Before you worry that this article is going to be the same old mush dealing with long workouts and five-to-six-days-a-week training, let me assure you that’s not the case. The fact is, you don’t need to limit your training of each muscle group to only once a week in order to make gains.
Somewhere over the past 10 years it became bodybuilding heresy to train your muscle groups more than once a week. That philosophy came primarily from the Heavy Duty and high-intensity advocates’and I must admit that I was once one of them’who reinforced the notion that you need to train your muscles unbelievably hard and then give them enough time to recover. Since once a week was an easy rule to remember, that somehow became the most common rest period between bodypart hits.
If you were’or are’one of the lifters who gave that method a try, then ask yourself something. Have you gotten significantly bigger and stronger from your once-a-week-per-bodypart workouts? If so, that’s great. If you answered no, then maybe there’s a better way for you to train.
Let’s start with the fact that it is more productive to train your muscles twice a week instead of just once. In fact, it can often be very productive to train a muscle three times a week. If you don’t believe it, all you have to do is try Bill Starr’s program for a month or so, and you’ll become a believer. Forget any preconceived notions you may have about the proper weekly volume of work for a muscle group. When you do that, it becomes easier to accept the notion of frequent training.
For quite a few years I experimented with a number of different training ideas. They included routines on which I trained very frequently and routines on which I trained very infrequently’like the forgettable big-beyond-belief system and the equally forgettable train-your-muscles-with-one-set-and-then-give- them-two-weeks-to-rest system. Nevertheless, the best gains always came from frequent training sessions when I didn’t overdo it. For instance, my arms got the absolute biggest when I used a heavy-single-rep training program, doing only one exercise three times a week, and was also performing manual labor five times a week at my job, which put a lot of stress on my forearms from heavy lifting.
Conversely, the worst gains I experienced came from very infrequent training combined with a job on which I didn’t do any type of manual labor. I had a good many articles published during that period, but I didn’t get much in the way of strength and mass gains.
The reason I did better with more frequent training was that my muscles were forced to adapt more to the stress. With infrequent training’and very little volume at each session’there’s no room for adaptation. That’s one reason I don’t like once-a-week training. It doesn’t let your body increase its recovery rate. If you always train each muscle group once a week, then it takes your body a week to recover. If you force it to adapt to more frequent training, however, the scenario is quite different. Anyone who’s ever tried the Westside Barbell Club approach to powerlifting, on which you train each muscle group twice a week with a dynamic workout and then a maximum-effort workout, will tell you that his or her muscles were stronger each week during the heavy workout because of the lighter session.
One of the reasons that the once-a-week workout is so popular is the soreness it causes. Trainees often mistakenly believe that soreness is a sign of a workout’s effectiveness. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the goals of the program presented here is to avoid getting too sore after the heavy sessions. You can only achieve that if you follow a twice-a-week (at least) training regimen.
The one thing I don’t want you to do after reading this article, however, is to take the workout you’ve been using for your once-a-week session and just do it more frequently. Remember that your recovery capacity is limited, so you must be much more intelligent about your workout when training more frequently. I hope the following workout accomplishes that.
The Mass Frequency Routine
This workout is designed with bodybuilders in mind. In other words, it’s intended to be used by people who are after maximum gains in muscle mass, not necessarily strength. You’ll definitely get stronger while using it than you would on most bodybuilding programs, but its main purpose is to increase hypertrophy in your muscles.
The first two workouts of the week will be lighter, speed workouts, which are sometimes referred to by the powerlifting community as dynamic workouts. The second series of workouts for the week will be your heavy training days, with more emphasis on repetition training than maximum-effort training, even though the reps you’ll be using are still significantly lower than you’ll find in most bodybuilding workouts.
Day 1: Explosive Chest, Shoulders and Arms
Explosive-rep bench presses
or pushups 10 x 3
If you were simply after a bigger bench, I’d tell you to stick with the bench presses only, but as a bodybuilder you’re more worried about mass gains than strength. So the variety of alternating speed-rep benches with speed-rep pushups from week to week at this workout will bring you better results. On both exercises you should move as fast as possible’while still maintaining perfect form’throughout both the eccentric and concentric portions of the movement. Take no longer than five seconds between sets’20 to 30 would be even better.
Standing overhead presses 7 x 3
Your shoulders will already be overworked from the chest exercises, so you can cut down on the number of sets a bit. Move very quickly through all three reps, once again maintaining strict form.
