A Man’s Guide to Getting His Woman In Shape

Guys, let’s face the facts. If you plan on spending the better part of your life banging away at the iron, you’re going to want your woman to join in on the fun.

Sure, you might not always want her as a training partner. But you’ll definitely want her paying some attention to her health and her body composition. And that’s not just because you want a hot chick on your arm. I’m guessing you’ll also enjoy the benefits that come along with fitness, including increased self-esteem, increased self-efficacy, and a generally more positive outlook.

So, you’ve got two choices in life. Either choose a mate that already works out and is fit – in which case, you should probably start chasing women on one of a host of health and fitness forums.

Or you can choose your woman based on some other criterion. And then, if she’s open to your assistance, show her how to get in awesome shape by exercising and eating right. Of course, in this article, I’ll focus on the latter, sharing some strategies for helping your woman get into the best shape of her life.

The Exercise

One quote I love is this one:

“Movement is medicine for changing a person’s physical, emotional, and mental state.”

Indeed, recent research has demonstrated that exercise is more effective in treating depression than antidepressant medications! Beyond that, we all know that exercise helps us lose weight and build lean muscle. Hummm…exercise helps reshape the body, brighten the spirits, and sharpen the mind. I’m sold!

The biggest question I get with respect to exercise is this one “what type of exercise is best for my woman?” Well, for starters, any exercise is better than none. So the best exercise is the kind of exercise she’ll do. But truthfully, if she wants to really reshape her body, she’ll need to do mostly high intensity exercise.

Two types of high intensity exercise work best.

  1. Strength training
  2. High intensity interval/conditioning training

Strength Training

Now, while most women think of strength training as something reserved for the bodybuilders and strongmen, nothing can be farther from the truth. While strength training can be done in the gym with weights, it also can be done with dumbbells, sandbags, old tractor tires, exercise bands, or even your own body weight. And all of this can be done at home, at a local park, or at a community center. The real key is challenging her body through six key movement patterns:

  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Twisting
  • Squatting
  • Bending
  • Lunging

Here’s an example strength training program that would be great for most women – regardless of their level.

Workout 1

Warm-Up – 2 minutes of rowing

Exercises Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps
1A Barbell corner press 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side 5 x 5/side 6 x 4/side
1B Barbell corner row 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side 5 x 5/side 6 x 4/side
2A Standing seesaw press 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side 5 x 5/side 6 x 4/side
2B Pullups* or assisted pullups 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side 5 x 5/side 6 x 4/side
3A Machine flyes 2 x 10 2 x 8 2 x 6 3 x 5
3B Seated cable row 2 x 10 2 x 8 2 x 6 3 x 5

*With weight if possible

Warm up

Corner press

Corner row

Seesaw press


Machine flyes

Seated cable row

Workout 2

Warm-Up – 2 minutes of rowing

Exercises Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps
Tri-angle lunges 3 x 9/leg 3 x 12/leg 4 x 9/leg 4 x 12/leg
Single-leg dumbbell deadlift 3 x 12/side 4 x 9/side 6 x 6/side 9 x 4/side
Pistol squat 2 x AMAP* 3 x AMAP 4 x AMAP 5 x AMAP
Ab rollout (Swiss ball) 3 x AMAP 3 x AMAP 3 x AMAP 3 x AMAP
Weighted plank 3 x ALAP** 3 x ALAP 3 x ALAP 3 x ALAP

*AMAP = As many as possible  **ALAP = As long as possible


Tri-angle lunge

Single-leg dumbbell deadlift

Pistol squat

Ab rollout

Weighted plank

Workout 3

Warm-Up – 2 minutes of rowing

Exercises Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps
1A Dumbbell snatch 4 x 3/side 4 x 4/side 4 x 5/side 5 x 3/side
1B Dumbbell vertical thruster 4 x 6 4 x 7 4 x 8 5 x 4
1C Dumbbell iron cross 4 x 8 4 x 10 4 x 12 5 x 6
2A Renegade row 3 x 6/side 3 x 7/side 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side
2B Dumbbell T-pushups 3 x 4/side 3 x 5/side 3 x 6/side 4 x 4/side

Warm up

Dumbbell snatch

Dumbbell vertical thrust

Dumbbell iron cross

Dumbbell Renegade row

Dumbbell T-pushup

Conditioning work

In addition to strength exercise, your woman should also include some conditioning exercise, often referred to as cardio. Now, although most people think of long jogs, bike rides, or the Stairmaster, this type of exercise is not all that effective. Indeed, high intensity interval exercise, in which you work really hard for 20-90 seconds, rest, work hard again, rest again, has been shown to be the most effective form of conditioning work.

Here are two videos demonstrating one of my favourite forms of conditioning exercise, interval circuits.

