Renaissance Body Development

A Holistic Approach to Bodybuilding

A Non-Functional Pile of Muscle!

I started out in the iron game by training for football and then Olympic lifting. I competed in the latter for four years: training, eating and breathing Russian and Bulgarian!

At the time I considered bodybuilding to be a vain and idiotic endeavour. Exhibiting your muscles while wearing the skimpiest apparel in front of a crowd of 400 cheering men wasn't exactly my idea of manliness. To me, a bodybuilder was no more than a non-functional pile of muscle.

How times have changed!

In the past two years I've competed as a bodybuilder, trained bodybuilders, had sex with a bodybuilder (a female bodybuilder of course, who became the love of my life), and was named to the board of directors of the Quebec Bodybuilding Federation. During those two years I came to appreciate the art of developing the human body. It's quite amazing what you can accomplish if you put your heart and soul into it.

However, despite all this, I still consider bodybuilders to be no more than non-functional piles of muscle!

A Hummer with Ferrari Speed

To me, bodybuilding should be about building the ideal physique: rugged, muscular, and lean, but also strong, powerful, enduring, fast and agile. I sometimes yearn for old-time bodybuilders who were also competitive lifters: John Grimek, Steve Stanko, Tommy Kono, Franco Columbu, etc. These men looked like brick walls and were just as strong.

Today my physique ideal is found not on the IFBB stage, but rather in the world of sports with football players like David Boston, Terrell Owens, and Thomas Jones; Olympic lifters like Tavakoli Hossein, Timur Taïmazov, and Pyrros Dimas; and sprinters and Olympic gymnasts. I also see it in guys like former football player turned wrestler/actor Bill Goldberg, and fighter turned actor Michael Jaï White.

All these men have tremendously muscular physiques, and they can do plenty with them too. In a world of Honda Civics with $20,000 worth of body mods, supped-up sound systems, but the same weak 105-HP engine, these men combine the sturdiness of a Hummer with the speed of a Ferrari.

Pascal Caron
Canadian bobsleigh breakman Pascal Caron spends 2 hours per week at the most in the gym, yet still showcases a lean and muscular physique. Oh, and he bench pressed over 420lbs at a bodyweight of 167lbs, jumped 40" and ran a sub 4.3 forty (electric timed).

Bodybuilding is Dead – Be a Body Developer!

This is the direction I feel the renaissance body developer should go. I use the term "developer" instead of "builder" because that's what I feel we should strive for: to develop the whole body and all its capacities instead of merely building it up.

To reach the modern physique ideal, you'll need muscle mass, strength, power, endurance, speed, and flexibility.

Also, you'll need to be able to develop all these qualities while still being able to make a living. A body developer should be a balanced individual, not a single-purpose muscle lover. So he'll need to have plenty of time out of the gym to work and make the most out of life. Why have the ideal physique if you stay confined to the gym or your apartment 24/7?

The Plan

Obviously, weight training will be an important part of reaching this ideal physique. It's still the best way to build muscle and strength.

However, we'll also use other means of training such as sledgehammer striking, sandbag lifting, and sled dragging. These latter training method can further your muscular development, decrease body fat, and build strength and strength-endurance. Agility and dynamic mobility drills will also be used to ensure proper range of motion and ease of movement: you want to look like a gorilla but move like a panther!

Because of the multitude of means, we'll have to stick to money exercises in the gym, no time to waste on isolation work. While isolation exercises do have their uses for those who only want to build as much muscle as possible, they're a waste of precious time for the renaissance body developer.

Coach Dan John put it so well when he said that the body is "one piece." The body developer will thus rely on relatively frequent whole-body sessions: three or four training sessions per week should be the norm. I know that this goes against modern bodybuilding dogma, but guys like Dan, Chad Waterbury, myself and thousands of Olympic lifters worldwide have proven that it works. All of my athletes train using a whole-body split and none of them are dead or crippled by overtraining yet!

