You hear it all the time. It's one of the favorite sayings from high-intensity pundits and other "briefer is better" trainees. It goes something like this:
You can either train long or you can train hard, but you can't do both.
You know what? It's a pretty damn good quote, one I wouldn't mind using myself when I talk to different lifters seeking advice. The problem is that everyone seems to assume that the answer is to train harder. I don't exactly agree. In fact, I think the better option is to train longer, not harder.
If you've been reading Testosterone for any lengthy period of time, then it's possible that you've come to the same conclusion. It's unfortunate the majority of trainees in the good ol' U.S. of A. just haven't figured it out. Bodybuilders, however, haven't always thought this way. In fact, old-time lifters knew the benefits of training long and not hard. Bill Pearl, for instance, always advised taking all sets one or two reps shy of failure. Why? So he could train longer, of course!
There have been many good writers in the field of strength training and muscle building over the years, but I think one of the greatest would have to be Anthony Ditillo. Unfortunately, the name has been forgotten by many. I have a feeling, however, that if Ditillo were still writing he'd be contributing to Testosterone. And I know one thing: he'd agree whole-heartedly with strength coaches like Chad Waterbury, Charles Staley, and Christian Thibaudeau.
Ditillo believed in training each body part three times per week, performing multiple sets at each session for a low number of reps, never to failure. He also stuck with the basics – squats, benches, deadlifts, barbell curls, behind-the-neck presses. There's something else you should know about him, too: he was freaky big and strong!
When I first tell bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other strength athletes my belief that you should train longer and not harder, they look at me like I'm some type of weird blowfish at the local aquarium. "Ya' gotta be jokin'," they might say. "I've gotten much better results since I started trainin' just an hour each session instead of two." But longer doesn't necessarily have to refer to the length of the workouts, but rather the amount of sets versus the amount of reps.
Most lifters use set/rep schemes like three sets of ten (why the hell is this always the favorite?), two sets of fifteen, four sets of eight, etc, etc. However, I think everyone would get much better results if they flip-flopped their set/rep sequence. In other words, perform ten sets of three, fifteen sets of two, eight sets of four, etc. You get the point. And the point is: the first method (the common one) is the harder method, the second is the longer one.
Even though the workload is the same with both methods, longer is better for a number of reasons:
1) You get the most out of every rep and your form doesn't degrade.
2) Each rep is much more accelerative. Let's say you can bench 225 for ten reps. How much force do you think you're producing on your last few reps? I can guarantee you it's not much. Now, how much force would you be producing on each rep if you did two sets of five? What about five sets of two? The bottom line is, the "longer" method is much better for producing power and maximum strength, not to mention the muscle that goes along with it.
Okay, hopefully, by this point, I've convinced some of you to train longer, not harder. Now, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty, the good stuff: the workouts.
If you've been performing brief, infrequent, hard workouts, then this first workout is going to be a good introduction to longer training and it'll get you ready for the more advanced sessions I've got in store. Even if you've been training longer (like my Frequent and Furious workout), you still might want to perform this one before moving on to the advanced stuff. It should be a change of pace from almost anything you've been doing.
The workout is very similar to the type of training Anthony Ditillo used to recommend. It's a three-days-a-week program, so I've listed the days as Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, though any three non-consecutive days will work. (Most of the exercises are pretty basic, but if you're not familiar with one of them, just look it up with the T-mag search engine.)
Squats – 5 to 7 sets of 5 to 7 reps. Each set should be progressive, meaning you add weight each set (without inducing failure.) If you decide to do seven sets of five reps, then that should be seven progressively heavier sets. Whatever rep range you choose, stick with it for all sets.
Weighted Dips – 5 to 7 sets of 5 to 7 reps. Use the same set/rep scheme as the squats, adding weight via a dip belt or a dumbbell held with your feet.
Behind The Neck Presses – 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 7 reps
Barbell Curls – 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 7 reps
Abs – 3 to 5 sets of 30 to 50 reps. Pick an ab exercise you like, one that you don't mind doing for 30 to 50 reps (just stay away from crunches).
