I've had the pleasure of meeting many people over the years from wrestlers to actors to musicians and to bodybuilders. But one of the greatest experiences was meeting "The Myth" Sergio Oliva! There's the autographed photo from him that he signed. "To Chris: Train like an animal". I certainly took it to heart and have been doing so ever since!
He is one of a select few people whose advice I truly value. Don't get me wrong. By no means do I think I have all the answers and almost nobody can teach me anything. On the contrary, I am always open to learn and want to forever have the mind of a student on the first day of class! But the fact is there are tons of people who will simply tell you the exact same thing and do the exact same thing as the next person. Just like sheep, they simply follow what their friends or colleagues are doing. I may not necessarily agree with everything Sergio said, but he certainly was a unique individual and wasn't afraid to break the status quo.
#1 - WARMUP LIGHTLY
I'm not sure if he did this as much when he was younger, but as he got older he definitely did. In any case, it's certainly always a good idea to not just jump right into a hard workout without a thorough warmup!
#2 - USE HIGH REPS
He used to say "I don't do that 5-6 rep stuff anymore. It's too hard on the joints". I totally agree. I went down the heavy weight road before back when I was powerlifting and I can tell you that something is always hurting! He said he never did less than 10 reps and often went up to 15, 20, and even 25 reps!
#3 - USE THE REST-PAUSE METHOD
This is the official name for a method that many people use instinctively. When you're doing a high rep set, you may not be able to get it all in one go. Suppose you have a goal of 20 reps. You may get to 12 or so and then get to fatigued to get any more. So instead of simply stopping the set, take a short pause of maybe 5 seconds, and then go again!
#4 - USE CONSTANT TENSION
Rather than fully locking out with your exercises, stop just short of lockout so that constant tension is maintained on the muscle and therefore it's being trained harder. Arnold Schwarzenegger liked this principle as well!
#5 - CONCENTRATE ON THE MUSCLE AT ALL TIMES
Arnold as also a believer in this one. Maybe not a revolutionary idea, but certainly an important one. Concentrate and focus on the muscles being trained. Don't daydream!
#6 - NEVER TRAIN TO ABSOLUTE FAILURE OR DO FORCED REPS
This ties in a little with the bit about not using heavy weights. So many people say to train to Absolute Failure on every set. However doing so is very damaging for two reasons. One reason is that it's very taxing to the nervous and recovery systems of the body. It's far better to train to the point of Positive Failure or perhaps one or 2 reps short of that. This means you stop when you know you can't get any more full reps. The other reason it can be damaging is psychological. Think about it. By going to absolute failure, you're training yourself to fail on every set!
#7 -DO SUPERSETS OR TRISETS
This is probably the thing I took most from Sergio Oliva. Just ask my clients and they'll tell you that I love putting things in supersets, trisets, or circuits! It keeps the temp fast so there's a lot of cardiovascular benefit there and it also keeps the blood in the same area for longer. For example if you superset chest and back exercises (incline dumbbell press and rows for example), the blood is kept in the torso for the entire duration of the workout and the pump in unbelievable!
#8 - TRAIN THE MUSCLES WITH A VARIETY OF EXERCISES AND DIFFERENT ANGLES
There are many ways to train a muscle group. I'm sure most people wouldn't want to do only one exercise for the rest of their life. After all, variety is the spice of life, is it not?
#9 - TRY TO ACHIEVE MAXIMUM PUMP
There are a number of ways to do this. Although it may sound like a contradiction to the last rule, he sometimes would pick only one exercise for a muscle and train it for multiple sets (sometimes 10 or more!) The goal is to completely engorge the muscle with blood, thereby bringing more muscle building nutrients to it! He would never end a workout unless he achieved an amazing pump! Of course he often trained with different exercises as well, but not always.
#10 - DO A LARGE NUMBER OF SETS FOR EACH MUSCLE
You may have heard of German Volume Training where many sets of the same exercise were done. 10 sets of 10 for example is a fairly well known method. But in Sergio's day, this certainly wasn't the case. There were many people who believed in the Mike Mentzer Heavy Duty method where you train to failure, then use forced reps and negatives to the point where you couldn't move! And this was done often with only 1 set! On the other end of the spectrum, Sergio often didn't even count sets!
#11 - USE ONLY MODERATE WEIGHTS AND DON'T OBSESS OVER POUNDAGE
Again, there's no need for heavy weights. Also, never mind what your friend is using or what the person next to you is using. Use whatever weight is good for you and leave it at that! When looking at the weights Sergio used, many people wondered how someone with such a massive build could train with such a light weight. The answer is QUALITY OVER QUANTITY!
#12 - BREAK UP YOUR WORKOUTS
This is a really crazy one! But often, he would train one muscle for maybe 15 minutes, go to a different muscle for a while, and THEN come back to the first one again! Certainly unconventional, but he felt this way of training allowed him to train the muscle harder without burning out.
#13 - KEEP A FAST TEMPO
He certainly wasn't your typical gym rat who would do a set of bench presses, rest for 5 minutes talking too his buddies and then go again! He would keep a fast pace with supersets and trisets maximizing both muscle building AND fat loss/cardio!
#14 - SOMETIMES TRAIN THE SAME MUSCLE TWO (OR EVEN THREE) DAYS IN A ROW
Another controversial one. People are often so paranoid about training a muscle more than once a week. Personally I've always trained either full body workouts or splitting up the body over 2 days. I've always trained the muscles at least twice a week. But Sergio did better than that. He would sometimes train the same muscle two or even three days in a row! Much of it was instinctive training. If he trained a muscle on Monday and on Tuesday, he felt strong and wanted to do it again, he'd simply throw his schedule out the window and do it!
#15 - DON'T DRINK WATER DURING A WORKOUT
This is one I definitely do NOT agree with. But I did say he wasn't afraid to break the status quo! He didn't drink water because he felt it cooled him down too much. He saved that for after the workout. His workout drink was hot coffee! His reasoning was that the caffeine made him sweat and gave him energy!
So there you have it. Agree with him. Disagree with him. But at the end of the day, he was his own person and wasn't afraid to break the rules a bit. He was also a true legend and one of only two men (the other was Frank Zane) to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bodybuilding competition!
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