Utilising the powerlifting movements to build yourself a bigger, stronger
By Liam Armstrong (Jnr BNBF Mr Scotland, BDFPA British Champion & Record
Chest day in my gym is like a Saturday at the supermarket, only difference
being that instead of queuing for salmon fillets and a half pound of beef
for Sunday lunch, I'm waiting in line for the bench press. If, like most of
the other guys in the gym, I trained chest four times a week then I would be
forced to endure this monotony on an almost daily basis. Luckily for me I'm
one of the enlightened ones that realises there is more to building a good
physique than simply repping out on the flat bench and curling one out, so
to speak, on the biceps machine. Now I'm not attesting to being some kind
of Demigod when it comes to training methodology, but through the years,
trial and error I do feel I've acquired (stolen) some useful training
concepts and ideas. Throw these ideas into one basket, and you have what
culminates in my current preferred method of training, one that I feel has
served me well and given me the most gains during my time spent under the
Heavy, Low Rep Basics for Mass
Heavy weights speak for themselves. The thickest, most densely muscled
bodybuilders are that way for a reason. They've all got one thing in common
and that is they shift one hell of a lot of weight in the gym. Resistance
builds period and the more you can handle with good form the better. It's
the common denominator that separates the hambones from the T-bones, I
challenge you to find a guy with monstrous legs that hasn't paid his dues in
the squat rack.stop looking, he doesn't exist. Simply put if you wanna get
big, strap up, wrap up or whatever you've gotta do and go shift some metal.
Contrary to popular belief, performing low rep sets does have its place in a
bodybuilding routine as it contributes to our muscles getting into that much
sought after state of play, hypertrophy. If you perform heavy squats for
four reps, a greater amount of stress is placed on your central nervous
system than it would be with, say, 10 reps. This improves the CNS's ability
to recruit high threshold fast twitch muscle fibres, the most difficult
fibres to stimulate but also those with the highest growth potential.
Lifting in the lower rep ranges also affords the muscles a certain hardness,
both in look and feel, by increasing myogenic tone. This is something that
normally comes with muscle maturity, creating that grainy look Yates was so
famous for, Paul George sports frequently and others strive to attain. On
top of all this lifting in the lower rep ranges increases strength, meaning
that when it comes to higher rep sets, you'll be able to perform them with
more weight and subsequently grow like a mofo. Never a bad thing.
Lifting heavy with low reps is all fine and well, but its common knowledge
that good things come in threes. Low rep, heavy dumbbell kickbacks just
aint gonna cut it in your quest for mass. The final piece of this
incredibly simple puzzle is Basic compound movements. If you don't utilise
the basics you're short changing your efforts in the gym. You could peck
deck flye all day long but you won't grow a huge chest. Basic movements
incorporate the most muscle fibres and they require the most effort, the
only mechanism controlling the movement of the weight is you, with your
ancillary muscles providing the only assistance you're going to get. Man
versus metal, it doesn't get much rawer than that. Don't get me wrong, I'm
certainly no 'purist' when it comes to training. If a machine exercise
works, use it. Make the most of what's available but don't shy away from
the barbells and dumbbells, it's where the gains are at.
Let's recap on the mainstays of the program so far.
- Lift heavy with good form in the prescribed rep range for increased muscle
density and growth.
- Each workout will see you performing at least one main exercise in the
lower rep ranges, going as low as 4 reps on your final set. Remember, your
new found strength will serve you well when it comes to performing sets with
- Stick to the basics. The core of your workouts will revolve around
compound, basic movements. Old School, New School - when it comes to the
thick, dense physiques, this is one thing they all have in common.
The training itself is split over four days. The split is a pretty familiar
one, coupling larger body parts with smaller ones and also trying to ensure
that each body part is trained after adequate rest. I'll never understand
why guys train biceps after back or triceps after chest when trying to build
muscle as by this point they are already fatigued and will not respond as
effectively with heavy weights as they would when were they fresh. The
split looks a little something like this:
Day 1: Quads and Hamstrings
Day 2: Chest and Biceps
Day 3: Back, Rear Delts and Traps
Day 4: Shoulders and Triceps
Ideally, if the time is available to you, using this routine in a day on day
off fashion would be most productive, giving your body ample recovery time
between workouts. However if, like myself, you don't have the schedule to
accommodate this kind of split (i.e. your girlfriend selfishly expects
priority over the weights on the weekend) then going with a Monday, Tuesday,
Thursday, Friday split is the next best thing. Some people find it easier
to stick to set days anyway. Knowing what you're training and when allows
you to attain the mindset necessary to get the job done. For example, I
always blast Legs at the start of the week so prep for this workout starts
Sunday night, visualising what I'll be lifting, reps and sets and so on.
