Dorians Heavy Duty System
What Dorian was trying to tell us was that he trained more to develop intensity than to develop muscle. The former is preeminent–both necessary and sufficient for the latter. But, more important, intensity is a function of mental strength in the form of concentration, willpower and comprehension of the manifold factors that effect muscle development.
“I never adopted a hit-and-miss policy,”
he’s fond of saying. Before he took his first workout, he sourced every available piece of literature he could find on bodybuilding and physiology. Then, by testing in his gym lab the theories of strength and muscle growth, he decocted two principles that revolutionized bodybuilding and gave us what is known as Dorian’s Heavy-Duty System:
(1) maximum muscular response is obtained from the shock of brief, high-intensity training;
(2) muscular growth occurs only after recuperation has taken place.
Dorian credits the late Mike Mentzer’s radical interpretation of this reasoning as inspiration, but Dorian is a vanguard in his own right, having proved that no training system is universally applicable but, instead, should be modified to one’s personal characteristics.
“Mentzer argued that as long as you execute a full range of motion,”
“you can reduce workouts to one set per bodypart, but I believe a variety of exercises are needed to stress different aspects of a particular muscle. For example, if I didn’t do hack squats and relied only on leg presses, leg extensions and Smith machine squats, I’d lose the sweep to my outer thigh; and if all I did for back was chins, I’d maintain good upper lats but lack density in my middle and lower back. I believe you can make great gains with one set per exercise, but you need to do a variety of exercises per bodypart to ensure that all areas of that bodypart are optimally developed.”
Even so, Dorian barely deviated from the single-set principle. The major exercise for each bodypart would get only one, or, at the most, two warm-up sets before his single maximum set. The only exception was for chest, where he would precede his final set with three warm-up sets (prudent, considering the amount of weight he’d press and the vulnerability of the complex of joints and muscles in that area). Many following exercises got no warm-up sets at all;
“I’m already warmed up from that first exercise,”
That set remains ineffable for the rest of us. It resides only in Dorian’s comprehension of “intensity.” Only he has been able, by supernal force of will, to push his body far enough beyond absolute fatigue to give the terms “final” and “all-out” any meaning. His attempt to describe the experience is sincere but also typical of his understatement: “It must be stressed that the one final, all-out set I do takes me to the very limit of my capabilities. For example, for chest, one of my preferred movements is the incline barbell press. After two or three warm-up sets of six to 12 reps each, I load up the bar and grind out six reps to failure. Without stopping, my training partner then helps me keep it going with two or three forced reps, again to failure; but the set is still not finished. He’ll then assist me with another three or four rest/pause or negative reps, until the bar absolutely will not move.
“One set at that extreme intensity does the muscle-building job. For anyone trying this system, if you feel you can attempt a second set, then you couldn’t have been pulling out all the stops during the first set. It might be thought that a reduction to a workload of one set per exercise is a radical change, but it wasn’t for me, because I’ve never been a believer in volume work. All that I’ve ever needed to rationalize is what makes sense to me and to my physique.
“The insurmountable question mark I’ve always had against doing even as few as three sets per exercise is: How can you avoid pacing yourself? You’re bound to hold back on sets one and two to make sure there’s enough left in the tank for set three. Once I learned how to do one final, all-out set, I wondered how I managed to avoid the pacing dilemma when I was doing two sets per movement.”
Dorian illustrates the pacing problem by comparing a sprinter and a marathon runner. How long can you maintain an all-out sprint before you are forced to jog? The answer: not very long. If you do three sets, it is physiologically impossible to sprint all-out each set. Even if you were able to maintain 100% effort throughout three sets, the effect would be detrimental–your body would be so depleted that you would be spending more time recovering from your workouts than growing from them.
Intensity, alas, is only one half of Dorian’s Heavy-Duty whole. The other half is recuperation. And the two are true moieties: insufficient recuperation impedes intensity, and insufficient intensity impedes growth. Thus, you will never hear Dorian diminish one in the presence of the other. Recuperation, in fact, is practically venerated.
