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20 Months to a Champion Physique – Month 5

This is the next to last month of the beginner phase, and there’s one big change: We’ve decreased the number of repetitions for most of the exercises you do eight to 10 reps, down from the 10 to 12 you have been doing. The lower reps enable you to handle more weight, which adds to the training intensity. This, in turn, gears you up for the intermediate phase.

I’ve also altered the sequence in which you work your body. During the previous two months, of course, you trained your body parts in this order: chest, back, deltoids, triceps, biceps, thighs, calves and midsection. This month the order is midsection, thighs, calves, chest, deltoids, back, triceps, biceps and midsection again. That will basically be the order you will use next month as well.

Here’s a brief thumbnail sketch, so to speak, of where we’re going.

You do a whole-body routine throughout the six months of the beginner phase and for the first four months of the six-month intermediate phase. In other words, you train your entire body in every workout for the first 10 months of the program.

The big change for the intermediate phase is that there are more exercises per workout. You generally perform 14 to 15 exercises per session compared to the nine or 10 you do during the beginner phase. The number of exercises per workout does not go much higher during the advanced phase, but you do more sets. In fact, the workload progression in this program increases from a range of 26 to 42 sets in the last two months of the beginner phase to ranges of 39 to 53 sets for the intermediate phase and 43 to 60 sets for most of the advanced phase.

Starting with the fifth month of the intermediate phase – or exactly halfway through the 20-month program—you make a significant switch from a whole-body routine to a split routine. From then on you train half of your body in one workout and the other half in the next. Also, instead of training three times a week, as you do during the first half of the program, you train six times a week – in order to continue to work each muscle group three times a week.

This change in the last two months of the intermediate phase is actually a way to get you revved up for the eight-month advanced phase. You continue using a split routine during most of the advanced phase, training six days a week; however, during the latter part of the advanced phase you switch to the approach most of the top pros use – working only two or three body parts per session.

Your task is to work hard enough to make consistent progress e route to your ultimate goal – what ever that is – but not overtrain, which will cause your enthusiast to wane and your progress to slot to a crawl.

Play It Safe

People who have low-back problems – and many have them – may experience some difficulty with an exercise like the barbell squat, which is included in this workout. If you have any low-back instability, I recommend that you do the following:

  1. Use a weight that you are sure is not going to cause injury to or any excess strain on your lower back. If this weight is so light that it’s not challenging to do eight to 10 squats per set, increase the repetitions rather than the weight and do 18, 20 or more reps to give the muscles involved a workout.
  2. If you find that even a light weight aggravates your back in a squat exercise, pick another thigh movement – such as leg presses or some other exercise that’s done in a seated or supported position so that your low back is stable throughout. It’s better to play it safe than to run the risk of injury, particularly since there are so many thigh movements to choose from.

Let me add, however, that if you adhere to strict form and you are conservative in the weight you use, you should be able to squat safely even if you have had back problems. You probably wouldn’t think twice about doing an exercise such as standing calf raises – bad back or not – yet standing calf raises can be more threatening than squats to people who have low-back problems, especially if they try to use a lot of weight. When you stand erect on a calf raise machine with a lot of weight on your back, you are using your low back as if it were an automobile’s universal joint. All that stress is on your back as you raise and lower the weight.

There’s less trauma to your back when you do squats because your body adjusts to the biomechanics. The chief danger in the squat, of course, is that when you handle weights that feel heavy, you start to either round or arch your back – and when you do that, you put stress on the area and run the risk of blowing your back out.

In the final analysis, of course, you must use your own discretion. If you have a back problem, the rule of thumb is, Play it safe – and either use poundages on the squat that don’t present a danger or choose thigh exercises on which you have some built-in stability or support for your back.

Another good idea is to do a good low-back warm-up or stretching movement before attempting any kind of squat exercise. In this routine the seated barbell twist serves that purpose for the barbell squat, which follows it.

