Explaining the relationship between man's mind and art, Ayn Rand wrote, in an essay titled, The Psycho-Epistemology of Art, "While, in other areas of knowledge, men have outgrown the practice of seeking the guidance of mystic oracles, in the field of aesthetics this practice has remained in full force and is becoming more crudely obvious today."
To my knowledge, Miss Rand had no interest in bodybuilding, but if she had, she would have observed a similar phenomenon. The bodybuilders I communicate with on a daily basis are agonizingly confused. The sole source of information for many of them is muscle magazines, which they read with almost religious zeal, regarding the words contained therein as if they were the revealed truth of Sacred Scripture, or as oracular pronouncements, not to be questioned, but passively accepted, on blind faith.
Most bodybuilders fail to recognize that muscle magazines are not science journals, but rather commercial catalogues whose primary reason for existence is to sell nutritional supplements and exercise equipment. (One simply can't be too careful in this time of philosophical default. Even science journals have become suspect recently, as the proliferation of cases involving fraudulent research data at the highest levels indicates.) While these publications do contain factually-based, well-reasoned articles, these are rarities so at odds with the reams of contradictory misinformation that they are rendered valueless to those with atrophied critical faculties and often overlooked by the more intelligent readers.
The notion that bodybuilding is a science has been written and talked about for decades by muscle magazine writers and certain exercise physiologist. To qualify as a legitimate, applied science, however, bodybuilding must have a consistent, rational theoretical base, something that none of the aforementioned -- aside from Arthur Jones and myself -- has ever provided. In fact, what passes today for the so-called "science of modern bodybuilding" is actually a pseudo-science. Propogated by the bodybuilding traditionalists, or orthodoxy, it is nothing more than a wanton assemblage of random, disconnected and contradictory ideas.
A number of the orthodoxy's self-styled "experts" have even alleged that there are no objective, universal principles of productive exercise. They claim that since each bodybuilder is unique, every individual bodybuilder requires a different training program. This implies that the issue of what is the best way to train to build muscle is a subjective one that can only be resolved by the random motions and blind urges of each bodybuilder.
Despite their belief that no universal principles exist, many of these same people advocate that all bodybuilders should perform 12-20 sets per bodypart, for up to two hours per session. For best gains, they recommend two and even three sessions per day six days a week, with the seventh day off -- for sabbath, I suppose. Very scientific!
The principle implicit in such thinking is "more is better." This is an ethico-economic principle: more money, more success, i.e., more values are better than less. (This principle does have a certain limited application to endurance training.) Taking a principle from one context, such as economics, and applying it uncritically and blindly to another, such as bodybuilding, is to commit the logical fallacy known as "context-switching." Some years ago, Mr. America Steve Michalik carried this erroneous notion to its logical conclusion by advocating 75-100 sets per bodypart! Michalik practiced what he preached and ended up almost literally in the grave!
So which is it: 12-20 sets or 75-100 sets? Actually, more fitting would be this line of questioning:
- Why the contradiction? If each and every bodybuilder, being unique, requires a different training program, why advocate the same range of sets for everyone?
- Why the equivocation? Whose word should we take -- and on what basis? Who is relating the truth: the advocates of 12-20 sets or the advocates of 75-100 sets? Or are they both unintentionally relating a falsehood?
- Why the lack of exactitude? Will bodybuilders obtain equal results from 12 sets and 14 sets and 20 sets, or from 75 sets and 87 sets and 100 sets? Since science is an exact discipline, a proper science of bodybuilding should tell bodybuilders precisely what to do.
- Why the evasion? Should all of the sets be performed with the same degree of intensity by the same individuals all of the time?
While the issues involved in the questions raised above represent only the tip of the iceberg, they do serve as telling testimony to some of the disastrous intellectual consequences that follow from lack of a sound, rational theoretical base.
A scientific theory is a set of principles that serves either as a correct description of reality or a guideline for man's actions. A farrago of unwarranted assumptions, false conclusions and irreconcilable contradictions does not constitute a valid theory and, thus, cannot serve as a guide to successful action.
(The orthodoxy commits other intellectual errors as well. A prime example is their capricious misuse of concepts. Aside from an occasional arbitrary, out-of-context reference to the "overload principle," they have never adequately identified the specific stimulus responsible for inducing muscular growth. As a result, they feel justified in stealing the concept of intensity and providing it with a rubber meaning, though never using it properly. Another is the concept of overtraining. Unwilling or unable to define the term, only dimly aware that it means something negative, they use it as a "floating abstraction," i.e., a concept with no ties to reality. As such, it is not so much misused, but barely used at all, and plays no significant role in their thinking.)
