Sunday, May 24, 2009

Classic Physique Building: Muscle Recovery & Workout Frequency!

(Above Photo: John Grimek, Mr. America 1940, 1941)

If you have been following Classic Physique Builder (CPBzine and CPB Blog), you know that full body routines were a standard method of training in the pre-roid, Golden Age (1940s and 50s). In the muscle mags of that age, you can find article after article of full-body routines for beginners and intermediates (and even advanced trainers) that were to be done "3 days a week." That would mean training at the same time on each workout day on either Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or perhaps Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Most of the time, the articles would just say "Do this routine 3 days a week." However, although this 3 day a week training frequency was indeed standard in the Golden Age, it was also recognized that this might have to be modified for some people. Why? Because muscle recovery time is not the same for everyone. We are all a bit different depending on our circumstances and genetics.

For example, a beginner who has not yet learned to push himself to his limits might be able to recover in 48 hours and so will have no trouble with a 3 day a week schedule. Others, even though they push themselves to the limit, simply have great recovery ability and are able to do it. But, everyone is a bit different. Some will be able to do 3 days a week, some will find that they cannot recover in time to stick to this schedule.

If you find that your muscles are not recovering on a 3 day schedule, don't worry! Listen to this advice from Peary Rader (taken from his Master Bodybuilding and Weight Gaining System - which was a Golden Age Course of the 1940s and 50s):

"Most fellows following this [full body] course find three exercise peroids best. A great many gain best on but two exercise peroids per week. It is SELDOM advisable to have four such strenuous workouts per week. We advise the pupil to start out with two periods per week such as on Tuesday and Friday. Later on you may, if you find it desirable, change to three periods per week. If you are working at hard physical labor you will find two per week enough, but if your work is light then you probably can stand three per week. You should always have one or two days rest between workout peroids."

You see, there was acknowledgement that people are different and adjustments need to be made according to your situation. So, if you are trying to follow a 3 day per week, full body routine and you find that your muscles aren't fully recovered by the next workout, then don't hesitate to do the same program for 2 days a week instead! This advice applies to any 3 day a week, Golden Age routine.


P.S. If you would like a free 1 year subscription to Classic Physique Builder (CPBzine) - a pdf zine patterned after the muscle mags of the pre-roid, Golden Age (of the 1940s and 50s), just send your name, the name of your city (not your address), state (or province), and country to That's it! Any info you send us is strictly confidential. We don't share our info with anyone and you won't receive any unwanted, automated emails (even from us)!


Ibrahim said...

Yeah i have sometimes the same problem when i do pullups. Now i can do only 3, i start with 1,2 and last 3 reps. The soreness stays for at least 2 days. I think the soreness of my back is the longest lasting of my muscles. But i think if everyone is different and will get used to the exercises. I remember when you Steve Reeves 1st workout. Every exercise was just 1 set. Then over a period of time he added sets and changed his workout.

Anonymous said...

i think the old timers didnt train to failure never when they adviced 3 times a day same routine,,when muscle is worked hard it needs more rest,,, WHAT DO yopu THIk????

- CPB - said...

Hi Everyone,

Actually, the Golden Age champs did, in many cases, train to failure (or near failure) and still were able to do full body workouts 3 days a week. This is certainly true of Steve Reeves - who recommends in his book that you go all out until you cannot possibly do another rep!

So, it is a bit of myth promoted in the mainstream mags that if you train to failure, you can only work out that body part once a week. Again, it all depends on your individual muscle recovery abilities.

One's muscle recovery abilities depend on a lot of different factors: age, your occupation, workout intensity, getting proper rest, proper nutrition, the amount of poundages used, tendon and ligament recovery ability, your weight training background, the number of exercises in your routine, the number of sets per exercise in your routine, your body's biochemical and metabolic abilities & genetics, etc. When you realize all the factors involved, then you can more easily see why individuals will vary in their muscle recovery ability.

