The paradox of professional bodybuilders is that our goal must always be the unattainable. Even "the best" isn't good enough. First, it's a relative term: The best bodybuilder in the world is only better than the others. Second, it's temporal: He can be dethroned, and usually is, by those who are hungrier to capture his title than he is to keep it.
I'd like to think I'm one of the latter. The longer I bodybuild, the hungrier I am to improve and the better I get. This year, for example, several people offered their unsolicited compliments on how I have visibly improved all aspects of my physique. Not only am I heavier than ever, nudging 300 pounds for the 2000 Mr. Olympia, but I'm harder. I've widened my shoulders, brought out my delts, thickened and detailed my back, narrowed my waist and hips, packed on more mass to my triceps and added more sweep to my quads. When asked how I did this, I candidly reply it's from the discovery that, whether starting anew in the offseason or preparing for a show, the heavier I train, the more I grow.
I'm always looking for better ways to train heavier, and one of the best is a Weider principle that has been around for decades but is little known to this generation of bodybuilders - no doubt because it's far too difficult to become popular.
It's called the Weider Rest-Pause Training Principle, and it's difficult because it demands that you lift your maximum poundage for more sets and reps than you normally do for an entire exercise.
Impossible, you say? Not with rest-pause.
Here's how Joe Weider explains it: "Pyramid up to the maximum weight you can do for two or three reps, rest 30-40 seconds, then squeeze out another two or three reps, rest 40-60 seconds and get another two reps, rest 60-90 seconds and get one or two more reps; you will have done one long set of seven to 10 reps, all of which have been at or near the most weight you've ever lifted." The effect is one of extending maximal effort over a high volume of sets and reps, all in the intensity range that produces the best results. In other words, think of it as being able to use your single-rep maximum weight for seven to 10 reps.
Even then, rest-pause must be approached with respect. Try it initially with one exercise in your bodypart workout; keep in mind that, since this technique is primarily for maximum mass gains, it should first be used with the most basic compound movement in your workout for that day. Once your muscle conditioning and cardiovascular efficiency have caught up with your rest-pause performance for that exercise, you can try using it for a second heavy basic movement in that workout. Of course, always remember that since your intention is to spend most of your workout in the maximum-poundage register, you need a thorough warm-up and protracted pyramiding.
To illustrate how I incorporate rest-pause, I'll use my shoulder workout as an example, bearing in mind that I change my exercises frequently. My normal shoulder workout is three exercises, four sets each, three to six reps per set. Admittedly, those repetitions are almost low enough to qualify as rest-pause, but the difference is that my approach is even more intense than the two- or three-rep prototype prescribed by Joe Weider: I rest less, and my maximum weight is for one or two reps. Plus, instead of four rest-pause sets, I do at least five, and sometimes I stop counting and keep going, until I can no longer lift the bar, then follow that with two drop sets, plus forced reps.
Exercise 1: Seated Military Machine Presses
As the most basic mass builder in this workout, it's the one I use first for rest-pause. After a good warm-up, I pyramid through four sets (with reps of 12-15, 10-12, eight to 10 and five to eight) to the weight at which I can get only two reps. I then rest for about 10-15 seconds and max out again with two reps, rest for another 10-20 seconds, or the time it takes to keep my next set down to two reps maximum, again with the same weight. This continues for five to seven sets, ending with two drop sets and forced reps.
Exercise 2: Seated Behind-the-Neck Machine Presses
The position of this exercise may be the same as that for seated military machine presses, but it's a totally different movement. Where militaries concentrate all of the stress in the front and lateral deltoids, as well as the upper pecs and shoulder girdle, behind-the-neck presses are solely for the rear delts, upper back and traps, which explains why rest-pause can also be used here. The latter muscles are still relatively fresh and, thus, can benefit from a rest-pause workout of their own. I'm already warm, so I pyramid through three sets of 10-12, eight to 10 and five to eight to my maximum weight at which I can get only two reps. From there, the procedure is the same as for militaries, with five to seven max-weight rest-pause sets of two reps each, plus two drop sets and forced reps.
Exercise 3: Seated Dumbbell Presses
A rest-pause workout feels so good that I'd like it to go on forever, and if I were to use another barbell or machine exercise, it would. However, I usually include seated dumbbell presses, because they are such a terrific mass builder. As a rest-pause exercise, though, they leave something to be desired: When you're struggling with a one- or two-rep max, you can't be worrying about stabilizing dumbbells that seem to be waving around in the air. At that point, your deltoids are missing out on all the action, and you're just exhausting yourself; so, for these, I do four straight sets, the first for seven to 10 reps and the last three in the three to six range. That's still extremely heavy, but anything more than two reps is controllable.
Most bodybuilders are surprised to learn that rest-pause reveals how far short of their limits they've been taking themselves. We are all capable of doing more, but brainwashing about "overtraining" has crippled us to the point where we think training hard will make us lose muscle. The Weider Rest-Pause Training Principle puts the lie to that idea. It's like banking a fire. Bash away at multiple max-weight sets, and you'll discover that every rep builds your intensity ever higher. The more you do, the more you'll want to do.
No training principle requires better strength and cardiovascular conditioning than rest-pause. Its sustained maximum-weight sets and reps correlate directly with your capacity to sustain your physical exertions at their threshold of failure seven or eight times longer than normal. It follows, then, that the more weight you're able to lift with more rest-pause sets, the greater the benefit from your workout.
Unfortunately, you cannot efficiently condition yourself for this by the conventional cardiovascular means of running, cycling, stair climbing and the like. Those are great for improving the oxygen-utilization capacity of your slow-twitch muscles, which are used in aerobic activities, such as marathons and the Tour de France, but they're woefully inadequate for improving the oxygen-utilization capacity of the fast-twitch muscles used in explosive heavy workouts such as those utilizing rest-pause. Only on-the-job training will accomplish that.
In order to become better at rest-pause, you have to do it. No shortcut or substitute training technique will work. Every workout, you have to do as many rest-pause sets as you can with the heaviest weight you can lift for two reps; every workout after that, you have to try to increase that weight and those sets. Keep a chart of your progress, if you wish, but keep trying. After a couple of years, look back at the chart and you'll be amazed at what you were able to do.
GUNTER'S REST-PAUSE DELT POUNDER
Seated military machine presses
Pyramid: 4 sets, 5-15 reps
Rest-pause: 5-7 sets, 2 reps
Drop sets: 2 sets, 2 reps
Seated behind-the-neck machine presses
Pyramid: 3 sets, 5-12 reps
Rest-pause: 5-7 sets, 2 reps
Drop sets: 2 sets, 2 reps
Seated dumbbell presses
Straight sets: 4 sets, 3-10 reps