You don't have enough time to train? What are you, a housewife? OK, we're kidding. We know that a lot of Testosterone magazine readers have brutal schedules that leave very little time for serious, hardcore training. We also know it's frustrating, even depressing — you're willing to put in the reps, but you simply can't squeeze in the time.
T NATION bodybuilding and HTH training expert Christian Thibaudeau understands your situation, but wants to tell you something:
"There's no reason you can't get your sorry ass in the gym at least a three times per week. I don't think training frequency is a problem — I think it's how long the workout takes.
"I really believe you can get 90 percent of the gains in a session that lasts no longer than 35 minutes."
Three, 35-minute workouts per week?
This idea, coming from the guy who often trains twice a day, six days a week, there must be a catch.
"Nope. It's challenging, refreshing, and most importantly, it works."
When Thibaudeau was an Olympic lifter, he had a minimalist approach to training. "I'd focus on one main exercise per movement pattern like the bench press, squat, clean, snatch, row, or chin-up. I didn't hit muscles from different angles and I didn't have a lot of variation, but I saw some amazing muscular gains."
The past few weeks Thibaudeau has been experimenting with something similar but drastically more effective.
"I'm still only doing one movement pattern per muscle, but I'm using three different types of force curves, " he says.
What the hell is a force curve?
"When you're lifting weights you're most likely using dead weight—that is, dumbbells or a bar loaded with plates," explains Thibaudeau. "With dead weight, the tension on the muscle will change during the range of motion. That's why the tension at the bottom of a preacher curl isn't as great as it is at the mid-point."
By using another force curve with the same movement pattern—like a preacher curl done at a cable station or a preacher curl done with band-resistance— you'll hit more muscle fibers which translates into more growth.
"With a cable, the tension on the muscle will stay the same throughout the movement since the resistance is constant," he says. "With a band, you'll get more tension in the peak contraction and less in the beginning of the exercise."
But what about exercise variety?
"If you're taking advantage of The Perfect Rep, and trying to produce as much force as possible, you'll recruit the most motor units and it'll take away the need for more exercises," he says. "If you use different force curves, you'll literally change the way the muscle contracts with each set."
"Besides, I believe maximum growth occurs when you have a variation in stimulus —like using different force curves for the same movement pattern—instead of using a bunch of different exercises."
And Thibaudeau isn't just a theorist. He's his own guinea pig.
"On my last workout, I did a regular preacher curl, a preacher curl at a cable station, and a preacher curl with band resistance—all different force curves. I did five reps of each exercise with a minute in between sets and used a weight that was one or two reps shy of failure. It took 35 minutes and I guarantee I hit every muscle fiber. My arms were pumped — hell, they're still pumped — and my nervous system was on fire. It was different, hard, and it worked very well. In fact, I had to force myself to stop. I'm blown away by the results."
Want to experience the same thing Thibaudeau did? Then it's time to introduce you to your new workout program.
To save time, with the added benefit of increasing work capacity, Thibaudeau built the program around the pairing of antagonist movement patterns.
Monday Chest and Back
Wednesday Legs and Shoulders
Friday Biceps and triceps
Pick one basic movement pattern for each body part and change the force curve with set to make it a total of three exercises per muscle group. Here are some of his preferred lifts:
- Preacher curl with free weights (EZ or straight bar)
- Preacher curl with cable (or preacher curl machine)
- Preacher curl with band resistance
Thibaudeau used the empty bar and one EliteFTS monster-mini band.
- Bent-over barbell row with free weights
- Bent-over barbell row with a low pulley
- Bent-over barbell row with added band resistance (using lighter weight)
- Bench press
- Bench press machine
- Bench press with bands (using lighter weight)
- Seated barbell shoulder press
- Shoulder press machine
- Seated barbell shoulder press with bands (using lighter weight)
- Standing overhead DB triceps extension
- Standing overhead rope triceps extension
- Standing overhead DB triceps extension with added band resistant (lighter DB)
- Front squat
- Hack squat
- Front squat with added band resistance (using lighter weight)
Sets and Reps
"You need to do a minimum of three rounds per exercise for a total of nine sets," says Thibaudeau. "The sweet spot is four to eight rounds, depending on how you're feeling and how much time you have."
What about reps?
"If the movement pattern has a long range-of-motion or is complex like a squat, deadlift, bench press, or row, you should do three reps," he says. "If it's a short range-of-motion or mechanically easy like curls, triceps extensions, or lateral raises, you should do five reps. Always stop a rep or two shy of failure, and make sure to rest a minute or so between each exercise."
Ramping the Weight
To select your starting weight for each exercise, calculate 75% of your 1RM (of that exercise), and subtract 10 pounds.
Use that weight (75% 1RM - 10 lb) on your first set, then add five pounds per set on the second and third sets. The third set, obviously, will be at 75% 1RM.
1RM = 300 lb
75% = 225 lb
Set 1 = 215 lb
Set 2 = 220 lb
Set 3 = 225 lb
Rest Between Sets and Exercises
"My general guideline for this program is to only rest the amount of time required to give a full effort on the upcoming set, but never more than one minute."
So Monday's workout would look like this:
Bench press x 3 reps
Bench press machine x 3 reps
Bench press with bands (using lighter weight) x 3 reps
(resting no more than one minute between each exercise)
Move to back exercises.
Bent-over barbell row with free weights x 3 reps
Bent-over barbell row with a low pulley x 3 reps
Bent-over barbell row with added band resistance (using lighter weight) x 3 reps
Again, resting no more than one minute between each exercise.
Start over with the chest exercises and go through the entire cycle at least two more times.
Stop the workout, or drop an exercise, when you can no longer accelerate the weight. And, never, ever, slowly grind out a rep.
What about Peri-Workout Nutrition?
If you read about The Plazma™ Super Stack you're already one of the smart ones who understands the benefits of supplying your muscles with crucial nutrients like rice oligodextrin, palatinose, and high-quality casein hydrolysate before, during, and after your workout.
For the thee-day-per-week guys, Thibaudeau recommends staying with the same protocol to reap the benefits, but reducing the FINIbars to one (instead of three) before your workout since you'll be in the gym for a shorter period of time and won't need all the energy the FINIbars provide.
Click here to see the exact peri-workout nutrition protocol Thibaudeau recommends.
So that's it. Three workouts per week, 35 minutes per session. The only question remains: Are you still going to make excuses about why you can't make any gains?
Try the three-day HTH approach and let us know how it works. (But we already know what you'll tell us, so let's just get this out of the way: You're welcome.)