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20 Months to a Champion Physique – Month 3

This month we change the order in which you train the various muscle groups. For the past two months, you will recall, you worked legs first, followed by chest, deltoids, back, arms and midsection.

In addition, of course, you perform an almost entirely new routine – only one exercise, the bent-knee sit-up, is carried over from last month – and in the last two weeks you increase the number of sets per exercise to four from the previous high of three.

Another thing that’s different about this month’s workout is that it does not include a movement that’s classified as a direct deltoid exercise, such as the seated side laterals that you did last month. Even so, your delts get significant although indirect stress in the first exercise of this routine, incline laterals. Remember that it’s impossible to work your chest without working your delts.

More important is the fact that the military press, which is the third exercise in this routine, is one of the most difficult shoulder, or deltoid, exercises you can do. Because it works both the traps and shoulders, it is not regarded as strictly a deltoid exercise. Under the circumstances, however, I’d be reluctant to recommend any more delt work than you are going to be getting here.

Indeed, the military press is so demanding that you may find yourself arching your back from the effort on the last few reps. This can aggravate any low-back instability you may have. If you have a history of low-back problems, and many people do, you can do this exercise seated. That will take the pressure off your back – and actually make the movement seem harder, since you cannot cheat by arching your back and getting your lag and hip muscles into the action as you press the barbell up. You may also want to wear a lifting belt to give your back added support.

And now that you have presumably been training consistently for two months and have established something of a foundation with your weight training – even if you are a beginner – let me address a point that’s crucial to your bodybuilding progress. As you know, I have emphasized over and over again in this program that you should not train to failure. Don’t get me wrong – in no way, shape or form am I suggesting that you coast through your workouts. The last rep of each set should not be an all-out effort, but it should be a challenge.

Another very important point is that you should try to do a little more work every time you go into the gym. Don’t try for a lot more, but make some type of increase in intensity or work load each time so you are not just maintaining. Remember that this is a progressive-resistance weight-training program. Only by increasing your intensity or work load from week to week and month to month will you see results. Besides, as you continue training and increase your strength, it’s only common sense that you try to do more. Otherwise, a workout that seemed challenging a few weeks ago will now seem less so, and your progress will, consequently, slow down.

The stronger a muscle becomes, the more work you must give it in order for it to keep increasing in size, strength and tone. That’s the very essence and the underlying principle of progressive-resistance training. Indeed, it’s the principle of any type of physical training – you push the body, give it an opportunity to rest, recuperate and consolidate its fitness gains and then push it again. Runners do it, cyclists do it, and bodybuilders do it. Simply put, it’s the way all athletes go from a lower level to a higher level of conditioning, whatever the sport.

Naturally, there will be days when you go into the gym and you may feel tired or under the weather for some reason. On those days you may decide – and wisely so – to cut back on the intensity or work load. Generally speaking, however, try to keep increasing the effort you subject your muscles to from workout to workout. It will pay off in the weeks and months to come. I guarantee it.

A Simple Answer to a Common Problem

Bodybuilders sometimes say to me, “Bill, when I am doing several sets of an exercise, I often have trouble completing the full number of reps in the final sets with the weight I started out with. And if I can somehow complete all the reps on the last few sets with that weight, it’s a struggle and my exercise form goes all to pieces. What should I do?”
The answer is simple, though it goes against the grain of what most bodybuilders have a tendency to do under the circumstances: You should cut back the poundages on the last few sets of an exercise in order to complete the prescribed number of reps – actually decrease the weight you are using so you can continue to use correct exercise form and stay within the don’t-train-to-failure guideline.

Of course, if you are like most bodybuilders, your ego gets in the way as you struggle to complete all the reps in the last set or two, and the idea that’s running through your brain is, “I’ll be damned if I am going to decrease the weight I am using!”.

