Bill Pearl Training Strategies for Building Muscle

By Dennis B. Weis
The Yukon Hercules

How would you like to:

*Gain pounds of solid muscle fast!
*Pack on slabs of rock hard muscle within a few short weeks!
*Add inches to your arms, chest, back, and legs! Without drugs!

Awesome gains like these can be yours as you read about the scientific realities of empirical bodybuilding recorded at an actual Bill Pearl seminar. Read on as this multi-Mr. Universe 1953, 1961, 1967, 1971 shares his 50+ years of training wisdom.

Bill Pearl Training Strategies for Building Muscle


Q: "Would you briefly tell us what a good basic routine would be for gaining size when you're not trying to totally cut up?"

B.P. "If a person wants to gain massive muscular bulk, if I want to get my arms as big as I can possibly get them, I would probably do around 20 sets a day of say 4 exercises and 5 sets each for the triceps and 20 sets for the biceps per workout 3 times per week. That would be around 60 sets of triceps and 60 sets of biceps work per week.

I would keep the repetitions between 6 and 8 and I would do all basic movements where I can handle as heavy weights as I can and then I'd take my diet and I'd consume any nutritious food that had calories in it and just flat eat!"


Q: "I was wondering when you talk about volume training like 20 sets for the biceps three times per week, what you think about lower volume, high intensity type of training that (the late) Mike and Ray Mentzer use. They said you can theoretically become a champion even if you're not a genetic freak in just 5 years if you apply their method of high intensity type of training."

"Mike and Ray Mentzer used to write to me when they were young kids back in Pennsylvania, when Ray was 9 years old and Mike was 11 years old. They'd send me little pictures of themselves and all types of stuff. I'd answer them back. I'd never dreamed they'd end up like they were, but Mike and Ray are genetic freaks. Ray is one of the strongest bodybuilders I have ever seen in my life and Mike is equally as strong.

They have trained heavy all these years. They must have tendons like the size of my thumb. Their bodies can stand that Heavy Duty type of training where they limit the number of sets to no more than five for either the triceps or biceps, while carrying each set to total failure in both the positive and negative rep levels for maximum growth stimulation. I can say with all sincerity that Mike and Ray do not train like this year in and year out."


Q: "About the use of dumbbells. Do you use a lot of dumbbells in your training as opposed to barbells or does it make any difference to you?"

"Well, it does make a difference because you want as much variety in your training as you can possibly get and if I had to pick dumbbells over barbells I would go with the dumbbells. I think if anybody gets on a training program where the same exercises, sets and reps are done day in and day out, month after month, your body becomes so accustomed to what you're doing that muscle growth will stop altogether. I will change my entire training program every 6 to 8 weeks. Different sets, different reps, and a different goal for yourself can generally shock you into a new growth range."


Q: "Can you give me a typical workout that you might use from time to time?"

"I train 6 days per week. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will train all the muscle groups for just one exercise each for 6 sets of each. I group the body parts in such a way so that I can do super sets and in doing so I won't rest too long between sets. I change the exercises every workout day.

As an example I might do Incline Dumbbell Flyes for the chest on Monday, while on Wednesday I might go with the Bench Press and on Friday it might be Decline Bench Presses. Each of the 6 sets I do is increased from the previous one and each week I try to add 5 pounds to all my previous 6 set poundages.

On Tuesday I will do 18 to 20 sets for the chest and the back and on Thursday I will work the legs and shoulders for 18 to 20 sets each. I break up the back and leg training in the manner I have just described because they're the two largest muscle groups and it's not as tiring this way. I work my calves every day for a half hour. Saturday is arm day and just a laid-back fun day.

There are four muscle groups which I work six days per week for 6 sets of one different exercise each day. They are the Forearms, Abs, Leg Biceps and the Neck. I will train at about 85-90% of maximum and I try to do 30 sets per hour which is 1 set every two minutes.

My rep scheme is varied in that I will do 6 to 10 reps per body part, but as I grow stronger I will up my reps to 15 for the upper body and 25 reps for the legs."

Q: "I was just wondering how long I should be working out before I make the transition from say a 4 day a week workout schedule to something like 6 days per week and doing 18 to 20 sets per muscle group like you just mentioned, or 6 out of every 8 days like three time former Mr. Olympia, Frank Zane, does or something like that? I mean, how long should a bodybuilder be working out basically before switching to something a lot more intense like your workouts?"

"If a bodybuilder is not responding on a hard and heavy 20 sets per muscle group three times a week and he is not growing, believe me, doing five times that much is not going to do it for you. There has to be a limit to this. There is no set answer to this question. I know guys who can train 3 or 4 days a week, 45 minutes a day and make very good progress and others just don't grow at all. I would never do more than 20 sets per muscle group three times per week. I don't care what I did, to me it just isn't worth the effort. You're going to spend your whole life in the gym.

