A Basic Training Philosophy For Solid Mass Gains

by Kelly Baggett

Foundational Principles

1. The biggest problem in natural bodybuilding is, in my opinion, the alarming number of people that screw up perfectly good training with poor nutrition. Based on my observations, the majority of serious and semi-serious trainees leave their workouts having done enough to stimulate growth, yet big muscle mass increases typically require dedicated eating to take advantage of that stimulation. If you’re not willing to buckle down and take a hardcore attitude when it comes to your nutrition, you might as well stay the heck out of the gym.

2. The 3 S’s are key for muscle growth.

These are stimulate, supply, and signal. Training “stimulates” growth, eating “supplies” material for growth, and your levels of various anabolic hormones “signal” growth to occur. Therefore, muscle mass gains are about 1/3 hormonal, 1/3 eating and 1/3 training. Combine them together and they combine for a synergistic effect. See: Keys to Muscle Growth

3. How powerful is the anabolic effect by itself?

In one study testosterone use alone was shown to stimulate up to a 17 pound increase in muscle mass over a 20 week period of time in the absence of any training. Additionally, the average male will gain around 40 pounds of natural muscle during puberty in the absence of any training just due to changes in his hormone levels. If you want to surpass those results naturally and you’re not going through puberty, you better figure out what you’re doing.

4. Partitioning refers to what happens when excess calories are consumed. Are they directed into muscle or fat stores?

The worse your partitioning, the more fat you gain when you gain weight. The better your partitioning, the more muscle you gain. This is largely impacted by training and diet, yet with those things being a given, how well you “partition” is primarily determined by levels of various hormones, which is determined by genetics.

5. Maximizing Partitioning

A natural trainee can maximize environmental factors that affect his partitioning by training at the right frequency with the right type and dosage of training, eating enough food, sleeping enough, staying relatively stress free, and keeping his body composition within his “optimum muscle building window” which, generally speaking, is between the range of 10-17% body-fat for most males and 12-20% for most females. At less then about 10% body-fat, levels of various anabolic hormones such as testosterone go to crap, (unless you were born at 5% body-fat). At the other end, anymore then 17% body-fat and sensitivity to various anabolic hormones goes down the drain.

6. Nutrition

How powerful is the effect of eating? Studies have been done on overfeeding where people were fed an additional 1000 calories per day for 100 days without any training whatsoever. Of the weight they gained, even in the absence of exercise, an average of 35% was lean muscle mass.

7. Genetic Limits

“Genetic limits” really refers to how much muscle mass a person can carry at a given body-fat percentage and not how much muscle mass they can carry overall. Your “genetic natural limit” while maintaining a lean 6% body-fat might be 200 lbs. But if you train and eat your way up to a 300-pound bodyweight, sure as hell you will be carrying more then 200 pounds of muscle. This is why the biggest sumo wrestlers, who do little besides eat, on average carry more muscle mass then the biggest bodybuilders. That’s not a recommendation to go out and get as fat as an oversized water buffalo, but it is reality.

Training Principles

Growth is stimulated from a combination of tension, total work, and fatigue. As we’ll see in a minute, outside the boundaries of extremely low volume programs, progressively increasing tension at a given level of work is the primary stimulus for ongoing gains in growth. Factors related to fatigue might add around 10% to that.

1. Tension

To get maximal tension on all available muscle fibers in a given muscle requires full motor unit recruitment in that muscle. This can occur 2 ways:

A: Lifting a heavy load (80%+) so that all the muscle cells are firing from the first rep. (example: Lifting an 80% load for 5 reps)

B: Lifting a light load in a fatigued state so that your muscles “think” the load is heavy. (example: Lifting: a 50% load with short rest intervals and having the weight feel heavier then your ass after a 5 mile run.)

