Old School Gains: Build Muscle Like an Iron-Game Legend

Team Allmax
Written By: Team Allmax
January 19th, 2016
Updated: June 13th, 2020
172.5K Reads
Old School Gains: Build Muscle Like an Iron-Game Legend
Is the modern lifter really willing to do what it takes to build major muscle? Try training like an old-school legend for big results!
Workout Summary
  • Main Goal
    Build Muscle
  • Workout Type
  • Training Level
  • Program Duration12 weeks
  • Days Per Week
  • Time Per Workout45-60 minutes
  • Equipment Required
    Barbell, Cables, Dumbbells, Machines
  • Target Gender Male & Female
  • Workout PDF Download Workout

Workout Description

The muscle building equation was once a relatively simple one: train hard and often, eat big, and get enough rest and recovery to rebuild damaged muscle. Keeping the mass gaining process simple by completing each of these steps on a consistent basis guaranteed gargantuan gains and ongoing muscle growth.

Today many aspiring muscle contenders overcomplicate what should be a relatively straightforward mission. With the advent of the internet and a subsequent plethora of conflicting advice and bro science masquerading as indisputable fact, much confusion reigns among today’s muscle hungry lifters.

Eager to pack on enough size to rival the Ronnie Colemans of the world, today’s bodybuilding beginner invariably seeks every anabolic advantage while trying all available size-building methods – many concurrently – in an attempt to find the “perfect solution” to their weight gain woes. Is such training and nutritional eclecticism smart?

Old School Gains: Train Like an Iron-Game Legend

Despite their undoubted enthusiasm and willingness to do ‘whatever it takes’, are modern era lifters fully tapping their genetic potential, or unwittingly stifling potential progress?

Do a greater variety of training tactics, equipment, and fitness "experts" hold promise for devoted iron trainees? Or might a return to the bodybuilding ways of old, where simplicity ruled and gains reigned, be the best approach of all? Let’s take a closer look at how old school mass building may in fact be the solution to substantial size gains, regardless of your training stage.

The Key Variable

With so many methods, many upcoming bodybuilders are going from one craze to the next, never applying maximum effort to one solid plan of attack. Iron legends of old were comparatively set in their ways. The Arnolds, Ferrignos, and Drapers of bodybuilding’s first Golden Era of the 60s and 70s were not exactly open to experimentation when it came to lifting mammoth weights.

Related: Arnold's Volume Training Routines

Rather, these pioneers expanded the muscle building parameters of what many gym outsiders felt achievable. They picked an approach best suited to their individual body type, adhering to basic heavy exercises and applying the single most important bodybuilding variable of all: a willingness to work hard supported by a tunnel-vision approach to training that rendered all outside distractions irrelevant and meaningless.

No selfies, no idle chit chat, no reducing intensity due to muscle fatigue, and no half-assing it in the name of maximizing recovery. This was back when training to failure really meant training to failure. Where a set to completion demanded that not a further single rep would be achieved without assistance. Perhaps the lifters of old trained for different reasons than lifters of today.

A true love for the training process, a genuine desire to test their physical development, and the excitement associated with exploring uncharted territory undoubtedly drove those bodybuilders to work hard.

Old School Gains: Train Like an Iron-Game Legend

Bodybuilders of old (50s through to the 80s) were an exclusive club. Without the advantages of sophisticated pre-workout supplements, muscle-nourishing whey proteins, and other anabolic agents, lifters had to go to extreme lengths to provoke a muscle building response.

Vomit-inducing workouts were considered not only a badge of honor, but also crucial in stimulating maximum muscle microtrauma and subsequent size gains. To train hard meant leaving every ounce of effort in the gym along with puddles of sweat and layers of chalk dust.

To build mass like an iron game legend requires a similar degree of intensity and dedication. Sadly, many of today’s gyms discourage true hardcore training. Moving maximum iron to complete muscle failure is not achieved without a fair degree of physical expression and the occasional dropping of weights.

Fortunately there's salvation in hardcore gyms such as Metroflex and others like it. Serious bodybuilders are urged to frequent these kinds of gyms. Once you selct a free weight dominant gym, it's time to select a back-to-basics mass building approach designed to deplete and damage all targeted muscles.

Gyms that frown upon bodybuilding-style training are to be avoided like an overreliance of cables and machines when aiming to build pure mass.

Old school bodybuilders were not averse to upping the training volume. In fact, many of them believed that overtraining was a myth perpetuated by those who chose to under-eat and under-rest. Bottom line, you'll get more muscle growth if you:

  • follow an old school nutrition plan heavy on quality nutrients (clean proteins, fats, and carbs). There's no need for extreme nutrient restricting diets
  • live a stress-free lifestyle
  • consistenly get sufficient rest and sleep.

As the most adaptive tissue of the human body, muscle is biologically programmed to become stronger and grow faster with optimal stimulation and nutritional sustenance. Conversely, inadequate stimulation and poor nutritional habits will cause muscle to shrink and become weaker.

