15 Bodybuilding Secrets I Learned from Sergio Oliva

In April, 1984 MuscleMag publisher Bob Kennedy took me to Chicago for three days to watch three-time IFBB Mr. Olympia champion Sergio “The Myth” Oliva train so I could write a two-part article on Sergio’s training. It was a big thrill for me because I was a huge Sergio Oliva fan at the time, and I had never seen a professional bodybuilder train before. Our trip to Chicago was kind of a gift to me, as two weeks earlier I had my third major surgery in nine months after having my large bowel removed due to colitis. At the time of our trip I weighed only 135 pounds. Bob was supposed to take photographer Chris Lund but took me instead. I will always be grateful for Bob’s kindness and generosity.

Sergio was definitely one of the most genetically gifted bodybuilders ever (besides his three Olympia wins—his second in 1968 uncontested–he also won the IFBB Mr. World title in 1966 and the IFBB Mr. Universe title in 1967, as well as a few WBBG Mr. Olympus titles in the mid-70,s and a 1981 WABBA Pro Mr. World title). I’ve always said that when God was handing out genetics, Sergio got in line twice. He was super humanly wide and amazingly thick and super large, but also symmetrical and shapely too. He had large, thick muscle bellies but small joints and small hips and a 30 inch waist, with huge V-taper. Unlike most blacks he even had great calves. Bob Kennedy said of Sergio, “He has the wildest and most outrageous physique on earth!”

SergioSr_SepiaSergio was the archetype for bodybuilding, a bodybuilder’s bodybuilder. Andreas Cahling once said that when he saw pictures of Sergio he felt like a beginner. This was a sentiment shared by many bodybuilders. When Sergio competed against Bertil Fox at a WABBA Pro Mr. World contest he dwarfed Fox, especially from the back on rear double biceps poses. Comparing Sergio’s physique to that of the average bodybuilder was like comparing a flat chested school girl to Dolly Parton. It was a big thrill to hang out with Sergio. At our first meeting I was a bit intimated and nervous but the man couldn’t have been friendlier or nicer. He had no ego, and he had memory too. When I met Sergio at the 1985 Canadian Championships where he guest posed, he saw me and immediately came over and gave me a big hug.

It was also cool to be in Sergio’s apartment and to see all the trophies he had won—there must have been a few dozen of them in his living room– including his three Mr. Olympia plaques. The trophies from Eddie Sylvester’s Mr. International contests were four feet high with bases three feet wide. On his coffee table was a scrapbook containing pictures of him when he was younger—many never published—as well as newspaper clippings about him.

Sergio’s wife Arlene was a fabulous cook and Bob and I enjoyed some fantastic dinners with the Oliva’s—probably the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. There was lots of cooked meat, shrimp, fish, as well as salad, fresh cooked bread, steamed vegetables, with a nice wine. For desert was sponge cake with strawberries and real whipped cream. They were meals fit for a king, and to me Sergio was the king of bodybuilding.

Sergio had an $85,000 Zimmer Golden Spirit convertible with running boards that looked like it had just come off a 1930 movie set. While Bob and I set in the back seat Sergio would drive down busy downtown Chicago streets at 60 mph, sometimes going through red lights, and waving to cops on street corners, who all waved back (Sergio was a Chicago cop). Every time we came to a red light that Sergio would stop for, people would stick their heads out of their car windows and admiringly ask, “Wow! What kind of car is that?” and “How much does it cost?” Some people sitting in their Chevy’s and Fords or Chryslers asked Sergio if he wanted to trade. Sergio would just laugh and say, “Oh, man, you guys!”

SergioSr_BrawnBefore there was a Mr. T. there was Sergio. He wore huge diamond gold rings on the four fingers of each hand and a two pound gold necklace around his neck and other ornate jewelry. He wore flashy, tight fitting clothes too, that showed off his incredible physique. When he walked down the street people would stare at him in shock and awe, their jaws dropping, like he was an alien from another planet. The man exuded star quality and he was a show-stopper no matter where he was or what he did.