Deadlifts – 5 to 7 sets of 3 to 5 reps. Use a conventional stance. Work up over five to seven progressively heavier sets. I want you to use a lower rep range on these to prevent form degradation.
Flat Bench Presses – 5 to 7 sets of 5 to 7 reps. For these, use what I call your "power grip," or whatever grip allows you to use the most weight. For the majority of lifters this will be a medium-wide grip. If you want to start pressing huge poundages, then start taking your grip out wider at each workout, while keeping your elbows tucked to your sides. By the time you work up to your index finger on the power rings, your pressing strength will be greatly improved.
Bent Over Rows – 5 to 7 sets of 5 to 7 reps. Stick with the same poundage for all 5 to 7 work sets.
Lying Dumbbell Extensions (Skull Crushers) – 5 to 7 sets of 5 to 7 reps. Use the same technique as the bent over rows.
Abs – 3 to 5 sets of 30 to 50 reps
Repeat Monday's workout, using the same set/rep sequence. The next week, you'd switch up the workouts. On Monday and Friday, perform the Wednesday workout. On Wednesday, perform the Monday and Friday workout.
Remember, don't take anything to failure. On your progressive sets you should work up to a final set where you come one to two reps shy of failure. On an exercise where you use the same weight throughout your sets, stick with a poundage that allows you to make all your reps. Only the last couple of sets should approach failure.
Stick with this workout for four to six weeks, then move to the advanced program below.
This program is also performed three days per week. This time, however, you're going to follow a heavy/light/medium system. Anyone who tried my "Frequent And Furious" program or has tried any of Bill Starr's routines will be familiar with this. The difference with this program is going to be the volume. This is a high volume, fairly low-intensity workout, though if you've been following a typical bodybuilding regimen it might not feel that way – and it'll kick the ass of other hypertrophy programs!
I'm going to present a three week training block. After three weeks on the program, you should understand the parameters and be able to make the changes needed on your own.
Squats – 8 sets of 5 reps. Use a medium-bar placement on the back (not too high, not too low), medium-wide stance. Work up over five progressively heavier sets to a weight which takes you two to three reps shy of failure. Stick with this weight for the last four sets.
Deadlifts – 8 sets of 3 reps. Use the same system as the squats, utilizing three rep sets instead of five. Use a conventional stance to make this a total back exercise.
Flat Bench Presses – 8 sets of 5 reps. Same system as the squats, using the grip you're the most comfortable with.
Lying Extension/Pullovers – 8 sets of 7 reps. For these do three progressively heavier sets. Stick with the same weight for the fourth through eight set. If you're unfamiliar with this exercise, here's the form breakdown: using either an EZ-curl bar or a straight Olympic bar, perform the movement as if you're doing an extension. When the bar reaches your forehead, keep your elbows locked in place and perform a pullover, stretching until the plates touch the ground. The concentric (lifting) portion should follow the same path.
Squats – 6 sets of 5 reps. Two warm-up sets followed by four sets with the same weight, approximately 80% of the max weight used on Monday.
Seated Good Mornings – 5 sets of 5 reps. With the bar in the same placement as the squats, sit down on a bench with your feet out the same as your squat stance. Bend over until your forehead touches the bench. Work up over five progressively heavier sets until you reach your max weight for five reps (one to two reps shy of failure).
Incline Presses – 8 sets of 5 reps. Use the same set/rep sequence as the bench presses on Monday, using 80% on your last four sets compared to what you used for your last four sets of benches. No set should be too hard.
Barbell Curls – 7 sets of 5 reps. Perform two warm-up sets of five, followed by five "work" sets of five reps each. Again, use a weight where you come one or two reps shy of failure on your last couple of sets.
Squats – 8 sets of 5 reps. Follow the same set/rep sequence as the Monday workout, except work up to only 90% on your last four sets compared to the same sets on Monday.
