Monday, May 31, 2010

Workout Frequency for Building a Classic Physique: Challenging Conventional Wisdom!

(Photo Above: CPB Champ Armand Tanny, Mr. Pro America 1949, Mr. USA 1950)

With all of the misinformation in the modern, roid-based, muscle mags of today, we have quite a challenge in sorting through all the "conventional wisdom" that just doesn't work for us non-roid users - who just want to build a great looking, classic physique! In our last post, we touched on the subject of all the modern hype regarding supplements. In this post, let's touch on the subject of workout frequency.

Remember, with all the modern "advice" - much of which is hype - you must always ask yourself "Who is this advice really good for - me or the supplement companies or fitness centers?" If you ask this question frequently, you might begin to see through all the hype.

With that said, it is pretty much the "conventional wisdom" these days that beginners should be put on a 4-5 day (even 6 day) splits - exercising each part of the body one day a week. You see this advice in the modern, roid-based muscle mags. You hear it from the "personal/certified trainers" at the modern gyms/fitness centers. In fact, if you are a classic physique builder and tell the personal trainers at the fitness center that you are doing 3 full body workouts each week, they would probably think you are crazy! If you get this reaction from them, then this is a sure sign that they don't know anything about the pre-roid Golden Age! They probably have no idea who Steve Reeves is or any of the other CPB Champs! is the truth about workout frequency in the pre-roid Golden Age: the standard that all beginners and almost everyone else followed was to do 3 full body workouts per week! Yes...that is right! Each muscle was being exercised 3 times per week - not just once! And people were in the gym 3 days a week, not 4-6 days. If you don't believe this, then just look at practically any issue of the muscle mags of the pre-roid Golden Age (the 1940s and 50s) like Your Physique, Muscle Power, Muscle Builder, Iron Man, Strenth & Health, etc.

Let's put it this way....the practice of doing 4-6 day splits, working each muscle once a week, was largely UNKOWN during the pre-roid Golden Age - certainly for beginners! None of the classic physiques of the CPB Champs were produced by following this kind of advice. Yes...there was some (repeat "some") split training done for very specialized reasons by advanced trainers (e.g., a couple of weeks right before a contest). But split training was not the norm. Yet, clearly, with their 3 full body workouts per week approach, those of the Golden Age were able to produce classic physiques just fine! So don't let anyone tell you that your muscles can only take being stimulated once a week! And don't let anyone tell you that you need to be in the gym 4-6 days a week either!

In fact, it was pretty standard in the Golden Age that a person could build a classic physique, usually, within two years. So Golden Age methods work and they work really well! How many classic physiques have been built today on the modern advice of doing 4-6 day splits and working each muscle once a week?!

Now, there is a lot to say on this subject, but let's come back to our earlier questions. Who benefits the most from the prevailing "conventional wisdom" - you or the supplement companies & gyms?

Let's take the gyms first. It is no suprise that their "trainers" will tell you that you should be in the gym 4-6 days a week. Why? Because if you are in the gym that often, then you will be far less likely to drop your gym membership. Also, a lot of the gyms sell other products that you are more likely to buy if you are there - such as supplements, workout clothes & accessories, workout drinks, etc. The gyms/fitness centers have a monetary "bottom line." They are a business. They must maintain a certain number of paying memberships to cover all their "overhead" (expenses) and make a profit. Nothing wrong with that - except when they start tailoring their workout advice for their benefit and not yours!!! So who is really benefitting from a 4-6 day split - the beginner or the gym/fitness center?

What about the supplement companies? They also love the 4-6 day split training each muscle only once a week approach! Why? Because if you are working out practically every day, you are more likely to think you need more supplements! Take a look at all those pre- and post workout drinks that they push. If you work out only 3 times a week (or even twice) then you are talking about 4 - 6 drinks. If you are working out 4-6 times per week (and buying pre- and post workout drinks) then we are talking about 8-12 drinks! They can sell you twice as many drinks and double their profit! That's not to mention all the other supplements you will be tempted to buy since you are working out so much! AND since working each muscle once a week will lead to slow progress, you will be all the more tempted to buy supplements to "speed up your results!"

So the "conventional wisdom" of 4-6 day splits and working muscles once a week is great for the gyms/fitness centers and the supplement companies! But what about you?

Don't you think it is funny that men were able to build classic physiques in the 1940s and 50s on 3 (or even 2) full body workouts per week with no problem (and no supplements) and yet now the modern muscle mags seem to have forgotten this? In fact, they seem to have "conveniently" forgotten all about the pre-roid Golden Age haven't they? Doesn't it seem as though their sense of history begins with Arnold (and other 1st generation roid users)??? Well...I guess the truth of history would hurt their "bottom line," wouldn't it?