Old school lifters knew this, and trained higher volume, training each muscle group up to three times a week with multiple sessions scheduled throughout the day. They also had solid nutrition with plenty of fresh whole foods and protein supplements.

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Keeping it Simple and Muscle Focused

Golden era lifters did not cardio their muscles into increasing oblivion. Nor did these early iron legends periodize their training, thus encouraging the tapering off of intensity at various training stages. Workouts were weights-focused, cardio was minimal, – though cardio is most certainly encouraged today due to its health benefits – and intensity was consistently high.

Today’s bodybuilders frequently do more cardio than weights. Too much cardio, however, can deplete energy levels and negate weight training intensity. Excessive cardio can also directly deplete muscle protein stores thereby curtailing protein synthesis and, ultimately, muscle growth.

To reap cardio’s many benefits – improved blood, oxygen, and nutrient circulation, fat burning, and mental wellbeing to name but three – without interfering with muscle rebuilding, keep sessions short, intense and infrequent. Try 3-4 30-minute HIIT sessions per week – first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

Related: What Kind of Cardio Is Best for Fat Loss? See What the Research Says

Assuming one’s diet is on point, weight training intensity is high, and resistance training is scheduled on a near-daily basis for one hour per session, then body fat is likely to be kept at bay and the subsequent muscle gains will ensure that one’s metabolic machinery continues to support the shredding process.

By keeping training and nutrition simple and focused, as outlined above, consistent muscle-building progress will surely follow. Rather than being discouraged that your new nano-micro-filtrated-anabolic-super-supplement is not working fast enough or that your six-minutes-to-shredded-abs program is not delivering, perhaps it is time to get under the squat rack and bang out an extra three reps per set.

Old School Gains: Train Like an Iron-Game Legend

Perhaps it's time to train to the point of exhaustion, to where the extreme muscle burn of a grueling set forces you to stop before irreparable damage is incurred. Perhaps it is time to adopt an old school bodybuilding mindset and do what the lifters of old did to build their massive physiques: Train big, eat big, rest big, and repeat.

Old School Workout Plan for Maximum Size Gains

Complete this program for a full 15 weeks, increasing weight in line with increasing strength levels.

Monday Morning: HIIT Cardio
Exercise Time
HIIT Cardio (exercise bike or treadmill) 30 minutes: 40 sec high intensity followed by 1 min moderate intensity
Monday Evening: Chest/Shoulders/Triceps
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Chest Dips 4 8-12 (add weight if needed)
2. Dumbbell Bench Press 4 8-12
3. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 4 8-12
4a. Arnold DB Press 4 8-12
4b. DB Lateral Raise 4 8-12
5. Dumbbell Front Raise 4 8-12
6a. Close Grip Bench Press 4 8-12
6b. Rope Pressdowns 4 8-12
7. Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks 4 8-12
Tuesday: Legs
Exercise Sets Reps
1a. Wide Stance Squats 4 10-15
1b. Leg Extensions 4 10-15
2. Front Squats with a Narrow Stance 4 8-12
3. Walking Dumbbell Lunges 4 15-20 (each side)
4. Leg Press 3 15-20
5a. Lying Leg Curls 3 8-12
5b. Stiff-Legged Deadlift 3 8-12
6. Standing Calf Raise 4 15-20
Wednesday Morning: HIIT Cardio
Exercise Time
HIIT Cardio (exercise bike or treadmill) 30 minutes: 40 sec high intensity followed by 1 min moderate intensity
Wednesday Evening: Back/Biceps
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Chin Ups 4 8-12 (add weight if needed)
2. Reverse Grip Lat Pulldowns 4 8-12
3a. One Arm DB Rows 4 8-12
3b. Seated Cable Rows 4 8-12
4a. DB Hammer Curls 4 8-12
4b. Incline DB Curls 4 8-12
5. Barbell Curls 4 8-12
Thursday: Chest/Shoulders/Triceps
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Bench Press 3 8-12
2. Incline Barbell Press 3 8-12
3. Decline DB Press 3 8-12
4. DB Press 3 8-12
5. Bent-Over DB Lateral Raise 3 8-12
6a. Triceps Dip 3 8-12
6b. DB Kickbacks 3 8-12
7. One Arm Overhead Triceps Extensions 3 8-12
Friday Morning: HIIT Cardio
Exercise Time
HIIT Cardio (exercise bike or treadmill) 30 minutes: 40 sec high intensity followed by 1 min moderate intensity
Friday Evening: Legs
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Medium Width Squats 4 10-15
2a. Leg Extensions 3 8-12
2b. Hack Squats 3 8-12
3. Standing One Legged Curls 3 8-12
4a. Seated Calf Raise 3 15-20
4b. Standing Calf Raise 3 15-20
Saturday Morning: HIIT Cardio
Exercise Time
HIIT Cardio (exercise bike or treadmill) 30 minutes: 40 sec high intensity followed by 1 min moderate intensity
Saturday Evening: Back/Biceps
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Deadlifts 4 8-12
2. Reverse Grip Bent Over Barbell Rows 3 8-12
3. Chin Ups 3 8-12
4. Alternate DB Curls 3 8-12
5. Reverse Barbell Curls 3 8-12

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Posted on: Thu, 11/18/2021 - 12:40

Hey Fam! Do I work in some trap isolation on back or shoulder day? Thanks, M&S, for all you do!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/22/2021 - 18:36

What's good, Bill? If you like, add them into the back and biceps day as the last back exercise. Follow the sets and reps similar to the other movements. Hope this helps!