Sergio was unique. There was no one like him. He truly was “The Myth” (the named given to him by Ricky Wayne), as his physique was legendary and mythical. His often used statement to describe himself before he guest posed or competed was, “You’re going to see something but you’re not going to believe it,” and it was true. His physique blew people’s minds. He did some poses only he could do, such as his arms over the head pose from the back. I’ve never seen another bodybuilder who could pull it off.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has always said his most difficult competitor was Sergio, and, of course, Sergio defeated Arnold at the 1969 IFBB Mr. Olympia in Brooklyn, New York, and probably should have defeated him at the 1972 IFBB Mr. Olympia in Essen, Germany too if not for biased German judges (Even Arnold admits that. Sergio came in his all-time best condition while Arnold had not been able to train his legs properly because of knee surgery).

Sergio was not allowed to compete against Arnold at the 1971 IFBB Mr. Olympia in Paris because he was banned for entering a non-IFBB sanctioned event, the NABBA Pro Mr. Universe contest the week before in London (where he finished second to Bill Pearl because Arthur Jones had him on weight-gain drinks a week out from the contest and Sergio came in heavy and smooth). Sergio dropped eight pounds of bodyweight and went to Paris to compete against Arnold but though he was not allowed to compete, he was allowed to guest pose and received the loudest ovation of the night.

Bill Pearl once insightfully said of Sergio, that “he was the first modern bodybuilder,” in the sense of having huge sweep on his thighs, with deep separation and cross striations, and massive pecs, lats, deltoids and arms, with a tiny waist and hips and small joints. In this regard he was years ahead of his time. Fans may recall his arms were so massive his wife had to cut his short sleeve shirts and t-shirts so his arms would fit! Arlene Oliva said that even at 265 pounds bodyweight Sergio still wore size 30 pants!

Before escaping Castro’s Cuba and defecting in 1962, Sergio had once been the fourth ranked 198 pound weight-lifter in the world as a member of the Cuban Weightlifting team, and had made lifts such as press for 350 pounds, snatch with 325 pounds and a 400 pound clean and jerk. His narrow hips were actually a detriment to being a weight-lifter. Sergio came from a large family of 22 brothers and sisters. Believe it or not, Sergio said his older brother Diego was much bigger and stronger than him. Sergio said “Diego was the biggest and strongest man in Cuba. I look like a little kid next to Diego.”

Unfortunately, Diego never escaped Castro’s regime and never had the opportunity to come to America like Sergio. It boggles the mind to think of someone who could dwarf Sergio. If he was as big and strong as Sergio claimed, maybe Diego would have won some Mr. Olympia titles too. We’ll never know.

SergioSrArmsAT THE GYM
Sergio was an instinctive genius, honed by decades of constant training. He used a totally unique system of training that was entirely of his own making. He had no coaches or trainers and he never read bodybuilding magazines. He was a non-conformist, and did things his own way, although many things he did seemed anti-intuitive. When taken individually some of the things he did didn’t seem to make sense, but when taken as an aggregate or whole, they resulted in a very successful method of bodybuilding and developing muscle.

One thing that made me laugh was he said when he first came from Cuba he did a combination of weightlifting and bodybuilding exercises. Then he read in Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder that he used a lot of supersets and trisets—which he never had done before—but after reading the article about his training he decided to give them a try and found they worked well for him.

Of course Sergio was so genetically gifted, with an almost perfect bone structure, long muscle bellies, small joints, and an ability to build voluminous and massive muscle at a super human rate, I sometimes think Sergio would have developed a fantastic physique no matter how he trained with the exception of Heavy-Duty (not a good training program for developing muscle in my belief).

I’ve always believed that Sergio developed his incredible physique in spite of his diet and lifestyle. He told me his favorite lunch was pork and beans and rice and a can of Coke (there’s bodybuilding nutrition for you), but breakfast might be a dozen eggs and a small steak. After working all day as a cop and then training for two hours, he often liked to go dancing until 1 am even though he had to be up early to work his next shift as a cop. I can’t even imagine what kind of physique he might have developed with today’s superior gym equipment, with a better diet and today’s better supplements, and a sophisticated drug use. If he had 22 inch arms and a 55 inch chest at 230 pounds, how big would he be at 275 pounds like many of today’s champions?

When I asked Sergio how many sets he did for each muscle group he laughed and cheerily replied, “I don’t know. I never count sets. You’ll have to count them and tell me how many I do.” So I did. I counted the exact sets, reps and the weights used for every set of every exercise Sergio did, so readers knew exactly what Sergio’s did in his workouts. Bob Kennedy always said those were two of the best articles ever printed in MuscleMag. He called them “classic articles.”