Each training session should be built as follow:

  • Part I: Agility/dynamic mobility drills (10 minutes)
    Objectives: Warm up the body and improve t capacity to move with ease
  • Part II: Strength training (30 minutes)
    Objectives: Increase muscle mass, strength and power
  • Part III: GPP work (15 minutes)
    Objectives: Further develop muscle mass, work on strength-endurance and endurance
  • Part IV: Low intensity energy systems work (20-30 minutes) – optional
    Objectives: Improve aerobic capacity and endurance, decrease body fat

As you can see, each session will last anywhere from 55 to 90 minutes depending on whether or not you perform the fourth portion of the workout. Note that this fourth session can be replaced by a daily walk, which is a good way to unwind after a hard day of work.

The Renaissance Body Development Program

Part I: Agility/Dynamic Mobility Drills (10 minutes)

This portion of the workout should be comprised of your basic ladder agility drills.

ladder agility

You don't have to use a ladder; they're expensive and really don't contribute anything to your workout. While there are several patterns you can use, here are some suggestions:

  1. High knees short steps – 10 yards
  2. High knees short steps backward – 10 yards
  3. High knees long steps – 20 yards
  4. High knees long steps backward – 20 yards
  5. Knee tuck jumps – 10 yards
  6. Backward knee tuck jumps – 10 yards
  7. Polka running – 20 yards
  8. Polka running backward – 20 yards
  9. Carioca running – 10 yards
  10. Side shuffle – 10 yards

Each drill is to be performed for 2-3 sets.

Part II: Strength Training (30 minutes)

For the strength training portion of the workout, you want to select three exercises:

  1. One general lower body exercise (back squat, front squat, box squat, deadlift, sumo deadlift, etc.)
  2. One upper body push exercise (bench press, incline press, decline press, military press, floor press, board press, push press, etc.)
  3. One upper body pull or whole-body pull exercise (barbell rowing, chin-up, pull-up, power pull, any variation of the Olympic lifts, etc.)

Then select one of the loading parameters below. (You don't need to use the same loading parameter for all the exercises or from one workout to the next.) For the general objective of increasing size and strength in minimal time, all of these will work equally well:

  • Loading Parameters A: 2 x 5, 2 x 4, 1 x 3, 1 x 2 – all with 60-90 seconds of rest
  • Loading Parameters B: 5 x 5 all with 60-90 seconds of rest (read Dan John's article for more on the proven 5 x 5 system.)
  • Loading Parameters C: 2 x 5, 3 x 3 – all with 60-90 seconds of rest
  • Loading Parameters D: 1 x 7, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 2 x 5 – all with 60-90 seconds of rest

Part III: GPP Work (15 minutes)

While there are tons of ways of performing GPP (general physical preparedness) work, my three favorites are:

1 – Sledgehammer Striking

You'll need a large tire (ours is a 200 pound tractor tire) and several sledgehammers (6, 8, 10 and 12 pounds). You can use several types of swings:

  • Straight swing: With both hands close to each other (baseball grip) bring the sledgehammer overhead with straight arms and strike down using a straight line.
  • Cross-body swing: Bring up the hammer over one shoulder using a wide grip and strike down toward the opposite side while sliding down your upper hand.
  • Hockey style swing: Using the same wide-grip/slide technique as with the cross-body swing, you'll strike the side of the tire, basically duplicating a hockey slap shot.

2 – Sandbag Training

You'll obviously need a large bag and several smaller ones. Ironmind sells a kit cheap. You fill each small bag with sand (let's say that each can hold 25 pounds) then add them at will to the larger bag. This allows you to vary the weight to lift.

There are three basic drills you can perform:

  1. Sandbag lift: The bag is on the floor; squat down and pick it up. You can either lift it from the floor to the "bear hug" position, from the floor to the shoulder, or from the floor to the bear hug position then to the overhead position.
  2. Sandbag lift and carry: Squat down to pick up the bag. Lift it up to the bear hug position and walk with it either for a set distance or a set period of time.
  3. Sandbag lift, carry and drop: Squat down to pick up the bag, walk ten feet, drop the bag on the ground, pick it up again, walk a few feet, drop it, etc. Continue on with the sequence until you've completed a set distance, time or reps.

3 – Sled Dragging

While it's possible to make your own sled or use an old tire on which you add a wooden board to hold some weight, your best bet is to buy one from Dave Tate and Jim Wendler at Elitefts. There are several ways of dragging the sled. I suggest T-nation's article called Drag Your Butt Into Shape for more info.