Where can a confused bodybuilder find the answer to these and other pressing questions? Rick Wayne, erstwhile editor of Flex magazine, answered that question a number of years ago, claiming, "Each bodybuilder has to be his own scientific agent, and find the routine that works for him." But what if a particular bodybuilder isn't a very good scientist? No answer has ever been given.
Others have responded by suggesting that confused bodybuilders resort to instinct. An acquaintance of mine responded to this notion humorously by suggesting that if bodybuilders resorted to the "instinctive principle" to guide them in their training efforts, many of them would probably defecate and urinate on a barbell rather than lift it. Man is not an instinctual creature whose knowledge is automatic, or "hard-wired" into his nervous system, but a conceptual being who must acquire and use knowledge by a volitional cognitive effort.
The most philosophically revealing response was made by a well-known authority, and I quote, "There is a realm of truth higher than that known to scientists, and only certain people have access to it." Since reality is the realm of truth, one can only wonder as to what other realm he was referring to, what it might have to do with bodybuilding in this one, who has access to it, and by what means. All of this points to the fact that bodybuilding has brought about its own Dark Ages -- and why, therefore, so many bodybuilders become cynical and give up.
The advocates of the orthodox approach, possessing no possible theoretical defense of their argument, are forced to cite some very shabby evidence to back up their position. Quite frequently, I get the question, "If 12-20 sets is not the best way to train, how do you account for the success of guys like Arnold and Lee Haney?" The answer is that, while their physiques are, in part, the result of such training, so are the physiques of all the failures, whose numbers are legion.
Furthermore, it is a mistake to point to the "apparent" success of a couple dozen top title winners as indubitable proof that a certain training approach is efficacious. If one were to look back through the course of their bodybuilding careers, and calculate the hours, months and years of wasted effort resulting from their blind, non-theoretical, volume approach, one would have to question whether their achievement could properly be termed success at all.
It should be understood also that genetic endowment is the prime determinant of bodybuilding success. Arnold and Lee, not to mention myself, Dorian Yates and all who have achieved extraordinary levels of muscular development, possess an abundance of the requisite genetic traits, including long muscle bellies, greater than average muscle fiber density, and superior recovery ability.
The best way, therefore, to compare the efficacy of the two training approaches is to examine the results obtained by a genetically superior practitioner from each camp. On May 1, 1973, Casey Viator entered into an experiment -- conducted at Colorado State University in Fort Collins -- for the purpose of discovering how much muscle he would gain on a high-intensity training program in one month.
Casey trained only three times a week, with each workout lasting no more than 30 minutes. Since the duration of the experiment was a month, this meant that Casey trained 12 times, for a total of only six hours. The result was that Casey went from a starting bodyweight of 166 pounds to his previous highest bodyweight, in top muscular condition, of 212 pounds. The exercise physiologist who conducted the experiment, Dr. Eliot Plese, discovered (using a sophisticated radioisotope assay machine) that Casey lost 17 pounds of fat during that month. Casey's actual lean body-mass gain, therefore, was not merely the 46 pounds as evidenced on the scale, but a whopping 63 pounds -- and all from only six hours of training!
Now contrast Casey's achievement with what Arnold Schwarzenegger did to prepare for the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest. Arnold has gone to considerable lengths advertising the fact that, starting in July of that year, he trained twice a day for two hours each session, or four hours a day, six days a week, right up to the contest date in November. As a result of training that totalled 288 hours, Arnold put on approximately 25 pounds of lean mass, going from his starting weight of 200 pounds to 225. It is interesting to note that Arnold, in gaining back only 25 pounds of muscle, failed, in that four-month period, to reach his previous best muscular bodyweight of 237 pounds.
Casey Viator, one of the greatest bodybuilders ever and the man who introduced Mike Mentzer to Arthur Jones.
Not only are Casey and Arnold genetically gifted, both were also regaining muscle mass, which happens more readily than gaining it in the first place. And since both were taking steroids during these periods of training, one is left to conclude that the factor accounting for Casey's vastly superior achievement was his use of high-intensity training principles. (When I asked Arnold, in 1979, why he had failed to attain the same 237 pounds for the 1975 Mr. Olympia that he competed at in the 1974 Mr. Olympia, he responded by saying that the four months he had to prepare wasn't enough time.)
