Here's what you need to know...

  • Opposite Training refers to doing the opposite of what you normally do for short and focused periods. This hits the body with a novel stimulus, but also uses a different physiological path to stimulate hypertrophy.
  • For most of your training, focus on performance – frequent use of big exercises, performed explosively, using heavy weights and short rest intervals.
  • For concentrated "opposite blocks" do the reverse – lots of exercises, focusing on pumping, with longer rest and less frequency. This will build muscle and improve the ability to get a pump.

There's one training principle that always delivers for me. It's not one that I like to apply often because it goes against what I enjoy doing in the gym. Still, it never fails to give me rapid gains in muscle mass over a two to three week period.

I call it Opposite Training. It's simple: I do everything the opposite of what I normally do. So instead of using my bread and butter principles for size and strength – training for performance, a few big exercises, lots of sets, low reps, heavy weights, high frequency – I reverse things: training for a pump, more exercises, fewer sets, higher reps, moderate weights, and less frequency. And it never fails to work.

For one, it provides my body with a novel stimulus, which by itself will result in some gains. It also uses a different physiological path to stimulate hypertrophy.

Let's examine my principles and compare them with my Opposite Training weeks:

Lift for performance and looks will follow. That means doing a fairly high number of sets (6-12) per exercise using low reps (1-5). The lifting style consists of trying to lift the weight as fast as possible, regardless of the weight (compensatory acceleration), letting the load dictate the rep speed.

The focus is on full extension, such as pressing every rep until the elbows/legs are locked or doing chin-ups from a full dead-hang position. The primary goal is to either lift as much weight as possible for the prescribed number of reps, or to lift a moderate weight explosively.

Opposite – Pump The Muscles

Create the biggest pump possible within the prescribed rep range to pull nutrients into the muscle and fuel growth. That means doing a fairly high number of repetitions (12-25) per set for a low number of sets per exercise (2-4).

The lifting style consists of trying to make an easy weight feel hard by lifting the weight under control while flexing the target muscle hard throughout the rep. The key is to use the range of motion that allows you to keep the target muscle under tension. For example, during presses and squats, the muscles lose tension when you lock out the arms or legs. We want to avoid that, so stop just short of locking out.

To achieve maximum performance on a basic lift, you must invest most of your energy into training that lift. Doing a large number of sets (6-12) on one lift will make you technically more efficient – allowing you to use more weight – and the targeted muscle fibers will receive more stimulation as they're being exposed to repeated efforts.

While some exercise variation is permissible (changing the range of motion, using chains or bands), the basic movement pattern shouldn't change if you want maximum strength transfer.

Look at elite Olympic lifters. They use very few assistance exercises, sticking to snatches, clean and jerks, and squats. When they do include assistance work, it's mostly those same lifts but with a different range of motion, like snatches or cleans from blocks. The same could be said about the top Eastern European powerlifters in the IPF who bench, squat, and deadlift without doing much of anything else.

Opposite – Use A Combination Of Exercises

When seeking a maximum pump, use a wider variety of exercises. Usually after three or four sets of the same exercise, you reach a point where more sets of the same movement won't increase the pump any more. However, switching to another exercise for the same muscle group can take it up a notch.

Using a broader number of exercises (3-5) per muscle group for fewer sets (2-4 per exercise) will pump more nutrient-rich blood into the muscle while hitting the maximum number of fibers, both of which contribute to a solid growth stimulus. While you still want to stick with multi-joint exercises exercises, including some different angles or variations will only help maximize fiber recruitment.

For example, during pressing workouts you can use several forms of presses: flat bench, close-grip, decline bench, incline bench, military press, reverse grip bench, or dips.

Getting strong over many angles is a good way to improve your potential on a main lift, even if the transfer is low. It also helps build muscle, which can later be used to get stronger on the main exercise. A good example is the Westside lifters who use assistance exercises that are different from the competition lift for at least 80% of their training volume.

For maximum performance, frequency is king. The more you practice a movement, the more efficient you'll become. The best athletes in the world train their skills often, and being able to lift big weights is a motor skill. It requires technique mastery, intermuscular coordination, and optimal fiber recruitment and synchronization.

