Look Good, Feel Great : Part 19 - Superman

Having got this far, you’ve become more proficient at muscle training. Hopefully you’re seeing and feeling the benefits, and so are your friends and family. You’ve now reached an important decision point. You can stick with the basic programmes, varying the exercises you do, increasing weight gradually and using changes in set patterns and rep ranges to keep your body guessing.

If you’re happy with what you’re achieving then this is your best bet. If however, you want to take things a stage further, you’ll soon be faced with two challenges:

• Even if you only add weights gradually to your full body workout, as the weights increase, training your entire body in a single session gets more and more exhausting. In addition, in this scenario whatever you do last is going to suffer because you run out of energy

• Secondly, you’ll soon begin to realise that a single exercise per major body part, no matter how good it is, isn’t enough to fully develop your muscles. For example in your full body workout you’re doing one exercise for your legs, whereas there are several sub groupings (calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, thighs) that can easily have one, two or more exercises solely devoted to them in order to getting a complete leg workout. You could add all these exercises to your routine, but obviously the more you add, the longer your workouts will become and you’ll simply run out of time or get too pissed off with the length of your workout. Either way, your muscle training will suffer

Doing The Splits

The way of overcoming these challenges lies in something called a split routine, which allows you to perform multiple exercises on each body part without spending your entire life in the gym. When you only have to work two or three muscle groups per session, you not only finish more quickly, but you can also give more energy and intensity to each muscle group

How does it work? As with many things to do with muscle training, the possible variations are almost endless, but there are 2 basic ‘splits’ you can try depending on your experience and objectives

The 2 Session Split

In this split you divide the whole body workout into two parts, adding sub muscle groups and increasing the number of exercises per muscle group to suit you. The 2 session split is probably the most popular muscle training programme in use today. It’s ideal as the next step up for you because you can get excellent results from three days a week of training

Here’s how the two parts would look:

Session 1: Chest, Back, Triceps, Abs

Session 2: Legs, Shoulders, Biceps, Calves

Depending on your schedule and objectives you can do this split either three or four times a week. If it’s three days then you would do Session 1 on, for example, the Monday and Friday and Session 2 on the Wednesday of week 1. Then in week, 2 it would be Session 2 on the Monday and Friday and Session 1 on the Wednesday

If you want to be more aggressive and do strength training four days a week then you would do Session 1 on, for example, the Monday and Thursday of the week and Session 2 on the Tuesday and Friday of the week

For a two session split you would typically choose two exercises per body part, so for chest you’d choose chest press and pec dec flye

The 3 Session Split

There’s no rocket science to this – using the three session split you subdivide your body muscle groups even further over three sessions so you only have to work three muscle groups per session. Typically each session has as its focal point either your upper body, your back or your legs

Here’s how the three sessions would look:

Session 1: Chest, Biceps, Abs

Session 2: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves

Session 3: Back, Shoulders, Triceps

As with the 2 session split, depending on your schedule and objectives you can do the 3 session split either three or four times a week

For a three session split you would typically choose three exercises per body part, so for chest you’d choose chest press, incline dumbbell press and pec dec flye


Change the variables in your workout – number of reps, number of reps, number of exercises, type of exercise, order of exercise, length of rest periods – to avoid getting in a rut and giving up through boredom

By now you’ll probably have realized that there’s no real limit, apart from the number of days in the week and the time you have during those days, to the amount of muscle training you can do. Some advanced trainers use a 3 session split and train 5 days a week, while the pros go to 4 and possibly even 5 session splits and train every day, sometimes twice a day. BUT, unless you’ve decided to take muscle training to a level completely outside the scope of these guidelines, such as weightlifting or bodybuilding, NMTBP would definitely recommend you do NO MORE than 4 days of muscle training a week. What are you trying to do? Make the rest of us old farts look ad??!!