Circuit #1

Circuit #2

Circuit #3

Although in these videos our model Amanda is doing 10s of work and 10s of rest, this is only for illustrative purposes. Typically, she does 30 seconds of work and then takes 30 seconds of rest for the first and last circuits. And she does 40 seconds of work and then takes 40 seconds of rest for the second circuit. She’ll also do between 6 and 12 rounds, depending on work:rest time.

So the workout might look like this:

  • Tire flip – 40s
  • Rest – 40s
  • Ball toss – 40s
  • Rest – 40s
  • Ball smash – 40s
  • Rest – 40s
  • KB swing – 40s
  • Rest – 40s
  • Ring pull ups – 40s
  • Rest – 40s

That’s 1 round and takes about 6 minutes or so. She’d repeat this about 6 times, for a 36 minute workout.

Here’s another awesome form of conditioning work: 20:10 sprints.

20:10 treadmill sprints

  1. First, Amanda does a 5 minute warm up.
  2. Next, she sets her treadmill at an incline of 15% and a speed of 8 mph.
  3. Then she runs for 20 seconds.
  4. Next, she recovers for 10 seconds (jumping off while the treadmill is still going along).
  5. Again, 20 seconds of running.
  6. And 10 seconds of recovery.

She typically continues this for 5 total minutes.  Then, she takes a 5 minute rest. And does it all over again. In total, it’s a 15-minute workout. And believe it or not, this workout is way more effective at burning fat and improving her conditioning than 45-60 minutes of walking or jogging!

Thus, my recommendation: in addition to the 3 weight training workouts per week, add in 1 circuit workout and 1 sprint workout, at least at first. Eventually, if she’s interested in getting really lean, she can add more. But for now, this should get it done.

Other exercise

You probably think of your exercise time in terms of single workouts, e.g. “60 minutes three times per week”. I encourage you to think of it in terms of total time per week.

Research I’ve done in conjunction with the University of Wyoming has demonstrated that 5 hours per week is the magic number. Anything less fails to produce results while 5 hours or more of exercise produces great results.

So far, we’ve compiled about 3 and ¼ hours of exercise with the three 45 min weight training sessions, one 45 min circuit session, and one 15 min sprint session. To reach the 5 hour threshold, and to help your lady recover from this high intensity work, have her finish her week with some very low intensity cardio work: Walk around the block.  Go for a bike ride. That’s the sort of stuff I mean. Lower intensity yoga counts too. 30 minutes 3x per week should do the trick.

The total program might look something like this:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Day 4
Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
45 min Walk
30 min
45 min
Rest Weights
45 min Walk 30 min
15 min
Weights 45 min Walk 30 min Rest


Just as exercise is medicine, so is food. And just as it’s possible to dig your grave with your own knife and fork, it’s also possible to prevent and treat disease as well as improve your body with your utensils.

Unfortunately, most people are never very honest about what their knives and forks are doing. In fact, a speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil approach is usually taken. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard one of these lines, I’d be a very wealthy guy.

“I eat really well…”


“…I’m still 20lbs overweight.”

“My diet is perfect…”


“…I often feel sluggish and my energy is low.”

“I make good nutritional choices…”


“…I’ve got high blood pressure, cholesterol, and type II diabetes.”

Obviously these are all lies. If you ate really well, your diet was perfect, or you made good nutritional choices, these would not be problems. So, the best way for your lady to get started in improving her diet is to follow these five rules:

1. Eat about 4 – 5x a day and don’t wait so long between meals.

Research has demonstrated that those people who eat more frequently tend to have better blood sugar control, lower stress hormone production, lower body fat, and more lean muscle. But their food has to be the right stuff.

2. Include lean, complete protein at every meal and snack.

The ideal amount of protein per day for an exercising individual is 1 gram per pound of body weight. For a 140 lb woman, that’d be 140 g of protein. To make this easier, every time your woman snacks or eats a meal, she should include some protein.

3. Include veggies at every meal and snack.

The ideal amount of veggies each day is about 8 servings. Now, the every meal thing isn’t necessary. But it’s quite tough to get all these servings if you don’t include some cooked, raw, juiced, or blended veggies with each meal.

4. Include a variety of healthy fats.

Our food supply today contains a fat balance that’s out of whack. To get our fat intake back to where it should be, we need to include things like olive oil, avocados, flax oil, fish oil, raw nuts, etc. each day.

5. Consume carbohydrate-rich foods only after exercise.

Carbs aren’t the enemy. But they should be controlled — especially for women — since it’s easy to over eat them. The best strategy to control carbs is to eat mostly whole grain carbohydrates (like amaranth, quinoa, whole grain oats, etc.) and to save them until after exercise. Since exercise increases our body’s ability to effectively utilize carbohydrates, the ideal time to eat some whole grains is within the first few hours post exercise.

These “rules” are a great start. But they won’t get the job done alone. In fact, there are two other secrets to helping your woman build a great physique.

