Competitive bodybuilders are a different breed from the rest of us. They respond to training, nutrition and supplementation more readily than we. Plenty of us train balls-to-the-wall, carefully monitor our diets and supplementation, yet never develop contest-winning physiques. Most of us reading this magazine are never going to look like the men in it, though we draw inspiration from their musculature. And lest you think this is peculiar to bodybuilding, it’s not: I’m willing to wager that the of you reading this magazine actually work out, whereas the guy reading Sports Illustrated might never even get off the couch.
When it comes to training and nutrition, Maxx Charles truly marches to his own drummer. His workouts range from 3 to 3 1⁄2 hours long; he creates his own exercises in the gym and uses a range of motion that leaves most watching scratching their heads; perhaps most shocking of all, the man barely eats!
In the following tips, we’re going to look at how he built his 24-inch arms and not how he trains them now because, Charles informs us, he’s stopped training arms. “I cut out all direct biceps and triceps work eight weeks out from my last prep,” he says. “They were overpowering other body parts. I used to do arms on Saturday. Now I do another round of legs.” Does Maxx think he’ll ever train arms again? “Probably,” says the 260-pounder.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MAXX CHARLES ARM ROUTINE
When Charles trains arms, he does up to 41 sets of 18 different exercises for biceps and triceps. He’s the first to volunteer that what he does isn’t for everyone, whether it’s the sheer volume of his training or the exercises he uses. Charles is a guy who studies others in the gym and makes up his own exercises based on his specific needs. Instead of looking at each exercise in detail, let’s consider some of the principles Charles utilizes as he trains to help us reach a better understanding of how he built one of the biggest pairs of guns in the pro ranks.
1. DON’T COUNT
Charles doesn’t count reps. He goes by feel and he goes for the burn. His training partners have counted his reps, which is how he knows he gets roughly 20–30 reps when he’s doing biceps curls facing into the cable station and 40–50 reps when he’s facing away from it. Incidentally, he’ll do 5 sets of the former (including one warmup) and four sets of the latter. Volume, remember?
2. MAX REPS
There’s textbook rep form and then there’s Maxx reps, which is the form that works for him. “A lot of people think I just use a short range of motion or I’m cheating and don’t use proper form,” says Charles. “But I’ve done ‘full reps’ and what I found worked for me was what I did to build my arms.”
The way Charles does seated curls with a close-grip on the lat pulldown machine illustrates this. If you sit on a chair and raise your upper arms in front of your face so that they’re roughly 60 degrees above parallel to the ground, you’ve got an idea of how this exercise begins. Now lower your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the ground, simultaneously squeezing your biceps like you’re flexing them. Try this one at your gym, but go light at first so you can feel it in your biceps (Maxx uses the entire stack). Biceps curls on the lat machine, by the way, brings us to our third principle.
3. INSTINCTIVE TRAINING
We said it earlier: Charles doesn’t count reps. Training this way is not easy to do. When you count reps you have an end in mind. A half-minute of torture abates as you get closer to that finish line of the magical 10th, 12th, or 15th rep. Charles pumps the hell out of his muscles and that means not bothering with arithmetic. Sometimes he can’t really tell you how many reps he does, which is why none are listed for his lying cable skull crushers or machine dips. Like a certain drum-beating bunny, Charles just keeps going and going...and going.
4. NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
If you watch Charles train in the gym, you’re going to see him doing exercises you won’t find in Joe Weider’s Ultimate Bodybuilding. He does skull crushers, but he does them on the seated cable row machine, the top of his head facing the stack. “I watch the way people train and I think to myself, ‘If they did it this way they’d feel it here or there,’ ” explains Charles. Again, give it a try, and when you tire of doing skull crushers with an EZ bar or dumbbells, do lying cable skull crushers like Charles does.
Charles used a lot of rest-pause sets when he trained triceps (not so much with biceps). Again, it’s about pumping as much blood into his arms as possible. Charles has enormous arms, which means he’s shuttling a whole heck of a lot of plasma to those things. When he did rope pushdowns, he’d do 25–30 reps, rest momentarily, go for 25–30 more, rest again, then continue ad infinitum until he couldn’t move his arms. After a brief rest, Charles would do 6 more sets (this helps explain how a Maxx Charles workout routine can take three hours).
6. DON’T EAT FOR SIZE
The above is meant tongue-in-cheek because Charles challenges everything we learned in Bodybuilding 101 about muscle growth due to protein synthesis. This isn’t a guy who built his size eating 6–8 meals spaced out every 2 to 2½ hours, supplemented by protein shakes. His growth is mindboggling, in terms of his size (standing 5'11", he weighs 300- plus pounds off-season) and the fact that he grows at all given how little he consumes.
Charles has no appetite until contest time. This is the man who is infamous for noshing on one regular-sized plate of beans and rice throughout the day and consuming gallons of soda and V8 vegetable juices. Every time I ask Charles about his diet he says the same thing: “I’m planning on changing it.” When I ask him how his diet has changed since competing as a pro, Charles replies, “I’m planning on changing it.” Again, this guy is a freak! - FLEX