so called disadvantage of Full Body Training Is that it’s considered TOO HARD and DRAINING! This can be true if your training routine has too many exercises (Squats & Deadlifts in the same workout can be taxing – So be careful) or if you’re doing too many sets per exercise. If you plan carefully however, and stick with the basics, you will be fine. I guarantee it. Always start out using ultra light weights...Take a few weeks to build up gradually and get used to training each body part more than once a week.
- A lot of people will say that Full Body Training Programs wouldn’t be any good for bodybuilders as bodybuilders would need more exercises and more sets, basically much more volume. This depends on your genetics. Everyone is different. Not everyone is going to respond to the same type of training - That's a fact. This is why beginners are encouraged to find out what works and what doesn't work. This article is aimed at simply guiding lifters to help them experience the best possible gains. If you plan to compete in bodybuilding then I'd recommend at some stage of your training, to switch over to a split routine to try it. That way you can hit each body part with more exercises and target the different muscle groups. However, some people with develop an incrediable muscular body by continuing to train on a full body program. Full body programs can be targeted for pure strength athletes only or tweaked to suit bodybuilders i.e. lifters who are more interested in developing muscle and not so much strength. For strength based full body routines I'd recommend using just very few basic exercises. For bodybuilders, add in more exercises but make sure to only include a few sets per exercise, otherwise, you will certainly risk overtraining. At the end of the day, one of the main differences between a strength athlete and a bodybuilder will be "DIET". One of the most famous bodybuilders ever, Steve Reeves, trained three days a week on a full body training program and he developed one of the best physiques in history.
Starting a Full Body Training Program is TOUGH! My Body is killing me after the first workout!!! If you are new to full body training, never start your first session with heavy weights. Here's a great tip.... the first few weeks, don't focus on getting stronger, simply use very, very light weights on all exercises and let your body get accustomed to training the same body parts more often. You might find your body is sore after the first workout or two, but keep at it. Use light weights, don't be macho! After two weeks, your body should get used to training each muscle group two to three times a week and you might find that you no longer experience muscle gains...Don't worry, this is normal and isn't a sign that you are not training hard enough. So don't panic. Once your body gets used to the training, start to build the weight up slowly and focus on getting stronger.
- Training the same body parts more than once a week can be tough on your joints especially if you’re age 30 or over. If you suffer from joint pain, my recommendation would be to follow only a twice a week training program (if your joints can handle this), make sure you have at least 3 days of rest in between workouts or you just stick with a typical split routine where you only hit a body part just once a week. If however your joints are fine but you are worried that training the same muscle groups 2 to 3 times a week may possibly affect your joints then I’d recommend that you still give Full Body Training a go but keep to twice a week only and be cautious not to train heavy every single workout, focus more on higher reps i.e. 8-12.
HOW TO CREATE A FULL BODY TRAINING PROGRAM
How Many Days a Week Should I Train?
You will first need to decide how many days a week you plan to train. I would personally recommend picking a number you know for certain you can stick to even if its only one or two days a week. Consistency is what brings results. And to be honest, if you are a beginner to full body training, I’d highly recommend starting at twice a week training and then progressing on to three days a week after a month or so.
1. If you haven’t done a Full Body Training Program before then start off with 2 days a week training. So for example, you would train MON and THURS. That way you have two days off after workout one and 3 days off after workout two. But you can change the days as you please. You might prefer TUES and FRI? It’s really up to you. As long as you get at least two days rest between workouts to recover.
2. If you have been training twice a week on a Full Body Training Program for a number of weeks now, you have the option of progressing to 3 days a week Full Body Training. Now training 3 days a week doesn’t mean you’ll experience better gains. To be honest, everyone is different and everyone has different recovery abilities but I would suggest you try out the 3 days a week training before dismissing it completely. In my opinion training the same body part 3 days a week is superior for strength training compared to only 2 days a week.
3. Planning a 3 day a week Full Body Training Program. You have different options here…
Option 1 includes the standard ‘Old School’ MON, WED, FRI approach but personally I think that approach is better suited to younger lifters as you only get one day of rest between workouts and two days of rest after your last workout of the week. This could be pretty hard going for an older lifter.
Option 2 includes MON, THURS, SUN – So you train Monday, rest two days, train THURS, rest two days, train SUN, then rest two days. You do not train Sunday, then again on Monday. Everytime you train, you rest up 2 days afterwards, then train again, so each week brings different training days which can be good or bad depending on your work / family life schedule.