Other Food Ideas

The first is a lesson we can take from the Okinawans, called hara hachi bu. In Okinawa, heart disease and stroke rates are lower than in North America. So are cholesterol, homocysteine, and blood pressure measures. Rates of cancer are lower — especially breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer. Hip fractures are lower and dementia is rare. Plus the Okinawans tend to live longer.

What’s their secret? Hara hachi bu. Roughly translated this means eating only until you’re 80% full. And no more. Now, this isn’t a dietary suggestion. Rather, it’s part of their culture. Anyone who stuffs themselves is considered a glutton. In the end, many experts believe that this cultural practice, in conjunction with the Okinawan diet rich in fruits and veggies, fish, and legumes is the secret of their success.

The other thing that’ll help your lady look her best? Making sure that your portion sizes don’t impact hers. Here’s something few guys think of: If you and your woman live together and dine together, chances are she automatically overeats simply because you two are chowing together.

Think about dinners out. You’re served the same portions. Yet you’re likely not the same size. Do you really think that your lady needs to eat the same amount as you? Only if she wants to weigh the same as you, I guess. And the same goes for meals at home. I bet you serve meals on the same size plate for both of you. That’s another recipe for overeating.

To help prevent your portions from influencing hers, there are a few strategies you should adopt immediately.

First, when at restaurants, ask if they’ll accommodate small potion sizes. You get the normal size, she gets the smaller one. And if that doesn’t work, here’s something my lady does. She orders what she wants. Then she tells the server to split it into two, boxing up one half for later. This way she gets two meals for the price of one.

Next, at home, make sure you have two different size plates: One large one for you. And one small one for her. Then you can fill both plates, neither looks sad and empty, and each of you eats an appropriate portion.


Many experts suggest that supplements aren’t necessary when the diet is complete. Unfortunately in North America, the diet is pretty much never complete. Can you believe that 68% of the population is deficient in calcium, 90% in chromium, 75% in magnesium, 80% in vitamin B6, and 95% in omega-3 fats?

In fact, in a recent study, even athlete diets didn’t measure up. In this project, the diets of 70 athletes were analyzed for vitamin and mineral intake and not a single one met the recommended daily amount. All of them were deficient in between 3 and 15 nutrients.

Beyond this, other research has shown the following:

  • Less than 3% of men and 5% of women get the minimum number of fruits and veggies per day (3-5 servings).
  • On average, women get only 80 g of protein per day (when their needs are closer to 120-140 g) and men get only 120 g of protein per day (when their needs are closer to 170-190 g).

I’m definitely not one to heavily promote nutritional supplements. However, with the deficiencies above, folks have to either improve their food intake tremendously or they have to start supplementing their diets with things like:

1. Protein supplements: 1-2 scoops a day works well for women (check out Nitrean Protein)

2. Fish oil supplements: 4-6 capsules a day is typical for my female clients (check out AtLarge Nutrition’s Fish Oil Capsule)

3. A good, broad spectrum multi-vitamin: 1-3 capsules depending on the potency (check out Multi-Plus)

Also, for women, I recommend the following

4. Branched chain amino acids:I prefer my female clients sip a BCAA drink during exercise to help promote high performance and more complete recovery.

5. Sleep enhancement: Although this isn’t a requirement, I find that many women who start training hard have a hard time falling asleep and/or sleeping through the night. Phosphatidylserine can help quite a bit depending on the circumstances.

These are some of my top strategies for helping you get your woman into awesome shape. Trust me, these strategies work fantastically if they’re consistently applied.

However, don’t be one of those a-hole boyfriends or husbands that’s chronically pestering your partner to make unwanted lifestyle changes. Only introduce these if she’s actually interested in making a change.

And for more on the nutrition and supplement side of things,  Precision Nutrition V3 has everything you need to know.  You can get yourself a copy, at a special discounted price, right here.

Written by John Berardi

John Berardi is the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by his personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time. 

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – A Man’s Guide to Getting His Woman In Shape discussion thread.

Taking it to the next level – a guide to Intermediate Bodybuilding

Note: ‘Taking it to the next level’ is the second article in a two part series. The first article can be found here – So You Wannabe a Bodybuilder?

A breed apart

If you have made it this far, give yourself a nice pat on the back. Many people that set out to become bodybuilders never make it past the beginner phase. They quit for several common reasons. Most often it’s because they failed to see amazing results right away.

With the unrealistic expectations fed by dramatic ‘before and after’ photos in ads, untold thousands of would-be bodybuilders prematurely give up on their goals out of frustration and impatience. Maybe they gave it their all for a few weeks or a few months, but at some point they became so dissatisfied with the progress they had made in terms of muscle or strength gain and/or fat loss that they decided they were wasting time and effort. It’s unfortunate, but we now live in a ‘microwave oven’ society. Thanks to technological advances like the Internet, most people have been conditioned to expect nearly instantaneous results.