Anytime you put forth a maximal effort and have to really strain to move the weight, regardless of the weight on the bar, all the muscle fibers in the working muscle turn on and “tense up.” This is tension. Get a muscle fiber to “tense up” often enough in a workout and it gets damaged. Your muscles don’t know how much weight they’re lifting, they only know they’re working. It’s not necessarily the weight that induces hypertrophy but what the muscles “go through” while lifting a weight.

2. What’s the difference between heavy vs light loads for tension?

Having said that, there is a difference between lifting a light load in a state of fatigue that “feels” heavy, and a load that “is” heavy. The main difference between the 2 is the heavy load will induce earlier recruitment of the fast twitch fibers and more eccentric microtrauma during the lowering phase of a movement, which is the primary stimulus for growth of muscle protein myofibrills, while the lighter load lifted in a state of fatigue, often associated with more repetitions, will tend to induce more growth through increased “energy and water storage” mechanisms.

3. Making strength increases and getting stronger over time
Is all about increasing tension, while getting a “pump” is more about total work and fatigue. Suffice to say, the heavier weight you lift with a muscle or muscle group, the more tension you create in that muscle. Your muscles become damaged under tension and repair themselves by getting a little bigger so that they can better resist the load.

4. The “pump”

The more total work and temporary fatigue (due to lack of oxygen), you create in a muscle, (through high volume training, high rep sets, drop sets, static holds, rest-pause etc.) the bigger the “pump” you tend to get. These methods are typically associated with various “Weider” principles.

5. Total work

Total work refers to the total time a muscle is under tension and how much tension it’s under over the course of an entire workout, which is basically the same thing as volume, which is sets x reps x load.

Work = Sets x Reps x Load

Simply put, think of “total work” as the total number of reps you do for a body-part per session and how much weight you lift during those reps. How important is it? Well, obviously it has some importance, otherwise all you’d need to to get big is generate a 1 second maximal effort isometric contraction a couple of times per week, which clearly isn’t the case, so we have to look at the importance of total work. There are 2 ways to increase the work:

A: Lift more weight for a given number of reps.
B: Perform more reps with a given weight.

5a. Increasing work though increasing bar weight, while keeping the number of repetitions per workout relatively constant, has shown dramatic improvements in hypertrophy, yet increasing the number of reps without intentionally ever trying to increase the load has a much larger influence on the endurance and metabolic efficiency of the muscle cell. Thus, for pure gains in solid muscle mass, gradually increasing bar weight while maintaining a certain number of reps per workout is key.

5b. How many reps is enough?
The research and real world observation seems to indicate 25-50 reps twice a week for a body-part is plenty. Any more then 50 twice per week and some people may have issues with recovery. What seems to be the most important factor is that a “minimal” amount of volume is maintained and not to intentionally seek out humongous increases in this area. At the volume most bodybuilders train with (A minimum of 4 sets of 8 reps per bodypart twice per week), the minimums are met and it’s really a non-issue.

6. When is not getting enough work in an issue?

Realistically, unless you’re referring to idiotic style Mentzer type HIT routines, (5 total reps per bodypart once a week or whatever), adding a crapload of volume just to get more total work in isn’t gonna make much of a difference in the big scheme of things and is not nearly as important as the increasing bar weights that you lift. Some idiots will use extreme examples to prove their point that total work and volume is extremely important and give examples why bodybuilders shouldn’t train with heavy weights. They’ll use idiotic examples such as comparing one guy who lifts 400 lbs on the squat for 5 total reps per week and another who lifts with 250 lbs for 50 reps per week. Will the 250 pound squatter get better results? Probably so, but realistically speaking, who the heck only does 5 total reps per week for a bodypart? Hell, even a powerlifter will get 20 or 25 reps in for a bodypart twice week. Now, if we compare a program where one guy lifts 350 pounds per week for 40 reps and the other guy lifts 400 pounds for 26 reps I’d put my money on the 2nd guy. But enough nonsense. A good general recommendation is to always keep the reps per workout approximately the same while you add bar weight over time as you get stronger. Here is an example of how you might do that over the course of a 9 week mesocycle:

Week 1-3 – Sets of 8-10 (ex: 3 x 8-10)
Week 4-6 – Sets of 6-8 (ex: 4 x 6-8)
Week 7-9 – Sets of 4-6 (ex: 5 x 5)
Week 9 (unload – 2 sets of 12-15 easy)
Week 10-12 Start over with sets of 8-10

See how the number of reps stays around 25 while the rep range decreases?

