Want to find out what it really takes to build a great physique? Then take a peek into the training journal of someone who's already done it. You'll realize you can't just walk into the gym day after day and train randomly and without direction. You gotta have a plan.

You may think of John as a nutrition guru, but the guy knows a thing or two about training, also, and his physique reflects it.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then on the first day, He created light and darkness and separated the two. Very cool. Not bad for a day's work. In the next few days, the Big Guy created the oceans, the land, the moon, the sun, and a whole slew of plants and animals. And on the sixth and last day of creation, His Omnipotent Badness supposedly created T-Man and even provided him with his very own vixen. On the seventh day, God no doubt took a day of "active rest," maybe playing a little racquetball with Gabriel.

Ah, a fetching tale. If only it were so easy. The darkness and light thing I can believe. And when I'm feeling open minded, I can buy into the earth and moon stuff as well. But the idea that a T-man could be created in a single day; now that's preposterous! You see, I've been counting calories and struggling under the heavy iron for years in order to aspire to T-man status. So to think that the first T-man was made in just one day would pretty much send me reeling into the depths of frustration.

But God didn't necessarily create a T-man on the sixth day. He probably just created a regular ol' "garden variety" man and woman who had perilous cravings for fructose. That's more like it. That I can accept.

Considering it further, I'm pretty glad that I've traveled the long hard road in order to find residence in the Garden of T. Along the way I've learned some pretty neat nutrition, supplementation, and training tricks that I can share with other aspiring T-men. If you're a regular reader, you know that I spend most of my time dropping fruit from the Tree of the Nutritional Knowledge. However, due to the many questions I've received regarding my own personal training program, today we'll spend some time at the Tree of Training Knowledge.

I usually fluctuate between 185 and 205 pounds throughout the year, depending on my body-fat levels. I've also gotten quite a bit bigger in the past when I competed in bodybuilding contests (see the picture below). Sometimes I'll push the envelope and gain more weight, but the fattest I'll let myself get is between 8 to 10%. I usually feel best at about 195 to 200 pounds.

Before We Begin...

First, I want to lay the groundwork and clear up any misconceptions. Let's start out with what this article will not tell you. This article will not:

1) Give a complete analysis of my own training theories.

2) Try to reconcile what you think is the right way to train with how I personally train.

3) Make specific mention of the Weider, Poliquin, or King principles (or anyone else's for that matter).

Over the years I've drawn from a variety of sources in order to integrate a comprehensive training program that works well for me. I don't photocopy Flex articles or print off some strength coach's recommended workouts (although there's something to be learned from virtually every source). Therefore, I train, eat, and supplement using what I've mentally compiled from years of training, listening to strength coaches and bodybuilders, and reading research. Over time I apply the judgment of only one individual to this compilation. That individual is me!

Now before you think me too cocksure, understand that I'm willing to admit I've been wrong before. When I'm wrong, my progress slows down. And when the progress is slow, I search for a cure. At this point, scientific and real-world theories can dictate how I may arrange a workout plan or experiment with new things, but in the end, both the effectiveness I get from a program and the amount of enjoyment I feel in the gym determines a program's worth to me.

I've been training for about ten years without an unplanned break. I hope to train for 40 or 50 more years, so I pay close attention to my own preferences (which may be very different from yours). If I don't like a particular program, I quit doing it. Sure, I train for results, but I also train for an equally important reason: I love to train. I don't plan on letting tedious, un-enjoyable programs ruin this for me.

Since there are so many programs out there that will yield comparable results, I know that if I hate doing one particular "effective" program, then I need to drop it to find another that's just as effective but also fuels my training fire. This is how I train myself and how I plan to train for the rest of my life.

So, what will you get out of this article? Well, hopefully it will help shed some light on your own training program and give you some new ideas to try out. I'll give you a rundown of the past few months in my training log , including splits, reps, sets, and weights. Here we go!