No one says that more time in the gym is better. Personally, I can tell you that I can get all that I need in a lot less than 6 days a week, 3 hours a day in the gym. I don't have to train that much, it just means I like it. I like the surroundings, and I like the people. I use this as my time of the day to do what I so desire, but I'm sure I could be as healthy and fit as I could possibly be in one-half of that length of training time. But I enjoy the sport and I don't mind being in the gym.

The minute it becomes a drudgery and I don't like it the smart thing to do is back off. Making the transition over from say a 4-day to a 6-day workout schedule and going from multiple sets to mega sets of say 20 will depend on how much time you have had in the sport of bodybuilding. I have trained for so many years I am sure I could do 25 sets per muscle. It's like trying to get 6 gallons of water into a 5-gallon bucket. You can't do it because there is going to be a gallon which will be wasted.

It's just like in bodybuilding, you can only put so much into a particular effort and get so much out of it. Now for the length of time you have trained it may be 8 or 10 or 12 sets or even 6 sets per muscle group would be just as good for you as 20 sets would be for me. So you've got to realize the length of time you've been in bodybuilding and how much of a background you have understanding what you are doing with regard to your training and how mature your muscles are. All this has a big bearing on this.

Now I'm sure that if I do less than 20 sets per muscle group I'm not even going to maintain what I've got alone make any growth factor. The longer you have in the sport of bodybuilding, if you want to continue to improve, you've got to spend more time at it. If you want to get big, thick, coarse, bulky muscles, handle heavy weights, keep your reps low at about 6 to 8, and do numerous sets and you will grow!

I'll say one thing. Any time a guy is training and the minute something negative about whatever you are doing comes into play, you had better get off it. Say you're doing a really heavy bench press like 300-400 pounds. You walk into the gym on Monday and do it, no sweat.

Now on Wednesday, lo and behold you don't get the 300 or 400 pounds that you easily got on Monday, because you're still tired from your last bench routine. You come back in the gym again on Friday and you blow your benches again. Pretty soon you are gearing your whole workout to that 300-400 pound bench press. So you walk out of the gym and say 'I had a lousy workout because I missed my bench presses.' Psychologically, you can't succeed in your workouts if you have a bad attitude toward it.

Another example. Guys will come up to me and say, 'Bill, my arms won't grow. Everything I do my arms won't grow. What will I do?' If every time you pick up a barbell and curl it they aren't going to grow, because you are programming your arms not to grow, isn't this true? Your muscle doesn't have a brain. Your head controls the muscle. The muscle doesn't control the brain.

So you've got to say, 'O.K., I'm going to work my arms and my arms are going to grow.' I say, change your mental attitude about your training, because if you don't you can't take anything negative that you are doing in the sport of bodybuilding and turn it into positive results, it won't work. Everything you do in the gym has to be done on a positive note. You must condition your subconscious mind to think that you are getting bigger and training with more intensity, and your body will have to respond accordingly."


Q. You say that you train 6 days a week. What exercise do you use to keep your abdominals in shape?

"There is no one specific exercise that I do for my abdominal development. I do 5 to 6 different abdominal exercises for 100 repetitions each or maybe 7 exercises and 100 reps each. There are plenty of exercises to choose from in the abdominal section of my book Keys to the Inner Universe, and the combinations are virtually endless. I don't care how much you work your abs, if you're carrying fat there you can't do situps and burn that fat off your midsection. You cannot spot reduce a bodypart through exercise. All those situps are going to do is burn calories and tone the abs a certain amount, then Mother Nature is going to pull fat off your body where it wants to, not where you want it to. If you have got heavy, thick obliques, which is normal on most guys, and you think side bends are going to reduce them and you don't change your diet, you're crazy. You're never going to get it off of there."


Q. How much excess bodyweight do you think a bodybuilder should carry before he begins physique contest training?

"I would think that you should try to stay within 2 or 3 months of being in peak condition at all times if you're constantly competing in physique contests. Never let yourself get out of position where you can't in a period of 2 or 3 months get back in the best shape you've ever been in your life. If you gain more bodyweight than that, you're asking for trouble."


Q. Would you suggest taking a couple of days off from training just prior to a physique contest?

"I would think you should take a couple of days off. For instance, if the physique contest is on a Saturday, you should probably get your last workout on Wednesday, but if you've been on a very strict diet like most people are today and you've been on this diet for the past 6-7 months, what happens if you take the two days off before this contest which is so important to you and you totally blow the diet? What would this do to your mental attitude? It would ruin it. So you will have to make this call yourself based upon your knowledge of contest training."


