Friday, February 5, 2010

Ben Stiller

I was recently inspired by Ben Stiller's arms in the movie, "Tropic Thunder" to up my weights at the gym. If you haven't seen it, it's a really fun movie and Ben Stiller is in great shape. In fact, even if you have seen it, watch it again! It never hurts to see a terrific movie, right?
Anyway, I've been doing weight-training workouts in a more fitness-oriented way (rather than traditional bodybuilding) for a while now and it's time for a few changes. What I've been doing is based on Giant Sets of six or more exercises that work the whole body, using light weights and high reps (20). It went something like this:

Do 20 reps of each exercise with no more than 30 seconds rest in between. Then
repeat the entire sequence 2 or 3 times:

Lateral pulldowns (for upper back)
Squats (legs and core)
Dumbbell chest press (chest, shoulders)
Lunges (legs)
Dumbbell shoulder press (shoulders)
Crunches (abs)
Bicep curl (biceps)
Dips (triceps, chests)

This is great for general fitness and cardio work. It also gets you out of the gym faster than a more traditional bodybuilding workout because you're jumping from one exercise to another that uses entirely different muscle groups. Your heart and lungs are going like crazy the whole time, but your muscles still get a chance to recover.
Great for getting leaner, but if you want to increase your muscle size and look like Ben Stiller, you'll want to do less repetitions with heavier weights.
So I've decided that for a while, I'm going to go a little heavier, but still keep my reps no less than 8 (I am a 51 year old lady, after all, and the days of lifting super heavy are soooo over), which means that my poundage can't be super high, just higher than it was when I was doing 20 repetitions of each exercise. I'm also going to bring back the "pyramid system" that I used in my bodybuilding days. Here is an example of how it works. You can do this with most exercises:

Set 1, use a weight that you can comfortably do 15 reps with.
Set 2, increase the weight and do 12 reps.
Set 3, increase again and do 10 reps.
Set 4, increase again and do 8.
Set 5, decrease back to the weight you used in Set 2 and do 15 reps.

And, voila! Your lats are all pumped up!

For now, I'm sticking with the Giant Set arrangement that works the whole body because it's just such a great time-saver. But if I really wanted to grow new muscle, I'd arrange it like this:

Day 1, pushing exercises (those that work chest, shoulders, and triceps)
Day 2, pulling exercises (those that work back and biceps)
Day 3, legs
Each day would also have 3 sets of ab work at the end of the other training.
Day 4, rest

Poor old bodybuilders! It's a rough game and people can take it too far. But it's good to use some of their exercise philosophy where it's helpful. The best thing is to mix it all up and not do the same routine year after year.


  1. Great post, Julie, but I was wondering when you do the split routine how many exercises you do for each muscle group? Thanks so much.

  2. Yeah, he was seriously a Julianne salad....

    I'll have to give this a go. Thanks Julie.

  3. dTb: In the split routine, I would do anywhere from 2 to 8 different exercises for each muscle group. It's good to have some structure while you are learning, but, keep in mind, that your body isn't a big fan of numbers. Your body would prefer that you just stay in tune with what you need on any given day for whatever you are trying to accomplish at that time.
    Doing lots of different exercises but fewer sets--maybe even just one set of each exercise--can be great. Then, on a different day, you might just want to do 1 or 2 different exercises but more sets than usual. The same principle applies to poundage--lighter on some days with more reps, heavier on others with low reps. Mixing it all up is usually the best for most people.

  4. Well, that sounds much more fun (and far less monotonous) than having such a rigorous and structured routine. I think the hardest part for me is tuning into my body's feedback rather than forcing myself to do what's on the schedule. Any recommendations for being more receptive? Thanks again for all your advice, Julie!

  5. dTb: Well, you'll just have to do what I did--get old! Seriously, when I was younger and I could get away with NOT listening to my body, I said, "Body, hush up! Don't tell me what to do!"
    When you get older, your body says, "Oh, yeah? Well, take this!" Then you listen.