This approach might not be possible with the day on day off split as
inevitably your workouts will fall on different days. I personally wouldn't
be able to get the same kind of focus for Legs were I doing them on a Friday
afternoon; by this point in the week I'm generally winding down and looking
forward to resting up at the weekend. Both splits then have their virtues;
a day on day off split is certainly easier on the body, but if like me your
heads got to be in it to win it, the alternative split is probably easier on
Before we get down to the specifics of each individual workout, I'm going to
mention a few pointers that should help you on your way. With regards to
rest periods between sets, my suggestion is take what you need. Sure, I
could advocate 90 seconds rest for all of you but my guess is that fitness
levels will vary across the board. The goal of this routine is to get
bigger and stronger, if you don't take adequate rest between sets then the
workload your shifting isn't going to be maximal. For some of you 90
seconds might be more than enough, for others it may take as long as 2 or 3
minutes. As long as you aren't slacking, that's fine. Similarly, if you want
to race through your workout like a greyhound go ahead but don't go blaming
me when a few months down the line you start looking like one. Another
important factor in your success with this training program is what you do
out of the gym. Remember the importance of nutrition, its unlikely that
you'll achieve anywhere near the gains that you could expect if your diet
isn't up to par. Make sure your getting your meals in and don't neglect
your pre and post workout nutrition. Ensure you get enough sleep, resting
on your rest days and taking advantage of the supplements that are available
so as to avoid burning out or worse still, suffering an injury. No excuses,
get on it. I'm going to assume, more for convenience than anything else,
that you know how to execute the exercises I mention, and do so with good
form. I feel that describing each and every one would not only be
patronising to a lot of you but it would also mean that this article may
start to rival the bible in terms of length. Right, let's get on it then:
Day 1: Legs.
Warm up as you feel necessary, generally 5 minutes on the recumbent cycle is
enough to get the blood flowing. I then stretch after each warm up set,
paying attention to my quads, hams, glutes, calves and back.
Exercise 1: Squats. Relatively wide foot stance.
Generally 3 to 4 warm up sets.
Then 4 sets of 8, 6, 4, 4 reps. Each rep should be squatted slightly below
parallel, lower if you feel comfortable. We are trying to stimulate total
leg growth here, not just the quadriceps.
Exercise 2: Leg Press. Shoulder width foot stance.
3 sets of 15, 10, 6 reps. Full repetitions, explosive from the bottom of
the movement. Don't lock out your legs at the top; sets should be done in a
piston like manner only resting when the final rep is complete.
Exercise 3: Front squat or Hack squat.
2 sets of 8, 6 reps. Again, emphasise control on either exercise, maintain
fluid movement and do not lock out knees.
Exercise 4: Leg Extensions
3 sets of 15, 10, 6 reps. Utilise full range of motion but not at the
expense of your knees! As a general rule, don't lower the weight to the
point where your calves are behind the knee joint. Hold the contraction at
the top of the movement for a count of 2 seconds and lower under control,
maintaining continuous tension on the muscle.
Exercise 5: Good Mornings.
3 sets of 8, 6, 4 reps.
A great old school exercise for building strength in the lower back, glutes
and hamstrings. Maintain good form throughout, most importantly keeping the
spine in a neutral position. Hanging hams and Christmas tree here I come!
Exercise 6: Hamstring curls (seated or lying variation)
3 sets of 8, 6, 4 reps. Concentrate on the mind muscle connection, contract
the weight up, don't kick it, didn't ya momma tell you it's only horses that
Exercise 7: Glute/Ham Raises
2 sets to failure. Those of you lucky enough to have a glute/ham raise
machine in your gym will know what I'm talking about. Those that don't,
kneel down on a mat or piece of foam in the praying position. Get your
training partner to hold and weigh down your feet or ankles. Crossing your
arms in front of you, lower yourself as slowly as possible using your glutes
and hams to control the movement, when fatigue kicks in and control is lost
(this WILL happen on the first rep!) use your hands to stop you eating dust
and reverse the movement, this time pushing off with your hands until you
reach a point where you are strong enough for your glutes and hams to take
over again. Repeat until failure or you cramp up in total agony, whichever
Exercise 8: Barbell Walking Lunges
2 sets of 10 reps each leg. Get a good deep stretch and a good spotter.
Exercise 9: Romanian Deadlifts (stiff leg variation; places the back at a
lesser risk of injury than those over exaggerated stiffs you see guys doing
from a crate)
2 sets of 10 reps. Concentrate on getting a good stretch in the hamstrings,
the beauty is if you have the positioning right you shouldn't have to put
the lower back in jeopardy of being injured to do so.
That may sound like a lot of work for your legs, in reality they are half
your body and you walk on them all day long so it takes a bit of punishing
for the stubborn ol' trunks to grow. You are only training them once every
7 days at most so they have ample time to recover. 24 sets all in all,
performed with a weight that allows you to do no more than the prescribed
Day 2: Chest and Biceps
Again warm up as you feel necessary.
