Basics Plus: A Logical Approach for Building Size and Shape

Building Size and Shape

Avoid complicating things that are in Fact Quite Simple to Perform.

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How do you go about developing both mass and shape in a brief workout? For many of us, either those who have returned to the basics or who are drug-free bodybuilders, accomplishing this usually isn't easy. Even though many bodybuilders have either abandoned or have had the good sense not to attempt some of the outrageously long, complicated and overly difficult routines advocated by the pros, they have not yet found the workouts that fit their specific needs, abilities and goals. There are, however, workouts that fit the framework of being brief, versatile and productive and that will deliver mass and shape together. You just have to plan and execute them well to get what you want.

The basic workouts, which have been around a long time but had fallen out of favor, are currently enjoying a resurgent popularity among bodybuilders. There's good reason for this. The once-neglected routine of basic exercises for a couple of sets per bodypart worked two or three times per week can give you a lot for your efforts. Look at what many of the old-time champion bodybuilders achieved with workouts like these. Many of them used what are now considered basic routines, and some used them almost exclusively. This sensible, realistic type of training yielded plenty of muscle and strength, and it fit into an overall balanced life; this kind of training can still do these things today.

As good as the basic routine is, it might produce even better results if we modify it slightly. That's another way of saying that a basic routine has shortcomings and that it's not always going to work well for all bodybuilders at all times. Basic routines are most often better at producing muscle mass and strength and not so good at honing in on shape, refinement, symmetry, specialization on weak points and the like. As these things are key ingredients for developing a total physique, the style of physique that is not just size and more size but includes those other important qualities, many bodybuilders who want and need the basics find themselves also wanting and needing something else.

What to do?

A "back-to-basics-plus" workout can help. Five sets, instead of the usual two or three per exercise per bodypart in the basic routines can give you more of what you want and still fulfill the brief and realistic requirements-leave plenty of time for recovery, growth and the rest of your lifestyle. You've got to employ the sets judiciously to derive a good combination of gains in mass and shape, but it can be done without sacrificing the core of the basic workout, and the additional gains you make may surprise you.

Organize this workout by first going to a split routine, working each muscle group twice a week; you'll do two different workouts, twice each, for a total of four workouts per week.

If you have been working a basic routine three times per week, you might balk at this change, but I urge you to give it a try. There are benefits to working a muscle group twice instead of three times weekly in terms of recovery and growth, and utilizing this workout with five sets per body-part, or 35 to 40 total for the whole body, can be too much in one workout for many trainees-natural bodybuilders and bodybuilders of average potential and recovery ability. So instead, use the split routine and do the more manageable 18 to 20 sets per workout.

As far as the exercises you choose, you can keep the exercises you used in the basic routines. Squat, bench press, behind-the-neck press, etc.- whichever you were using effectively, you should keep. These will provide the mass phase of your workout. Do them for three sets each of six to eight reps. The rep range (and exercise selection) can be altered slightly to your individual needs, but I would emphasize the word "slightly." Small alterations within these routines can change your results (or lack of results) dramatically.

These six-to-eight-rep sets are good for promoting gains in muscle mass and strength if you work fairly heavy and consistently on them. There shouldn't be a need for forced reps or going to your limits, and you'll need to conserve some energy for the second phase of your workout, the shaping phase.

After each mass exercise-for example, the bench press-add a shaping or isolation exercise, such as incline flys. On these and all the shaping exercises do slightly higher reps, say 10 to 12. Do two sets. Work for precision; concentrate on excellent-not just good-form; work for feel, pump and stretch; try to isolate the muscle area, in this case the upper pecs, as much as you can. This is crucial, and I can't emphasize enough that you must focus and concentrate extremely hard on these shape/isolation moves to get the maximum benefit from them. This may require an adjustment in your training style and attitude if you have always been a strength-and-power bodybuilder, but the effort with these seemingly "easy," relatively lightweight, higher-rep exercises may be worth it when you discover how they enhance your physique.

Take some care in deciding which exercises to include in the shaping part of your routine. Everybody has different areas or muscle groups that require more attention than others. You may need, as a common example, more width in your back to go along with the thickness you've developed from doing bent-over rows. This workout will allow you to add two sets of chins, which will complement the rowing yet not drive you into the land of overtraining.

You might select, as another example, to do both behind-the-neck presses and lateral raises, a combination that will work the whole deltoid with accent on the middle head. Or perhaps your two exercises for shoulders could be front presses and bent-over laterals if you need to concentrate your development more on the front and rear heads. The important thing to remember is to use exercises that fit your needs-and if the standard workout we'll list later is a good one for you, then by all means use it. If you can, stick to what's recommended.

The workout is really fairly easy to organize once you assess your own needs and goals, and it is challenging but isn't excessively difficult to do. You can actually adjust the level of difficulty yourself by how much weight you use in the exercises, by how much rest time between sets you employ and by whether or not you use any of the more advanced techniques such as forced reps or even supersets. But first you ought to try to do the workout in straight sets and without piling on too many intensity techniques - too many such techniques can easily lead to overtraining. Simply because the workout doesn't look challenging or elaborate on paper doesn't mean it isn't challenging; in this case, five sets per body-part can be challenging and productive.

When you do this routine, you will be surprised to find that it is working its benefits on you in several different ways. You will get the deep "worked" feeling in your large muscle groups from the fairly heavy mass-building compound exercises, then get an additional pump and worked feeling in the more specific targeted muscle area from the higher-rep shape/isolation exercises. You'll probably also discover how certain exercises go together and produce more development and shape and contribute to your symmetry and to other aspects of your physique that you may have been neglecting, inadvertently or otherwise. In your thigh work, for example, you may find that doing squats retains that mass and power edge but that incorporating either hacks or leg extensions for even those two additional sets shapes and "splits" your front thighs as never before. It can also just plain feel good to work out this way-doing something heavy, some pumping and shaping-so it can be satisfying for its own sake, as well as for the satisfaction of additional gains.

Mass, strength, shape, pump, symmetry and maybe more-this back-to-basics-plus workout looks better all the time, doesn't it? A scaled-down workout doesn't have to mean scaled-down results. Five sets per bodypart can be taxing, satisfying and productive, taking you into new territory for gains. Why not give them a try?

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