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Hardcore lifting workouts

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Posted by HIT Man

Hardcore Lifting
by Jason F. Keen

Well, here I am discussing the road to success in, [gasp] b o d y b u i l d i n g. Now, I am not talking about bodybuilding insofar as shaving your naked body, painting yourself brown, and oiling up and posing in your underwear goes. I f that is your thing, I think you have wandered onto the wrong website. Get your butt out of my Boiler Room Gym and get out of here. What I AM talking about is adding some useful mass to your frame. This is desirable for many lifters. Now, if you compete in a certain bodyweight class in Olympic lifting, Powerlifting, or strongman contests, you want to build relative strength and try to get really strong while not adding too much bodymass. Even in one of these contexts, however, it is sometimes a good thing to get leaner and then add some quality muscle to your frame, so that you are still in the same weight class, yet you carry more muscle. In other words, you are better off weighing 196 pounds at 8% bodyfat than you were weighing 196 pounds at 12% bodyfat. With those exceptions out of the way, we find that most other guys who are lifting on a regular basis are after some more lean muscle.

How to go about gaining that extra muscle? There are a few main factors, those being rest, nutrition, and training.

As far as the rest element goes, we have covered that before. Just be sure to get enough sleep. There are plenty of nights when I only get 5 and a half or 6 hours, but I try to make up for those by taking an hour nap the next evening before dinner, or by sleeping in a little bit on the weekend.

When it comes to nutrition, you folks also know the drill. Eat clean, and eat a lot of it. Not junk food, not pizza, and not Ironman bars. Eat fresh fish, steak, chicken breasts, brown rice, yams, and lima beans. Now, you would have a pretty boring diet if that was all you ate, but your meals should resemble the latter much more than the former. When it comes to supplements, only take what you need. I use whey protein and a meal replacement, just so that I can more precisely control macronutrient ratios, and for convenience when I have no way to actually have a 'meal'. I have also used creatine, tribestan, and an E/C/A product on occasion, if I am trying to make weight for a contest, for instance. Those are about the only things I will take other than the previously mentioned 'food in a can' items like protein and Met-Rx, and I only use those 'other' things on rare occasions. Let me make a plain statement: there is NO supplement that will give you half the benefit of some concentrated, hard work.

Now, for the training part. First off, I will say that I think I need to again pound home the point that if you train on the basics, and you go from the point of being a beginner to the point of hitting the 300-400-500 mark in the raw bench press, squat, and deadlift, and you have gained some good proficiency in the Olympic and overhead lifts, you will not be able to help but be quite a bit bigger.

And yes, I have outlined a lot of different training strategies for people who want to get strong. However, that is mainly because I believe in the concept of "different strokes for different folks". I guess if you are *really* hung up on gaining size, however, this time around I am going to tell you what you need to do in order to maximize your gains. Super-abbreviated routines, Westside Barbell-type training, doing singles, and doing an Olympic lifting routine will all make you stronger and bigger, but they are all certainly not on equal footing when it comes to adding muscle to your frame…

I suggest that you take one of several approaches based on a mixture of both high and low reps, or at the very least a mixture of heavier weight AND higher volume. There is a handful of existing workouts that cover this requirement, and those that come to mind immediately are routines put out there by Fred Hatfield, John Parrillo, Pavel Tsatsouline, and the old 'blast singles' type of routine. Each of these routines has been around for a while, and most of them focus on both doing low-rep work (to build strength, or so you at least *stay* strong) and high-rep work (to gain size), while Pavel's idea is to use low rep work for multiple sets. You do not usually see people doing a workout like any of these, as people are often on a routine that uses a fixed rep range, or they are using a periodized scheme where the reps change from month to month, but not from set to set. Also, none of these are your run-of-the-mill pyramid workout. This type of set/rep scheme (eg. 10/8/6/4/2) is not as useful, because you are usually too fatigued when you get to the heavy reps. Any of the following routines, however, should help you to pack on some useful size and strength…


This is one of those old routines that has been around for a while, and I have been told that you might find something like it in old routines that might be in Ironman or MILO, or in some of the old bodybuilding books put out by MuscleMag, such as "Anabolic Muscle Mass", "Reps!", and "Beef It". (NO, I am not making up the book title "Beef It"…)

Regardless, this type of routine(like most of the routines that will be mentioned in this article) consists in mixing singles, doubles, or triples with higher rep sets that fall in at least the 10-15 range. This is done for a few reasons:

1) Whether you are looking at research or at anecdotal evidence, most signs seem to point to the fact that, in
general, lower reps will build strength more efficiently, and higher reps will help you to gain size. Again,
without getting into an overly technical argument, this seems to be the case because strength gains
are triggered by load, or weight used, while size gains are more a function of workload and fatigue.

2) Again, we want to focus on strength. If you strictly do medium- to high-rep work, you will not stay, or
become, as strong as possible. Heavy, low-rep work (though not necessarily 1RM) is the only way to build
and preserve maximum strength, and, if you actually enjoy this website, I am assuming that this is the most
important component of your training.

3) This method gives you 2 or 4 different exercises with which to hit each muscle group, and although it also
allows for thorough stimulation for both strength and muscle-building purposes, it is not a workout that will lead
to overtraining unless your frequency is pretty high.

The program itself is fairly simple. At each workout there are two exercises performed for each muscle group. The first should be a compound exercise, and it is a given that we will include the deadlift, overhead press, squat, and bench, as these movements are the foundation that allows us to get, and stay, strong. Luckily, they are also great moves for getting bigger. This first movement will be done for 3-4 sets of 1-3 reps. The second movement of the combination can be another compound movement (one that is pretty directly targeted at the muscle group, however) or, more often, is an isolation-type movement. This second lift is done for 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps, preferably to failure, or the last rep you can complete with good form.