Behind The Training Log

Typically, I train using a specific program "philosophy" for a total of nine weeks. Is there anything magical about nine weeks? Nope. So why choose that number? Well, I've found that anything shorter doesn't let me acclimate to the new workout. I believe that the first few weeks of a training program introduce a "learning" adaptation that's primarily neural.

Then, once the neural learning takes place, the neuromuscular physiological adaptations can kick in and lead to changes in muscle metabolism and structure. So, for me, the program has got to be sufficient in length. However, I've also found that I personally get really bored with programs that last for much longer than nine weeks. So my nine week phases take both physiological and psychological factors into account.

What do I mean exactly when I say nine week "philosophies"? Primarily I mean the specific goals of strength training and bodybuilding training. Now, while each philosophy lasts about nine weeks, I'll often use a "bridge" for four weeks between major programs. This is so I can successfully transition between my different training goals. For example, when changing from bodybuilding training to strength training, I use a four week bridge in between. This allows some of the initial neural changes to begin before I launch full-force into my strength training phase.

Halfway through the nine week period (week five), I usually take a complete week of rest or at least a week of active rest using low intensity lifting or just some light cardio and outdoor activities. Due to my high volume of training, this week is added to provide the rest and recuperation needed to prevent overtraining.

Furthermore, during my nine weeks of training for a specific goal, weeks one through four are similar to weeks six through nine in that set and rep ranges are the same. This maintains a consistent physiological stimulus. However, I often change things up for each series of four weeks in an attempt to balance the training stimulus that certain body parts receive. So while sets and reps are the same, I'll switch the order of exercises around and will often use new exercises. This way, muscle balance can be achieved while still maintaining the same training stimulus.

Here's an overview of all that to make it easy to see:

Weeks 1-4: Bodybuilding training

Week 5: Off or active rest week

Weeks 6-9: Bodybuilding training as before, but order and type of exercises are often changed.

Weeks 10-13: The bridge – Combined bodybuilding and strength training

Weeks 14-17: Strength training

Week 18: off or active rest

Week 19-23: Strength training

In looking over the programs below, many of you will think that the training volume is way too high and that you'd never recover. I can sympathize. I used to believe the same thing. In fact, when I was in my early 20's I only trained 45 minutes, three days per week. I followed the Heavy Duty principles because I believed that I had the recovery ability of a midget. When I'd increase my volume or even my training frequency, I'd get overtrained within what seemed to be minutes.

This was before I figured out that nutrition was as important as training for recovery. As I've learned about proper meal combinations and nutritional supplements, I realized that I could recover much better and make better progress with higher volumes of training. I learned that I had to pay as close attention to what I stuffed into my mouth as I did to how much I loaded on the bar. Now, high volume is no problem.

The Training Log

Phase 1: High Volume Bodybuilding Training

Usually I'll begin my training year with a nine week period of high volume, bodybuilding type training. This phase of training really gets me feeling like I'm "in shape" as my exercise tolerance goes through the roof and my body fat level plummets (without dieting).

A good amount of muscle growth usually accompanies this program but since there's fat loss along with the growth, weight change is minimal. An added benefit is that at the end of the phase, my muscles are usually larger. Since a larger muscle (all else being equal) produces more force, it leads nicely into a strength phase.

Here's an excerpt from my training log detailing my last training phase using the bodybuilding philosophy:

Week 1-4 (28 total sets per workout day, 8-12 rep range)

Note: Since volume is high, sets should be done to failure or one rep short of failure.

Day 1: Monday: Chest, Back, Calves + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 2: Tuesday: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 3: Thursday: Biceps, Triceps, Abs + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 4: Friday: Shoulders and "Metabolic Day" + 20 minutes of cardio (more later on Metabolic Day.)

