Tom Platz is many things: professional bodybuilder, businessman, actor, diplomat, entrepreneur; but when he is actually in the gym training it is no less than the purest form of an existential quest, a life and death struggle; something he wants to do so bad, he has to; he likens it to being hungry, all you can think about is your next meal. In fact when he approaches the squat racks he speaks in reverential hushed tones of how it is an altar, a place where your life should pass before you, if you apply yourself properly.
Tom Platz is also a man of paradoxes. He wanted to be a professional bodybuilder since ten years of age, yet now that he is living his dream his many commitments cut into his training more and more. He is someone who trained for years in the gym like an artist, only to find out later on that his methods have been vindicated by the latest scientific research. In fact Fred Hatfield told him that he was the most scientific bodybuilder that he knew. He is a bodybuilder who, when he looks his best, generally doesn't feel that good.
All these facets of his personality and more come out when he does a seminar like the ones he did in South Bend, Indiana in conjunction with the Mr. Indiana contest. And I heartily recommend that you attend one of his seminars if you ever get the chance, if nothing else, just to get close to the intensity he's harnessed within himself to release on his workouts: some of it might rub off.
His seminars are like the amino acids he takes in large quantities and his workouts: free forming. So for the sake of clarity I'm going to organize everything he said spontaneously in response to questions, into the topics he covered.
Tom is a firm believer in basics, especially in the beginning. He started out in Powerlifting and won a State championship in Michigan. And while he thinks bodybuilding and powerlifting don't mix on a very advanced level, he thinks powerlifting is a great place for a bodybuilder to begin, and cited examples of this such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu. He said it gives you that rugged "lifter" look, and mentioned one up and coming professional bodybuilder who he thinks lacks that quality in his physique, because he came up strictly through the bodybuilding ranks and never did any heavy training. In fact he thinks of himself as a powerlifter turned bodybuilder. But once one gets to the advanced level that he's at, generally speaking, he feels that you have to curtail the big movements because you're trying to refine your physique and they can hurt your symmetry. In fact he loves to squat so much he has to have people around him tell him, "Tom, don't squat," lest his legs get out of proportion to the rest of his physique.
Prior to working out he does extensive warming up and stretching. Apparently it activates a governing tendon and allows the muscles to work through a greater range of motion.
Once into his actual workouts he likes to vary his workloads, because then he's sure that he's working slow and fast twitch muscle fibers. Thus, for example, sometimes he might work up to a heavy triple in the squat, and at other times he might use a weight that he can squat with for 20 minutes. And people wonder why his legs look like they do? He's just touching all the bases.
What he does on any given day has a lot to do with intuition. However, unless he's working with higher reps his training cycle is usually very explosive, intense; which helps in part to explain his bulky physique. And that was something conscious on his part: he knew that as a short endomorph he was never going to look like Schwarzenegger, so he tried to get as massive as possible. In fact to him the supreme compliment is to be told, "Tom, you look freaky!" He contrasted his explosive football player-type training with Frank Zane's Zen-like approach, and their resultant physiques; Zane's being leaner, more symmetrical. Their bodies are literally produces of their personalities and training styles.
The two things that come out again again are freedom and intensity of training. Tom sees himself as an artist in the gym - the various exercises being the colors on his palette. The weight and repetitions are largely irrelevant: it's the intensity that matters; the weights themselves are merely a medium between the mind and the muscles. Thus, when he's training his arms, for example, they become his world; nothing else exists and his entire being is poured into them and the effort to make them grow. Along with this he finds visualization very important prior to a workout, as well as posing after a workout to further learn how to isolate the muscles.
He likes dumbbells a lot because of the freedom of movement they allow. One of his favorite movements is dumbbell inclines. And when using dumbbells for curls he said it's very important to really squeeze as hard as you can at the top. This squeezing is important in other exercises too, like cable rows, which he pulls to his stomach and tries to squeeze the upper back muscles as much as possible. Then when he lets the bar back out to arms' length, stretching is equally important, actually letting the bar pull you forward so you hyper-extend.
