The 60s and 70s of the past century are often deemed as the “Golden Age” of bodybuilding, a period when the most legendary and aesthetic physiques were built and as an homage to the sport’s widespread popularity at the time.
Even though the majority of bodybuilding competitions nowadays feature bigger, cut and leaner participants, they have drawn a lot of criticism since they don’t have the appeal that bodybuilders from the Golden Era had when it comes to aesthetics. The bodybuilders of today have become examples of going to the extremes.
They have become too freakish, and have sacrificed aesthetics for size with their overly inflated disproportional bodies, dangerously low body fat levels and huge guts sticking out, striving to stand out on the platform and competing with the other hulks.
But in the days of the bygone “Golden Era”, each bodybuilder had a distinct look going for him which became their trademark, like Francisco Columbu’s aesthetic size, Frank Zane’s leanness or Robbie Robinson’s incredible symmetry. To get that particular physique, each had to train in a different manner, eat a special diet and pose in their own particular way.
Their approach to bodybuilding was like a sculptor’s to marble. They sculpted their bodies in a meticulous and idealistic way with the end result of getting something uniquely aesthetic that would be the pinnacle in male physicality. One of the most successful people on this journey who would go on to forge a spectacular physique was the legendary Serge Nubret.
If you don’t remember who he is, he was the black bodybuilder that had the most incredible chest in the “Pumping Iron” movie who almost beat Arnold Schwarzenegger, who at the time had already won Mr. Olympia 5 times.
Training 5 hours a day
Even though he was famous for his amazing six-pack and near-perfect conditioning, he was known to never count his daily calories, maintain a correct macronutrient ratio or implement any diet of sorts.
When asked about this when being interviewed he responded that he always strove to eat whatever he felt his body needed at the moment and nothing else.
Before even going to competitions, he wasn’t a believer in conventional bodybuilding diets. He said the only strategy he would implement is to start training harder, spending up to 5 hours at the gym every day, 6 days per week.
This fact also enabled him to maintain his competition bodyweight throughout the year, which is extremely rare in the world of bodybuilding nowadays.
Now, before you start screaming “overtraining”, hear us out. I know you may deem it impossible and that he only managed to do it because he was on PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs). But that’s highly unlikely, Serge himself said that he hadn’t even heard of those substances right up until he had already sculpted his amazing physique.
So, what was it? His genetics, training ethic or just sheer luck? The core of his success certainly seems to lie in the aforementioned bodybuilding philosophies. Therefore, even though you may not have his superior genetics, the majority of his training methods can be applied to most recreational and professional bodybuilding and fitness enthusiasts.
His training was specifically unique, in regards to the training split he used, the amount of rest between sets and the load he lifter. His primary aim was to get as big a muscle pump as possible in the muscle he trained by prolonging the time under tension and applying short rest periods.
As an example, Serge did 7 or more sets of 10-12 reps and he used a load for his first set that he thought he could lift for at least 20 reps. Additionally, Serge never trained to muscle failure on any of the sets and his primary concern was to keep the muscle pump during the entire training session.
By doing such high training volume and combining it with shore rest intervals, he also never lifted extremely heavy weights, which is something that the majority of bodybuilders have a problem with. And what’s even more important, this meant that his type of training could in no way over-stress his CNS the way doing a small number of sets to muscle failure could. This greatly reduced his total time of recovery, which in the end allowed him to train a lot more often.
Provided you have the mental capacity to endure the long workouts, chances are you will make incredible muscle gains by using Serge’s program. Many people have reported putting more than 5 lbs. of muscle in little less than 4 weeks, while at the same time reducing their overall body fat levels.
People have also reported their joint health has improved, they never got the feeling of being overtrained and they very feeling much more energized. It turns out, there training with light weights and short rest periods isn’t a bad way to train, after all.
But, all of these bodybuilding legends have trained in their own unique way and achieved incredible results, and what may have worked for them does not mean it will work for you. The only way to know would be to give it a try and see.
Luckily for beginners, starting out in bodybuilding by training for 5 hours per day the way Serge did is not necessary to get great results. In this article we present you a basic program that Serge has often recommended to those starting out in bodybuilding before he passed away.
Serge Nubret‘s basic training program
Sunday: Rest day
Monday: Quads and pecs
- Squats 8 sets x 12 reps
- Leg press 8 sets x 12 reps
- Leg extension 6 sets x 12 reps
Then, rest for 15 minutes minimum and continue with the chest exercises. You could do them later in the same day if possible.
- Wide-grip bench press 8 sets x 12 reps
- Flat dumbbell flies 8 sets x 12 reps
- Incline bench press 8 sets x 12 reps
- Incline dumbbell flies 8 sets x 12 reps
- Pullovers 6 sets x 12 reps
Tuesday: Hamstrings and back
- Pull ups 8 sets x 12 reps
- Behind-the-neck lat pulldowns 8 sets x 12 reps
- Lat pulldowns 6 sets x 12 reps
- Barbell bent-over rows 6 sets x 12 reps
Rest a minimum of 15 minutes and continue with the hamstring exercises. You could do them later in the same day if possible.
- Lying leg curls 8 sets x 12 reps
- Standing leg curls 8 sets x 12 reps
Wednesday: Shoulders and arms
- Behind-the-neck press 8 sets x 12 reps
- Front raises 8 sets x 12 reps
- Upright rows 8 sets x 12 reps
- Lateral raises 8 sets x 12 reps
Rest a minimum of 15 minutes and continue with the arms exercises. You could do them later in the same day if possible
- Cable Biceps Curls 8 sets x 12 reps
- Triceps cable pushdowns 8 sets x 12 reps
- Barbell Biceps Curls 8 sets x 12 reps
- Dips 8 sets x 12 reps
Do the pairings as a superset without resting between sets.
Serge trained the calves by using both standing and seated calf raises. He would alternate days with heavier and lighter weights. One day he would go lighter; the next day he would go heavy.
Traps and forearms
He never trained traps and forearms directly since he figured by training his shoulders he also stimulated his traps and the forearms could be stimulated just by training with a high volume and having a tight grip on the weights.
He trained the abs once per day, each day. As soon as he woke up, he would do 2000, yes, you read that right, 2000 sit ups. He figured this number of sit ups is the only kind of cardio he would ever need. Those who want to follow his ab training advice should take into consideration that he suggested first starting with as many reps as you can in one go and then not doing them at all for the rest of the day. For example, if you can manage to do only 20 reps, don’t do anymore, and don’t divide the reps into separate sets. Do just that one set and try going for extra reps the next day. For him, it took approximately one full year to get to 2000 per day.
Incorporating Serge’s techniques into your workout program
Serge incorporated 30-60 second rest intervals for his upper body training and 1-2 minutes for lower body training. Sometimes, he lowered these rest intervals by 20 seconds every 2 weeks or so, in order to stuff more training volume within a shorter workout time.
If you think exercising 6 days per week might be a bit too much for you, try the training program where you train 3 days consecutively and take one day off. Many recreational lifters have made terrific progress training in this manner. It would look something like this:
Thursday: Rest day
Monday: Rest day
This particular type of exercising may not be something you would like to do on a regular basis, you might want to give it a try if you want to spice up your workout routine and start making progress again.
Even though Serge Nubret passed away on April 19th, 2011, his legendary physique, strength of character and the knowledge he had will go on living in all those who had the privilege to know him and learn his training wisdom.