The bottom line is that we are all different in our muscle recovery abilities (in fact, because of the many factors involved, our recovery abilities can change over time). Therefore, it is recommended (e.g., by Peary Rader), that you make appropriate adjustments in your workout frequency to fit your situation.

In my own case, I usually train to near failure and I find that I recover and gain better when I workout twice a week rather than 3 times a week. But there are many that can recover and gain on 3 days a week.

So when you want to begin a standard 3 day a week Golden Age program, you might try doing it twice a week at first. Then see how your muscle recovery is. If you find that you are easily recovering within 48-60 hours, then you might switch to 3 days a week. But if you are gaining on 2 days a week, then that is perfectly fine for you!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Ibrahim said...

That´s right everybody is unique.
But i like the 3 days a week the most. And i hope that i can get there as fast as possible.
I think when a person has very good eating habits proteins,carbs,vitamins etc. then he will recover much faster.

- CPB - said...

Hi Ibrahim,

You raise an interesting point about "getting there as fast as possible" in reference to the 3 day a week workout schedule that was typical in the pre-roid, Golden Age.

In today's mainstream mags, you commonly see 5-6 day a week exotic split routines that work body parts only once a week (even for beginners). This may work for someone on steroids. But, in the Golden Age, routines like this were never recommended! Why? Because it would take much longer for a natural trainer to gain any size on a routine like that! Even when the Golden Age champs would workout 6 days a week using split routines, they would still work body parts at least twice a week.

But as you point out, proper nutrition is vital to insuring that your muscle recovery will be as fast as possible for you. But don't forget proper rest!

Regarding rest, there used to be a saying in the Golden Age that I will paraphrase here:

'Walk instead of running; Sit instead of walking; lay down instead of sitting; sleep instead of just laying down!'

In other words, if you are serious about making gains, then work hard in your workouts. But also "work hard" at resting and in getting proper nutrition to insure your muscles will recover and grow as quickly as they can!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Anonymous said...

hey CPB,
I don't know if my post fits this article but I have a question about intesity of training. Until now I've always done some sort of training like steve Reeves or one similar to the one in the CPB zine from ALan Piavio's. I've had some good results. Now I also do some cardio everytime I go to the gym but I'm thinking of doing supersets. What do you think about supersets. Can you still gain muscle when doing that? or only when you take creatine or steroids like that, so it won't work for us?


- CPB - said...

Hi Bruno,

If you are trying to gain mass, then cardio is not the best thing. It will rob you of calories and cut into your muscle recovery abilities. Instead of your body directing its efforts to rebuilding muscle, with cardio, it also has to spread its resources thinner in order to allow you to recover from the additional cardio work. This is something for you to think about. Once you have achieved the mass you want, then it is a good time to add cardio if you like (for health reasons or for helping in attaining classic definition).

Regarding supersets, they are definitely a pre-roid, Golden Age method! Weider coined the term in the Golden Age. Reeves used them, but instead, he called it "training in opposition". He would use supersets now and then to add variation to his routines. His book "Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way" has a chapter outlining his recommendations on which exercises to superset (chapter 19). Weider's routine for intermediates (in his Muscle Building Championship Course in the 1950s) used supersets extensively.

In the Golden Age, they thought that supersets worked because they: (1) reduce the usual resting time between sets and thus increase intensity,(2) keep more blood circulating in the general area - which they thought helped growth, and (3) helped keep the muscles "confused" (fresh) by exercising them in a different way.

So, they can definitely work if done correctly. Give them a try! In the future, we will do a post on supersets and give an example routine.

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Johnny G said...

I was in correspondence with a Dennis Weis, I'm not sure you know of him he is has a bodybuilding website and writes for different magazines..well he informed me that Steve Reeves did use a split routine many times, he got this info from John Grimek..I remember talking with John Grimek about a year or so before Bob Hoffman passed away maybe 1983 and he informed me that he workout daily - Now I know that in Steve Reeves' book (Building the Classic Physique) he say only 3 times per week, but I know of others who have said as well that the Golden Era boys did workout more frequently then they claim in old bodybuilding thing is that I live here in Harrisburg, Pa and some of the old timers used to workout at York Barbell Gym in York, Pa with the who's who of that era so there is no reason for me to dispute them.

