In this post, I’ll be discussing advanced bodybuilding/physique training. What qualifies someone as “advanced”? I’m not referring to the number of years you’ve been training, the amount of muscle you’ve acquired, or your status as a competitor. I’m referring to the type of training that requires an advanced level of mastery over exercise and your own body, and which will reward you with the greatest development possible. Most people aren’t ready for this type of training and should stick to the typical numbers-based program you’ll get from a trainer or a quality fitness website. But for those who take their workouts seriously and want to reach their maximum potential, read on.
STAGES OF TRAINING
After observing thousands of trainees in the gym over the years, here is how I define beginner, intermediate, and advanced training:
Beginner – this is the learning phase, where you learn how to do exercises with proper textbook form, how to put forth genuine effort and intensity, and how to start feeling the target muscles working. You typically follow a routine written by a trainer or someone more advanced than you. Learning these basics may take anywhere from 6 weeks to a couple of years.
Intermediate – after learning the basics of working out, the intermediate phase is about progression: gradually doing more sets, more reps, and adding more weight to the bar. You also start learning what exercises work best for you. You have enough experience to start tweaking exercise routines to fit your personal needs or to write your own routine. Most people who’ve made exercise a regular part of their lifestyle are in the intermediate phase, and the vast majority never make it past this phase. Which finally leads us to the point of this post…
Advanced – in this final phase, training boils down to putting the right amount of tension on the muscles during exercise. The intermediate thinks in terms of weight and reps, while the advanced trainee thinks in terms of tension and time. Exercise form and workout routines are tailored specifically and expertly to the unique needs of the individual.
KEY FACETS OF ADVANCED TRAINING
- MENTAL FOCUS. During every rep of every exercise, focus on the target muscle(s) rather than focusing on the movement of the barbell or machine. Lower the weight slowly and fully under control so that you feel the muscle working on the way down as well as the way up. Most people are focused only on completing X number of reps, or worse, they carry on a conversation or piddle on their phones in the middle of the set, which is a complete waste of time. Focus!
- EXERCISE SELECTION. Choose exercises where you can maximally feel the target muscles working. Ditch those where you struggle to achieve that mind muscle connection.
- EXERCISE FORM. Adjust your exercise form to increase tension on the target muscle. Try altering your grip or the angle of your torso or limbs and see if it helps you feel the movement better. Flex the muscle at the top of each movement. When pressing or squatting, avoid locking out the weight to keep constant tension on the muscle.
- WEIGHT SELECTION. For your working sets, select a weight that puts enough tension on the target muscle to make it challenging, but not so much that you lose the feel of the movement. As an advanced trainee, you should be able to feel how much tension is enough to properly stress the muscle, but as a general guideline you should use a weight that would cause failure after 30-60 seconds of tension.
- DEGREE OF INTENSITY/EFFORT. On your working sets, don’t stop just because you hit a certain number of reps. Only stop after you’ve sufficiently stimulated the muscle. How hard you should push each set depends on your overall training volume and frequency, your recovery ability, and where you are in a given training phase, among other factors. Part of being advanced means knowing how much effort is needed to stimulate gains and how much effort is excessive and will dig yourself a hole that’s hard to climb out of.
- WORKOUT ROUTINE. As an advanced trainee, you should have the experience to know what combination of sets, reps, frequency, and volume work best for you. Those parameters can and should be varied from time to time to prevent staleness.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t laid out a specific workout routine of exercises, sets, and reps for you to do. That’s because advanced physique training is an art form, and we each have our own unique canvas to work with. Weightlifting and powerlifting are sciences, using physics and training formulas to maximize the amount of weight moved, while advanced physique training is more art than science. I cannot tell you exactly how to create a great work of art. I can only give you guidelines and advice to point you in the right direction. It’s up to you to create your own masterpiece.