By Mike Mentzer, Mr. Universe
Mr. Universe Mike Mentzer used Staggered Sets for mass, balance and definition. It led to one of the most rugged physiques of all time.
When one studies the progress of physique standards from the early superstars like Eugen Sandow or Abbey Stockton to the present-day champs like Lee Haney and Cory Everson, one is amazed at how much has been accomplished. And most of that progress has come in the last 30-40 years. The top title winners of the '40s would not even place in regional competition today.
This shouldn't be too surprising, of course, since it was in the 1940s that Joe Weider conceived the now heralded Weider System of Bodybuilding. It was in the creative furnace of Abe Goldberg's Gym in New York, working with the likes of Reg Park, Marvin Eder and Art Zeller that Joe forged the Split System, the Cheating Principle, the Overload Principle and all the other invaluable training principles we now take for granted.
As bodybuilding began to evolve more rapidly in the late '40s and '50s, Joe noticed that bodybuilders increasingly ran into an energy crunch. To be successful, the bodybuilder had to perfect all of his bodyparts rather than lust rely on overall shape and mass. Observing the luminaries training at Gold-berg's Gym, Joe realized that if the bodybuilders were going to work each bodypart as hard as was necessary, the training had to become increasingly systematic to economize on time and energy. Each muscle would have to be thoroughly stimulated with the least amount of total energy expenditure possible to allow for full recovery and growth. And because the bodybuilders had to work for a living, as much work as possible had to be performed
in the least amount of time. These observations led Joe to develop the Weider Staggered Sets Training Principle.
With the Staggered Sets Principle, you perform a set or two for a major muscle group, followed by one or two sets for a smaller muscle group that is far removed from that major muscle group. In this way elapsed training time would be drastically reduced since the time you'd ordinarily take to rest is now used to work a smaller muscle group.
The Staggered Sets Principle is one of the most utilitarian of the Weider Principles in that it can be used year round and can be adapted to any training objective, whether acquiring more mass, developing more definition or specializing on a lagging bodypart. Although it hasn't been used as much lately as it was in the '40s and '50s, today's bodybuilder should consider incorporating this useful training concept into his current regimen.
FOR BUILDING MASS
A bodybuilder will gain muscle mass faster when he devotes most of his energy to working the larger masses of the body: the thighs and back as well as the chest, dells and upper arms. Often, however, after bombing these bodyparts with heavy basic exercises 'such as squats, deadlifts, rows, benches, curls, and dips, the bodybuilder has little energy available for abs, forearms, calves and neck. And while you needn't expend a lot of energy on these bodyparts, they do require a few sets of intensive activity or they will lag pitifully behind.
The answer is staggered sets. With staggered sets the smaller muscle groups can be worked hard while you're still relatively fresh without taking away energy and blood flow needed to work the bigger muscles. This is accomplished by staggering a set for a major muscle group with a set for a minor one. For instance, after a set of triceps pushdowns, don't just wait to do your next set; instead do a set for calves or some other small muscle group that doesn't call for much energy. Between sets for your back, you can do sit-ups for the abs, and between sets of chest you might do work for your neck or forearms. Because much less energy is used working the smaller muscle group, the major muscle you are training can recover while you're working the smaller one. In fact, many exercise physiologists believe that work of a lesser order performed between sets of more intense effort helps facilitate recovery by promoting circulation.
STAGGERED SETS FOR
The champs who used the Weider Staggered Sets Principle in the past did so primarily to help build up a lagging bodypart. While preparing for the Mr. Olympia competitions, Frank Zane would often stagger a set of thigh exercises with various other bodyparts because he had trouble getting his thighs bigger and cut. Rather than waste time between sets, Frank would do a set of thigh extensions between back exercises. Or, if he thought it was necessary, he would stagger thigh extensions with other exercises for a couple of major muscle groups sometimes performing up to 20 sets of thigh extensions in this manner!
Robby Robinson is another well-known bodybuilder who uses the Weider Staggered Sets Principle in this way. Occasionally he will focus on his calves by performing sets of toe raises between sets for other bodyparts. He will do this a couple of days a week in addition to his regularly scheduled calf routine.
