I could never be a coroner. Nope, I couldn't because it sure as hell doesn't sound like much fun. And I don't think I'm alone with this sentiment. After all, I've never heard little Bobby stand up in his second-grade "What I'd Like to Be One Day" presentation and belt out, "Ms. Johnson, I'd sure like to embalm corpses when I grow up."
Maybe it's the stale, formaldehyde-infested air that irks me? Maybe it's the one-sided conversations that make the job seem so unappealing? Or maybe it's the thought of being caught between two angry siblings who're vying for all of Daddy's gold?
(Yep, the daughter wants all of the inheritance so she can get 700 cc's of silicon stuffed in front of her breastplate. The son, on the other hand, wants it all so he can buy a plethora of guns, whores, and booze – and he might waste some of it, too.)
Nah, I know why I never want to be a coroner: very little job satisfaction. You see, my job is to make people bigger, faster, leaner, and stronger. The cool and challenging part of my job is that my success in this business depends on my clients' results. If they weren't getting results, I wouldn't be here. And helping people reach their goals is what my job satisfaction's all about.
Another part of my job satisfaction comes from passing on what I've learned over the years. So I'm going to outline four key elements that help me achieve those results with my clients. Here goes!
1 – Constantly Rotate Reps and Sets
In order to achieve results for any longer than three weeks at a time, you should constantly rotate your sets and reps. If you rotate those two elements throughout the week, you'll be able to stick with the same movements for a longer period of time before stagnating.
For example, if you perform 5 sets of 5 repetitions with 85% of your 1RM for, say, the bench press, squat, row, and deadlift, you'd get two to three weeks' worth of progress before winding up on an endless plateau. Why? Because your body will adapt to an unchanging rep scheme very quickly. Pair this with a constant number of sets per body part and a relatively constant load, and you're on a fast track to Nowhereville.
If, however, you performed the bench press, squat, row, and deadlift with different parameters for each workout, you could get two to three months worth of progress – and that's without even changing your movement patterns. You must provide your muscles with a constantly changing stimulus. The question I usually get from readers is, "How do I constantly rotate parameters?"
There are many ways, but I like to start out simple. These are the only two steps you need to follow to get started:
- Use a set/rep volume per body part of 24-36.
- Choose a rep scheme that's at least 3 reps higher than your last workout (the greater the spread, the better).
So let's say that you're ready to put those two principles into play. If you perform three workouts per week, here's how a sample plan could look.
- Day 1: 8 x 3 (8 sets of 3 repetitions per body part)
- Day 2: Off
- Day 3: 3 x 12
- Day 4: Off
- Day 5: 4 x 6
- Day 6: Off
- Day 7: Off
- Day 8: Repeat cycle
If you workout four times per week, it could look something like this:
- Day 1: 8 x 3
- Day 2: 1 x 36
- Day 3: Off
- Day 4: 5 x 5
- Day 5: Off
- Day 6: 3 x 12
- Day 7: Off
- Day 8: Repeat cycle
Obviously, the options are endless. The key is to use rep ranges that you haven't used in the last two months. So if you've been on a 5 x 5 kick, stay at least 2 reps away from 5 reps per set (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8... 36).
But what about loading? That brings me to point number two.
2 – Calculate Volume
Make no mistake about it: there's a strong, positive correlation between math and muscle. If you don't know how to calculate your training volume, each subsequent workout will be like pissing in the wind. Many people have caught on to the importance of constantly changing reps, but I don't think many have figured out how to properly manipulate the sets, reps, and load.
Let's say your upper back workout is comprised of 4 sets of 6 repetitions with 80% of your 1RM for the bentover row. And let's say your 1RM for the bentover row is 300 pounds. We need to calculate the volume of that movement. Volume is the total number of reps multiplied by the load lifted.
Total Reps x Load = Volume
So with the bentover row example, here's the volume of that movement:
24 (4 x 6) x 240 pounds (300 x 80%) = 5760 pounds
Okay, this is where most people get into trouble. They know it's time to switch up their sets and reps, so they perform, say, 2 sets of 12 during their next workout for the bentover row. And if they don't have any idea what load to use, they might just wing it. So they end up doing 2 sets of 12 reps with something like 70% of their 1RM. Here's how that looks:
24 (2 x 12) x 210 pounds (300 x 70%) = 5040 pounds
What's the problem? They've just performed an upper back workout with 720 pounds less volume than their previous workout! I see this happen so often that it hurts. You must go into each workout knowing how to arrange your parameters in order to beat your last performance! If you don't, you really are pissing in the wind.
In order to make an upper back workout with 12-rep sets beneficial, you should increase the number of total reps. This will up the set-rep volume so you're achieving a higher total volume with each subsequent workout. In other words, if you merely add one set (3 x 12) and use 70% of your 1RM, here's how the volume looks:
36 x 210 pounds = 7560 pounds
Voila! Now you're doing a workout that results in 1800 pounds more volume. And it's accomplished by adding just one set to each movement. Now you're on your way to bigger, stronger muscles instead of spinning your wheels.
