Inspiration from a Bodybuilder’s Routine

iStock_000011774441XSmallYesterday at the gym I was inspired when one of the few bodybuilders who go there spent some time giving me some tips. I’d been watching him do something that looked intense – their workouts often look dramatic and happily tormented – when he saw me and asked if I was up for it. I said yes, actually, I was working my calves and was going to the sitting calf machine next.

A Powerful Technique for Growth

So the bodybuilder coached me through ascending/descending pyramids and drop sets on the sitting calf machine. I’ve used drop sets and the pyramid technique plenty but found that until you do it a bodybuilder’s way, you really haven’t felt a burn before.

I told him I usually lift about 70 pounds on the calf machine (meaning, I put 70 pounds on the machine and eek out three sets of about 10 reps each). This time, however, my new friend put on 25 pounds and told me to do 10 reps and then stretch my calves for 10 seconds. Then repeat. Sure, no problem, I said, 25 pounds is nothing. After the 10-second stretch he put on 25 more pounds. Wow. That hurt. At about 6 reps he started spotting me a little to get to 10. Then 10 seconds of stretching. And then you guessed it – 25 more pounds. Ow! That’s some crazy burn.

He let me rest for a minute and then we began a reverse pyramid, taking a plate off between each set. When I was back to one plate and my calves were screaming, he instructed me to do as many reps as I could. After that I dared not walk for a couple of minutes and when I did, it was a hobble.

What this short but memorable experience taught me is that I’m not usually getting the burn I could be getting (thus, muscle growth). Now, I’m not really interested in growing my calves, but I am very interested in making more progress in my chest, back, shoulders, and quads (ok – almost everything else!). I’m excited because I think getting this kind of burn, for at least two weeks a month, is going to do it.

Basic Know-How from a Pro

My new bodybuilder friend is freakishly muscular and I don’t aspire to that look. However, the tips he gave me really made me pause and think about what I do and could do differently. Here are the things he told me to look at:

Length of Weight Training Session. The bodybuilder I talked to is adamant that after one hour of weight lifting, you’re really not doing any good for your muscles. While you’re strength training, you’re in an anaerobic state for about an hour, and after that your growth hormone response and protein resynthesis are not functioning at the same level, if at all.

Although some may not agree with this school of thought, what he said really made me think about my routine. It takes me 1 ½ hours to train two muscle groups on any given day. It dawned on me that if I wanted to see progress in my chest, I shouldn’t always do chest after legs. I should do chest first thing, when I’m fresh, at least some of the time. And maybe even divide up my muscle groups to make my workout shorter. It’s a no brainer, but it just goes to show that we typically don’t think of simple changes that could affect our goals.

When & What You Eat After a Workout. The bodybuilder asked how much time passes before I eat after a weight-lifting session. I said I have a protein shake right after, but sometimes it takes an hour before I get home and eat food. He shook his head. You need carbohydrates right after training, he said, not just protein. There’s a very short window of time when your muscles are open to receiving this energy, so you need carbs within 15 minutes of ending your workout. He suggested I add a carbohydrate supplement to my protein shake and then eat as soon as possible after that.

Rest periods. If you lift heavy one week and light the next, you’re actually shocking your muscles, my friend says. I know about rest periods but I never, ever lift light. He recommended that next week I do more reps with a lot less weight. You’ll still get a burn, he assured me. The concept of periodization is not new, of course, and it’s yet another way to change things up, even for the recreational lifter like myself.

All this coming from someone who competes in the bodybuilding world gives me a lot to think about. If I’m going to work (and play) hard in the gym, I also need to do everything I can to optimize my results. I’m not one to complain that I’m not seeing results and then not change anything.

How about you? Do you really want to see results?

8 thoughts on “Inspiration from a Bodybuilder’s Routine

  1. Great insights shared here. Sometimes I struggle with working out too long, maybe because I feel like the I REALLY exercised if I go past that hour. But like you’re friend said it’s counter-productive and I have to remind myself of what my goals are. I think it’s so important to pay attention to sound science if you really want to progress and quit spinning your wheels.


  2. Great stuff. A lot of this – esp the calf stuff, reminds me of what my former trainer (sniff sniff he moved to Boca) used to do with me. His training was 5-star and he was a bodybuilder. He would never do the same workouts every week, always mixing it up. Love that. I think it’s good for the mind and the body.


  3. Personally, I love reverse pyramid, drop sets, strip sets, gosh, ok they need to find one word for the same thing geez. Anywho, it’s crazy how lifting progressively lighter can do that. As with all things, especially muscle growth the body needs a changing routine to adapt, doing pyraminds, super sets, giant sets, circuits, all really challenge the fibers and do great things for you.

    Great advice!


  4. Joyce: You’re so right, sound science is the key to not spinning your wheels!
    Kelly: Envious of your bodybuilder workouts! Thanks for writing!
    Rita: It’s great to hear you love these things too. It’s amazing how much fun it is to mix it up.


    • Yeah I know, such pressure! I always gulp down a protein shake in the car within a few minutes of finishing. But since I take 1-1/2 hours to work out, maybe I should take my shake with me in the gym!!


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