A Quick Introduction
In the book The Millionaire Mindset, T. Harv Eker makes
the salient point that while learning is essential in any
undertaking, who you learn from is just as important.
I've been training champions in bodybuilding for over twenty
years now. And I believe the internet is a breeding ground for
faulty information, disinformation, misinformation, and a general
disregard for truth at the expense of profit. Not much different
than the magazine industry really, just a different form of media.
However, there are exceptions. I've been aware for some time
that the best writers and practitioners in the field of strength,
conditioning, and diet all seem to be involved with Testosterone
Nation in some form or another. That made me want to take part
and share my ideas about bodybuilding training. True experts abide
here, and I'm happy to contribute.
Be Careful Who You Learn From
Real expertise has been sadly lacking in the bodybuilding
industry for a number of years. I think the real experts just
abandoned bodybuilders because of the escalating necessity to
become modern chemists. The "lunatic fringe" seemed to
This left a huge void in the industry. It left trainees and
trainers adapting to tradition for no other reason than it being
traditional. It created training and dieting "trends"
that still go on and on today. Most of these trends (and their
gurus) have little science background to back up any training and
diet practice. And anecdotal evidence of some genetic marvel on a
dozen chemical enhancements does little to give solid credence to a
methodology that's good for "the rest of us."
Way back at Musclecamp in 1989, Tom Platz told me, "Scott,
people just don't get it. They keep asking me what I do for my
legs. I could run up a hill and my legs would grow. That
doesn't mean they could run up a hill and their legs
The point is well made. We all read about the training programs
of the genetic elite and think that there's some kind of lesson in
it for us. Other than the legacy of intensity most of these
athletes have left for us by getting the most from their genetic
gifts, nothing could be further from the truth.
With elite genetics and a lack of fear of polypharmacy, what
these champions do for physique enhancement will have little
meaning in a real world environment. Who you learn from becomes of
the utmost importance. There are sound general scientific
guidelines to follow for proper training. The problem is the
"credential factor" vs. "celebrity
The principles of exercise science are fairly solid. This means
that 2 + 2 = 4, no matter who's saying it. The problem is that this
gets confusing. If I tell you that 2 + 2 = 4, you believe me. But
if Arnold or Ronnie Coleman come by and tell you that 2 + 2 = 5,
then most bodybuilders will more than likely adapt that stance.
That's the main problem with a traditional approach and the lack
of know-how on the part of the consumer of knowledge. People are
confused about what constitutes real expertise. Bodybuilding
champions aren't immune to this either. It's not that they're
trying to misguide anyone, but the fact is any given champion may
see his own training success through the veiled perceptive lens of
There are better ways. And learning from real experts is but
Many people confuse talent with knowledge. Because someone has
won a national title makes them more than likely talented but not
necessarily knowledgeable. The two don't need to go hand in hand.
Yet I constantly see trainees taking advice from other trainees
simply because "they won such and such a contest."
True expertise has to do with a combination of formal education
(not certification, education; certified doesn't necessarily
mean qualified), experience, and an ability to think critically.
Information is pretty easy to acquire; knowledge is a little more
difficult. The ability to apply knowledge is more difficult still,
and wisdom is at the furthest end of that spectrum.
The Wave of the Future
The bodybuilding industry is still more or less caught in a time
warp of "traditional" thinking. New and improved hybrid forms of
training are here, but bodybuilders haven't seemed to embrace them
on any serious level. But that time is coming, and for some of the
wisest that time is already here.
It's entirely possible to integrate other forms of training
within the traditional body part context and still get fantastic
results. In fact, I suggest that this is indeed the wave of the
future for bodybuilding training.
But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here.
Body part training has taken huge hits from experts recently in
terms of program design, time allotment, and efficient use of
training time. There are some relevant points to this argument.
However, this doesn't mean that traditional training protocols
are useless. Hybrid forms of training just make better sense.
The other problem with a traditional-only approach is it fails
to really understand science. Training for hypertrophy, size,
thickness, density, and shape is not the same as strength
training. This whole low volume, high volume, how-much-you-lift
approach fails to truly understand training science.
Let's address a few of these elements here.
The functional training paradigm is actually based on some very
old ideas. It came about in a multi-variable paradox of training
that existed around the new millennium. Athletes were beginning to
train like bodybuilders, and the result was disastrous in terms of
athletic prowess and power expression.
Around the same time, the whole idea of the "aerobic
conditioning base" was also yielding terrible results.
Athletes over-engaging in the aerobic component were losing
strength and power, "making joggers out of jumpers."
This lack of results was getting strength and conditioning
coaches to take a new look at training by following some very old
and viable principles, as well as some very old and reliable
references (such as Logan and Mckinney, Devries, Lamb, and
One of the clues to why such training was less than successful
came from the field of rehabilitation. Rehab research is quite
emphatic that lack of neuromuscular coordination results in faulty
recruitment patterns. Strength coaches were seeing the same thing
by training in the bodybuilding model of single plane, single
joint, mostly sagital dominated exercises.
