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Building the size and strength of the human physique is both an art and a science. Certain factors produce known results and other areas are up for debate.
One of the most hotly disputed areas is the region of training style, especially in regard to the number of exercises and sets you should do in any given
workout. Along with the debate goes the controversy on rest and recovery. Which route should you take? Before deciding, it is a good idea to look at the
history and the pros and cons of each.
For years the multiple-exercise-per-body-part/multiple-set approach ruled the world of bodybuilding. Part of the drive to bigger and bigger workouts was fed by the marketing of such techniques as giant sets (four sets back to back without rest) and other more-is-better ideas. Split sets emerged in the era of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the old idea of doing three standard workouts per week gave way to multiple workouts in any week. Most of the Mr. Olympia winners went with the multiple-exercise-per-bodypart/ multiple-set approach, allowing only a minimal amount of time for rest and recovery.
Arthur Jones appeared on the scene, suggesting a radical idea - that the number of exercises and sets should be drastically | reduced, along with a corresponding increase in workout intensity and greater rest and recovery time. Ellington Darden and Mike Mentzer soon joined in the less-is-better parade, and a new system was born. It soon ran into opposition, particularly at the 1980 Mr. Olympia, where Arnold read Mike the riot act.
The less-is-better system seemed to go underground for a while as Mentzer faded from the scene, but staged a dramatic comeback in recent years under the inspired training of monstrous Dorian Yates. Yates's use of the heavy-duty less-is-better style finally legitimized it in the eyes of many. His success, along with the return of Mike Mentzer to the bodybuilding media and the prolific writing of Ellington Darden, enabled the heavy-duty style to turn the corner. In some camps it is the training style. Many of the top champions started to use the style, or a hybrid of it, and also began to take more time for rest and recovery.
In spite of the popular upsurge of the heavy-duty style, the high-set/multiple-exercise approach has not faded away. Many bodybuilders still do multiple sets of many exercises to pound out nasty training routines. One of the stars rocketing to the top on the current scene with a very radical physique is Lee Priest, who is using the older style with spectacular success. In an interview with Marty Gallagher Lee pointed out that he does 20 sets per bodypart. And so the debate goes on, with both sides providing champions to prove their own point.
Which approach should you use? Heavy-duty less-is-better, or the classical multi-exercise/multi-set style? The obvious answer is that you will never know which is better unless you try both. There is no one exact perfect answer to the question of the ultimate training style. Even athletes within each camp do not always agree on a singular approach. Some from the heavy-duty style preach that one set of one exercise per bodypart should be used (after a sufficient warmup). However, the current king of heavy duty, Dorian, uses more than one set and more than one exercise per bodypart. He may use three or more exercises per body-part, and sometimes will do two sets instead of one. If the champions cannot agree on exactly what is best, there is plenty of room for experimentation on everyone's part.
Although we see two main training styles on the current bodybuilding scene, that does not mean they are the only styles possible. Another that has sprung up is a hybrid approach - a midpoint between the multi-set/multi-exercise route and the one-set-of-one-exercise style. Champions also use the hybrid method. Lee Labrada's training was more of a hybrid style, as is that of others.
Still another ingredient in the training-style mix is the natural vs. chemically enhanced training system. What works for a bodybuilder on drugs may not work at all for a natural athlete. Those who are not on drug support need to weigh their recovery capabilities a lot more carefully and train accordingly.
No single answer yet exists to the question of which training style is ultimate king. Since everyone has a unique physique and responds somewhat differently from the next guy, maybe there never will be a final answer. The best route is to pick your own poison. Don't get stuck in a rut and blindly follow one style all the time. Yes, it may have worked for you in the past, but your body may have adapted to it and will not yield you a single new centimeter of muscle growth. You may need a radical new technique to get going again. Try a little experimentation. If you always work hard, try adding a day or two more of rest. Or if you always take longer rest cycles, try a cycle of less rest to wake your body up. Above all don't stagnate.
Most of the new gains in bodybuilding come from experimentation. Bodybuilding moves ahead as people try fresh ideas. Getting stuck in a training rut can wreak havoc on any plans you have for advancement. Push the envelope now and then, and find out if you can push your physique to a new level of muscularity.