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Ronnie Coleman?s Shocking Olympia Mass Training Drops Jaws and Triggers Awes

We were standing, frozen, in front of the computer screen in my office, our jaws on the floor. No, we hadn’t logged on to the ‘Girls Gone Wild’ Web site; Jonathan Lawson and I were watching the Ronnie Coleman DVD ‘The Cost of Redemption,’ which is an ungodly display of muscle mass and raw strength captured by Mitsuru Okabe. Once I’d locked my jaw back in place, I noticed that Mr. Olympia’s mass-training style is a prime example of max-force-point overload on almost every exercise. What the heck am I talking about?

Let’s start from the beginning of Mr. O’s DVD. On second thought, let me explain max-force-point overload first, which will help you better understand why most of Coleman’s training is so on target for building incredible mass quickly. Then we’ll get to his training.

The max-force point is the place along an exercise’s stroke at which the target muscle has the most power-output potential. It’s essentially the most important point of any movement because it’s where the most fiber activation can occur’more force equals maximum muscle involvement. Where is that point? Well, it’s different for every exercise, but you can usually find it near the semistretched position.

When a muscle is semi’stretched’not fully stretched, but almost’the muscle fibers are perfectly aligned for ultimate power generation. In simple terms, if you want to trigger extreme mass, you need to overload that point somehow. Coleman does that instinctively with heavy partial-range reps on almost every exercise. For example, he does only the bottom half of a bench press stroke. In fact, he almost never does full-range reps. That means he slams that mass-morphing sweet spot with severe overload on every single rep.

Okay, you’ve got the basic concept of why and how this mind-boggling mass machine got into the Jurassic category of the muscle elite. Let’s talk specifics’extracted right from his DVD.

Opening. It’s 9:35 a.m., and Coleman is fixing himself breakfast in his kitchen. He’s wearing a sleeveless, collarless shirt, and the man is huge! With every move, as when he’s whipping up his grits-and-egg-white concoction, the vascularity on his arms and delts gets more vivid. By the time he sits down to eat, the veinous network looks like the root system of a giant sequoia shooting down his arms. After he chows down on his breakfast mix’from a Jethro Bodine-size bowl’he jumps into one of his cars, SUVs or Hummers for his drive to Metroflex Gym, a hardcore Texas pain-and-gain muscle dungeon.

Workout 1

Calves. He begins with seated calf raises, and the first thing that’s noteworthy is that he never gets close to full contraction’not even on his first, lighter sets. He works from just above the middle of the stroke to just short of full stretch’the semistretched point. He does the same thing on one-leg leg press calf raises; however, it’s interesting to note that on all calf exercises, even the seated variety, he double bounces when he gets to the highest point, which for him is just above the middle of the stroke.

From a scientific standpoint he might get better results double-clutching at the semistretched point, down near the bottom where the most fiber activation can occur. That’s exactly how he trains his shrugs, double-dipping at the bottom stretch and then only moving the bar up a few inches before he lowers and double bangs again’and his traps are absolutely enormous! Maybe his calves would get even better with extra semistretched-point overload (but who am I to tell Mr. O how to train?).

Delts. He kicks off shoulder work with seated dumbbell presses, using a seat with back support. He drives the dumbbells from ear level, the semistretched point, to about eight inches above his head, far short of lockout. (It’s during this exercise that you get to hear his first surprising and humorous battle cry, ‘Yeah, buddy!’ He loves that stuff, no matter how painful the set.)

He does four sets of dumbbell presses, increasing the weight on each till he’s using the 160s on his last set for seven reps. (Yes, 160-pound dumbbells!) His first three sets are all in the 10-to-12-rep range. It was rather shocking to see that Coleman prefers higher reps on almost all of his sets, but it’s probably to hammer the target muscle with more tension time. ALL Speaking of higher reps, here’s a big surprise: After dumbbell presses he goes to the Nautilus double-shoulder machine and does lateral raises, only the bottom half of the movement (semistretched point again), for about 20 reps. Then he follows immediately with presses on the machine, turning his palms out (ouch) and moving the bar from ear level to just above his head, no lockout, for about 20 reps. He does three of the high-rep combo sets’and his delts get pumped to the extreme.

For front delts he does a few progressively heavier sets of alternate dumbbell front raises, stopping each rep at about eye level. His reps start at 15 on the first set and creep down from there.

Uncrossovers are next. What the heck is an uncrossover? You stand in the middle of a cable crossover, the cable handle from the opposite side in each hand, your arms crossed at midforearm in front of your face with a slight bend at each elbow. You uncross your arms and drive your hands out to your sides at shoulder level, keeping the slight bend at the elbows. After a few reps you should get a wicked burn in your rear-delt heads and midback. Coleman does four sets, increasing the weight on each and decreasing his reps, going from 15 down to eight.

