Most bodybuilders enter the gym and tackle large, compound movements. After working through their 6 or 8 or 10 sets, they move on to isolation exercises, targeting the back, chest, legs, shoulders and arms. Perhaps at the very tail end of a routine, they’ll add a few sets for abdominals or forearms. They believe they’ve achieved a complete, full-body workout and covered all their bases required to build a complete physique. However there is one muscle group, which is evident in every front and side pose in bodybuilding, which they overlook, much of the time: The serratus.
Most bodybuilding training involves a fairly straightforward set routine in the gym. You complete a set, you wait 60 to 180 sets, and then you complete another set. This “lift, rest, lift, rest” routine works most of the time. However, as the human body is a highly adaptable organism, over time it does become tougher and tougher to challenge the body into new growth. We can try new exercises, different order of movements, and varying rep ranges. However, after time, even those methods tend to stop delivering results.
Tom Platz owned perhaps the greatest set of thighs in bodybuilding history. He loved to squat and considered them to be the #1 exercise for building up the legs. His intense leg workouts are revered as some of the most intense in bodybuilding history, and he always employed a radical array of new techniques and methods into his training protocol, some of which have been overlooked by today’s trainers. Partial reps, extreme stretching, and other practices gave Platz the greatest legs of his (or any) generation, but they seem to have fallen by the wayside in the twenty-five years since he last donned the posing dais.
When it comes down to defining the ideal number of sets to include in a workout, there are three set structures commonly employed by bodybuilders. The first is “low volume”, and requires the trainer to achieve maximum intensity in a very small number of sets. The second is “medium volume” and allows the trainer more sets per workout, but results in diminished intensity, as the trainer usually isn’t capable of maintaining the same level of intensity for as long. The third set structure, “high volume”, involves limited intensity, many sets, and a great deal of time spent in the gym. All three set structures have their place in bodybuilding training.
Bodybuilders have been using staggered sets for decades. Pioneered by Weider and emulated by every other notable trainer since then, staggered sets allow the bodybuilder to make the most use of recovery abilities. Some body parts may take a few minutes to recover following a tough set, and they may require a lot of low-intensity sets with high repetitions to deliver the polish and definition required.
Forty years ago, bodybuilder Steve Davis devised a 6-week strength and mass training protocol which challenged the body to train at its maximum strength range for ten consecutive repetitions. This program became known as microcycle periodization, and it has remained influential in bodybuilding and powerlifting training ever since – in underground circles.
Super-flushing is a technique used to move a great deal of blood into the muscle group. It’s very popular with bodybuilders during pre-contest phases. It’s essentially a cascading giant set routine, which gets easier with each set (as the muscle group tired) and allows for exercise rotation each week. Here is a sample routine using super flushing.
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Sets and reps.. They are the mainstay of all workouts. After all, without their measure, no workout would have meaning and no body could be built. But are sets and reps more about creatively expressing a kind of bodybuilding license or personal philosophy, or are they truly scientific tools by which we build precise body parts of a certain size and shape?