To those who question the validity of the abbreviated high-intensity training approach, by noting the numerical superiority of those utilizing the "more is better" volume approach, I need only point out that statistical generalizations do not constitute valid proof in matters open to individual choice. A good historical example is that for thousands of years millions of people sincerely believed that the earth was flat, but that didn't make it so.
A mistake made by many muscle magazine readers is to assume that the routines currently ascribed to the top champs are of the same variety they've always used. In most cases, the champs started their bodybuilding careers, and developed the bulk of their muscle mass, with abbreviated routines performed two to three times a week, using basic exercises and heavy weights. As they progressed into the competitive ranks, they made the mistake -- as I did for a while -- of increasing the number of sets along with the number of workouts per week, which explains why many stagnate and even retrogress. Increasing the duration and frequency of their workouts was done in conjunction with the use of steroids, which help to prevent, or at least reduce, the loss of muscle mass that otherwise results from chronic marathon training.
Considering the fact that the self-proclaimed experts have neither provided a consistent, rational theory of training, nor addressed the issues raised here, it is little wonder that so many cynical bodybuilders remain painfully bewildered.
About 20 years ago I found myself in a situation similar to that experienced by many of the aspiring bodybuilders I now communicate with on a daily basis. I avidly read all the muscle magazines, and had memorized the training routines, dietary regimens, and even the personal habits of all the top champs. Following their lead, I utilized the "more is better" principle, performing up to 30 sets per bodypart, training three hours a day, six days a week. After months of training in this fashion with no progress, my motivation waned so much I began thinking seriously about ceasing my training efforts altogether. I reasoned that if training three hours a day wasn't sufficient to cause an increase in my muscle mass, then perhaps I would have to up my training to four hours a day. And it was difficult to justify spending even more time in the gym every day, as I was already tired from my 12-hour work days in the Air Force and the three-hour daily workouts. If developing a championship physique meant giving up all social life and spending one-fourth of my waking hours in some dank gymnasium, it just wasn't worth it.
Agonizing over the prospect of forsaking my dream of ever being a champion bodybuilder, I was fortunate, at that time, to meet Casey Viator at the 1971 Mr. America contest in York, Penn. Not only was Casey the youngest man, at 19 years of age, to win the coveted title, he was also being favorably compared to Arnold (who was in York that day to check out the upstart). What made Casey even more interesting was the type of training he was doing. While Arnold, Franco, Dave Draper et al were training up to five hours a day, Casey was training less than three hours a week!
Casey was impressed by my physical potential, and suggested that I call his mentor, Arthur Jones, the inventor of Nautilus machines. I placed a telephone call to Jones early one evening, but, as he wasn't in, I left a message that I had called. He called me back at 2 a.m. the next morning, something, I learned later, that was typical of the radically independent businessman. Before I could suggest that it might be more appropriate that we speak later that day when I had my wits about me, Jones launched into an impassioned disquisition concerning the actual nature of productive exercise, as opposed to that which was being promulgated in the muscle magazines.
So awe-inspiring was his fiery oratory that the leaden fumes of my somnambulistic stupor evaporated in short order. For well over an hour, I listened in rapt attention as Jones explained to me, in the most scrupulously objective language imaginable, the cause-and-effect relationship between intense exercise and muscular growth; and why, in light of the fact that the body's ability to tolerate such demanding exercise is limited, high-intensity training had to be brief and infrequent.
Before Jones finished, I realized that I was not the bodybuilding expert I had thought. In fact, I knew very little of value about exercise. Memorizing training routines from muscle magazines doesn't make one an expert. For the first time in my life, I had listened to someone who took the values of knowledge, reason, logic and science very, very seriously. Having clearly understood what Jones had to say about exercise that early morning over 20 years ago, I promptly switched to a high-intensity training program, and within only a year and a half, my mediocre physique underwent such a dramatic transformation that I was able to easily win the Mr. America contest.
Many bodybuilders sell themselves short. Erroneously attributing their lack of satisfactory progress to a poverty of the requisite genetic traits, instead of to their irrational training and dietary practices, they give up training. Don't make the same mistake. Don't make the mistake of granting validity to all training theories, and then waste precious time frantically trying one after the other in the hope that someday you'll find something that works.
There is no good reason why you should proceed with your bodybuilding career confused and uncertain any longer. Progress should not be an irregular, unpredictable or even nonexistent phenomenon. A rational approach to bodybuilding, one based on an understanding and implementation of the scientific principles of exercise and nutrition, will put you on a more satisfying path of regular progress.
Arthur Jones, the inventor of the Nautilus Machines, taught Mike Mentzer the theory of productive bodybuilding exercise.