Alternate Standing barbell curls 6 x 4
Parallel-bar dips 6 x 4
On these two exercises I also want you to focus on being explosive’but only on the concentric portion of the rep. During the eccentric part of the movement lower for a count of three, pause briefly at the bottom and explode upward.
Speed work places a totally different type of stress on your muscles and your nervous system, one that you can recover from more quickly. Still, you may be sorer than you expect after the first workout because it’s a new type of stress on your body. After a couple of weeks, however, you won’t experience much soreness on the day after your workout.
Day 2: Maximum Lower Body and Back
Squats, front squats
or box squats 8 x 3
Use each of these for two or three weeks and then rotate to the next one. Warm up with two to four light sets of three reps; the weight will depend on the amount of weight you use for your work sets. On those use approximately 85 percent of your maximum weight on the lift for all eight sets.
Deadlifts, good mornings
or power cleans 5 x 5
As with the above exercises rotate these every two to three weeks. If you go through more than three workouts using the same exercise, you tend to regress. Use 80 to 85 percent of your max on all five work sets.
Wide-grip chins 4 x 8
Use a weight that you have to struggle with to get eight reps on all four sets. Once you can do eight reps on all the sets, switch to another exercise for a couple of weeks and repeat the process.
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Maximum Chest, Shoulders and Arms
Flat-bench presses, incline
presses or dumbbell
bench presses 8 x 3
As with the maximum lower-body workout you want to use approximately 85 percent of your max on all eight work sets. Rotate exercises every two to three weeks, and you’ll experience almost constant progress.
Behind-the-neck presses 5 x 5
Warm up with two or three sets of five reps before beginning your work sets. The best weight range to use tends to be 80 to 85 percent of your maximum, depending on your muscle fiber makeup.
Alternate Standing barbell curls,
dumbbell curls or preacher curls 5 x 5
Parallel-bar dips, bench
dips or close-grip bench presses 5 x 5
As with the other maximum movements in this program rotate exercises at least every three weeks. I picked these six exercises because I believe they are, hands down, the best biceps and triceps movements you can perform.
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Explosive Lower Body and Back
Box squats or Olympic-style squats 10 x 2
I like to alternate these two exercises from week to week because of the different emphases they place on the muscle groups of the lower body. Box squats are predominately a hamstring and gluteus exercise, while Olympic squats really stress the quads. Unlike the way you perform explosive-rep benches and pushups, you pause at the bottom of each rep on these exercises. If you’re performing box squats, relax your glute muscles while keeping your lower back and abs tight. On Olympic squats simply pause at the bottom of the rep, which will really stretch your quads.
Deadlifts 6 x 3
On these I recommend alternating between conventional deadlifts and sumo-style deadlifts each week. The two styles place different stresses on your lower back, hamstrings and glutes, not to mention your lats. The reason I suggest doing only six sets is the stress your lower back will get from the squatting movements. Even though explosive work is less stressful than other methods, the lower back takes more recovery time than most muscle groups.
Chins 10 x 3
On this exercise try switching grips every few sets. Do a couple of sets each with a wide grip, a medium grip and then an inverted grip.
Day 7: Off
On the following day begin the cycle over again.
Don’t be afraid to throw in some extra work for your abs. You can do it either after your main workouts or on off days. Also, two days of cardio work isn’t a bad idea either.
After a few weeks on the program you can add some extra sessions. Extra sessions’when done properly’can aid your recovery.
They should be short, 20 to 30 minutes at the most, and the weights should be relatively light. The workload should be well below what you do on your two regular training days.
Start off by doing extra workouts for the muscle groups that need it the most. For example, if your chest and arms are weak, start doing extra workouts for those muscle groups only. As you progress, you can add extra workouts for more muscle groups.
Let’s say you do chest, shoulders and arms, as outlined here, on Monday and Thursday, and then begin by adding an extra workout on Saturday. A good example might be 10 sets of three reps on bench presses, using a weight that’s only 60 percent of what you used on your speed day, followed by five sets of five reps each on a biceps and a triceps exercise, once again using a weight that’s less than what you used on your explosive day.
Stick with the above program for at least 12 weeks. After that length of time you should understand how the program works and you can pick some totally different exercises to plug into the rotation.
In previous articles I’ve mentioned that I don’t think nutrition is that important for strength athletes, but since your goal with this program is to build big muscles, I want you to eat a lot’and frequently. Get at least a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, take a good vitamin-and-mineral supplement and consider using some form of creatine as well.
Give this program an honest try, and I assure you that you’ll never go back to once-a-week-per-bodypart workouts again. You’ll become a believer in frequent train’if the workouts are properly performed. Good luck and good training. IM