So let's do a little reverse engineering of these concepts
to make a point. I think we'd all agree that fiber recruitment,
activation potential, and rate of force production within a working
muscle or movement is of paramount importance to anyone in the iron
game, not just athletics. So if chronic single plane, single joint
training can disrupt neuromuscular coordination and therefore
result in faulty recruitment patterns, then bodybuilders are just
as susceptible over time to a lack of results from such a training
My 20 year study of the adaptations of the nervous system to
training (see especially David Behm, Digbe Sale, Patton and Brown,
and Komi ) make this abundantly clear.
Moreover and most importantly, as I watched seasoned
bodybuilders age, I noticed a breakdown of ability and
strength... and of course results. As a result of traditional
training, most have suffered severe muscle imbalances, chronic
arthritic joints, and narrower range of motion functionality. This
is a nail in the coffin to performance enhancement if maximum fiber
recruitment is a goal for training (and it is for bodybuilders and
If you can't stretch a muscle fiber with resistance, you can't
induce maximum overload, and therefore results diminish or cease
entirely. Imagine muscle fibers to be like an elastic band. Put an
elastic band in your hand and pull it back to maximum tension. What
happens when you let it go? It springs instantly and travels far as
an indication of the amount of tension created within it.
Now pull the elastic band a third of the way back. What happens?
It barely goes anywhere. This is what happens when muscles can no
longer be put in a stretched position with resistance. Imbalances
caused by traditional training occur over time, thus limiting range
There's also a build up of scar tissue, adhesions, inflammation,
and other byproducts of single joint training that lead to
diminishing or zero returns on training investment. Functional
training can be used as a hybrid approach to correcting these
problems or preventing them in the first place. But just as with
traditional training, much of the functional approach is
Movements, Not Muscles?
The whole premise of functional training is to train movements
and not muscles. However, what's meant by that is training in the
"human movement model."
This means basically pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging,
bending, twisting, and extending, often with a single limb
emphasis. The goal is to train multiple joints, and in multiple
planes. This gives back a more functional flow to the body and
enhances neuromuscular coordination. What that means is more
efficient fiber recruitment – crucial to growing bigger and better
What's missed is a target emphasis aimed at muscle hypertrophy.
Most people reading this see functional training as standing on one
foot on a Bosu ball and trying to do a one-arm press. No.
Functional training, like any other training modality, need not be
mutually exclusive to building muscle.
The important thing to understand here is proper progressions of
functional movements, or making traditional bodybuilding movements
more functional by making them multi-joint and multi-planar. If
exercises can't be made multi-planar then they can be made to
have more proprioceptive demand, rather than be stabilized by a
machine or axis point. We all know a Smith machine squat is much
easier than a barbell squat.
The important thing to know is that for hypertrophy, functional
movements are progressed not necessarily by added resistance, but
first with speed and with increased range of motion whenever
Next, most functional experts would tell you to progress to an
unstable surface. This is okay, but not efficient for hypertrophy.
Instead, add motion to a traditional bodybuilding training
exercise. For example, next time you're doing delt work, instead of
doing a dumbbell lateral raise, try doing alternate dumbbell
laterals with a contralateral front stride with each rep per side.
This increased proprioceptive demand also increases overload to the
working plane of motion, without negating training loads.
Most functional progressions don't see this option. When
standing on one leg on a Bosu for instance, much is lost in terms
of load capacity and therefore hypertrophy is thwarted. So, add
movement to traditional exercises.
Again with the delts as an example, next time you do front
alternate raises, try doing a contralateral side step or stride
with each alternate leg. Now you're moving in multiple planes and
forcing more proprioceptive demand on the working plane of motion
and the joints and muscles involved, but still engaging optimum
In order to judge how well this works, just address your oxygen
debt post-set vs. doing these exercises with traditional execution.
The payoff is tremendous. It's also very important to note that
movement training of multiple joints burns many more calories than
does single plane, single joint exercises – regardless of load.
Functional training within the human movement model is only one
of many ways to create a hybrid form of training for bodybuilders
from other training modalities. All a trainee has to do is have an
open mind and he can step into the future right now.
Hybrid Training and Weak Body Parts
Proprioceptive demand can indeed increase neuromuscular
coordination, and that can increase muscle demand and fiber
recruitment. My guess is it can even increase rate of force
production if done according to proper training protocol. But what
about bringing up weak body parts? Isn't this the age-old
problem in bodybuilding?
I've always said that a weak body part is usually a problem of
innervation. In the past, bodybuilders have been advised to train
weak body parts with more weight or more frequency, or less weight
and more sets and all kinds of combinations therein. The results
have been dismal.
The reason? Because the prescription came from within the
perception of traditional training. Isolating a weak body part and
hitting it with more traditional exercises has done little to
nothing for real world results.
The solution is built around a different mindset. Yes,
bodybuilders need to get out of the bodybuilding mindset in order
to become even better bodybuilders. The solution to weak body parts
isn't isolation but the exact opposite.