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. Seated Barbell Twist 1 set of 25-50 reps
2. Flat Footed Medium Stance Barbell Nonlock Squat 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
3. Standing Toe Raise on Hack Thrust Machine 3-5 sets of 20-25 reps
4. Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
5. Standing Palms In Dumbbell Press 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
6. Bent Over Two Arm Long Bar Rowing 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
7. Straight Arm Dumbbell Pullover 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
8. Standing Dumbbell Triceps Curl 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
9. Seated Concentrated Dumbbell Curl 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
10. Jackknife Sit-Up 1 set of 10-30 reps
1. Seated Barbell Twist
Muscle Group: Obliques
Degree of Difficulty: Easy

Sit on the end of a bench with your feet planted firmly on the floor. Place a barbell on the back of your shoulders. Grasp the barbell with both hands in a comfortable position. Now, twist your torso to the right and then to the left by twisting at the waist only. Do not move your head from side to side as you perform this exercise. Be sure to keep your back straight and your head up. You inhale to the right and exhale to the left.

Seated Barbell Twist
Seated Barbell Twist
2. Flat Footed Medium Stance Barbell Nonlock Squat
Muscle Group: Upper thighs
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Place a barbell on your upper back. Help stabilize the bar with a hand grip and spacing that feels most comfortable to you. Keep your head up, back straight, and your feet planted firmly on the floor about sixteen inches apart. Inhale and squat down until your upper thighs are parallel with the floor. Your head should remain up, back straight, and knees slightly to the sides. Return to starting position and exhale but do not lock your legs out or take a short rest before starting the next repetition. Immediately start the squat over again until the prescribed number of repetitions are completed.

Flat Footed Medium Stance Barbell Nonlock Squat
Flat Footed Medium Stance Barbell Nonlock Squat
3. Standing Toe Raise on Hack Thrust Machine
Muscle Group: Main calf muscles
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

(The type of hack thrust machine you use will determine how you position yourself for this exercise. Some hack thrust machines are designed in such a way that your shoulders support the sled. Others are designed in such a way that your arms support the sled. Regardless, the basic movement is the same.) Position your shoulders under the extended portion of a hack thrust machine or grasp the bars on each side of the sled with both hands keeping your arms straight. Stand on the slanted platform while facing into the machine. Stand erect with your back straight, head up and legs locked during the entire exercise. Do not let your hips move backward and forward while performing the exercise. Inhale and raise up on your toes as high as possible. Hold this position for a short period and return to starting position, dropping your heels as low as possible without having them touch the platform 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.

Standing Toe Raise on Hack Thrust Machine
Standing Toe Raise on Hack Thrust Machine
4. Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press
Muscle Group: Outer pectorals
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Lie in a supine position on a flat bench with your legs positioned at the sides of the bench and your feet flat on the floor. Using a hand grip that is about six inches wider than your shoulder width, bring the barbell to arm’s length above the chest but in line with the shoulders. Lower the barbell to a position on the chest that is about an inch below the nipples of the pectorals. Note from figure 1 that the elbows are back and the chest is held high. Inhale as the barbell is lowered to the chest and exhale as you push the barbell back to arm’s length. Do not relax and drop the weight on the chest but lower it with complete control making a definite pause at the chest before pressing it back to starting position. Keep the head on the bench and do not arch the back too sharply as to raise your hips off the bench.

Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press
Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press
5. Standing Palms In Dumbbell Press
Muscle Group: Front and outer deltoids
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Clean two dumbbells to shoulder height. Lock the legs and hips solidly. This will give you a solid platform from which to push. Keep the elbows in slightly and have the palms of the hands facing each other. Press the weights overhead to arm’s length. Lower the weights to starting position, keeping the elbows in. Inhale before the press and exhale when lowering the dumbbells.

Standing Palms In Dumbbell Press
Standing Palms In Dumbbell Press
6. Bent Over Two Arm Long Bar Rowing
Muscle Group: Lats
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Straddle a rowing bar with your feet about thirty-six inches apart. Bend down and grasp the bar with both hands. Keep your knees bent and your back straight but bent to about a 45° angle. Inhale and pull the bar up until the tops of your hands touch the lower part of your rib cage. Lower the bar to starting position and exhale. Do not let the weights touch the floor once you have begun the exercise. Keep the same fixed body position.

