Exercise programs come and go, and some even stay around for a while. Every now and then an old lifting technique is revived because some researcher declares it’s the ultimate way to put on muscle size; for example, partial reps. An old system may also get new life because a certain body-building star uses it. That was the case when Dorian Yates revived Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty training. Five years ago no one trained that heavy. Things changed overnight when Dorian started talking about his training.
There’s a training system that hardly anyone uses today that’s due for a revival—the one-exercise-per-muscle-group technique. There are no champs touting its effectiveness in magazine articles. No one uses it in this modern age of multiple exercises. Even so, it’s not likely you’ll ever find a better way to train for size.
There are several benefits to using the one-exercise-per-muscle-group technique, not the least of which is that it works well with a number of different bodybuilding programs. Probably the best feature is that you don’t lose your pump. You know how that goes: You’re training really hard on an exercise and getting an excellent pump when you decide to move on to another exercise; the next thing you know the pump is gone and your workout goes downhill from there. Have you ever thought about just sticking with that exercise for six, eight or maybe 10 to 15 sets?
This training style is also excellent when the only thing you want is sheer muscle mass. There have been several champs who used it almost exclusively, and their progress was remarkable. The most prominent example is Sergio Oliva. The three-time Mr. Olympia’s favorite way to train chest and back was to alternate sets, performing one for his chest and one for his back. The trick was that he stayed with only one exercise for each muscle group, primarily bench presses and chins.
Oliva would pyramid his weight on the two exercises. On bench presses, for example, he’d start off with a light weight and work up to a heavy triple, double or single on about his 10th set. From that point on he’d reverse-pyramid, dropping weight and adding reps.
Now, Sergio was no slouch in the genetics department. He’d probably have grown muscle no matter what routine he performed. He did, however, prefer this style above all others.
Reg Park is another legend of bodybuilding who liked to train this way. He believed it to be the ultimate for building mass. He’d pick one exercise for whatever bodypart he was working and just hammer at it, using six to 10 reps until that bodypart was engorged with a monstrous pump.
Tom Platz is also a proponent of one-exercise-per-bodypart training. He often performs up to 30 sets per exercise. On back, for example, he usually does T-bar rows for a full hour using sets of six to 100 reps. The key to his success with this technique is that he allows at least seven days of rest before he blitzes the same bodypart again.
The point of these examples is that the one-exercise-per-bodypart routines are some of the most effective you’ll ever find for working any of your muscle groups.
The Pyramid/Reverse-Pyramid System
This is the technique that Sergio Oliva used, as described above. When it comes to adding bulk and power, I don’t believe it can be beat. You can either work one muscle group until you complete all the sets or alternate antagonistic muscle groups the way Sergio did, using what Platz calls jump sets. Either variation is great. Below is a sample routine for the bench press in which you work straight through before going on to the next bodypart. Note that the weights listed are only hypothetical, to give you an idea of the jumps.
Set 1: 135 x 12
Set 2: 185 x 10
Set 3: 205 x 8
Set 4: 225 x 6
Set 5: 245 x 4
Set 6: 265 x 2
Set 7: 275 x 1
Set 8: 225 x 6
Set 9: 205 x 8-10
Set 10: 185 x 8-10
Set 11: 135 x 12-15
Set 12: 135 x 12-15
If you feel that you grow better with fewer sets, then you don’t need to perform so many. Just make sure you’re warmed up well before you jump to an extremely heavy set. Also, don’t try a heavy single or double every time you lift. You’ll only burn yourself out. It’s best to hold a little back most of the time. That keeps you from overtraining and also keeps you hungry for the iron at every workout.
Another variable that makes this particular routine effective is that you perform a wide range of reps, which ensures that you hit every muscle fiber. Every once in a while you might try some really high reps on your final two to four sets. I’m talking the 20-to-50 range. That type of training helps build your blood vessels, capillaries and neuromuscular pathways, which are needed for a huge pump.
*Reprinted by permission from Iron Man magazine.