The 500 Workout

A Killer Challenge For Muscle Gain or Fat Loss

Train for long enough and at some point you'll want to do something different. We all need an occasional break from the same old routine. It may be for just one day, or perhaps a week. Maybe you're on vacation or at a gym with limited equipment. Maybe you want to dedicate one day a week to unconventional training. If that sounds like you, you've got to try this.

The 500 Workout

The plan is simple: Choose 5 exercises. Do 100 total reps for each over the course of the workout.

Now, don't pick 5 exercises that are essentially the same movement – all presses, or all pulls, or just legs, for example. In other words, don't pick 5 chest exercises. A better option would be something like:

  1. Overhead dumbbell press
  2. Push-up
  3. Dumbbell row
  4. Pull-up
  5. Lunge

Try to hit as many major muscle groups as you can with your 5 exercise choices. For example, you could choose:

  1. Leg exercise
  2. Chest exercise
  3. Back exercise
  4. Shoulder exercise
  5. Ab exercise

If you choose exercises like close-grip bench presses and chin-ups, your biceps and triceps will get hit too.

Or you could divide your leg work up with an exercise for hamstrings, an exercise for quads, and maybe even a glute-focused movement. You're only limited by your own creativity when it comes to setting up a workout like this.

Don't think you have to go through one exercise and hit all 100 reps of it at once. You can superset the exercises, split them up into sets, or perform them all like a circuit doing each exercise for a set number before you move on to the next.

One of the things you'll like about this plan is all of the variations you can do that will provide you with a unique training stimulus.

1 Ascending Sets

Start light and go heavier as you build your way to 100 total reps per exercise. This is great if you want to build work capacity, learn a new movement, or ingrain a new technique. Increase the weight every set or every other set. Sets of 10 work well here. Here's an example of what one exercise in your plan for a dumbbell press would look like:

  • 50 pounds x 10 reps x 2 sets
  • 55 pounds x 10 reps x 2 sets
  • 60 pounds x 10 reps x 2 sets
  • 65 pounds x 10 reps x 2 sets
  • 70 pounds x 10 reps x 2 sets

That's 100 total reps. Use the same ascending rep scheme with your other 4 exercises.

2 Descending Sets

If you like to start heavy and hard and then have the workout get progressively easier, begin with your heaviest weights (after warming up properly). Then every set or every other set decrease the weight. Choose exercises you're familiar with for this setup. Reps of 5-20 work best here. Here's an example using the bench press:

  • 225 pounds x 6 reps
  • 215 pounds x 7 reps
  • 205 pounds x 9 reps
  • 195 pounds x 10 reps
  • 195 pounds x 10 reps
  • 185 pounds x 12 reps
  • 185 pounds x 12 reps
  • 175 pounds x 14 reps
  • 175 pounds x 20 reps

Again, that's 100 total reps.

3 Pyramid

The old classic. This is what everybody used when I was in high school and it still works well. Pyramid the weight up for about 5-6 sets and then reverse. If you have the energy, see if you can beat the number of reps you did on the way back down. This is a nice blend of both ascending and descending sets. Here's an example using the squat:

  • Up the pyramid:
  • 185 pounds x 12 reps
  • 205 pounds x 10 reps
  • 225 pounds x 8 reps
  • 246 pounds x 6 reps
  • 275 pounds x 5 reps
  • And down the pyramid:
  • 245 pounds x 8 reps
  • 225 pounds x 10 reps
  • 205 pounds x 12 reps
  • 135 pounds x 25 reps

4 Circuit Style

If you want the workout to have more of a conditioning effect and you don't want it to take forever, set up the exercises in a circuit.

Let's say you're on vacation and your resort gym only has 5 machines: chest press, lat pulldown, shoulder press, leg extension, and leg curl. Just do sets of 10 on each piece of equipment, using the ascending sets method, in a circuit: a set of 10 reps on one machine, a set of 10 reps on the next machine, etc.

Start light and add a little weight each round. Your first few rounds should feel like an extended warm-up. Here's how the whole thing would look:

  • Chest press: 10 reps x 10 sets
  • Lat pulldown: 10 reps x 10 sets
  • Shoulder press: 10 reps x 10 sets
  • Leg extension: 10 reps x 10
  • Leg curl: 10 reps x 10 sets

It might only take you about 20 minutes, but you'll get out of there with a nice pump and feel good for the rest of the day.

5 Go For Time

Loading Bar

You could make it similar to a CrossFit workout and do it for time. Just break the exercises up in sets of a certain number of reps. For simplicity's sake, let's just say you choose 20 reps. That would mean you'd go through 5 sets of 20 reps going from one exercise to the next.

Start a clock when you begin your first rep and let it run until you complete your 500th rep. Rest when necessary, but know the clock is still running and your goal is to finish as fast as possible. This forces you to move quickly which builds your work capacity, burns calories, and assuming the intensity is on point, it will create noticeable EPOC (increased rate of oxygen intake after your workout, also known as the afterburn effect). For example:

  • Push-ups: 20 reps x 5 sets
  • Lunges: 20 reps x 5 sets
  • Bodyweight row: 20 reps x 5 sets
  • Hip thrusts: 20 reps x 5 sets
  • Decline sit-ups: 20 reps x 5 sets

6 Same Weight

If you have access to limited equipment, say one pair of 25-pound dumbbells or just one 40-pound kettlebell, you can use the same tool for everything.

Pick five exercises that you think are appropriate and then push through with the same resistance. In this scenario, you'll typically start out with the weaker, more isolated exercises and then progress to the stronger, more compound movements (the opposite of what you normally do).

Here's what it might look like:

  • Dumbbell curl: 25 pounds x 100 reps
  • Dumbbell tricep extension: 25 pounds x 100 reps
  • Dumbbell lateral raise: 25 pounds x 100 reps
  • Dumbbell military press: 25 pounds x 100 reps
  • Dumbbell press: 25 pounds x 100 reps

7 High Reps

Newer research is showing you can build appreciable muscle training with lighter weights... as long as you push it hard. Try completing the 100 reps in just three sets, or five sets. Or try using a 40-30-30 rep scheme, a 50-25-25 rep scheme, or simply 5 sets of 20. This can be easier on the joints and gives you a pump to make even Arnold envious. Like this:

  • Leg press: 230 pounds x 40 reps, then 30 reps, then 30 reps

If this type of training is new to you, use ascending sets and start off light to build your tolerance for it. Go forth and smash.

Tim Henriques has been a competition powerlifter for over 20 years. He was a collegiate All American Powerlifter with USA Powerlifting. In 2003 Tim deadlifted 700 pounds (at 198), setting the Virginia State Record. Follow Tim Henriques on Facebook