Option 3 includes MON, FRI, TUES – This is very similar to Option 2 but instead of having only 2 days off between workouts, you have 3! Again, it all depends on your recovery ability. Some people will prefer to have extra days off between workouts whereas others prefer less. The disadvantage of having too many days off between workouts is that you may get lazy so you need to find a balance. And NO ONE can tell you exactly which Training Option would suit you better. It basically comes down to you knowing your own circumstances, and going through trial and error to work out the best Full Body Training Program for you and that includes which exercises to include, including number of sets, reps etc to use. Option 2 and Option 3 Training programs tend not to include training Full Body 3 times a week but instead carry over into the following week due to the extra days rest you get between workouts. So instead of thinking about your workouts falling into a standard week, start forgetting about weeks and just focus on training every 3rd or 4th day. Hope that makes sense.
Which Exercises Should I Include in My Full Body Program? How Many Reps / Sets etc?
I’m not going to state which exercises exactly to include in your Full Body Training Program simply because everyone is different. We all like different exercises, some of us respond better to different lifts and some of us will have the energy to complete more than one exercise per body part. Full Body Training Programs can be designed efficiently or extremely complicated i.e. too many exercises with too many sets. I would definitely say that if you are spending over 2 hours on a full body workout then for the average person, that is too long and either I would recommended training faster with lighter weights or cutting down the amount of exercises in your training program, preferably the latter. Too many people end up including about 15 or more exercises in a full body workout. Do the maths, if you did like 5 sets per exercise, that’s 75 SETS!!! That’s a lot. I wouldn’t expect many people to keep that level of training up. So if you are knew to this type of training, I’d recommend keeping your workouts simple, as few exercises as possible at first, stick with the basics as I have outlined previously and leave out direct arm training at first.
Basic Exercises to Include In Your Full Body Training Program
Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, Barbell Rows, Deadlift, Squat, Military Press, Dumbbell Lateral Raises, Barbell Curl, Dumbbell Curl, Tricep Dips, Skullcrushers and even Tricep Cable Pushdowns (easier on elbow joints).
I’d recommend keeping the number of sets per exercise to a maximum of 5 for the big lifts like Squats, Bench Presses, Rows, Military Presses. For smaller muscle groups like arms, I’d keep the number of sets to around 2 or 3. You need to remember that you will be training the same exercises, the same muscle groups again so consistency is the key, don’t burn yourself out by doing too many sets per exercise. By all means if you wish to target a particular exercise to focus on like squats or bench presses, then do more sets there but keep the number of sets down for your other exercises.
This is where “YOU” will need to decide. Personally if I’m training for strength I’ll stick with 5 rep sets. If I’m looking to build more muscle than strength, I’ll move my reps up to between 8 and 15. But I couldn’t honestly tell you an exact figure as I change it up so often. And it’s not important anyway as you will learn in time what rep range works best for your body. You may prefer higher reps or lower reps for legs and the opposite for other body parts. It’s really up to you to find out what works best for you.
FULL BODY TRAINING ROUTINE EXAMPLES
— For a Beginner (1) —
MON | THURS (Twice a week training) – [Do this for a month]
SQUAT – 5 sets of 5 reps
BARBELL ROW – 5 sets of 5 reps
BENCH PRESS – 5 sets of 5 reps
MILITARY PRESS – 5 sets of 5 reps
* Start with really light weights and every workout add on 1kg (2.2 lbs) to the bar on all exercises. Focus on strength.
* Does not include warm-up sets. 5 sets of 5 reps means 5 work sets. I recommend using the same weight for all work sets.
* After a month of training, progress on to number (2), the Advanced Beginner’s program (3 times a week training)
* Please note that I have suggested using the “Barbell Row” as a basic lift instead of “Deadlifts”. Deadlifts can be very taxing on the body especially when included in the same workout as squats.
— For an Advanced Beginner (2) —
MON | WED | FRI (Three times a week training) – [Do this for as long as you can or until you become stale]
SQUAT – 5 sets of 5 reps
BARBELL ROW – 5 sets of 5 reps
BENCH PRESS – 5 sets of 5 reps
MILITARY PRESS – 5 sets of 5 reps
* Keep adding 1kg (2.2 lbs) to the bar on all exercises. Focus on getting stronger.
After a solid year of training on the basic lifts, consider adding additional lifts like Incline Dumbbell Bench Press and maybe some direct arm work like Barbell Curls and Skullcrushers. Keep it simple. For arm work, maybe do 3 sets of 8 reps.
If you become stale on this training routine, simply reduce your training days from three, back down to two again. If that doesn’t help, consider switching to another training program for a small period of time to recharge your mind and body.
FOR ADVANCED LIFTERS
If you have never done a Full Body Training Program before, then I’d recommend training twice a week for the first few weeks before progressing on to 3 days a week. The only other real difference between the ‘Beginners’ program and the ‘Advanced’ program is the rep ranges used and the number of exercises included in a single work out session.
As an Advanced Lifter you may not be concerned with training for strength so you may wish to use higher reps and lighter weights. Also you may prefer to use additional exercises like having two or three exercises for chest whereas a beginner would only use one. These are the only factors which change between a beginners program and an advanced one.
