Category Archives: Compound Exercises
I have a confession to make: I love lifting weights, but I don’t enjoy training the beach muscles.
It’s not that I hate bodybuilding or training arms – I love all training – but if given the choice, I’d pick legs ten times out of ten.
My hierarchy would probably look something like this:
- More Legs
- Wander aimlessly around the gym
- More Back
- Read a magazine
- Clip my toenails
Most typical upper body exercises bore me to tears. I just can’t get hyped up for bench presses, pushdowns, and curls like I can for squats, lunges, and pull-ups.
Call me crazy.
One thing that helps make upper body days more fun, and consequently keeps me pushing hard, is experimenting with different exercise variations. Here are some upper body exercises that even I like.
1. Rotational One-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
When I first saw the one-arm dumbbell bench press, I didn’t give it the respect it deserves. It didn’t look particularly hard, so I unassumingly grabbed the same weight I’d use for a regular dumbbell bench press.
Bad move. Anyone that’s tried the exercise before knows where this is going.
On the first rep, I literally tipped to the side and fell off the bench, dropping the dumbbell like a total jackass and causing a scene. I knew immediately I was going to like this one.
While it’s essentially an upper-body pushing exercise to work the chest, shoulders, and triceps, you’ll learn fast that it’s really a full body exercise. To be successful, you must create massive tension throughout your legs, core, and even the opposite arm.
You’ll want to start out light to avoid my embarrassing fate, but interestingly, after a few tries to get the hang of it, you’ll find you’re able to use more weight unilaterally than you could bilaterally.
I like to start with a neutral grip at the bottom and pronate my wrist as I press. This feels great on the shoulders, and the rotation allows for a better contraction in my chest.
2. Ring Flies
These are brutal, but if you can pull them off, they’ll fry your chest like no other. I first tried them after seeing a picture of Larry Scott doing them on some badass old-school chain rings.
This is an extremely advanced exercise, so don’t just jump right into trying it if you don’t have any experience on the rings. Doing so will inevitably lead to either a shoulder injury or a face plant, neither of which you want.
Make sure you can first knock out at least 25 ring push-ups to get acquainted with the inherent instability. From there, progress to flies with your arms bent at approximately a 90-degree angle. You may even want to do these on your knees at first.
Once you’re comfortable with those, it’s time to progress to full flies. Be sure to maintain a slight bend in your elbows to protect your shoulders and keep the tension on your chest.
If you get comfortable with full flies (and by comfortable I mean proficient – I can assure your pecs won’t be comfortable), give ring “fly-aways” a shot. I got the idea for these from a recent Livespill from TC where he talked about a similar concept using dumbbells.
You’re basically going to do a drop set going in the reverse order of the progression I laid out to work up to full flies: five full flies, five bent-arm flies, and five pushups, all in succession with no rest. Superset that with five minutes of lying on the floor, hating life.
3. Ring Push-up/Fly Combo
Like the name suggests, one arm does a push-up while the other arm does a fly. You’ll want to place more weight on the arm doing the push-up and de-load the arm doing the fly as much as possible. It may help to think of it as a modified one-arm pushup where you reach the other arm straight out to the side. Alternate between arms each rep.
Confused? I don’t blame you. Check out the video below.
The unilateral nature of the exercise may lead you to believe it’s significantly more difficult than bilateral ring flies, but from a pressing standpoint, it’s actually slightly easier since the arm doing the push-up is supporting the majority of the load where the lever arm is shorter. The “fly” arm simply provides some assistance to counter the rotational demands of the one-arm push up, and gets a decent stretch and bit of activation in the process.
From a core standpoint, however, it’s much harder. The unilateral nature of the exercise introduces a big anti-rotational stability component since you have to brace extremely hard to avoid twisting toward the arm doing the fly.
4. Supinated Ring Chins
Some bodybuilding coaches spout that chin-ups are the best biceps exercise going and no direct biceps work is required. Others say to build mammoth bone-crushing pythons, you need to devote an entire day (or two or three) per week to arms and do every type of curl imaginable.
