A few weeks ago Sean Nalewanyj (the author of the best selling ebook The Truth About Building Muscle) interviewed me for an upcoming website feature. We went into a lot of detail about various training techniques and strategies for building maximum muscle mass, over coming training plateaus, as well as some of the tips and tricks that I use to burn fat and get in peak condition for bodybuilding competitions.I’ve posted our interview dialog here below so you can check it out for yourself. Sit back and take a few minutes to read it over, as we covered a lot of valuable training information.
Sean:Lee, Your website LeeHayward.com, has been online since 1999, which is nearly 9 years now. I’m sure in that time you’ve had the chance to interact with thousands of aspiring bodybuilders from all over the world. What do you feel are some of the most common training and nutrition mistakes you’ve seen over all these years?
Lee:Yeah, I’ve interacted with countless people from all over the world. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get at least a few e-mails from new lifters asking me to critique their workout routines. More often then not the routines that they send me focus too much on the show off muscles such as the chest and arms and not enough on the real powerhouse muscles of the back and legs.
Another big problem that I see over and over again with novice lifters is trying to get too specific and worrying about bodypart specialization before they’ve built a solid foundation. A typical scenario that I hear all too often is a new lifter who is in his first year of training and is say 6 feet tall and 150 lbs. He will e-mail me pictures of himself and ask me what I think his weak points are and what does he need to work on. For this guy bodypart specialization should be the last thing on his mind, he needs to put some meat on his bones and just get bigger and stronger all over. And then after a year or two of building a solid muscular base through the use of big basic movements he can focus on bodypart specialization and brining up any lagging muscle groups.
The nutrition side is an area where most people are really slack. Proper nutrition is without a doubt one of the most critical aspects of your bodybuilding program. You can be consistent with your workouts, but if you don’t fuel your body properly you will NOT get the results you want. Period! The basic nutrition principle of eating 6 meals per day and at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily has been preached for years and is common knowledge in bodybuilding circles, yet it is amazing how many lifters ignore this and then wonder why they are not making gains in the gym.
Sean:During the time that your website has been online I’m sure you’ve also seen the rapid evolution of the Internet, and the explosion of the online fitness industry. With so many “miracle programs” and “revolutionary breakthrough” products being shoved down our throats on a daily basis, how can trainees learn to separate the fact from the fiction?
Lee:There is so much crap out there today that it is no wonder why people get confused with proper diet and training. There are constantly new programs and websites popping up because business marketers want to capitalize on the fast growing fitness industry.
One thing that I always do prior to looking into any new bodybuilding program is find out who the author of the program is and what is his / her background in bodybuilding and fitness. Many of the new programs that are being released now are created by people who don’t even have an athletic background. A lot of these people are nothing more then sales professionals who slap together some basic bodybuilding 101 non-sense and then create a book or program to sell. They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.
To give you a real life example of this, a few months ago I was contacted by an Internet marketer who said that he has been successfully selling a stock market investment course. He told me that he wanted to capitalize on the huge fitness market and start selling a muscle building / fat loss program that he got someone to write for him and he wanted me to promote the program on my website. He went on to tell me how he was going to use all his sales tricks and techniques that he learned from selling his stock market course and apply it to selling the muscle building program. Needless to say I turned the guy down.
How can someone like that offer any real world advice to aspiring bodybuilders? For example, let’s say someone is looking to compete in a bodybuilding contest and wants to get down to 3% bodyfat while maintaining as much lean muscle as possible. If he approached one of these “salesmen bodybuilding gurus” how are they going to accurately help him achieve his goals when they themselves have never had a single digit bodyfat percentage and have never competed in a bodybuilding show before? It really pisses me off when a lot of so called “bodybuilding programs” are created by people who are not even bodybuilders. And if you ever saw some of the authors themselves you wouldn’t even say they touched a weight in their life.
That’s a big reason why I endorse your “Truth About Building Muscle” program. Not only have you done the research, but you have applied what you’ve learned and built an impressive physique. You practice what you preach and I respect that.
Sean:What are some of the major principles that you base your mass-gaining workouts around? Do you employ an advanced style of training or are you a believer in the basics?
