In Part One, of this three-part series, I made the point that for most of this century the predominant majority of bodybuilders and strength athletes sincerely believed that it should take 5-10 years to actualize one’s strength/muscular potential. This was because both the bodybuilding orthodoxy and the exercise science establishment were – are – unaware of the logical requirements of developing a truly scientific, theoretical approach to exercise; and that such was the direct result of living in a period of philosophical default. Today, many academicians are devoid of even a nominal grasp of the rudiments of rationality; which is why confusion is the intellectual hallmark of our time; and explains why bodybuilders are impotent against the ceaseless tide of false ideas, fraudulent claims and outright lies promulgated by many in the bodybuilding/fitness media. As a result, many are wasting hundreds of hours a year, year in and year out, in the attempt to develop a physique that they could have developed in one year!
The subject of logic is vast; a complete examination of which is certainly outside the scope of this work. I will address, however, one of the most crucially important aspects of logic – (completely overlooked by all of the bodybuilding orthodoxy and, to a large degree, by exercise science) – which relates to the role played by unequivocal definitions. Because man gains and holds his knowledge in conceptual form, it is the validity of his concepts, i.e., the precision of their definitions, which determines the validity of his knowledge.
To quote Ayn Rand, from Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, on this issue, “Since concepts in the field of cognition, perform a function similar to that of numbers in the field of mathematics, the function of a proposition is similar to that of an equation: it applies conceptual abstractions to a specific problem.
“A proposition, however, can perform this function only if the concepts of which it is composed have precisely defined meanings. If, in the field of mathematics, numbers had no fixed, firm values, if they were approximations determined by the mood of their users – so that “5,” for instance, could mean five in some calculations, but six-and-one-half or four-and-three-quarters in others, according to the user’s ‘convenience’ – there could be no such thing as mathematics.”
A theory, properly defined, is a set of principles, or propositions (statements of fact), which claims to be either a correct description of some aspect of reality and/or a guide for successful human action. A theory can fulfill its proper intellectual function only if the major concepts that make it up have precisely defined meanings. This is true of any theory, whether it be the theory of relativity, the theory of evolution or the theory of high-intensity training. The process of establishing precise definitions is rigorously demanding; which is why the mystics and skeptics (most people, today) turn away from the realm of the intellect. Concepts are the tools of thought; the better your tools, the better, i.e., more precise, the closer to the actual facts of reality, will your thinking be. (From Chapter Three, Another Kind of Definition, of my book “Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body.”)
Balancing the Theoretical Account
Since starting my personal training business in the late 1980’s, I’ve had considerable success with my clients. Their progress, early on, was primarily satisfactory (better than most); at times dramatic; and, in a few cases, phenomenal. In the very rare cases where progress was poor, such was the result of either very poor genetics and/or mistakes on my part, mistakes which I won’t make again.
During the first couple of years, all of my clients trained three times a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday—averaging seven to nine sets a workout, on a split routine. (I had learned much earlier that Jones’ prescription of 12-20 sets per workout for the full body, conducted three times a week was too much for almost everyone.) While most trainers and trainees settled—and still do—for progress unpredictably in tiny dribbles every now and then, I, on the other hand, expected my clients to make progress, i.e., grow stronger, every workout.
The reader may be wondering how I had ever come to think that bodybuilding progress should be experienced every workout. Allow me to explain. I was in the midst of a period of very intensive study of philosophy, logic and the nature of the theoretical knowledge. I had arrived at a juncture in my studies where I clearly recognized that, if in possession of a truly valid theory, and the proper, practical application of the theoretical principles is made, then progress – no matter what the field of endeavor—should be immediate, continuous and worthwhile, until the goal has been reached.
My belief gained currency when I looked at other contexts of knowledge. In medicine, for instance, once the “germ theory” of disease had been discovered by Louis Pasteur in the 1880’s, researchers couldn’t work fast enough; and it was less than a century before they had discovered cures for practically every infectious disease that had plagued man from the beginning. In aviation, the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight of 1903 led to the Russian’s Sputnik orbiting the earth in 1957 and the United States putting a man on the moon in 1969. In physics, it was Einstein’s theory of relativity, developed in 1905, that rapidly resulted in the theory of fission and the discovery of the cyclotron in the 1930’s.
