The Old School Bodybuilders of the 1970’s created the greatest male physiques the world has ever seen.
Classic bodybuilders strived for the perfect blend of muscle size, symmetry, balance and definition.
This article shows you how the old school bodybuilders trained to build their physiques.
The Old School Bodybuilding Workout Routine
I’ve studied the training routines of ‘The Greats’ of the Golden Era: Serge Nubret, Mike Mentzer, Lou Ferrigno, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu and Frank Zane.
The following workout routine is similar to the one they used.
This workout was used in preparation for competition to achieve peak condition.
Old school bodybuilders worked out 6 days a week for 12-16 weeks leading up to their bodybuilding competition.
If you’re a natural trainer, I recommend trying this workout for 6-8 weeks then take a break if needed. I also suggest you have at least two solid years of weight training experience before attempting this workout.
The Old School Workout Split
- Monday – Chest/Back
- Tuesday – Legs
- Wednesday – Arms/Shoulders
- Thursday – Chest/Back
- Friday – Legs
- Saturday – Arms/Shoulders
- Sunday – Rest
Note: Abs are done every day.
Monday/Wednesday – Chest and Back Workout
Training the entire torso, chest and back, at the same time results in an aesthetic upper body. Training in this fashion ensures your front and back develop evenly.
The chest and back workout was done in ‘super set’ fashion.
For example, you perform the bench press then immediately after you finish benching you do a set of pull ups. No rest in between. You can take a 1-2 minute break after the super set
Super sets are great for burning fat, high-volume training and making muscles ‘flow’ together. Supersets promote muscle symmetry and balance. (More about super sets later in this article.)
- Barbell Bench Press 5 sets of 8-12 reps
- Incline Bench Press 5 sets of 8-12 reps
- Pull Overs 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Cable Cross Over or Dumbbell Flies 5 sets of 10-15 reps
- Chin Ups – 50 reps using as few sets as possible
- Bent Over Rows 5 sets of 8-12 reps
- Deadlifts 3 sets 10, 6, 4 reps to failure
- Leg Raises or Incline Sit Ups – 5 sets of 25 reps
Tuesday/Thursday – Leg Workout
- Squat – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Lunges – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Leg Curl – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Straight Leg Deadlifts – 3 sets 10-5 reps to failure
- Standing Calf Raises – 5 sets of 15 reps
- Seated Calf Raises or Calf Raises using Leg Press – 3 sets of 20
- Leg Raises – 5 sets of 25 reps
Wednesday/Saturday – Shoulder and Arms Workout
- Barbell Clean and Press: 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Heavy Upright Rows: 3 sets of 10, 6, 4 reps to failure
- Overhead Push Presses: 3 sets of 6, 4, 2 reps to failure
- Standing Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Seated Dumbbell Curls: 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Narrow-Grip Bench Press: 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Standing Triceps Extensions with Barbell: 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Reverse EZ Bar Curl 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Wrist Curls: 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Reverse Wrist Curls: 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Incline Sit-Ups: 5 sets of 25 reps each
Whew, that’s a lot of volume. Volume gets the job done though. Lighten the weight if you have to in order to get all your reps in. But keep the weight heavy enough to struggle on the last few reps of each set.
Try to complete each workout in 75 minutes tops. Arm day has the most volume at 56 sets. That breaks down to 45 seconds of work per set and 30 seconds rest in between. Shouldn’t be to difficult if you focus because arm workouts don’t take much time to set up.
NOTE: This program is challenging for even the most experienced trainer. If you get overwhelmed with this workout try 1 of three things:
- Lighten the weight you use.
- Eat and sleep more to recover better.
- Reduce volume from 5 sets per exercise to 4 or 3
Old School Workout Techniques
Old school bodybuilders used various techniques to maximize their muscle growth. The following are a few tricks of the trade:
Also call partner assisted or ‘spotter’ assisted reps. Forced reps are the last few reps of a set where you need help from another person to move the weight.
Drop sets are when you reach muscle failure with a weight then you immediately grab a lower weight and perform the same exercise to exhaustion. then you grab an even lower weight and repeat the cycle until you get the desired effect.
When you get to the point where you can’t do another rep, you take a rest and pause at the bottom of the movement. You pause and rest for long enough to catch your breath and force out another rep. The pause and rest as little as possible to do another reps. Do 3-4 rest pause reps and the end of a set for maximum results.
Negative reps are when you lower the weight as slow as possible. Negatives are great for lasting past plateaus and are good for training mind-muscle connection. Because you have to contract your muscles as hard as possible to resist the weight from dropping.
Max contractions are when you squeeze your muscle as hard as you possibly can at the top of the lift. Hold the last rep of your set for 15 seconds. This will ensure your muscles are fully engaged and trained to the brink.
Super-Sets, Tri-Sets, and Mega-Sets
Supersets are when you train a muscle group right after another one. So if you do a set of bench press followed by a set of pull ups, this is a super set.
Super sets have numerous benefits: Supersets technique let’s you train with high volume in a limited amount of time. While one muscle works the other rest.
Supersets keep your heart rate up and improve conditioning. You also sweat and breath heavy when training supersets. Superset training can have the same effect as cardio. You burn more calories and work more muscle in less time.
Tri-sets are just like supersets except with three exercises back to back to back. And Mega-sets are 4+ exercises one after another, after another.
Old School Training Principles
Although old school bodybuilders had their own workout programs, there where a lot of similarities. Old School Bodybuilding Workouts had the following common denominators:
- High-Volume Workouts
- Train with Moderate to Heavy Weight
- Train for Power – Work in some powerlifting exercises like power cleans and push press.
- Take sets to Failure and Maximize Muscle Pump
- Get as strong as possible in the 6-12 Rep Range
- Always train harder than the day before – Always add more weight even if it’s only 2.5 or 5 pounds.
- Put yourself at a disadvantage train muscles at a mechanical disadvantage.
Old School Bodybuilding Diet and Nutrition
Nutrition for this workout program is critical. Make sure you’re getting enough calories to sustain your energy and grow. Aim for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day.
Make sure you get a lot of protein, at least a gram per body weight. Eat plenty of wholesome carbs and healthy fats.
Eat your red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, rice, sweet potatoes, and cottage cheese.
Old School Supplements
Supplementation isn’t required but if you do supplement, use the following. Most supplements on the market are garbage and are selling you a lie. Stick tot he tried and true supplements below:
Liver Tabs – Liver tablets are great for muscle and strength gains. Take 4+ with each meal. Old School trainers would take 50-100 per day.
Natural Protein Powder – High quality protein powder without fillers or any artificial flavors.
Concentrated Milk – Put powdered milk in a glass or whole milk and drink 2-3 glasses a day for extra protein.
For more old school bodybuilding techniques, check out Education of a Bodybuilder by Arnold Schwarzenegger.