The Principles of Growth (Part 2)

Forget the fads. Use the timeless advice of the Master Blaster to build a strong, densely muscled physique.
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When you’re intent on getting fit, you’re willing to do just about anything for a little more muscle and a little less body fat. Low-carb days, ultra-high-rep sessions, extra work on the treadmill, a few early-morning workouts or even the paid assistance of a trainer or nutritionist — whatever it takes, right? But in the rush to put the latest hardcore craze to work for us, we lose sight of the fact that the simplest solution can often be the correct one. 

For decades, some of the world’s most amazing physiques have been built through strict adherence to an authoritative set of guidelines known as the Weider Principles. Named after the late father of modern bodybuilding, Joe Weider (1919-2013), these “rules” — a list more than 20 deep — formed the basis for nearly every approach to bodybuilding in practice today. Just about every one of them has been affirmed in some fashion by research, even if references to the original guiding principles were artfully omitted. 

See AlsoThe Principles Of Growth Part 1

Developed through years of firsthand experience and anecdotal evidence from those under his tutelage, Joe Weider’s principles remain the true-north training indicator for muscle-seeking athletes everywhere. In the pages that follow, we continue our examination of these principles with a few tidbits on how to put them into practice today.

Weider Principle: Negatives 

Nearly every lifter in gym-dom is concerned with their bench stats. How much do you bench, bro? To so many, this effort to overcome gravity far too often usurps what follows: the power to resist it.

Incline-Bench-Press-Rev

NEGATIVE GAINS | CHEST

Take advantage of eccentric reps in your next chest workout to speed your size and strength gains.

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Incline Bench Press

4

6-8*

Bench Press

4

6-8*

Bench Press

3

3-5**

Dumbbell Flye

3

15

 *On your last set, after reaching initial failure, have a reliable spotter help you through two to three slow negatives with your working weight. Rest two to four minutes before starting the next exercise.

**Load the bar with 20 to 40 percent of your 1RM and have a reliable spotter (or two) help you through three to five slow negatives — about five to six seconds each. On each rep, have your spotter(s) power the bar through the positive so that you can focus on the negative. Rest two to four minutes between sets.

Generating as much force as possible to move the weight concentrically (the positive) has its benefits. This helps recruit far more growth-prone fast-twitch muscle fibers for the task at hand. But remember: To grow, a muscle must first be broken down, and that process is maximized through a slow, controlled negative rep. 

Researchers estimate that some athletes can handle up to 160 percent of their one-rep max on the negative portion of a rep. That is to say that if you can positively bench 200 pounds, you can likely perform at least one negative rep with 320 pounds of iron. A more common approach calls for using a weight that is around 120 to 140 percent of your 1RM for three to five reps. And being able to fight the good fight against gravity with that type of weight holds significant benefits, including amped-up protein synthesis and higher levels of muscle-building hormones like insulin-like growth factor-1. 

JOE SAYS: In addition to going slower on the negative portion of all your reps in the gym, you can secure additional benefits by performing dedicated, heavy eccentric work. One option for those who train muscle groups once per week is to try mixing in three to five sets of three to five negative reps — taking five to six seconds on each rep — on your main mass-builder and after your traditional-sets work. These sets should only be done with the help of a strong, attentive spotter. Because negative work is more demanding, take two to four minutes of rest between sets to allow for better recovery.

WEIDER PRINCIPLE:PYRAMID TRAINING

Weider knew then what we dedicated lifters still have a hard time believing: A warmed-up muscle performs better than a cold one. But out of this simple belief, the concept of pyramid training was born. The concept of increasing weight from set to set was thought to be more effective because the muscles were gradually acclimated to heavier weight with each passing set — you were essentially “gearing up” for the most demanding set. Science later backed this up in the DeLorme study, which found that subjects who increased the weight by a certain percentage each set — 50, 75 and 100 percent of 10RM, respectively — while aiming for 10 reps, gained a significant amount of strength. 

A TALE OF TWO PYRAMIDS

You can’t go wrong with either approach. See which method serves you best or try the DeLorme method for four to six weeks before switching to the Oxford version.