I’m somewhere in the middle.
I love chin-ups as much as anybody, while curls are the absolute bane of my training existence.
I dropped curls all-together about two years ago, and have just been doing a heavy diet of chin-ups and rows. In that time, my arms have stayed about the same size while the rest of my body has grown, leading me to believe that chin-ups obviously work the biceps to a large degree and are sufficient if your goals are more performance-based, but probably aren’t enough if you hope to start selling tickets to the gun show.
Here’s the thing: it depends largely on how you do the chin-ups.
For instance, I usually use a shoulder-width grip (often wider) and think of my arms as being hooks while my back does all the work. I also come to full extension at the bottom of every rep and do them explosively while maintaining control of my body (i.e. no swinging).
Interestingly, the better I’ve become at chin-ups, the less I feel them in my biceps. Fact is, when I do feel my biceps working a lot, I take it as a sign I’m not retracting my scapulae as I should be.
However, you can easily tweak them to hone in on the biceps. The best way I’ve found is with close-grip supinated ring chin-ups.
Place the rings as close together as possible and take a supinated grip. Perform the reps slower than normal on both the concentric and eccentric and stop just short of full extension at the bottom to keep constant tension on the biceps. It’s important to be strict with these.
If you don’t have rings, you can do them with just a bar, although the rings definitely add something to it from a biceps standpoint. You’ll find that towards the bottom of the rep, the rings will start to twist and your biceps will be forced to kick into overdrive to keep that supinated wrist position.
These are a lot tougher than they look, so if it’s too much at first, you can also try a similar concept using inverted rows instead.
Doing reps like this will invariably shortchange your back to some degree, so do them after your regular chin-up or inverted row workout to finish off your arms.
5. Super Slow Chin-ups
The explanation for these is simple, but they’re far from easy. Do a close-grip chin-up as slowly as you can. That’s it.
Shoot for 20-30 seconds on the concentric and 30-40 seconds on the eccentric to start. If you can do that, add some weight. If that’s too much, then just go as slowly as you can.
I also like to do a static hold at the top.
Use a supinated grip for more biceps emphasis or a neutral grip to target the brachialis. Either way, it’ll also blast your forearms and help build tremendous grip strength.
Save this for the tail end of your workout and just do one painstaking rep. Trust me, if you’re doing it right, that’s all you’ll be able to muster.
6. Bodyweight Triceps Extensions
This is an awesome triceps exercise that, when done correctly, also smokes the core.
TC wrote about doing these in a Smith machine in a Livespill and while I like that exercise too, I prefer doing them using suspension straps for two reasons.
First, you can get a bigger range of motion. When you use a fixed bar, you’re forced to do the exercise like a traditional skullcrusher where you bring your forehead to the bar. With straps, you can extend your arms forward slightly as you drop down so that at the bottom, your hands are actually behind your head. This enhances the stretch on the long head of the triceps and takes stress off the elbows.
Second, the straps allow you to rotate your hands freely as you move through the rep, making it more shoulder-friendly and increasing the contraction in your triceps.
To get the full benefit for your core, it’s imperative that you keep a straight line from your feet to your head. There will be a tendency to want to pike at the hips, so you’ll need to squeeze your glutes and brace your abs to prevent that from happening. It should feel similar to the sensation you get from an ab wheel rollout. If it doesn’t, you’re probably not doing it right.
This is a lot tougher than it looks, so start with the straps fairly high at first (approximately chest level) and work your way down.
7. Reverse Grip Dumbbell Floor Press
Perform this exercise just as you would a regular dumbbell floor press, only supinate your hands as you press. At the bottom your palms will face each other, while at the top they’ll point back behind you.
Where you feel this exercise will depend on your set up. If you use a wider grip, you’ll feel it more in your chest, whereas a closer-grip will put more emphasis on the triceps. I prefer a close grip because I find a wide grip puts undue stress on my shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
You can also try holding a supinated position throughout the rep, but I prefer to rotate to allow for a neutral, shoulder-friendly position closer to the chest.
