How to Train Like a Bodybuilder featuring Joe Cross

December 23, 2019

How to train like a bodybuilder, featuring bodybuilding competitor and coach Joe Cross.

In episode 2 of the “How to Train Like” series, I met with Joe Cross – a bodybuilding competitor who has been competing since 2016, placing in the PCA events in Manchester (Physical Culture Awards). Joe shares his insights into his bodybuilding training and workout programming, going into lots of detail into his approach to building muscle.

The video includes key principles including but not limited to:

  • Training split
  • Training frequency and volume
  • Exercise order
  • Recovery
  • Rep tempo
  • Progressive overload and using a log book
  • Training to failure
  • Extending sets beyond failure with rest pause, drop sets and cheat reps
  • Stretching and range of motion
  • Staying educated
  • Use of performance enhancers
  • Long term consistency
  • The importance of a coach
  • Advice for other bodybuilders

Training like a bodybuilder

After speaking with Joe and watching him train, I picked up a lot of key principles that I highlighted within the video. What I found most interesting was that his bodybuilding split was push/pull/legs rather than a traditional bodybuilding split i.e. a chest day, back day, arms, legs etc. His reasoning for this was that it was a missed opportunity for growth; he aimed to hit every muscle at least twice per week using a two days on, one day off approach.

What was also interesting was the amount of volume in his sessions. I expected the volume to be very high, but comparatively it was much lower than I expected. The structure consisted of:

  • 3 primary compound movements
    • For the chest focused push day 1, this included chest press, shoulder press and dips
  • 3 isolation exercises
    • For the chest focused push day 1, this included chest flye, shoulder raise and tricep push downs
  • For the compound sets, there were only 2 working sets. The first set was heavy and consisted of 6-8 reps ending in complete failure. The second set was a “back off” set where the weight was dropped by approx 30% and he aimed for 8-12 reps. After reaching failure on this set he would then use rest pause to extend the sets beyond failure. This involved racking the weight, taking 10 deep breaths, and then attempting the exercise again using the same weight. He did this 2-3 times.
  • Isolation work was again heavy and ended in complete muscular failure, so although the volume seemed low, the intensity was very high.

Bodybuilding competition prep

Although currently in the off-season, his training remains relatively consistent whether he was off-season or prepping for competition. His thoughts on this were that the exercises that build the muscle in a calorie surplus, would keep or maintain the muscle during a calorie deficit. The aim of prep is purely to maintain as much muscle as possible while cutting as much fat as possible, and this is all done through diet. Key differences between off-season and prep were:

  • Cardio is done daily in the off-season for 20 mins; this is extended to 1 hour on prep
  • Joe is always aiming for progressive overload, as such he will use his log book to ensure that he’s always beating the numbers of his previous lifts either in reps, weight or improving form. During prep, the expectation is that progression will slow down stop. As such it’s more about trying to maintain his strength and numbers, with less expectation on beating them (although if he can, he will)

Bodybuilding steroids and PEDs

Joe is very open about his use of anabolic compounds, and sees it as an unfortunate but necessary part of the sport for the look he is trying to achieve. Although there are natural options and federations available, he made the decision to choose this particular route and is candid about it which I found refreshing. Most are very secretive about this side, which in fairness is often due to imposed restrictions by their sports nutrition sponsors. Because of the secrecy, this is an area of the sport with very little information online that could be seen to be reliable. Joe offered a paid for resource website called “Trained by JP” which is subscription based resource site. This offers a huge amount of insights and reliable information around training, nutrition, steroid protocols and much more. For anyone knew to the sport of bodybuilding, he believes this is an excellent resource for education.

The full bodybuilding interview

The final video is about 16 minutes long which includes lots of training footage, but during my time with Joe we covered a lot of information in the main interview in nearly 50 minutes of filming time. The information was great, but just too much detail for the short mini documentary style I’ve been creating for this series. As such, for all the “How to Train Like” episodes, I’m going to be sharing the full unedited videos on Patreon. If you want more information, you can see the full 50 minute interview with Joe here:

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