Exercise 1: Incline bench press (ideally around a thirty degree incline)
3 to 4 warm up sets. Then 4 sets of 8, 6, 4, 4 reps. Bring the bar down to
the point where it touches your chest and avoid locking out the elbows at
the top of the movement as this achieves nothing but wrecked joints.
Exercise 2: Flat Bench Press
2 sets of 6 reps. Concentrate on good form. Don't let your ego get the
better of you, your training partner up right rowing each rep for you might
get him a mighty set of traps but it won't do jack for your chest.
Exercise 3: Weighted Dips
2 sets of 10, 6 reps.
Exercise 4: Low Incline Dumbell Flyes
2 sets of 15, 10 reps. Don't over exaggerate the negative portion of the
movement as this will lead to shoulder aggravation in the long term. Stop
short of touching the dumbbells at the top of the lift as this momentarily
relieves tension from the targeted muscle group; in short doing so is just a
waste of time.
Exercise 1: Standing Barbell Curls (Those with girly wrists can use an EZ
bar if necessary)
1 warm up set. Then 3 sets of 10, 6, 4 reps.
Exercise 2: Reverse grip EZ bar curls (girly wrists or not this one is
2 sets of 10, 6 reps.
Exercise 3: Dumbell Hammer Curls
2 sets of 6 reps. Keep those elbows in!
Exercise 4: Close grip Pull Ups (underhand grip)
2 sets to failure, concentrate on fully contracting the biceps and getting a
deep stretch at the lower part of the movement.
Day 3: Back, Rear Delts and Traps
Warm up as necessary
Exercise 1: Deadlift
3 to 4 warm up sets. Then 4 working sets of 8, 6, 4, 4 reps.
Maintain good form throughout or kiss goodbye to your spine!
Exercise 2: Barbell row
3 sets of 10, 6, 4 reps.
Exercise 3: Seated rows (using a close grip pulley attachment)
3 sets of 8, 6, 4 reps
Exercise 4: Wide Grip Chins (overhand variation)
4 sets to failure. Concentrate on getting a deep stretch at the bottom of
the movement and contract the positive part for a few moments, really
focusing on squeezing the lats.
Exercise 5: Dumbell Pullovers (bent arm, lying with your upper back across a
2 sets of 8 reps. Keep those hips down and concentrate on getting a good
stretch and full range of motion.
Exercise 6: Bent over Rear Lateral Raises.
2 sets of 10 reps.
Exercise 7: Rear Barbell Shrugs (with the barbell behind your butt)
3 sets of 8, 6, 4 reps. Keep the chin tucked in to your chest and shrug
your shoulders up to your ears, squeeze until you get there!
Day 4: Shoulders and Triceps
Warm up as necessary
Exercise 1: Seated Barbell Military Press
3 warm up sets. Then 3 working sets of 8, 6, 4
Exercise 2: Seated Dumbell Press
2 sets of 10, 6 reps, as with all pressing movements do not lock out the
elbows at the top of the movement. Lower the dumbbells to shoulder height,
half reps, unless intentional, are for losers.
Exercise 3: Dumbell Lateral Raises
3 sets of 12, 8, 6 reps. Don't raise the dumbbells too high as this will
take the movement away from your shoulders and bring your traps in to play,
we did traps yesterday, we don't need to do them again.
Exercise 1: Cable pushdowns
2 sets of 20, 15 reps to warm up the elbows and prepare you for the next
Exercise 2: Close Grip Bench Press
2 warm up sets. Then 3 sets of 10, 6, 4 reps. I don't go for this whole
get your hands as close as you can get them thing. In my opinion, as long
as your elbows are tucked in at your sides and the press is executed
properly then it'll effectively hit the triceps. Don't lock out at the top
of the movement and stop just short of touching your chest on the negative
portion, this way you're asking more of your triceps to get the bar moving
up again rather than just bouncing the damn thing off your chest and making
the movement less efficient.
Exercise 3: Skullcrushers
3 sets of 10, 8, 6 reps. Keep your elbows tucked in, lower the bar to the
top of the head and then press it up, finishing the movement with the arms
slightly diagonal behind your head as oppose to directly above you, this
maintains the tension on the triceps at all times during the exercise.
Exercise 4: Heavy Pushdowns
2 sets of 12, 8 reps.
That's it. Job Done. Train calves and Abs twice a week, I wont go into
specifics here as I'm sure you all know what to do in that respect. With
regards to the above workout plan, stick at it consistently for 8 weeks and
see what progress you make. Every 8 weeks or so, back off the weight and up
the reps for a week to allow your body to recover from what is a pretty
demanding workout regime if done correctly. Each week try to add a rep or
two to each set or a few more pounds to the main exercises. Only through
forcing the muscle to become stronger will it adapt and grow. Right that's
it, I'm out of here and you're getting your ass to the gym. Get on it!
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