Given the knowledge and depth of understanding described above, I developed an intransigent conviction that the bodybuilding orthodoxy, the exercise science establishment and even the leading high-intensity theorists were off the mark. Yet, I couldn’t ignore the evidence regarding my own clients’ progress. While their progress was practically always immediate from the outset of their training, it wasn’t always continuous and worthwhile. Why not, if, in fact, I was in possession of a valid theory and was making the proper, practical application?
I was left to conclude that there had to be a flaw(s) in the theory of high-intensity as proffered by Arthur Jones; and uncritically accepted by just about everyone within his sphere of influence. Encapsulated, Jones’ theory held that, to be productive, exercise must be intense, brief and infrequent.
Recall from above that, in the field of cognition, concepts play a role similar to that of numbers in equations; but that they may do so only if the concepts are precisely defined.
If any of the major concepts of the theory of high-intensity training were improperly defined, practice would be skewed to that extent; and progress would be compromised. In checking Jones’ theory, the first thing I did was go to the cardinal fundamental, the principle of intensity; and found it properly defined. He defined intensity as “the percentage of possible momentary muscular effort being exerted.” (The theory of high-intensity training further maintains that to stimulate optimal increases in strength and size one must train to failure, i.e., where he’s exerting himself with 100 percent intensity of effort. If one doesn’t train to failure, where does he cease the set? Stopping anywhere short of failure is inexact and arbitrary.) Jones was correct, as he had defined intensity in terms of its essential characteristics. Using Jones’ definition, in other words, one could conceivably identify the intensity of any activity from low-intensity aerobics to training to failure with weights, where 100 percent intensity of effort is required. This stood in sharp contrast to the bodybuilding orthodoxy, who was using the term ‘intensity’ with greater frequency, but never defined it, often using it interchangeably with volume. Then there was the exercise science establishment, who had denied the validity of Jones’ definition-by-essentials; and defined it loosely, by non-essentials. Two of today’s more celebrated exercise scientists, William Kraemer, Ph.D., and Steven Fleck, Ph.D., defined intensity in their book Periodization Breakthrough, as “a measure of how difficult training is” and even more loosely, less philosophically acceptable – “a percent of the maximal weight that can be lifted for a specific number of reps.” (To what is one referring when pointing to the “difficulty” of training? And, once difficulty is defined, is it the difficulty of a set, a workout or what? And by identifying the percent of a maximal weight that can be handled for a specific number of reps, how was the weight and the number of reps to be performed arrived at? One may be instructed to perform six reps with 80 percent of his one rep maximum when, in fact, he’s capable of performing 10 reps to failure; therefore, his intensity of effort would be low; and little in the way of growth stimulation would be induced. As Jones has indicated, the number of reps performed by individuals with 80 percent of their one rep maximum will vary greatly, depending on the individual’s fiber type and neuro-muscular efficiency. In his own research, Jones found one individual who could perform only three reps to failure with 80 percent of his one rep max on the Curl, and another who could perform 27 reps with 80 percent of his one rep max on the same exercise!)
After having precisely defined intensity, Arthur Jones made a grievous mistake, one that seriously compromised the efficacy of a superior approach to training, such that I and thousands of others who thought we had happened upon the Rosetta Stone of bodybuilding quickly grew frustrated. It was here that Jones left the realm of science and cognitive precision, and slipped into the arbitrary. Whereas the dominant training ideology of the time, as espoused by Weider and Schwarzenegger et al, advocated that everyone train each muscle with 12-20 sets two to three times a week, for a total of six days a week, Jones properly countered, stating that such a regimen amounted to gross overtraining. His prescription for the problem, however, wasn’t much better: He suggested that everyone train the entire body three times a week, with a total of 12-20 sets per workout. This, too, given the higher intensity levels than advocated by the Weider approach, soon resulted in gross overtraining.
Jones’ theory, recall from above, stated that to be productive, exercise must be intense, brief and infrequent. However, what does brief and infrequent mean exactly? Jones equivocated, and left his legion of devoted followers—many of whom seemed to regard him as omniscient and infallible—bereft of rational training guidance.
