Bill Pearl Interview
Bill Pearl Interview by Dennis Weis
Dennis Weis: Would you briefly tell us what an arm specialization routine for you would look like:
Bill Pearl: If I wanted to get my arms as big as I could possibly get them, I would probably do around 20 sets of 4 exercises and 5 sets each for the triceps and 20 sets for the biceps per workout 3 times a week. That would be around 60 sets of triceps and 60 sets of biceps work per week. I would keep the reps between 6 and 8 and I would do all basic movements where I'd handle as heavy a weight as possible. I'd consume nutritious food that had calories in and just flat out eat!
DW: I was wondering when you talk about training 20 sets for the biceps 3 times a week, what you think about the lower-volume, high-intensity training that Mike and Ray Mentzer use. They say you can theoretically develop a great physique - even in you're not a genetic freak - in just five years if you apply their method of high intensity training.
BP: Mike and Ray Mentzer used to write to me when they were young kids back in Pennsylvania. Ray was nine years old and Mike was eleven. They'd send me little pictures of themselves and all types of stuff. I'd answer them back. I never dreamed they'd end up like they were, but Mike and Ray are definitely genetic freaks. Ray is one of the strongest bodybuilders I have ever seen in my life, and Mike is equally powerful.
They have trained heavy all these years. They must have tendons like the size of my thumb. Their bodies can stand that heavy type of training where they limit the number of sets to no more than five for either the triceps or biceps, while carrying each set to total failure in both the positive and negative rep levels for maximum stimulation in the shortest time. I can say with all sincerity that Mike and Ray Mentzer do not train like this year in and year out.
DW: About the use of dumbbells. Do you use a lot of them in your training as opposed to barbells or does it make any difference to you?
BP: Well, it does make a difference because you want as much variety in your training as you can get. If I had to choose between dumbbells and barbells I would go with the dumbbells. I think if anyone gets on a training program where the exercises, sets and reps are done the same day in and day out, month after month, his body becomes so accustomed to what he's doing that muscle growth will stop altogether, to say nothing of the mind.
I will change my entire training program every 6 to 8 weeks. Different sets, different reps and a different goal for yourself can generally shock you into a new growth range and progress.
DW: Can you give me an example of a typical routine you might use from time to time?
BP: I train six days per week year round. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I will train all the muscle groups with just one exercise for 6 sets of each. A full body workout on those 3 days. I group the bodyparts in such a way that I can do supersets so I won't rest too long between sets. I change the exercises every workout day. As an example, I might do incline dumbbell flyes for the chest on Monday, while on Wednesday I might go with the bench press, and on Friday it might be decline flyes or decline bench presses. Each of the 6 sets I do is increased from the previous one, and each week I try to add weight to all my previous 6-set poundages.
On Tuesday I will do 18-20 sets for the chest and the back, and on Thursday I will work the legs and shoulders for 18020 sets each. I break up the back and leg training in the manner I have just described because they're the two largest muscle groups and it's not a tiring this way. I work my calves every day for a half hour. Saturday is arms-only day and just a laid back fun day.
There are four muscle groups which I work 6 days a week for six sets of one different exercise on each day. They are the forearms, abs, leg biceps and the neck. I will train at about 85-90% of maximum, and I try to do 30 sets per hour, which is one set every two minutes. My rep scheme is varied in that I will do 6-10 reps per bodypart, but as I grow stronger I will up my reps to 15 for the upper body and 25 for the legs.
DW: How long should a bodybuilder be working out basically before switching to much more intense workouts like yours?
BP: If a guy is not responding on a hard and heavy 20 sets per muscle group three times a week layout and he is not growing, believe me, doing five times that much is not going to do it for him. There has to be a limit to this. There is no set answer to this question. I know guys who can train three or four days a week, 45 minutes a day, and make very good progress, and others who just don't grow at all. I would never do more than 20 sets per muscle group three times per week. I don't care what I did before - to me it just isn't worth the effort now. You're going to spend your whole life in the gym.
No one says that more time in the gym is better. I can tell you that I can get all that I need in a lot less than six days a week, three hours a day in the gym. I don't have to train that much. It just means I like it. I like the surroundings, and I like the people. I use this as my time of the day to do what I desire. I'm sure I could be as healthy and fit as I could possibly be in one-half of that length of training time, but I enjoy the sport and I don't mind being in the gym. The minute it becomes drudgery and I don't like it, the smart thing to do is back off. Making the transition over from a 4-day to a 6-day workout schedule and going from multiple sets to mega-sets of, say, 20 will depend on how much time you have had in the sport of bodybuilding. I have trained for so many years that I am sure I could do 25 sets per muscle. It's like trying to get six gallons of water into a 5 gallon bucket. You can't do it because there's going to be a gallon which will be wasted.
Similarly, in bodybuilding you can only put so much into a particular effort and get so much out of it. Now, for the length of time you have trained it may be that 8 or 10 or 12 sets or e3ven 6 sets per muscle group would be just as good for you as 20 sets would be for me. You've got to realize the length of time you've been in bodybuilding and how much of a background you have, understanding what you are doing with regard to your training and how mature your muscles are. All these factors have a bearing on the intensity of workout you should follow.