6a.What is the ideal repetition range?
Sets with as few as 1 reps per set and as many as 20 reps per set can both be effective. Keep in mind the total number of reps per workout is also key. With total reps being equal, the heavier loads will tend to stimulate more growth yet also require more sets. (8 sets of 3 vs 3 sets of 8). Quadriceps in particular seem to respond better to higher reps. (8-20 reps per set)

7. Tension vs Fatigue

Results that come from tension take place over a long period of time and tend to stick around for a long period of time. Results that come from “fatigue” (a.k.a. – the “pump”), occur much quicker and dissipate just as quickly.

8. Different adaptations to tension vs fatigue

It could be said that a muscle will adapt to tension by adding more protein to it’s structures to deal with that tension. The muscle adapts to fatigue by storing more “energy” (aka – glycogen.) to better deal with the fatigue induced. The amount of extra glycogen storage that can be stimulated with even very brief bouts of fatigue training (a triple drop set for example), is very impressive, nearly rivaling that of specific short-term endurance protocols designed to double glycogen storage increases.

9.Fatigue makes muscles “swole”

Although the growth that occurs from fatigue only accounts for maybe 5-10% of the size increases, it gives the impression of contributing a lot more then that, since the glycogen storage increase and training methods associated with it also give one a tremendous and immediate “pump.” That pump, which occurs from blood engorging the tissue, can temporarily increase the size of a muscle by probably 20%. (which is why you never measure your arms cold or carb depleted).

10. If you increase your muscle mass by 50 lbs

About 45 pounds of that mass will come about through improvement in tension related processes, and about 5 pounds will be from “fatigue” processes. However, the extra 5 pounds of fatigue related growth will be very “pretty.”

11. The Recipe

Take a bodybuilder and give him a heavy dose of progressively increasing muscle tension over a long period of time, along with some fatigue, big eating, and big scale weight increases, and you get a really big bodybuilder with round and full muscles

12. A Real Life Example

Let’s say you take a 250 pound powerlifter at 10% body-fat who has only trained with singles, doubles, and triples his entire life, (and thus only dealt with low volume “tension” related growth). Let’s say he had taken his bodyweight from a natural 150 when he first started lifting and ate and trained his way up to a 250-pound powerhouse. Now, lets say you decide to convert him to standard bodybuilding training by having him train with more volume, more “fatigue” training, and more total work for all his major muscle groups (such as more sets overall, higher rep sets, volume training, drop sets, rest-pause etc.). With all that additional bodybuilding stuff and without changing his diet, you might be able to put an additional 10 or 15 pounds of muscle mass on him (100 pounds lean muscle mass gained plus ~10%). About half of that extra mass would occur within weeks and it would be related to an increased ability he has to store muscle glycogen. The other half of that 10 or 15 pounds would be “real” muscle that would come about from the increased workload. Both of those would pale in comparison to the gains he had already made simply taking a no holds barred low volume powerlifting approach to making strength gains over time, but those traditional “weider” methods would put a pretty nice “finishing touch” on his physique.

13. Bar Weight Increases plus Scale Weight Increases are Key

Strength gains manifested through bar weight increases plus scale weight increases are key. The one who makes the most continual strength improvements and scale weight increases over time, also gains the most muscle mass in the shortest time.