Week 5: Rest

Week 6-9 (28 total sets per workout day; 8-12 rep range)

Day 1: Monday: Hamstrings, Quads, Calves + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 2: Tuesday: Shoulders, Biceps, Abs + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 3: Thursday: Triceps, Back, Calves + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 4: Friday: Chest and "Metabolic Day" + 20 minutes of cardio

As you can see, with this program, weeks one to four are different from weeks six to nine based on the body part combinations. I do this to prioritize my weaker body parts during different training phases and to develop overall physique balance. As noted, I try to use different exercises for each half of the phase. To break it down one step farther, here are some sample workouts:

Week 4, Day 1, Monday: Back and Chest

1) Bent Row

275lbs X 12

285lbs X 12

295lbs X 10

305lbs X 9

2) Pec Deck

240lbs X 10

240lbs X 10

240lbs X 10

240lbs X 10

3) Chins with 25lbs attached

12 reps

12 reps

10 reps

8 reps

4) Flat Bench Press

250lbs X 10

250lbs X 10

250lbs X 9

250lbs X 7

5) Seated Rows

240lbs X 12

240lbs X 12

240lbs X 10

240lbs X 9

6) Incline Flyes

70lbs X 10

70lbs X 10

70lbs X 9

70lbs X 9

7) Seated Calf Raise – 4 total sets

You'll notice that 28 total sets are performed and I alternate between body parts. I do four sets of back and then move to four sets of chest and so on. This theme continues through all nine weeks of this training phase because I find that it increases the overall load I can handle for a given body part.

By resting the back while doing pec deck, when I return to back work (chins) I can do more total work than if I'd have gone right to chins after the bent row. Because of this, during this phase I never do two exercises in a row for the same body part. Also, rest periods remain about two to three minutes between sets.

What about pyramiding? Well, I try not to mess around with the weights too much. I pick a weight that I'd fail at after about ten to twelve reps and bang out four sets of as many as I can do. If I can complete all the reps for four sets, I up the weight during the following session. If I can't complete all the sets with ten to twelve reps, I stay put until I can.

And what about time under tension (TUT) for this phase? Well, get ready for a shocker: I don't pay much attention to that. Surprised? Don't be. While I've always felt that one should pay attention to tempo and not fling the weights around like a spastic neuromuscular patient, I believe that focusing on tempo during a set only serves as a distraction, especially when nearing the end of a set. At this time, all of your resources should be directed toward getting the weight up and not toward counting seconds.

Now you may be wondering what the heck the "metabolic day" consists of. Here's an example:

Week 9, Day 4, Friday: Chest and Metabolic Day

1) Flat Bench Press

250lbs X 10

260lbs X 10

260lbs X 8

260lbs X 8

2) Seated Rows

255lbs X 12

255lbs X 12

3) Hack Squats

250lbs x 12

250lbs x 12

4) Incline Bench Press:

205lbs X 10

205lbs X 8

205lbs X 8

205lbs X 8

5) Side Lateral

40 X 12

40 X 12

6) Reverse Cable Curls

120lbs X 12

120lbs X 12

7) Flat Flyes

60lbs X 10

60lbs X 10

60lbs X 10

60lbs X 10

8) Rope Pushdowns

70lbs X 10

70lbs X 10

9) Abdominals: 4 sets rope crunches

I perform 24 total sets on this particular day. I call it a metabolic day because of the total body workout that's prescribed. In addition, I recommend short rest periods between the non-chest sets (one minute or so). These sets are not performed to failure, which makes this a relatively "easy day" once you become accustomed to it. But when you're not, look out!

The metabolic day was designed with recovery in mind. When designing this overall training scheme, I realized that on Friday only one body part was left to train (in the above example, it's chest). At this point, I was leaving the gym after a quick chest workout. A few weeks later, while muscle soreness persisted (as usual), I started to consider adding a day of training that was done strictly to increase skeletal muscle blood flow to the body parts that had previously been trained during the week. This way, I rationalized, I could get a bit more metabolic activity during my Friday workouts as well as promote recovery.