Elite Olympic lifters will snatch and clean and jerk daily, sometimes twice a day to become masters of their lifts. With the basic strength lifts, a frequency of three times per week is optimal.

Strength coaches have been doing this with their athletes since the 50s and 60s, and with the modern advances in performance supplementation like Surge® Workout Fuel, you can push frequency even higher.

Opposite – Train Each Muscle Group 1-2 Times a Week

If the biggest pump is your goal, training a muscle too often can hurt you. For one, training a muscle less often keeps it more responsive. If I don't train biceps directly for a few weeks, when I do finally hit them they'll get pumped like crazy with very little work. However, if I train them too often I get a less impressive pump, and it takes more work to get that pump.

Furthermore, to achieve a maximum pump we must perform a fairly high volume of work. Obviously volume and frequency are opposites – if volume goes up, frequency must go down. Bodybuilders have found through experience that when training for the pump, training each muscle group once or twice a week is ideal.

When shooting for maximum lifting performance, you should start the session with explosive work and heavy lifting. Both are more demanding on the central nervous system and are better done when fresh.

Furthermore, both forms of lifting will amp up the nervous system, and performing hypertrophy work on an amped-up nervous system will help you recruit the fast-twitch fibers. Since these are the fibers more prone to growth, you'll stimulate more muscle mass.

Opposite – Do Heavier/Explosive Work When Pumped

Heavy lifting is just a tool to create a mechanical stimulus of the muscle fibers. If you "pre-load" the muscles with nutrient-rich blood by doing pump work before heavier work, you'll have the optimal anabolic milieu to stimulate growth.

Even if performance on the heavier sets is hampered due to the pump and fatigue, it won't matter much since there will still be maximal mechanical stimulus on the fibers. And since growth factors and nutrients will already be present in the muscle, the muscle-building process will start sooner.

Training for performance requires something called strength-capacity – the ability to repeat a high level of effort with minimal rest over an extended time. In simple words, be unbreakable when lifting big weights.

So when training to become a high performance machine, you should gradually work on decreasing your total workout time while maintaining both the quantity of work and the level of performance.

Opposite – Rest 60-90 Seconds

Rest intervals are tricky when training for a maximum pump. Shorter rest between sets allows you to get a pump faster because you don't have time to clear all the waste products accumulated during a set. However, with longer rest intervals you're able to better maintain your performance when doing higher reps.

When the muscle is acidic, the neural drive to the muscle fibers is impaired, which makes it harder to keep contracting the muscle. So rest intervals that are too short will significantly decrease the number of reps per set that you can do. In short, rest intervals of 60-90 seconds are best when doing pump training.


Here's an example of what a typical program based on my principles might look like.

Monday and Thursday

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench Press with chains 5  
1 set with barbell only x 10; 1 set @ 30% x 5; 3 sets @ 50% (plus chains) x 3 (done explosively)
B Bench Press (no chains) 9 3
1 set @ 60%; 1 set @ 70%; 1 set @ 80%; 3 sets @ 85%; 3 sets @ 87.5%
C Bench Press (no chains) 1 20
20 total reps with 80% done in as little time as possible
D Pull-Ups 1 50
50 done in as little time as possible
E Bear Hug Carry 5 1 min. *

* 1 minute of rest between sets

Tuesday and Friday

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Power Snatch from blocks 7  
2 sets with barbell only x 5; 1 set @ 30% x 5; 1 set @ 50% x 5; 3 sets @ 70-80% x 3
B Snatch-Grip High Pull 9 3
1 set @ 60%; 1 set @ 70%; 1 set @ 80%; 3 sets @ 85%; 3 sets @ 87.5%
C Snatch-Grip High Pull 1 5 min.
Using 80%, perform as many total reps as possible in 5 minutes
D Pull-Ups 1 50
50 done in as little time as possible
E Dead-Squat™ Bar carries/Farmer's walk 5 1 min. *