14. Neural Strength Gains vs Structural Strength Gains

Strength can be gained from increases in neural efficiency or it can be gained from increases in the size of your muscles. What mainly determines what you gain is how much food you eat. The main difference between whether you just gain “relative” strength (strength per pound of bodyweight), or whether you gain large amounts of muscle with strength, contrary to popular belief, is not time under tension, repetition range or any training variable, it is simply the amount of food you eat in the process of getting stronger and the amount of scale weight you gain. To illustrate, over a very long period of time, a lifter trying to stay in a lower weight class might be able to take their bench from 200 to 400 pounds whilst eating like a bird and only gain maybe 15 or 20 pounds of bodyweight. In contrast, a bodybuilder or a lifter not trying to keep his bodyweight down could train EXACTLY like the weight class guy yet gain 50, 60, or 70 pounds of muscle and take their bench from the same 200 to 400 pounds much quicker. A bodybuilder should ideally strive to get the biggest muscle mass increases per unit of strength gain possible.

15. 3 Different Approaches With The Same Result

Regardless of whether you train like a bodybuilder, a powerlifter, or Olympic lifter, if you take your high bar full squat from 250 to 500 pounds, while also taking your bodyweight from 150 to 200 pounds, you will have a minimum of an extra 4 to 5 inches of thigh circumference. The only common denominator in all 3 approaches are the bar weight increases and scale weight increases.

16. Training Like a Bodybuilder vs Training Like a Powerlifter

In the big scheme of things, the main difference between the training of a bodybuilder and the training of a powerlifter should be that the powerlifter tries to lift as much weight as possible on 3 movements while making the muscles work as little as possible and by taking stress off his weaker muscle groups. In contrast, the bodybuilder should be trying to lift as much weight as possible on a slightly greater variety of movements, while making his muscles work as hard as possible and creating extra tension in his weaker muscle groups.

17. Why Some Powerlifters Squat a Ton and Have Skinny Quads

A powerlifter with skinny quadriceps will tend to spread his stance and sit way back on his squat and bounce out of the hole, thus minimizing contribution from his weaker quadriceps, while a bodybuilder with skinny quadriceps should be squatting with a closer stance at a really smooth pace, perhaps even with a pause, to really emphasize the tension on his skinny quadriceps.

18. Getting The Weight Up vs Getting at The Muscles

Since a bodybuilder is simply using movements to “get at” his muscles, he may need to target and get strong on more exercises then the powerlifter, so that adequate tension can be put on weaker muscle groups. All the powerlifter cares about is getting his bench up regardless of whether the work is done with the pecs, delts, or triceps. A bodybuilder, on the other hand, wants to target and develop the muscles of his chest, delts, and triceps. If he uses a bench press and he has the type of build that places 90% of the work on his triceps and delts, obviously his pecs won’t be receiving adequate tension. Therefore, he’ll probably want to add in movements specifically for his pecs. A flye or crossover for example. The same is true for other bodyparts. Bodybuilders often use additional movements to target various muscle groups and should focus on making bar weight increases on those. Other then that, the principles of getting stronger should be exactly the same.

19. Long Term Effectiveness of Training For Strength vs Training For “Pump”

Two twins with long legs both choose the hack squat as a main exercise to target their lower quads since, due to their inherent structure, they find they have a hard time fully targeting the quads with normal squats. One twin never goes above 3 plates on each side and does high rep sets, strip sets, and supersets hack squats with leg extensions. He works out really hard and throws up at least once a month whilst training legs. The other twin simply takes a no holds barred approach to increasing the bar weight on the hack squat so that after 2 years he is working up to 12 reps with 5 plates per side for 4 sets. Which twin will have better lower quad development? The one hack squatting 5 plates per side or the one squatting 3 plates per side? The answer should be obvious.

20. What Is Intensity?

Contrary to popular belief, “intensity” is defined as the percentage of your maximum lift that you are training with. Most people confuse “intensity” with “intensiveness”, which is the subjective level of effort put forth. The gym does not have to be “feared” in order for a person to have productive workouts.