But you, my friend, you didn’t give up. You saw some progress, and even if it wasn’t anything to shout about from the rooftops, you understand that sculpting an exceptional physique does take significant time and effort. That’s why it’s a special thing to be built like a bodybuilder. Regardless of your genetics, nobody gets a great body overnight, and nobody looks like a bodybuilder without having put in their fair share of gym time. If you have consistently trained for at least six months to a year, you have made it past the beginner stage. Consider yourself an intermediate bodybuilder.

What does ‘Intermediate’ really mean?

You could think of intermediate status in a couple ways. It’s sort of like having graduated from boot camp, or high school. You’ve learned all the basics and gone from a raw novice who was essentially clueless to someone who had a good idea of what’s going on. To be more specific in our case, you should have learned the form on all the basic exercises. I hesitate to say ‘mastered’ the form, because that’s something that typically takes at least a couple years. The same can be said about mind-muscle connection. You should be in touch with all your muscle groups to the point where you can definitely feel the target muscle contracting and stretching during exercises like presses, curls, and rows. True mastery of this subtle art will come later and only through increased experience.

When it comes to nutrition, you should have a firm grasp of the basic principles. You should be on a regular eating schedule of about four or five solid meals a day plus a shake or two. In any case, you don’t go longer than three hours between meals because you understand the critical link between keeping a steady stream of nutrients and making gains. You should also be paying attention to rest and recuperation by making it a point to sleep a solid eight hours every night and grab naps whenever you have the chance. As far as your physique goes, the amount of progress you have made thus far will depend on factors like your age, your genetics, and how much effort you have been putting into your training and nutrition. But regardless, you should be bigger and stronger than you were when you started.  If you diligently followed the type of routine I outlined in the article for beginners, you should definitely have made substantial progress. Nothing works like the classic free weight basic movements.

Ron Harris shows how he sculpted an exceptional physique through hard work and patience

Time to split things up

In the article for beginners, “So You Wannabe a Bodybuilder?”, the routine called for working the entire upper body in one session, and the lower at another workout. The exercises for upper body were different over the course of two workouts, yet they still covered the entire musculature of the upper body. Now you are ready to divide the body into more distinct groups. How you do this is really a matter of personal preference. You can arrange your bodypart groupings in many different ways, depending on factors like which days you have available to train, how many days you can train in a row before feeling burnt out, which bodyparts need more attention (something that will only now begin to become apparent since you have been working the entire physique for at least six months), how many bodyparts you can work together, and so on. There are no real rules except for those of overlap. For example, training biceps before back day would not be a good idea, as the fatigued biceps would compromise the performance of just about all back exercises. The same can be said about working triceps the day before either chest or shoulders, or doing chest and shoulders on consecutive days. Beyond that, there is quite a bit of room to customize your own schedule. Here are just a few examples of common bodypart splits you can adopt:

Split A

  • Monday:  Chest and triceps
  • Tuesday:  Back
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday:  Legs
  • Friday:   Shoulders and biceps
  • Saturday:  Rest
  • Sunday:   Rest

Split B

  • Monday:  Back
  • Tuesday:  Chest
  • Wednesday:  Legs
  • Thursday:  Shoulders
  • Friday:   Arms
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday:   Rest

Split C

  • Monday:  Chest and shoulders
  • Tuesday:  Legs
  • Wednesday:  Back
  • Thursday:  Rest
  • Friday:   Arms
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday:   Rest

Split D

  • Day one:  Quadriceps
  • Day two:  Chest and biceps
  • Day three:  OFF
  • Day four:  Back and hamstrings
  • Day five:  Shoulders and triceps
  • Day six:  OFF

Split E

  • Day one:  Chest, shoulders, triceps (PUSH)
  • Day two:  Back and biceps (PULL)
  • Day three:  Legs
  • Day four:  OFF, repeat (or take additional rest day if needed)

You don’t have to feel ‘locked in’ or obligated to continue on any one split indefinitely. In fact, it’s a good idea to switch things up from time to time. Many bodybuilders have found success with working weaker bodyparts on their own day, and hitting them after a day of full rest also seems to be advantageous. And it’s not even a bad idea to return to basic, beginner type workouts from time to time for a change of pace.

Beyond the basics

Now that you have built a solid foundation on the basic compound movements, it’s time to start adding in more exercises per bodypart. This is possible because now you aren’t trying to work every muscle group in one workout. Rather than only do deadlifts or barbell rows or chins for back, for example, you can do all of those plus add in one-arm dumbbell rows and lat pulldowns. You are also free now to incorporate isolation movements as a supplement to the basics. Just a few examples: leg extensions for quads, pec deck for the chest, and lateral raises for the shoulders. By doing a greater variety of exercises for each muscle group, you can hit the muscle from different angles and work it through its various functions. More mass gains will be simulated, as well as superior muscle shape. The gains you will make in your first few months after going from just the raw basics to a more well-rounded routine that includes more isolation movements are often nothing short of astounding.

