Back to the Golden Age of Bodybuilding Basics

Much of what I write on here is geared around what I’m currently doing and random thoughts that pop into my head. The routines and diets constantly change, so some of what I write may slightly contradict past articles, but my advice is to take a piece of everything I put out there and develop yourself with all of the tools I give to you guys.

I was in the gym a week ago and for the first time in several months I flat benched. I put 315 on the bar and it felt like the earth! I used to perform this for 15 reps, and it was a bear just to get 6 reps last week! It wasn’t so much strength as it probably was unfamiliar to me. I can pop up 125 lb dumbbells on incline all day long, but for some damn reason 315 on the flat bench felt like the Earth.

I then went to deadlifts, and 495 lbs felt like the earth! The positive about ditching deadlifts for awhile is it brought my waistline in tighter. The negative is I lost some thickness. It was then that I told myself I needed to revamp the routine and get back to the basics for awhile. Sometimes we need to revert back to what got us our massive foundation to begin with.

Another factor in the mix was the fact I had been staying lean for so long and eating below maintenance calories for awhile. The issue is despite how good I look walking around at a fairly lean 220 lbs, it’s been extremely difficult to have motivated workouts lately. I was feeling like I was starting to spin my wheels and just go through the motions. I knew it was seriously time for a routine change, and this is what I’ve done to change it up.

I had to remind myself that looking like a bodybuilder out of the Golden era was something I accomplished a long time ago. Sure, I may not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I’m pretty damn close to how some of those other guys looked back then. I started going back a little more into bodybuilders such as Bill Pearl, Reg Park, and Chuck Sipes. These guys looked massive and not only looked good, but had the strength to go with it. I don’t want to be all bronze with no muscle to push it, so what I did was went back to a lot of basics.


The classic 5×5 routine would be my staple, but going all out 3 times/wk for full body is too demanding on my recovery ability at this point. Therefore, I came up with the idea to go Mon/Wed/Fri with squats, bench, deadlifts, but on Wednesday, I’d cut my work weight in half and try a “speed day.” A speed day is where a power lifter will use much less weight than normal but try to engage his fast twitch fibers more by powering reps up faster.

Yes, I’m getting away from much of my time under tension principles, but not totally. After those 3 staple lifts of 5 sets of 5 reps, I will do accessory work in “freestyle fashion”. What I mean by this is I will do whatever I feel up to doing. On Monday I may do arms for my supplemental work, hitting 2-3 different exercises for biceps and another 2-3 exercises for triceps, in an 8-12 rep range with good, controlled repetitions. On Wednesday, I may do shoulders, back and calves after my 3 staple lifts. Then on Friday, I would do something like accessory leg work such as extensions, leg curls, or lunges.


Now, another factor I wanted to take into consideration was the fact that 95% of my workouts for several years have been balls to the wall, and sets taken to failure. I thought it’d be a good idea this go around to stop a couple reps short of failure most days, to further aid in my recovery ability. This is a total 180 from my high intensity principles such as rest pause training, static holds, and extreme stretching. The goal here is to leave the gym feeling energetic and good, and alert and ready to go about my day the next day.

I also had to take into consideration my sleep. Insomnia and restlessness can be a damn good sign of over training, and despite what many people will tell you, I believe over training is a very real issue. I was having very difficult issues with sleep and feeling like I couldn’t relax enough to get a good night’s rest. So I took this into consideration as well because a 5×5 full body routine can wreak havoc on your nervous system if you’re not careful. I knew there was no way I could go 3 times a week with a 5×5 routine, going 100% on every set.

So a “speed day” with lighter weights is something brand new to me, but I have to remember to keep an open mind to this if I want more results. Keeping an open mind is something you have to do when you get further and further into physique development. At this point I am not a sole follower of any 1 system of training. There are points in time and factors I take into consideration when developing a routine, or even training a client. Some things are good at this time, other things are not at that time.

While still trying to be mindful of overall health and cardio ability, I will continue to throw in 2-3 days a week of abdominal work and cardio. Therefore, days I do not weight train I will still train abs and hit a 30 minute session of high intensity cardio. I may still try to take a yoga class at least once a week to promote flexibility. So although my new routine is only Mon/Wed/Fri, I still have other work I will perform to try to keep a well conditioned build while trying to add a few pounds of muscle and get my strength up.

Another thing that I am adding in that is brand new to me is sumo stance on squats and deadlifts, but this will be on my Wednesday workout with much less weight. I want to get the form down and get used to this stance before trying to lift heavy with it. Like I said, this is something brand new to me.