Bent Over Two Arm Long Bar Rowing
Bent Over Two Arm Long Bar Rowing
7. Straight Arm Dumbbell Pullover
Muscle Group: Pectorals and rib cage
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Lie supine on a flat bench with your head as close to the end of the bench as possible. Place your hands flat against the inside plate of a dumbbell. With the dumbbell held at arm’s length above the chest, take a deep breath and lower the dumbbell in a semicircular motion over the chest and head to a position behind your head that brings no discomfort to the shoulder area. From this position, return the dumbbell to starting position, still keeping the elbows in a locked position. Exhale as you reach the starting position. Keep the head down, your chest held high, breathe deeply and do not raise your hips off the bench.

Straight Arm Dumbbell Pullover
Straight Arm Dumbbell Pullover
8. Standing Dumbbell Triceps Curl
Muscle Group: Triceps
Degree of Difficulty: Difficult

Grasp one dumbbell with both hands and raise it overhead to arm’s length, vertical with the floor. As you are raising the dumbbell rotate your hands up and over until the top plates are resting in the palms of your hands while your thumbs remain around the handle. Stand erect with your back straight, head up and feet about sixteen inches apart. Keep your upper arms in close to the sides of your head during the exercise. Inhale and lower the dumbbell behind your head in a semicircular motion until your forearms and biceps touch. Return the weight to starting position using a similar path and exhale.

Standing Dumbbell Triceps Curl
Standing Dumbbell Triceps Curl
9. Seated Concentrated Dumbbell Curl
Muscle Group: Biceps
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate

Grasp a dumbbell in your right hand and sit on a bench with your feet about twenty-four inches apart. Position the dumbbell in front of you hanging at arm’s length between your legs with a palms-up grip. Bend slightly at the waist and place your left hand on your left knee to help support your upper body. Rest your upper right arm against your inner right thigh about four inches above your knee. Inhale and curl the dumbbell upward in a semicircular motion by bending your arm at the elbow and keeping your upper arm vertical with the floor. Continue the curl until your biceps and forearm are touching. At the top position the dumbbell should be shoulder height. Return to starting position using a similar motion and exhale. Do the prescribed number of repetitions with your right arm and then change positions doing the same number of repetitions with your left arm.

Seated Concentrated Dumbbell Curl
Seated Concentrated Dumbbell Curl
10. Jackknife Sit-Up
Muscle Group: Upper and lower abdominals
Degree of Difficulty: Difficult

Lie on the floor in a supine position. Place your arms behind your head at arms’ length. You then bend at the waist while raising your legs and arms up at the same time, coming together vertically above your waist. Lower your arms and legs back to the floor to complete the repetition. Inhale as you commence the exercise and exhale as you finish. Keep your elbows and knees locked out during the exercise.

Jackknife Sit-Up
Jackknife Sit-Up
Training Suggestions for Month 5
  • 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 four sets tar most of the movements. This month I suggest that on exercises 2 through 9 you use the following progression:
    • Week1: Three sets and minimum reps.
    • Week2: Four sets and medium reps.
    • Weeks 3 and 4: Five sets and maximum reps.
  • For the two midsection exercises start out with the minimum number of reps and gradually increase the number so you’re doing the upper end of the range at the end of the month.
  • 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 the poundages to use in order to make the last rep or two challenging but not impossible. Don’t hesitate to decrease your weight on the last set or two of an exercise in order to complete the necessary number of reps. Finish what you start – don’t train to failure.
  • From week to week as your body adapts and your strength improves, increase the weight on each exercise. Remember, you want to make the last rep of each set challenging. Keep accurate records of your poundages, sets and reps from workout to workout. This will enable you to easily keep track of your progress from one poundage to the next rather than forcing you to rely on memory.
  • Concentrate on correct form 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 (if one is available). 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.
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.

Terms of Usage

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!