You may want to check the gym rules before copying Ron’s no top approach!

Avoid the dual temptations: losing the basics and going all-machine

Before you get too enthusiastic about adding in isolation movements, it is critical that you never stop doing the basics. They are still the exercises that deliver the most ‘bang for your buck,’ and getting away from them is a serious mistake. Consider someone like Ronnie Coleman. Even after he had been training for over twenty years and had already won the Mr. Olympia title several times, his workouts still featured classics like squats, bench presses, deadlifts, military presses, and barbell rows. Those were the cornerstone of his training from day one and he wisely continued to do them. There is always a temptation to replace free weight movements with machines. Instead of squats, bodybuilders do leg presses and hack squats. Instead of pressing with barbells and dumbbells, they use Smith machines and other machines. Rows – same thing. Barbells and dumbbells are out, replaced by cables and machine. The problem with this is that you can’t really replace basic free weight movements. As great as some machines are, and there are some excellent lines out there today, they are still not as effective as free weights at building muscle size and strength.

Most bodybuilders make the majority of all their progress in their first couple years of training, then gains slow to a crawl and stop completely. Muscle gains will always be the most rapid at the outset of anyone’s lifting career because the stress of training is a new stimulus, but that’s not the only reason behind this phenomenon. Equally to blame is the fact that most bodybuilders abandon the basic exercises, under the mistaken impression that they are really only meant for beginners. Bodybuilders who instead keep working hard and getting stronger on the basics while also making judicious use of isolation movements, machines, and cables typically build the best physiques. Keep that in mind whenever you feel tempted to drop an exercise like squats, barbell presses, or deadlifts from your routine.

Do NOT copy the pro routines!

Another common error bodybuilders make once they move into the intermediate stage of training is to adopt the training routines of the pro’s. Firstly, professional bodybuilders are advanced. Most of them have been training hard and consistently for anywhere from ten to twenty years or more. In many cases, they aren’t even trying to build any additional size. Their goal now is to ‘add detail’ and muscle maturity. I have yet to meet a bodybuilder who was ready after just six months to a year of training to stop training for more muscle mass. Usually at that point you still have a lot of growing left to do before you even think about being ‘big enough.’

Another factor to consider is that pro bodybuilders often follow routines that would leave the average guy horribly overtrained. Not only do pro bodybuilders often have a lot more time to eat and sleep than you do, but they are also genetically gifted athletes that can tolerate a great deal more exercise than the average person and still recover and grow. And yes, steroids are also part of the picture in pro bodybuilding. Steroids enhance recovery to such a degree that a non-user attempting to recover and grow from the same high-volume and high-frequency routines that most pro’s follow is doomed to fail. Rest and recovery are just as important as an intermediate as they were when you were a beginner. Actually, because you are stronger now and thus capable of inflicting more damage to the muscle cells at each workout, it’s even more important now that you balance your training with ample rest and proper nutrition. Generally speaking, you should have at least one day a week when you don’t train with weights at all, and for most bodybuilders two or three days is even better.

Intensity techniques

Up until now you should have been doing entirely straight sets. Now you can begin to incorporate techniques like drop sets, super sets, pre-exhaust, rest-pause, and forced reps. (see Glossary at the end of the article for definitions) However, it must be stressed that these techniques are to be used sparingly as a means to shock a given muscle group. If you choose to use all these techniques, all of the time, you will very soon become overtrained to the point where not only will you not be getting any bigger, but you will actually start getting smaller and weaker! Hard work on straight sets should still comprise 90% of what you do in the gym. Reserve intensity techniques for stubborn bodyparts that require a bit more stimulation to respond. Used judiciously, the various intensity techniques can be just the thing you need to stimulate extra gains. Overused and abused, they will have the opposite effect.

Time to add in more supplements

With beginners, I try to discourage extensive discussions about supplements for the simple reason that getting your nutrition in order is the absolute most important thing you must do. Too many beginners are obsessed with using all the latest supplements and expecting them to deliver miraculous results while neglecting to make a real effort to eat quality solid food every two to three hours. As we said before, as an intermediate you should have a good handle on your eating. Now, ‘supplements’ can really come in handy, because they are doing what they are meant to do – supplement a good diet and not replace it!

Now is the time to use things like a good creatine product, protein powder, L-Glutamine, BCAA’s, a post-workout shake, nitric oxide boosters, weight gainers, and fat burners (obviously not all of these at the same time – certain products are geared toward specific goals). Here is one small example of what I’m talking about. If a guy is only eating two solid meals a day and trying to make up the rest of his meals with protein shakes, his results won’t be very good. But, if a person adds in two or three protein shakes in between meals and is eating four or five good solid meals a day, he will experience much better results. When a person is training hard, eating well, and getting enough rest, adding in a decent supplement regimen can make a big difference.

