Most regular IRON MAN readers are familiar with the term ‘abbreviated training.’ In fact, this magazine has featured a number of authors over the years who proclaimed the value of abbreviated training. IM founder Peary Rader continually pushed the importance of limiting your program to just a small number of basic exercises. Other great authors have echoed that theme, including Ken Leistner, Bradley J. Steiner, Stuart McRobert and Arthur Jones.
When it comes to building size and strength, abbreviated training works, and it works well. In my own case it wasn’t until I gave up all the so-called space-age techniques’like bombing and blitzing, splitting the split and flushing’that another weight-training magazine pushed, and started using abbreviated training, which Iron Man recommended, that I really started making progress in my quest to build size and strength. In fact, my bodyweight went from 158 pounds to 260 pounds in nine months, a gain of more than 100 pounds.
Obviously, I’m sold on the benefits of abbreviated training. Since I started using it many years ago, I’ve never deviated from it. It has worked wonderfully well for me and for many others whose weight-training programs I’ve supervised. I’m now 57 years old and still use abbreviated training.
Back in the late ’50s many thousands of young men started training with weights, mostly because of the Hercules movies starring Steve Reeves. All across America thousands of boys poured out of theaters, determined to build a body just like Hercules.
All of a sudden, having a muscular body was ‘in’and ‘cool’and every boy in America wanted a barbell set. That was great, but there was a problem. While many young men had the desire to build a muscular body, they didn’t have the knowledge of how to do it.
To whom could they turn to find the information they needed in order to build a body like Steve Reeves? Their parents? No, their parents, like the rest of the population, were not familiar with weight training. Their physical-education teacher? No, especially not to him, since in those days most P.E. teachers were totally against weight training, believing that it would make people ‘musclebound’ and slow. To the family doctor? No, because the medical community felt that weight training was bad for the body and would certainly destroy their health in the long run. To the school counselor? No, as he or she would likely tell them that only insecure men with narcissis complexes lifted weights.
So where did all the would-be Herculeses go to learn how to turn a skinny body into a large, muscular one? There were only two sources. One was the veteran barbell man, someone who was already training with weights. Back in the late ’50s most of the people who were dedicated to barbell training and its benefits trained in garages, basements or backyards. Even if a young man could eventually find someone who trained with weights to show him the ropes, there was no guarantee that the trainer knew how to weight train correctly.
The other source was the magazine rack at local stores stores or, perhaps, a big-city newsstand. I remember how fortunate I felt, when I was in ninth grade, to find a little magazine store in downtown Phoenix that actually carried two different muscle magazines. It was a 10-mile bike ride from my house to that store and back, but each month I made it joyfully on my Schwinn Tiger to purchase the newest issues.
As with the veteran barbell man, reading a weight-training magazine was no guarantee that you would get the correct training information. It depended on the magazine.
Back then there was only one really great weight-training magazine, but when I started lifting, I didn’t know it existed. It didn’t have a broad circulation, and I never ran across it in any of the stores that I frequented.
The only weight-training magazines that you could find at the drug store, the grocery store or the newsstand were Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder and Mr. America. I will probably ruffle a few feathers, but I’m being honest when I say that while those magazines were great for providing inspirational pictures of very well-built bodybuilders, they were sadly lacking in solid, results-producing training information. Once in a while they might have a worthwhile article on training, but those were few and far between.
I, along with many others who followed the training advice in the Weider magazines, made little or no progress. They pushed a volume approach to training, with the average program including two or three exercises for each bodypart for a total of eight to 12 sets per bodypart. In many cases they had us training on a split routine, working out six days per week.
As a result of all the work, we were spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. For genetically average weight trainees who didn’t and wouldn’t use chemicals to enhance recovery ability and promote growth, that was too much exercise. Thousands upon thousands of weight trainees have tried the volume approach, and most have experienced nothing but absolute failure in their quest to build a big, strong body. The simple fact is, it will not work for 99 percent of all weight trainees. For each person who does eventually succeed with the volume approach, thousands fail dismally. Many who have come to me for advice have made the mistake of adding more sets or more exercises to their routine when they stopped making progress. For example, if they were doing three sets of curls for biceps yet not gaining any biceps size, they figured that doing more sets and/or more exercises for their biceps would make them start growing.