Before I leave this topic, let me mention a few important points about calculating volume. First off, nothing in training is perfect and infinite. It's damn near impossible to always go into the gym and beat your last performance. Therefore, it's a good idea to arrange planned periods of unloading in order to avoid burnout.
For advanced lifters, an unloading week every three weeks is a good start. For beginners, an unloading week every five to six weeks is usually sufficient. In either case, I recommend you lower your volume by 25-30% for a few workouts to give your body a break. Then, get back to constantly improving your volume with every new workout for the next three to six weeks.
Second, the time element is also an important factor. What I'm saying is this: the amount of time it takes you to finish 4 x 6, 2 x 12, or 3 x 12 will have a significant effect on your muscles. Obviously, if you take four minutes to complete 2 x 12 with 210 pounds, it's going to overload your muscles differently than if you take six minutes to complete the same 2 x 12 with 210 pounds. In other words, your volume per minute will be much higher if you finish 2 x 12 in four minutes compared to six minutes.
If you want to take the time to figure your volume per minute, feel free, but all I care about is this: at the end of the day, did you expose your muscles to more volume than the previous workout? If you did, you're going to get results.
My friend Charles Staley uses a similar philosophy with his EDT system. The difference is that his system is based on doing more work in the same amount of time, whereas this section is about augmenting volume regardless of the time it takes you to do so.
Third, it's not necessary to beat your previous volume by 1000, 800, or even 400 pounds. As long as you're increasing your volume by at least 2%, you're fine. In fact, if you try to up the volume too fast, you'll set yourself up for burnout. Strive for small, constant increases in volume of 2-3%.
Finally, all workouts are not created equal. What I'm saying is that 6 x 4 with 80% of your 1RM is different than 4 x 10 with 70% of your 1RM, even if you don't consider training volume. The stress to your muscles in terms of total motor unit recruitment, and the rate at which your motor units are recruited, has a bearing on what specific response you'll incur from the workout. But I hesitate to merge into this realm because it's very complex. Let's keep it simple and focus on volume.
So for an advanced person doing bentover rows, here's how it all breaks down for three workouts per week for four weeks:
- Workout 1: 24 (6 x 4) x 240 pounds (300 x 80%) = 5760 pounds
- Workout 2: 28 (4 x 7) x 225 pounds (300 x 75%) = 6300 pounds
- Workout 3: 40 (4 x 10) x 204 pounds (300 x 68%) = 8160 pounds
- Workout 1: 28 (7 x 4) x 240 pounds (300 x 80%) = 6720 pounds
- Workout 2: 32 (4 x 8) x 225 pounds (300 x 75%) = 7200 pounds
- Workout 3: 40 (4 x 10) x 210 pounds (300 x 70%) = 8400 pounds
- Workout 1: 32 (8 x 4) x 240 pounds (300 x 80%) = 7680 pounds
- Workout 2: 36 (4 x 9) x 225 pounds (300 x 75%) = 8100 pounds
- Workout 3: 40 (4 x 10) x 216 pounds (300 x 72%) = 8640 pounds
Week 4 (Unloading)
- Workout 1: 24 (6 x 4) x 240 pounds (300 x 80%) = 5760 pounds
- Workout 2: 27 (3 x 9) x 225 pounds (300 x 75%) = 6075 pounds
- Workout 3: 30 (3 x 10) x 216 pounds (300 x 72%) = 6480 pounds
- (Week 5 resumes with a progression that must beat your performances from week 3.)
You should really take some time to look over this periodization example of weeks 1-4. You'll see how I typically arrange a progression and unloading periodization plan with advanced trainees. Of course, this isn't written in stone since there are many additional variables that must be addressed, but it gives you a good starting point.
I use this example because it's a conglomerate of progressions, just like my programs. Workout one is a set progression; workout two is a rep progression; and workout three is a loading progression. The point is to show that any progression can result in a higher volume.
And the key is to beat your volume performance with each workout that uses the same parameters. It's not necessary to beat your volume performance with every subsequent workout throughout the week. In other words, if Monday is your 6 x 4 day, the following Monday you must beat your previous performance by adding more sets, reps, or load in order to augment the volume of that session.
3 – Adhere to Total-body Training
I really thought I had this factor covered when I wrote Total-Body Training a few years ago. But based on the conversations I have with readers, it's evident that I haven't struck a loud enough chord when it comes to this important topic.
Total-body workouts beat any split, any day of the week. If you start training all of your major muscle groups every time you go to the gym, you'll be on the fast track to bigger muscles and higher fitness levels.
You'll build bigger muscles because you'll be training with a higher frequency, and you'll build your fitness levels because total-body workouts are damn tough. In fact, you'll probably have to pace yourself during the first few weeks of total-body training if you've been on a body part split.
Total-body workouts result in a higher work capacity, fitness level, and endocrine response. How do total-body workouts do all those things? Because when you cram compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, pulls, and presses all into the same session, it's very taxing to your body.
If you've never combined four to eight compound movements into one workout, you're in for a big surprise. You soon realize that a properly designed total-body weight training session will not only develop the ATP-PC energy system, but also anaerobic glycolysis and aerobic metabolism. And that's why people can generally get away with doing less cardio when their weight training consists of total-body workouts.