Okay, so how long does this phase last?

So now you may be asking, how long am I going to be an intermediate, and when do I graduate to advanced status? There is no definitive answer, as various people have their own interpretations of this. Some see the stages purely in terms of time, and will decree that you must have trained for X amount of years before you can consider yourself advanced. Others view the definition in terms of your physique development, wherein you should have the ‘look’ of a bodybuilder before you can call yourself advanced. Personally, I take both those factors into account but also consider a person’s knowledge to be a determining variable. If a bodybuilder takes the time and effort to educate him or herself on a regular basis and attain a level of training and nutrition expertise worthy of teaching others, I would call that bodybuilder advanced. But as always, I urge you all not to think of bodybuilding in terms of being a destination. Rather, think of it as a journey and a process. You never stop learning, and there is always room for improvement. As an intermediate bodybuilder, you are well on your way!

Suggested Intermediate training routine:*

Monday:   Chest and triceps

  • Incline dumbbell press  3 x 8-12
  • Flat barbell press   3 x 8-12
  • Pec flye machine   3 x 12
  • Lying EZ-bar extensions   3 x 12
  • Weighted dip    3 x 8-12
  • Rope cable pushdown   3 x 12

Tuesday:   Back

  • Chin-up    3 x 8-12
  • Deadlift    3 x 8-12
  • Lat pulldown    3 x 12
  • Barbell row    3 x 8-12
  • Seated cable row   3 x 12

Thursday:  Legs and calves

  • Squat     4 x 8-12
  • Leg press    3 x 12-20
  • Lying leg curl    4 x 12
  • Stiff-leg deadlift   4 x 12
  • Leg extension    3 x 12-15
  • Standing calf raise   3 x 10-12
  • Seated calf raise   2 x 20

Friday: Shoulders and biceps

  • Seated dumbbell press   4 x 8-12
  • Lateral raise    4 x 10-12
  • Rear lateral raise   4 x 10-12
  • Barbell curl    3 x 10-12
  • Preacher curl    3 x 10-12
  • Hammer dumbbell curl  3 x 10-12

*Warm-ups are not shown – always warm up thoroughly!

Ron Harris shows what can be achieved through sixteen years of training experience

Written by Ron Harris

Glossary – Common Intensity Techniques

Drop sets – Upon reaching failure on a set, weight is reduced by taking plates off, changing the pin in a weight stack, or grabbing a lighter pair of dumbbells and immediately resuming the set.

Super sets – Performing two exercises back to back. Typically the exercises are for the same bodypart, but not always. It’s common to see a biceps and a triceps exercise super setted.

Pre-exhaust – A specific type of super set in which an isolation movement for a bodypart is immediately followed by a compound movement for the same muscle. Examples include pec deck and bench press, lateral raises and military press, or leg extensions and leg press.

Rest-pause – When muscular failure is reached, the set is stopped only long enough for the trainer to regain some strength. At this point, the set is resumed once again until failure is reached. This may be done more than once in the course of a rest-pause set.

Forced reps – When a trainer is unable to complete any further reps on his or her own, a spotter provides just enough assistance to allow the completion of another 1-3 reps. Forced reps should always be done only after at least a few reps have been done with no help at all.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Taking it to the next level – a guide to Intermediate Bodybuilding discussion thread.

So You Want To Hit a PR?

You know that feeling when you walk into the gym and everything just seems to fall into place? The weights that you have attempted countless times in the past feel like a warm-up, and personal records (PRs) are set and eclipsed with ease!

The PR is an integral component to your short and long term success in the gym.  PRs allow you to measure progress, configure goals, and serve as a tremendous motivator.  When you hit a PR it literally creates a feeling of euphoria.

A PR need not be defined as your 1 repetition maximum.  It can be anything from running a mile in under six minutes, to finally hitting that 225 lbs x 10 bench press, to completing 50 chin-ups in only 4 sets.

Setting a PR is not just a matter of getting lucky or “having a good day” – there are 5 main factors that you can control to help drive peak performance:


Consuming the right nutrients can be crucial to your success.

  • Days Leading up to PR – Increased protein intake becomes a focus.  Most trainees find it easiest to ramp-up their protein intake via the use of supplements.  My personal choice is Nitrean Protein by AtLarge Nutrition which consists of a unique blend of 3 fractions of whey, casein, and egg proteins.  A generalized surplus of calories is also important. From my experience, the window of opportunity for dietary manipulation begins 3-4 days out from the PR attempt.
  • The Day of the PR Attempt – On this day it is crucial to take in a surplus of total calories with an emphasis on carbohydrates and fats for energy. Do not eat unusual foods that may upset your stomach.
  • Pre-Workout Meal – Instead of a meal with regular foods, I recommend a high calorie shake (I use MAXIMUS Weight Gainer by AtLarge Nutrition) be consumed 2-3 hours prior to the attempt.  Depending on how I feel and the nature of the attempt, I may have a simple carbohydrate source such as dextrose or fruit after the shake in the intervening time prior to the attempt.  Some trainees like to use a pre-workout supplement containing stimulants to get “up” for the attempt.  This is fine so long as care is taken to make sure the supplement does not interfere with your warm-ups, focus, or your stomach (common problems noted with the use of many pre-workout supplements).  I recommend a banana, a couple of spoons of honey, and 200 mg of caffeine as an effective pre-workout “stack”.


