*Reprinted with the kind courtesy of FLEX Magazine (February 2009)
By George De Pirro, Senior Editor
Photography by Chris Lund
Impetus to improve
After a six-year absence from the NPC national level, Freeman won the super-heavyweight class and overall at the 2002 Nationals at 249 pounds. However, that still didn’t mean he had world-class arms. In fact, the frequent speculation that he should be toting larger-caliber guns led to them progressing to become one of his showcase bodyparts today. Freeman states, "It came from all the ridicule from my first years of turning pro. I was on the Internet boards a lot, and I used to get bashed pretty good. It made me go back and look at myself, and it made me improve. So I’m grateful for it."
The dichotomy comes from the fact that one of the best in the world has always had a love/hate association with the sport. "I love everything, and I hate it all, too, at the same time," Freeman says. "That’s what keeps it interesting. When you train so hard, it hurts so bad. You’ve got to do all of this cardio and dieting. The reward is so awesome, though; that’s what keeps me in the game, especially when I’m improving at my age. I want to see how long I can hang and still be healthy."
In 2005, Freeman figured that he could move up the ladder by showcasing bigger and more muscular arms. To do this, he would train his biceps and triceps three times a week with varying scheduled intensity. In building those larger arms, he would hold the keys to higher placings.
The centerpiece of the Freeman triple-arm thrash is a day devoted to biceps in the morning and triceps in the afternoon. That’s when the genteel X-Man becomes an assassin. He picks three to five exercises and, in his words, kills them. If he does three movements, it will be for five sets each; four exercises get four sets; and five movements are annihilated with three sets. These are likely to be his heaviest arm sets of the week with the strictest form, but since the arms are going to get some more work within a couple of days, weight doesn’t have to be extremely heavy. Freeman says, "You may develop a little soreness in your tendons from working them that much, so you need to keep that in mind when you choose your weights. When you’re killing your arms, you’re also killing your tendons – if you’re not careful."
Two days later, Freeman does a workout where he alternates biceps and triceps exercises. After a pyramided first movement with a few more sets to help warm up, he does three sets the rest of the way. This workout is faster paced – virtually nonstop – with little rest except for stretching or getting some water.
The least stressful, but still important, phase comes after his chest workout for triceps and after his back workout for biceps. As these are tagged on to the end of a workout for another major bodypart, they can be called "wind-up" arm routines. Freeman does two sets of two exercises to keep blood flowing through his arm muscles, equating it to a "pump" type of workout. "The whole idea behind making muscles grow is to keep blood and sufficient nutrients in that area," he explains. "You stimulate the need through training and then supply the nutrition. Keep doing it over and over. That’s how we get how we get."
Freeman has followed this split both offseason and precontest, and as long as the nutrition supply is adequate for recovery, the gains keep coming. The first time, at the 2006 Iron Man Pro, he found that his arms were huge after six months of following three-times-a-week arms schedule. He then returned to a more standard (once or twice per week) frequency to focus on other areas, like his middle back.
Before, his triceps measured less than 20" onstage; now they’re 22". Freeman says, "I look at my arms from three years ago, and now I’ve got a couple more inches and a lot more detail.
Xs & Ohs
Like many pros, Freeman adds a lot of variety to his workouts. Over the past 20 years, he suspects he has done just about every combination of exercises in his workouts, but he prides himself on not repeating the exact routine. Even within workouts, if he uses a barbell for his first set of curls, he’ll use dumbbells or a pulley for the second selection.
Freeman says, "I try to do every exercise I’ve ever seen in every exercise book and magazine at least once a year. I do old exercises that hardly anyone does, like Zottman curls. Some of the, I don’t even know their name. If you have a great workout and an incredible pump, you won’t get that again by doing the same exact thing. The next time you feel that kind of pump, it will be from doing something different. I feel that more often because I’m always changing."
With the numerous variations of curls, triceps presses, dips, extensions, pushdowns and kickbacks added to the various equipment, angle, weight, volume and exercise-order alternatives, Freeman is hardly in danger of allowing his workouts to become repetitive. He says, "Some people write their workouts down and track themselves. That’s their challenge. I challenge myself to do something different every day."
Freeman is still hungry for more, "The only thing that drives me to push my physique like this is winning shows," he proclaims. "I’m 42 and I’ve already got a woman, so I’m not doing it for the girls. I can look like this by training three times a week and eating well. I can’t win shows like that, but I’d be better built than the average man. What drives me to be the best in the world is the competition and the things that come with it."
With the best structure among the taller pros, 6′2" Toney Freeman had a satisfying finish to a busy 2008, taking fifth at the Mr. Olympia – especially gratifying, considering his near-disastrous 14th-place finish at the O in ‘07.
In 2008, Freeman inhabited every placing position except sixth from first through eighth while competing in eight different locations. By the end of the year, he had found the winner’s circle for the fourth and fifth times in his pro career. The fact that he’s hitting his prime at 42 years old makes it all the more sweet.
You might think that Freeman has always had spectacular arms, but you would be mistaken. Freeman says, "When you’re young, everybody ego trains," he says. "I sucked at arms, so I didn’t really train them that much. The only things I was good at were chinups and squats. I did arms only when other people wanted to work arms. Then I’d try to lift the whole gym, and I kept it all in my forearms."
"If you’re a beginner, pick one or two exercises for each bodypart, no more than that. Perfect those exercises to the best of your current ability before finding a couple more. Instead of trying to do 50 things, get good at a few things. Then, find new exercises one at a time. Become good at what you’re doing at the time. You’ll keep getting better, then keep adding things to it. So many people want to try to be Mr. Olympia in six months, but that’s impossible."
"It’s going to take time. I’ve been training for 21 years and I’m still learning. If I had known it was going to take me 20 years to get to this point, I might not have been as enthusiastic to do it. You can look at it like that, or you can say I know this is going to be a lifetime thing, so why don’t I do it the smart way and start from quality at the beginning instead of trying to be as big as I can and then try to make it look good. If you start out with the right philosophy, you’ll end up getting what you want quicker."
Toney’s Training Tips
1. For dumbbell curls, I suggest keeping your palms facing up and use both arms simultaneously. Use moderate weight, and keep strict concentration on working the muscle without resorting to momentum.
2. The mental illustrating I like to use is of holding onto the dumbbell, palm facing up, then making a muscle. Most people can’t use too much weight if they do the rep in that fashion. I probably could use 50s, but then I’d have to drop the reps.
3. With my arms program, you’re really hitting them hard only once. The other two times, you are trying to keep blood in the muscle. After back and chest, sometimes I’ll only do one set of one exercise to failure.
4. The only thing that really stimulates biceps are curls. I’ve even done chins in my biceps routine as a warm-up instead of curls. That was when I was a real beginner.
5. Sometimes you go into the gym and you feel really strong. Some days, you just don’t have it, so I’ll use lighter weights and more reps. I go by my strength and change it up according to that.
6. You don’t want to pull your tendons off the bones. You need to be cautious with the weights. I want to save younger people the headaches and heartaches down the road.
7. The muscles of the bi’s and tri’s are small, so they don’t need a ton of weight to be stimulated. They need control and concentration. If you use weight you can control and perfect from to the best of your ability, you’ll get a lot further a lot faster.