The DeLorme method is considered “traditional” pyramid training, but another study out of Oxford University in England turned the pyramid on its head and produced similar results. In the Oxford study, after a thorough warm-up, subjects performed their heaviest weight first (100 percent of 10RM) and then reduced the weight each set to reach failure at 10 reps. Hence, the Oxford method is now referred to as the “reverse” pyramid.

Head-to-head, subjects in these groups gained a similar amount of strength, but the DeLorme group came away slightly stronger. The DeLorme method is considered the best for strength, while the Oxford protocol may have the edge in helping lifters add size because it calls for them to reach failure more than once. Also, with the Oxford method, the opening max effort is optimized because you aren’t fatigued from other working sets. 

Bent-Over-Barbell-Row

OXFORD METHOD (REVERSE PYRAMID) | BACK

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Bent-Over Barbell Row

3

10**

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

3

10**

Seated Cable Row

3

10**

Underhand Pulldown

3

10**

Face Pull

3

12-15

2On your first set, use 100 percent of your 10-rep max. On your second and third sets, reduce the weight just enough to still be able to complete 10 reps. Rest one to two minutes between sets.

Face-Pull

JOE SAYS: Whether you choose traditional or reverse pyramids, you’re going to see huge gains in size and strength. The DeLorme method can help you gain strength faster, which translates to more reps with more weight on everything else. The Oxford method of pyramid training may help you gain more size because of the increased intensity factor of failing on multiple sets. Either approach is a welcome departure from straight-set training, in which you use the same weight for the same number of reps from set to set.

DELORME METHOD (PYRAMID) | BACK

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Bent-Over Barbell Row

3

8-10*

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

3

8-10*

Seated Cable Row

3

8-10*

Underhand Pulldown

3

8-10*

Straight-Arm Lat Pulldown

3

12-15

1On your first set, use 50 percent of your 10-rep max. On your second set, use 75 percent of your 10RM. On your third set, perform as many reps as possible using your 10RM. Rest one to two minutes between sets.

WEIDER PRINCIPLE: CHEATING

Yes, we know that cheaters never prosper, but Weider saw the struggle with the weights differently. He saw each set as a fight to be won and thought that sometimes, if you’re not cheating, you’re just not trying.

Weider posited that a few calculated “cheats” in form — using a little body English to get through a sticking point — wasn’t all that bad for you. Moving the weight is better than not moving it right? The answer is yes … and no. 

When Weider first started vocalizing the benefits of cheating, he was referring to more experienced athletes — those who knew the difference between a productive set and one that is more likely to see you end up in a back brace than on the winners’ podium. The most familiar version of cheating is probably the least productive one — the ambitious barbell curler who has loaded up with more than he can handle and must swing his way through every sloppy rep of his prescribed set. This, as Weider would tell you, is not the way to benefit from a little form deviation. 

Reverse-Curl

CHEAT AND PROSPER | BICEPS

Judicious use of this go-beyond-failure technique is the only way to get anything out of it.

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Exercise

Sets

Reps

Barbell Curl

3

10-12*

Alternating Dumbbell Curl

3

10-12*

Hammer Curl

3

10-12*

Reverse Curl

3

12-15

Select a weight that allows you to complete 10 to 12 clean repetitions. On your final set, after reaching initial failure, use a little momentum in the form of a small hip thrust to “cheat” through two to three more reps.

To cheat properly, you must first be able to complete picture-perfect reps of a given exercise, even if this means sacrificing weight initially. Then, after some time — this is definitely not a technique for newbies — you can run through a set to failure, using some calculated momentum to “cheat” your way through a few additional reps. Because going beyond failure is critical to gaining strength or size — or burning fat — cheating can actually benefit you. 

JOE SAYS: Incorporating two to three cheat reps to get through sticking points at the end of a well-executed set can help you break down more muscle and come back stronger next time. But you should only use this principle sparingly — the bulk of your reps should be clean — and beginners shouldn’t use cheat reps at all. Abusing this principle can have disastrous consequences. Curling with too much sway or cheating for too many reps can injure your shoulders and/or back, meaning you won’t be training those biceps for some time, either.