Sleep is integral to optimal physical performance.  You must be well rested prior to PR attempts.  Eight hours of sleep per night is the generally accepted benchmark, but some people may require more depending on factors such as total physical activity (ex: if they have a physically demanding job) and stress.

Central Nervous System

If your PR attempt is going to involve heavy loads, you want to have your central nervous system (CNS) “primed” for the event via proper training in the preceding weeks.

Heavy resistance training is a tremendous stressor to the CNS and one must take care to both allow for adequate recovery time, and to train as heavy as possible as often as possible.  This balancing act can be tricky, but the protocol listed below is one that has worked very well for me:

  • Week 1: Heavy (75-85%)
  • Week 2: Light (65-75%)
  • Week 3: Maximal Effort (95-105%)
  • Week 4: De-load (50%)

The above load schedule does not detail set and rep recommendations.  For clarity, below you will see specific loads (based upon a previous best of 275 lbs x 3 reps), sets, and reps:

  • Week 1: 245 lbs x 3 sets of 3
  • Week 2: 210 lbs x 3 sets of 5
  • Week 3: 210 lbs x 3, 245 lbs x 3, 285 lbs x 3 (PR)
  • Week 4: 155 lbs x 3 sets of 10


Immediately prior to the PR attempt, a proper warm-up is crucial.  Care must be taken to gradually warm-up the musculature and then move on to heavier loads which will do the same for the CNS. The use of relatively heavy loads during this process must be tempered with the fact that one does not wish to fatigue the body such that the PR attempt is compromised, rather a gradual increase in loads used which both stimulate and do not overly fatigue is ideal.  Isolation movements can also be incorporated to prime specific muscles which are to be used in a compound exercise PR attempt.The following sample warm-up is based upon a PR attempt of 300 lbs in the bench press:

Generalized Warm-up: 5 minutes walking on elliptical trainer at low resistance.

Light Stretching & Dynamic Warm-Up: 2-3 minutes of upper body stretches, arm swings, shoulder mobility, etc.

Isolated warm-up for involved muscle groups:

  • Pushups – Body weight x 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Triceps Pushdown – 50 lbs x 15 reps

Movement Specific Warm-up & Work Sets: (using Bench Press as an example)

  • Empty Bar (45 lbs) x 10 x 2 sets
  • 95 lbs x 10
  • 135 lbs x 7
  • 185 lbs x 5
  • 225 lbs x 2
  • 255 lbs x 2 **
  • 275 lbs x 1
  • 300 lbs x 1- PR!
  • Attempt 305-315 lbs assuming clean lift @ 300 lbs.

**This is the first “work set” where you should add chalk, put on wrist wraps, flip hat backwards, or do whatever else you plan to do on your max attempt.

Note: Some athletes may utilize neoprene sleeves and or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen for problem areas like elbows or knees.  Please discuss any medications or injuries with your doctor prior to moving forward in your routine.


The mental aspect is a major factor in setting PRs.  You simply cannot optimally harness your physical abilities without the capacity to 100% focus on the task at hand.  Heightened mental focus and physical arousal are keys to setting PRs.  While there is individual variance in how to best achieve the requisite state, there are certain methods that work for nearly everyone:

  • You must attempt to block all distractions from your mind.  A sound technique involves taking a few moments prior to the PR attempt to close your eyes and mentally rehearse the lift.  Visualize yourself successfully completing the PR.  Try to see, smell, and feel all that you will during the actual attempt.  In short, make the mental attempts as realistic as possible.
  • Build up your adrenaline prior to the big attempt. For some people this means getting angry or “fired up” while for others it is just a calm focus of energy. Stay in control and do not expend any valuable energy with anything unnecessary.

Wrapping things up

It is generally recommended that you go for heavy PRs (using loads greater than 80% of your current 1 repetition maximum) no more than once per month.  With that said; remember that PRs can take nearly any form and need not be 1-3 repetition lifts.  These other types of PRs can be attempted with greater frequency.

As you can see, PRs are a must for any dedicated trainee.  Follow the guidelines set forth in this article and you will be well on your way to your personal physical goals.

Now, go break down your barriers and set some new personal records!