— Advanced Lifters (Lifters who have 2 years+ training experience —
MON | THURS (Twice a week training) or MON | WED | FRI (Three times a week training)
SQUAT – 5 sets of 8 reps
BARBELL ROW – 5 sets of 8 reps
DUMBBELL ROW – 3 sets of 8 reps
BENCH PRESS – 5 sets of 8 reps
INCLINE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS – 3 sets of 12 reps
MILITARY PRESS – 3 sets of 10 reps
SIDE LATERAL DUMBBELL RAISES – 3 sets of 10 reps
BARBELL CURL – 3 sets of 10 reps
LYING TRICEP SKULLCRUSHERS – 3 sets of 12 reps
As you can see above, this is an example of what an Advanced lifters Full Body Training Program may look like. It contains extra lifts which a beginner could find very taxing on the body should they dive head first into this advanced routine before they are truly ready. As an advanced lifter you have the option of completing the above routine either twice a week or three times a week.
For the record, an “Advanced” lifter could certainly use the “beginners” Full Body Training Program and still make incrediable gains should their focus be on either getting stronger or just simply to focus on building muscle using the very basic exercises. So please don’t be discouraged by reading ‘Beginner’ if you are an advanced lifter. The beginner’s training program can be used by anyone no matter how much training experience you have. Sometimes it’s great to go back to using just the very basic lifts.
FULL BODY (GENERAL) TRAINING ROUTINE EXAMPLE
* The following routine is for anyone, no matter your training experience. This routine enables you to hit additional exercises which you would otherwise leave out to focus on the very basic lifts. This routine has you training each body part every workout but using different exercises. The exercises you see can be replaced with whichever lifts you would rather use.
BENCH PRESS (Barbell or Dumbbells)
MILITARY PRESS (Barbell or Dumbbells)
INCLINE BENCH PRESS (LOW INCLINE) (Barbell or Dumbbells)
DUMBBELL SIDE LATERAL RAISES
INCLINE BENCH PRESS (HIGH INCLINE) (Barbell or Dumbbells)
BARBELL UPRIGHT ROWS
* This Full Body Training Program has you resting two days between workouts. Therefore your training days will change on a weekly basis. But you can easily perform this program over a typical MON, WED, FRI protocol. That way your training days remain the same week in week out.
* I have left out direct arm training exercises like ‘Barbell Curls’ and ‘Skullcrushers’ etc but you as the lifter can easily add in arm exercises if you wish for each workout should you feel the need to.
* By changing exercises every workout, allows you to train different parts of your muscles but still train the big muscle groups every workout. It also allows you to keep your workouts simple and basic. This is a must for a successful Full Body Training Program. A common mistake which many people (including myself) make is to include too many exercises in one workout session. This leads to overtraining which leads to failure.
FULL BODY TRAINING PROGRAM TIPS
1. Don’t be afraid to add in additional exercises if you feel you can cope
2. Don’t be afraid to consider changing exercises every workout. Performing a different full body workout every single training session could be a great thing. Will help keep you motivated, excited and help avoid becoming stale in your workouts.
3. The trick to a successful workout / training program is to fully believe in what you are doing. If you are remotely hesitant in any way, your training program will fail.
4. Always stay motivated as best you can. Never for one second doubt yourself especially during 1 rep max lifts (When testing out your strength).
5. Never train to failure. Always keep one rep in the tank. Always finish your workout on a high. You should walk out the gym feeling great, not exhausted, or feeling sick.
6. Listen to your body, you should always look forward to a workout. If all of a sudden this stops, ask yourself why. You may be overtrained so consider simplying your workouts (cutting out additional exercises) to the very basics. Try eating more, get more sleep if you can. Maybe try some caffeine before a workout – This can greatly help if you’re feeling sluggish before training. Works for me
7. Before starting any Full Body Training Program, DO NOT use the same poundages you would normally use. Lower the weights at first so that all sets feel very easy. The first week or two is about adjusting to a new training program, keep your ego out, avoid using heavy weights. Let your body adjust to training each body part more than once a week. After the first week, your body will have adjusted and you shouldn’t become as sore as you initially experienced. Only at this point, should you begin focusing on getting stronger.
I’d like to thank anyone who has taken the time to read this article of mine. I truly believe in Full Body Workouts and if carefully planned, they can bring amazing results in both muscle and strength gains. I honestly believe that Full Body Workouts are the Ultimate Training Program which if used correctly, can bring FAST RESULTS!
I’m very interested in hearing other peoples thoughts on this type of training. So please post your comments below. And if you have any questions or wish to post some feedback because you have tried one of my suggested fully body training routines above, then please add your comments below.
Please also consider sharing this article to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter etc. Thank you.
If you have any questions regarding what I have written please ask away.
All the best and keep training hard,