P.S. If you would like a free 1 year subscription to Classic Physique Builder Zine (CPBzine) - a pdf "zine" (do-it-yourself magazine) that is patterned after the muscle mags of the pre-roid Golden Age of Bodybuilding (the 1940s and 50s) - just email 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 info with anyone. So you won't get on any unwanted lists or receive any unwanted automated spam (even from us)!


Ibrahim said...

This post is a "Truth hurts" post for the present bobybuilding scene.

Anthony, i remember when i used to train in a gym i had a talk to the owner. I just started the famous "Super Squats" program because all the other did not seem to work.
I was finished with the workout after 40-45 mins maybe a few minutes earlier. Then i went to the changing room and the gym owner was their too.

The first question of him was "You´re finished already?"
I said "Yeah". Then he asked me what kind of workout i do.
I told him 3x8-12 on standing press, bench press, barbell rowing and 1x20 reps squats.( Later I was glad that i did not tell him about breathing squats:)

You should have seen his reaction.
Then he said that my workout consisted of far to few sets and reps. He said i have to do 5 sets at least to get a good workout.
Then he asked why i´m doing 1x20 squats. Because of this question i did not want to tell him about using a weight you can handle for 10 reps and try to do 20 reps with it. I thought when i try to tell him about breathing in the final reps he would get more confused about me.
So i just said ok to him. And this was one of the first reasons why i quited my gym membership.

Johnny G said...

there has been a movement unfolding where I see at the gyms that more patrons are doing a overall workouts 2 to 3 times a week - Crossfit//300 Spratan Workouts & other overall workouts are taking form - I think maybe things are turning around slowly and I hope this is not a fad - I mentioned to some of the instructors at our Harrisburg//Hummelstown, Pa Golds Gyms what is up with their turnaround concepts - they informed me that a lot of places are trying to go OLD SCHOOL Training and I know you are not crazy with the term old school, but there has been a movement to bring people in with less roid base training routines - So I can say here in Harrisburg, Pa the movement is moving forward to a healthy lifestyle, so let us hope it last....

UK Steve said...


Another excellent post!

I think experienced trainee's often see through the globo gym industry hype - but unfortunately that is often after a few years (and often you most potentially productive early years) of frustrating wasted effort.

I find that when I follow a Steve Reeves / Reg park type program I can only consistently train on a 3 times every two weeks basis.

To go off topic slightly I got frustrated with my slow gains with bodybuilding about a year ago and thought "well if I can't look like Reg Park - I might as well just get fit" so I tried doing Crossfit. To my surprise I put on an almost alarming amount of muscular bodyweight in a short space of time - but found that the Olympic lifting / box jumps was playing havoc with my joints. Build wise I was beginning to look like an MMA fighter rather than a classic Physique builder as well.

So now I am trying to work out which parts of Crossfit made me build so much muscle - and trying to develop a Classic Physique version!


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

Hi UK Steve,

Your point about workout frequency brings up the issue of muscle recovery. An interesting question to think about is this:

Why was the 3 day per week full body workout the standard in the Golden Age - when today, so many people don't seem to have the muscle recovery ability to do that?

I've been thinking about this recently and have come upon an "answer" that might have some merit. In the Golden Age, ALL the beginners began with one set training for a minimum of one month and usually up to 6 months! How many beginners today begin with 3 day per week, full body programs and train with just 1 set per exercise for up to 6 months? Not many! We all are immediately thrown into split programs with high volume sets. could very well be that "muscle recovery" is something that muscles need to be trained for. Perhaps one set training for up to 6 months trains the muscles or allows them to build up a quicker muscle recovery time. Then, after the 6 months, when the trainer starts to add sets (2 sets, then 3 sets), the body has adapted and muscle recovery is no problem. I'm actually experimenting with this idea at the moment.

But, for those of us who can't seem to recover in time to do 3 day a week full body programs, ask yourself the question - Have you ever tried training on a 3 day per week, full body program using just one set per exercise? If so, how was your muscle recovery then? And then after a few months, did you add a set (and do 2 sets per exercise)? What was your muscle recovery like then? Or did you immediately jump to 3-6 sets or high volume training?

Something to think about (and perhaps experiment with)!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Johnny G said...

Anthony and all, if we can find time to train 5 to 6 times a week (1 hour to 1.5 hours) then there is time for a 2 or 3 days per week overall workout(2 hours) - I say tweek our programs - we do not have to lift heavy weights every training session - train hard every session, but make it one session heavy then one session light and I do not mean light workout in the aspect of light intensity but higher reps - UK Steve, I think your Crossfit is a good program but I do agree with you that the pounding with do havoc on your joints - once in awhile fine, but not all the time - Again I bring up that some of the Greats from the Golden Era did in most parts did training & bodybuilding as a full time business and they were in ages of 20's and early 30's -So I feel what we need to do is Prioritize and Manage our training and social life better - We all I am sure have a lot on our plates when it comes to life, so we need to step back and focus what is important - A sloppy schedule for training and a social life will wear on us as well - So we need to prioritize better - keep it simple - my deepness of the day

Ibrahim said...

