Lessons from the master blaster

December 14, 2013

Recently, a new breed of fitness addict has risen from the ashes of the traditional gym, requiring fitness to be fun, interesting, flashy and cutting edge. That’s fine, but it’s important to remember there are certain tried and true basics that need to be adhered to if you want to continue progressing, and they can't be replaced by fancy exercises or trendy programs.

No greater example exists than the rules that were hammered out many years ago by the master blaster himself, Joe Weider. Here is a recap of a few of those important rules I cut my teeth on while lifting a set of concrete weights in my parents' basement 30 years ago.

Cycle training

The rule - Cycle periods of high- and low-intensity training to allow for recovery and muscle growth and repair.

The reason - Too often, people confuse hard work with training properly and constantly barrage their bodies with relentless workouts without cycling different intensities to achieve a series of accomplishments. The outcome is diminished results, overtraining and a much greater risk of injury. Instead, start slow, practice perfect form, and get more results from less work. Over a period of time, increase the intensity, throwing your body different curve balls to force it to adapt to the workload. Hard work is great, but sometimes you have to use your brain and the knowledge of how the body responds best to exercises to get the results you're looking for.

Muscle confusion

The rule - Periodically change variables in your workout, including number of sets, number of reps, exercises choice, and order of exercises to keep your body off balance and continue getting results.

The reason - The average person needs to change some type of variable in their fitness plan every three to five weeks to continue forcing the body to adapt and continue getting results. It’s important to note that less-experienced lifters respond to almost anything and benefit most by increasing strength and adding more difficult exercises, while more-experienced lifters have to make bigger and more frequent changes to continue progressing.

Progressive overload

The rule - Constantly increase the intensity of the workouts to force the body to adapt by adding weight or reps, or reducing rest periods.

The reason - Doing the same weight set after set simply means you can handle more and your body will quickly get used to your program and results will be few and far between. To keep the ball rolling, you must stay out of your comfort zone by constantly challenging your body with new stimuli and forcing it to adapt to the workload by adding more weight or reps, or reducing rest between sets.

Muscle priority

The rule - work your weakest body part first in the workout or training split while you are fresh and able to focus and train with more intensity

The reason - Many canned fitness programs sacrifice personalized needs in order to promote a fun group atmosphere, but it’s important to remember to target weaknesses, or you will be building a house of cards on a shaky foundation. This means that individual weaknesses should be identified at the beginning of any fitness program, and a specific plan for improving strength in these areas should be developed.

This includes working the weak muscles first and choosing the best exercises that target the area even if they are not fun and glamorous. It also means reducing the workload on the stronger muscles until balance is achieved. For example, many people have shoulder issues simply because they do too many overhead pressing exercises but never take the time to work the rear deltoids and rhomboids.

Instinctive training

The rule - Experiment and learn what works best for you. Use the results combined with past training experience to develop a customized program.

The reason - Instinctive training is not something you learn in a book or a weekend fitness certification program, but rather a skill you develop from years of trial and error, learning what sets, reps, exercises and training splits work best for your body. To incorporate this technique, you must be willing to deviate from the plan on a moment’s notice depending on how you feel and respond to exercises. A good example would be if you are still sore in a particular area and you are due to work the same muscles again, it makes a lot more sense to change things up and give the affected muscles a chance to recover and rebuild than it does to break them down more with another workout.

In conclusion, fitness can and should be fun, but don’t sacrifice basics for the latest fitness craze. Be sure to incorporate time-tested, scientifically tested principles that will give you optimal results and keep you injury free.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out