Although Sergio said he never counted sets, I found from talking to his training partner, Ron Hagen, when going into the gym to train Sergio knew in his mind exactly how many sets and reps he was going to do and how much weight he was going to use. He did all sets pre-planned. I noticed that his training partner Ron Hagen, counted the number of reps Sergio had done and when Sergio had achieved that goal he stopped—even when it was obvious he could have done several more if he pushed. Sergio said he did as many sets as it took for him to work the muscle and no more.

Sergio trained in a manner I had never seen or read about before. On all upper body exercises Sergio used very short, fast, partial, non-stop or continuous motion repetitions (no pause at the top or bottom of the range of motion), while legs he trained for full reps in the more traditional manner. For example, on bench presses the bar never got higher than six inches off his chest, on his heaviest sets it looked more like four inches.

He used similar form on incline and decline presses, but the bar got maybe 8 inches to 10 inches from his chest. On Smith machine seated behind-the-neck presses the bar never got higher than the top of his head. On preacher curls he did only the bottom one-third to one-half the range of motion. On dumbbell one-arm concentration curls he did just the top one-half of the range of motion. On lat pull downs to-the-front he pulled the bar only to the top of his head, not his chest. On wide-grip chins his body went only half way down. On dips his body went only half way down.

It was fascinating and thrilling to watch Sergio train because he had bulked up to 265 pounds (more than 35 pounds above his competitive weight), and he was Herculean huge. He told me his arms had been measured at 23 inches (pumped) the week before, and they were absolutely massive (Arthur Jones once measured Sergio’s arms as being bigger than his head! And believe me, Sergio was no pin head). Sergio never did forced reps, negatives or excessive cheating or even went to absolute failure on his sets, but somehow he seemed to be working harder than anyone in the gym. I always had the feeling he could have done a couple more reps on almost every set he did, so he trained well within his means. He certainly did a greater volume of work, as he averaged 20 to 30 sets a muscle group, and 55 or 60 total sets per workout.

Also, Sergio had great stamina and endurance. He said it took an hour of training for him to feel fully warmed up, and even after two hours of training he said he felt like he could do even more sets. When Bob Kennedy asked Sergio if he ever had trouble recovering from his six days a week training routine Sergio said, “No, training never bothers me, Bob. I’m never tired.” As you watched him go through his workouts you could tell this was a man who loved to train, that he was in his element in the gym. He had the zest and enthusiasm of a beginner. He could never train in Heavy-Duty fashion and do only a few sets for a muscle group. He enjoyed pumping iron too much.

Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sergio always worked and was not a full-time bodybuilder, so he couldn’t do double split workouts, training twice a day like Arnold could. Sergio told me he actually said he felt better and had more energy for training after working all day then when he trained on the weekend when he had days off from his job.



Sergio Oliva Junior was recently crowned 2015 NPC National Champion and is a new IFBB pro bodybuilder.

1) Warmup Very Lightly:
This may be because at the time we went Chicago Sergio was 46 years old, so he needed lots of warmup. For example, when doing squats the first set he would actually squat with an empty 45 pound Olympic bar for 10 reps—and it looked like he was having trouble doing it, as his legs trembled and he had trouble going up and down. But by his tenth set he would squat with 550 pounds for four reps with no problem, going up and down like a jack hammer. On his first set of bench presses with 135 pounds his arms shook and Sergio got buried with the weight and could only do six reps (I thought he was just kidding around). But after eight sets he easily did 315 pounds for 20 reps, and on his final set, 225 pounds for 50 reps!

Sergio needed lots of warmup before he could use heavy weights to get loose and get in the groove. He generally did about three warmup sets on basic movements, making sure he was well-warmed up before handling heavy weights. Not necessarily essential for younger bodybuilders, but a good model for middle-aged bodybuilders and seniors.