With the creative freedom he employs in his workouts, he really can't use a training partner. However, he does like to have someone around to spot; like when he's doing behind the neck presses, to push up on his elbows just enough so that he can get a couple more reps. Or when he's doing wide grip chins he likes to have someone push on the bottoms of his feet. He also likes to have someone around who's critical of his physique as opposed to people who just feed his ego with compliments. As to the former, he mentioned that his wife is one of his most objective critics.
Naturally, when you have legs like Tom Platz, people want to know how you train them, and his comments were pretty extensive. When squatting he puts his feet about shoulder width, the bar high on his neck and he goes below parallel, using a lifting shoe with a slight heel. Tom cautioned against doing power squats because they involve the back and hips too much (ironically, powerlifters ought to spend some time doing squats the way he does as an assistance exercise for the quadriceps).
He also likes to play a little mind game with himself by wearing knee high socks: "that makes my legs look shorter and then I think I can squat with anything."
Although Tom thinks the squat is the best exercise, he drops them as he gets close to a contest because they tend to smooth his thighs out. And then he employs more aerobic type work like bicycling or high repetition leg extensions. He also does hack squats with his toes pointed outward to hit the inner thigh and create a look of width.
He has no use for front squats or super-setting legs; the former because he`s too absorbed trying to balance the bar on his shoulders, and the latter because they make him feel like he`s over-training -- his legs get pumped enough from straight sets.
After a particularly hard leg workout he`ll rest them for 7 to 10 days. Or if he deadlifts one week, then he won`t squat that week. He said deadlifts are primarily responsible for his forearm size as he doesn`t train them directly.
As for the third powerlift, the bench press, he doesn`t do them very often, and them only after he`s done everything else. Overall, Tom trains four days in a row and then takes some time off, depending on how tired his muscles are, usually 2 to 4 days.
He admitted that his all-out, explosive style of training did make him more prone to injuries. He said when he`s squatting he goes until one more rep would tear the muscle loose and then stops. And he meant "literally, because I know what it feels like to have a muscle tear loose" - referring to the biceps tear that he suffered before a recent Mr Olympia. And when he does feel that he's strained a tendon, he'll give it some rest, take some aspirin because it is, after all, an inflammation, and then use lighter weights when he starts back.
Basic Workout Plans
Level One Workout
Monday - (Legs/Chest/Abs)
Squats - work up to 3 sets of 5 reps; 1 x 10
Leg Curls - 2 x 8-12 to failure
Bench Press - work up to 5 x 5
Deadlift - work up to 2 x 5
Front Chins - 3 x max
Bentover Barbell Row - 3 x 6-8
Standing Press - 3 x 6-8
Cross Bench Pullover 2 x max, moderate weight
Standing Alt. DB Curl - 3 x 6-8 to failure
Pressdown - 3 x 8-12 to failure
Friday (Full Body)
Bench Press - work up to 3 x 3; 1 x 15
Front Chins - 3 x max
Seated Press Behind Neck - 3 x 6-8
Cross Bench Pullover - 3 x max
Standing Barbell Curl - 3 x 6-8 to failure
Lying Triceps Extension - 3 x 8-12 to failure
Squats - 2 x 15 to failure
Leg Curl - 2 x 15 to failure
Level Two Workout
* On exercises calling for 5 or fewer reps start out with light weights and gradually build intensity and momentum over the cycle.