- CPB - said...

Hi Johnny (and Everyone),

I've seen Dennis Weis' article on Steve Reeves training and it is clear to me that he is getting all his information from previously published sources. Most of his article is taken from John Grimek's article on Steve's training for the Mr. Universe contest in 1950.

In his article, Weis says that Steve also used a 6 day split routine! However, I have never seen this in any of the pre-roid, Golden Age materials that I have (I have a substantial amount, but not everything). So I don't know where Dennis is getting this from. It is not from John Grimek's article. So perhaps he picked the info up from some other published source.

I have no doubt that Steve must have "tinkered" with many approaches and routines. However, given what he has said in his books, it seems pretty clear that if he thought split routines had helped him, he would have said so.

What do we know for sure? He trained under Ed Yarick from the age of 16 until he graduated from high school and went into the Army. When he got out, he went back to train with Ed up until the Mr. America contest at least. Ed says very clearly that Steve trained 3 days a week. Steve was on this schedule up until the Mr. America contest (we have his preparation routine for that contest which was a 3 day a week routine). So bottom line - Steve built his classic physique with a 3 day schedule (regardless of whether he might have tried a split routine after that).

I would have to do more research to see what I can find out about his training for the Mr. USA 1949 contest (in which he competed against Grimek but did not win). But, for his training for the 1950 Mr Universe contest, again, we know he used a 3 day-a-week schedule. Steve describes that he chose one exercise per body part and did 10 sets of 12 reps for each exercise. He states that the routine took him about 3 hours. So clearly he is describing a full body routine (which cannot be done everyday).

Steve did not train at York regularly. He only trained there for about 4-7 weeks prior to the Mr. Universe contest. Most of the time he was in California. So John Grimek would only have a limited view of how Steve trained. Ed Yarick, his trainer, would of course have a much greater knowledge.

Again, I have no doubt that Steve may have tinkered with split routines at some point, but he did not build his physique initially with them and he must not have thought that they helped him much since he did not recommend them. He was a straight shooter by all accounts, so I'm confident he would have praised split routines if they had helped him build his physique.

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

P.S. This doesn't mean that split routines cannot be helpful to others! :)

Johnny G said...

Since i have really never spoke to Steve Reeves I would not ever call him a liar, and you know that this is not what I'm doing --- I still am going to try to stick with this 3 times per week program, and on my off days I'll still do some cardio since we live in the 21st century we are lazy slugs(just moderate cardio though)- I have done 2 sessions so far and you really have to put on your game face on to do this workout -Also the late Mike Mentzer and his brother Ray use to live in Epharta, Pa and sometimes had workouts at a gym called Results in New Cumberland, Pa about 35 miles or so away owned by Frank Calta, who now owns gyms in Florida, but Mike & Ray did an overall workouts 3 times per week, plus we know they juiced a bit too - Also Frank Calta devised a program called Rotation For Recuperation- I meet all these guys back in the mid 70's early 80's - they worked out with two other brothers and their names are Pete & Marty Vranicar who later bought Results - all these guys were crazy but they all would help ya in a New York minute, even though drugs were available, there was still a code of helping out your brother - so just maybe the truly first H.I.T man was Steve(Hercules)Reeves - by the GODS

Jim said...

I have been trying the 3 day a week total body wirkout for a week now and do notice feeling firmer than when I was doing a 3 day a week split program wher I hit each muscle once a week.The thing tht is hard is to keep up the intensity for the last couple body parts because you are tired from traing your larger musces. What I have done is to only do 1 warm up set and then 1 or 2 at most heavy sets to failure per exercise to keep the volume down . I've tried training 6 days a week, hitting each muscle twice a week, but it's just too much and you are sore all the time. Another routine that is pretty good if you don't have the energy for a whole body is the rotation for recuperation where you train half your body day 1 , the other half day 3, then back to firste half day 5, take 2 days off and start again. I;m on the search for some real results and am willing to try anything except steroids of course.

