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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, One, Bodybuilding Methods and Traditions - Part I

Bodybuilding Methods and Traditions - Part I

Reading Time: 6 minutes 10 seconds

BY: Josh Bryant

DATE: 2015-03-10

In the world of bodybuilding, "Bro science" is an anecdotal creed emanating from years of training in hard core circles. It has driven training methodologies for generations of iron disciples. Some of these methods have proven to be incredible and validated by scientific studies, while others need to be eradicated from the bodybuilder's regimen.

Let's take a look at a number of popular methodologies commonly used by bodybuilders.

Split System Training

For beginners, entire body training sessions are sufficient simply because they provide an ample stimulus for neural adaptation and trigger muscle growth. In fact, effective full body sessions may consist of only one set per body part.

However, the gains and long term benefit from full body sessions taper off rather quickly, necessitating more advanced protocols.

Super Sets, Giant Sets, Rest Pause Sets, Drop Sets, Pyramiding, High Volume Training and sets consisting of multiple movements, or triple sets, are some of the best kept secrets used by bodybuilders to prompt more muscle growth.

Keep in mind that using these advanced tactics while engaging in full body training sessions may be difficult, due to the immense neural, mechanical, and metabolic demands placed on the body.

So, a better idea is to shift your full body training to Split System Training, which will allow for maximal muscle stimulation, while at the same time it allows time for your body to recover. This division of training is known as the Split System.

If you try training the same exercises repeatedly throughout the week, with a goal of accelerating neural adaptations, eventually, you'll find yourself sacrificing intensity, and worst of all, moving less weight, actually percentages well below your one-rep maximum! That will cuts any gains in hypertrophy or strength.

One classic program used by some of the best athletes in the world is the 5 x 5, which calls for performing five sets of five repetitions of the squat, bench press, and power clean, done three days per week.

Obviously you could choose to train each lift at full tilt during each session, but that would quickly lead to physical and mental burnout. Alternatively, a better way would be to fluctuate the training stresses throughout the week while still ingraining movement patterns, necessary to expedite neural adaptations, by alternating heavy (H), medium (M), and light (L) days for each movement.

That program would look like this:

Weekly powerlifting image

By training like this, neural adaptations can readily occur without running the risk of overtraining. The split may not be divided by body part; however, intensity is cycled, or waved, breaking up the training stimulus in a sensible manner. You can easily adapt this to any series of lifts on a three-day-per-week training split.

Training splits can be arranged in a seemingly infinite number of combinations. Here's another popular split adapted from old school college football strength and conditioning programs...that is the push/pull system, broken down by training pressing and squatting movements one day and training pulling movements, which would include pull-ups, rows, and deadlifts, on the other day.

A time-efficient twist to the push/pull system is to combine the movements in the same session and perform them as supersets throughout the workout. Basically, a pushing movement would be paired with a pulling movement.

Here's a few examples:

  • Vertical Push Movement (Military Press) superset with Vertical Pulling Movement (Chin-up)

  • Horizontal Pushing Movement (Bench Press) superset with Horizontal Pulling Movement (T-Bar Row)

There are virtually an infinite number of combinations of training splits that can be designed. Hang with me, it's not confusing, you just need to recognize that changing it up is important. A common, yet very effective program includes body-part training splits, where only one or two muscle groups are targeted each workout; antagonist body-part splits, where muscles that oppose one another are trained in the same workout; and movement-based splits, in which one compound movement, such as a squat, bench, or deadlift, is performed each workout.

Another great example of the split system is training to failure, as in High Intensity Training, or emphasize the various phases of muscular contractions to induce more muscle growth. The realm of possibilities is practically endless.

Regardless of what split you choose to follow, it is imperative that you adhere to the proven training principles. You've got to maximize energy levels for individual workouts and realize that the results of a great training program will be the sum of your individual workouts.

When things are done right, the outcome is greater than the sum. In other words, synergy takes place and puts you on the road to building a championship physique.


Basically, a superset is when two exercises are performed consecutively without a break. Originally, supersets were defined as combing two exercises of antagonist (opposing) muscle groups. An example would be a biceps curl immediately followed by a triceps extension.

A very popular method of supersetting, is the push/pull superset system because of the emphasis on proper postural alignment and the elimination of muscle imbalances. This could be a horizontal or vertical pressing movement followed by a horizontal or vertical pull movement.

An example would be a bench press paired with bent over row or a military press paired with a chin-up. The obvious benefit is symmetrical development of opposition muscle groups is enhanced. This system is more intense than the traditional set system. Arnold Schwarzenegger popularized supersets with the idea, "More work could get done in less time."

Here are some great examples of traditional supersets:

Lifting infographic embedded image

In today's world of bodybuilding, the term superset is sometimes used differently than its original intent.

Frequently, you'll hear it used to describe a single joint (isolation) movement paired with a multi-joint (compound movement) for the same muscle group.

An example of a chest superset would be a pec deck and a bench press. Some of our more artistically inclined bodybuilding brethren perform two movements for the same muscle group with different emphasis.

An example of this would be the incline press supersetted with a weighted dip. The incline press would be for the clavicular portion of the pectoralis muscle group (upper chest) and the dips for the sternal aspect of the same muscle group (lower chest).

Examples of within group supersets:

  • Quadriceps from Different Angles

  • Leg Extensions and Hack Squats

  • Upper Back from Different Angles

  • Chin-ups and Seated Rows

  • Shoulders from Different Angles

  • Lateral Raises and Overhead Presses

A Few Last Words

To maximize muscular development, it is important to have a solid knowledge of the various bodybuilding methods. If you decide to use a new method, it is important to know why. If you avoid a certain method, you should have a reason for doing so. Take this knowledge and build strength and size and have fun doing it!

Are you ready to master the tools and techniques to shape and define your clients' bodies like never before? Explore ISSA's Bodybuilding Specialization and be known as the certified authority in preparing athletes for everything from high-level bodybuilding to physique competitions.


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