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Default Training for Strength Without the Use of Drugs by Anthony Ditillo
by BendtheBar 10-22-2011, 11:36 PM

Training for Strength Without the Use of Drugs
by Anthony Ditillo (1981)


This article is dedicated to the training philosophy of one of the strongest, natural (non-steroid) lifters I have ever had the pleasure of meeting or training with: this article is dedicated to Dezso Ban. When it comes to developing Power and Muscle Size, we must realize that there is a big difference between training with the use of artificial aids and training without anabolic steroids. What I am trying to say is that the man who is not using the steroids will of necessity have to train harder and longer in order to achieve the same results, genetics allowing. This is not to say that the steroid user will not have to train especially hard, to the contrary; if the drugs are to do him any good at all, he will have to train very hard indeed. But for the trainee who is not interested in experimenting with the use of the substances, the only road to the top will be one filled with a lot of hard work.

We have begun with this premise for the simple reason that Dezso was not using anabolic steroids when training in his prime, so the routines which he outlined for himself and advocates for others, who have the will and desire to carry them out, will seem quite extensive ad voluminous, to say the least. So in order not to give you the idea that either he or I are exaggerating, I must point out that he was not trying to gain any bodyweight at this time, so a Bulk Up routine was out of the question and he was NOT using any artificial aids of any kind, hence the amount of work may seem like quite a bit, but the results were quite exceptional, to say the least.

Dezso's theory of training for he limits of one's potential lies in the assertion that the body WILL adapt to most any stress if given enough time to become accustomed to the workload. In other words, if you allow the body sufficient time to adjust to a certain load, you will recover and actually become capable of even MORE work and heavier work when this adaptability takes place. The Russians and the Bulgarians have known this for years an their lifters make their entire life revolve around the gym and their workouts, and while this might be somewhat objectionable to the majority of lifters reading this article; their results speak for themselves.

With this system of training you will be doing many sets of 3 and 5 repetitions with weights quite within the particular framework of your particular strength level. There is no forcing in this system of training. There is no place for straining under a maximum single repetition. This is saved for the "peaking out" period when you give your body a chance to show how strong it has become during the prearatory period in which you will be allowing yourself to adapt to heavier and heavier work loads.

It makes no sense to continually try your limits in the gym. This should be both physically and emotionally worked up to over a long period of time, so that when the competitive season or peak time arrives, you are in truly great shape, rerady to exert yourself to the fullest in order to register the highest possible numbers. For the rest of the training year, you should be trying to find ways of increasing your strength levels WITHOUT INCREASING your bodyweight. Otherwise, your strength and bodyweight ratio may actually go DOWN instead of up, even though you will be handling heavier weights.

What we are trying to do is to get your body used to an increased demand of additional exercise, since the greater the workload the greater the conditioning of the athlete is in question. This is usually done by working with between 80 and 90% maximum for many sets of 3's and 5's, in the movements we are trying to improve. By using 3's and 5's we are assuring that the amount of weight lifted each set will be of some benefit to the lifter and not just a toy to be tossed around. We do NOT advocate using baby weights and doing a great volume of work; we recommend using medium heavy to heavy weights and STILL doing a large volume of work!

Most of the routines you are reading in the magazines are routines used by guys with years of heavy steroid usage behind them, so they are actually living in a separate world from the rest of you. You CAN'T follow their routines and expect to make the kind of gains they made, if you are not on the same steroid program and don't possess the same genetic potential. This is the simple truth and sometimes when the truth hurts only a lie appears beautiful.

This is not to suggest that these men have not trained and sweated blood for whatever gains they have amassed; nothing is further from the truth. However, we must realize that to try and copy one of their routines without taking into account all that the champions have done and taken internally in order to get to the point they are at . . . would be asking for failure from the word go. Anabolic steroids will not take a mediocre lifter and make him into a champion unless he has the genetic potential to go that far, the proper training facilities to train under and sacrifices everything for his sport, in order to reach the top. On top of this, he MUST have an above average income in order to pay for these substances, for the gross amount ingested and injected by today's men can become extremely expensive for the average fellow to afford. So actually, if you wish to go as far as these substances, sacrifice and hard work can take you, you had better be able to afford doing so.

Dezso was not able to contact anyone with access to these substances, since he had just come over from Europe and couldn't speak the language, anyway. Also, he would have never been able to afford anything close to the amount necessary for him to use in order to help him in his training, so without taking morality into consideration, he merely developed a system of working both LONG and HARD with no attempt whatsoever to gain additional bodyweight, and the results from this type of dedication were close to fabulous!