Think about pressing the dumbbell down towards your feet rather than up over your face like you might in a typical barbell bench press. You obviously won’t be able to, but having that cue in your mind makes the exercise go more smoothly.
Start with about 50% of the weight you can use for a regular dumbbell press and go from there.
8. The “Anti” Press
In response to Dr. Stuart McGill’s research regarding spinal health, much of the new-age core training focuses on “anti” movement stability training: anti-rotation, anti-extension, and anti-lateral flexion. I called this exercise the “anti press” because it addresses all those categories simultaneously.
Grab the handle of a suspension strap and face sideways. Lean out so that your body is at about a 60% angle to the floor. Now brace your core to keep from twisting and press straight out until your arms are fully extended. This part of the motion is similar to a Pallof press you might do with bands or cables and works anti-rotation.
From there, bring your arms straight overhead and pause for a brief second. At this point, you’re focusing on anti-extension and anti-lateral flexion. Rinse and repeat for the desired reps.
Along with building tremendous core stability, this also assists with shoulder strength and mobility. I’m always looking for ways to kill as many birds as I can with one stone and this exercise fits the bill nicely.
It’s easy to progress or regress simply by adjusting your foot position and/or the length of the strap. The further out your feet are from the anchor point and the shorter the strap is, the easier it will be. Move your feet more underneath the anchor point and increase the length of the strap as you get better.
This is a very advanced exercise, so you may want to start with just the overhead portion and see how that goes first.
If you’re one of those people that when asked how you’re doing always responds with “same shit, different day,” some of these exercises may be just what you need to spice up your gym life and get growing again. Don’t go throwing all the basics out the window, but use these as supplements to reignite your training vigor or to help break through a rut or plateau.
Have fun, and be sure to save me a seat at the gun show.
Actually, don’t bother. I’m pretty sure I’ll be training legs that day.
I’ve worked with lots of athletes over the years with the issues I just described, and I’ve found alternative exercises that helped them get bigger and stronger. I’m able to do this with a concept I call joint-friendly lifting.
Joint-friendly lifts are simply creative variations that aren’t as hard on the joints as their traditional counterparts. They allow serious lifters and athletes to work around their limitations without compromising the results they get from their training.
Before I get into the specific exercises, I want to wave the obligatory caution flag: Before switching out the tried-and-true lifts for the ones I show here, make sure the aches and pains you have aren’t caused by suboptimal exercise technique, poor program design, or too much training with too little recovery.
I also want to mention an article I wrote a few months ago called “Making Gains with Pain.” Today’s article shows you how to work around your pain and limitations. The earlier piece shows you how to alleviate that pain. I know I’m biased, but I recommend it as a complement to the one you’re about to read.
The kettlebell folks have popularized the pistol squat (shown below). But I rarely use pistols with my athletes, especially those with back pain related to disc problems, since they force a lot of unnecessary spinal flexion. Also, pistols don’t allow the glutes to activate as much as the variation shown above due to the position of the torso. Glute activation is important, since it helps reduce the load on the spine and increases stabilization of the knee joint.
The best way to add load to a one-legged squat is to put on a weight vest. This will increase the intensity of the exercise without adding stress to your bad back.
I absolutely love sled training. I use it with just about everyone who walks through our doors. It’s especially valuable for those who have knee problems and those who have back trouble. I’ve found these athletes can move heavy loads on the sled with no added stress on their painful areas.
My favorite sled exercises:
Sled dragging with the hand position shown in the photo below is much safer than using a waist or shoulder harness for people who have back issues. Be sure to maintain good spinal alignment, and don’t allow your arms to move away from your sides.
This is a great way to blast your quads if you have knee problems and can’t do squats, lunges, or leg extensions. It’s also a valuable exercise for knee rehab, thanks to the terminal knee-extension action it requires.