The issue I have (and most other guys) is there comes a point where you get to a certain weight you’re lifting, and body mechanics don’t want to work with the heavy weights. For example, on a conventional squat things start getting difficult at 5 plates/side for me. For a long time, 5 plates/side for reps is about the haulting point unless I learn how to adjust my stance. This is something I have toyed with before, but would quickly revert back because it was something I wasn’t used to and was not as comfortable to me. Therefore if I work on this stance on my lighter day I can gradually get accustomed to it. Hey, it’s worth a shot right?

Last but not least, my diet needed a little more freedom and caloric intake. I have gone back to 1 high calorie cheat meal a day, and so far so good. I talk about that a lot in other articles and I’m a firm believer that you can eat all the chicken breasts you want, but there comes a point where added fat intake and calories is what your body needs to make more strength gains.

What I’m trying to say here is sometimes getting back to the basics is exactly what you need. I have found in all my years in the gym, and throughout thousands and thousands of reps, it’s sometimes about taking 2 steps back to take another step forward. Nobody wants to just be mediocre! If you’re following this site then I know damn good and well you don’t want to settle for average either! So that is where I’m at right now and what I’m doing.

Train hard!


PS – Don’t forget to check out Straight From the Underground, the new underground bodybuilding bible!

Straight from the Underground ebook


20 thoughts on “Back to the Golden Age of Bodybuilding Basics”

  1. Great post. I’ve just started body buiding 3 weeks ago. I did a bit in my 20’s with no real results. What I love about your site is your no nonsense, real life approach. Just gonna buy your book after I post this comment. Keep it up… appreciate you.

  2. Hey bro it’s good to hear from you again! I’m glad your healthy and doing well. I bought you ebook awhile back and have picked out parts of the training and diet to make it my own. My weights gone from 218 to 225 over the last 120 days or so. My BF is down though to 14%. My strength is through the roof! All natty still at this point. Gonna go another year then maybe AAS. I haven’t paid enough dues yet. I wanna really see how far my genetics will carry me. Your books great. It’s really helped to get me on target with my own journey in this game of iron. im waiting on your other book about AAS. It’s a subject I study daily. Knowledge is ultimate power.
    Your in Iron,

  3. I love that type of training. Personally, I have gained most strength ever on high frequency training on basic lifts. I got that idea from “Train like athlete, look like bodybuilder” article written by Christian Thibadeau. Basically, you pick up few most productive, compound lifts and do them as often as possible, making sure every single set is done with 110% effort (even if it’s only 70% RM). If i want to up certain lifts I go with that approach. Worth noticing it’s taxing on nervous system (but not even close to heavy rest-pause to failure sets) and didn’t do much for my muscle mass (just hardened it). However, Imagine adding 20lbs to your bench press and then doing TUT as before with that extra weight :)

  4. Hi, Is it possible to use Proviron only and fully benefit from it? Let’s say with 50 mg/day. Or would it be waste and it is better to use it with Test?

    Can Proviron be used for long period of time (3-6 months)?

    How much and how long it would have to be used to contribute to noticeable deepening of the voice?

  5. John, you mention the shotgun approach to eating for skinny young guys, well how would I do this to gain lean muscle and minimum fat gain? I am also asking if the shotgun approach is a dirty bulking diet or not?

    • just take liver protection product such as “liver rx” or something along those lines. They are over the counter as supplement stores everywhere

  6. Love this article John,

    Bought your earlier in the week, and decided that it will be beneficial to visit back to my roots of bodybuilding, doing the ‘125 Routine’ and loving it so far.

    Keep up the incredible work.

  7. Thanks John,

    I have experienced similar things while I was training 6 days in the week for 5 weeks balls to the walls. Eventually I got a running nose, sore throat, and I looked sickly all day. I was not getting enough sleep and only slept for 6-7 hours a night because I couldn’t sleep. In addition, I have serious eczema, and it would only get worse, probably because my nervous system was getting weaker and weaker.

    Our bodies are not measurable machines, but they are bodies ,unpredictable and organic.

    Eventually found your site, thanks for the tips. Overtraining is definetly a real issue, but I think it is good for everyone to experience it so they get to know their bodies better and exerperience what it is like.

    Really appreciate your work, keep it up!

    – Sebastian

  8. HOME!

    Back home is always where our heart is! Basic is that home! Back to the essence of balls to the wall!

    Thanks for sharing a very sensible article John!!


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