Big Bad Europeans

The more you're involved in the world of strength training, the more you get to meet interesting people and learn new training methods. Last year I attended the Weider International Grand Prix of Canada, a bodybuilding contest organized by the Quebec Federation that included several of the world's best amateur bodybuilders from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Poland, etc.

What's interesting is that these countries aren't under the same influence as North American lifters. They haven't been contaminated by muscle rag propaganda. Rather, their methods are heavily influenced by the training of their Olympic lifters and powerlifters. In some cases, athletes from all three sports train together and some even compete in two or all three of these events!

So when you get to know these guys and learn how they train, you realize there's more than one way to get big, and you don't need to follow the 3 x 10 dogma to do it! Here's a picture of the overall winner of the competition from the Czech Republic:

Photo taken by Yves Desbiens, the official photographer for the federation.

This is obviously a high quality physique. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that this particular athlete had just started his preparation for the World Championships that were to be held three months later. So he wasn't even in top form in this photo!

Needless to say, these guys know how to train for size. But exactly what are they doing? The following will explain their training system and how it can be adapted to fit the North American lifestyle.

Principle #1: Intensification/Accumulation Split Training

These athletes have two training sessions per day (on the days they train). The morning session is a high load workout, while the early evening (or afternoon) session is an "intensive" workout.

Don't confuse "intensive" with intensity strength training jargon. Intensity normally refers to the weight used (e.g. an intensity of 90% of your 1RM). Intensive means the use of advanced intensity techniques such as supersets, drop sets, forced reps, etc.

The heavy session is performed first when the CNS is fresh and ready to go. That's a very important point. At least 4-6 hours separate both workouts to allow the athlete enough time to use restorative measures and ingest two or three meals.

Principle #2: Mornings Are For Strength

In the morning session, train for strength. East European countries have a large background of Olympic lifting and this is reflected in the training of their bodybuilders. The bodybuilding coaches (they do have a national coach and a whole organized coaching system for their top athletes) were often old Olympic lifters. The same could be said about some of their athletes.

While they don't perform the Olympic lifts in their first session, they do employ an Olympic lifting mentality of using few movements (two or three) performed for a lot of sets of few reps, normally above 85% of the athlete's maximum. This training session serves several purposes:

It greatly increases muscle density and hardness (myogenic tone or "tonus").

It can enhance neural efficiency, especially the capacity to recruit high threshold motor units. This means that subsequent bodybuilding-type training will be more effective since the body now has the capacity to recruit more muscle fibers.

It can increase muscle size in its own right.

East European bodybuilders use what they call the "basic exercise" for each body part and will rarely change it. The basic movements are:

Quadriceps
Front squat

Hamstrings
Romanian deadlift

Pectorals
Bench press

Shoulders
Push press
Upright rowing

Back
Barbell rowing

Biceps
Barbell curl (even slightly cheated)

Triceps
Close-grip bench press

So a week of morning workouts might look like this:

Day 1

A. Front squat
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

B. Romanian deadlift
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

The Romanian deadlift performed with dumbbells

Day 2

A. Bench press
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

B. Close-grip bench press
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

Day 3

A. Barbell rowing
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

B. Barbell curl
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

Day 4

A. Push press
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

B. Upright rowing (shoulder width grip)
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

Principle #3: Evenings Are For "The Pump"

In the early evening session, train for "the pump." Well, the objective isn't the pump per se; it simply means that in the second workout of the day, the methods used are high-volume and high-density (a lot of work performed per unit of time).

Rest intervals are kept as short as possible and density training techniques such as supersets, pre-fatigue, post-fatigue and drop sets are used, as well as intensity techniques such as slow eccentrics, isometrics combined with regular reps and forced reps. (If you're unfamiliar with those techniques, checkout my Violent Variations series.)

If the AM workout rarely changes as far as exercises, volume and methods go, it's quite the opposite for the PM session. Basically, in the first session of the day you train to get as strong as possible, while in the second workout you try to trash the muscles. So, exercise selection and training methods can vary widely. However, the key is to keep a fast training pace and use intensity or density techniques.

A sample week of PM training could look like this:

Day 1

A. Back squat
3 x 12-15
Use the double contraction (11/2) technique: go down to a full squat, get halfway up, go back down then stand up. That's one rep.
2 minutes of rest between sets

B1. Leg extension
1 x 20, 1 x 15, 1 x 12, 1 x 10
Hold a 2 second peak contraction on each rep
No rest

B2. Leg curl
1 x 10 – 5 – 5*
1 x 8 – 4 – 4
1 x 6 – 3 – 3
2 minutes of rest

* These are rest-pause sets. Perform the first number of reps, take 10 seconds of rest, perform the second number of reps, take 10 seconds of rest, then perform the third number of reps. You use the same weight for all three mini-sets within the same rest-pause set.