Fine Tuning

You may have noticed that all the workouts so far have been of the 3 sets/8-12 reps variety rather than using different set patterns or rep ranges. This is purely for the sake of simplicity and consistency. Here are a few more advanced techniques that you can use to add variety and meet specific muscle building objectives:

Drop Sets - This is a pretty brutal workout so be careful! For each exercise, with your first set you’ll do as many reps as it takes to reach ‘failure’ (i.e. you can’t do another rep). As soon as you hit failure, lessen the weight by 15 - 20%, do as many reps as you can in your second set until you reach failure again and so on

Example: Let’s say you’re doing lat pulldowns with a 100lb stack. You reach failure at 12 reps, you strip the weight down to 80lbs and continue, so the full pattern might look like this:

• 100 lbs x 12 reps

• 80 lbs x 9 reps

• 60 lbs x 9 reps

• 50 lbs x 5 reps

• 40 lbs x 3 reps

• 30 lbs x 1 rep

Pyramid Sets – This is basically the reverse of drop sets You start with one set that uses a lighter weight with many reps. After that set and rest period is completed, you move onto the next set where you use a slightly higher weight and perform fewer reps and so on

Example: let’s say you’re doing triceps presses. You start with a weight that’s, say, 40% of your 1RM and do 12 reps at this weight. Then rest, add weight and do 10 reps and so on, so the full pattern might look like this:

• 40 lbs x 12 reps

• 50 lbs x 10 reps

• 60 lbs x 8 reps

• 70 lbs x 6 reps

• 80 lbs x 4 reps

• 90 lbs x 2 reps

Note that for both of these set patterns it’s difficult to use barbells as the time taken to change weights will almost certainly negate the effect of almost constant tension on the muscle that makes it grow. These set patterns are much more suited to dumbbells and machines

Rest-Pause – This means stopping during a set, resting for a short time, then squeezing out a few more reps with the same weight before ending the set and resting. The key to success is choosing the right weight. Select a weight with which you can do 6 reps. Do 6 reps, rest for 15 - 20 seconds, then squeeze out another few reps. Then take your normal rest and repeat. The advantage of rest - pause is that it gives you more reps for a minimal increase in total time!

Forced Reps – Pushing yourself and your muscles past their limits is key to building muscle size and strength. You’ll need a spotter, whose job is to help you get a few more reps just when you think it’s impossible by helping you get the weight just past the failure point. You do most, but not all, of the work

Negatives – This technique is best used at the end of a set when your muscles are knackered. As with forced reps it’s vital to have a spotter. With negatives the spotter does most of the work on the positive (push) side of the lift, for example raising the barbell on a chest press. Then you take over entirely and lower the weight under full control while the spotter stands by just in case

Rep Speed – Speed - set training is a way of incorporating training for strength, size and endurance into every workout. You choose a weight with which you can usually do 20 normal reps, even though you’ll only do 15 per set. BUT, you do the first 5 raising the weight as fast and explosively as possible, lowering it at normal speed. The next 5 are done very slowly, taking 5 seconds to raise and then 5 seconds to lower the weight. The last 5 reps are done at normal cadence. The fast reps build muscle power, the middle 5 maximize muscle growth and the final 5 build endurance

Pre-Exhaust – The idea here is to exhaust the major muscles involved in a lift first so that surrounding muscles come much more into play. Take the chest as an example. You’ll first do sets of, for example, pec-deck flyes, so that the chest muscles alone are tired. You then move quickly to the bench press, which requires not just your chest muscles, buy also your shoulders and triceps. With the chest muscles already tired, they take less of the strain and the shoulders and triceps are called on more. The result – all grow, rather than just your chest muscles!

Partial Reps – Another technique, usually done at the end of a set, useful for pushing your muscles past fatigue. It involves performing only part of the whole move, either at the start or at the end of a rep. For example, in a barbell curl, you can do partial reps either by lowering the weight only to half-way before starting another rep, or by lifting the weight only half-way before starting another rep

Bare-Bones – With this technique you blast each body part with multiple sets of one exercise. Not only does this ensure working the body part thoroughly, it can be a blessing when the gym is crowded and you aren’t able to move around the machines or weights as freely as you’d like

You might feel there are too many variations to think about, but use this to your advantage, both to keep your workouts fresh and to provide regular boosts to your routine. The fact is, no matter how good your routine is, eventually your body adapts to it and the benefits stop coming. When you sense this is happening, you need to try something different. You don’t necessarily have to change your whole routine, but something new should be introduced to move forward again. We recommend you change your routine in some way every 6 - 8 weeks in order to keep things interesting, boost motivation and stop from getting bored

Don’t make things too complicated. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the (sometimes conflicting) advice about how, when and where to train! There is no single best way! Just get started, work out consistently, use progressive overload and vary your workouts periodically. Just step up in some way, shape or form at every workout: on at least one exercise

That’s it - you’re officially SUPERMAN

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