Power Snatches – 7 sets of 3 reps. These should be seven progressively heavier sets. For information on how to properly execute this exercise, checkout Christian Thibaudeau's article, The Other Kind Of Snatch. Here's the illustration from that article:
Pause Bench Presses – 8 sets of 5 reps. Use the same format as the flat benches on Monday, only take a one second pause at the bottom of the movement where the bar touches your chest. Work up to 90% of Monday's weight.
Wide Grip Chins – 5 sets of 5 reps. Add weight as needed on each set, working up to a max of five reps.
Dumbbell Curls – 5 sets of 5 reps.
Do some type of ab work each session in this advanced program. There are plenty of good ab exercises illustrated here at T-mag. Just use the search engine and pick a few. You may want to perform exercises that hit mainly the "upper" abs in one workout, then choose those that train mainly the "lower" abs in the next.
Also, don't be afraid to add some extra calf work and/or high-rep sets on the leg extension and/or leg curl machine. Don't add this extra work, however, if you feel at all drained.
Squats – 10 sets of 3 reps. Use the same foot and bar placement you used on squats for the first week. The first four to five sets should be progressively heavier. The last five or six should be "straight" sets. Nothing should be taken to failure. Use a weight around 80% of your maximum squat.
Flat Bench Presses – 10 sets of 3 reps. Use the same technique as the squats. If you'd like, vary your grip every three sets. For instance, for the first three sets (as you're warming up) use a close grip with your index finger on the smooth part of the bar. For your next three sets use a medium grip, and on your last four sets put your ring finger on the power rings.
Power Cleans – 7 sets of 3 reps. Perform three progressively heavier sets, followed by four sets with your work weight. For form, note illustration below (courtesy of Christian Thibaudeau):
Barbell Curls supersetted w/ Parallel Bar Dips – 8 sets of 3 reps. Warm up with only two sets, followed by six working sets with the same weight. Take no rest in between the two lifts.
Front Squats – 8 sets of 3 reps. Use the same protocol as you did on Monday's squat workout, omitting the last two sets. You shouldn't have to worry about calculating percentages. The nature of this exercise will make it a "light" one.
Upper Chest Bench Presses (feet in the air) – 10 sets of 3 reps. Use only 70% of the work weight you used on Monday, though you may use this weight for as many as nine sets if you'd like. Bring the barbell to your upper chest, almost to your neck, while trying to keep your elbows tucked to your side. Keep your feet in the air throughout the lift.
Rounded Back Good Mornings – 6 sets of 5 reps. Remember, a good morning is like a stiff legged deadlift, only the bar in rested on your back as with a squat. If you have any type of back problems, stick with the arched back version. For the rest of you, get ready to work the hell out of your lower back. Do three progressively heavier warm-up sets followed by three sets of five reps, stopping one or two reps shy of failure on each set.
Close Stance, High Bar, Pause Squats – 10 sets of 3 reps. Use 85-90% of the weight used on Monday for regular squats. Squat as deep as you can and pause for a count of one second before ascending to lockout.
Incline Bench Presses – 10 sets of 3 reps. Work up to 90% of what you used on Monday for your last five to six sets.
Barbell Shrugs – 8 sets of 3 reps. Work up to three or four sets at your top weight for three reps. (Set the pins in the power rack so you don't have to pick the weight up very far.) Try to touch your traps to your ears and do not roll your shoulders!
Seated Dumbbell Curls supersetted w/ Floor Triceps Extensions – 8 sets of 3 reps. Perform two warm-up sets followed by six work sets. Take each set to just shy of failure and only rest about a minute between each superset. Use an EZ-curl bar for your floor extensions.
As with the first week, do some type of ab work at each session. Don't be afraid to include some extra work for your calves and legs if you feel up to it. None of these sets should be taxing, however.
Another option to consider is adding some type of accommodating resistance on your squat and bench work via bands and/or chains. Be careful with the bands, though. They offer better results than the chains, but take more of a toll on your recovery system.
