Muscle Mass Building Season Is Underway


Friday, January 6th, 2006. A new year and a new muscle mass building season is now well underway. However, most of the training I have done so far this year and for the last two months of 2005 (since my last bodybuilding competition), is not at all like typical off season training for me. It has been much lighter and much more like pre-contest training, and today was more of the same. Read on and I’ll explain why, and I’ll reveal some of my secrets for getting killer weight training workouts when you can’t or choose not to train heavy.

Shoulders, Triceps, Abs

A1 Hammer strength Isolateral shoulder press (one arm at a time)
2 Warm up sets X 15 reps

Set 1: 50 lbs (per side) X 12 reps X 4030 tempo (slow, continuous tension reps)
Set 2: 50 lbs (per side) X 12 reps X 4030 tempo (slow, continuous tension reps)
Set 3: 50 lbs (per side) X 12 reps X 4030 tempo (slow, continuous tension reps)
B1 Seated Straight Arm Laterals with hold at top
Set 1: 25 lbs X 12 reps X 4012
Set 2: 25 lbs X 11 reps X 4012
Set 3: 25 lbs X 9 reps X 4012, then 5 more quick reps X 1010 tempo
C1 Icarian Rear Delt Machine (Palms down grip)
3 sets X 140 lbs X 15, 15, 12 reps X 2012 tempo


A1 Rope Pushdown
2 warm up sets
Set 1: 110 lbs X 15 reps, pull hands apart at bottom, then 5 more reps, with knuckles held together
Set 2: 110 lbs X 12 reps, pull hands apart at bottom, then 5 more reps with knuckles held together
Set 3: 110 lbs X 10 reps, pull hands apart at bottom, then 5 more reps with knuckles held together
B1 one Arm Dumbbell overhead Tricep Extension
Set 1: 25 lbs X 10 reps
Set 2: 25 lbs X 9 reps + 2 forced reps
Set 3: 25 lbs X 8 reps + 2 forced reps
C1 Parallel Bar Dips, Weighted
2 sets X 25 lbs X 8 reps


A1 Crunches (on floor, feet on bench)
3 sets X bodyweight X 25 reps
B1 Reverse Crunch (floor)
3 sets X bodyweight X 25 reps

Workout commentary

Things don’t always go as you planned. That’s why flexibility, resilience, patience and determination are qualities you must have to be a successful bodybuilder. Flexibility in your approach is especially important. If you experience a setback or something unexpected happens, you can whine and moan about what you can’t do, or you can focus on what you can do, and then do it.

I’m still nursing a slightly troublesome lower back, so I haven’t been able to do any heavy training yet, even though it was (and is) my goal to work on basic exercises, increase strength and gain lean body weight over the months that come. That’s why I didn’t do any heavy overhead barbell or dumbbell presses, no bent over dumbbell raises for rear delts, and I didn’t even do heavy standing laterals today.

This didn’t stop me from getting a great workout, however. The workouts may not be optimal for building mass and strength (no squats, deadlifts or bent over rows, for example), but that doesn’t mean they’re not productive at all. I’m very flexible and non-dogmatic in my training approach and I find it easy to train around aches and pains if and when they arise. Fortunately, that’s not often, but in my case, the lower back issue does rear its ugly head every once in a while (as it did last summer and again now), even though the original injury was many, many years ago (ruptured disk, L4).

Largely out of necessity, I have learned over the years how to get excellent muscle growth with moderate or even relatively light weights, by manipulating leverage, form and tempo which in effect, makes the weight feel heavier to the muscle while reducing stress on the joints (and low back). Simply slowing down your reps, by itself, is often enough, but adding a tweak here and there in form as well, can multiply your return on investment for each pound you lift.

Even with relatively light or moderate weights, by manipulating tempo and form in this workout, my delts and triceps were sore the next day like you wouldn’t believe.

My first exercise was the Hammer strength shoulder press, one arm at a time. This is one of those machines where I often load on the plates in the off season, but today I did the exercise with much less weight than usual, using non locking, continuous tension reps and a 4030 tempo. That tempo prescription means a 4 second negative, no pause at the bottom, a 3 second concentric and no pause at the top (and no locking out at the top).

Maintaining this tempo, (especially toward the end of the set, where you are tempted to speed up and lock out), is very challenging and limits the poundage you can use compared to conventional reps. However, as long as some heavy work is mixed in with this style of training, and the light weight super strict work is not done exclusively, I find that this technique can stimulate a great deal of growth, while going easy on your joints (or lower back, whatever the case may be).

The second exercise was lateral raises. I did these seated on a bench with a vertical back support and performed these in the strict straight arm fashion. The tempo makes all the difference in the world on this exercise. Instead of conventional reps, I paused for 2 seconds at the top of each rep, and then lowered slowly only ¾ of the way down.

In the bottom position, there is no stress on the deltoid – it is completely “dead space” and you are resting. At the top position (in the “iron cross” position), you are fully contracted and there is maximum stress on the deltoid. Even if you can do standing bent arm laterals with 45 or 50 lb dumbbells, 25 lbs is quite heavy when you perform straight arm laterals with a hold at the top and a slow negative. This is one of my all time favorite ways to develop the deltoids, although I do alternate this with heavy, semi-cheat laterals at times.

The last exercise for delts was the rear deltoid machine. This machine has two grips, neutral (palms facing), and pronated (palms down). Today I used the palms down grip and like the lateral raises, I used a hold in the contracted position for 2 seconds. There’s such a difference between doing these with a hold and without a hold, that it’s almost not even the same exercise.