No sled? No problem — just get a big tire from a junkyard.
I’m not saying tire flips are a bad exercise. But I am predicting that many of the people who do them will end up paying for some back surgeon’s new Porsche. There are no bad exercises, just bad applications.
This is another of our go-to exercises for building strength and increasing work capacity without putting excess stress on the knees and backs of our athletes.
You want to keep your back straight, with your hips more or less level to your shoulders. Athletes with bad backs need to be especially cognizant of their back position, maintaining a neutral spine and avoiding spinal flexion as they step forward.
For building strength, stack up a sled and push it for 20 to 40 yards. To improve conditioning, use a plate push (as shown above) for 50 to 100 yards.
As with sled dragging, this is another exercise we use with almost everyone we train. But it’s especially valuable for athletes and clients who need posterior-chain work but can’t do the traditional hip-extension exercises.
Hold as much weight as you can without discomfort on top of your shin, as shown below.
The movement is straightforward. With the heel of your working leg on a bench or step, contract your glutes and hamstrings to elevate your hips off the floor, until your body forms a straight line from the knee of your working leg to your shoulders. Do all your reps with that leg, then switch.
By limiting the range of motion, the floor press also limits stress on the injured shoulder. Many of our athletes who experience pain during and after bench presses find they can floor press big weights without discomfort.
The reason it works for people who can’t perform overhead lifts is simple: It’s not overhead. It allows heavy loads and, as a bonus, requires the core muscles to control and resist rotation throughout the range of motion.
This is, as you probably guessed, the pulling version of the angled shoulder press. And like that exercise, it forces your core muscles to work as you struggle to stay upright as the weight pulls you forward. Execution is simple enough: stand in front of the lat-pulldown station and pull the bar to your upper chest.
You’ve heard this one hundreds of times: “Train smarter, not harder.” In my opinion, the saying should be updated to this: “Train smarter and harder.”
If you currently suffer from back, knee, and/or shoulder pain, you have no choice but to train smarter than the average lifter in your gym. But you also need to train harder to recover from your injury, and to prevent a recurrence. With joint-friendly lifts, it’s possible to do both.
But even if you have no injuries, joint-friendly lifts are a pretty good way to help you maintain that winning streak. Not only are they easier on your most vulnerable joints, they provide new, interesting, and challenging ways to build muscle and improve your strength, athleticism, and work capacity.
Assuming, of course, you’re interesting in that sort of thing…
by Chris Shugart
My lungs screamed, my muscles burned, and I was, quite literally, seeing black spots dance before my eyes like some lame Windows screensaver from 1998.
I glanced at the clock.
No. Fucking. Way. Ninety seconds had passed by already?
It was time for another set.
I grabbed the bar for set number four, dug deep mentally, and pushed through another round. About a minute later my “off-day” cardio was done. It had only taken around nine minutes total, yet I was wiped out. I actually looked forward to some foam rolling because it meant I got to lie down on the floor.
I glanced over at the cardio area. I saw three beer-bellied men pounding away on the treadmills. I could practically hear their knees and ankles barking with the abuse.
Two women were behind them on the ellipticals. They were talking and laughing and had probably burned more body fat getting out of their minivans than they had while lollygagging on the hamster machines.
Finally I looked over at the stairmill. That’s a torture device of a cardio machine, no doubt, and the guy on it was sweating through his shirt. He’d been up there a while, so he was clearly “good” at the stairmill… all 150 emaciated pounds of him. No thanks.
Now, let’s compare that to my recent “cardio” workouts, if you could technically even call them that. Depending on the load, in about ten minutes I could…
• Move 12,000 pounds. (An O-bar with 55 pounds: 100 pounds; 5 movements for 6 reps each, repeated for 4 cycles = 12,000 pounds)
• Increase my training volume
• Boost strength endurance
• Increase caloric expenditure and melt body fat
• Take advantage of the EPOC effect (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption)
• Increase work capacity and overall conditioning.
