Stuck in a rut? Need something different from the run-of-the-mill training program you’ve been doing for the past several months? Sometimes in order to keep the muscle gains coming—or to bust out of the rut you’re stuck in—you have to get a little crazy. Enter mass insanity.
On the following pages, I’m going to outline several training programs that I guarantee you haven’t been doing lately. In fact, it could be that you’ve never attempted—or even thought of attempting—them.
I’m including four different plans. Variety is a crucial component of making continual gains, so you don’t want to perform any of these gems for more than three workouts in a row.
The Number of the Beast: 666
Here’s one that I got from Shawn Phillips, who wrote about it years ago in the now defunct MM2K. The premise is simple: Perform six sets of six reps of a particular exercise. To make things really tough, you take six seconds to perform the negative, or lowering, portion of the exercise, and six seconds to execute the positive, or lifting, portion.
Below is an example of an arms workout that incorporates this brand of hellish training:
Barbell curls: Begin with three progressively heavier warmup sets of six reps. For your work sets pick a weight that would normally get you to failure at about the 12th rep. Use that weight for all six sets of six reps—and don’t forget the six-up/six-down cadence.
Lying triceps extensions: Use either a barbell or a pair of dumbbells on this exercise. Once again, perform three progressively heavier warm-up sets before you do your 6×6 work sets.
When you first attempt this workout, you might be more than just a little sore afterward. That’s okay—you’re exposing your muscles and nervous system to a stimulus they’re not accustomed to.
Vince Gironda’s 8 Sets of 8
This is one that Vince Gironda used successfully when training advanced lifters. He didn’t recommend it for anyone who didn’t have two years of training under his belt. More hellish—not to mention crazy—than even the first workout above, it’s sure to shock any muscles out of a hypertrophy slump.
Pick three to four exercises for each muscle group, and perform eight sets of eight reps on each. Yep, that’s right: You’ll be doing between 24 to 32 sets for each muscle group. For each exercise use a weight that you could normally get close to 20 reps with. If you pick a weight that is too heavy, there’s no way you’ll be able to get eight sets of eight, so don’t let your ego get in the way of making the program work. As the final kicker, rest only 20 to 30 seconds between sets.
You’ll want to use a split routine when training with this technique. Below is a typical split, one of many possibilities:
Monday: Chest and Back
Incline dumbbell presses
One-arm dumbbell rows
Donkey calf raises
Machine calf raises
Standing calf raises
Thursday: Shoulders and Arms
Seated behind-the-neck presses
Seated lateral raises
Standing front raises
Saturday: Cycle begins again
Despite the enormous volume, each workout should be finished within an hour due to the short rests between sets. As with our first program, you are probably going to be sore the day after a workout. Don’t take extra days off because of the soreness. Your body will adapt—and grow bigger—as a result.
Big, Big Sets—Low, Low Reps
I have long been a fan of high-set/low-rep training plans. They’re the best when it comes to gaining a lot of strength and muscle mass. Programs that use such schemes as eight sets of five or 10 sets of three are among the most effective that you’ll ever find for achieving that goal—all of the lifters I train get good results with them. Every so often, however, I like to have my trainees do something a little bit different—and a bit more extreme. For a couple of weeks at a time I have them perform really high sets combined with a really low number of reps.
For that kind of training, you want to keep your reps at three or fewer while performing a minimum of 15 sets. The more sets you do, the fewer reps per set. When performing sets of three reps, do 15 to 20 sets. For doubles do 20 to 30 sets. And for singles do 30 to 50.
You still need to train heavy—despite the number of sets. I recommend you use between 75 and 85 percent of your one-rep maximum on all sets. For example, if you’re doing bench presses and you have a max of 300 pounds, you need to use between 225 and 255 pounds.
Below is an example of a training split using these kinds of workouts.
Bench presses 25 x 2
Barbell curls 15 x 3
Squats 35 x 1
Overhead presses 25 x 2
Weighted dips 15 x 3
Deadlifts 40 x 1
Sunday: Cycle begins again
If you continue with this program for another week, change exercises or change the number of sets and reps you do on each exercise. At the most, use this approach for three weeks before switching to a more conventional form of training.
One Exercise to Failure
Before you start thinking that I’m trying to rehash HIT, I assure you I’m not. For this piece of insanity you do one exercise until you hit failure, not one set. Here’s how it works:
Pick a compound movement for a muscle group. (Any of the exercises listed for the big-sets/low-reps program discussed above will work just fine.) After a few warmup sets pick a heavy weight that causes you to reach failure somewhere between the sixth and eighth repetitions. After completing the first set, rest three to four minutes, and then once again train to failure. Rest a few more minutes, and repeat. Here’s the crazy part: Do that one exercise until you can’t get a single repetition on your final set. Depending on how much muscular endurance you have, that could take between six aand 15 sets.
Below is a sample training split to use with this approach:
Monday: Chest and arms
Dumbbell bench presses
Lying dumbbell extensions
Donkey calf raises
Thursday: Back and shoulders
Saturday: Cycle begins again (or change to another program)
If you decide to continue with this method for another cycle, rotate to a different set of exercises for each training day. When you’re training so intensely, it’s very easy to overtrain a particular movement pattern, something you want to avoid at all costs.
When following any of these programs, make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep—and rest—to help you grow. Nutrition is also very important. You can’t train like this when you’re on a calorie-restricted diet. You want to eat plenty of calories—protein, good carbs and good fats.
I always enjoy the e-mail I get from IRON MAN readers, so if you need some advice—or just want to tell me how insane I am for recommending these programs—write to email@example.com, or visit my Web site at web.mac.com/cssloan.
And remember: Sometimes insanity ain’t such a bad thing. IM