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February 22, 2015

The Core of Bodybuilding Exercises

bodybuilding exercisesTo shape that amazing body you need to understand the core of bodybuilding exercises. Thus far we discussed that bodybuilding is way to better health and the various forms and divisions of bodybuilding.

Today we tackle the exercise component. Exercise is what we think of when we think of bodybuilders. But, rest is equally as important, and that is one of the more important points in this article. You need to exercise to stimulate muscle growth but the acutal growth occurs after the exercise. Exercise and rest – ying and yang. Now for bodybuilding exercises.

Bodybuilding exercises are about creating controlled microtears of the muscle followed by a repair process that causes physiologic adaptations that enables muscles to grow and become stronger. That repair process occurs during rest and without adequate rest the repair process is blunted and one’s exercise efforts go for naught.

Basic Principles of Bodybuilding Exercises

What follows are tips for the novice. There is not enough time here to go into specific exercises and training protocols. The best authoritative source for such specifics that we have seen is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. It’s a reference source worth having even if you are not serious enough to sculpt that amazing body but simply have an interest in exercise and nutrition. The book is exactly 800 pages long and it’s too hard to distill it into a 500-750 word article.

Frequency.  30 minutes or less of strength training three times a week will get you real results, though if you want a real impressive body you will need to spend 45 to 60 minutes per workout and more than 3 times a week. But, 3o minutes 3 days a week is a minimum while performing high intensity interval training on the off days.

Goal. The goal is not to exercise each muscle group every workout, but target each muscle group at least once throughout the week. For instance, you might target legs and shoulders on Monday, chest and triceps on Wednesday, and back and biceps on Friday. With each muscle group you should perform at least two exercises and perform 3-5 sets of each exercise while hitting the abdominals a minimum of  three times each week, too. Here’s an exercise program you can follow.

Intensity is paramount. You should know you had a workout when it’s over. You should be a little sore, spent, knowing that you gave your best effort.

Do a set. Rest a minute or two. Do another set and so on. Then move on to the next exercise. You can efficiently move through a workout that way and get in 16 sets of lifts in 30 minutes and around 24 sets in 45 minutes. Make each set count by performing each set and exercise with intensity.

You have to do what I call “pay the overhead”. Most commonly this is called “training to failure”. Most of the benefit from strength training comes on the last two reps of a set – approximately 80% – 90% of the benefit. If your goal is to perform 12 reps then you should pick a weight or resistance in which the last two reps are a struggle and you feel that burning of the muscles. That’s what it takes to create those micro tears, but also the necessary hormonal responses to repair and build muscle size and strength.

The first 10 reps you did provided you with little benefit (got the blood flowing some) – it just paid the overhead. The last two reps give you the rewards and enable to pay yourself (Business owners get the concept. They pay everyone else first, and then pay themselves with what is leftover). But, whether you do 6, 8, 10, or 12 reps you need to 4, 6, 8, and 10 reps to get to those all important final two. You should not be able to perform another rep – ideally – and for best results. Working out with someone helps to push you to that limit.

Repetitions. The goal of bodybuilding is different from the goal of pure strength training, thus number of repetitions differ with bodybuilding versus strength training. In strength training loads are picked so that no more than 6 reps can be performed. With bodybuilding lighter loads are used requiring more reps to get to failure. This leads to hypertrophy (increase size) of the muscle. For bodybuilding use the following as guide.

  • For the upper body perform 8 to 12 repetitions.
  • For the lower body perform 12 to 16 receptions involving the major muscles of the leg.

Everybody is different though and through trial and error you’ll find what works best for you.

Bodybuilding Exercise and Hormones

Think hormonal response. We alluded to it above, but workouts have to be intense enough to trigger certain hormonal responses by the body – mainly the release of growth hormone and testosterone. This is true of strength training as well as high intensity interval training. Because of the hormonal response provoked by high intensity interval training it is more important for body sculpting than doing aerobic exercise.

In the gym, remind yourself, “I’m mainly here to stimulate hormones”. To do that you must fatigue the muscles especially the bigger muscles like the gluteals, thighs, and pectorals. Again, train to failure.

This is true for women, too. Women do not make enough testosterone to look like some of the freakish men, and the women who look like that are taking anabolic steroids. Don’t worry women you will not lose your feminine look by lifting weights to the degree necessary to trigger growth hormone and testosterone release (both of which are far better ways of protecting middle age bones from osteoporosis than all the drugs being marketed for that condition). Growth hormone and testosterone also reduce fat storage. They build muscle and free up fat – the perfect combination – and protect bones.

Excessive aerobic exercise is actually catabolic meaning it breaks down muscle because it triggers the release of cortisol – the stress hormone. Aerobic exercise is not as desirable for body sculpting as high intensity interval training.

As an aside – though it certainly improves cardiovascular endurance there is little cross over from aerobic exercise to activities of daily living. Activities of daily living are short bursts of activities – climbing a flight of stairs, getting out of chair, opening a heavy door – all things that many elderly struggle with as they age.

It’s doubtful that you will ever need to run 26.2 miles in life (distance of a marathon), but you many need to run 40 yards as fast as possible to escape a burning house. Life is short bursts of activities – so should your exercise. That means doing strength training and high intensity interval training. High intensity interval training will improve your cardiovascular fitness too with the added hormonal benefits not provided by pure aerobic training. 

Technique, technique, technique. When starting out have a trainer take you through a few workouts and demonstrate the proper way to execute a lift. One key to training to failure and building muscle is the concept of time under tension – the length of time the muscle is contracting.

On some exercises you do not want to go through a full range and lock out your arms as for instance on a bench press. Locking out enables the muscles to relax for a brief moment breaking the time under tension cycle. But, if you stop the lift just short of locking out and then lower it you will keep the muscle under constant tension – get a better burn and pump to the muscle.

Another example of technique has to with the firing of the proper muscle group. For instance, may people use too much of their biceps when executing a pull down. They end up fatiguing their arms before they fatigue their upper back muscles. By simply focusing on pulling down by leading with the elbows nearly all tension is removed from the biceps, and the shoulders retract and the upper back muscles are isolated and more specifically trained.

Rest. Muscles need enough time to recover from a workout before you stress them again. Larger muscles require more rest than smaller muscles, too. If you find you are getting diminishing returns from your workouts you may be working out too frequently. Be in tuned with your body. Every 4-6 weeks it’s wise to back off some and have a week of lighter lifting. It’s also important to pick different exercises periodically to make muscles  work in different ways.

These are some of the basic core principles of bodybuilding exercises. In addition, to Arnold’s book Body for Life by Bill Phillips is another book that is worth reading. Many people have obtained excellent results from the Body for Life program.



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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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