Since we're talking about holistic training, we'll want to perform a medley (or circuit) consisting of all three types of GPP (you can also throw in some farmer's walk or wheelbarrow walking). The sledgehammer work will build up upper body and torso strength-endurance, strength and power. The sandbag drills will have a great impact on the arms, traps and back/lower back, and the sled dragging will have the greatest effect on the lower body and glutes. As you can see, the whole body is under fire!


I like to set up a circuit consisting of three exercises, each being performed for five minutes with as little rest as possible. But you can also spend only one or two minutes per station repeating the circuit four or five times.

Part IV: Low Intensity Energy Systems Work (20-30 minutes) – Optional

This last part of the workout is frowned upon by most avid lifters. They wrongfully believe that performing low-intensity ESW will eat up their muscle mass. This is far from being the case.

In fact, it could actually help you build muscle by allowing you to eat a bit more calories without gaining fat. It can also do your heart a world of good (a renaissance body developer should strive to stay healthy) and will help you lose fat if you need to.

Furthermore, ESW is a nice way to cool down after a hard training session. I personally perform 20-30 minutes of low intensity treadmill walking (3.0 to 3.2mph at an incline of 10-12 degrees) after each session, but any other method will work. Remember though, stay on the low end of the intensity scale. You already did your high intensity ESW when performing the GPP section of the workout. Aim for around 65-70% of your max heart rate.

If you don't like being a hamster, you can substitute this part of the workout for a 60 minutes walk later on. I like to end each day with a walk with my girlfriend Christiane. It allows us to unwind and catch up while working the old ticker and burning some calories.

A Second Option

For Part IV you can also switch the low intensity energy systems work for sprinting. Speed is also an important physical capacity and developing it can contribute to holistic training. However, since max speed work can be draining on the CNS, we want to use a low volume of work. Performing 3 x 30m and 1-2 x 60m with 2-3 minutes of rest is enough to improve and it won't lead to CNS overload.


When striving to maximize your body, you want to take advantage of the "edge" good supplements can provide. Don't get me wrong, supplements will never be able to replace proper nutrition and hard effort; however, if you're already doing everything right, supplements are perfectly acceptable!

The most important supplements to use on this type of program are Spike®, Brain Candy®, and Plazma™. Nothing new here, I've been recommending these great products for some time.

Spike and Brain Candy are by far my favourite supplements. The nervous system is the most neglected aspect of performance improvement! The CNS is the boss, the commander. Without a good commander you simply can't win the war. Performance improvement (and thus indirectly muscle building) begins with the CNS. Use Spike before a workout to improve neural efficiency and Brain Candy after a workout to promote better nervous system recovery.

Since the holistic development plan is based on the "form follows function" principle, improving physical capacities is of prime importance. This is where the CNS and Spike and Brain Candy come in. Heck, they're inexpensive, too. I don't understand why some people still aren't using them.

Proper pre/post workout nutrition is a key to progress and there's no better formulation than Surge on the market to serve that purpose. It tastes fantastic too!

Before buying any other supplements, these two should be on your shelf. Besides wholesome food, they're the most effective things you can ingest to improve performance.

Form + Function = Renaissance Body Development!

Remember that our goal should be to develop an aesthetically pleasing body while improving our physical capacities. Building up the body for its own sake shouldn't be part of our training objectives. It's okay to put money on body kits for your car, but never at the expense of improving the engine!

While I applaud the discipline, commitment and sacrifice made by elite and pro-bodybuilders, such a physique isn't attainable by 99% of the population (even if they were to use performance enhancing drugs). It's thus much more realistic to shoot for a beautiful, lean and muscular physique than for the freak look. And you should take pride in building a body that's just as strong and capable as it looks.

Heck, I've seen muscle-obsessed guys shy away from fun physical activities because they're afraid of losing muscle mass. If you want to go kayaking, do it! Wanna play some ball with friend? Go for it! Any form of physical activity will contribute to the development of your physique. When you accept that form follows function, you'll take just as much pride in being functional and strong as having the biggest guns on the beach!

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.