Steve and Anthony,

you made good points.

First of all Steve, olympic style weight training is not bad or dangerous. Like Anthony, said no beginner starts today with one set and build from there. I´m pretty sure thats why i did not make any gains back then when i trained at the gym.
Charles A. Smith, famous golden age author wrote very good articles on training, including weightlifting.

This is a great article from him with advice for starters or beginners. Maybe Anthony won´t agree with me but i think olympic lifting will build also a complete physique. Because it´s important to be fit, look strong and be strong. John Grimek, Reg Park, Marvin Eder, Roy Hilligenn all did olympic lifting. I think this style of training is intensive especially for the tendons and ligaments. If you have access to a powerrack do some isometrics, that will strengthen your tendons and ligaments and won´t ruin a "CP" :)

Ibrahim said...


Anthony the point you made with the beginner 1 set with all exercises is one thing i wish i have known a couple of years ago.
Anyway, my opinion is that the golden age scene had a clear mindset. And the goals were simple but effective. Now i think the most so called authorities or arm chair experts don´t know what there talking about. No ideals, not why they doing it, no goals...

Do you know what a nutritionist said to skinny/average large man in one seminar, in the gym i used to train. He told her that he tried so much over the years but could not build any muscle mass.
And she said "well your muscle react better to endurance training, you have to exept that"

No wonder that so many people who don´t want be pro bodybuilders turn their backs to this scene.
What gives her the right to discourage or set a limit for another person?

What i find interesting is that the bodybuilders/athletes from the 30-50 trained in so many ways. That´s one reason why i find them so inspirational. I think they could participate in most sports easily.

Nils said...

I think your genetics will help define how you react to different workout routines.

We all know training with splits can work, I have seen it work on my friends.

However, I know how Ibrahim felt when his gym owner was questioning him.

I (as mentioned awhile ago) follow the charles atlas system, which uses no weights, and works out your body twice a day.

At the beach, swimming pool, and sometimes when I am fully clothed I get asked questions about my workouts.

No one believes the results I have been able to achieve, and many hit "sticking" points where they can't seem to make progress, while I have worked out for 6 months straight, and I still put on about a pound of muscle a week.

It's because these days programs are set up for steroid users, I think that this blog is completely right, it is much better to follow proven methods from a pre-roid era then try to get through the much of today.

Johnny G said...

there was a lot more barbell & dumbbell workouts back in the day - Not all these selective weight machines that we use today (I am guilty too)- That in itself will cause anyone to workout harder using free weights and develope a balance physique - I think with Crossfit & P90X they tap into the Classic Physique Training mode - Exercises that forces the body to exert a lot of effort - Most of the former greats did a lot of gymnastics and a lot of olympic lifting movements (can so one say Crossfit/P90X) So as I said earlier that the new movement is to turn 180 degrees and go back where we began to those glorious years (Classic Physique)

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

Hi Ibrahim (and Everyone),

Actually, you don't have to wish that you began with one set as a beginner. It is not too late! Even as an intermediate - anyone can still do it! Just take a week or two lay off. Then come back and do some serious one set 3 day a week, full body training. But you have to do this while utilizing the progressive resistance principle (constantly striving to push up the reps and weights) correctly. You can use such a program for up to 6 months with great benefit I believe! This might really bring your muscle recovery (recuperative powers) up to speed and give you a proper Golden Age foundation and prepare you for future gains using fewer sets!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Johnny G said...

I feel in most part that single set workouts do not work - Their are those who say they did single set workouts, but truth they most likely did quite a bit of warm-ups sets before one hard single set - Casey Viator the youngest Mr. America claimed to do single sets, but when questioned about his workouts he did one heck of a warm-ups that would be considered a Spartan workout in its self - So as I said in many of my posts that the Classic Physique Builders in that Golden Era did quite a large amount of calisthenics - I feel what my friend Jim once wrote on a post that I submitted is that it takes time and effort to develope a Classic Physique - And that as Jim mentioned before we are looking for that quick fix and the truth it isn't there - Train like a Spartan, Eat like a Spartan, then we will Look a Spartans - So Ibrahim just go at it with everything you got and invest the time and effort and you'll achieve that Classic look ! This isn't about bursting ones bubble, but we have to look at bodybuilding as a athletic event as the former greats did - So lets get busy baby !!!!!!

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