I could also…
• Not risk losing any muscle
• Not be bored out of my skull like the giggling guinea pigs over in the cardio area.
So what the hell was I doing? Something that’s been around a long time and that’s gone by a lot of names in the past. Today we simply call them complexes.
Complexes: Not So Complex
Quick review: A complex is where you pick up a barbell, perform several reps of an exercise with it, then move right into another exercise, then another, and another, and maybe one or two more. Then you see black spots, get all ripped ‘n shit, and bang swimsuit models.
Okay, okay, Coach Dan John has a much better definition: “A complex is a series of lifts performed back to back where you finish the reps of one lift before moving on to the next lift. The bar only leaves your hands or touches the floor after all of the lifts are completed.”
Alwyn Cosgrove is even more concise: “A complex is a circuit using one piece of equipment, one load, and one space.”
So maybe you perform front squats for 8 reps, then push presses for 8 reps, then bent-over rows for 8, and finally back squats for 8 — all without putting the damn bar down.
It’s brutal. Better still, it’s brutally effective for fat loss and improving all the physical qualities I listed in my snazzy intro.
But the best thing? You can’t do it while talking on the fucking cell phone or otherwise “going through the motions.” It requires focus, discipline, hard work, and quite possibly a touch of insanity.
Make no mistake, if anyone says this is easy you can bet they’ve never actually tried it.
So When Do You Use Complexes?
• As a replacement for boring-ass cardio during fat loss phases
• As a conditioning tool for sports
• As an off-day “bonus” workout if you just feel like going to the gym when you’re not scheduled to (OCD, anyone?)
• As part of an unloading/deloading week.
Here’s my personal favorite split using complexes:
Monday: Upper body weight training
Tuesday: Lower body weight training and abs
Wednesday: Complex day, plus foam rolling, extra NEPA, etc.
Thursday: Upper body weight training
Friday: Lower body weight training and abs
Saturday: Complex day
Complex training sounds almost like one of those infomercials that run at 3AM: “In only 10 minutes twice per week you can build that toned body you’ve always wanted! But wait, there’s more!”
But of course it takes more than twenty minutes a week to get “toned,” and complexes don’t fold up and store neatly under your bed, or sell for only three easy payments of $19.95. But when added to your favorite bodybuilding program they can really take you to the next level of physique development.
So let’s learn a few, shall we?
4 Killer Komplexes
Ready to add complexes to your program? Here are four good ones to get you started. And by “good” I mean you’re going to cry for mama. I’ve also tossed in some words of wisdom from our coaches who’ve used complexes successfully with their clients and physique athletes.
Cosgrove’s Evil 8
“Complexes elevate metabolism beyond anything you’ve ever experienced before,” says Alwyn Cosgrove.
Sounds good to us, but how much weight do you use? “Just remember,” says Cosgrove, “it’s a metabolic stimulus, not a strength or hypertrophy stimulus, so be conservative. MMA pro David Loiseau uses only 85-95 pounds when doing the complexes I prescribe for him.”
That said, don’t go too light, either. A good “Cosgrove rule of thumb” is that if you’re not questioning why in the hell you’re doing these exercises, or convincing yourself that two circuits is enough, you’re not going heavy enough.
The basic rule is to use the heaviest weight you can on the weakest movement in the complex. For example, if the complex contains an overhead press and a back squat, you’d use the weight you can handle on the overhead press, not the squat. Otherwise you’d get crushed, and girls would laugh.
But honestly, loading doesn’t matter much. If you’re de-conditioned or you fall into that dreaded category of “big ‘n strong but outta shape,” then you’ll be tortured with a naked Olympic bar… and maybe even a broomstick. You’ll figure out loading anyway during your first complex workout, so don’t think about it so damn much and just go do it.
Crazy idea, I know.
Here’s one of the most effective Cosgrovian complexes:
On round one, perform 6 reps of each exercise, moving from one exercise to the next, never letting go of the bar, never resting. Remember, you’ll finish all six reps of each exercise before moving to the next one.
