Bill Phillips is unquestionably one of the most influential leaders in physique transformation. In 1992 he started the popular bodybuilding magazine Muscle Media 2000 that launched the careers of many of today’s best-known fitness writers. In 1998 Phillips published Body for Life, a non-fiction bestseller that has been reprinted in 24 languages and sold 3.5 million copies by 2004. Although Body for Life is a total program that involves nutritional recommendations, here we will focus on the workout.
Body for Life was promoted as a 12-week “challenge” designed to make dramatic changes in your physique by adding muscle and losing bodyfat. Those who completed the 12-week program were encouraged to share their before-and-after photos in MM2K; the most impressive success stories were awarded prizes. One downside of the program is it’s especially time-consuming, requiring you to train six days a week, alternating between resistance training and cardio workouts.
The resistance training workouts alternated between upper body and lower body training sessions to allow for complete recovery between training sessions. Upper body muscle groups were divided into chest/shoulders/triceps/back/biceps; lower body muscle groups were divided into quads/hamstrings/calves/abdominals. A complete cycle takes two weeks because one week you will be doing two upper body workouts but just one for the lower body, and the following week you will be doing two lower body workouts but just one for the upper body.
Between each weight training workout, a 20-minute cardio session was prescribed, and the trainee could use a variety of activities, including treadmill, cycling, and swimming. Here is an outline of two training weeks:
Monday: Upper Body Weights
Wednesday: Lower Body Weights
Friday: Upper Body Weights
Monday: Lower Body Weights
Wednesday: Upper Body Weights
Friday: Lower Body Weights
Body for Life uses the Borg Scale (i.e., Gunnar Borg’s Rating of Perceived Exertion) to assess exercise intensity on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being 100% effort. With the weight training exercises, the intensity level (and weight used) increases with each set, starting at Level 5. The cardio was performed in an interval fashion, with three circuits performed with intensity levels varying from Level 5 to 10; a one-minute cooldown at Level 5 is performed at the end of three circuits.
The program included a wide variety of exercise choices. For example, a bench press could be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, cables, or a horizontal press machine. Here are some examples:
1. Barbell Bench Press
2. Barbell Incline Press
3. Dumbbell Bench Press
4. Dumbbell Incline Press
5. Dumbbell Flyes
6. Cable Crossovers
For each weight training workout you would select two exercises for each of the major muscle groups, one a primary exercise and one a secondary exercise. Here is how the training for one bodypart progresses, according to Phillip’s promotional material:
“Select one exercise and conduct five sets with it, starting with a set of 12 reps, then increasing the weight and doing 10 reps, adding more weight and doing 8 reps, adding more weight for 6 reps. Then reduce the weight and do 12 reps. Immediately perform another set of 12 reps for that muscle group using the second exercise.” Here is how this progression could look for a bench press:
A. Bench Press
Set 1: 100 pounds x 12 reps at Level 5 intensity, rest 60 seconds
Set 2: 110 pounds x 10 reps at Level 6 intensity, rest 60 seconds
Set 3: 120 pounds x 8 reps at Level 7 intensity, rest 60 seconds
Set 4: 130 pounds x 6 reps at Level 8 intensity, rest 60 seconds
Set 5: 120 pounds x 12 reps at Level 9 intensity, no rest
B. Cable Flyes
Set 6: 40 pounds x 12 reps at Level 10 intensity
After this sequence, you would rest two minutes before moving on to the next exercise. A total body weight training workout for either the upper or lower body should be completed in about 45 minutes using these loading parameters.
The tempo prescription for the exercises is generally to lift the weight in one second, hold for one second, and then lower the weight in two seconds. Although a longer eccentric phase should be used in a large amplitude movement such as a squat, at least there was an effort to address tempo, which at the time of the publication of the book was often ignored in many workouts.
Bill Phillips was generous with his charities, and his donation of over $5 million dollars to the Make-A-Wish Foundation enabled over 600 wishes to be granted to kids dealing with life-threatening medical issues. Phillips made a difference in the lives of these young people, and he made a difference in the health of the countless individuals who followed his Body for Life program.