At a bodyweight of around 190 lb. he clean and jerked close to 380. He power cleaned and pressed 285 for 3 sets of 5 repetitions; regularly did shrug pulls from the floor with close to 500 lbs.; stiff leg deadlifted 605 for three doubles, after a 50-set back workout and front squatted, Olympic style, 455 for 5 reps. He also did back squats, Olympic style, 445 for 5 sets of 5; hyperextensions with 185 on his shoulders; once shrugged 940 lb. for a triple (I witnessed this myself); snatch grip shrugged 775 for sets and reps between 5 and 10 and he also power cleaned with thumbless grip and NO KNEE DIP WHATSOEVER, 335 lbs.

When you consider that this man never touched a steroid during this training period of his life, you can value the level of accomplishment he attained during his prime training period, and the mute testimony of his type of workout was the results he developed for himself and whoever fell under his spell.

Dezso believes in training six days per week. Three Squat days, three Pull days and Presses are done EVERY DAY that you train. The total number of sets of leg work goes to around 50 per workout, along with close to 30 sets of pressing. This is done three days per week. On alternate days he would do close to 50 sets pulls along with an additional 20 to 30 sets of pressing movements. We should also include the assistance work such as Roman Chair for the abdominals and Hyperextensions for the lower back. These were also done three times per week.

The secret to this kind of training is not to rush into these methods too fast, but to only increase the sets when you are no longer responding to the particular workload you are presently handling. It makes it MUCH easier if you are also trying to gain bodyweight while on such a training routine. Because with the additional bodyweight your power and size should respond. However; he was not interested in appearance or bodyweight during this time. He was interested solely in increasing his functional strength. Doubles and singles have no place in such a routine, for the key to progress in this type of training is not how much you can force out for a single, but how much weight you can perform for sets and repetitions. It is very close to bodybuilding, except the weights are kept fairly heavy, the sets are very high and the repetitions will not go over five. Also, the lifting movements themselves are not primarily chosen for their ability to beautify the physique. Yet, the overall effect is the look of David Rigert or Serge Reding (depending upon your natural body type).

What makes the training theory so appealing to me is that the sole consideration you need be worried about is if you have enough time to put into your workouts in order to continue to progress as fast and as far as you can. In Dezso's opinion, "You must pay the price. You can't get it for nothing. I can't give it to you!!!"

Here then is a brief explanation of Dezso's training routine:

Monday, Wednesday and Friday
Legs and Shoulders

On all the following exercises do 8 to 12 sets of five repetitions, 5 x 5 with the heaviest weight. That is, work your way up to 5 x 5 with the heavy weights:

Back Squat
Front Squat
Lunges

as well as -

Front or Back Squat, with heels on a 4" block - 6 to 10 sets of 5's, working for thigh isolation.
Press - 8 to 12 sets of 3's and 5's working into heavy weights.
Press Behind Neck - 6 to 10 sets of 5's working into heavy weights.
Bench Press - 6 to 10 sets of 5's working into heavy weight.
Roman Chair Work - 6 to 10 sets of 5's working into heavy weight.


Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
Pulls and Shoulders

On all of the following exercises do between 8 and 12 sets of 3's and 5's:

Power Clean
High Pull
Squat Clean
Shrug Pull
Shrug
Stiff Legged Deadlift
Deadlift
Hyperextension

These movements were not done continually in the listed manner given above, the order was changed, yet during the course of the workout the entire scope of the workload remained somewhat the same.

Also on these days he used assorted pressing movements fo 20 sets once again, to work his shoulder muscles. He actually thinks overtraining is in the mind, and as long as your diet is good, your mental attitude is one of ACCEPTANCE to the necessity of the stress, and you work up to this workload of training gradually over time, then your body can adapt to just about ANYTHING!!!

The secret to this kind of training is not to rush the workload too fast, but to take your time and adjust yourself to the workload during a certain period of training time and continue to increase the workload as time goes by.

Finally, we should also take into consideration training injuries and how this system allows you to work around them. Let us suppose that for one reason or another, whenever you incorporate heavy singles in your training your thighs become injured. So how do you increase your squatting power without using heavy singles of doubles? So how do you maintain or increase leg size without using these heavy attempts? The answer is many sets of medium repetitions which will neither overwork the muscles OR the joints but will, WHEN TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT TOTALLY, work the muscles both adequately and sufficiently without undue physical trauma or reoccurring pain. Let us say you can squat 400 for one. Let us also assume that you can get 350 for 2 or 3 sets of 5 repetitions. Now suppose you NEVER go above 350 but systematically work at getting more and more work done with this weight as time goes by, until you're getting 3 sets of 5 with 350 and then 2 or 3 sets of 3 with this same weight. Perhaps a few weeks, or a month or two goes by and now you're able to get 350 for FIVE or SIX sets of FIVES, along with a few sets of THREES. Do you think you are any stronger than when you started? You surely are!! And if you decided to peak out for a few weeks to see how much you could squat for a single, I am sure that you would go far above the 400 for one with which you started this program. And what did it cost you? Only the willingness to do the increased workload and put in the additional time required.

