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The Healthy Skeptic: A Critical Analysis of Barry Bonds’ Training Routine

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With the media brouhaha over the book Game of Shadows, this is a good time to re-examine Barry Bonds’ workout regimen, which was designed by Greg Anderson.

Here’s Bonds’ weight training routine as published in the June 2003 edition of Muscle and Fitness.

Monday: Chest and Biceps
Standing cable fly; standing cable biceps curl; incline Hammer-machine press; seated one-arm dumbbell curl; flat-bench dumbbell press; bench push-up; exercise-ball crunch.

Tuesday: Quads and Hamstrings
Single-leg extension; two-leg extension; lying hamstring curl; adductor machine; abductor machine; single-leg press; leg press; barbell squat; walking lunge

Wednesday: Back and Abs
Wide-grip pull down, close-grip pull down; seated row; pull-up; low-back extension; standing calf raise; seated calf-raise; crunch

Thursday: Shoulders and Triceps
Seated rear-delt machine; one-or two-arm dumbbell lateral raise; one- or two-arm dumbbell front raise; cable triceps press down (with straight bar or rope); standing machine dip

Friday Quads and Hamstrings
Single- or two-leg extension; lying leg curl; adductor machine; abductor machine; uni-lateral or regular leg press; barbell squat; stiff-legged dead lift; seated leg curl; standing single-leg hamstring curl; exercise-ball crunch

Bonds followed this routine both in and off-season. He maintained the same, five-day per week schedule and only reduced the daily workload of total sets performed for his in-season phase from 12-14 sets to 8-10 sets. Bonds performed 10 repetitions per set during both phases of his program.

This workout is in no way responsible for building Barry Bonds’ physique. This workout is classic “Body Building 101” and is not an appropriate manner of training for an elite, world-class athlete. This workout is a joke that is beneath any able-bodied person, and is even more ridiculous when you consider that it is being credited for building the impressive physique of Barry Bonds. This routine won’t build the kind of muscle mass Bonds sports, and is counter-productive to the goals of an athlete as well.

All of the exercises in this workout — with the exception of the squat and walking lunge — are machine-based, single joint exercises that in no way can prepare an athlete for the rigors of their sport. Most of these exercises are performed in a seated position that makes them even less suitable for inclusion in the training program of a real athlete.

Seated, machine-based, single-joint exercises are inappropriate because they work the muscles of the body in isolation. There is no task that any person performs in which a single muscle group does all the work at the exclusion of all other muscle groups.

In technical terms this program violates the rule of specificity of movement. What this means in lay terms is that this program doesn’t prepare the athlete for any conditions that may occur during their activity.

A great example of nonsense is provided by the “Quads and Hamstrings” workout that Anderson and Bonds performed two times per week. This kind of “junk training” separates the functions of the quadriceps muscle group – the four muscles located on the front of the thigh – from the functions of the hamstrings – the three muscles located on the back of the thigh. In the case of an athlete, there is no worse way to train.

These seven muscles, along with the muscles of the hips, buttocks, abdominal region and lower back always work together in real life, and should always be trained together. The Anderson plan addresses the muscles of the hips by including machine-based abduction and adduction exercises; there would be no sillier sight in the world than seeing Barry Bonds sitting in one of these machines.

Using this approach will create a strength imbalance between opposing muscle groups, and this strength imbalance can lead to a series of injuries, especially in a competitive athlete.

You can apply all of the above criticisms to any other day of the Anderson/Bonds program.

Running, bending, throwing and swinging a bat are actions that are produced as a result of all of the muscles of the body working together. Training the muscles of the body in isolation is folly since these muscles always depend on each other to produce the desired movement or function.

Machine-based programs are flawed because the machines provide the stability and balance that the person’s body should provide. Furthermore, these exercises are frequently performed in a seated position. I’ve never seen a baseball player or football player compete while seated.

Working the muscles of the legs while doing leg extensions, leg curls, a leg press or any other machine in no way replicates the way these muscles work in the real world. Lifting weights with the aid of a machine forces the body to move the way the machine wants the body to move, and not the way the body moves while “in space.” If you can understand how impossible it would be to throw a baseball with your arm locked into a machine, you can begin to understand why using machines to lift weights is bad.

A machine-based program will do nothing to help develop a person’s balance, and is even more detrimental to an athlete’s balance.

This kind of program will do nothing to improve a person’s explosiveness as the nature of these exercises requires that the body moves slowly, not explosively, especially when combined with the set and repetitions scheme used by Anderson and Bonds.

To train the body to move fast, you have to actually train fast. You’re not just training your muscles you’re training your nervous system. And to train your nervous system, you need to be on your feet and perform multi-joint, explosive movements such as the hang clean and overhead jerks or presses. No matter how quickly you perform an exercise while locked in a machine, you are not training your nervous system, nor are you training to be explosive.

Body builders use this kind of program because they are interested in developing each muscle to its fullest without regard for function. Body builders are not athletes. Body builders also use steroids to get bigger. This kind of workout allows body builders to gain massive amounts of muscle mass because of the drugs they use. Quite frankly, a person on steroids can train in almost any way imaginable and still pack on pounds of muscle. But make no mistake, for the rest of us who are clean this kind of program will never provide enough stimulus for our bodies to grow to Herculean proportions.

The subject of training for athletics is one that is largely misunderstood. Hopefully this piece can begin to help some of you to understand why the Anderson plan is substandard and why it served as a huge red flag for me way back in 2003.

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About Sal Marinello

  • brian

    thanks, great article, i agree with you all the way.

  • Rob

    [personal attack deleted]. as a trainer i will agree that this type of workout will not build a physique like bonds has. however if this guy knew anything about fitness magazines he would know that Bonds was probably paid to say this is the workout he does and do a photoshoot for the magazine. of course thats not his routine

  • weatherspoon

    You guys don’t know @#&^ about playing the game. Take whatever you what, you still have to hit the ball. Pills, steds, whatever, I played for 30 years and you still have to have the skills to hit the ball. You haters, I beat you haven’t played a day in your sorry life.

    Mr. 664 (yes, for one year I batted that avg.) pricks

  • James Bachmeier

    Since when do squats, bench presses, and rows not put on mass? Although bodybuilders don’t lift for a sport, their lifts promote mass gain, steroids or not. They wouldn’t do exercises that don’t put on mass… That’s their life!! You provide no justification for why a bodybuilding program would work for guys on the juice but not natty lifters. A bodybuilding program will obviously have greater results with steroids, but it works for mass for natty lifters to… There isn’t some switch that turns on and says “oh I’m on steroids now so these lifts will work, but if I’m natural I have to do these lifts.”

    Hang cleans and overhead jerks and presses are great, but if you had ever actually been around baseball you would know these lifts are FORBIDDEN because of the risks they pose for your rotator cuff and labrum.

    Quite possibly the stupidest article I’ve ever read.

  • YoMomma

    Bodybuilders are not athletes? Are you freaking serious? Apparently you have not seen a professional bodybuilder train. If there not athletic, I don’t know what is. LOL!