2) Use High Repetitions:
Sergio preferred to do high reps on all his exercises, at least 20 reps a set and sometimes more—even on biceps and triceps, deltoids, lats and pecs. On one set of bench presses he did 225 pounds for 50 reps! He never did less than 10 reps on any set, and that was mostly for legs. On upper body he preferred high reps—at least 15 to 25 reps. He said to Bob Kennedy, “I don’t do that 5-6 rep stuff anymore. It’s too hard on the joints.” Sergio said he felt he grew better using high repetitions and it was better quality muscle so when he dieted for a contest he maintained more muscle mass as he dieted down.


Sergio Oliva JR.

3) Use the Rest-Pause Principle:
I would estimate that Sergio used rest-pause on 90 per cent of his exercises. On all upper body exercises Sergio used the rest-pause principle on just about every exercise and every set. For example, on his final set of Smith machine seated behind-the-neck presses with three plates aside (about 300 pounds), he did 10 reps, paused maybe five seconds to take in some deep breathes, then pumped out another five reps, paused again to take in more deep breathes, and then pumped out another five reps. That way he got his 20 reps—which was the minimum number of reps he would do.

Even on bench presses he would use 275 pounds for 20 non-stop partial reps, then pause for several seconds to take in some deep breathes and then pump out another five reps, to get 25 total reps. On another set of bench presses he did 25 reps, rest-paused and did another eight reps, for a 33 rep total. On lat pull downs to-the-neck he did 200 pounds for 10 reps, and then rest-paused for maybe five seconds to take in several deep breathes, and then he pumped out another five reps. He would pause again for another five seconds to take in several deep breathes, and pump out a final five reps, to achieve his goal of 20 reps.

The thing about Sergio is sometimes he wouldn’t use the rest-pause technique to get his high reps, so it’s tough to give an exact routine because he might change something depending on how well a muscle was pumping and working.

4) Keep Constant-Tension On the Muscle At All Times:
When I asked Sergio why he did only the bottom one-third of the range of motion on preacher curls and the top one-half on concentration curls he said to me, “Why go all the way up on preacher curls? That just takes the tension off the lower biceps. Just do the bottom one-third of the range of motion and keep hammering away at the lower biceps.” He said about concentration curls, “Why go all the way down on concentration curls? That just takes the tension off the part of the upper biceps that creates peak. Just do the top one-half and keep hammering away at the part that creates peak.”

Between sets when working chest when I asked him why he used such short, fast, partial reps on bench presses he told me “because I can feel the muscle working better that way.” To make his point he told me to place my hand on his chest. He grabbed my hand with his massive mitt and put it on his chest. He moved his arm back and forth in a full bench pressing motion. “Do you feel my chest working?” asked Sergio. I kind of mumbled and said, “Yeah, I guess so, a little.” Then Sergio dropped his shoulders, arched his chest and did a six inch range of motion. He said, “Do you feel my chest working now?” Boy, could I ever! It felt like his chest had come alive, like it was bulging and contracting like crazy, like an alien was going to pop through his massive pectoral in any second!!

Sergio always knew how to work his muscles in the most effective manner. On many upper body exercises he did only the bottom of the range of motion, only the middle of the range of motion, or the top. He regarded full range of motion exercises as wasted effort—at least for upper body exercises. However, there were exceptions to this rule. On some exercises, such as behind-the-back cable side laterals for medial deltoids and cable front raises for the anterior deltoids, and bentover cable laterals for the posterior heads, he used a full range of motion but for high reps—15 to 25 per set.

Another exercise he did for a full range of motion was an exercise I had never seen or heard of before, kind of a cable crossover behind the back while sitting at a high stool. If there was ever a model bodybuilder for instinctive training it was Sergio. Through experience he knew exactly how to get the most out of every exercise he did.


Sergio Jr. is the Next Generation of champion Oliva bodybuilders!

5) Use Continuous Motion/Constant Tension:
When Sergio did curls, presses, bench presses, incline presses, decline presses, wide-grip chins, rows, pull downs, dips and other upper body exercises, the bar or dumbbells (or his body on chins and dips) never stopped moving during a set until exhaustion forced the set to end. There are no pauses at the top or bottom of the range of motion because his range of motion on upper body exercises was so small. The muscle was under tension from the first repetition until the last. The set only ends when the muscle is exhausted.