Rest 90 seconds after the first circuit, then perform 5 reps of each in the next circuit; rest 90 seconds, 4 reps of each; rest 90 seconds, 3 reps of each; rest 90 seconds, 2 reps of each; rest 90 seconds, and then do 1 rep of each.
Cosgrove says that the entire workout should take about 12 minutes, not counting the time you spend sobbing like a little girl in a purdy pink dress.
Tumminello’s Weight Plate Metabolic Circuit
I learned this one from Coach Nick Tumminello. I like it because it uses a single Olympic weight plate. Buy a rusty one at a garage sale, throw it into your back yard, and you can have a killer workout anytime you want.
Tumminello uses this complex when he trains Baltimore Ravens TE, Quinn Sypniewski. Think you can hang with big Quinn? Then perform the complex below five times through with only 90 seconds between each round.
Overhead Squat x 6-8
Swings (like kettlebell swings) x 6-8
Bentover Row x 8-10
Reverse Lunge and Twist x 8-10 total
Diagonal Chops x 6-8 each side
Note: If you missed it, check out our full review of Coach Tumminello’s DVD on complexes HERE.
Waterbury’s Submission Complex
Last time I went to California to visit Chad Waterbury I watched him submit an MMA champion in record time. No, it wasn’t an armbar; it was a complex that make this well-conditioned athlete tap out.
Waterbury loves complexes. He notes: “If you’re ever short on time, use complexes. If you ever want to burn a little extra fat by boosting your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), use complexes. Or if you want to enhance your anaerobic endurance, use complexes. They can also be used as general physical preparedness (GPP) boosters after your workouts or for additional training sessions each week. I’m a big advocate of complexes, and you should be too!”
Here’s one of Chad’s favorites. I like this one because, unlike most complexes, it uses dumbbells instead of a barbell, adding some cool variety.
Reverse Lunges, 6 reps on each leg
Romanian Deadlift, 12 reps
Good Morning, 12 reps
Front Squat, 6 reps
Military Press, 6 reps
Bentover Row, 6 reps
Floor Press, 12 reps
Rest 60 seconds and repeat 2-4 more times depending on your testicular fortitude.
Ferruggia’s Timed Complex
“For those of you who’ve never done complexes, get ready for a whole new in-the-gym experience!” says Jason Ferruggia.
The goal of this complex is speed. Start a timer and perform it once through, 6 reps for every movement. The next time you perform it, try to beat that time.
Start with a 45-pound bar for this one. After a few workouts and improved times, add load.
Once you master the empty Olympic bar, how much weight should you add? Ferruggia says, “Ninety-five fucking pounds will be absolute fucking hell for even the strongest and most-well conditioned fucking warriors!”
Note: “Fucking” added because that’s the way Jason actually talks. No fucking kidding.
Final Tips & Wrap-Up
Here’s a good tip from Dan John: Print out the complexes in large type, then stick it to the wall in front of you or place it on the floor. That way you won’t forget a movement in a longer complex series.
And by “forget” I mean skip it because you’re being a weenie and/or your heart is about to burst from your chest, skip across the floor, and scare the shit out of the gay guys in the Zumba class.
Now, can you make up your own complexes? You bet. Just try to pick exercises that flow smoothly into one another. But truthfully, just about any combo works. As Waterbury notes, you’re only limited by your imagination.
Try two of these complexes this week. Just add them to your “off” days or cardio-only days. The hamsters on the treadmills will elevate their metabolisms just watching you do them!
Models: Tim Smith, Andrew Barker
Location: Gold’s Gym, Abilene, TX
Don’t Be A Hamster
Baltimore Ravens tight end Quinn Sypniewski performing a Nick Tumminello complex.
© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Let’s cut the bullshit and get to the brass tacks. For decades, men built slabs of muscle with simple, three day-per-week training programs. They trained their whole bodies in one brief workout session and they grew big and strong. Scoff all you want, but tens of thousands of trainees can’t be wrong.