21. What is hardcore?

The definition of “hardcore” is the guy who makes sure he gets all his meals in every single day, every 3 hours, for months on end. It’s the guy who makes sure he sleeps 7 or 8 hours each and every night. It’s the guy who keeps a log book and writes down all his meals and workouts every day year after year. It’s the guy who continually tries to increase bar weight and who monitors his scale weight and body-fat on a weekly basis. That’s hardcore (yes, and more then just a little obsessive too). Hardcore is not the guy who dicks around for 23 hours of the day and then comes in the gym and walks around like a bad-ass and then gets in the squat rack and yells while doing one set of squats

22. Volume and Recovery

The volume many bodybuilders use to stimulate fatigue and get a good “pump”, often interferes with the ability to progressively put weight on the bar, due to the level of fatigue created. (Thus explaining why the average powerlifter is both stronger then and often makes better long term gains muscle mass wise then a lot of bodybuilders, who do “try” and put weight on the bar consistently, but are often not as successful).

23. Hardcore Training and Recovery

The length of time it takes to fully recover from a damaging and fatiguing bout of hardcore training can be a week or more, as not only must the muscle recover and grow, but the nerves that fire the muscles (neuromuscular junctions) must also recover. The nervous system recovers slower then the muscles recover. The neuro-muscular system is not fully recovered until a muscle has returned to, or surpassed, it’s full strength from a previous workout.

24. How much is required for stimulation?

A muscle does not have to be driven into the ground balls to the wall with high volume in order to be “stimulated”. As little as one or two sets at an increased tension level above what your muscles are accustomed to can and will stimulate growth. That doesn’t mean I recommend HIT training because that’s not necessary either. But just as an illustration, if you don’t believe low volume can stimulate growth under the right circumstances, go jack yourself up on a chin-up bar, start from the top, and with ONE arm only, lower yourself under control for 4-5 reps of single arm negatives. Use a stool to assist you going back up and then lower yourself with as much control as you can. Do just one set of that and come back in 2 days and tell me that high volume is necessary. Even one set of sub-maximal pushups can stimulate microtrauma and thus growth in a sedentary person. In contrast, it might take multiple sets with 400 pounds or more of bar weight in a bench press to stimulate growth in a veteran trainee. Loads should get heavier over time as your muscles ability to handle a given amount of tension improves.

25. Is failure necessary?

A muscle does not have to be trained to failure to be stimulated either. Microtrauma results from any increase in tension beyond what a muscle is fully adapted to. Failure and forced reps don’t do much, if anything extra for strength or size gains, yet they do create a lot of fatigue and prolong recovery time. How many 135 pound bench pressers have you seen doing forced reps with spotters saying, “It’s all you?” How many 400 pound plus bench pressers have you seen doing forced reps period?

26. How long does the growth stimulus last?

The chemical signals that “tell” a muscle to grow after it is damaged start to go away after about 48 hours. Therefore, optimal stimulation frequency for “size” gains precedes the full recovery of “strength”. People who pound a muscle into submission everytime they train and then wait a week before training again spend most of the time farting around waiting for full recovery to take place. They could be training more often so that their “growth signaling” mechanisms remain elevated more frequently.

27. The muscle’s first goal after training is replacing the energy you burned up

After a bout of resistance exercise, a muscle will not grow until it’s energy reserves are replaced. The first thing your muscles want to do after a workout is replace the energy or glycogen you just burned. After that energy is replenished, growth can occur. If you constantly train with humongous volumes and burn up a crapload of energy each and every workout, or if you don’t eat enough to replenish muscular glycogen content, it can be difficult to grow.

28. So Training A Muscle Group Every Other Day is Superior?

Training a muscle group every 48 hours sounds great in theory, yet in the real world doesn’t hold up very well for a lot of people. The frequency is too great for many people to recover well enough from to make continual and rapid strength increases. This is particularly true the stronger a person gets. The ability to generate fatigue increases a lot more then the ability to recover from fatigue does. As you get stronger you develop an extreme ability to intensify or create stress, yet your ability to recover from that stress doesn’t change quite so much. A 600 pound deadlift requires more recovery time then a 200 pound deadlift, even if the 600 pound deadlifter has been training for 10 years while the 200 pound deadlifter has been training for 10 days.