Q. Who do you think is the strongest bodybuilder that you've ever trained with?

"The strongest bodybuilder that I've ever trained with was probably Franco Columbu on specific lifts, but the guy I've seen handle the most weight on all sets and repetitions on all the exercises was Ray Mentzer. I saw Ray training at a gym over in Germany a few years ago, and he was using about 240 pounds on a Nautilus bicep machine. Ray took that thing and sat down and with one arm curled that weight (240 pounds) up. When Ray went in to take a shower, I went over to that machine, and with two arms I could not curl it, and I consider myself strong. All of a sudden my attitude towards Ray changed tremendously."


Q. What's the best bench press you've ever done?

"Four hundred and fifty pounds. At my age I don't squat 600 pounds any more. I've squatted 605, I've done the seated press behind the neck with 310 pounds for 2 reps. I was probably one of the strongest bodybuilders around for a long time until recently."


Q. Do you include running in your workout schedules?

"I run at times, but I don't run on a steady basis. I think it would be a good idea if a person wanted to burn calories and consume more food, then running is good, but I think if you're in hardcore bodybuilding, I don't think you're going to run too far because if you have got that much energy left over, then you're doing something wrong in your workouts."


Q. There was a big change in your physique in the late 1960s and early 1970s where your torso took on a more muscular look. How did you do that?

"By becoming more aware of my diet, which meant just taking all the nutrition I knew and started putting it into use."


Q. When you're in training for a contest such as your last one in 1971, or, say, for an exhibition, what does your diet consist of?

BP. My morning and afternoon meals will almost be all eggs and some fresh fruit and raw vegetables. Most of the fat that is found in an egg is in the yolk, so my wife will scramble 6 or 7 eggs in a Teflon pan and, while doing it, would take out 4 of the 7 yolks. So, to keep the fat content down, we will keep backing off the yolks.

For my evening meal I will have some type of meat substitute and fresh vegetables and maybe some cooked vegetables and some type of fruit like cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew.


Q. So by backing off the yolks in eggs, you didn't have any problems with your cholesterol, did you?

BP. No! I found out, and the reason I became a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, where Judy [wife] and I eat all plant foods plus dairy products and eggs, because my cholesterol levels had gotten so high, it ran through my veins just about like syrup. Back about 25 years ago, when I was 35 years old, I used to work for North American Rockwell in the aerospace program.

It was my job as a consultant to keep the astronauts in good shape for their upcoming flights into space. The company used to hold me up as an example. You know, everybody's got to look like ol' Pearl.

I had a blood test done one day, and the company doctor called me into his office and said, "Bill, do you have a family doctor?" I said "Yes, I have a family doctor," and he said, "I strongly suggest you see this man and he puts you in the hospital." I said "You've got to be kidding, doc," and he said, "No, Bill, if you were my patient, I'd actually put you in the hospital." He said that my uric acid, blood pressure, and triglycerides were so high that I was a prime candidate for a heart attack!

So I went to my family doctor, who is a Seventh Day Adventist and whom I had a tremendous amount of respect for. He started watching my diet and advised me to get the red meat out of it. I kept backing off and backing off 'til I finally got away from red meat all together. Liver and milk were also taken out of my diet, and that's how I became a lacto-ovo-vegetarian.

I've been eating this way now for the past 25 years, and I never deviate from this; but I am not here to preach this stuff, and I am not trying to change everybody's philosophy or eating habits. It's just what seems to work best for me."


Q. Bill, you say you don't eat red meats. Do you think you could've won a Mr. Universe contest if you didn't eat red meats?"

BP. Well, the last two Universe contests I won were done without eating red meat. Think of it this way. If you feel the secret to bodybuilding is how much red meat you can consume every day, don't you think the smart thing to do is put down 2 or 3 pounds of that stuff on a regular basis? You'd be bigger than anyone walking the streets. So meat is no more than another substance to put in your body, and what little bit of protein and carbohydrates and minerals that are there, your body will extract it and use it like any other food. Meat is definitely not the secret to bodybuilding.


Q. Did you ever have problems with your shoulder, elbow, and knee joints when you ate red meats?

BP. Yes, I did, and that is another reason I got off the red meats and became a lacto-ovo-vegetarian. When I changed my diet over, I had less and less joint problems. All the poisons found in your system such as uric going to be stored in the joints of the body if it can't be expelled through the kidneys or liver. I think you'll have less and less joint problems the longer you are off red meats, especially gland meats. I am really against organ meats such as liver. I think it is one of the worst foods you can consume, in my opinion.