ALLThat’s faulty reasoning. The solution is not to train more. It’s to train harder. You can either train long or you can train hard, but you cannot do both. The longer you train, the less intensely you’ll be able to train.
Let’s compare sprinting with long-distance running. Conditioned track athletes can run full-bore for a 100-yard dash, but if they tried to run a mile at that speed’or intensity’they’d collapse in exhaustion before they got 200 yards. To run a mile, runners have to pace themselves over the whole distance so they’ll be able to complete it, which means running slower.
It’s the same with weight training. If you’re going to do a lot of exercises and/or a lot of sets, you’ll have to pace yourself in order to complete your workout. You absolutely will not be able to work at a high level of intensity on each and every exercise. Instead, you’ll have to use less intensity in order to have the energy to complete all the exercises in your program.
That’s a huge problem. Intensity of effort is the most important requirement for an exercise to produce sufficient growth stimulus. The more intense the effort on any particular exercise, the more growth stimulus you get.
Don’t let the knowledge that volume training doesn’t work discourage you. In fact, it should motivate you, as you no longer have to be a slave to long, exhausting training sessions. Now you can thoroughly enjoy your short training sessions, train only two days per week, make great gains and have much more time for other activities. In other words, it’s a training program that you can live with, rather than one you have to live for. Believe me, there’s a huge difference between the two, and with a training program that you can live with, you’ll be much happier, as will everyone else who lives with you.
Effective Abbreviated Training
An abbreviated program is made up of a few basic’that is, compound, or multijoint’exercises. It’s the opposite of volume training, which includes both compound and isolation, or single-joint, exercises.
An ideal abbreviated program has about six exercises. That’s all you need to get big and strong. My trainees and I have proven that over and over. Six exercises will most certainly provide all the stimulus you need to make great gains in size and strength.
‘Wait a minute!’ you say. ‘How can that be true? There are more than just six muscle groups.’ Correct’there are more than 14 muscle groups: traps, deltoids, pecs, lats, abs, spinal erectors, glutes, biceps, triceps, forearm flexors, forearm extensors, quads, hamstrings and calves. That doesn’t even take into account the different areas of the individual muscle groups’like front delts, side delts, rear delts, upper pecs, middle pecs, lower pecs and on and on.
How can you possibly cover all of those muscle groups with only six exercises? The answer is that you choose six compound exercises, movements that work more than just one muscle group.
Let me backtrack to the subject of weight-training magazines. I mentioned that there was one great magazine back in the ’50s, but it didn’t have a wide circulation. I happened on it by accident in the early ’60s. As you’ve probably guessed, it was Iron Man, and as I’ve said before, it was small in size but large in information. I bought it, took it home and read it, and I fell in love with it. I’ve never lost that love. Iron Man was by far the best weight-training magazine back then, and it’s still the best weight-training magazine today. Period. I also came to greatly respect Iron Man’s publisher, Peary Rader. He was very honest and sincerely cared about his readers. He took very seriously the responsibility of publishing a magazine that thousands of weight trainees looked to for guidance and encouragement.
Peary had much to say about proper weight training, and everything that he said back when I first started reading Iron Man is still great advice today. His philosophy was to take a few basic exercises, work them very hard and then let your body rest, recuperate and gain additional muscle size and strength. Instead of working for a muscle pump, he encouraged his readers to strive to keep going up in poundages. That is extremely sound advice.
Peary pushed the squat more than any other exercise. He believed that the barbell full squat would do more to help his readers gain overall muscle size and strength than any other exercise they could do. And he was totally correct on that. The squat will do more to promote large gains than any other exercise. Many people have proven that to be true over the years.
Performing barbell squats, along with drinking a lot of milk throughout the day, was the undisputed road to royal size. When I gained the 100 pounds in nine months that I referred to above, I ate six meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner plus three small meals) and drank a quart of milk at each. I also worked extremely hard on barbell squats. The strategy worked for me and for the fellows who trained with me.
Many men started making gains in size and strength when they started specializing on the squat. When every other weight-training approach failed to produce the body they wanted, the barbell squat always came through. It’s the number-one exercise for putting your body in the gaining mode.
