“Improve constantly and forever” is an excellent guideline for the drugfree bodybuilder. Don’t you agree?

The originator of this principle was not a bodybuilder in any sense of the word. In fact, I doubt that W. Edwards Deming even knew what bodybuilding was. Deming was an American statistician and business consultant who is single handedly responsible for Japan’s economic ascendance from the 1950’s and 60’s where a “Made In Japan” sticker denoted a cheaply made transistor radio or toy designed to last for a few weeks, to today’s highest quality electronics and automobiles with names like Sony, Lexus, etc.

Deming’s touchpoint was “Quality Improvement”.  His system is just as relevant to today’s drugfree bodybuilder as it was to Japan’s economy. Deming said that the key to continuous improvement is to develop an effective system – one in which all components work together to support each other. He developed a very simple-but-effective model to continually improve any business system:

  • PLAN: Design or revise process components to improve results
  • DO: Implement the plan and measure its performance
  • CHECK: Check the results
  • ACT: Take action to improve the process

These four steps are known as the “Deming Cycle” – and it can be applied to building your highest quality physique just as easily as it is to building a high-quality business.

Deming taught that we should always look for small improvements in a system that will yield greater results. Being a statistician, he measured everything. You should too. Once past the beginner stage, bodybuilding improvements are not always that easy to notice.

Interestingly, as Deming’s methods evolved, so did bodybuilding. The real heyday of natural bodybuilding was the late ‘50’s-early 60’s era (B.D. before dianabol).

Then while the Japanese economy continued to improve one step at a time, the bodybuilding economy started to grow by leaps and bounds – not qualitatively, but quantitatively (as in more-is-better and the quick-fix infected our sport’s mentality.) This was an era totally in contrast to Deming’s commitment to quality and the fact of life for any business or bodybuilder –that long-range improvements over time are always better than Fast Buck-itis; or in the bodybuilder’s case, Fast Gains-Itis.


Deming said that a system should be developed to achieve a desired result or complete a task.  The system should be measurable and over time will deliver a reliable, predictable result. To change the result, you innovate or adjust the system.  This focuses a workforce, or in our case a bodybuilder through a specific list of steps to achieve a result.

As lifelong bodybuilders we should know better, but we’ve been brought up to believe one bodybuilding promise after another, from Weider to Cybergenics to the current “hot product of the month”, that we are just one product away from overnight bodybuilding success. If you look deep down inside and face the truth you’ll realize that no successful, profitable, high-quality business or body was built overnight.

There are a few businesses that seem to make a lot of bucks in the short term but in almost every case their success was built on the philosophy of revenue gain at any cost. Then a few years later they’d lost all their gains, and were filing for bankruptcy. Don’t you see the similarity with bodybuilders? Many will do anything and believe anyone to get those fast gains – even if it means no longer being in business a few years down the road. There are two other popular business books that are relevant here. One is titled Built to Last, and the other by the same author (Jim Collins), is Good to Great. Isn’t that what you really want from your bodybuilding program – a body that is built to last and with continuous progress to go from good to great?

The following case study illustrates how you can incorporate your own bodybuilding system built upon the proven success principles for business and bodybuilding.



Mike is an intelligent, 37-year old bodybuilder. He’s been pretty successful in business and is a Total Quality Management consultant. He’s been training in one form or another ever since high school. Mike’s never competed but would like to – at least just once. Over the years he’s tried just about every workout program and supplement product that’s come along. Although often tempted, he has never taken steroids. (Remember, I said Mike is intelligent.) He knows his years of lifting have paid off. He’s the best built guy at work. If there’s something heavy to lift or move, Mike is the first person his coworkers call on for help. Mike’s wife and children are proud of him. Among non-bodybuilders, Mike stands out, but in his heart of hearts, Mike wants to be a better bodybuilder.

I suggested that Mike start applying what he has learned as a business consultant to his bodybuilding. Here’s where we get back to Deming – “improve constantly and forever”.  Mike’s first step was to analyze his physique and decide exactly what areas he needed to improve. That was easy. Mike knew he wanted to improve his overall size a little, but even more important he wanted to get closer to a competition bodybuilder look. Mike knew he’d also need to bring up the size, shape and definition of his legs if he were going to compete.

We came up with a 4-day routine that included four process improvements (innovations) to Mike’s normal training.