Q. Can you tell us some of your secrets you use for getting rid of excess body fat just before a contest or exhibition? Do you use different fat burners?

BP. I don't take fat burners, because the fat burners that are selling on the market today have nothing to do with burning adipose tissue. The fat burners only burn the fat that is in the blood that causes arteriosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] and has nothing to do with burning adipose tissue. There is no such animal. You can't take a pill that's going to burn body fat unless it's some type of thyroid.

The only health food products I take are vitamin C, at 1000 milligrams per day, which is spread out during the day because it is a water-based vitamin, and if you took it all in the morning, by the time you went to the bathroom, the rest of it would go down the toilet. I also take a good multi-B complex vitamin and some E. I might take a protein food supplement if I'm on the road and not getting enough protein, and when I do, I eliminate as much animal fat and as much vegetable fat from my diet as I possibly can.

Things like margarine, salad dressings. I back off all I can from refined sugars, no canned foods, no ketchup, no pastries. I eat a lot of complex carbohydrates, which comes from fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, whole grains, and very small amounts of low-fat dairy products, and that's it.


Q. You just mentioned that you take a good protein food supplement. What is the best type of protein a person can take, and how many grams should be taken per pound of a person's muscle bodyweight?

BP. The best type of protein a person can ingest is a milk-and-egg protein concentrate. The protein efficiency ratio [PER] in milk and eggs is the highest you can possibly get other than eggs itself, and the protein efficiency is just about like mother's milk, so it's just about the best concentrate you can consume.

I don't mean that you should go out and drink a gallon of milk and eat a ton of eggs. The manufactures of milk and egg protein concentrates have already extracted the protein and the amino acids from the milk and mixed it with the protein powder from eggs and so on. They came up with a real good product where there is zero fat in it almost all together.

Regarding your question about the grams of protein per pound of muscle bodyweight. I have done studies on this, and I've read more on protein than you can shake a stick at. If you're consuming 1/2 gram of protein per pound of muscle bodyweight regardless of how hard you train, that's all you need for repair and muscle growth; that's it.

Any more than that will either be stored as fat or you can consume it as fuel. So if a person is taking 400 or 500 grams of protein a day, they're wasting their money and would be better off eating Hershy's candy bars, because they can be digested quicker.


Q. The evening before a physique contest, do you think it is wise to use any kind of diuretic, natural or otherwise?

BP. I think if a bodybuilder is carrying a lot of water weight and so on and wanted to back off the water weight, some form of natural diuretic would probably be all right. But if you're not careful and you take too much, you're going to defeat yourself by knocking your balance of electrolytes off so badly that you will cramp up and lose muscle size as well. Be sure to take a good, natural mineral substance.


Q. What are your thoughts about anabolic steroids?

BP. I don't think a person who takes anabolic steroids is an immoral person. I think it's a matter of choice. If you want to subject your body to that type of abuse, then be my guest. I think any time that you're putting some foreign substance in your body, you're going to have to pay the price.


Q. Have any of the top physique men you know to have taken anabolic steroids had any serious side effects?

BP. Yes! There was a former Mr. America who passed away from the effects of anabolic steroid use. There have been numerous other physique stars who have quit the sport of bodybuilding because of it. I think if anabolic steroids were taken under a doctor's supervision and taken as they were prescribed, then there may be a place in the sport for the drug itself. I'm opposed to the abuse of it.

I was in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago on a lecture tour, and I was shocked to learn that many of the younger physique contestants were taking more steroids for the amateur Mr. Oregon than many of the top physique stars take prior to entering a national show. The sad fact was that 99% of these younger guys had absolutely no potential in the sport at all.


Q. Have you ever taken steroids?

BP. Yes, I have taken steroids. I would not take them in this stage of my life, but I got caught up in this thing like everybody else did.


Q. Did you ever take them for a contest, or have you taken them all along?

BP. Oh, no! I've only taken them for a short period of time back in 1967, for a 6-8 week period under a doctor's supervision like I'm telling you. I got off of it after that, and I have never touched them since, because I could see that it was just something that didn't make me feel good about myself, and I said I'll get out of the sport and I'll quit training all together if that's what I've got to subject myself to, to stay in it.


Q. If a bodybuilder wants to stay in the sport and train naturally, can you give them some ways to improve their testosterone levels more naturally?

BP. If a person could do this and he could become more manly, his chance for muscular growth in the sport of bodybuilding would be a great deal better. I think the more masculine you are, the more massive you can become, can be through diet more than anything else.


Q. Will the numerous supplements like glandulars and all the others be worth a try for increasing testosterone levels more naturally?