Why do you think the Bulgarians are training twice per day? Because they have nothing better to do? No. It's because they know that a better conditioned athlete is a stronger athlete. Period. And they also know that it doesn't come for free. You have to pay the price somewhere. Their lifters are willing to pay the price. Stop reading the routines in the magazines and thinking this is the way the guy trains all year long. For the most part, the routines are only the PRE-routines that the lifter uses right before a contest and this necessitates that the routine is heavy but rather short, since at this time recuperation is most important.

With Dezso's type of training you are working ALL the necessary muscle groups quite adequately and thoroughly, while at the same time you are saving nervous energy. This training should not drain you mentally. For the most part, it is quite easy on you mentally, since you know just about what where you are, poundage-wise, in advance. You will not be going through the trauma of failure with single attempts training, at least not for the majority of the months of the training year. Also, there is very little chance of injury since the weights used for the majority of the work should be well within your limits. The main thing to remember when trying to work this way is to pick a weight you can handle for sufficient volume and are able to perform sets and repetitions with IN CORRECT STYLE.


For someone who is interested in embracing this mode of training I would advise you to pick three movements for the thighs, three movements for the back and three movements for the shoulders. Work your shoulders six days per week, two movements per day, ten sets of each. Thigh work is done with three movements per workout, ten sets of each. The same is done with the Pulls.

Make the first three sets progressively heavier for warmup, then jump to a weight you can get from between 3 and 5 reps with and perform 7 sets with this weight. When these 7 sets can be done for 5 reps each, it is time to add 10 or 20 lbs. to the bar and begin once again. Stay with this workload until one or two things happen: either you can get 7 sets of 5 with a weight, but CAN'T seem to increase the bar in order to begin the routine once again with heavier weight, OR you simply are NOT responding physically (muscle size or density increase) to the workload though your body IS recuperating.

When this happens, here's what you should do:

Go to FOUR squatting movements and FOUR pulling movements done three times per week and THREE pressing movements done six days per week, for 10 sets of 3 to 5 reps per exercise, OR keep he original number of movements per exercise and body area but raise the number of sets per movement from 10 to 15!

Yes, I know. This sounds like a lot of hard work. Well, it is. If you STILL wish to emulate the men you have been reading about, then you will HAVE to work like two men in order to go to the limits of your natural potential and this will take up MUCH of your training time AND physical and mental energy. I am NOT going to tell you a fairy tale about 5 sets of this and 3 sets of that, and have you think it takes two hours per day three days per week to look like David Shaw or Kazmaier. In order to look like these men and develop great strength you are going to have to almost LIVE in a gym. And even then, you will go no further than your genetics will allow you to. And when you come to this particular point, you will be faced with a basic dilemma which most advanced trainers face at one time or another in their careers: "I have no more spare time to give to my training, so without increasing the workload how do I continue to gain?" The answer is, you don't! You have reached your feasible peak, all things taken into consideration, and you've gone as far as you're going to. But you'll NEVER even get to this point if you don't gradually increase your workload as time goes by.


So there you have it. I know it isn't pretty to think about or to look at objectively, but it is the simple truth and I would rather tell you an unpleasant trutht than lie to you and have you disillusioned as to there being secrets about all this that no one ever told you. You know now what you have to do to go as far as you can genetically without using any drugs.
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Old 10-23-2011, 09:21 AM   #11
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I thought squat, bench and deadlift once each per week was the staple, but I've read other forum members stating that isn't frequent enough.
No, not really a staple. Westside trains twice a week with speed and dynamic effort, 531 uses once a week while train assistance work for muscle groups twice a week...many lifters in the 70s and 80s trained twice a week, some once a week.

When we have discussions like this they need to be framed around the goals and experience level of the trainee.
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Old 10-23-2011, 12:50 PM   #12
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The body will adapt to frequency, most certainly...but it takes time, and is not something to be rushed. You will see me beat the same drum on this forum...start simple and evolve training.

The danger with articles like this is that too many guys rush into things before they get beastly strong first. We have had guys do it on this forum. I would advise them to slow down, but they would see me as a cautionary old fool. A lifter must spend years learning their body, training hard, building up strength, and fighting walls as they evolve things.
Great points in regards to easing into high frequency training. After that Broz article was posted on t-nation about high frequency you saw a big spike in people using that type of training. They however did not ease into things and many of the logs I scanned through died off within 4-8 weeks. As with this and the Broz article, the 'build up phase' is to often not covered which is a disservice to those who want to attempt that style of training.