Lee:I tend to focus on the basics. A stronger muscle is also a bigger muscle, so when training for size you need to focus on making steady strength gains with your workouts. I focus my workouts around basic free weight exercises supplemented with some machine movements. I strive to up the weight by at least 5 lbs. for all big compound exercises each workout. It’s critical to keep accurate records of your workouts. Then each time you go to the gym it is like a competition to beat what you did for your previous workout.
I generally stick to a set routine for as long as I’m making steady strength gains with it. Once the strength gains slow down, then I’ll change it up by doing different exercise variations. For example, lets say I’m using seated barbell shoulder presses as one of my shoulder exercises. When I reach a strength plateau on that exercise I change to something else, like dumbbell shoulder press and stick with that for as long as I’m able to make strength gains. When that stops working I may change to shoulder press lockouts done in the power rack, etc.
I’ll cycle through a few shoulder press variations and then when I return to the seated barbell shoulder press I’ll strive to work up past my old personal record for that exercise. I’ll follow a similar pattern for all compound exercises for each bodypart.
For isolation exercises I don’t push it as hard to make strength gains each workout. There is a big difference between adding 5 lb. to a 400 lb. deadlift and adding 5 lb. to a 30 lb. dumbbell curl. With isolation movements you’ll make better gains over the long term if you focus on simply working the muscles, rather then moving maximum weights. You’ll still increase the weights overtime, but there is no need to force it, you’ll know when it’s time to up the weights for isolation exercises.
Sean:What is your stance on high intensity techniques such as forced reps, negatives, static holds and rest-pausing? Are they mass builders are joint killers?
Lee:I’m not a big user of high intensity techniques as doing a regular set to muscular failure is intense enough to stimulate growth. In my opinion over use of high intensity techniques just increases your chances for overtraining and injury. It is a real pet peeve of mine when I see guys in the gym doing bench presses with waaayyy too much weight, the lifter lowers the bar and the spotter deadlifts the bar off his buddy’s chest. I always cringe when I see this because it is only a matter of time before they get either a pec tear or serious rotator cuff problems.
But I will sometimes include some high intensity techniques with my workouts such as static holds, where on my last rep of a set I’ll just hold the weight and really squeeze and contract the muscles for about 5-10 seconds.
I’ll also incorporate rest-pausing into some of my sets. For example, lets say I’m doing an exercise and I want to complete 3 sets of 10 reps with a given weight. This is the way my sets will usually go:
On the first I will get all 10 reps with good form.
On the second set I’ll usually have to use a slight bit of body momentum on the last few reps to complete the set as my muscles are a bit fatigued from the first set.
On the third set I’ll get about 6-8 reps and then have to put the bar down for a 10 second rest pause before completing the rest of the set.
Sean:What is your opinion of training to muscular failure? Do you feel that it’s the best way to stimulate maximum gains, or is it overkill?
Lee:It all depends on the type of training one is doing. For bodybuilding purposes I think training to failure is important to stimulate maximum muscle growth. I should also mention that my definition of “training to failure” is the point at which you cannot complete another rep with good form, not the point at which you can’t move the weight at all.
For powerlifting pumping out reps until failure is actually counter productive as it limits the amount of weight you can handle. Most powerlifting routines incorporate multiple sets of low reps all stopped short of failure. Generally powerlifters never train until failure unless they miss a lift or they are doing some lighter assistance exercises after they have finished doing their main lifts.
Sean:Let’s say you were only allowed to perform one single exercise for each major muscle group. Which lifts would you choose?
Lee:I hate questions like this because there are so many good exercises out there for each bodypart…
But if I was forced to only choose one exercise for each muscle group my choices would be:
Chest: barbell bench press
Shoulders: dumbbell shoulder press
Triceps: decline bench French press with an ez bar
Back: bent over barbell row
Biceps: dumbbell curls
Quads: full squats
Hamstrings: stiff leg deadlifts
Abs: decline bench sit ups
Calves: standing calf raise
Forearms: heavy duty hand grippers
Sean:In addition to being a certified strength coach and muscle-building enthusiast, you’re also a competitive bodybuilder. The weeks leading up to a contest can be physically extreme and mentally demanding. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep yourself motivated?