Day 2

A1. Incline bench press
1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 20
Post-fatigue method
No rest

A2. Incline cable flies
4 x 12-15
Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
2 minutes of rest

B1. Lying barbell triceps extension
1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 20
Post-fatigue method
No rest

B2. Standing cable triceps extension
4 x 12-15
Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
2 minutes of rest

Day 3

A1. Lat pulldown
4 x 8-10
Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
No rest

A2. Seated rowing
4 x 12-15
Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
2 minutes of rest

B1. Preacher straight-bar curl
4 x 12-15
Use the double contraction (11/2) technique: go down until the arms are fully extended, get halfway up, go back down, then curl the bar completely. That's one rep.
No rest

B2. Reverse grip barbell curl
4 x 8-10 + max iso
Perform 8 to 10 reps then hold the bar in the mid-range portion of the movement for as long as possible.
2 minutes of rest

Day 4

A. Seated dumbbell press
4 x 12-15
Use the double contraction (1 1/2) technique: go halfway up, go back down, then lift the dumbbells completely. That's one rep.
2 minutes of rest

B1. Lateral raise
3 x 21s: 7 full reps, 7 top range reps, 7 low range reps
No rest

B2. Bent over lateral raise
4 x 12-15
Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
2 minutes of rest

C. Power shrugs
4 x 8-10
1 minute of rest

A week of training would look like this:

Monday: Day 1 exercises

Tuesday: OFF/Restorative measures (See my article here to learn about the best restorative measures.)

Wednesday: Day 2 exercises

Thursday: Abdominals/Restorative measures

Friday: Day 3 exercises

Saturday: Day 4 exercises

Sunday: OFF/Restorative measures

Training twice per day might seem like a lot, but the actual training volume is very similar to a regular bodybuilding workout, except that this volume is divided into two daily sessions. This makes it even harder to overtrain. Plus, there are three days per week without strength training.

Restorative measures are included three times per week also. So, if you follow this plan exactly, the potential for overtraining is actually relatively low. Where there can be a problem is when people try to do more volume at each session (e.g. performing four exercises in the morning and adding a few more in the evening). In this particular case, more isn't better.

North-American Lifestyle Adaptations

Not everyone has the luxury of training twice a day. If you work forty hours per week, or are a full-time student it could be hard. Fortunately, there's a way to adapt the principles of this training program to suit your own schedule.

Obviously, if you don't have any time restrictions, following the original plan would work very well for you. But just in case, here are some other options:

Option #1: The Grouped Workout

This is the simplest option: you group the morning and evening sessions into a single workout.

The heavy sets are obviously performed first. Once this segment of the training program is completed, you take a 15 minute break and ingest a serving of Surge. Why? Because performing both workouts within the same training session will run you longer than 60 minutes and we want to avoid a catabolic-dominant situation.

By taking in nutrients and resting a short moment you can prevent cortisol from ramping up too high, which will allow for a much more effective workout.

For example, Day 1 would look like this:

Day 1

A. Front squat
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets

B. Romanian deadlift
Week 1: 7 x 4
Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
3 minutes of rest between sets
Take a 15 minute break and a serving of Surge.

C. Back squat
3 x 12-15
Use the double contraction (1 1/2) technique: go down to a full squat, get halfway up, go back down, then stand up. That's one rep.
2 minutes of rest between sets

D1. Leg extension
1 x 20, 1 x 15, 1 x 12, 1 x 10
Hold a 2 second peak contraction on each rep
No rest

D2. Leg curl
1 x 10 – 5 – 5
1 x 8 – 4 – 4
1 x 6 – 3 – 3

This first option is the easiest to plan, but I'll be honest with you: it can be brutal. The lower body day is especially gruelling. So it isn't the most effective way to train if you have either a low work capacity or are extremely fast-twitch dominant. However, workhorses and slow-twitch dominant individuals can normally use this approach.

Option #2: The Crossed Workout

This is similar to the first approach in that you perform both types of workouts at the same training session. The difference is that you don't train the same muscle groups during the two different segments of the training session. For example:

Day 1: Intensification lower body/Accumulation shoulders

Day 2: Intensification chest/Accumulation arms

Day 3: Intensification arms/Accumulation back

Day 4: Intensification shoulders/Accumulation lower body

Day 5: Intensification back/Accumulation chest

Ideally you'd switch to an eight-day cycle to keep the same training days/rest days ratio. So a training cycle becomes:

Monday: Day 1

Tuesday: OFF/Restorative measures

Wednesday: Day 2

Thursday: Abdominals/Restorative measures

Friday: Day 3

Saturday: OFF/Restorative measures

Sunday: Day 4

Monday: OFF/Restorative measures

Tuesday: Day 1

Wednesday: OFF/Restorative measures

Thursday: Day 2

Friday: OFF/Restorative measures

Saturday: Day 3

Sunday: OFF/Restorative measures

Monday: Day 4

Etc.

Option #3: The Pendulum Organization

Those of you who are familiar with my pendulum approach know that it alternates the nature of the training program every week. It can be used with this bodybuilding approach:

Week 1: Perform the intensification workouts

Week 2: Perform the accumulation workouts

Week 3: Perform the intensification workouts

Week 4: Perform the accumulation workouts

Week 5: Perform the intensification workouts

Week 6: Perform the accumulation workouts

You keep the same training schedule as in the original plan:

Monday: Day 1 (lower body)

Tuesday: OFF/Restorative measures

Wednesday: Day 2 (chest and triceps)

Thursday: Abdominals/Restorative measures

Friday: Day 3 (back and biceps)

Saturday: Day 4 (shoulders)

Sunday: OFF/Restorative measures

Conclusion

This type of training has obviously built several rock-hard physiques. (You have to see these guys to get the full impact!) If properly applied it'll do the same for you. Not to mention, this type of training will build as much strength as it will muscle size! Try it!