BP. If you took all the glandular tablets by the bottle full or any of the other numerous supplements, it wouldn't do the job for you. It might help a teeny bit, but you have to realize that, if these supplements did a great deal for you, they'd be under a prescription like anabolic steroids and have to be bought through the FDA.


Q. You mentioned earlier some of the health food products you take, and it doesn't seem like a lot when comparing it to the megadosages that many bodybuilders take from day to day. What gives?

BP. Regarding the issue on health food products, I make my living selling health foods. Believe me, that's how I make my living. I have 69 or so products that I sell, and any time I see, let's say, a vitamin 1000% higher than the RDA or even 500% higher than that, and down the line.

If a person asks me about such a product and its worth, I will tell them they are just wasting 99% of their money. Your body is so used to taking such a small amount of vitamins and minerals out of your foods and if you had a proper diet which included whole good, fertile eggs, tremendous amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, baked potatoes and brown rice and other high-fiber types of foods, in many cases you might not need extra vitamins and minerals at all.

When you commence to take vitamin and mineral supplements 500 to 1000 percent over the RDA, do you realize that your body stops even digesting them from your foods whatsoever? It doesn't have to.

Then, if you quit the vitamin and mineral regimen for some reason, you get tired, sick, feel lousy. Why not? Your body has totally shut off its capability of processing the vitamins and minerals from your foods for a period of time.

If you smoke heavy and need more vitamin C or are under heavy stress, then more B-6 are good reasons why you should take more, but not a thousand times more than your daily requirements. Don't get caught up in the high megadosage products.


Q. You just mentioned that, if a person had a proper diet, vitamin and mineral supplements might not even be needed. How many calories a day would a person have to eat to be sure of getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals?

BP. Allowing for the loss of nutrients that occurs during storage, processing, or food preparation, in their raw state, most men can't get by on less than 2200 calories, and women need 1500 calories just to get the vitamins and mineral nutrition they need from day to day. That's why those 1000 calorie diets don't work. The best way to go is to increase your daily activity so it burns more calories, and that way you can eat more of the vitamin and mineral packed foods.


Q. What about eating loads of brown rice?

BP. The amazing thing about brown rice is that you could have it at every meal and actually lose weight. You can have 10 bowls of rice, because it is so high in fiber and so difficult for your body to break down, it takes more calories for digestion than is found in the rice itself.


Q. Many of the top bodybuilders, aside from you and a few others who eat optimally, put many things in their mouths that seem counterproductive to long-term health, but they look great and will even tell you that they feel like a million bucks most of the time. Are they being totally honest with us?

BP. To show you how the body works, I use the following example all the time. If you were to go to a doctor and were going to get an immunity for polio, the doctor would take a small amount of polio vaccine and put it on a sugar cube. You ingest it, and he will tell you to come back in 7 years and get another dose. So, for the next 7 years, you are safe. No more polio. Use this as an example of how long it took your body to rid itself of just one small drop of the polio vaccine. It took your body 7 years!

So, if you are loading up on anabolic steroids, you're loading up on uppers and downers, you're loading up on Coca Cola, you're loading up on white flour and sugar and so on, all the toxins from these things have to be processed in the same way, and you still train with weights. How in your right mind can you think you are living a happy and healthy life? It has to be a whole process or it won't work.

I had a guy walk into my gym one time. He was about 54 or 55 years of age. I said, "Yow are you doing?" and he said, "Bill, I'm doing just fine. I just got a haircut and I'm going to take my wife out tonight. I have never felt better in my life." The guy then walked two steps over to get his workout card and dropped dead of a heart attack, BAM, just like that!

I have 5 medical doctors working out in the gym, and we all pumped on this guy 'til our eyes popped out. What does this say? It means that health is a state of mind. He thought in his mind he was healthy. The guy was so sick, two seconds later he was dead.

The amazing part which I'll never forget on this deal -- when the guy dropped, I called the coroner. They said, don't touch him, leave him where he is, we'll come out and get him. He's laying right by the workout card rack. I go to the massage room and get a sheet and throw it over the dude, see. I'll bet you a hundred people came into the gym, walked over and got their workout cards, and stepped over that guy. There was not one person who asked me, "Hey, Bill, what's under that sheet?" They just didn't want to know. That's about all the questions I have time to answer. Thanks a lot, everybody.




Dennis B. Weis is a Ketchikan, Alaska based power-bodybuilder. He is the co-author of 3 critically-acclaimed books; Mass!, Raw Muscle and Anabolic Muscle Mass (visit: to read about it), He is also a frequent hard-hitting uncompromising freelance writer for many of the mainstream bodybuilding and fitness magazines published worldwide.

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