6) Never Train to Absolute Failure or Do Forced Reps:
Sergio, like Bill Pearl and Lou Ferrigno, did not believe in training to absolute failure on his sets, or doing forced reps and negatives, which are very taxing to the nervous and recovery systems of the body. He always trained well within his means. He felt the volume of sets he did and doing high reps and going to maybe one or two or three reps from failure is what gave him the best results. Although he did no forced reps or cheating reps it somehow seemed to me that he was working harder than anyone in the gym, as he was gleaming in sweat from all the sets he did. I would say many sets were taken to 95 to 98 per cent from total failure.


Sergio Oliva JR.

7) Do Supersets or “Combinations”:
Sergio employed antagonistic supersets a lot (for opposing or opposite muscle groups such as biceps and triceps and pecs and lats), but not in the traditional manner. He called his supersets “combinations,” while I called them “alternates.” Sergio would do a set of for pecs, and then rest for a minute or 90 seconds, and then do a set for lats. So after doing six sets of high reps of bench presses, he might combine five sets of bench presses with wide-grip chins, and three sets of bench presses with lat pull downs. Sergio felt training in this fashion allowed him to use heavier weights and to recover better between sets. He also felt it gave him a better pace or tempo to his workouts.

On lighter exercises when doing combinations Sergio might rest only 30 seconds between exercises, on others 60 seconds, and on really heavy sets, as long as two minutes. Occasionally he would do standard antagonistic supersets, or compound supersets—no rest between exercises–but usually for arm training (Zottman alternate curls and wide-grip barbell curls or one-arm dumbbell curls with straight-bar preacher curls) but sometimes for lats too (supersetting wide-grip pull downs with narrow-grip (curl-grip) pull downs for five compound supersets).

One thing Sergio did that seemed odd is sometimes he would do supersets or combinations but not in equal numbers. For example, he might combine seated cable triceps extensions for five set with only three sets one-arm reverse pushdowns. Why? I don’t know. I should have asked him.

Another odd thing Sergio did was to combine exercises that most people would never think to superset, such as Smith machine incline presses for chest with cable upright rows for deltoids. Why? Again, I should have asked him but I was too busy making notes and watching him.

8) Train the Muscle With a Variety of Exercises to Work It From Every Angle For Full Development:
Sergio did many exercises for each muscle group, working the muscle sometimes from every conceivable angle, to achieve full development. For example, to work biceps he might do seated barbell curls (which do not allow much range of motion because the bar hits the thighs) to work the middle or belly of the biceps. To work lower biceps he did one-half or one-third preacher curls, and to work the upper biceps he did one-half one-arm concentration curls. He also did wide-grip barbell curls on an Olympic bar (out to the collars) to work the outer and lower biceps.

When I asked Sergio why he used such a wide-grip on barbell curls he said in his thick, Cuban accent, “Because it pulls the biceps down on to the forearm,” and it did look as if his biceps originated below the elbows. Sergio had a reason for everything he did in the gym. Nothing was accidental. Sergio also did reverse curls, Hammer curls and Zottman curls to work the forearms, lower biceps and brachialis. He also did wrist curls and reverse wrist curls for forearms, and his forearms were the biggest I’ve ever seen.

Chest was worked with flat, incline and decline presses, as well as dips, flyes and cable crossovers. Deltoids were worked with seated Smith machine behind-the-neck presses, machine front presses, side dumbbell laterals, upright rows, and front, side, and cable laterals, again for high reps (usually 15 to 25 per set). Lats were trained with chins, pull downs with a wide-grip, a narrow-grip, a parallel-grip, and various rowing exercises. Triceps were worked with pushdowns, reverse push downs, and various extensions (seated, lying, cable). Thighs were worked with squats, front squats, hack squats, 45 degree leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls, as well as stiff-leg deadlifts and good mornings for hamstrings and lower back.


Sergio Oliva JR.

9) Work to Achieve a Maximum Pump in the Muscle:
Sergio tried to achieve the biggest pump in his muscles as he could, and I mean a real blood gorging, rock hard pump. As he did his sets it looked as if his muscles were getting bigger and bigger and bigger, as if someone had stuck an air tube in his butt and he was inflating, and he was simply stupendous to look at. Everything about his style of training was aimed at achieving a maximum pump—his preference for high reps, a large volume of sets, using the rest-pause principle to achieve high reps, sometimes doing super sets or combinations, and training in constant-motion/constant-tension style.