Using staggered sets to specialize in the above fashion obviously will in crease the volume of your training. Because they involve small muscle groups and usually high endurance, you can use staggered sets throughout the year and even right up to your contest! However, I wouldn't recommend that an individual use staggered sets to specialize on more than two body-parts. If you do, overtraining and tissue loss might occur. And don't use staggered sets to work the part you're specializing on every day. Two or three days a week with staggered sets in addition to your regularly scheduled workouts for the particular bodypart will be enough to give you the extra stimulation you need.
The idea of staggered sets is to keep the lagging bodypart stimulated and full of blood on off days, not to bomb it into oblivion. Perform no more than 10 sets during your workout for any given area requiring specialization. And those sets should be of moderate intensity — save the heavy work for your regularly scheduled routine for that bodypart.
STAGGERED SETS FOR DEFINITION Staggered sets can be used to improve muscular definition — as Frank Zane demonstrated so dearly. Weight training is not the best activity to burn bodyfat as fuel due to the constant rise and fall of the heart rate. Performing a set of an exercise and then taking a rest period causes the body to use sugars as the primary source of energy. While bodybuilding with weights is essentially an anaerobic activity, in which sugar is used for fuel, modifications can he made to increase the percentage of fat burned.
Rather than train in a straight set fashion so that your heart rate rises to a high level during exercise and then drops to a low level between sets, you can achieve a sustained elevated heart rate by staggering a heavy set for a major muscle group with a lighter, less intense effort for a smaller muscle group. The heavier, more intense set for a major muscle group will elevate the pulse to a high level, and the lighter set that immediately follows will help sustain that elevated pulse rate rather than allow it to drop back sharply to a resting level. The use of staggered sets, therefore, gives you a steadier elevated pulse rate. In this way your training takes on a much more aerobic character and thus burns more fat for fuel instead of just sugar and helps to achieve more definition. Of course, the fact that you're performing a greater volume of work also will burn more calories and thereby enhance definition.
Staggered sets can be used all year long for greater definition. The best time, of course, is during the last 12 weeks before a contest when shedding as much fat as possible,and rounding out your symmetry are of paramount importance. The number of exercises you choose to stagger will depend on individual requirements such as energy levels, enthusiasm and how much Fat you have to burn.
There's a major difference in the way you use staggered sets for mass and definition. In the former case, the exercise for the smaller muscle should be heavy and you should allow yourself whatever rest is necessary between sets. When using staggered sets to improve definitionido higher reps with lighter weights, following the Weider Slow, Continuous Tension Training Principle, and take minimal rest between sets to sustain the elevated pulse rate.
Also, when enhanced definition is the objective, it doesn't really matter what exercises you stagger with your regular routine of exercises. They can be arranged so that every large muscle set or two is followed by a set for a specific smaller muscle group such as calves with thighs, or forearms with back. Because the primary goal in this instance is keeping the heart rate elevated, any exercise that stimulates the eardiorespiratory system will suffice. Exercises such as lunges or power deans performed with a light weight are effective in stimulating circulation. Even traditional exercises such as step-ups onto a bench or squat thrusts can be used. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that the exercise of the staggered set is of only low to moderate intensity so the pulse rate is not sustained at so high a level that you burn out rapidly. If the pulse stays at the high level it reached during the performance of the exercise for the major muscle group, you'll quickly use up all the available glucose and experience the dramatic loss of energy know to runners as "hitting the wall." if you continue training after having hit the wall you will lose precious muscle tissue, since the body will then break down muscle protein and convert it to glucose. Extremely labored breathing during the staggered set is an indication that the intensity is too high and should he lowered by either decreasing the weight or resting a bit.
When can you start using staggered sets? After about six months of training you'll be able to see relative body-part weaknesses or imbalances in your physique. That is when to start using staggered sets!
Employed in an intelligent, careful manner, the Weider Staggered Sets Principle is one of the most useful methods available to the bodybuilder for achieving mass, symmetry, shape and definition. However, when used for too many sets, it might lead to over-training and muscle tissue loss. Like any of the Weider Principles, staggered sets are beneficial only when used properly. If you want to be great, use the training principles used by all the top champs; but use them as their discoverer, the Master Blaster, intended! El
Mike Mentzer won the Mr Universe In 1979 with a perfect score. He Is the pmponent of the "limy Ditty Tiraining Philosophy
No time to waste! Top Mr. Olympia contender Brian Buchanan engorges his shoulders with blood but can attack smaller muscles between sets.
Kerimini! Have you ever seen such dense muscularity? It was no accident. Mentzer treated bodybuilding as a science to reach his full potential.