Short and Sweet
Here’s an abbreviated program that will definitely start you on the road to greater size and strength. If you put out the appropriate effort, these six exercises will get the job done for you.
1) Barbell squats supersetted with pullovers
Years ago, before squat racks were invented, trainees who wanted to perform the squat had to either clean the weight, jerk it over their head and let it land on the backs of their shoulders before squatting down or upend the barbell, squat down and lower the weight into position from the bottom of the movement. Or they could have two helpers put the barbell on their shoulders. With the invention of squat racks, size and strength levels started soaring upward.
There really is no substitute for squats. Leg presses can’t begin to compare when it comes to producing size gains. When you perform squats with a heavy weight, you’re exercising much more than just your quads. The squat works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, traps and even the calves and abs some. Plus, there are benefits that go beyond giving those muscles growth stimulation.
If you perform enough reps in each set, squats will quickly bring you to breathe more deeply. That’s because you’re exercising so many muscles at one time’and exercising them severely. As a result, your body calls for more oxygen. You need to breathe more heavily in order to take in the needed oxygen. That not only has a positive effect on your cardiovascular conditioning but also forces your rib cage to stretch with each deep breath. When you perform a set of straight-arm pullovers after each set of squats, breathing deeply on each pullover rep, that stretches your rib cage even more. All of this will help increase the size of your rib cage, giving you the potential for a larger chest and upper body.
As I mentioned in ‘Racking Up Size’ [IRON MAN, October ’04], not everyone believes that deep-breathing exercises will enlarge the rib cage, but the technique definitely worked for me. (When I weighed 245 pounds, I wore a size-60 sports coat.) And it has definitely worked for many others. Reg Park did pullovers to expand his chest, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they both had enormous chests during their competition days.
On the squats, perform two or three lighter sets of five reps for a warmup and then two work sets of 10 reps. Use a weight on the work sets that you can barely get 10 reps per set with. You’ll probably have to use a lighter weight on the second one. As discussed, you perform a 20-rep set of straight-arm pullovers while lying across a bench after each set of squats, breathing in deeply and stretching your rib cage on each rep.
2) High pulls
This movement will definitely add size to your whole back, as well as working your hamstrings, glutes and biceps. You also hit your calves hard, since you go up on your toes at the completion of the pull. High pulls use the same exercise motion as power cleans, except that you only pull the barbell up as high as it will go, without flipping your wrists and catching it at your shoulders. It’s like a partial upright row with some momentum. Use a weight that allows you to pull the barbell to a point that’s about two to three inches above your bellybutton.
Do not lower the barbell all the way to the ground between reps. Just take it to an inch or so below your kneecaps and start your next rep from there. That’s called ‘pulling from the hang position.’
Do a couple of warmup sets and then perform two sets of five reps with the heaviest weight you can handle.
Very few trainees do any type of pulling exercise these days. That’s sad because pulling heavy weights definitely pays off’with a big, broad, powerful back.
3) Bench presses
Use a shoulder-width grip so you’ll develop your pectorals, deltoids and triceps with these. If you study pictures of American weight trainees from the early 1900s, you’ll notice that most of them had very good deltoid development but very poor pectoral development. That’s because they did only standing presses back then. Those, of course, work the deltoids and triceps and do nothing for the pecs.
Then someone had the idea of performing presses while lying on the floor, and pectorals started growing. A number of years later someone came up with the idea of performing presses while lying on a bench, and thus the bench press, which is now the most popular barbell exercise, was born.
Perform two or three warmup sets and then two sets of eight reps with your heaviest weight. Push hard on these, and you will be rewarded with big, full pectorals, delts and triceps.
4) Undergrip pulldowns
These are great for the upper back and biceps, and they also strongly affect your pecs. They’re just like a regular pulldown, but your palms are facing you instead of away from you. Dorian Yates performed his pulldowns with a curl-grip and had huge, wide lats and matching biceps. Mike Mentzer said that the curl-grip pulldown was the best exercise you can do for the biceps muscles. It was my main biceps exercise when my arms measured 21 3/4 inches.
