The cliche, “there is more than one way to skin a cat” is one of the most overused out there, but when it comes to bodybuilding programs, it really is true. Talk to the top ten guys in almost any bodybuilding show and you’ll find that none of them do the same program. Here’s a brief look at five popular, yet fairly different bodybuilding programs.
HIT – High Intensity Training
Originally created by Arthur Jones and popularized by Mike Mentzer, the HIT bodybuilding program was characterized by doing only one “work” set per exercise, taking it to absolute momentary muscular failure. The idea here was that you want to do just enough work to stimulate a hypertrophy response, and no more. The rest of your time is spent resting and recuperating, so you can put as much as possible into your next workout, lifting as much weight as possible. Rest periods between workouts would eventually be several days to a week or longer, and Mentzer was known for sometimes advocating as little as one work set per bodypart (not exercise). HIT experienced a massive resurgence in popularity in the 1990s as 6x Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates heavily espoused HIT training.
Golden Era High Volume Work
Virtually the polar opposite of HIT, most of the bodybuilding programs done in the 1960s-1970s (often considered the “golden era” of bodybuilding) were characterized by very high volume. Workouts were often done twice per day, lasting 2+ hours each, six days per week. Either a 3-day split was utilized so bodyparts could be trained 2x/week, or a 2-day split was used, allowing bodyparts to be trained 3x/week. Every bodypart was trained with several exercises, consisting of both heavy compound exercises for strength and lighter isolation exercises to pump blood into the muscle. These sorts of routines are how the legendary Arnold Schwarzeneger built his 7x Mr. Olympia winning physique.
Stronglifts / Rippetoe 5×5
Though generally considered more of a strength program than a bodybuilding program, the Stronglifts / coach Mark Rippetoe inspired 5×5 programs have become almost a “go to” recommendation for brand new lifters – especially teenagers. This is because it’s a slow, steady program that focuses on consistency and incremental progress. Primary focus is on strength, but combined with a calorie-rich diet, new trainees often put on quite a bit of overall muscle mass across their frame, which makes for a good base for anything they want to do next. Split across three days per week, each workout is generally comprised of bench press, squat, and deadlift, power clean, or row. The program uses a linear periodization model, with the goal being to start out fairly light, and add a small amount of weight to the bar every workout.
GVT is one of those protocols that seems to experience a resurgence in popularity every few years or so, having articles written about it in the popular bodybuilding / workout magazines, as well as the more heavily trafficked training websites. One of the biggest proponents of GVT over the years has been Charles Poliquin, and it’s been used as much for athletic training as it has a bodybuilding program. Characterized generally by workouts consisting of 10 sets x 10 reps with limited rest per exercise, this method was (is) popular amount Eastern Bloc sports scientists as a part of their long-term athlete training periodization models. However, a look back again to the “golden era” will find that legendary trainer Vince Gironda was doing something almost identical when training bodybuilders with his 6×6 and 8×8 methods.
Many bodybuilding enthusiasts have always been enthralled with prison workouts. While “on the outside”, it’s thought that you have to have the perfect bodybuilding program combined with all the latest equipment, specialized supplements, and best diets to get results. However inmates at correctional facilities have none of these things, yet many still end their incarceration heavily muscled, fairly ripped, and quite strong. Prison workouts have gained increasing popularity in recent years with the rise of a few youtube fitness “celebrities”. Such bodybuilding programs are often characterized by long workouts, loose form, and reps done with an incomplete range of motion. As heavy of weight as possible is often used, and overall sets, reps, as well as number of exercises per workout is generally kept pretty high.