Johnny G said...

Jim for one week and you are ready to hang it up on this routine(don't do it) - there is no magical way to workout - you got to get in there and kick butt - give it a true three months and after that you will know where you'll stand - for some people split routines do work and for some a overall workout fits the bill - for this site to think and I don't mean to apply this in a overly harsh way, that the only way to get fit is by doing routines that were developed 4 to 6 decades ago is the only way would be crazy, but also by not saying that these pioneers did have something going on that was getting results without the help of steroids and a ton of supplements would be crazy as well if not to mention it - I think Anthony is trying to make sure that history doesn't become hazy and that we might forget what a truly ideal body is suppose to look like and by finding the ideal we might have to follow the map that these pioneers laid out many years ago - it's the journey to a idealistic body we are shooting for aren't we and the Reeves, Grimeks, Parks, and all the others have the map so why not give it a try and follow it - I'm getting to deep even for me now. Hang in there Jim

- CPB - said...

Hi Jim,

Just to give you some perspective, in the pre-roid Golden Age (1940s and 50s), the only people who would have worked out 6 days a week were some (not all) of the champs who would train this way only a few weeks before a contest!

Beginners and Intermediates were never instructed to train so much - because, in the Golden Age, they knew that most people could simply not gain on that kind of routine.

This is very different from today where you will see in the roid-based mags and even personal "trainers" at the fitness centers put beginners on a 6 day split routine training each body part once a week! However, the reality is that a beginner or even intermediate will never build a classic physique that way! Sooner or later, frustration with that approach will set in.

Glad to see you are on a 3 day full body workout. This is a good schedule if you have good muscle recovery. If your muscles don't recover by the next workout, then you can workout with two days of complete rest in-between or simply workout twice a week. These schedules will give your body much more time to rest, recover, and grow! Steve Reeves said 'How can anyone recover if they are training everyday?' He knew that rest and recovery are as important as the workouts!

Regarding energy loss toward the end of your full body routine, here are some things you can do.

1. Warm-up properly at the beginning of your workout. If you do this, you won't need to waste energy on "warm-up sets for each exercise."

2. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets and 5 minutes between body parts (do deep breathing during this time to replenish oxygen and energy in your system).

3. Use Steve Reeves Workout Drink (see our post) and take a couple of sips during your rests between sets and body parts.

4. Train to near failure instead of failure. In other words, complete the last rep possible (just before the rep where you know you would fail).

5. Don't try to increase your weights or increase your reps on all your exercises during the same session.

6. Make sure your exercise routine is appropriate for your level (in the total number of exercises and in the number of sets and reps). For example, if you are a beginner, then you should follow a proper beginners program rather than one for an intermediate trainer.

7. Don't use an iPod while training. The music can drain energy from your mind and away from your muscles. Instead, maintain your focus and concentration (even during your rest between sets and body parts - focus your mind on recovering for the next set or exercise rather than wasting your energy on the music).

I hope this helps! Feel free to share info on your routine or ask more questions if you like. We are here to help!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Anonymous said...

What do you think of the HIT type training espoused by Arthur Jones and later Mike Mentzer. Jones believed in I set to failure per exercise on a total body workout, and Mentzer built most of his mass on 3 day a week total body, but then switched to a routine of half the body trained every other day and claimed he made his greatest gains on that because the total body was too draining. I'm willing to put in some time and hard work, but do want to see some results and haven't seen them like i would have hoped. I'm 48, 5ft 10 and a half and weigh about 209, with a 46 inch chest, 37inch waist 15 and ahalf inch arms, 25 inch thighs and 14 inch calves. What would a realistic goal be for me if I wanted a classic type physique?

- CPB - said...