Squats – 3 sets of 3, followed by wave-loading sets of 3,2,1 and 3,2,1. An example of your sets (for a 400 pound squatter) might look like this:
135 x 3
225 x 3
275 x 3
340 x 3
360 x 2
380 x 1
340 x 3
360 x 2
380 x 1
Flat Bench Presses – 9 sets of 3,3,3, followed by 3,2,1, and 3,2,1. Use the same wave pattern as the squats.
Sumo Deadlifts – 7 sets of 5,5,5,4,3,2,1. Sumo deadlifts are performed with a wide stance, arms down between the legs. The first two sets are warm-ups, and the last five are your work sets. If you feel like you need it, add another warm-up set, but your muscles should be sufficiently ready after a couple of sets due to the squats you've already performed.
Cable Curls – 4 sets of 6, 10, 16, and 20. These are "breakdown" sets; drop sets where the reps increase on each subsequent drop. I picked cable curls because the nature of breakdowns requires an exercise where you can quickly change weight. So, you'll perform six reps on your first set, then lower the weight and immediately perform ten reps on your second set and so on.
Triceps Pushdowns – 4 sets of 6, 10, 16, and 20. Use the same "breakdown" technique as the curls.
Squats (varying bar placements and stances) – 7 sets of 3 reps. Work up to a weight (by your third set) that's about 100 pounds less than what you used for your singles on Monday. Vary your stance and bar placement on each set. In other words, do a couple of sets with close stance/high bar placement, a couple with your conventional stance and placement, and a few with a wide stance/low bar placement.
Seated Overhead Presses – 3 sets of 3, followed by wave-loading sets of 3,2,1 and 3,2,1. Use the same system as the bench presses on Monday. The nature of the exercise will automatically make it "light."
Snatch Grip High Pulls – 3 sets of 3, and wave loading sets of 3,2,1 and 3,2,1. If you're experienced with doing this exercise, don't work up to 95% of your max (as you'll have done with the other exercises). Stop at about 80%.
Squats – 3 sets of 3, followed by 6 singles. Your first three sets should be the same as Monday, followed by six progressively heavier sets, working up to your max (or very close to it). The sets for our hypothetical 400 pound squatter would look like this:
Even though you're using more weight than on Monday, your number of lifts and your workload will be lighter, thus qualifying this workout as a "medium" day.
Flat Bench Presses – 3 sets of 3, followed by 6 singles. Use the same method as the squats.
Rounded Back Deadlifts – 5 sets of 5 reps. Use a conventional stance and keep your back rounded throughout the lift. This means you won't be able to lockout the weight, so raise the weight as high as you can before lowering to the floor. Work up over five progressively heavier sets.
Dumbbell Curls supersetted w/ Bench Dips – 3 sets of 20 reps each. After three weeks of heavy training, your muscles and their attachments could use a little break, the reason for the high reps. Still, I don't want you to reach failure on any sets. Stop two to three reps short.
By the third week of this program, you should understand what you can (and can't) handle in terms of extra ab, calf, and leg work. Also, spend some time stretching after each session or on days off. You could also try adding some very light extra workouts on your off days (see Chad Waterbury's 100 Reps To Bigger Muscles).
Wrapping It Up
After following the above program for three weeks, you should comprehend how this type of system works. Once the three weeks are up, you have a couple of options. You can go back to week one and try to beat your poundages from that week, or you can try a different set/rep scheme altogether, combined with some different exercises.
Some other good set/rep combinations include fifteen sets of two, six sets of four, eight sets of eight, etc. What you choose should be a matter of your training experience. If you've been training for less than a year, then repeat the three week training block at least two more times. If you've been training (properly) for longer than that, add a couple more weeks using different combinations of sets/reps before repeating anything.
For years, I toiled with "hard" and brief workouts, wondering why I wasn't making the type of progress I read about in the muscle rags each month. Surely, Arthur Jones knew what he was talking about when he said, "You can either train long or you can train hard, but you can't do both." Too bad it took me so long to discover the answer. You don't have to go through years of trial and error like so many lifters. Give the above workouts a try and you'll discover the answer for yourself.