Monday, October 12, 2009

Golden Age Split Routines for a Classic Physique!

(Photo above: Joe Weider, publisher of pre-roid Golden Age mags Your Physique, Muscle Power, Muscle Builder, and Mr. America)

Up until now, on CPB Blog, we have focused on covering the standard 3-day per week, full body workout schedule. This was certainly the mainstay for most, if not all, of the champs of the pre-roid, Golden Age (of the 1940s and 50s). In other words, this kind of training was how most of the CPB champs built the bulk of their classic physiques.

That being said, split training was also known and used. But, at first (through the 1940s and early 1950s), split training was used only by the champs (who had already built their physiques) a couple of weeks before a contest in order to put the finishing touches on their muscularity. They thought that this could be accomplished by slightly "overtraining" - which is what they thought split training would lead to. After the contest, they would then return to their 3-day per week, full body training. This practice was a general pattern. Some, like Reeves, stuck to their 3-day per week training right up to the contest and after! Some, like Leo Robert, liked to train 6 days a week most of the time. The bottom line is that split training was considered an advanced trainer's technique - it was not for beginners or intermediates.

In 1954 (at least as far as my research has uncovered so far), Joe Weider had a revised version of his course called "Muscle Building Courses of the Champions" that advocated a split routine for intermediate trainers. Beginners were given a 3-day per week, full body workout course that was to be followed for 3 months. After that, Joe put them on a 4 day split routine that trained the upper body twice a week (e.g., on Mon and Thu) and lower body twice a week (e.g., on Tue and Fri) - resting on Wed, Sat, and Sun. This split routine was to be followed for another 2 to 3 months (or until the gains stopped). After this, they were put on a Power & Bulk Course.

In terms of Golden Age training, Joe's advocacy might be the earliest attempt to introduce split training to intermediate trainers (rather than reserving it for advanced trainers). So, split training for intermediates is a pre-roid Golden Age training tool. Other authorities at the time did not agree with Joe's approach and stuck to the classic 3-day per week, full body schedule.

It should be noted that, in Joe's approach, split training was appropriate for intermediates, but not for beginners. This is still quite different from today where a beginner will be given a split routine right off the bat. We should also note that most of the Golden Age Champs (if not all of them - like Grimek, Reeves, Eiferman, Stephan, Ross, etc) - built their physiques with the classic 3-day per week, full body schedule. It is also clear that even after Weider advocated this type of split training for intermediates, many still followed the classic schedule. What is not clear is how many (if any) Golden Age champs built their classic physiques, as intermediates, with a split routine.

We know now, as did many in the pre-roid Golden Age, of the anabolic advantage of full body training (as opposed to split training). Still...split training is a Golden Age training technique that we should be familiar with and should include in our "tool box." Despite having less of an anabolic advantage, it does have other benefits (perhaps a good topic for discussion!).

We will explore further details of Golden Age split training in future posts!


P.S. For a free, 1 year subscription to Classic Physique Builder (CPBzine) - a pdf "zine" (a do-it-yourself magazine) that is patterned after the muscle mags of the pre-roid Golden Age of Bodybuilding (of the 1940s and 50s) - just email us your name, the name of your city (not your actual address), state/province, and country to That's it! Any info you send us is strictly confidential. We don't share our info with anyone. So you won't get on any unwanted lists or receive any unwanted, automated email - even from us!


Johnny G said...

Its all semantics if you do a split or total bodyworkout - Again Reeves had the ability to rest the next day - to do over 60+plus sets in a workout takes a lot out of ya - 9 sets per muscle group adds up to 27 sets each week - I feel that the main concern for bodybuilders back then was recovery from such a exhausting 3+ hour workouts - and the next concern was intensity, and I do not care who says this and that Reeves might have made even better & or faster gains if he did a split routine...Reeves was impressive so we will not argue that point, but again he really did not have a job to go too the next day...Steve was one of the first professional bodybuilders in the sense that he did get paid for modeling and made money from other sources because of his physique..What this comes down to can ya develope a Classic Physique doing a split routine and gain it faster then doing an overall workout...No one is going to develope a Schwarzenegger physique without the use of drugs..And none of you are going to develope a Reeves body doing his program unless you quit your day job..Bodybuilding for the most part thru the years has been a full time job even back in the Golden Era as well

Candon M said...