I'm sure that if I do less than 20 sets per bodypart I'm not even going to maintain what I've got, let alone make any growth. The longer you have been at it, the more time you've got to spend on training if you want to continue to improve. If you want to continue to improve, if you want to get big, thick, coarse bulky muscles, handle heavy weights, keep your reps at about 6 to 8 and do numerous sets, and you will grow.
I'll say one thing. The minute something negative about your training comes into play, you had better get off it. Say you're doing a really heavy bench press like 300-400 pounds. You walk into the gym on Monday and do it, no sweat. Now on Wednesday, lo and behold, you don't get the 300 or 400 that you easily got on Monday, because you're still tired from your last bench routine. You come back to the gym again on Friday and you blow your benches again. Pretty soon you are gearing your whole workout to that 300 or 400 pound bench press. So you walk out of the gym and say, "I had a lousy workout" because you missed your bench presses. Psychologically you can't succeed in your workouts if you have a bad attitude toward them.
Another example. Guys will come up to me and say, "Bill, my arms won't grow. No matter what I try, my arms won't grow. What will I do?" They aren't going to grow every time you pick up a barbell and curl it because you are programming your arms to grow. Isn't this true? Your muscle doesn't have a brain. Your head controls the muscle. The muscle doesn't control the brain. So you've got to say, "Okay, I'm going to work my arms and my arms are going to grow." I say, CHANGE YOUR MENTAL ATTITUDE ABOUT YOUR TRAINING, because if you don't, you can't take anything negative that you are doing and turn it into something positive results.
Everything you do in the gym has to be done on a positive note. You must condition your subconscious mind to think that you are getting bigger and stronger and training with more intensity, and your body will have to respond accordingly.
DW: You say that you train six days a week. What exercises do you use to keep your abdominals in shape?
BP: There is no specific exercise that I do for my abdominal development. I do 5 to 7 different abdominal exercises for 100 repetitions each. There are plenty of exercises to choose from for the abs, and the combinations are virtually endless. I don't care how much you work your abs, if you're carrying fat there you can't do situps and burn that fat off your midsection. You cannot spot reduce a bodypart through exercise. All those situps are going to do is burn calories and tone the abs a certain amount. Then Mother Nature is going to pull fat off your body where she wants to. If you have heavy, thick obliques, which are normal on most guys, and you think side bends are going to reduce them without a change in diet, you're crazy. You're never going to get it off there that way.
DW: How much excess bodyweight do you think a bodybuilder should carry before he begins physique contest training?
BP: I would think that you should try to stay within two or three months of being in peak condition at all times. Never let yourself get into a condition where you can't in a period of two or three months get back into the best shape you've ever been in your life. If you gain more bodyweight than that, you're asking for trouble.
DW: Would you suggest taking a couple of days off from training just prior to a physique contest?
BP: I would think that you should take a couple of days off. For instance, if the physique contest is on a Saturday, you should probably get your last workout on Wednesday, but if you've been on a very strict diet as most people are today and you've been on this diet for the past six to seven months, what happens if you take the two days off before this contest which is so important to you and you totally blow the diet? It would ruin it. So you have to make this call yourself based upon your knowledge of contest training.
DW: Who do you think is the strongest bodybuilder you have ever trained with?
BP: The strongest bodybuilder that I've ever trained with was probably Franco Columbu on specific lifts, but the guy I've seen handle the most weight on all sets and repetitions on all the exercises was Ray Mentzer. I saw Ray training at a gym over in Germany a few years ago, and he was using about 240 pounds on a Nautilus biceps machine. Ray took that thing and sat down and with one arm curled that weight up. When Ray left to take a shower I went over to that machine and with two arms I could not curl it - and I consider myself strong. All of a sudden my attitude towards Ray changed tremendously.
DW: What's the best bench press you've ever done?
BP: Four hundred and fifty pounds. At my age I don't squat 600 pounds anymore. I've squatted 605. I've done the seated press behind neck with 310 for 2 reps. I was probably one of the strongest bodybuilders around for a long time until recently.
DW: Do you include running in your workout schedules?
BP: I run at times, but I don't run on a steady basis. I think it would be a good idea. If a person wanted to burn calories and consume more food then running is good, but I think if you're in hardcore bodybuilding you're not going to run too far. If you have that much energy left over, then you're doing something wrong in your workouts.
DW: There was a big change in your physique in the late 1960's and early 70's when your torso took on a more muscular look. How did you do that?
BP: By becoming more aware of my diet, which meant just taking all the nutritional information I knew and putting it into use.
Great read and interesting approach.
I like both his more off-season as well as his leaner looks.
A few of my favorite quotes:
I enjoyed the read, but I read it with my filter on.
I went to a seminar that he put on in the early 80s. He was charismatic and articulate, and he had forearms like hams.
I've still got a copy of his 'Keys to the Inner Universe' upstairs. It's the size of a medieval bible, and has got illustrations of every variation of every exercise ever.
I am a sucker for lifting books, the good and the bad.
Just found it. Gets great reviews but certainly isn't cheap.
Standing triceps pushdowns
Kneeling triceps pushdowns
Reverse grip triceps pushdpwns
Reverse grip kneeling triceps pushdowns
One arm triceps pushdowns
...and so on, ad nauseam. Each one fully described and illustrated.
For nostalgia or as a collectible - maybe worth it. For training knowledge - again, much as I like Bill Pearl, I would say save your dough.
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