Written by Tom Mutaffis

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Hardcore High Intensity Training – The Only Way to Grow

I believe that one of the main misconceptions about weight training in the pursuit of bodybuilding concerns training intensity (defined as relative intensity of effort).  I can’t tell you how many times I have been approached for advice with guys telling me that they just can’t get bigger or stronger no matter what they do. 

These same inquiries usually end up with attempts at conversations about the best drugs to use, or more often, how to eat or supplement to fix the problem.  Prior to engaging them in any further conversation I ask them how they train.  Invariably they will tell me, “Like a dog!” 

When I actually cinch up a belt and hit the gym with them I find that their definition of “dog” and mine encompass two different breeds entirely…

There are three basic components to success in the gym with respect to resistance training:

  1. Stimulus
  2. Nutrients
  3. Rest. 

The latter two enjoy some degree of variability.  The former can only be optimized when you experience the epiphany that materializes once you discover the difference between “fatigue” and “failure.”
If you don’t take each work set (post warm-up set) to a point of momentary muscular failure, where another full-range rep is impossible despite your hardest effort – including a gun to your head – where does the set end?  For instance, let’s say you can curl 50 lbs dumbbells for 10 reps to momentary muscular failure.  If you subscribe to the camp that eschews training to failure, where should you stop the set?  On the seventh rep? The eighth, or maybe you’ll go to nine?  Obviously, stopping a set at anything short of failure is arbitrary. It is only by training to failure that you can surpass what Mike Mentzer called the “break-over point.”  That is the rep in the set below which growth will not be stimulated. It is the ultimate “last rep.”  Science does not know at what exact point in a given set the break-over point occurs, but it is clear that training with 100% intensity of effort to failure is sufficient to elicit a growth stimulus, thus training to failure is the only failsafe way to assure a productive training session if muscular hypertrophy is a goal.  

Mike Mentzer built an incredible physique using Hardcore High Intensity training methods

Training volume is another highly important factor in training stimulus and one which directly correlates to intensity of effort.  The volume system in use by most (not all) of the top IFBB pros popularizes the bizarre, yet generally accepted theory of doing 50 to 60 sets per body part per training day (some sets taken to failure, some not).  Training to failure as described above literally precludes this sort of high volume training; at least in the sense that training with any relatively high degree of intensity of effort using such volume would quickly and inevitably lead to gross overtraining. 

How do the pros get away with it?  The solution is most often a reliance on genetic potential and a boatload of tissue building drugs.  While this solution obviously works to a degree (they are massive professional bodybuilders, aren’t they?), it is far from ideal.  Even the pros would benefit from reduced training volume coupled with 100% balls to the wall intensity of effort!  Remember, your goal as a bodybuilder is not to see how many sets you can force yourself to endure. It is to intelligently do the exact amount of exercise required to stimulate the growth mechanism – and no more. Any more than that is arbitrary, unscientific and counterproductive. As Lee Haney (multi-Mr. Olympia) said, “stimulate, don’t annihilate.”

The volume approach represents a reckless assemblage of random, disconnected and contradictory ideas; which, of course, is not a theory and, therefore, cannot serve as a guide for successful action. That’s not to say it doesn’t work.  It might work.  It might not.  The one sure thing is it is not optimal

I’ll be delving into specific functional application of high intensity training in future articles, but, as to not leave you hanging without an example of the high intensity approach, I’ll share with you a back workout I once watched Dorian Yates (another multi-Mr. Olympia) perform.  Dorian is a long time advocate of HIT training and no one can argue the benefit he derived from it. 

The following work set of bent over rows perfectly illustrates the low volume, high intensity approach to bodybuilding:

After two warm-up sets with 135 lbs and then 225 lbs on an Olympic bar, Dorian took about a two minute rest and then strapped into the bar, this time with 315 lbs (three plates on each side).  He proceeded to grind out about 12 perfect reps, and then got another 3-4 using rest/pause technique.  His training partner (Mike Matarazzo) then immediately stripped a plate off each side while Dorian held fast to the bar.  The second Mike finished unloading Dorian set off again.  This time he got about 20 reps with another handful of rest/pauses at the end, the last of which were literally excruciating to watch.  He collapsed to the down position and Mike immediately stripped another plate from each side.  Again, Dorian methodically began rowing. 

I think I counted 30 reps before he ground out the final handful of rest/pause reps. He did not put the bar down for good until he was utterly incapable of budging the weight!  A physically, emotionally, and any other “ally” you can think of Dorian unstrapped himself from the bar and slinkered off to some dark recess of the gym to attempt to recover enough to go home…  It was a STUNNING example of training intensity such that few have ever witnessed…  

Dorian Yates – A low volume, high intensity approach to bodybuilding

Train intensely – to failure – to ensure that optimum growth has been stimulated; and, in light of limited recovery ability, such training must be brief and infrequent, followed by rest – as much as possible.

Written by John Romano

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