Joe Weider may have started out in the golden era of CPB, and his magazines fostered the culture, but he was then, and remained, little more than a snake-oil seller. So, if Joe recommended it, I wouldn't do it.
That being said a split routine could work for some, but I would split what I was doing into 3 days rather four. Or, as I do now, fullbody workout with different exercises for each day, e.g. for deltoids day 1 Press Behind Neck; day 2 Bent Over Laterals; day 3 DB upright rows.
We may not all be supermen like Steve Reeves (at least I'm not), who apparently had enough testosterone to lift weights for 2-2.5 hours. However, I still believe we mortals are better served with 1 hour workouts...and an extra day of weight lifting only takes away from the time when our bodies should be building muscle through rest.
I have large joints (10.5" ankles, 7.5" wrists) the supposed ideal candidate for split routines, and I've done 4 day and 5 day split routines. At the end of a month's cycle I'm burnt out, and must take a week off rather than switch out routines or rep ranges, and I made no more significant gains than on the 3 day fullbody. I choose to do different exercises on each day of my fullbody workouts as I've found I can't lift heavy with one routine and I find it psychologically defeating to do a heavy/light/medium schedule, i.e. I can't keep the intensity going. But your mileage may vary.

Ibrahim said...

You´re right Johnny.
That is a very important point you made with ones life style.

But for the ones who are more comfortable with full body routines, don´t forget the Rader routines.
Or J. C. Hise 2 times in a week.
Hise gained over lots of muscle mass over a very short time. No one believed it.

And when you rest as hard as you can and with lots of nourishing food (protein, whole foots etc.) you can build much muscle

joe said...

johnny G you have to be the most negative person i have ever come a cross. if you dont believe you can get a top physique through bodybuilding than why do you keep reading & posting here?

- CPB (Blog and Zine) - said...

Hi Everyone,

Joe - I think you might have misunderstood what Johnny was saying. Johnny works out, as we all do here, so I'm sure he believes that you can build a great physique through bodybuilding.

I think Johnny is raising two important points here. The first is that proper rest is a critical aspect of building a physique. And for some of us (who lead busy lives and work, etc), it is often difficult to get as much proper rest as we need.

The other point that Johnny raises is the question of whether 27 total sets per week on a 3 day schedule is the same as a similar amount of sets on a split routine. If I understood his point correctly, I would say that in my view 27 sets done in one workout (say on a split routine that works a body part once a week) is very different that doing 9 sets, 3 days a week, which are separated by a day and a half of rest. Physiologically these two experiences are not equivalent and they affect the body in different ways. Doing 27 sets in one sitting (as is actually common in the high volume routines advocated today) can lead a nonsteroid user into major overtraining and stop muscle growth. Whereas doing 9 sets 2 or 3 times a week would stimulate growth.

Everyone - let's address and discuss the points raised rather than making personal comments about each other. We are all here because we share a common love of physique building. We may not all agree, but we can learn from each other if we keep our conversation civil. I know everyone has the best of intentions and I'm grateful for all the CPB Readers!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

- CPB (Blog and Zine) - said...

Hi Everyone,

I just wanted to clarify a bit of Steve Reeves' history because people might be unfamiliar with it and it does shed light on his achievements.

Steve built the bulk of his classic physique while in high school. He began when he was 16 years old. Very quickly, he joined Ed Yarick's Gym. Ed was one of the top Golden Age experts and he guided Steve through his training. By the time Steve graduated from high school, he pretty much had the physique that we are all familiar with. And actually, he gained most of his muscle mass in his first 16 months of training.

So what can we learn from this? First, he started training at the best of times - while he was in the middle of that natural adolescent growth spurt (with lots of natural testosterone circulating in his system). Also, he followed the best of the Golden Age techniques given to him by one of the Golden Age's top trainers. Since he was in high school, he was as busy and active as any high school kid (boy - weren't we all more active then!). So he wasn't just working out and sleeping and eating.

The impression that Steve built his physique by just training, eating, and sleeping might have been formed by some who read about how he trained for the 1950 Mr. Universe contest. At that time, in order to gain 19 pounds quickly, he did just train, eat, and sleep! But as a high school kid, he did everything that other high school kids did - so he was pretty active (and still built a classic physique).

After High School, Steve was drafted into the Army. Because of his physique, he was called "The Shape" by his fellow soldiers. He participated in some of the bloodiest battles of the war and was decorated (with a medal) at least once (I think it was for bravery under fire - but I would have to check this).

While in the army, he got malaria and lost about 30 lbs (almost the whole weight he had gained in building his classic physique). However, he recovered and somehow managed to have a barbell set and workout bench built. So when he recovered he started working out again and regained all his lost mass (he did this while serving in the Army and in addition to all his other infantry duties).

After Steve was honorably discharged (after the end of the war), he returned to Ed Yarick's Gym and now became Ed's training partner. After a few months training, he entered and won the Mr. Pacific Coast contest.

So, in reviewing some of this history, we can see that in building his physique, Steve had the advantage of being in the middle of an adolescent growth spurt, on top of expert instruction (by Ed Yarick) using the best of the Golden Age methods. But he was an active kid!

