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My Bodybuilding Training Philosophy


Bodybuilding Physique
2020-Last year of my Bodybuilding phase

Bodybuilding and weight lifting was the first step of my journey. This is how I leant basics of weight lifting and nutrition and has lead me to the path I am in now-The quest to be elite in the Ironman 70.3 distance(sub 4:30), go sub 4 and qualify for the IM 70.3 World Championships.

Without my base from bodybuilding, I believe I would not have adapted to endurance training as much as I have. The strength base transferred over well in the cycling department for sure. But this blog is about what my training methods, philosophy and mindset was in the period between 2016 to 2020.

I will summarize my Bodybuilding training philosophy into points below.



1. The Training Split

Ever since I started lifting weights till the end of my bodybuilding phase, 90-95% of my training split was:

Mon - Chest

Tue - Back

Wed - Rest

Thu - Shoulders & Abs

Fri - Arms

Sat - Legs


This 'bro split' gets a lot of hate in the fitness community nowadays but I have always stuck to this as my primary split. Very rarely did I do upper body & lower body splits and other variations as my body reacted to the former better. I did try them all out though. The main reason behind the split focusing on each body part getting lot of negativity is because, it's assumed that there is a weeks break from when you train a muscle group to training it again. And this is too long a break without any stimulus for building muscle.


But this is not true if you train hard enough and if you look a little deeper, for example, the shoulders are engaged as a secondary muscle group on your chest days too! So you engage the shoulders a minimum of 2 days a week. This goes to the Triceps (activated on the chest days, shoulders day and arm days), bicep(engaged on the back and arm days) and so on.


Another advantage I felt with this split was I could focus fully on one muscle group and absolutely smash it. And I had a full week recovery before this muscle group had a primary focus yet again. Again, recovery is where the muscle building happens. Not when lifting! The recovery has many components like nutrition, sleep and lifestyle habits.


2. Drop sets

The key I found to my muscle growth is the use of drop sets. I would do a warm up set for each exercise where I reach failure around 15 reps, then my first working set for 12 reps, next one for 10 and the last one for 6-8 reps. Immediately after my last working set without a rest, I would pick up a weight the same or a little lower that my warm up weight and push till failure. By the time you are done with the exercise, you are completely exhausted in that movement.

This has always been part of my training for every resistance exercise.



3. Pillar Exercises:

Another key aspect to my training was the focus on the 4 pillar exercises -

a. The Squat

b. The Deadlift

c. The Bench press

d. The shoulder press


My Training days revolved around these 4 major movements.

So for example, on chest days, I would warm up with body weight movements like the push ups and dips and then my full focus will be on my first exercise which would be the bench press. This could be with a dumbbell or barbell in a incline or flat bench.

The same mindset goes for the squat, shoulder press and deadlift.

The squat could be either the Back Squat or the Front Squat. And shoulder press could be with a barbell or a dumbbell in a standing or seated position. I keep alternating between these


4. Spotter or training partner

I would always have a spotter for the last 2 sets to make sure I am safe and I can push myself beyond my failure point with a little help in the final 2 or 3 reps. This is crucial for adaptation. The spotter should be there for your safety and to help you push beyond the final few reps.


5. Mindset:

Focus on the performance and the muscle growth will come automatically. The physique will also come by given that the diet is perfect. This is key.

Go to the gym to be uncomfortable. Feelings of nervousness for example before leg day or Deadlift is perfectly normal and is a good sign!

If you go to then gym and you come out of it completely fresh and you never had to gasp and struggle, chances are you are not pushing yourself enough. The focus in the gym should not be chit chatting or wasting time on your phone. Put a hoodie on, earphones plugged get to work. Concentration on the lift is key to the coveted 'mind-muscle' connection. Single minded focus and dedication is crucial. These minor positive changes will add up day to day and you will reap it's rewards.


6. Progression:

The progression that I followed would a 2.5 kg increase for upper body movements and a 5kg total increase for lower body movements. My goal will be first to try doing more reps than I did last time for the 4th set (the heaviest) for the same weight while maintaining proper form. Only then would I increase the weight I lift in the last set. Form is of primary importance. You should only think about increasing weight in the last set if you are able to get 8 reps rather comfortably without major help from a spotter.

The other way I induced adaptation are giant sets where I would follow a compound movement in a body part and an isolation movement of the same body part. An example would be: Bb Bench press + Machine fly. This was done very infrequently though but was a part of my training.

My rest periods unless I am doing super sets or a circuit has always been by feel. Since the focus is on lifting heavy weights, I make sure my mind and body is ready to go. I do not force myself to stick to recommended rest times. If I need a minute more, I take it.

Where people usually go wrong is if they are easily distracted, starting a conversation or scrolling through the phone. This swells up their rest times even if they were ready to go 5 minutes ago!


7. Legs is key!

I never skipped leg days ever. In fact it was one of the days I looked forward to. It was my weakness when I first started lifting, but became my strength as time went by. The leg days were absolute demolition days. Squats is king.

My leg days included-

Primary squat variation, Legs press, Stiff leg deadlift/Leg curl, Leg extensions, secondary squat variation/unilateral exercise and Two Calf variation in a super set. The secondary squat variation could be goblet squats, sumo squats. The unilateral variation could be lunges or Bulgarian split squats.

On the leg extensions which is the exercise where you build the tear drop quad shape, I would do 7 or 9 sets in a Pyramid fashion. I would increase weight till the 5th set and come all the way back down to the weight and rep range of the 1st set. This I felt worked best for me to absolutely annihilate the quads.


Quadzilla
Quadzilla

Although the deadlift is primarily a lower body movement and the main motions are the triple extension of the ankle, knee and hips, I do them on a Back day. The reason for this is to add a Compound movement to back days and to not overload the leg days since there is no dearth of compound, highly fatiguing exercises on leg days!

Check out my previous blog on deadlifts and calves to know how to perform & train them properly.

Example Training day:

My chest day for example would include -


Warm up :

Push ups x3 (10-15 reps)

Bar dips x 3 (10-15 reps)


Main set (4+1 = 1 warm up set, 3 working sets +1 drop set):

Flat Bb bench press x 4+1

Incline Db bench press x4+1

Machine press x 4+1

Flat Db fly x 4+1

Cable crossover x 4+1

Incline fly x 4+1


I would do 6 exercises. I would increase weight for each set and finish with a drop set. As shown here, I first perform all my compound movements where my focus is on pushing heavy weights with proper form and taking enough rest between the sets. Usually the first 3 exercises are compound lifts for the chest day.

The next 3 exercises here would be isolation movements where the focus here is on contraction and the stretch & squeeze. Although I do try and push the weights I do here, that is not the priority. If I am able to push more, well and good, but the objective here is to get a good contraction and full proper reps.



8. Abs:

For the abdominals, I would train them almost every day. I would do an exercise or two in a super set on all training days but focus more and probably do 3 exercises in a super set method on my shoulder training days. This worked best for me.



Again, whatever mentioned above is what worked for me. This is dialed in after a lot of trial and error. Find out yours too!

Every body type is different so the method of training and reaction to it can vary from individual to individual. But some basic principles mentioned above are true for all regarding form and progression.

I have summarized the major points in my weight training philosophy here. Will be glad if at all any of these strategies work for you!

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