Serge Nubret was a classicist. Long before there were physique or classic physique divisions and a few years before Frank Zane was crowned Mr. Olympia, Caribbean-born Frenchman Serge Nubret (1938-2011) set the paradigm for physique aesthetics. His legend was formed in the 1973 and 1975 Mr. Olympias, when he lost to only Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he competed for 26 years, from 1958 to 1983. (He was also a film and TV actor in Europe and a bodybuilding contest promoter.) And he never retired from the gym. At a posing exhibition in 2003, the 65-year-old displayed muscles that bodybuilders half his age could envy.
Despite his lagging legs and back, Serge Nubret continues to be celebrated for his chiseled torso. It’s arguable that no male upper body has ever looked better relaxed from the front. His chest, delts, and abs were sculpted to perfection. The 6′, 220-pound legend is also famous for cranking up the volume but not the intensity in frequent “pump” workouts. His unique and time-consuming approach certainly worked for Nubret. Even today, weight-trainers see photos of him and say, “I want to look like that.” Serge Nubret is forever synonymous with classic physique.
◼️ The focus of Serge Nubret’s training was to pump as much blood into his muscles as possible.
◼️ He lifted moderate weights for, typically, 12-20 reps per set.
◼️ Rest periods were kept to a minimum of 60 seconds and, typically, about 30 seconds. So, he almost didn’t rest. Once he got going, he just kept pumping away.
◼️ What follows is a sample routine, but he would sometimes do one exercise for 15 or more sets. “There have been workouts when I’ve done only 30 sets of bench presses. If one exercise works best, why do a lot of others that work less well?” Nubret said.
◼️ Nubret focused on mostly basic, free-weight exercises, but then he didn’t have access to all the machines of a well-equipped modern gym.
◼️ As was the norm before the ’80s, he trained bodyparts twice weekly.
◼️ In addition to his morning ab workout, he typically did two daily workouts, hitting one major bodypart (like quads) in the morning and the other (like chest) in the afternoon or evening. Sometimes, he combined the two major bodyparts into one workout but rested for 15 minutes between the two.
◼️ He did not train to failure. Intensity and strength gains were not principal focuses. Pumping up his muscles was.
◼️ Surge Nubret did no cardio, as we know it today. However, his frequent low-rest weight-training workouts and his 2000 morning sit-ups served as cardio.
◼️ Nubret peaked before N.O. supplements, but those who wish to follow his routine today should utilize pre-workout citrulline or arginine to maximize their pump.
SERGE NUBRET’S TRAINING SPLIT
- Monday: Abs, Chest, Quads
- Tuesday: Abs, Back, Hamstrings
- Wednesday: Abs, Shoulders, Arms, Calves
- Thursday: Abs, Chest, Quads
- Friday: Abs, Back, Hamstrings
- Saturday: Abs, Shoulders, Arms, Calves
- Sunday: Off or Abs
Sit-up 1 set x 2000 reps
Seated Leg Raise 4 sets x 20-30 reps
Serge Nubret trained his abs daily. Immediately after waking, he performed 2000 continuous sit-ups. Daily. 2000. He recommended doing as many reps as you could continuously and then stopping. So, if you could only get 40. Get 40. Stop. And the next day go for 41 or more. Nubret claimed it took him about a year to reach 2000. And it took him around an hour to knock out the 2000 daily, which is about one sit-up every two seconds. Leg raises took comparatively little time.
Analysis: As explained in our ab article, we don’t recommend sit-ups. We also don’t recommend mega-high reps of ab exercises. And few people reading this are going to want to devote an hour or more every morning to abs. However, this strategy certainly worked for Nubret. What we do like is a focused, separate workout for something you might otherwise skip. And if you did four sets of 15 reps of bicycle crunches or roll-outs (two of our highest recommended ab exercises), both of which can be performed anywhere, most every morning, you would likely develop a great set of abs. Leg raises we like. The vertical leg raise is another of our four best ab exercises.
MONDAY & THURSDAY: Quads, Chest
Squat 8 sets x 12-15 reps
Leg Press 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Leg Extension 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Analysis: This is a standard quad routine. To better pump your quads, up the reps in the leg press and leg extension to 15-20.
Bench Press 8 sets x 12-15 reps
Flat Fly 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Incline Bench Press 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Incline Fly 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Pullover 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Analysis: We can’t argue with the phenomenal chest results Nubret achieved. Note that he was doing 50% more sets for chest than for quads, though the latter is a bigger bodypart. Dumbbell pullover is a better back exercise than chest exercise, though he probably did feel it more in his pecs by doing it last.
Here’s a higher volume Serge Nubret chest routine: only three exercises but 35-44 sets.
Barbell Incline Press 10-12 sets x 12-15 reps
Barbell Bench Press 15-20 sets x 12-15 reps
Decline Flye 10-12 sets x 12-15 reps
TUESDAY & FRIDAY: Back, Hamstrings
Pull-up 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Behind-the-neck Pulldown 8 sets x 12-15 reps
Front Pulldown 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Barbell Row 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Analysis: Though chest was a strength, back was a weakness. Nubret probably would’ve benefited from more rowing exercises. He did not have access to all the rowing machines we have today, but he could’ve swapped in cable rows, T-bar rows, or dumbbell rows for at least one of the pulldown exercises.
Lying Leg Curl 8 sets x 15-20 reps
Standing One-Leg Curl 8 sets x 15-20 reps
Analysis: These two exercises work the hams similarly. Seated leg curls and stiff-leg deadlifts would’ve added greater variety. But props to Nubret for focusing so much on hamstrings, which may have been his weakest bodypart. You should also prioritize your weaknesses.
WEDNESDAY & SATURDAY: Shoulders, Arms, Calves
Behind-the-neck Press 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Alternate Dumbbell Front Raise 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Upright Row 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Cable Side Lateral 6 sets x 12-15 reps
Analysis: This is a pretty standard, high-volume shoulder routine. Behind-the-neck-presses were more popular then than now, but they’re safe if performed correctly. We’d like to see the addition of a rear lateral raise, either with dumbbells or a machine.
Barbell Curl 8 sets x 12-15 reps
Pushdown 8 sets x 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Curl 8 sets x 12-15 reps
Triceps Dip 8 sets x 12-15 reps
Analysis: Surprisingly, Nubret did comparatively less volume for arms than other bodyparts, 16 sets each for biceps and triceps. However, the supersets increased the intensity and pump.
Standing Calf Raise 8 sets x 12 or 20+ reps
Seated Calf Raise 8 sets x 12 or 20+ reps
Analysis: Nubret had stubborn calves, and we like his strategy for growing them. He did both standing calf raises (for the gastrocnemius) and seated (for the soleus), and he alternated reps and weights from one workout to the next. He did lower reps with heavier weights one workout and higher reps with lighter weights the next workout.
Serge Nubret’s double-split routine is, in some ways, a relic of an earlier era. Few today have the time or inclination to workout so often for so long. However, there are lessons to be learned. Include more on the exercises that work best; include less on the exercises that work less-than-best. Do the free-weight basics, and you don’t have to do them heavy. At least some of the time, focus on maximizing the pump with less rest between sets and more reps per set. And, most of all, train and diet for aesthetics—like the great classicist, Serge Nubret.