This type of system will ensure adequate stimulation on both the strength and the size fronts, and you can work each bodypart a couple of times a week. Again, remember that the splits and the frequencies are up to you, and should be determined on an individual basis. For deafult purposes, all workouts are expected to have 'Day 1' workouts done on Monday and Thursday, and 'Day 2' workouts done on Tuesday and Friday. As for the Hatfield workouts with the 3 days, you are on your own as far as frequency goes...

A few sample workouts that illustrate the mixed-rep scheme type of workout are as follows:

Day 1 - Deadlift, low reps; Reverse Hypers, high reps; Pronated Grip Chins, low reps; Machine Pullovers, high reps; Bench Press, low reps; Dips, high reps; Side Press, low reps; Bradford Presses, high reps

Day 2 - Squats, low reps; Split Squat or Leg Extensions, high reps; Dumbbell Calf Raises, low reps; Donkey Calf Raises or Calf Presses on the Leg Press, high reps; Seated Calf Raises, medium reps; Barbell Curls, low reps; Zottman Curls, high reps.

Another answer is to use the method that John Parrillo uses and simply do sets of 6, 4, 2 reps and then 2 sets of 15-25 reps, each with the same exercise. The workout could look like this:

Day 1 - Deadlifts, Biceps Pulls or Supinated Chins, Bench Presses, Dips, Side Presses, (one set of manual resistance lateral raises)

Day 2 - Squats, Front Squats, Dumbbell Calf Raises, Seated Calf Raises, One-arm Barbell Curls, Pushdowns


Another type of system separates high and low rep work, and the type of sets you use, into different workout days. Examples of this have recently been seen in the work of Fred Hatfield. What I have seen of this type of workout scheme has 3 days; you do an "A" workout, a "B" workout, and a "C" workout for each different bodypart, using an A-B-C-B-A-B-C-B...pattern. For chest, you might do bench presses on day A for 10 sets of 10 reps, with 65%+ of your 1RM. On day B you will do 3 exercises; Bench Presses for 3 sets of triples, using compensatory acceleration and 85%+ of your 1RM. You then do a couple sets of dumbbell bench presses with 70% of your max doing rhythmic, paced repetitions. You then do a couple sets of one more movement, flyes in this case, with 40% of your 1RM for 30-50 slow, controlled reps. The C day is then a 'giant-set' of the B workout. You do 4 supersets of the first two exercises, and after 2 supersets you do a 40-rep set. There is NO rest between any of the sets. Thus, workout C for the chest would be: bench press at 85% supersetted w/ DB bench press at 70%, back to bench press, back to dumbbell bench press, then to flies with 40%, then back to two supersets of benches and dumbbell benches, and finally one last set of the flyes.


This is the method that Pavel Tsatsouline advocates. He believes that building strength is a matter of maximizing tension, and building mass is a matter of increasing workload or tonnage. Thus, you still do 5 reps with your momentary 6 or 7RM, but instead of doing 2 sets you do 6 or so. This is pretty simple, and if you are on a "Power to the People" type of strength routine, gaining size is only a matter of adding more sets. An example of a two-way split that Pavel *might* approve is this:

Day 1 - Deadlifts, 8 sets of 5 reps; Snatches, 8 sets of 3 reps; Curls, 6 sets of 5 reps; Farmer's Walks

Day 2 - Squats, 8 sets of 5 reps; Front Squats, 8 sets of 3 reps; Side Presses, 8 sets of 5 reps; Dips, 8 sets of 4 reps


The 20-rep squat routine does not exactly follow the theme of the other ones, but it has worked for many people, and it has worked for me. It is basically centered on upping the workload on full squats, and getting brutally strong by doing 20 reps with your 10-rep weight.

Monday & Thursday
Bench Press 3 sets of 8, 5, 3 reps
Side Press 3 sets 3-6 reps (do one set of manual resistance lateral raises after these)
Chins 3 sets of 5-8 reps
Bar curls 2 sets of 6-10 reps
*rest a few minutes*
SQUATS 1 set of 20 killer reps, supersetted w/
Dumbbell Pullovers 1 set with about 20 pounds, more of a stretching movement than lifting
Reverse Hypers w/ Leg Curls 2 sets 8 reps each
Standing Calf raises 2 sets 6-12 reps
Seated Calf Raises 2 sets 8-15 reps

The key here is to squat like your life depends on it. Start with a weight that you can do for 10 reps without a lot of problem. Then, at the top of each rep take at least 3 big breaths and force out another rep. Do this until you hit 20. Then add some weight. I have 1.25 plates I got from the Ironman home gym warehouse for like $3 for 4. So if you add one of these on each side, each workout, you end up going up five pounds a week. If you ride this out for 10 weeks, that raises your 20-rep squat 50 pounds. AGAIN, you must hit the 20 reps. Only one set, do or die. As Mr. Starr (not Ken) has said, you will see the "white buffalo".


There you have it; a few ways to implement high/low rep training and 20-rep squats in order to both keep getting stronger, and start getting bigger. Give it a try, and don't forget the requirements for being BIG, and you will be on the road to super-size.

There, that's it, I have done it, now leave me alone. Even in the context of preserving strength, I still hate talking about bodybuilding, and trying to "get your biceps from 16" to 16 and 1/2" after being pumped". If you want more on bodybuilding, go to the Muscle and Fiction website and look at pictures of super-juiced guys, who look like Jabba the Hutt on growth hormone when they are in the off-season, doing curls with 20 pound dumbbells...

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