By simply switching from a body part split to total-body workouts, I've seen people drop four pounds of pure fat within the first month of undertaking total-body workouts without changing anything else. The reason is because the energy system and androgen response from total-body workouts is favorable for both fat-burning and muscle growth.
Another advantage of total-body workouts is that they tend to eradicate most of those pussy isolation movements. Once I tell someone that they need to train all of their major muscle groups in one session, they soon become very efficient with their choices of movements.
Why perform pressdowns for triceps, flyes for pectorals, and front raises for deltoids when you can develop all of those muscle groups with the dip? With a compound movement like the dip comes a greater hormonal response. And with a greater hormonal response come bigger muscles and less body fat.
Enough with my sales pitch. If you haven't been performing total-body workouts, you need to start. But ease into it. Start out with four compound movements for each workout and perform three workouts each week. Choose a squat, deadlift, press, and pull variation for each workout. One of the four movements can consist of a variation of the snatch or clean.
Perform a different variation for each of the three workouts each week. Don't forget about tips one and two! (Of course, if you don't want to design your own workouts, you can find mine in the archives. Except for "Anti-Bodybuilding Hypertrophy" and "Big Boy Basics," every program of mine is total-body.)
And if you're one who believes that you can't train all of your major muscle groups with four movements, I invite you to do the following circuit for 8 sets of 3 reps with the heaviest load that you can handle for each set:
- A1. Snatch
- A2. Dip
- A3. Woodchop
- A4. Chin-up
Once you're accustomed to four compound movements for three workouts per week, you can start increasing the number of movements. I suggest you add one or two more movements and stick with it for three to four weeks before adding more. I generally recommend no more than eight movements per total-body session, but there's really no limit. Once you start building your work capacity and fitness levels, you can do as many movements as your available time allows.
Speaking of time, that brings me to my last point.
4 – Consume Peri-Workout Nutrition
One of the biggest fallacies that I keep hearing is this: resistance-training workouts must last less than one hour. Bullshit!
The putative notion that workouts should last less than an hour is based on old research that demonstrated a shift of anabolic and catabolic hormones in the negative direction after 45 minutes of resistance training. But now that we know how important it is to ingest carbs and protein at the onset and/or during a workout, that research becomes much less relevant.
If you drink Plazma™ or some sort of whey/maltodextrin drink at the onset of your workouts, you can easily train for 90-120 minutes without worrying about cortisol's detrimental influence on your physique.
How important is peri-workout nutrition? I now consider a carb/protein drink at the onset of resistance training workouts to be more important than a post-workout drink. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that anyone should stop consuming a post-workout drink, but between the two, peri-workout nutrition is the clear winner in my book.
So if you want to get bigger, leaner, and stronger, strive for longer and more demanding total-body workouts. And be sure to consume liquid carbs and protein at the onset, or during your workouts.
But this issue of peri-workout nutrition stretches beyond controlling catabolism during your workouts; it can also be beneficial during periods of fat loss. You probably know from Drs. Lowery and Berardi that your carb sensitivity is elevated in the morning and after your workouts. So you might be surprised to learn that there are some people who I had drop all morning and post-workout carbs in order to get them shredded. But I had these same people still consume carbs during their workouts.
I believe it's the best time to ingest the majority of your daily carbs if you're on a low-carb diet. You'll keep losing fat because the carbs will be soaked up by the heightened sensitivity of your muscles, and you'll be able to maintain your workout intensity. As a bonus, you'll recover much quicker between workouts.
Many of my clients need to get absolutely shredded for one reason or another, and as I said in the beginning, my clients' results determine my success. If peri-workout carbs slowed their fat loss or didn't improve their recovery, I'd drop them quicker than Anna Nicole Smith drops a blind date once she finds out he's not a billionaire.
To support my position that peri-workout carbs won't stall your fat loss, let me mention a T-Nation reader who hired me this year to prepare her for a figure competition. I had her consume Plazma™ during all six of her workouts each week. And I continued with the peri-workout Plazma™ until the last week before her competition (at that point, I had to drop her water). She got ripped, and she won the competition. Here she is:
If you have a high tolerance to carbs, consume one full serving of Plazma™ at the onset, or during, your workouts. If you have a medium tolerance to carbs, consume half a serving. If the mere thought of bread expands your waistline, consume 20-30 grams of pure whey.
I must mention, however, that in eleven years of transforming bodies, I can count on one hand the number of people whose fat loss stalled when they ingested liquid carbs and protein during their workouts. In fact, when I manipulate my clients' carb intake, the peri-workout carbs are the last carbs to get eliminated from their diets.
So try a full or half serving of Plazma™ (or some whey/maltodextrin drink) before going with only whey protein. If you do, you'll continue to burn fat while enhancing your training intensity and recovery.
- Rotate your sets, reps, and load throughout the week.
- Calculate the volume of each training session.
- Perform total-body workouts.
- Consume Plazma™ or a whey/maltodextrin drink at the onset of each workout (afterwards, too).
If you incorporate these four steps into your program, you'll be way ahead of the competition. I guarantee it!