Did he have great genetics? - for muscle recovery & muscle shape certainly. But he started out as a skinny tall kid with shoulders that were so hunched that his mother took him to a doctor to have special shoulder braces made! However, he had timing (growth spurt) on his side and, because of Ed Yarick, he did everything else right (including work volume, intensity, diet, etc).

I hope this helps clarify the circumstances under which Steve built his physique.

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Johnny G said...

Hey Joe, it seems at times I do come across as a negative person and that is not my intent(I'm a old hippie who questions everything, just my nature) - Golden Age of Bodybuilding was a major step for us to develope bodies we should all be proud of, but there is valid training in this new age of ours and true sometimes it is recycled from years past but I'm not going to divorce new technology because either Reeves or any of the other guys from the past didn't use it - Joe, they were the ground breakers of that time which I tip my hat too them, and even they continued to reach out to find better and quicker ways to develope their bodies by trying different protein drinks and trying new training programs - You know guys bodybuilding is like a journey as the settlers did so many years ago to go west for a better life and if I can get to the west coast by a safer, quicker means then why wouldn't I do that..The Golden Age of Bodybuilders were like the journeymen who were paving the way for all of us - the journey continues Joe, so you need to read past of what you feel is the negative in my comments and truely understand where I'm coming from - I have been around this game off and on for 45 years(1965 my first magazine I bought & joined the boys club of Harrisburg, Pa)) and have spoken to some of the very best bodybuilders from years past to the present - Living in Harrisburg, Pa I knew a lot of the York Barbell gang and have had the chance to meet the likes of John Grimek and Bob Hoffman to the Mentzer brothers and Frank Calta and a good friend of mine who was voted into the Natural Bodybuilding Hall of Fame Chuck Buser and even they were still questioning training techniques from the past and the present - Even by saying this I'm still searching and this site gives me the ability to do that - So Joe I'll end this overly long message by saying that I am OPENED to all training techniques past & present, but not opened to drugs or the over use of supplements - my Facebook (John Garberich)- thanks Joe for bringing me down a notch, but my previous statement was not a slam on Reeves, just the facts of the times

Johnny G said...

Oh Anthony thanks for defending me, I do feel Joe is right that I do come across negative at times, but again Anthony thanks - And also Anthony my content that we would do 27 sets for a muscle group in one workout wasn't what I was referring to. Just spliting it up into 4 or 5 workouts - But again I'll eat my own words and that is your body produces more testostrone by doing a whole body workout 3 times per week... But recovery is also so important as much as the workout itself - thanks again

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that it is all semantics, when it comes down to how you split. While I have stated that I believe we have made advances in training, and nutrition knowledge. Some old methods are still the best. This has been proven by the amount of various programs that have been tried over the years.

I have my own thought process on wholebody, and splits. Both have merits, but they need to be used in the right way.

Wholebody, 3x week for almost all of your mass gains. For beginners through upper level intermediates.

Basic upper lower split, 4x week. For advanced intermediates, and advanced lifters. I still prefer 3x week though, over this split. The upper lower does allow for more sets per workout than the 3 day.

5 day split, Advanced level only. You should have all the mass your body can hold, and your conditioning should be at a high level to handle the volume. This would be used for short periods of a 8-12 wks, for peaking cycles only.

Regardless of what split is used, I aim for ONE hour, as my max workout length. The workout tends to become catabolic, if longer than an hour.

I also like the A/B system of routines, on the 3X WK plan. Swapping moves every workout to hit your body from various angles.

Joe W. may have in fact been a snake oil salesman, but thats how buisness works. How many ads are there on TV today for exercise products promising fast results with little work, A lot! He's not the Devil, just a buisnessman.

Nice job Anthony, I like what your doing here.

Johnny G said...

just got finished watching the current Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler video sent to me from my friend Jim - unreal in a negative way --- 5'8" and 266lbs - he is so huge that there is no seperations of muscle groups - when he flexed nothing exploded because he so muscled up - if for any reason anyone thinks this is appealing all I can say is that they need their head examined - I feel the way to market Classic Physique is a side by side comparission pictures and in its self would sell the TRUE ideal - Jay Cutler's gut had to be 42 inches, had to be!!!!He seemed out of breath just posing for 90 seconds - enough of me slamming Jay Cutler and the other dinosaurs, I really feel pity for them, to me they are no different then the 1000lbs fat guy who can not get out of bed - the obession to take so many chemicals to get to that point is no different then the fat guy sending mom out for 5 whoppers, fries and 2 liters of soda - PITY THE FOOL as Mr. T said in Rocky III

Anonymous said...

GREAT STUFF HERE!!! Thanks for posting all these. Plan on reading each post. Keep it up.