Well, it’s high time we look into the past, learn from what we see, and build a new future.
We must learn from the successes and just as importantly, the failures. Yes, although this classic hypertrophy plan worked well, it wasn’t perfect. And today we know what we can do to fix the drawbacks.
Let’s break it down right now. The majority of non-steroid injecting trainees who’ve built respectable physiques have done so with the following, undisputable parameters:
1) They train every major muscle group three times each week.
2) They keep intensity levels sufficient without overindulgence.
3) They choose a training volume that can be maintained along with the stressors of life.
4) They execute compound, multi-joint exercises that have been shown to produce the most hypertrophy.
5) They keep each training session as brief as possible.
6) They allow at least 48 hours of recovery between workouts.
I’ve worked with trainees at every imaginable level of the fitness spectrum, and the aforementioned elements are ubiquitous in their most successful hypertrophy programs. So I often wonder why they ever strayed. Why stop doing what’s working?
Usually their reasoning is based along the following statement that I recently heard from a veteran of the iron game: “Hell,” he said, “I don’t know why I ever stopped doing it. I just assumed there was a better way.” Well buddy, I’m here to tell ya, there ain’t no better way!
I’ve written numerous training programs for T-Nation, and they all work. But, oftentimes, trainees don’t seek what I seek. They want to look good nekkid, period. Not only that, but they don’t give a rat’s ass what strength qualities they’re training. All they care about is the most efficient and effective route to the physique they’ve only seen in pictures.
It’s time for a change. I want each and every one of you to see that physique in the mirror, not just in magazines. But as I said, we must also learn from the failures of past programs. Burnout and training injuries were often a “given” in old-school, total-body programs. The reason for this indiscretion is simple: poor planning.
Therefore, this article is based on the successes of the past along with my own successes as a trainer. I’ve learned to properly plan my clients’ programs so results are steadfast and continuous.
Every single time I hit the gym, I perform a total-body workout with most of the following guidelines. I doubt that will ever change. In fact, that’s how I added almost 100 pounds of muscle to my frame. I don’t know why I ever wandered, so I’m here to keep you from running astray.
The single biggest mistake trainees have made in their quest for the ultimate physique is in periodization parameters. Simply speaking, they keep executing the same damn parameters in hopes of the body not “catching on” to what they’re doing. Big mistake, my friends. Our bodies are designed for one sole purpose: adaptation. If you forget that, then you can forget about ever creating the physique of a Greek God.
Bill Starr came damn close to pulling off one of the best training programs with his classic text, The Strongest Shall Survive. His initial parameters were excellent. Unfortunately, his program wasn’t willing to adapt, so progress on his “Big Three” program came to a screeching halt for most trainees. You can’t endlessly perform the same exercises with the same parameters and keep experiencing results!
A New Generation is Born
Now the dichotomy arises. We must incorporate the variables that withstood the test of time along with a new plan for continued progress. It’s time to take the past, present and future and blend it into a new hybrid plan!
Exercises per Session: 6
Sets per Muscle Group: 2-4
Reps per Exercise: 5-18
Rest between sets for the same muscle group: 60-120 seconds, and 120-240 seconds (antagonist training)
The first thing you probably notice with the above parameters is variance. This is the key to your consistent hypertrophy success. A lack of variance is the single biggest reason why trainees aren’t still talking about the continuous progress they received from some of the most popular hypertrophy programs. Without consistent change, results will be anything but consistent.
Every session is going to consist of six exercises. Why? Because my empirical evidence has shown that natural trainees can consistently maintain six exercises per session without burning out.
It’s imperative to base your exercise selection around compound, multi-joint exercises. Four out of the six exercises for each session must be compound exercises. Six sissy-assed, single-joint isolation exercises ain’t gonna do the trick. But, you can perform a few of my recommended single-joint exercises for two of the six exercises. Here’s the list you must choose from:
Chest: Incline, flat, decline barbell or dumbbell bench presses. Wide-grip dips.