That’s the natural tendency, but it’s important to clearly and objectively keep in mind the bigger picture, which is your overall training philosophy and what you are trying to accomplish.
I always say, You control the weights; they don’t control you. And if you don’t give yourself the freedom to adjust your poundages upward or downward to complete your workout in the manner in which you set out to do it, the result is that the weights win and you lose. Don’t let that happen. Decrease the weight if necessary on the last few sets of an exercise so that you not only complete the required number of reps, but you also do it with correct form.

Medical Warning and Disclaimer

Please get a physical before starting any of the programs at, especially if you are overweight, have not exercised for a while, have had any health problems or if there is any history of health problems. We also recommend that you then visit your doctor on a regular basis while training and report any problems to your doctor.

Should any exercises in these routines be uncomfortable or dangerous to do because of some sort of physical impairment you have, please substitute another exercise for the same body part which will not aggravate the condition. There is a tremendous variety of exercises available for any body part, as you know if you have seen or read my book, Keys to the Inner Universe, so there’s absolutely no reason to be doing some particular exercise that aggravates a back problem, a weak knee or whatever condition you may have simply because you see it in a workout routine somebody put together. and/or any associates are not prescribing any kind of treatments with these programs.

Exercise Sets/Reps
1. Incline Lateral 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
2. Hand on Bench One Arm Dumbbell Rowing 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
3. Standing Military Press 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
4. Lying Supine Close Grip Barbell Triceps Curl to Chin 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
5. Seated Dumbbell Curl 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
6. Heels Elevated Wide Stance Barbell Hack Squat 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
7. Free Hand Front Lunge 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
8. Seated Toe Raise on Seated Calf Machine 3-4 sets of 20-25 reps
9. Bend to the Opposite Foot 1 set of 20-30 reps
10. Bent Knee Sit-Up 1 set of 15-30 reps
1. Incline Lateral
Muscle Group: Upper pectorals
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Use a hand position on the dumbbells similar to that of holding a barbell. Start with the dumbbells together at arm’s length above the shoulders. Slowly lower them to the down position so the dumbbells are approximately even with the chest but about ten inches from each side of the chest. Notice that the elbows are drawn downwards and back so they are in line with the ears. The forearms are slightly out of a vertical position. The press back to starting position is done by using the same arc as in letting the dumbbells down. Inhale at the beginning of the exercise and exhale at the finish.

Incline Lateral
Incline Lateral
2. Hand on Bench One Arm Dumbbell Rowing
Muscle Group: Upper and lower lats
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Place a dumbbell on the floor in front of a bench. Put your left leg back, keeping your left knee locked. Bend the right leg slightly as you bend down and grasp the dumbbell with your left hand, using a palms in grip. Place your right hand on the bench and lock the elbow. With the dumbbell in your left hand hanging straight down and off the floor about six inches, inhale and pull the dumbbell straight up to the side of your chest, keeping your arm in close. Return to starting position and exhale. Do the prescribed number of repetitions on the right side and then change positions to the left side doing the same number of repetitions. Be sure the dumbbell does not touch the floor once the exercise has begun.

Hand on Bench One Arm Dumbbell Rowing
Hand on Bench One Arm Dumbbell Rowing
3. Standing Military Press
Muscle Group: Front and outer deltoids
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

This is the standard military press. Clean the weight to the chest. Lock the legs and hips solidly. This will give you a solid platform from which to push. Keep the elbows in slightly and under the bar, press the weight overhead, lock the arms out. When lowering the barbell to the upper chest, be sure it rests on the chest and is not held with the arms. If the chest is held high, it will give you a nice shelf on which to place the barbell and to push from. Inhale before the press and exhale when lowering the barbell.

Standing Military Press
Standing Military Press
4. Lying Supine Close Grip Barbell Triceps Curl to Chin
Muscle Group: Triceps
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Hold a barbell with both hands using a palms down grip about six inches apart. Lie on a flat bench with your head over the end of the bench pointing downward towards the floor. Press the barbell to arm’s length keeping it in line with your shoulders. Inhale and lower the barbell straight down in a semicircular motion by bending your arms at the elbows but keeping your upper arms vertical throughout the exercise. The barbell should be lowered to your chin and your forearms and biceps should touch. Press the barbell back to starting position using the same path and exhale.

