working out

Tommy works a lot of weights. It’s his way of staying in control of his life, and keeping his mind focused. It’s also based on personal experience. As an insight, I’ve included both one of my bodybuilding schedules and one of my powerlifting ones, from my late 20s and early 30s (i.e. a good decade ago!)

Bodybuilding

This is my muscle-building routine from a few years back, when I was in my late 20s. I made a pact with myself that I would give up when I was 30, which I did. Most of the world’s top bodybuilders continue to improve throughout their 30s and into their 40s but I wasn’t convinced of the wisdom of doing so – little aerobic exercise, vast amounts of food, and that much physical strain is a young person’s thing. To put it into a lifestyle context, at the time I was eating 6 small meals per day, a meal consisting of an egg-white omelette, a couple of turkey breasts and some rice, or a protein shake. And I never took any performance-enhancing drugs.

The main principle behind this workout is maximum recovery – 2 days of total rest before legs, which is the biggest bodypart; a day before back, the next biggest. I also went by the pre-exhaustion principle, which fits quite well with maximum recovery – in other words, you work your biceps as a bodypart on the same day as you do back, because they’ll get a workout with the back exercises anyway – same with chest and triceps. The final principle is to start with the exercise that works the largest muscle groups (not the most intense – they should always be intense), and 1 light warm-up set per exercise – warm-up is to stop injury, not to exhaust your muscles.

Day one – legs

Squats: 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6 to total failure (like every set)

Leg presses: 3 sets of 10

Stiff-legged deadlifts: 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6

Calf raises: 3 sets of 15

Day two – lower back, shoulders, and traps

Deadlifts: 3 sets of 10

Shoulder presses: 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6

Shoulder flyes: 3 sets of 10

Shrugs: 3 sets of 10

Day three – rest

Day four – back and biceps

Pull-ups: 3 sets to exhaustion

Bent over rows: 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6

Dumbbell rows: 3 sets of 10

EZ bar curls: 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6

Day five – chest and triceps

Bench press: 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6

Incline bench press: 3 sets of 10

French press: 3 sets of 10

Days six and seven – rest

Every day – abs: 200 crunches.

Powerlifting

After bodybuilding for 4 years, I spent a couple of years powerlifting and throwing discus. There is still a real emphasis on strength, but this is combined with speed and fitness. As such it felt a whole lot more healthy, and gave me a lot more energy, as well as everyday capability. Because being absolutely ripped wasn’t a priority I could eat more normal food as well, but even more calories than before (remember, though, that if you’ve got fat in your diet a lot less quantity can give a lot more calories – 1 gram of protein = 4 cal, 1 gram of fat = 9).

I combined this with a really good stretching routine every day – you could do worse than 20 minutes of yoga when you get up.

One thing you’ll notice is that the strength exercises are really based around the big muscle groups – you want your biceps and triceps to be strong but you don’t really care what they look like. Most of the time they’ll get enough work from the big exercises. 1 light warm-up again per exercise.

Day one – legs and shoulders

Squats: 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 to total failure (like every set)

Leg presses: 3 sets of 10

Barbell lunges: 3 sets of 10

Shoulder presses: 3 sets of 10

Day two – cardio

2 x 5000m row at medium intensity

Day three – back

Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8, 6, 4

Bent over rows: 3 sets of 10

Shrugs: 3 sets of 15 (longer sets because these are fantastic for grip work if you’re doing competitive deadlifts)

Day four – fitness

Interval training. I used to do 10 x 300m sprint running with 90 second intervals, and 2 miles jogging, alternating low and high intensity.

Day five – power

Power cleans: 4 sets of 5, 4, 3, 2

Power snatches: 4 sets of 5, 4, 3, 2

Days six – chest and cardio

Bench press: 4 sets of 10, 8, 6, 6

Incline press: 3 sets of 10

5000m row at medium intensity

Day seven – rest

Every day – abs: 200 crunches.


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