Back: Upright or horizontal rows. Pull-ups or pulldowns with pronated, semi-supinated, and supinated grips.
Deltoids: Standing or seated military presses with a barbell or dumbbells utilizing pronated, semi-supinated or supinated hand positions.
Quads: High-bar full barbell squats, hack squats or front squats.
Lower Back/Hips: Traditional and/or sumo-style deadlifts or Good Mornings. Power cleans or snatches.
Biceps: Barbell curls, hammer curls or preacher curls.
Triceps: Lying barbell or dumbbell triceps extensions, and pronated or supinated grip pressdowns.
Deltoids: Front, side or rear dumbbell raises.
Hamstrings: Glute-ham raises or leg curls.
Calves: Standing, seated or donkey calf raises.
Stick to the above list of exercises for optimal results.
The Total-Body Plan
First and foremost, proper periodization planning is imperative. Without sufficient set/rep/load/rest parameters, even the best exercises won’t produce results. Therefore, I’ve devised the following periodization plan for unsurpassable hypertrophy increases:
Rest: 60 seconds between sets
Load: Choose a weight that forces you to near-failure for the last rep of the last set.*
*This is the recommended load for all workouts.
Rest: 90 seconds between sets
Rest: 120 seconds between sets
Perform with the same parameters as Week 1, but execute antagonist training for all six exercises (more on this later).
Rest: 60 seconds between sets
Rest: 90 seconds between sets
Rest: 120 seconds between sets
Perform the same parameters as Week 3, but execute antagonist training for all six exercises.
Rest: 120 seconds between sets
Rest: 60 seconds between sets
Rest: 90 seconds between sets
Perform the same parameters as Week 5, but execute antagonist training for all six exercises.
Rest: 120 seconds between sets
Rest: 60 seconds between sets
Rest: 90 seconds between sets
Perform the same parameters as Week 7, but execute antagonist training for all six exercises.
1) Weeks 1,3,5 and 7 are to be performed with straight sets. In other words, perform one set of the first exercise, rest, perform your second set, and continue for all the recommended sets before moving on to the next exercise.
2) Weeks 2,4,6 and 8 are to be performed as antagonist training. Every session consists of six exercises so antagonist training is simple; all you have to do is perform three antagonist exercise groupings during each workout. For instance, perform quads/hams, chest/back, and biceps/triceps exercise pairings for the recommended sets and reps.
Example: Do one set for chest, then one for back, then another for chest, etc. Then move on to the next pairing, like quads/hams or biceps/triceps.
3) Choose four exercises under the list of compound exercises. Choose two exercises under the single-joint exercise list. Don’t leave out any major muscle groups.
4) Constantly rotate exercises from each category. In other words, don’t always start your session with a chest/back pairing. You must keep rotating the body parts and exercises you begin each session with.
5) Don’t perform the same exercise for more than two weeks in a row. For example, if you performed a flat barbell bench press as your chest exercise for Weeks 1 and 2, you must switch to either incline, decline or dumbbell bench presses for another two weeks before switching again.
6) Increase the load 1.25 to 2.5% with each subsequent workout.
7) Perform all three workouts within a seven-day timeframe with 48-72 hours rest between workouts.
8) Be creative! I’m giving you endless options. Just be sure to pick four compound exercises and two single-joint exercises with each session. You can rotate exercises as much as you desire. All you have to do is follow the prescribed parameters.
The future of training is here. Take charge and use these guidelines for lifelong hypertrophy gains!
About the Author
Chad Waterbury is a strength and conditioning coach with Bachelor of Science degrees in Human Biology and Physical Science. Currently, he’s studying graduate work in Physiology at the University of Arizona. He operates his company, Chad Waterbury Strength & Conditioning, in Tucson, AZ, where his clientele consists of members of military Special Forces units, athletes, professionals and non-athletes seeking exceptional physical performance and development. Rumor has it the big guy is even writing a book. You can contact him through his website, ChadWaterbury.com.
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