Next it’s bent-over cable laterals in the same crossover machine but using the low handles’and zero full-range reps. He does only half reps from the stretch point to about halfway up. In other words, his arms never get close to parallel to the floor for complete contraction. He does four sets of these stretch-emphasis back burners.

Are you seeing a pattern? The stretched and semistretched points appear to be critically important for building mass. Coleman’s training indicates that in a big way’even more strongly on the next exercise.

Traps. To finish, he blasts out heavy behind-the-back barbell shrugs. He does them while holding the Olympic bar behind his legs rather than in front, and he uses a tremendous poundage that rattles the power rack to its core at the end of his sets; however, his shoulders barely move. He only does bottom-range partials’and his traps look like Grand Canyon-size boulders sitting on his shoulders.

He starts with 445 pounds and does 15 reps. Then he bumps it up to 645 for 12 and, finally, 735 for 11. And as mentioned above, he double-clutches at the bottom, stretched position on every rep, providing serious double overload at the max-force point.

My primary thought at the end of his workout, other than shock and awe, was this: Considering the impressiveness of his traps, which may be his freakiest bodypart, I wonder why he doesn’t try the double-clutch semistretched-overload tactic on more of his exercises. I’ve used semistretched-point partials, or X Reps, at the end of sets and they’ve taken my mass to new levels. Coleman’s double-clutch method from the very first rep may be a good, or better, hybrid version. Could it make him even larger? Scary thought. Workout 2

Quads. Coleman starts with four progressively heavier sets of leg extensions to warm up his knees. He does 30 quick reps on each set. As before, it’s, ‘Yeah, buddy!’ as he primes his knees and his mind for squats.

Prepare to be impressed. He does five progressively heavier sets on squats: 225×12, 405×10, 595×8, 745×4 and 800×2. Wow! But even more impressive is that he doesn’t use a power rack. He shoulders the bar from heavy-duty power stands and then squats without any safety catchers’other than his training partner and the Metroflex Gym owner, neither of whom look too thrilled about having to pull 800 pounds off of Ronnie if he misses.

Oh, and did I mention that all of his reps are down below parallel and only partial range? Yep, it’s semistretched-position overload, never pushing close to top-end lockout. If you look closely, you’ll notice that Ronnie’s 300-pound physique is quite a contrast to the poster of a skinny Bruce Lee hanging on the wall behind him flapping in the breeze.

Coleman does take quite a bit of time between heavy sets, as he wraps his knees and squeezes into a power suit. Still, 800 for two deep reps nonlock style is amazing.

Another eye-popping display occurs on leg presses. He does four progressively heavier sets with his feet close and in nonlock style. On his last set he appears to have every 45 in the gym piled on, and a calculator is brought out to determine that he was using 2,250 pounds’for eight reps! Yep, more than a ton.

Hamstrings. Those leg presses, with feet high on the platform, provide a good transition to hamstring work. He begins with one-leg leg curls, once again doing only the bottom two-thirds of the movement (semistretched point) and no pauses. His reps are rapid fire, and he alternates legs for three sets of about 15 reps apiece.

Stiff-legged deadlifts are last on his day-two agenda, and the theme slapped me in the face again: He only moves the bar from ankles to knees’stretched-position partials. And his weight is relatively light. It looked to be only about 275 pounds for all three sets. He appears to be using the exercise as more of a stretch-emphasizing movement, and as I’ve noted at and in our e-books, stretch-position work has been linked to hyperplasia, or fiber splitting, in the lab. Perhaps that’s one reason Ronnie is so damn huge’maybe stretch and semistretch focus has produced considerable replication of muscle fibers. Interesting concept!

Stretching. Even more evidence of Coleman’s attention to muscle elongation: He ends this workout with hamstring and adductor stretches.

Workout 3

Abs. Coleman’s ab routine is an almost endless giant set. He does bench crunches, bottom two-thirds of the movement only; bench kneeups, bottom range only; standing cable crunches and twisting crunches. It appears as though there’s no specific order; he just does whichever exercise he feels like doing’but he still emphasizes the semistretched point on almost all of them, never holding a contraction and almost always just doing partial-range, rapid-fire reps.

Chest. He begins with bench presses, five progressively heavier sets’and his range is almost shorter here than on most other exercises. It looks as though he’s moving through only the bottom half of the stroke, exploding on every rep at the low, semistretched point. How much does Mr. O bench? At this workout his last three sets were 315×12, 405×10 and 495×5. Not too shabby.

For incline presses it’s a repeat performance as far as range goes’partial, max-force-point emphasis. He does only the bottom half to two-thirds of the stroke, often reversing the movement of the bar and exploding on it before it touches his chest. He does three sets: 225×15, 315×12 and 405×8 plus one forced rep. Forced reps are a rare occurrence, at least on this DVD.

Next up: decline presses. Bottom half of the stroke only, and he does three sets: 225×15, 315×15 and 405×10. He lowers the bar to his low-pec line on every rep.