Posted on: Tue, 11/23/2021 - 18:41

Hey Rog! Thanks for taking the time to answer. I appreciate the M&S Squad. I will heed your advice!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 11/23/2021 - 19:36

Keep us posted on how this works for you, Bill. Thanks for reading and supporting M&S!

simon sode
Posted on: Thu, 05/06/2021 - 10:10

hey. what to do after you completet this workout?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 05/07/2021 - 09:22

Hey simon - it depends on your goals and how many days per week you're wanting to workout.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 05/10/2021 - 10:05
simon sode
Posted on: Sat, 05/08/2021 - 09:16

hey Abigail. my goal right now is to bulk, and i think maybe 6 day will work?

Posted on: Thu, 09/20/2018 - 02:55

And what about Traps!
can I add it?

Posted on: Fri, 10/27/2017 - 01:49

Can i do this workout at night followed by 30 mins of cardio and abs?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 10/30/2017 - 09:43

Hi Juan,

Yes, that should be fine.

Hope this helps!

Posted on: Sun, 07/30/2017 - 11:36

Old School workouts are acceptable as long as you keep it within reason. Lets face up to a fact: Not many of us are ever going to look like these guys posted in these articles. They are few and far between, but we can look really good. Diet is your key. Don't ever forget that. Second, but very important is form and style. This is mostly to avoid injury and increase gains in the gym. Weightlifting is not the hard part. It's how well you perform in the gym.

Posted on: Wed, 10/05/2016 - 21:06

Looks like there is a lot of reverse grip exercises on back days. Can I do regular grip to get more lat work in? Seems like the more reverse grip I do the more I feel it in the biiiis

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 10/06/2016 - 09:16


Absolutely. Not one program that's written can be perfect for everyone. If you're looking to build your lats more, than the adaptation you mentioned is perfectly fine.

Matt G
Posted on: Mon, 05/16/2016 - 23:15

Can I combine cardio and weights in the same session if I don't have time to workout twice in one day?

Posted on: Tue, 05/17/2016 - 09:47

Yes! End your workout with cardio so that you have the most energy for your weight training.

Posted on: Wed, 03/02/2016 - 09:47

What does 2.a en 2.b mean? Is that a superset?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 03/03/2016 - 09:51

That's correct.

João Ferreira
Posted on: Mon, 04/18/2016 - 17:42

it means that you can choose which one you want to do

Posted on: Mon, 02/29/2016 - 12:41

I want to lose weight while doing this workout, is that a good idea? I want to build muscle.

Posted on: Mon, 02/22/2016 - 16:50

Should i increase weight every week, and decrease rest time?
And how much should my rest time be in week 1?

Posted on: Tue, 02/23/2016 - 10:12

It's always best to try and increase the weight, however this may not be weekly - it could take more or less time. Focus on increasing weight as changes in strength allow. A good tip is to make moderate increases (5lbs for eg) on each set so you are always advancing.
Rest time is typically 1 minute or so, sometimes more for heavier more compound lifts (you may want 2 minutes between sets on a heavy bench or squat) and shorter rest times, around 30 seconds, for higher intensity and fat burning. The best advice is to keep the muscle guessing and changing rest times and tempo every so often is a great way to make minor changes to your routine that have great results!

Posted on: Wed, 01/27/2016 - 22:27

Should I work in abs/core with HIIT Training or other routines? How often do you recommend for core training?
Also, are exercises with the same number (eg, 6a and 6b) intended to be performed as supersets? That's how I've been doing them and I gotta admit, it's a pretty beast pump.
One last question; how many warm-up sets do you recommend at the top of each routine?

Great article and great routine so far. I needed a change, and this was exactly what I was looking for.

Posted on: Thu, 01/28/2016 - 09:52

Core training can be incorporated 2-3 times a week, depending on your goals. Core is always best to end a routine with as its used for stability, strength and balance throughout the workout, so to tire your core first could hinder your performance throughout the rest of the routine. Core is great to add to a HIIT routine as part of your cardio or at the end of any workout.
The a and b labelled exercises are super sets! Great to hear it was such a good pump.
Warm up sets are up to the individual; it's always best to perform perhaps 1 or 2 at a light weight, but ideally once you feel warmed up and that you are making a good muscle to mind connection, add the weight and get right to your routine! Hope that helps!

Posted on: Wed, 01/27/2016 - 17:55

I started this program this week. When you have a & b is that a superset?

Posted on: Thu, 01/28/2016 - 09:49

You got it!

Justin Groves
Posted on: Thu, 01/21/2016 - 08:09

Same weight each set or increase each set?

Posted on: Fri, 01/22/2016 - 09:31

Always try to increase your weight each set!