Hi Anonymous,

Regarding HIT training, I don't know of any pre-roid Golden Age champ who built their physiques that way. My understanding is that Mike Mentzer was on roids, so HIT training under roids would not tell you anything about the effectiveness of HIT training naturally.

Also, the intensity required is not easily achievable, especially by beginners, and trying this can easily lead to burn out and even injury. So unless you are personally instructed by someone with experience with HIT under totally natural (drug/roid-free) conditions, then I wouldn't recommend trying it.

Another perspective on this is that the pre-roid Golden Age champs demonstrate clearly that you can build a classic physique just fine using their techniques. So if a classic physique is what you are after, then pre-roid Golden Age methods would be most appropriate. These methods have built many a classic physique!

Let me ask a few questions:

1. How long have you been training consistently?

2. Have you ever followed a systematic pre-roid Golden Age type course (e.g., like Peary Rader's Iron Man Barbell Course or Joe Weider's Course or the Bosco Course)?

3. What kind of routines have you been following and what kind of results have you gotten from them?

4. Do you have any pre-existing medical conditions that would impact your training or diet?

5. What is your wrist and ankle size (in inches)?

This info will be helpful in giving input as to where you can start with pre-roid Golden Age type training and what goals would be realistic to set.

All the best (and thanks for participating on CPB Blog!),

CPB (Anthony)

jim said...

Thanks for your advice, by the way, I forgot to put my name which is Jim on the last blog. Iv'e been training off and on for over 20 yrs. but steadily the last 3 yrs. at a local gym. I've tried HIT whole body and split 3, 4,5, and 6 day aweek split routines hitting each muscle 1 or 2 times a week. I've tried high volume, moderate volume and low volume, at different levels of intensity. I haven't tried any of the pre roid routines, and have found that the extreme low volume routines leave me soft and smooth. I like the idea of hitting each muscle 3 times a week with mostly heavier compound exercises and doing moderate aerobics-30mins brisk walking on my off days for fat loss and conditioning. I've basically stayed about the same for at least 6 months and don't feel like I'm getting the results I should from the time I put in. I did have a mild heart attack when I was 39 but am fine now, on meds for cholestrol,though. I think my wrist and ankles are about 6 inches

- CPB - said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
- CPB - said...

Hi Jim,

I still need a bit more info to really give you my best input.

I need you to actually measure your wrist and ankle size. I doubt that they are 6 inches - that would be incredibly tiny for a person of your height. So we really need good measurements here.

Just take a tape measure and measure the circumference of your wrist at the point where it bends. And measure the circumference of your ankle at the narrowest part just above where the bones stick out to each side (this might be about an inch or so above). Can you also give me your neck measurement?

This info will help in determining a realistic set of classic physique measurements that you should shoot for in the long term. Then a series of short term goals can be established to get you there! I think it is entirely realistic given your current measurements and history to expect that you can build a classic physique.

As far as your experience goes, it sounds like you can be considered a solid intermediate (a beginner would be someone with less than 3 months of systematic training; and advanced trainer would be someone very close to their classic physique measurements ideal). Your training background is helpful in determining where you can begin with pre-roid Golden Age training.

So, let me know your wrist, ankle, and neck measurements. Also, can you give me an example of your typical diet (and caloric, protein, carb, and fat intake).

My suggestions might be more lengthy than can be handled in this comment section, so if you like, you can email me at with this additional info and we can continue from there!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Johnny G said...

one true benefit of 3 days a week training is the time factor - yes it is true you'll spend some additional time getting thru this total body workout, but the time we waste going to the gym 5 to 6 times a week - just driving to the gym takes its toll - plus what if you have to do chores around the house and the old lady is pissing and moaning that every night you're at the gym when really what ya can do is hit it on a weekend morning before she gets up and maybe once or maybe twice during a week night - it is just more convenient 2 to 3 times per week, true again a little longer workout, but kick butt and you can be home more often - unless you are married to a nut then 5 to 6 days a week sounds better