  1. The first innovation was to add a 2nd light leg workout each week. The key is the light day focus is not on the weight lifted, but on the quality of each rep, and the reduction of rest intervals between each set. Stimulation, not annihilation.
  2. Mike planned the weights he’d use each week in advance. In the past, Mike would always start a new workout using too much weight. Or, if the weights felt light the first week, and he felt good, he’d immediately increase his weights to whatever he thought felt hard enough. And then he’d get stuck. Remember Mike’s been training for more than twenty years so it’s very easy for him to reach a plateau. I told Mike it’s better to start a new workout program with weights that feel easy and to gradually increase them each week. This brings us to the third principle …
  3. “Kaizen” is a Japanese word used in total quality business operations that means, “day to day, continuous improvement.” Actually “Kaizen” is not only applicable to improved quality in business, it is just as applicable to improving the quality of your physique. In fact, it’s probably the most rock solid and reliable training method there is. And what really makes Kaizen work over time is having a system by which it is implemented.  By knowing that if you lift a weight x number of times, then add y.  And if you add y then you do x etc, etc.
  4. Our final workout innovation was to include basic exercises, but to perform them in different sequences or in some cases to perform them in a unique manner. I will explain this as we get further into the workout.

One final thing I reminded Mike from his business consulting is “what gets measured and recorded, gets done”. Mike immediately realized that keeping an accurate workout journal would be essential to his body building continuous improvement project.

We’ll use Mike’s current strength levels for purpose of illustration. His bench press at the beginning of this project was 225 x 5 or about a 260 max. If you want to follow Mike’s plan, you should adjust the weights to your own strength levels. Here’s step one, Mike’s workout plan.

Day One: Chest / Back

Day Two: Legs (Light)

Day Three: Shoulders / Arms

Day Four: Rest

Day Five: Legs (Heavy)

Day 6: Rest

Day 7: Rest


Training Innovation: The training innovation in the Day 1 workout is alternating one set of a pressing exercise, rest, then a set of a pulling exercise. Also the progression system is laid out in advance. Mike knows when and how to progressively increase his workout poundage’s for continuous improvement.


Push Pull Series #1

Bench Press / Bent Row (or Seated Cable Row, Hammer Row, etc.)

A1. Bench Press:

Set #1 Warm-up – 135 x 10 reps

Set#2 Warm-up – 185 x 3 reps  (Day one workout continues on following page)

Set #3 Work set – 185 for max reps (target range is 10-12) if you get 12 increase poundage by 5% (10 lbs.) next workout

Sets #4 & 5: Work sets – 215 for 5 – 7 reps to failure. When you can get 7 reps on both sets, add 10 lbs your next workout.


A2. Seated Cable Row: 2 Warm-Up Sets, 3 work sets 7 – 9 reps


Performance: Do 1st set of bench presses, rest 60 – 90 seconds, then do your 1st set of rows. Continue this pattern for all 5 sets.


Push / Pull Series #2 (Same procedure as 1st group – alternate 1 set pressing with a set of pulling, e.g. Incline Press (BB or DB) your choice / Pulldown

B1. Incline Press 3 Sets 6 – 10 reps to failure when you can get 10 reps on all 3 sets increase weight by 5 lbs DB or 10 lbs BB)

B2. Pulldown: 3 sets 8 – 12 reps


Series #3 (DB Bench Press or Heavy Flyes / Chins)

C1. DB Bench Press or Flyes 1st Set: 20 – 25 reps to failure, 2nd Set: 12 – 15 reps to failure

C2. Chins: 2 sets to failure (if you can do less 6 reps per set of chins, add additional sets so that total reps performed over all sets is at least 12)


Training InnovationA light leg day is included to provide additional training stimulation while avoiding annihilation. The hoped-for result? Bring up leg size, shape and definition. Compound Sets – same muscle group is worked with no rest between exercises.

Quads: Front Squat or Smith Machine Squat <ss> Hack Squat

Superset (no rest between exercises but rest 60-75 seconds after each superset) for 6 sets with a goal of 12 reps per set. Use a constant weight on each exercise. Start light. Mike started with just 95 lbs on the Front Squats and 1 ½ plates on each side of the Hack Squat machine. When you reach 12 reps on all 6 sets of either exercise, add 20% to the weight on that exercise.