Some people might ask, “Why would Sergio do bench presses with 225 pounds for 50 reps?” Because it was his last set of bench presses and that’s what gave his pecs a great pump. Sergio never stopped working a muscle until he was satisfied it was pumped to the max. He always only wanted to end working a muscle when it was pumped as it could be.

10) Do a Large Number of Sets For Every Muscle Group:
Sergio’s training was the antithesis of Mike Mentzer’s Heavy-Duty training. As mentioned previously, Sergio never counted sets. He did the number of sets that he felt worked the muscle the way he wanted. On average it was 24 to 30 sets per muscle group, with maybe a few less sets when working biceps and triceps.

As many sets as Sergio did when Bob Kennedy and I was in Chicago, he did even more sets when he was younger, and often did ten sets of 20 reps with many basic exercises.  Bodybuilding author Norman Zale of Chicago had the opportunity to watch Sergio train many times. He once saw Sergio superset bench presses (20 reps a set) with wide-grip chins for ten sets and then he supersetted dips and dumbbell flyes for 15 sets of 20 to 25 reps each. You think that might pump the pecs a little?

Sergio headed for the showers but every couple of minutes he would come out with just a towel around his waist and do another set of dips for 25 reps. Then back to the shower, then back into the gym to do another set of dips for 25 reps. This was repeated several more times. Even as he dressed he would go back into the gym and do more dips. Just his socks and underwear and more dips. Then his pants and back to do more dips. Even when fully dressed, Sergio would assess his arms in the mirror and go back and do another set of high rep dips. Why did Sergio do this? Obviously he wasn’t satisfied that his pecs and triceps were as pumped as he wanted them.

After doing heavy Smith machine behind-the-neck presses with as much as three plates for 20 reps, and heavy dumbbell presses and side laterals, and cable upright rows Sergio would finish off his deltoids by doing five trisets of cable laterals to-the-front to work his anterior deltoids, side laterals behind his body to work his medial heads, and bent over laterals to work the posterior heads. He used only 30 pounds on a cable crossover machine but he did 15 to 25 reps for each head. He just went back and forth for each deltoid, only stopping when the five trisets were done for each deltoid. This gave his deltoids a massive finishing pump.


Sergio Oliva JR.

11) Train With Moderate to Moderately Heavy Weights But Don’t Get Fixated on How Much Weight You Use:
Some exercises Sergio used some pretty heavy weights, such as squatting 550 pounds for four reps, doing lat pull downs to-the-front with 300 pounds for 10 reps, and Smith machine seated behind-the-neck presses with over 300 pounds for 20 reps. But on some exercises he used what were probably moderate weights for him, or even fairly light weights, so he used a combination of heavy and light training, some sets for 10 to 15 reps, and others for 20 to 50 reps. He used weights sometimes that were 60 per cent to 75 per cent of max weight.

On bench presses the heaviest he went was only 315 pounds because he did such high reps—an exercise most bodybuilder’s consider a heavy, low rep, mass building exercise. On one-arm dumbbell rows the most he used one day a week was a 120 pound dumbbell, and for the other lat workout, only an 80 pound dumbbell. For a man as strong as Sergio an 80 pound dumbbell for one-arm rows must have been very light but he did high reps and continuous-motion and constant-tension as he rowed the dumbbell as if he was sawing wood to stretch the lat at the bottom and contract it as the dumbbell was pulled into the lower abs.

Sergio never had his ego wrapped up in how much weight he lifted like many amateur bodybuilders who groan and yell and draw attention to themselves. Sergio barely made a sound of exertion doing any exercise. He had no problem using light weights for high reps, like using only 30 pounds on cable laterals (front, rear, side) for sets of 15 to 25 reps, or triceps extensions with 85 pounds, wrist curls with 75 pounds, one-arm dumbbell preacher curls with a 45 pound dumbbell, or cable crossovers with 50 pounds—all for 20 reps a set. Even on decline Smith machine presses on a few sets he used only 155 pounds—a weight most pro bodybuilders would warmup with—which he combined with pec deck flyes. But again, I remind readers he was 46 and not as strong as when he was much younger.