Lee:I agree that contest prep for a bodybuilding contest is very demanding, probably harder then any other sport. To give you an example, a friend of mine competed in his first bodybuilding competition this past spring. He is a national level rugby player and used to compete in Olympic weightlifting as well as being involved in numerous sports while going through school. So he is no stranger to athletic competition. He told me himself after the show that getting ready for the bodybuilding competition was the hardest thing that he has ever done in his life.
With most sports once you leave the playing field, gym, or whatever you are done for the day. But with bodybuilding it is a 24 hour a day endeavor. You’ve got to keep track of every morsel of food that you eat. Most folks love the weight training, they can even handle the cardio without too much complaining, but when it comes to the diet this is where most people break down and lose it.
For me I like to start my contest prep early and give myself plenty of time to get ready. I actually start cleaning up my diet and doing regular cardio 6 months out from a contest. Now at this stage I’m not starving myself or anything like that, but I’ll cut out junk foods (except for the occasional treat) and do about 45 minutes of cardio 5 days per week.
As the weeks progress I’ll gradually get stricter with my eating and increase my cardio. By 12 weeks out I’m in full contest prep mode. At this stage life gets put on hold until after the show. No more cheat days, no more alcohol (not that I’m a big drinker anyway, but I will drink socially during the off-season). At this stage I’m doing at least 1 hour of cardio every single day and my diet is well regulated. I’ll stick with this basic regimen for the full 12 weeks prior to the contest.
For me motivation has never been a big problem, I’ve been doing this for so long now that it is almost like flicking a switch and boom I’m in contest prep mode. The desire to improve and look better then I did at my previous contest motivates me to keep pushing and keep strict with my routine. I re-organize my thinking so that when I see junk food, sweets, etc. instead of thinking how good it tastes, or getting cravings, etc. I automatically think that this will ruin my physique and destroy my chances of placing well at the show, so I actually get disgusted by the thought of it. And then to help confirm this I just look around at all the fat obese people that I see out in public or at the grocery store who are filling their shopping carts with junk and crap. I just say to myself “if I eat that I’ll look like them” and that’s motivation enough for me to stay the hell away from eating something I shouldn’t be eating.
I’m actually 11 weeks out from a bodybuilding contest right now. So I’m in the “life is put on hold” mode as we speak. I’m pleased with my progress thus far. I’m currently 215 lbs. @ 6% bodyfat right now and I’m planning on losing another 17 lbs. to come in at the top of the light-heavyweight class in my hardest contest condition ever.
Update: Lee ended up winning the light-heavyweight division and the overall at that bodybuilding contest.
Sean:On top of this, you’re also a competitive powerlifter. How does training purely for strength differ from training for hypertrophy? Do any of the powerlifting principles carry over to bodybuilding?
Lee:I like to do powerlifting style training in my bodybuilding off-season. It’s a nice change of pace from typical bodybuilding workouts. The goal of most off-season bodybuilders is to get as big and strong as possible, and powerlifting fits in perfectly here. When you eat big and lift big, you’ll get big.
With bodybuilding you generally focus on working the individual bodyparts. Whereas in powerlifting the training is focused on the 3 power lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) and assistance exercises for the power lifts. When training the powerlifts you will combine several bodyparts into a workout that you normally wouldn’t do with a typical bodybuilding routine. For example, a lot of powerlifters will train the squat and deadlift on the same day as both exercises utilize the same major muscle groups. The training will combine both leg exercises and back exercises together in the same workout. But you’ll hardly ever hear of any bodybuilders training both legs and back on the same day.
My favourite powerlifting workout is the West Side Barbell style of training. I like this type of routine as it incorporates dynamic effort or speed workouts where you focus on lifting as fast and explosively as possible. This goes directly against the slow and controlled lifting that most bodybuilders do. The strength gains that you make from explosive training are amazing, especially if you’ve never focused on this type of lifting before. The WSB routine also frequently changes around the max effort exercises used every few weeks so you won’t get bored with your workouts by doing the same thing over and over again.
Sean:Well Lee, that just about sums up all the questions that I wanted to ask you. It has been a pleasure interviewing you, thanks for being here.
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Sean Nalewanyj is a bodybuilding expert and writer of top-selling Internet Bodybuilding E-Book: The TruthAbout Building Muscle. You can find more information by visiting his website: