by Christian Thibaudeau
In my last article, Pendulum Training, I introduced the basic principles behind a new way to plan your workouts. This new way of thinking is based on a frequent pre-planned variation of training objectives and means.
Now we're going to apply these principles to bodybuilding. I'll provide a complete breakdown of a five week Pendulum cycle aimed at maximizing muscle mass. Understand that for best results at least two Pendulum cycles (ten weeks) should be used.
As explained in my first article on Pendulum Training, if you're a bodybuilder it's best to use a three-step approach that includes two structural/hypertrophy phases and one functional/strength phase. That last phase is important to maximize neural improvements, which will, in turn, potentiate the muscle gains youll get from your "regular" bodybuilding training. Its also a phase that can have drastic effect on muscle tone, hardness, and density. Therefore, I feel it's necessary to include some heavy lifting, even in a purely aesthetic program.
Both structural phases will focus on muscle mass, but both are also very different from one another. The first phase includes more volume and more density (thus the use of several "advanced" techniques) while the second phase uses slightly more weight. Each phase lasts one week and the general schedule is as follow:
This phase of training will use less weight but will be the most energy-draining phase of all. The focus is on increasing lactic acid build-up and maximizing total muscle breakdown (to stimulate a massive anabolic response to training). To do so we'll use techniques such as supersets, tempo contrast, and isometric-dynamic contrast. The rest intervals will be short and the volume relatively high. Each muscle group is to be trained once a week. The training schedule is as follow:
A) Tempo contrast back squat
You'll perform sets of 8 reps in the back squat. Sound easy? Not so fast! We'll use a tempo contrast method. This means the rhythm of the repetitions will vary during the set from slow to explosive:
Regular leg curls are easy; theyre for sissies! Instead, we're going to use an action contrast method here. This means that on each rep you'll include a pause at the mid-point of the exercise (halfway down). The duration of the pause will vary on each rep. We'll perform 7 reps:
You'll perform only one set of squats, but that'll be one set of 20 reps! Right after those 20 reps of pure pleasure you'll step out from under the bar (if you can), put your back on the wall, bend the knees 90 degrees and hold the position until you drop on the floor. Try to handle the position for more than 20 seconds without crying please.
Just when you thought the fun was over! Once again we'll only perform one set of twenty reps on the Romanian deadlift. After all the work youve done I'll be nice to you and you won't have to do any isometric work for now! Complete your twenty reps in good form, lie down on the floor until you regain your composure, drink your shake and go home to rest and grow!
This first workout is brutally intense, but it should be completed in less than 45 minutes.
Ah, a beach workout! After all that leg blasting I'll throw you a bone! But this doesnt mean it'll be an easy day; far from it. If we want those huge guns, well have to work for them!
We'll use the same concept as we did for the leg curl: you're going to hold the weight at the mid-point (arms at 90 degrees) for some time. Once again, the duration of the pause will vary on each rep:
This is a simple reverse curl performed with either a straight bar or an EZ-curl bar. The exercise is straightforward; no special technique. You're going to perform 12 reps of this movement. Use a controlled rhythm, but dont go too slow either.
A1 and A2 are a superset. Both exercises are performed without taking any extra rest in between. You'll perform this superset 5 times.
This is your basic nose-breaker. Lie down on a bench and lower the bar to your face while keeping the elbows pointing straight up. We'll use a tempo contrast method. This means the rhythm of the repetitions will vary during the set from slow to explosive:
This is a regular cable triceps extension. You'll perform 12 reps using a controlled, but not too slow-rhythm.
B1 and B2 are a superset. Both exercises are performed without taking any extra rest between. You'll perform this superset 5 times.
By now it isnt necessary to explain what a tempo contrast is (hopefully).
Contrary to other exercises, for this exercise you'll hold the pause in the fully extended position. Focus on really flexing your triceps super hard!
A) Tempo contrast bench press
We'll use the same type of execution as the other tempo contrast exercises:
Perform this exercise seated with a straight back. Stretch the lats during the eccentric portion of the movement but dont bend the trunk forward. Once again, we're going to include a pause on each rep; this time the pause is performed when the bar is on the sternum.
On this drill the pause is executed when the bar is two inches from the chest. At that position, really concentrate on not only holding the bar, but on flexing the pectorals hard.
When this exercise is performed with a tempo contrast, it can be one of the best back builders you can do!
You'll do three sets of dips with no added weight. Perform as many reps as you can on each set. Really emphasize a controlled motion.
Perform 4 sets of barbell shrugs. Hold the fully shrugged position for 2 seconds on each rep.
This is the hit and run session of the week. If done properly it should take you no more than 30 minutes to complete. This will leave you some time to perform your favourite abdominal routine or work on your perceived weaknesses with some extra work. Note that all exercises are performed in a regular fashion, no contrast.
Note: A1, A2 and A3 are a superset and are performed without any rest. Repeat the superset 6 times with 120 seconds between each superset.
Remember that this phase is to be performed on weeks 1 and 5.
We'll still be working on developing muscle mass, but this time we'll use less "advanced" techniques and increase the average load to be lifted. We'll also increase the training frequency to two sessions per muscle group. There'll be less direct work for the biceps and triceps (which will be directly trained only once a week) following this schedule:
A) Front squat
A) Bench press
A) Back squat
A) Bench press (close grip)
Remember that this phase is to be performed on weeks 2 and 4.
During this week of training we'll use heavy weights and only include compound exercises. Each session will be a whole body workout. The objective is to stimulate the nervous system while giving the muscle, energy and hormonal systems a break. The schedule to use is as follows:
A) Front squat
A) Back squat
A) Back squat
This phase is to be performed on the third week of the cycle. Don't skip it! It'll really help boost your bodybuilding gains in the future. Strive to move a lot of weight, but never sacrifice form for more weight!
This training program is to be followed for two to three consecutive cycles (10 to 15 weeks) for maximum gains. You can change the exercises with each new cycle, but youll find out it's not necessary for continuous gains on this program because the variation of training methods, volume, and intensity is enough to keep the body in an adaptive mode.
This program is best suited to someone who wants to gain a lot of lean body mass; however, for it to be maximally effective, you should adopt a sound bodybuilding diet.
The bottom line is that this program is extremely effective, probably even more so than you think!
The great part is that Pendulum Bodybuilding is fun to do! The frequent variation will help you stay motivated and you'll end up enjoying your training just as much as your progress!
About the Author
Christian Thibaudeau is a strength and conditioning coach who works with a wide range of elite athletes. He has successfully trained athletes requiring a wide array of physical qualities ranging from strength and power (football players, Olympic lifters, strongmen competitors) and important energetic capacities (hockey players) to proprioception and stabilization/balance (figure skaters ). He's also a competitive Olympic weightlifter and a football coach. Christian is completing his M.Sc. degree in exercise science and has been a research assistant in that field for the past two years. You can pick up his book, The Black Book of Training Secrets, right here at this site.
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