Hamstrings: Leg Curl <ss> Straight Leg Deadlift or Lunges ~ Rest 60-75 seconds after each superset. 3 supersets of 10 reps each – constant weight

Calves: 9 sets of various calf exercises


Training Innovation: Mike alternates exercises as he did on day one, but we also added an innovative twist to some old exercises. In series #2 Mike alternates 3-way dumbbell raises, 3-way dumbbell curls, and 3-way triceps presses. (See descriptions below.)

Push/Pull Series #1

A1. Shoulder Press (Seated, Standing or behind Neck): Warm-up set, then 3 sets 5 – 7 reps

A2. Heavy BB Curl Warm-up set, then 3 sets 5 – 7 reps

A3. Triceps Pushdown: Warm-up set, then 3 sets 6 – 10 reps

Performance: Alternate sets of all three exercises: 1st set Shoulder Press, rest 60 – 90 seconds; then 1st set BB Curl, rest, then 1st set Pushdown, rest; and repeat until all sets in the series are completed.


Series #2

B1. DB Lateral Raise (3 way 5-5-5) – 3 sets

Bent Lateral 1st 5 Reps, Front Raise next 5 reps, Lateral Raise last 5 reps

B2. 3 Way DB Curls (3 way 5-5-5) – 3 sets

1st 5 reps top half, 2nd 5 reps bottom half, final 5 reps full reps

B3. 3 Way Triceps Press (3 Way 5-5-5) – 3 sets

1st 5 reps skull crushers to forehead, next 5 reps bring behind head, final 5 reps pullover and press


Rest (nothing innovative here)


Training Innovation: Mike ups his target reps on squats while trying to maintain decent poundage’s. Because Mike usually squats in the 6-12 range, going for 15-25 reps will tax his will as well as his quads. Mike got 205 for 14 reps the first week, and the next week he was able to get 18 good reps. By the 5th week he was up to 26 reps on his first work set.

 (Illustrated weights are based on 225 x 10 reps normal work out poundage)

Squat – Straight Sets (lots of rest)

1st Set Warm –Up 10 easy reps - 135

2nd Set Warm – Up 5 Reps easy - 185

3rd Warm Up Set – 3 Easy Reps - 205

Work Set #1 Take your normal 12 – 15 rep poundage (for Mike it was 205) and do 15 – 25 reps. Take 2 – 4 deep breaths between reps as needed.

Rest 5 minutes

Work Set #2 Add 20 lbs (225) target reps are 10 – 20

Rest 5 minutes

Work Set #3 Same weight as 1st Work Set (205) x max reps

*** Add weight when you get to 25 reps on 1st work set or 20 reps on 2nd work set, 3rd work set is always the same weight as 1st


Every time you do this workout, try to add at least 2 reps to each work set.


Push/Pull Series to finish: Leg Press: 3 x 8 – 12 reps / Leg Curl: 3 x 8 - 12 reps



The only thing revolutionary about Mike’s plan is that Mike made a commitment to himself to consistently follow his training program, get his 275 grams of protein each day, and take his supplements with every meal. His emphasis was now on continuous, incremental, quality improvement to his physique – a physique Built To Last that was going from Good To Great.

Mike wrote the steps of the Deming Cycle in his training journal and every two weeks went through the cycle:

  1. Plan – Mike planned out his training, meals, and supplements in advance each week.
  2. Do – Mike implemented the plan. He also recorded his workouts, daily protein intake, and daily supplements.
  3. Check the results and lessons learned – Mike’s written records made this easy to do. One of the lessons Mike learned was it is much easier to get all your protein in if you plan and prepare your meals ahead of time.
  4. Act on what you learned – Every two weeks Mike would take what he learned over the previous two weeks and “innovate” an improvement to his previous plan. Doing this Mike has completed Deming Cycle for continuous improvement and is ready to start back at step 1.

A couple of months later Mike came by to pick up his supplement order. I asked how his program was working. He flashed a grin and said, “I think I’m ready to compete.” I could tell by looking at him that his plan of action was paying off. He continued, “Well, you know I’ve been keeping some pretty accurate records. I am now getting 255 on the bench for five reps, my weight is now 186 first thing in the morning. I dropped 3% bodyfat and that’s really the biggest difference in my physique. According to my records, I’ve added thirty pounds to my bench press and my body composition change to date is nine pounds net.” (Mike lost five pounds of fat while increasing his weight by four pounds. This equates to a nine-pound net positive change.) “Oh, and I increased my quads by a full inch. Steven, I can’t believe I wasted all those years when the answer was staring me right in my face every day at work. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.”