The next week I tried it out as an experiment and I've been using it ever since. It dramatically cuts down on muscle soreness and increased recovery times as long as I train well short of failure during these sets. Another benefit I noticed was that I really enjoyed going to the gym one day per week without having the pressure of performing better than the last workout. Don't get me wrong; I love pushing myself beyond my limits, but once in a while it's nice to train short of failure in order to simply get a good pump going.

The Bridge: Hybrid Low Rep and High Rep Training

After my nine week period of high volume bodybuilding-type training, I usually like to take another week of active rest and then use a four week transition period, or "bridge." This period is a combination of strength training and bodybuilding training.

These four weeks are usually my favorite since I make consistent strength gains while staying quite lean. In addition, they lay the adaptive framework for the hardcore strength training phase to come. I find that launching right into a strength phase is difficult and taxing on the system. Using this format, I can ease into my strength phase with two difficult strength workouts per week while still maintaining the training adaptations afforded during the last phase. Here's an excerpt from my training log:

Weeks 1-4:

Day 1: Monday: Low Rep Training + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 2: Tuesday: High Rep Training + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 3: Thursday: Low Rep Training + 20 minutes of cardio

Day 4: Friday: High Rep Training + 20 minutes of cardio

And here are examples of each of the four workouts:

Day 1: Monday: (28 total sets – rest between sets is about 3 minutes)

Bench Press (6 sets of 4), Cleans (6 sets of 4), Push Press (6 sets of 4), Bent Rows (6 sets of 4), 4 sets of abs, 20 minutes of cardio.

Day 2: Tuesday: (19 total sets – rest between sets is about 2 minutes)

Wide Chins (3 sets of 10-12), Incline Press Machine (3 sets of 10-12), Close Grip Chins (3 sets of 10-12), Pec Deck (3 sets of 10-12), Side Raises (3 sets of 10-12), and 4 sets of calves, 20 minutes of cardio.

Day 3: Thursday: (28 total sets – rest between sets is about 3 minutes)

Squats (6 sets of 4), Deadlifts (6 sets of 4), Close Grip Bench (6sets of 4), Barbell Curls (6 sets of 4), 4 sets of abs, 20 minutes of cardio.

Day 4: Friday: (19 total sets – rest between sets is about 2 minutes)

Leg Curls (3 sets of 10-12), Leg Press (3 sets of 10-12), Preacher (3 sets of 10-12), Dips (3 sets of 10-12), Shrugs (3 sets of 10-12), 4 sets of calves, 20 minutes of cardio.

And finally, some numbers:

Week 4, Day 1: Monday

1) Bench Press: 320lbs X 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3

2) Cleans: 225lbs X 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3

3) Push Press: 205lbs X 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3

4) Bent Over Row: 355 X 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4
5) Abs – 4 sets

Week 4, Day 3: Thursday

1) Squats: 415lbs X 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4

2) Deadlifts: 455lbs X 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2

3) Close Grip Bench: 285lbs X 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

4) Barbell Curls: 185 X 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4
5) Abs – 4 sets

Again, I don't count time under tension but obviously do focus on controlled negatives and fast concentric contractions when using the "big" weights.

Also observe that I usually stick with a single weight for the full six sets. Choosing a weight that I can do four or five times and maintaining it for the full six sets provides a real challenge. I try to duplicate my performance from set one on all six sets. It usually doesn't happen (as you can see above), but when it does, that's a personal victory. It means that I was strong enough to push through the fatigue. But it also means that the following week, I need to take the weight up a couple of pounds.

Phase 2: Strength Training

At this point, I'm usually starting my fourteenth week or so of training. So now it's time for a nine week strength program (with my usual week off about four weeks into it). During this time, I decrease my training days to three rather than four.

In addition, since I don't plan to compete in powerlifting in the near future, I still incorporate some higher rep work. Even if I were a competitive powerlifter, I think I might continue this strategy (but wouldn't go to failure on the higher rep sets) in spite of the fact that some would debate me on this point.

