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The most effective way to build visible muscle

The empirical superiority of the old school bodybuilding split

It has become popular to come up with alternative approaches to muscle building. You can´t read a fitness or health magazine without coming across some advice whose deliverer wants to replace the classical bodybuilding split with something else, be it “functional” training, low volume strength training, body weight gymnastics, Olympic lifting, training “like an athlete”, kettlebell routines, minimalistic training, crossfit, or something else entirely…

Since I love fitness and training I find all these different approaches interesting. One should never be dogmatic. And one should never assume that there is nothing new to learn or try out. Furthermore, one should always keep in mind that we respond somewhat differently to different workout methods. This having been said, though, I would still like to point out that for anyone looking for empirical evidence of a system’s benefits there is one approach to training and muscle building that has stood the test of time in a way that none of these more trendy systems come close to: the already mentioned classical bodybuilding split.

The tool that shaped the world’s most famous physiques

That the old-school bodybuilding routine was the choice of old-school bodybuilders (like Arnold

Schwarzenegger, Serge Nubret and Frank Zane – the 3 most aesthetically appealing pro bodybuilders ever to have graced a stage) is a no-brainer, it is revealed already in the name. But it should be noted that it is also the choice of Hollywood – and so it has been ever since the 80s. Dwayne Johnson, Sylvester Stallone, Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman, Dolph Lundgren, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans – what all these and most other famous physiques have in common is the fact that they were mainly built through the use of a traditional bodybuilding split, 70s style.

Daniel Schou, old-school bodybuilding

We can talk all we want about the other ways of composing a good workout routine, but the fact remains: all of the most famous physiques were built through programs that bear the trademarks of old-school bodybuilding.

For this reason – and due to the fact that I myself both utilise and endorse the same kind of training – I’m going to dedicate today's article to examining and discussing what signifies this “old-school”. (On a side note, the words “old school” are in fact superfluous, when one takes into the account the above mentioned names of which many are representative of the presence rather than the past – but I’ll stick to it throughout this article, since I find it rather catchy.)

What are the trademarks of the old-school bodybuilding routine?

The following principles will give you an idea:

High volume.

Of course it depends on what you define as “high”, but yes, all the above mentioned people got their results through high (or at the very least moderately high) volume training. They didn´t necessarily go for high reps and many sets all the time, but they all went for frequent training. None of them built their bodies by going to the gym 2-3 times a week, being content with 10-15 heavy sets per session. Nope. They all went for 4-6 sessions per week – and mostly they performed 20-40 sets per session (sometimes more, sometimes less, but the average would end up somewhere in that range). So, High volume, in this context, means training often, instead of relying on some trendy 1-3 sessions/week routine.

Isolation exercises.

The people mentioned above all employed isolation exercises. Their high volume routine contains big compound movements, like the bench press, the squat and the deadlift – but they also contain other exercises. A lot of them. If you’re not totally new to you’ll know that I have written earlier about the benefits of isolation exercises, sometimes listing examples of my favourite ones. In fact, if you examine the routines of these people you will find that not even the deadlift is granted an automatic spot in the different programs. There is no king of exercises. There are individual goals, individual conditions and individual taste. Any good routine is written with this in mind. Individual customizing is key - which is the reason why I list it as one the 7 principles that ensures results in the gym.

The split.

3, 4 or 5 different pairings of muscle groups in as many different workout sessions. And then repeat. That is the golden recipe for muscle building. All round sessions are a great way to mix things up. They can be fun and beneficial, but in the long run, if you want to build muscle mass that are truly impressive, it will be much easier to accomplish this through the use of a split like this. There are a multitude of examples of famous physiques built this way. If we look at the list of people mentioned above we will quickly be able to gather empirical evidence:

Dwayne Johnson: 5 different groups.

Chris Hemsworth: 5 different groups.

Jackman: 5 different training days. (The Wolverine 2013 program)

Chris Evans: 2 muscle groups per workout session.

And the list goes on.

Many different exercises.

Sure, we all like to come back to certain exercises and we all have our favourites - but variation is a good thing. None of the famous physiques mentioned here were built through the use of a few big compound exercises only. They were built through many sessions, many sets, many reps – and many different exercises. If your goal is to build pure raw strength it becomes a different story, but if you are in pursuit of maximum visible changes you should make sure to stimulate growth and quality through the use of many different exercises.

The goal-setting.

The fact that the Hollywood stars listed above goes for the same kind of layup is due to the fact that they pursue similar goals. They all went for the chiselled, muscular and visibly impressive look. They didn´t set out to compete in any kind of strong man event. They didn´t aim for a new bench press personal best – no, they wanted the superhero body, the action star body, the movie star body…

It’s all good and well to have different kinds of goals and to take different approaches in

Daniel Schou, old-school bodybuilding split

pursuit of these goals, but the reason all those Hollywood stars keep composing their workout routines in the same manner as the aesthetically developed bodybuilders of the 70s, is because it allows for the achieving of the typical Hollywood physique: broad, well-developed shoulders, tight strong abs, muscular arms and an overall conditioned and muscular look that is visually pleasing. It allows men to aim for the “Golden measurement” (an ideal waist to shoulder ratio) and women to become strong, athletic and toned.

If you enjoyed this article I think you will also like…

In this article I touch upon the natural, relaxed and admittedly somewhat eccentric approach to training and nutrition taken by the 70s bodybuilder Serge Nubret. Even though I wouldn´t recommend everyone to follow his example in every detail I still believe there are things one can benefit greatly from by applying them to one’s own nutritional habits and workout regime.

Here I write about the benefits of sometimes targeting one single muscle group for an entire workout session. I also elaborate on why it is a good idea to perform a lot of different exercises, not settling for just a few well tried ones, no matter how recommended they come.

There is a reason why almost all the Hollywood stars prioritize the inclined bench press – and you’ll find it in this article.

/Daniel Schou

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