Study the posts on most training forums and you can make one conclusion: regardless of exercises used, regardless of the split used, rest is the key to growth. Period. End of story.
But back before the information overkill era, there was a different style of training that was popular. What was this secret training style? Full body workouts.
Proponents of full body workouts generally hit the gym three times a week, blasting their muscles primarily with heavy compound exercises, and lifting through soreness. Resting a muscle for a full week would have been considered laughable to most of these hardcore old-schoolers.
Back in 1953, a cross-eyed and club-footed Canadian strongman by the name of Doug Hepburn became a world champion weightlifter. At the world championships in Stockholm, Doug crushed the competition and brought home the gold.
What complex, rest-filled program did Doug Hepburn use to pack on mass and strength? Well, let’s put it this way…if Doug Hepburn posted his training program on a lifting forum today, the sharks would swarm and laugh him out of town. Doug performed simple and heavy full body workouts three times a week. Rest, as we know it, wasn’t on Doug’s radar screen.
Doug Hepburn was the first man ever to bench over 500 pounds. He also had a 760 pound squat and 705 pound deadlift. Doug also hated eating meat, and routinely drank 3 quarts of milk during his workouts.
Around the same time that Doug Hepburn was setting Canadian lifting records, a herculean lifter by the name of Steve Reeves took home the 1950 Mr. Universe crown.
Known for his great V-taper, Steve Reeves sported 18 inch guns and 26 inch thighs. And like Doug Hepburn, Steve Reeves believed in training full body workouts, three times a week. And regarding rest and over-training, Steve believe that if you performed more than 3 full body workouts per week, you were over-doing it. Quite a contrast in philosophies from the modern day, eh?
Dumbbell Military Press
Tricep Extension bench Press
Hanging Leg Raise
Lying Tricep Extension
Standing Calf Raise
Also in the 1950’s, a lifting trainer by the name of Vince Gironda became a central figure in the world of bodybuilding. Vince helped train the first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, as well as becoming a very popular trainer to the stars.
But unlike some of his proteges, Vince believe in full body workouts 6 days a week. Yes, you read that correctly; SIX days a week. And instead of cycling down training intensity, Vince’s trainees would increase the number of sets they performed over the course of 4 weeks. Talk about hardcore.
While Vince Gironda’s program seems insane and counter-intuitive to everything we know, multiple Hollywood stars successfully used the routine to get in top shape for the big screen.
MAD COWS AND RIPPLE TOES
While you might think that full body workouts have gone the way of the dinosaur, they have not. Eastern Bloc countries have been training their athletes with this method for decades, destroying American athletes year in and year out.
But there are some trainers in the Western world who are beating the full body workout drum. Madcow1 has popularized a 5×5, 3 day a week full body workout that is working wonders for those brave enough to forget everything they known about rest.
Another full body proponent, Mark Rippetoe, is gaining quite a following on bodybuilding message boards. His books, Starting Strength and Practical Programming, outline a simple, 3 day a week, full body workout.
So, before you dismiss the old-school methods of training, consider some of the bodies that were built on such little rest.
NOTE: For more information on training theory and rest, please read Understanding Training.