* 1 minute of rest between sets

Wednesday and Saturday

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Power Clean & Push Press 7  
Only power clean the first rep! In other words, power clean the bar and then do the prescribed number of push presses. 1 set with barbell only x 5; 1 set @ 30% x 5; 1 set @ 50% x 5; 3 sets @ 70-80% x 3
B Power Clean & Military Press 9 2
Power clean and press all the reps. 1 set @ 60%; 1 set @ 70%; 1 set @ 80%; 3 sets @ 85%; 3 sets @ 87.5%
C Power Clean & Push Press 1 5 min.
Using 80%, do 2 reps every minute on the minute
D Pull-Ups 1 50
50 done in as little time as possible
E Overhead Carry 5 1 min. *

* 1 minute of rest between sets

Now here's what a program based on Opposite Training would look like:


  Exercise Sets Reps
A Decline Wide-Grip Bench Press * 2, 2 15-20, 12-15
B Close-Grip Bench Press 2, 2 12-15, 8-10
C1 Dips (weighted if possible) 3 8-10
C2 Push-Ups 3 max
D Bench Press 5 5
E Pec Dec Flye * * 3 8-10

* Stop each rep 1-2 inches short of lockout
* * 3-second squeeze at peak contraction


  Exercise Sets Reps
A Bulgarian Split Squat 3 10-12/leg
B Back Squat 2, 2 10-12, 6-8
C Hack Squat Machine 2, 2 15-20, 10-12
D Front Squat 5 5
E Leg Extension 3 10-12 *
F Lying Leg Curl 3 10-12 *

* + 15 bottom partials


  Exercise Sets Reps
A1 Dumbbell Hammer Curl 2, 2, 2 20, 10, 6
A2 Rope Triceps Extension 2, 2, 2 20, 10, 6
B1 Preacher Curl 2, 2, 2 20, 10, 6
B2 Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension 2, 2, 2 20, 10, 6
C1 Reverse Cable Curl 2, 2, 2 20, 10, 6
C2 EZ-Bar Cable Triceps Extension (reverse grip) 2, 2, 2 20, 10, 6


  Exercise Sets Reps
A One-Arm Lat Pulldown 1, 1, 2 20, 15, 10
B Lat Pulldown – Double Contraction 3 10
Pull to the chest, bring back to eye level, pull back down to chest. That's one rep.
C Cable Seated Row – Double Contraction 3 10
Pull to the sternum, go back 1/3 of the way, pull back to the sternum. That's one rep.
D Seated Rowing Machine * 3 10/10/10
E Rear Delt Machine (reverse pec deck) 3 12-15 * *
F Snatch-Grip Deadlift from Pins (just below knees) 5 5

* drop set
* * + 15 partial reps (bottom only)


  Exercise Sets Reps
A Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 1, 1, 2 20, 15, 10
B Incline Dumbbell Lateral Raise 4 12-15 *
Seated on 60-degree incline bench
C Incline Dumbbell Front Raise 4 12-15 *
D Lateral Raise Machine 4 30-40 * *
E Push Press 5 5
F1 Cable Face Pulls 4 12
F2 Dumbbell Shrugs 4 20 * * *

* + 15-20 bottom partials
* * partial reps
* * * with 2-second hold at peak

For me, Opposite Training always yields fast results. For one, it's something completely different and thus my body isn't used to, but also because my regular training makes me super efficient at recruiting the growth-prone fast-twitch fibers. As a result, I'm able to recruit these fibers even during pump work, a skill that lifelong "pump practitioners" seldom possess.

Doing pump work from time to time also enhances my capacity to get a pump. That means that when I go back to my regular training I can achieve a great pump even with low reps and heavy weights, which can also stimulate growth.

Finally, pump work can help get the tendons healed and stronger. Tendons have low levels of vascularization, so it takes higher reps to drive a lot of blood into them. High reps can even help heal some minor tendon injuries that can occur when you're focused on lifting heavy weights for low reps.

So even though it's not my preferred type of training, its value should not be discounted when used properly between bouts of heavy lifting.

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.