29. Is getting ultra fired up and banging your head against the wall a good thing to do?

Fully motivated efforts can take 5 times as long to recover from than un-motivated efforts, which is a good reason to AVOID stimulants like ephedrine, which create “artificial” motivation and thus can prolong recovery time. Stimulating growth rarely, if ever, requires a person get fired up to the level some people think is necessary.

30. So, what is the optimal training frequency?

If training a muscle group once per week is too infrequent and training a muscle group every other day is too frequent, then what’s the solution? Well, research investigating training frequency has found that, in all but beginners, twice per week training for a muscle group works just as well for size gains and tends to give better strength gains then 3 times per week training for a body-part.

31. The Most Important Thing When It Comes To Setting Up A Routine

First of all, set your training up so that you can make progressive bar weight increases over time. That’s the most important thing you do. A routine should be set up so that the weight on compound movements increases consistently on a weekly basis first and foremost. Set your training up in whatever manner best allows you to do that. Even if you can only tolerate one hardcore set per week or whatever, if, over a 5 year period, you take your squat from 150 pounds to 600 pounds and you eat, you’re gonna have some big thighs, regardless of whether you trained with 1 set per week or 50 sets per week to make those strength gains.

32. Make Strength Gains First – Then Worry About the Rest

Once you’ve demonstrated the ability to make continual bar weight increases in strength, then you can add frequency and volume to enable you to get a more rapid muscle building stimulus and also tap into that extra 10% or so growth that you get from fatigue stimulation.

33. Taking a Look at a Pro Bodybuilder’s Routine

Let’s take a look at a typical pro bodybuilder and see how we might optimize the training process. Let’s say just for illustrative purposes that our bodybuilder is a shredded 300 pounds. That means he probably has about 280 pounds of “tension” related muscle and 20 pounds of “pump” related muscle. We could eliminate 80% of the volume and fatigue and just put him on a powerlifting heavy diet of nothing but singles and doubles at low volume and he’d still carry 280 pounds of muscle. Yes, he probably would shrink a bit. The 20 or so pounds he’d lose would mainly be glycogen storage and “pump”, related to the “fatigue” and “volume” of his bodybuilding training. Now, let’s take a look at one of his typical “bodybuilding” leg workouts.

34. The Bodybuilder’s Workout

He has a 700 pound maximum squat and routinely works quads once per week for a total of 16 hardcore sets. He does 4 sets of squats, 4 sets of leg presses, 4 sets of hack squats, and 4 sets of leg extensions with reps running from 6 all the way up to 20. Most of his sets are in the 8-12 rep bracket. All sets are performed with a hardcore mindset and taken balls to the wall. Now, ask yourself this. How many of those total sets that he does for quads a contributing to his ability to squat 700 pounds? Do the hack squats and leg extensions he does at the end of his workout do much for his strength? Hardly. How about the leg presses? Well, 700 pound squatting powerlifters don’t do leg presses and it doesn’t seem to negatively affect their strength. So all that we’re left with is the squats.

35. What’s Creating His Squatting Strength?

Therefore, it’s safe to deduce that this bodybuilder could reduce his leg workout to 4 sets of heavy squats and still maintain his ability to squat 700 pounds. Now, remember that “tension” related growth at a given volume is responsible for around 90% of muscle mass increases. Also remember that the bar weight on an exercise like the squat is a prime example of “tension”. So what does that tell us? Well, it tells us that he’s using 75% of his training volume to get maybe 10% of his growth. In other words, if the 4 sets of 8 reps squats are all that he needs for his 700 pound squat and ability to develop “tension” (responsible for 90% of his growth), all that the other 12 hardcore sets of leg presses, hacks, and leg extensions are really doing is contributing to fatigue, total work and giving him that extra 10% pump related growth.