Triceps. He begins with quick-hit one-arm overhead extensions in a seated position. He lowers the dumbbell to just off his shoulder, hand at about ear level, then drives it up till his hand is just above his head, not even close to lockout. He just keeps pulsing in that middle range, kicking out of the semistretched position, for three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Machine dips are next. Here he sits and grips wheelbarrow-type handles. The fulcrum is at the middle of the two handlebars, and the weight is at the opposite end. He drives the handles from the semistretched point, hands up next to his pecs down to well short of lockout. He does those pistonlike reps for three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Narrow-grip pushdowns finish off his triceps. Not to belabor the point, but (you guessed it) his range of motion is from about the middle of his chest (triceps’ semistretched point) to just short of lockout. He fires out 10 to 15 reps with zero pauses for three sets.

Workout 4

Calves. He starts the day with some high-rep calf work in his home gym, once again doing short, pulsing reps through the bottom range only and double-clutching each rep at about the midpoint (Ronnie, try double-clutching closer to the bottom, where the X spot is; I swear you’ll like it!). After pumping up his calves, he’s off to the gym.

Back. Wide-grip lat pulldowns are first. That may be the exercise he uses the fullest range on. He pulls from just shy of lockout, semistretched point, down to his middle chest. The explosive heave just before lockout at the top of every rep really overloads that max-force point for some serious mass stimulation in his upper lats. You can see it happening. Unreal! He does four sets of 12 reps, the last with the stack plus a 45 pinned to it.

Behind-the-neck pulldowns are next, although they’re really behind-the-head pulldowns. He never pulls the bar past ear level, and he releases to just short of lockout. He does three sets of 12 reps here. Cable rows follow’rapid-fire reps from the forward-lean, semistretched position and pulling the parallel handle to near his upper abs as he straightens his torso. He does three sets of 12 again, and on his last set he rows the stack plus two 45s that are pinned to it.

To finish off back, he goes for some serious stretch (and maybe some critical fiber splitting, or hyperplasia). Cross-bench dumbbell pullovers, with one ‘bell, give his lats some wicked elongation, especially when he gets to his last set, pulling a 160-pound dumbbell from back over his head to just over his eyes. He does three sets of 12 again, partial-range with a considerable stretch emphasis (how could you not emphasize stretch with that amount of weight?).

Biceps. He begins attacking his mountainous biceps with machine curls. It looks like an old Nautilus machine with an EZ-curl handle, but he doesn’t do full-range Arthur Jones-style reps. He curls from the semistretched point, arms just bent out of the straight-arm position, to just above the middle of the stroke’no contraction emphasis at all. His reps are partial, pistonlike max-force-point-overload reps for all three sets.

Next up are alternate dumbbell curls. Nothing special here, just rocking the weight up in a see-saw motion. Each of the three sets seems extremely long because of the alternating arms’one arm rests while the other curls’plus the fact that he does 10 full reps on every set.

Last is a unique cable curl. Instead of facing the weight stack, he turns his back to it so the cable runs down between his legs. He bends over slightly at the waist and curls from the semistretched point, never straightening his arms, to just above the midpoint of the stroke’like slightly exaggerated X Reps. He performs three sets of 15, 15 and 11 reps.

Then he hits a few poses that had the protein shake I was sipping spewing out my nose. An incredible impromptu display of raw muscle size and separation, despite his being months away from the Mr. Olympia.

Mass-Building Lessons

So what can we learn from all of this? First and foremost, it appears that semistretched- and stretched-position overload are much, much more important than squeezy contractions’at least in the massive Coleman camp. I’ve been explaining why in the pages of IRON MAN for many moons as well as in the e-books Beyond X-Rep Muscle Building and The Ultimate Mass Workout. Coleman’s training verifies a lot of what we’ve discovered the past few years at the IRON MAN Training & Research Center.

Next, continuous tension appears to be a very big player in building muscle. When Coleman does partial reps, such as nonlock squats or presses, the target muscle never gets a breather. The technique creates an occlusion, or blocked blood flow, and that produces a skin-stretching pump as well as spectacular anabolic responses in muscle tissue.

One thing you don’t learn on the DVD is that Coleman usually trains with two different workouts for each bodypart, an A-and-B approach. He rotates them to hit the muscle with different stress at every session. In other words, I only described half of his workouts. The others hit the same bodyparts but usually with different exercises.

The last thing I picked up on is that Coleman is one heck of a personable guy and loves training. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. My only complaint is that now, after I screened the DVD a second time at home to write this feature, my daughters are answering any question I throw out to them with, ‘Yeah, buddy!’

Editor’s note: Ronnie Coleman’s three-hour-and-15-minute ‘The Cost of Redemption’ DVD is available for $29.95 plus shipping from Home Gym Warehouse (you save $10.00 of the retail price). Call (800) 447-0008, or visit For more on X-Rep training, occlusion and semistretched overload, visit IM

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