Weeks 1-4 and 6-9:

Day 1: Monday: Bench Press (5,5,3,3,1,1), Deadlifts (5,5,3,3,1,1), Chins (4 sets 8-12), Incline Dumbbell Press (4 sets 8-12), 4 sets abs + 20 min low intensity cardio

Day 2: Wednesday: Squats (5,5,3,3,1,1), Stiff Legged Deadlifts (5,5,3,3,1,1), Leg Curls (4 sets 8-12), Leg Extensions (4 sets 8-12), 4 sets calves + 20 min low intensity cardio

Day 3: Friday: Cleans (5,5,3,3,1,1), Push Press (5,5,3,3,1,1), Close Grip Bench Press (4 sets 8-12), Dumbbell Curls (4 sets 8-12 reps), 4 sets abs + 20 min low intensity cardio

As for the numbers:

Week 9, Day 1: Monday

1) Bench Press

285lbs x 5

285lbs x 5

315lbs x 3

325lbs x 3

345lbs x 1

360lbs x 1

2) Deadlifts

405lbs x 5

425lbs x 5

455lbs x 3

475lbs x 3

515lbs x 1

515lbs x 1

3) Chins: 4 sets of 12

4) Incline Dumbbell Flyes

75 x 12, 10, 8, 8

75 x 10

75 x 8

75 x 8

5) Abs: 4 sets (any exercise)

Here's another example:

Week 9: Day 3: Friday

1) Cleans

185lbs x 5

185lbs x 5

205lbs x 3

205lbs x 3

225lbs x 1

245lbs x 1

2) Push Press

205lbs x 5

205lbs x 5

225lbs x 3

225lbs x 3

235lbs x 1

245lbs x 1

3) Close Grip

225lbs x 10

225lbs x 9

225lbs x 8

225lbs x 8

4) Dumbbell Curls

40 x 10

40 x 10

40 x 8

40 x 9

5) Abs – 4 sets (any exercise)

Rest between sets is three minutes for lower rep sets and two minutes for higher rep sets. I may also add a metabolic day on Saturday from time to time, but if maximal strength is the goal, I wouldn't recommend it. Personally, I'm usually content with just three days in the gym during this phase.

When through with this phase, I'm about 24 weeks into my training plan and usually want a break from all the pre-programmed routines. I like a little flexibility and freedom in the gym for a mental break. So I may just get through three weeks or so of the infamous "instinctive training" where I just go to the gym and fudge my way through things.

Now don't get me wrong; I still train hard. But I just do what I feel like doing on that particular day for a few weeks. While imprecise, it really offers me a psychological benefit in that I can go to the gym with a flexible program for a few weeks without having to worry about setting personal bests or pushing beyond the marks that I set during the last few weeks.

During this time I may adopt and implement a new program that I've never tried before. I might experiment with a new Poliquin principle or limp around a new King routine. Heck, I might even "get my Mentzer on" and go Heavy Duty for a few weeks, just for the variety.

Final Thoughts

I hope this peak into my training journal provided you with some new information to help in your quest to become bigger, stronger, and leaner. Remember, T-Man was not created in a single day. It takes years of patient dedication to training and nutrition to be molded into a physical specimen worthy of T-heaven. But despite what some may have you believe, there's great potential for flexibility and change in your workouts.

Don't become a slave to any particular strength coach's theories or to certain training dogma that's persisted for years. Learn what makes you happy and what changes your physique. This game is not only about looking good naked and straining under a big plate-loaded bar, it's also about experimentation, longevity, piece of mind, confidence, and enjoyment.

John Berardi, PhD, is the founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest nutrition coaching and education company. Berardi advises organizations like Apple, Equinox, and Nike. He's coached the San Antonio Spurs, the Carolina Panthers, US Open Champ Sloane Stephens, and 2-division UFC Champ Georges St-Pierre.