In regards to the Bulgarian method which was brought up in this article, things to keep in mind is that its used by elite level lifters who've already spent much of their career developing a VERY strong foundation with less stressful methods. Not only that but there is a high rate of attrition with that style of training and only those with the fewest injuries make it through.
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Old 10-23-2011, 02:21 PM   #13
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My early training was heavily influenced by Ditillo, Starr and Hepburn. Three writers who epitomised frequent training on the basics. There's a lot to be learned from the article if we view it from the lens of personal experience rather than take it as a prescription to be followed:

1) Three times by my count he states NOT to train to failure. Train hard or train long, but not both. The two do not mix for the majority of people. How hard and how frequent will depend on your recovery factors but the rule is clear you can't burn the candle at both ends.

As Steve said it's a trio of volume, intensity and frequency. I would perhaps argue volume and frequency are essentially the same thing when measuring workload but that's very Starr-esque and it's really just splitting hairs the argument is essentially the same.

2) It also highlights the need for build up phases where volume is accumulated and then periods where true top-end strength is allowed to show via higher intensity work and lowered volume/frequency. This is what Starr referred to as 'widening the pyramid'. He believed a larger base of workload done during the accumulation phase would result in a higher peak of strength once peaking was done. There isn't very much Starr is wrong about in lifting and he was not wrong about this. This is the basis for most forms of periodisation.

I've taken some flack for my views on this (elsewhere) but this is essentially where I see many trainees failing to make the jump from average to truly elite.

For most trainees who are still working their way up in poundages a single-step model is perfectly workable, a trainee hits their 3 sets (for example) of Squats once a week and is stronger the week after. Simple. It is THOSE trainees who won't need and won't see the value of increasingly complex periodisation. Once you have exhausted those possibilities and can no longer gain strength/mass using that single-step model you must progress to a two step model.

For clarity the two phases as I see them are as follows
  • Build up phase characterised by high volume/high frequency
  • Peak phase characterised by lowered volume and all out intensity

What I have described above is a two phase model. At a certain point and this can come at varying points with different bodyparts the stress of a single workout is both insufficient in terms of stress imposed to force an adaption and if the volume/intensity is sufficient to force an adaption the recovery time for the various systems is too long which results in undertaining and taking steps back.

At that point accumulation of workload over the period of more than one session and subsequent active rest is what will force the adaption. And THAT and this is where I take a lot of flack on this, my main issue of trainees failing to reach their potential is not working hard enough, long enough or with enough volume when they should and not resting as they should be.

It's the difference between the two that forces adaption. This is where I think planned deloads are useful IF and only IF a trainee is working hard enough, long enough and frequently enough to warrant a consistent deload. Most won't and that is where they will remain average.

By that I mean most won't work hard enough during the build up phases and for those that do some won't deload enough during the rest periods. There's a lot to be said for going balls to the wall for two weeks and active rest for another week. It's a tried and true system which will consistently produce results in a very special population for which its hard to produce results; advanced and elite trainees. Not working hard enough when you should and not giving it a complete rest when you should. Again; it is the contrasting stresses that force adaption.

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Old 10-23-2011, 02:53 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by BendtheBar View Post
The danger with articles like this is that too many guys rush into things before they get beastly strong first. We have had guys do it on this forum. I would advise them to slow down, but they would see me as a cautionary old fool. A lifter must spend years learning their body, training hard, building up strength, and fighting walls as they evolve things.
I see what you are saying Steve. The way I see it, I am currently crawling in a lifting sense insofar as I have learned a small bit but have tons of progress to make before I even get to the walking phase. Monster routines are basically the equivalent of running. When I can't even walk, I shall not be tempted to run.
I remember reading Jim Wendler when he said that everyone wants a 12 week program, but how many would want to do a 2 year one and that lifting is life long, not just for a year or two. I am fascinated by all things strength but the days of having lifting ADD for me are over (even if it doesn't sound like it!).

@ Faz: Are you a teacher or something? You write extremely well I must say.

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Old 10-24-2011, 12:24 AM   #15
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"You must pay the price. You can't get it for nothing. I can't give it to you!!!" i just enscribed this quote on the front of the written log i take into the gym with me it basically sums it up!

and coming from someone who does not have a huge amount of experience this is very informative thread, good work gents......
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Old 10-24-2011, 07:24 AM   #16
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[quote-Fazc] I would perhaps argue volume and frequency are essentially the same thing when measuring workload but that's very Starr-esque and it's really just splitting hairs the argument is essentially the same.[/quote]

I know what you're saying. I use volume and frequency to arrive at a weekly workload, but in my case it's mostly sets because the trainees are beginners and working strictly in common hypertrophy ranges.

I use the workload of sets example to help novices better understand a structure of fullbody workouts, and vice versa.
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