Lying Supine Close Grip Barbell Triceps Curl to Chin
Lying Supine Close Grip Barbell Triceps Curl to Chin
5. Seated Dumbbell Curl
Muscle Group: Biceps
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and sit at the end of a flat bench with your back straight, head up and feet planted firmly on the floor. With the dumbbells hanging at arm’s length at your sides, with your palms in, inhale and curl the dumbbells up to the height of your shoulders. As you commence the curl and the dumbbells are past your thighs, then turn your palms-up and keep them in this position throughout the exercise until you are lowering the weights and again near your upper thighs before turning your palms in again and exhaling. Keep your upper arms in close to your sides and concentrate on your biceps raising and lowering the weights.

Seated Dumbbell Curl
Seated Dumbbell Curl
6. Heels Elevated Wide Stance Barbell Hack Squat
Muscle Group: Inner thighs
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Place a barbell at arm’s length behind you keeping the bar tucked in solidly against your body where your buttocks and upper thighs meet. Use a palms up facing to the rear grip with your hand spacing about the width of your hips. Now, turn your wrist up to lock the bar into an even more solid position. The bar is to remain solidly against your upper thighs and lower buttocks during the entire exercise. It is not to slide up and down on your leg biceps. Keep your head up and your eyes staring upward at about a 45° angle. Keep your back straight and your feet on a 2×4 piece of wood about thirty inches apart. Inhale and squat down until your upper thighs are parallel with the floor. Your head should remain up, eyes looking upward, back straight and knees pointing outward. Return to starting position and exhale.

Heels Elevated Wide Stance Barbell Hack Squat
Heels Elevated Wide Stance Barbell Hack Squat
7. Free Hand Front Lunge
Muscle Group: Thighs and thigh biceps
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Stand erect with your hands placed on your hips. Keep your head up, back straight and feet planted firmly on the floor about fourteen inches apart. Inhale and step forward as far as possible with your right leg until your upper right thigh is almost parallel with the floor. Your left leg should be held as straight as possible not bending the knee any more than is necessary. From this position, step back to starting position and exhale. Do the prescribed number of repetitions with your right leg and then repeat the same number of repetitions with your left leg.

Free Hand Front Lunge
Free Hand Front Lunge
8. Seated Toe Raise on Seated Calf Machine
Muscle Group: Main calf muscles
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Sit on the seat of a seated calf machine and place your upper thighs, just above your knees, under the leg pad. Place the bails of your feet on the footpad that is directly below the leg pad. Raise up on your toes and release the safety stops. Lower your heels to the lowest possible comfortable position. Inhale and raise up on your toes as high as possible. Hold this position for a short period and return to starting position and exhale. If you turn your toes out and heels in, it will affect the inner calf more. If you keep your feet straight, it will affect the main calf muscle more. If you turn your toes in and heels out, it will affect the outside of the calf more.

Seated Toe Raise on Seated Calf Machine
Seated Toe Raise on Seated Calf Machine
9. Bend to Opposite Foot
Muscle Group: Rear obliques
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Stand erect with your feet about sixteen inches apart. Grasp a dumbbell in your right hand with your palms facing in. Place your left hand on your upper left thigh. Place your right arm across your waist so the dumbbell will be in line with your left thigh. Exhale and bend downward until the dumbbell nearly touches your left foot. Return to starting position and exhale. Perform the prescribed number of repetitions before changing the dumbbell over to the left hand to repeat the right movement.

Bend to Opposite Foot
Bend to Opposite Foot
10. Bent Knee Sit-Up
Muscle Group: Upper abdominals
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Sit down on a sit-up board and hook your feet under the strap. With your knees bent to about a 45° angle, put your hands behind your head and place your chin on your chest. This will keep a slight bow to your back. From this position, inhale and lie back until your lower back touches the board. Exhale as you return to starting position.