After delts, I moved right into triceps, starting with high pulley rope pushdowns. There are countless ways to perform rope pushdowns and it is one of my favorite ways to start tricep workouts because there is so little elbow stress. It gets blood into the tris and warms up the joint nicely. The strictest form of rope pushdown is the hands apart at the bottom version. Doing them with the hands pushed together is easier because it recruits some pecs and deltoids.

With this in mind, I extended my sets by going to momentary muscular failure with hands apart pushdowns, then by pushing my hands (knuckles) together I could continue the set even further. This is one of dozens of “set extension” techniques you’ll learn about on bodybuilding this year, and which I will be writing about in great detail in my soon to be released first volume of the “bodybuilding secrets” books. (patience, patience, I’m still working on it!)

Exercise number two for triceps was one arm dumbbell extension behind the head. I haven’t done this one in a long, long time, so it didn’t take much weight – just a 25 pounder. On the last two sets, I used the opposite arm for a couple of forced reps.

The final tricep exercise was weighted dips. This is a fantastic mass builder. It is a compound exercise, so you cant take the pecs and delts out of it, but you can emphasize triceps by using the narrow parallel bars (wide grip dips hit the pecs more), and by keeping the elbows slightly back and your head up and torso more vertical.

Dips will pack a lot of size on your arms and are a good staple exercise for off season mass building programs. I plan to keep this one in the mix and build up the poundages slowly and steadily over the coming weeks.

I finished the workout with abs, but nothing fancy or intense, just crunches and reverse crunches with bodyweight for high reps.

I didn’t do any cardio today. In the off season, I usually only do cardio about three times a week for 20 minutes, although I sometimes increase it for short periods if my body fat creeps up too high. Excessive cardio is very counterproductive when your goal is gaining lean body mass.

One of the very important aspects about my off season training is the progression from workout to workout. Progression and variety are the two of the most important principles in my training system. In the off season, I tend to stay with certain basic exercises longer, and I usually use a very linear form of periodization where I simply focus relentlessly on beating my previous workout.

For this reason, when you look at each workout, you have to keep in mind that you are only looking at a snapshot of a single day. You will get a much greater grasp of how I get results if you look at my training routines over time and think of the entire training cycle as a movie and each individual workout as just a frame in the movie. If you look only at a single frame, you can’t understand the “plot” or the big picture.

As you follow along in my bodybuilding blog this year, you will no doubt learn a lot of neat training tricks just from reading a single workout journal entry. For example, today you learned about slow tempo, non locking reps, continuous tension, negative reps, static holds, isolateral training and grip changes. If you pick apart my workouts, there’s a lot going on there. But more important, watch what happens from one workout to the next. Look at the progression and the variety and you will see the real magic behind my training systems.

Until next time, train hard, eat clean and expect success all-ways.

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Comments on Muscle Mass Building Season Is Underway Leave a Comment

January 10, 2006

Darren @ 9:53 am #

Thanks Tom, Good info.
I’m looking forward to some diet info also.

Steven Wilkins @ 12:38 pm #

I am also starting my first “mass season” as of Jan 2 and coming off of dieting is like heaven! Eating big clean calories and training heavier is wonderful (plus less cardio 🙂 I’ve gained about a pound thus far and am excited about the coming months. Good luck Tom and to all others whatever your goals may be this year.

Marc David @ 6:37 pm #

Before you, I was a firm believer in the ONLY way you were going to get bigger and stronger was to take each rep and each set to maximum muscular failure.
And the ONLY way to do that was lift heavy.
“Train big to get big” as they say.
In fact, I found out that the Real Secret to Gaining Muscle and Burning Fat was NOT to believe in absolutes.
Your training methods make the workouts 10x harder then just lifting heavy.
I know heavy training has its place but there’s been a few workouts when I jumped in with fellow gym rats who were lifting heavy and I thought..
“Man this is an easy workout.”
Lift heavy.. rest .. do it again .. fail .. move on.
I never felt the intense burn or the mental anguist that made me mentally “nut up” and keep pushing.
In fact, I’m bigger now after doing these routines then I was by just lifting heavy.
Don’t get me wrong, heavy training works and in order to get big you have to push heavy weights.
But to think you can’t gain a lot of muscle by using your intensity techniques is a muscle busting myth!
For those who are new to this blog, these workouts will blow you away. You might look at them and think they are easy but in fact, they are much harder then just maxing out and going home.
Kudos you to Tom for posting your workouts. I’ve still not found a single resource (except me because I’m biased) that comes close to the level of detail, creativity and sheer value as your posts.
Bring what you go. I’m ready for 2006!

Bud Gibson @ 7:18 pm #

Tom, I’ve had some tweaks and am looking to alternative training approaches to ease the load on my joints which becomes more of an issue as you get older.
I don’t compete as a bodybuilder, but I train with one, and I really like the discipline of it. Your blog is a great resource for different ideas. I appreciate your explanations.

January 11, 2006

ian dorgan @ 8:48 am #


January 16, 2006

Jessica Britt @ 11:51 am #

Congratulations on your new website! I’m so glad and exciting that you got another website. I’m looking forward to more info and great articles.Thank you for the new website. That’s another website to add to my list. 🙂

January 23, 2006

tatyana zadorozny @ 4:47 am #

Hey Tom,
Thanks so much for all your info! Last season my abs sat at home on the sofa eating choc!!!
Not this year!!
Thanks for all the great, sensible information!
Here is to getting my pro-card in the WNBF!!
Big Hug and Kiss
Tatyana Zadorozny

January 25, 2006

Brian @ 9:16 am #

Where are you?? How is Mass Season going so far? I hope you start posting more of your workouts soon. I use your Bodybuilding Secrets site for motivation every week. Thanks for everything.

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