Once again, perform one or two warmup sets and then two work sets of eight reps with your heaviest weight. Grip the bar with your hands approximately 10 inches apart. 5) Wide-grip barbell presses
In this case wide means your hands are about six inches wider than your shoulder on both sides. You can perform these either standing or seated’it’s up to you. You also have the option of doing front presses or the behind-the-neck variety. Or you can alternate the reps, performing one rep in front of your head and the next rep behind, as in the Bradford press, named after Jim Bradford, an American heavyweight Olympic lifter of many years ago.
A warning, however: Some trainees’ shoulders are not made for behind-the-neck presses, and the exercise will eventually damage their shoulders. If you start feeling any pain in your shoulders when pressing behind your neck, stop doing it and use only front presses. Wide-grip presses will also add size to your triceps.
Perform one or two warmup sets and then two sets of eight reps with your heaviest weight. Push these hard, and you’ll build big shoulders and triceps.
The last exercise is the abdominal crunch. Every program should include an exercise for the midsection. Perform two sets of 25 reps. When that becomes easy, start holding barbell plates on your chest for added resistance.
With those six exercises you work all 14 muscle groups, and if you work as hard as you should, you will give each one of them great stimulation for growth.
What do I mean by ‘as hard as you should’? Over the years I’ve developed what I call the target system. For each exercise you have a specific number of reps that you’re trying to achieve on your work sets. That’s your target. You give it all you’ve got to make that number of reps, and when you achieve that number, you go up in weight at the next workout.
Say you’re performing bench presses, and your target is eight reps. At your last workout you got eight reps with 295 pounds. So at the next workout you attempt to get eight reps with 300 pounds, an increase of five pounds. Maybe you only get six reps with the 300 pounds. That’s okay, as long as you try your hardest to make the eight reps.
Then at the next workout you make eight reps with the 300 pounds. Great! The next time you add another five pounds, bringing the weight up to 305. As soon as you complete eight reps with it, you add another five pounds to the bar, and so on.
Whenever you achieve the target reps on any exercise, you add five pounds at the next workout. This program calls for two heavy work sets of each exercise. When you achieve the target number of reps on both sets, it’s time to go up in weight. That’s the whole idea of progressive-resistance exercise. It must be continually progressive in order to keep stimulating your muscles to keep growing. Once your training stops being progressive, your gains will also cease.
Keep pushing, and your muscles will grow to meet the workload that is placed on them. Big weights build big muscles. That’s the real ‘secret’ to building a huge and strong physique.
Give this abbreviated program a serious try. You’ll be pleased with the results as you learn what many weight trainees over the years have discovered: Doing less can get you more. IM
Abbreviated Training: an X-citing Innovation
Many of you may have been following our experiments with a new mass-training tactic that we’ve been reporting on in ‘Train, Eat, Grow’ as well as in the IM e-newsletter (subscribe free at www.ironmanmagazine.com). We call it X-Rep training, and with it we’ve experienced some jaw-dropping gains while doing fewer sets than ever before. The X-Rep technique is basically a way to extend a set after you hit failure so you can get past nervous system fatigue, a serious gain stopper.
Realize that when you’re forced to terminate a set, it’s because your nervous system fizzles, not the target muscle. That’s the reason so many bodybuilders get such a slow growth rate, no matter how many sets they do. The nervous system stops them before they can tax the key muscle fibers enough for a hypertrophic response. X Reps solve that problem by extending the set in the optimal position of the stroke for recruiting and overloading fast-twitch fibers. You use small movements at the precise spot at which you can generate maximum force, usually near the exercise’s sticking point.
If you use the Short-and-Sweet Get-Big Workout outlined by Jim Hafer, you may want to add X Reps to one set of each exercise, especially if you’re a more advanced trainee. We’ve found that X Reps can make any set about three times more effective than a conventional set to failure. When we were preparing for our photo shoot last summer, we used X Reps for one month. The photos speak for themselves. Our progress even stunned us, and we’ve got more than 40 years, collectively, of bodybuilding-training experience.
Consider using power pulses, or X Reps, to make your abbreviated training even more of a mass-producing experience.
‘Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
Editor’s note: The new e-book The Ultimate Mass Workout contains a number of abbreviated routines that use the best multijoint exercises for each bodypart and identify the precise X-Rep position for each. Visit www.x-rep.com for more details.