If we train a muscle and now make it part of a "movement
chain" then it must adapt to the strength demands of the whole
movement. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. If you make a
weaker body-part part of a more fully functioning movement chain,
it'll be forced to adapt. And it'll respond with more efficient
fiber recruitment and force production over time when called upon
for isolation work.
The movements mentioned above or, for instance, medicine ball
crossover push-ups or plyo push-ups on different training days than
chest, will allow for ample recovery since the demand is spread
over several muscle systems, yet still create more neural demand
for the chest overall. Getting out of sagittal plane dominant
movements can also have the same effect, since muscle innervation
will be effected differently in different planes of
The Key is Speed
But the King Kong effect of hybrid training (that will soon
become a regular part of bodybuilding training) will be training
with speed. With or without implements or resistance, maximum
speed training of "muscles" will produce a whole new
demand on fiber recruitment and rate of force production. Most
powerlifters already know this.
Try this. Do a flat dumbbell press for two sets of 6-8 reps with
as much weight as you can handle with proper form. Now for the next
two sets, drop to about 40% of that weight. So if you were using
100 pound dumbbells, go to 40's.
Now for the next two sets do alternating flat dumbbell presses
but with as much speed as you can until failure. Notice how fast
you reach total failure and what that feels like. Once again, note
the difference in oxygen debt.
Two points here. One is that there's always an inverse
relationship between speed and force velocity. The heavier a weight
is, the slower it'll move regardless of intention.
The next point to ponder is the power equation itself. Power is
an expression of speed and force together (or strength times
velocity), however you wish to express it. The point is that up
until now bodybuilding traditionalists have addressed adding mass
as a simple equation of "lifting more weight."
Well, there's a ceiling to that. I'm here to tell you there's a
greater payoff to mass over time by including true speed reps with
low weight in your training protocol for exercises that will allow
for safe execution. This is the truest expression of power, and the
kind of power that'll result in greater muscle mass.
One of my hybrid routines has about eight weeks of this kind of
training combination, and then at the end of eight weeks, two to
three weeks of testing strength by eliminating the speed and
functional motions. The results have been amazing, with almost
everyone reporting incredible strength gains, increased
recuperation, and a "sense of ease" going back to normal
training cadence and comfort zones.
Successful Training Leaves Clues
Remember how earlier I rambled on about "be careful who you
learn from?" I learned a long time ago that learning from the
most genetically gifted pros was a losing proposition for me. I was
already doing everything they were doing. So instead I looked
outside the bodybuilding arena.
I started looking at other sports whose athletic training
created great physiques. I kept coming up with the same people and
the same sports. Gymnasts and sprinters have amazing physiques, as
a group. Success leaves clues. Training success leaves even more
I looked at various sports and their training protocols where
the majority of athletes partaking in the sport have well-developed
physiques. I started asking myself obvious questions.
Why is it on a basketball court players can have a 36 inch
vertical leap, but there isn't a set of calves anywhere to be
seen? It's not just strength and power expressions, but a
specific type of strength and power expressions that create
physique enhancement. Yet gymnasts all seem to have really
well-developed calves, not to mention capped delts, tight abs, and
round hard glutes. What is it about gymnastics training that
induces such a physique response?
Answer: high speed movement training with resistance.
Resistance in this case is bodyweight in multiple planes of
motion and using multiple joints. They have well-developed calves
because of the nature of their sport of "adding motion"
to the resistance that creates more proprioceptive demand. This
results in more effective fiber recruitment and overload response.
Bodybuilders, Wake Up!
Such small reference points can be added to traditional
bodybuilding training and tweaked even more to create an adaptive
response more conducive to hypertrophy. This is what hybrid
training is all about. Training modalities don't have to be
mutually exclusive. Indeed, if you understand training science,
this is a wonderful time to be involved in the training industry.
Bodybuilders should now wake up to a whole new world of training
possibilities to procure results. Training doesn't need to be
mundane or stagnant. Paying attention to other modalities can go a
long way to helping you achieve your bodybuilding
So you can keep traditional range and plane of motion training
and add speed or movement, and/or you can add functional movements
as well for muscle gains. There are countless
Also, most bodybuilders pay lip service to the "core"
but don't truly understand its importance in expressing real
strength, especially in compound movements. Many experts have
already discussed this, so I'll save my argument for bodybuilding
based core training for another time.
But for me, hypertrophy after a number of years of traditional
bodybuilding training can only be reached by acknowledging that
strength is expressed from the ground and through the core. I'll
address this at another time in more detail, but it's an important
Wrap-Up... For Now
In follow-up articles I'd like to go into more depth about
hybrid training. Also, one of my training programs has as one of
its main tenets "to train muscles and not movements."
This seems like a contradiction to the functional model, but for
hypertrophy training it isn't.
I'd like to discuss this interplay in future articles, as well
as what Gambetta calls "the alphabet of training." I've
found this quite useful in categorizing where and how most trainees
make mistakes in program design, training technique, and
I look forward to completing this argument is subsequent