“Rest periods between sets are as long as I feel is required,”
he unabashedly admits. “Many bodybuilders think training is 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic. That is a mistake. They don’t rest enough between sets; their body is not able to regenerate enough energy to exhaust that muscle to absolute fatigue, which is the point at which optimal muscle growth begins.
“I perform a set with 100% energy to 100% failure–then beyond, to 100% fatigue–and I won’t do another set until I feel that the muscles have recuperated 100%, however long that takes. For example, when I take squats or leg presses to total fatigue, I know from experience that it’s likely to be at least five or six minutes before I’ll be able to even think about what my address or name is, let alone do another set.”
Beginning in 1983 and until 1986, he used a split routine. At first, he trained four times a week, averaging three heavy sets of eight reps per exercise, but he fell into bed at night tired and stressed, confessing,
“I was obviously doing too much.”
Revising his schedule to every other day also proved too ambitious, so he changed it again, settling on three days a week, so that over a 14-day period, he worked each half of his body three times. Again, he fell short of peak recovery, so he trained every other day, using three exercises of two max sets each per bodypart.
The intensity/volume equation was clarifying itself as a constant: the more intensely he trained, the stronger he grew, and the less volume was required. Not until 1992 did Dorian feel that his process had reached the sweet spot of simplicity, where he could apply the “one all-out set” principle in its quintessence to a consistent, seven-day regimen.
Shoulders and triceps, a small bodypart combination that did not deplete his nervous system, came first, on day one, affording him full power the next day for back. While he wasn’t overtrained from that two-day series, he needed a day’s rest, before returning for an all-out attack on chest and biceps.
To call Dorian’s leg session (his fourth training day) a body-part workout fails to accord it with the awe it deserves–more properly, it was a life-sucking, flesh-frying torture that required him to insert a rest day both before and after, leaving him to follow a syncopated two-on/one-off/one-on/one-off/one-on/one-off schedule. That, however, was as complicated as it got. In this final iteration of his high-intensity program, a bodypart workout comprised only two to four exercises and one all-out set per exercise (preceded by one to three warm-up sets of 50%-70%). No workout lasted more than an hour, and most were only 45 minutes. To put it in perspective, his weight training for a week totaled perhaps 3 1/2 hours, about what many body-builders do in a day.
Prior to his injuries, he would resist on the negative motion of each rep and explode out of the midpoint into the positive motion, which created an overload shock that was beyond the muscle’s natural capacity. To avoid that explosive shock, Dorian modulated his power throughout the repetition by means of a smoother, more consistent movement, yet still pushed that rep to the same level of intensity. Since the overload was more constant through both negative and positive movements, he was able to concentrate harder on fuller and more deliberate muscle contractions.
“I still applied the maximum amount possible of muscular stress,”
Dorian says. The result: his physique responded with even faster development and with what he calls a more finished look.
1. Be objective in analyzing which exercises are best for you. Some conventional movements might not be suited for your physique. In my case, it was squats. After many years of being faithful to them, I realized that the relative lengths of my bodyparts restricted the range of motion for squats. When I switched to the leg press, I made much faster gains in quad size and sweep.
2. Controlling the contraction of the muscle throughout the entire range of motion, as opposed to lifting as much weight as you can, is even more important for high-intensity training than in standard bodybuilding, because the purpose of high-intensity training is to take a muscle so far beyond total fatigue that it will not be able to fire for a repeat set. Merely lifting maximum weight only fatigues your coordinated body strength, without fully fatiguing the intended muscle.
3. In each workout, use every technique you know to fatigue the muscle further than the last time. Try for one more rep than in your previous workout, then follow with forced reps, negatives, partials, ad infinitum, until you have to be carried to your car.
4. Continuously try to reduce your volume (sets and reps) by increasing your intensity. You ll notice that I used only two warm-up sets for my heaviest compound exercises (except for chest, which got three).