To Sergio barbells and dumbbells and exercise machines were just tools to work his muscles, and since his goal was high reps and to pump his muscles to the max, he focussed on how much his muscles pumped and how hard his muscles worked, and not on how much weight they lifted. I have been harping on this point in my articles—work the muscle, don’t lift the weight–when I’ve talked about innervation training and training according to the Blood Volume Principle, but I think it has more weight coming from a three-time Mr. Olympia champ like Sergio Oliva, don’t you agree?

12) Breakup Workouts Up:
Train a Muscle for a While, Then Stop and Train Another Muscle Group For a While, Then Go Back and Do More Sets For the First Muscle Trained. You are probably confused by this technique Sergio did. To make it clearer, Sergio might train pecs and lats with supersets or combinations for an hour, then he might train deltoids for 20 minutes to half an hour, and then he would go back and do more sets for his chest, and if he felt he needed it, and his lats too. I’d never seen or heard of a champion bodybuilder who trained this way, but it that’s what Sergio did.

Sergio trained six days a week, but he trained some muscle groups more than two or three times a week. On chest-lat day he would train pecs and lats for a while, then train delts for a while, and then go back to pecs and lats (or just more pec work). On deltoid day he would train delts, then do some chest exercises, and then train delts again. On arm days he would work arms, then do some deltoid exercises, then go back to arms. Even on leg day he might stop training legs in the middle of the workout to do some chest and/or back exercises and then go back and finish training legs.

Sergio felt by training in such a fashion and breaking up his workouts the muscle being worked was allowed to rest and recover for a while, so when he went back to training it again after working another muscle group, he was stronger and could use more weight and do more reps without burning the muscle out. He also felt this technique allows him to use a greater number of exercises to work a muscle and from more angles for better development. He also felt it kept his muscles pumped and supplied with more blood to bring in fresh nutrients and to carry away lactic acid and other fatigue products.

13) Train Fairly Fast:
Sergio trained with Ron Hagen and as soon as Ron did a set Sergio would do his. He rested only as long as it took for Ron to do his set and to change the weight on the bar because Sergio liked to keep a steady pace to his workouts. Between sets Sergio would sing softly to himself, or wander around the gym and encourage members at his gym as they did their sets. “Come on, John, two more reps,” or “Good set, Bill, way to go,” “Good set, Joan,” and so on. It didn’t matter if the gym members had one-tenth the development of himself, Sergio sincerely seemed interested in their progress. Most pro bodybuilders are barely aware of the other bodybuilders training around them.


Sergio Oliva JR.

14) Train Some Muscle Groups On Consecutive Days:
Sergio would train the same muscle group on consecutive days and even sometimes three days in a row. Chest and deltoids got worked three days in a row, but with different exercises. This is not as strange as it sounds. Albert Beckles said his thighs greatly improved when he trained them six days a week. Frank Zane would sometimes train back or thighs on four consecutive days if he felt they were not as muscular as he wanted them to be before contests. Don Ross, 1977 WBBG Pro Mr. America champion, and one of the most knowledgeable experts in bodybuilding, encouraged MuscleMag readers when I was editor to train each muscle group on two consecutive days, which he called “Double Blasting.” Ross said he made great gains in size and muscularity training a muscle two days in a row.

Sergio instinctively hit upon this training method back in the 1960’s. Some people might have recovery issues but Sergio had super endurance and recovery ability and he was one of those people who the more he trained, the bigger and more muscular he got.

15) Never Drink Water During a Workout:
I noticed that Sergio never drank water during his two hour workouts. He drank hot coffee from a thermos. Sergio said drinking water cooled him down too much, so that was reserved for the end of the workout. When I asked him why he drank hot coffee, he replied, “Because it makes me sweat and the caffeine gives me energy.” Makes sense, doesn’t it. In this regard Sergio was decades ahead of his time.

greg-zulakAbout The Author
Greg Zulak has been working in the bodybuilding industry for well over 30 years now. He has written over 700 articles published since he began free-lance writing for Bob Kennedy in 1982. His articles have been published in MuscleMag, IronMan, Flex, Muscle & Fitness and Muscular Development. Many of my articles have been published in 19 different language around the world–even Japanese.

He’s currently in the midst of writing about what’s been going on with him for the past 14 years and he is giving away his latest eBook on Lat Training via his website: www.GregZulak.com.