36. Is He Getting a Good Bang For his Training Buck?

Now let’s ask another question. Could he get that extra 10% growth more economically then busting his ass for it with 12 hardcore sets of leg presses, hacks, and leg extensions? Sure he could. All he really needs to do is generate some tension in whatever parts of his quads weren’t fully stimulated by the squats and, for the fatigue, he could just get a good “pump” with a fairly decent load. He could actually do both at the same time. What does it take to get a good pump? Well, after his heavy sets, he could simply knock out a couple of sets of 12-20 reps on the leg press or hack squat with a good load. He could also do a quick drop set, a rest pause set, a strip set, or anything similar really. My favorite is to take one exercise after the heavy sets and either knock out a couple of sets of 12-20 reps in standard straight set fashion, or do a modified rest-pause/drop set. Simply knock out a quick 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps with 15-30 second rest intervals. Pick a movement and knock out a set of 10 reps. Rest 20-30 seconds and repeat 3-4 times. If you can’t get at least 5 reps reduce the load. Try that for just one movement and tell me you need more exercises for “fatigue”.

37. His Training Would Be More Efficient

An approach like that would still enable the above bodybuilder to stimulate his legs optimally and also give him the added benefit of being able to train more frequently. He wouldn’t have to wait so long to recover from the training sessions he’s doing since he’s no longer thrashing the muscle into oblivion each and every workout. So now instead of training quads once per week he could probably train quads twice per week and make more rapid gains. That’s the basic tenet.

38. A Sample Split

One approach that works well for a lot of people is a variation of the heavy/light format. With this approach you train a muscle twice per week. On the first day you really focus on upping the poundages with a take no prisoners attitude when it comes to putting more weight on the bar each week. You’d simply take a body-part and knock out several heavy sets of a basic movement for that bodypart, with the basic idea being to generate progressive tension increases in that exercise on a weekly basis. Then you might do a couple of “pump”sets to get some fatigue in. You would then hit the muscle group later on in the week but with less intensity and intensiveness. On this lighter workout, the idea is to stimulate the muscle to keep growth signaling elevated, but not to totally annihilate the muscle. You could even hit it indirectly (eg. Shoulder press one workout, Incline Barbell press the next) A sample routine is as follows:

Mon: Lower (Quadriceps focused)
Squat: 4-5 x 6-8 with full rests
SLDL: 3 x 6-8 with full rests
Leg press: 2 x 15-20 with full rests
Leg curl: 3 x 5-8 with short rests
Calf raise: 4 x 5 (5 seconds down, 5 seconds pause at bottom)

Tue: Upper (Chest and back focused)
Flat bench: 4-5 x 6-8 with full rests
Row: 4-5 x 6-8 with full rests
Pec Deck- 2 x 12-15 Lateral DB raise- 2 x 10-12 with full rests
Pulldown/chin: 3 x 5-8 with short rests Triceps (your choice – preferably something compound like lying decline ez bar extensions): 2 x 8-10 with full rests
Biceps (your choice): 2 x 8-10 with full rests

Thurs: Lower (glute/ham focused)
Deadlift- 4-5 x 6
Front Squat- 3 x 8
leg curl – 3-5 x 6-12 with short rests
leg ext- 2 x 15
Calf raise – 3 x 10-10-10 (triple drop)

Friday or Saturday: Upper (Shoulder and arm focused)
Incline Dumbell press 3-4 x 6-8
wide grip chin 3-4 x 6-8
Lateral- 3-5 x 8-12 with short rests
One arm DB Row- 2 x 12-15
Triceps (your choice): 2 x 10-12 with full rests 3 x 8-12 with short rests
Biceps (your choice): 2 x 10-12 with full rests 3 x 8-12 with short rests

You can see we basically hit a muscle group directly hard and heavy once per week with one exercise and then hit it a little lighter that same week, often indirectly, with a different exercise.