In a very real sense, Jones was merely reacting to Weider in knee-jerk fashion. This was due to a critical blind spot on his part. Jones wasn’t intellectually ensconced in theoretical fundamentals as much as he was literally obsessed with discovering methods for making extremely accurate measurements of certain derivative aspects of exercise science; with things like torque, muscular friction, range of motion and stored energy, to name a few. As noble an endeavor as this may be, the appropriate integration and application of such knowledge is possible only within the context of having first fully grasped the fundamentals.
Science is an exacting discipline whose purpose is to discover the specific, precise facts of reality. Weider’s notion that one should perform 12-20 sets for each muscle is not exact, far from it. What is it exactly: 12 sets or 14 or 17 or 20 sets? And if 12 sets is sufficient, why do 20 sets? Since Weider never provided any explanatory context to support his notion, it amounts to nothing more than a groundless assertion. Jones’ response wasn’t based on a scrupulous process of thought either. To advise people to train with 12-20 sets for the whole body, instead of each muscle, is just as arbitrary as Weider’s prescription.
“A number of the bodybuilding orthodoxy’s self-styled “experts” have even alleged that there are no universal, objective principles of productive exercise. They claim that since each bodybuilder is unique, every individual bodybuilder requires a different training program. And then they contradict themselves by advocating that all bodybuilders train in the same fashion, i.e., two hours a day, six days a week.” (From Chapter One, Bodybuilders Are Confused, of my book “Heavy Duty I.”)
That allegation was leveled primarily against Joe Weider and his bodybuilding orthodoxy, at the time I wrote my book in 1993. I have since come to learn that the exercise science establishment holds the exact same belief; and that they lifted it from Weider. You don’t believe me? You don’t believe that exercise scientists, the supposed guardians of rationality and logic in this field, could be so wanting that they would steal false, contradictory ideas from that catch-all of irrationalists?
As evidence, I quote from the book “Science and Practice of Strength Training,” authored by Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, professor of exercise science at Penn State: “Each of you is a unique individual in every way; and your resistance training program must meet your unique needs – for there is no one all-encompassing ‘secret’ program.” Dr. Zatsiorski – remember, he is an exercise scientist – inexcusably contradicts himself later in the same book when he recommends that bodybuilders perform 15-20 sets per bodypart virtually every day, with up to 60 sets per workout. And later, Professor Zatsiorsky spills the beans, confessing that he gained such knowledge from “observations of professional bodybuilders,” and from “studies which show greater hypertrophy from such high-volume training.” (Some readers may recall past writings of Jones and myself indicating that, all too often, alleged ‘studies’ in the field of exercise science were never conducted at all.)
If, according to Weider and exercise science, there are no universal, objective principles how could bodybuilding exist as a science since the purpose of science is to discover universal principles? And since this Zatsiorsky eschews the universality of principles, claiming we are all “unique in every way,” why, then, go ahead and advocate a universal training prescription?
So far, I’ve indicted Weider (and the orthodoxy), exercise science and, to a lesser extent, Arthur Jones; everyone there is to indict, in fact, as all training approaches – except mine – are based on the same basic principles, differing only in degree. The primary problem with the Weider and the exercise science approach is that it’s based on the premise “more is better.” The idea that “more is better” means precisely that – more is better means more is better. You see, there’s a (false) built-in guarantee, you can’t fail. If 20 sets is good, i.e., yields satisfactory results, then 40 sets would be even better, and 80 sets better still. The advocates of the “more is better” approach won’t go that far because they “sense” that there’s a factor involved that precludes the possibility of performing such a high number of sets. Factor X was first identified by Arthur Jones – namely, the fact of a limited recovery ability. Jones’ awareness that the human reserve of biochemical resources needed to recover from a workout is not infinite; and is what led him to state: “It is only rational to use that which exists in limited supply as economically as possible.” However, Jones didn’t carry that fact to its logical conclusion, and merely advocated “less is better,” i.e., less than Weider. The principle that I am advocating, the one that makes it possible for the bodybuilder to actualize his potential in a very short time, is that neither “more is better” nor “less is better,” but “precise is best.”