Q: I always have a problem making gains in the winter. It starts around Halloween, when the weather starts getting cooler and the bowls of candy start taunting me. Then it’s Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie, and it’s even colder outside. I lose the motivation to hit the gym, and my muscles usually shrink and get shrouded with a layer of fat. Is this just something I should accept, or do you have any solutions?
A: Definitely do not accept it—at least not completely—because if you regress in the winter and then start training hard in the spring, you waste a lot of workouts just getting back to where you were the previous year. (We speak from experience—it’s happened to us on more than one occasion).
Our first suggestion is to pick a workout that you can stick to—one that matches your motivation. Even the great Arnold himself used to back off in the winter, but it was a planned backoff (if you fail to plan, you plan to fail). He would do a big, basic routine, training four days a week, specializing on one bodypart that needed extra size. The rest of his muscles got only a few sets of big, basic, hard work. The first thing you need to do is think of yourself looking like this strolling down the beach—burn that image in your mind (Arnold photo by John Balik)…
So what type of program do we suggest? Two come to mind immediately, and both can be customized. First is phase 1 of Jonathan’s 20-pounds-of-muscle-in-10-weeks routine. You only train three days a week—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And each workout starts with a big anabolic accelerator, either squats or deadlifts. Beginning each workout with either of those kick-starts testosterone production and metabolic momentum.
But as we said, you have to match your motivation. So if you can’t find the motivation to do squats or deadlifts at each of those three workouts, do squats on Monday, neither on Wednesday, then deadlifts on Friday. Wednesday becomes more of an arm-abs-calf day—a middle-of-the-week workout you won’t dread (you’re training arms!).
It’s also a good winter program because it includes a lot of the best mass-building exercise, with key isolation moves sprinkled in only where necessary. And you only do one or two work sets for each exercise. That means you can totally focus. You could use it for five weeks, going all out, then back off for a week, doing subfailure sets to recharge and prepare your body for the next intense five-week mass assault. We call that phase training in our e-books. (There are a few versions of this routine in the 3D Muscle Building e-book.)
Or, if you’re more apt to go to the gym four days a week, like Arnold, the 3D Power Pyramid Workout from the Freak-Physique Stretch-Overload Workout e-book is a killer size-and-strength-building program. Here you train the three positions of flexion—midrange, stretch and contracted—so you get those key layers of muscle-size stimulation. Most of the emphasis, however, is on the big midrange move, which triggers max force generation.
To generate the most force possible, we suggest pyramiding; that is, you gradually increase the weight over three sets, and your reps go something like 9, 7, 5. That gives you a variety of rep ranges for growth stimulation and it also makes sure the muscle is thoroughly warm for the lower-rep set (you’ll see the scientific importance of heat for more mass in a moment). Then you follow the big midrange exercise with only one set each of a stretch- and contracted-position exercise. We’ve discussed the importance of each of those before, but here is the 3D Maximum Mass Hierarchy again to reiterate those key size and strength triggers:
Midrange Exercise = Max Force
Stretch Exercise = Full-Stretch Overload
Contracted Exercise = Continuous Tension/Occlusion
The 3D Power Pyramid Program hits each of those. Here’s how the quad workout looks…
Midrange: Squats, 3 x 8, 6, 4
Stretch: Sissy squats, 1 x 8-12
Contracted: Leg extensions, 1 x 8-12
Does it work? Here’s what one bodybuilder had to say about it: “I decided to do the 3D Power Pyramid Workout because I was looking for both mass and strength—and that’s exactly what I got. I went from 195 to 215 in two short months [almost 20 pounds of muscle in eight weeks]! My bench press went from 340 to 405, squats from 460 to 515, and deadlifts from 375 to 435. I’ve never felt better, and my strength and power are unbelievable.”
Are you motivated yet? One other thing to keep in mind during winter training is heat. You want to stay warm during your workouts. Not so much for comfort as for building maximum mass. In fact you should layer your clothing so you’re almost uncomfortably warm. Why? Science says heat can enhance muscle growth!
In a study, scientists discovered that heating damaged areas of rats’ legs led to a 30 percent increase in muscle regrowth. [Selsby, J.T., et al. J Appl Physiol. (2006)] Could that be why we tend to make better gains in the summer, when we train in the heat? The heat could have something to do with it—although the motivation of having to peel your shirt off at the pool, beach, or lake could have something to do with it too. Plus, Vince Gironda refused to have an air conditioner in his gym back in the day, so maybe that had something to do with all the legendary physiques that came out of there.
Speaking of peeling off your shirt, always keep that first warm day of spring in your mind as you head for your winter workouts. If you want to be bigger—so much so that people say things like, “Man, you’re looking huge!”—try one of the above programs or one you devise yourself. Just remember to make it match your motivation—tailor it so you stay consistent and your gains keep moving forward. Each workout should leave you wanting a little more, so no matter how cold it gets outside, you’re ready to tear up the gym and pack on new size by springtime—just like Arnold used to do.
NOTE: The 3D Power Pyramid Workout is discussed and outlined in chapter 1 of the Freak-Physique Stretch-Overload Workout e-book; Jonathan’s 20-pounds-of-muscle-in-10-weeks routine is analyzed and presented in the 3D Muscle-Building e-book. These two e-books, along with all our other offerings, are available X Shop.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
Mass-Building Lessons From the Master Trainer
Vince Gironda was the Iron Guru, a bodybuilding legend ahead of his time. His most famous pupil in the bodybuilding world was the very first Mr. Olympia Larry Scott, and he also trained many Hollywood stars back in the day, like Clint Eastwood, and even Arnold consulted with him and was a fan (even though Vince told Arnold that he was a “fat f**k” when he first arrived in the U.S.).
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Vince Gironda: Legend & Myth (300-page anthology + many bonus gifts and programs) HERE