39. Borrowing Something From Powerlifters – Increasing the Weights While Decreasing the Reps

To fully maximize strength gains, ideally on your tension driven compound movements (typically the first exercise in a workout for a given bodypart), the reps should decrease over the course of a mesocycle. An example of how you might jack with the reps on compound movements is this:

Week 1 and 2 – Sets of 8-10 (ex: 3 x 8-10)
Week 3 and 4 – Sets of 6-8 (ex: 4 x 6-8)
Week 5 and 6 – Sets of 4-6 (ex: 5 x 5)
Week 7 and 8 – Reduce training to just twice a week and take it easy, recuperate, reduce training frequency and volume.
Week 9 – Start over with week 1.

When strength increases enough to perform 2 to 3 reps above the predetermined absolute RM in the last set, the load should be increased to match absolute RM strength.

The above is just an example. In reality you might continue on and go another couple of weeks of 3 reps on your compound movements. Or you could simply drop the reps each week instead of every 2 weeks. Or you could stick with a given rep range for a month or more. As long as you’re making continual strength improvements it doesn’t matter really. The idea is the bar weight is gonna be consistently increasing over time on your “tension” generated movements. On your fatigue movements, bar weight increases are not quite as important yet should still be sought after.

40. Keeping the Reps Constant

Remember the importance of work. Ideally you’d keep the total number of reps about the same as you increase the load.

41. Don’t Forget to Eat!

In the above example, weeks 1-6 would also be prime eating weeks where you really take a no holds barred approach to pounding down the protein and pushing that scale weight up. Weeks 7 and 8 you’d slack up a bit on the eating….maybe cut back to just a couple of workouts per week as you reload yourself and get yourself mentally prepared to carry a take a focused attitude into your next mesocycle.

42. Undertraining vs. Overtraining

It’s always better to under-train then it is to over-train. Progress will be slower by under-training, yet progress is progress. If you over-train you will make zero progress. The amount of stress you tolerate is very individual. Some people can only tolerate 2 lifting sessions per week while others can tolerate 6 or 7. You need to find the right amount for you.

43. Examples of Other Splits
With that in mind, if the above routine is too much to recover from, you could always use a 3 day split something like this:

Monday (Chest and back focused – light shoulders and arms)
Dumbell Bench – 4-5 x 8-10
Row- 4-5 x 8-10
Pulldown – 3-5 x 5-8 with 20 second rests
Flyes – 3-5 x 5-8 with 20 second rests
Side cable lateral – 2 x 10-12
Bicep – 2 x 10-12
Tricep- 2 x 10-12

Wednesday (Legs)
Squat – 4-5 x 5-8
Leg Curl 4-5 x 5-8
Split squat 2-3 x 12-15
½ rack pull + shrug 2 x 12-15
Calf – whatever

Friday (Shoulder and Arm focused – light chest and back)
Incline press- 3-4 x 8-10
Chin- 3-4 x 8-10
Incline side lateral – 3-5 x 8-12 with 20 second rests
Row – 2-3 x 12-15
Bicep – 4-5 x 6-8
Tricep – 4-5 x 6-8

44. Extreme Hardgainer’s Split

If you’re one of those people who has EXTREMELY poor recovery ability, you could split your body in half and train as infrequently as twice per week. Pick one compound movement for each muscle group and follow the same basic set and rep recommendations from above.

Workout #1
Lats (pulldown or row)
Biceps (curl)
Calves (calf raise)
Quadriceps (squat)
Hamstrings (leg curl or RDL)

Workout #2
Erectors (deadlift or rack pull)
Traps (deadlift or rack pull)
Chest (pressing movement)
Shoulders (pressing movement)
Triceps (extension or pushdown)

The above split also works very well for people with normal recovery ability. Simply train 3 times per week on an every other day basis with the weekends off and alternate between the 2 workouts.

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