Bent Knee Sit-Up
Bent Knee Sit-Up
Training Suggestions for Month 3
  • For best results do this routine three times a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Use the off days for rest and recuperation.
  • Last month you progressed to three sets per exercise for most of the movements. This month I suggest that on exercises 1 through 8 you do three sets and the minimum reps, 10, for the first two weeks and four sets and the maximum reps, 12, for the last two.
  • On the two midsection exercises that conclude this routine, do only one set per workout and increase the reps from workout to workout. Start out at the low end of the rep range at the beginning of the month and gradually build up until you’re at the high end of the rep range at the end of the month. Since you already worked through this rep buildup last month with the bent-knee sit-up, I recommend that you repeat the sequence but with the bench at a slightly steeper angle so the intensity is greater.
  • Do not train to failure. The last rep should feel difficult but should not be an all-out effort. At the beginning of this routine you’ll have to experiment to determine what poundages you should use in order to make the last rep or two challenging but not impossible.
  • Increase the poundage on each exercise as warranted by your strength increases. Remember, you want to make the last rep of each set challenging. Make sure you keep accurate records of your exercises, sets and reps from workout to workout, week to week and month to month. This will enable you to easily keep track of your progress from one poundage to the next rather than making the whole process haphazard.
  • Concentrate on correct form when doing each exercise, and mentally focus on the bodypart you’re working.
  • Rest for 30 seconds to two minutes between sets. If you feel any kind of unusual pain during your workout, consult with a trainer. Of course, if you’re just starting a training program, you should always check with a physician to ensure that you have no health problems that could make training dangerous.
  • If three sets per exercise at the beginning of this month seems too much for you or is too time consuming, feel free to go back to fewer sets and work up again. Likewise, if you’re not felling up to par during a given workout, don’t hesitate to cut back on your sets. Sometimes it’s necessary to ease off the volume of work, regroup and work back up – and the intelligent bodybuilder knows when and where to do this. Generally speaking, however, the idea is to increase the intensity and volume of your work load gradually. That’s what you’re aiming for and what will give you the best results.
Do Not Train to Failure

People ask me why I don’t believe in training to failure at a time when the popular notion in bodybuilding is that the only way to make maximum progress is to always go for that last impossible rep (in other words, train to failure). I tell them the answer is quite simple: If you do a workout of, say, nine exercises, three sets per exercise, and in each set you go to failure, which means you couldn’t complete the last rep, what you have done in these 27 sets is trained yourself to fail 27 times! That doesn’t sound like success in my book.
My approach to training has always been to push yourself in your workouts, but do not train to failure! The last rep should be difficult, but not impossible or unachievable. And I’ve always been a great believer that you should leave the gym each day feeling like you had a great workout but you’ve still got a little bit left in the gas tank, so to speak. Because if you don’t leave the gym with the feeling of having something in reserve, you will sooner or later reach a point where your training begins to seem so hellish and burdensome, you will either start missing workouts or stop training altogether. And then where is your progress?
So speaking from experience, I urge you: Train hard, yes, but not to failure. Complete what you start — and that means every rep. I believe that this approach will not only ensure that you’ll stay with your training program year after year (obviously training longevity is a very important aspect of all of this) but you’ll also make the greatest progress. Why? Because you’ll be training yourself for success in each and every rep, set and workout. Your training will be a positive rather than negative experience. And you’ll be much more likely to keep your enthusiasm high and to avoid injury, overtraining and mental burnout.

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Bill Pearl grants individuals the right to print and use this program for their own personal use. All content and graphics are copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form other then outlined in the previous sentence.

Editor’s Note

Bill Pearl, 84, is a four-time Mr. Universe and author of the best-selling bodybuilding books, Legends of The Iron Game, Keys to the Inner Universe, Getting Stronger, and Getting in Shape. He has personally coached more major contest winners than anyone else in history. At his own peak as a bodybuilder when he last won the Universe in 1971 at age 41, he weighed 242 pounds at a height of 5’10” and his arms measured 21 inches!