Bench Press - work up to 3 x 3; 1 x 10
Low Incline Fly - 2 x 8-12 to failure
Chins Behind Neck - 3 x max
Bentover Barbell Row - 3 x 10-12
Cross Bench Pullover - 2 x 15
Seated Press Behind Neck - 3 x 6-8
Bentover Lateral Raise - 2 x 15
Squats - work up to 3 x 3
Hack Squat - 2 x 6-8 to failure
Leg Curl - 2 x 10-15 to failure
Calf Raise 3-6 x 6-20
Seated DB Curl - 3-5 x 6-8 to failure
Pressdown - 3-5 x 10-12 to failure
Deadlift - work up to a triple
Front Chin - 3 x max
Bentover BB Row - 3 x 6-8 to failure
Cross Bench Pullover - 2 x 15
Bench Press - work up to 3 x 5
Incline Fly - 2 x 10-15 to failure
Seated PBN - 3 x 10-12
Bent Lateral Raise - 2 x 15
Seated DB Curl - 5 x 6-8 to failure
Pressdown - 5 x 10-12 to failure
Squats - 2 x 15 to failure
Hack Squat - 3 x 6-8 to failure
Leg Curl - 2 x 15 to failure
Seated Calf Raise - 3-6 x 6-20
First off, Tom mentioned that he pays no attention to his bodyfat percentage, but rather just keeps looking at himself in the mirror to see how he's doing. He said that early in his bodybuilding career he was from the old school of high protein and low carbs, and the close to a contest he got the higher the protein and the lower the carbs. However, he just couldn't seem to get much over 190 pounds in tight shape. Then, early in the Eighties he decided to experiment with larger amounts of carbohydrates, around 300 to 400 grams per day. He ate bread, potatoes, fruit, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup and ice cream. And he found that he felt much better and trained harder. He would try to include a lot of carbs in his breakfast to get ready for his morning workouts. However, he still limited his fats to 9(?) grams a day. His caloric intake at this time went as high as 6000. So with his fats low, it was hard for his body to pick up additional fat, but with his carbs high his body had more fuel for training. And it worked. His weight went all the way to a hard 220. The final irony though, is that he thinks his visualization of himself getting larger was the most important factor in his gaining weight. He could just see himself getting larger.
As a result of the experience, he thinks it is better to eat more and train more, rather than eat less and train less. So now he gets 2600 to 3000 calories every other day and never goes below 2000. He also rarely goes over 3000 now. As he gets closer to a contest he reduces his calories by reducing his fat intake, and he also adds more aerobic work. He also purposely gets less sleep and remains active longer hours day and night so that he burns more calories. He also uses sodium overload to some degree: as he gets close to a contest he puts more sodium into his diet and then three days before the contest he cuts it out entirely. And during those last three days he also likes to go to Acapulco to bake in the sun to get rid of excess water. As mentioned before, once he get very lean he doesn't feel that good because it's an unnatural condition; or in other words, it's a healthy practice to carry a little fat!
Tom as a hair analysis done every year to see if any mineral are deficient. For example, on the last one he had done it was discovered that he needed more zinc.
Success in Bodybuilding
Tom sees three factors that a person needs to succeed in bodybuilding:
1. training data,
He admits that beginners must have set routines to get started and build a foundation, just as a beginning painter might use numbers. And that's where the training data comes in: learn all you can, both from outside sources as well as your own training. In any field of endeavor, knowledge is power. The more one learns about the science of bodybuilding, the more successful one will be at practicing their art.
Genetics, of course, cannot be overlooked. But, part of the genetic code affects one's mental durability, so it's not simply a matter of testosterone count or body type. There has to be an inborn toughness to work muscles hard enough to make them grow and keep growing. And there is also a sort of genetic social code, how the parent's behavior influenced the child, like Tom's inheritance of his father's work ethic. And along with genetics one must have the instinct to know how to train for their particular body type. He said that because Arnold was an ectomorph, he responded more to an endurance type of training. Whereas, as I mentioned before, Tom feels he responds more to an explosive type of training because he is an endomorph. So for these reasons even genetics seem to sublimated to the mental, and indeed, with so much information floating around one has to make successful choices as to what will work best for oneself.
But ultimately, it's the heart that determines the great bodybuilders. The intensity one puts into training: "You may not be able to increase the weight or reps, but you can always make it more intense." It must become a need, something one does to survive on a chosen level.
And so, finally, it's not so much winning or losing that defines the successful lifter: "It's what went on in the gym, for if you've put your heart and soul into your workouts, gave them everything you had, then you're a winner.
Another aspect of the mental is the energy Tom gets from other people. When posing and doing seminars he's taking in what the audience gives him and then feeding it back by getting even a little better. In that respect he sees himself as a conduit. Or in other words, he's a perfect example of the old adage, success breeds confidence and confidence breeds success. In keeping with that philosophy he is as you might expect in a seminar: earnest, patient, unassuming, just basically very open and people-oriented. Tom Platz not only possesses one of the most freakishly classic, instantly recognizable bodies in the business, he is also a class act.
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is after a 2000 raw total.
Bearded Beast of Duloc
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