From this Issue.
The One Exercise Per Muscle Group Workout
Over the years there have been countless articles in all the muscle magazines preaching the efficacy of using several (say, three to five) exercises when training any muscle group during a workout. Here is yet another version, but this one is different -- it produces good results!
The advantages of training a muscle with several different exercises are obvious: First of all, you hit the muscle from a variety of angles, thereby stimulating more muscle fibers for fuller and more complete development. For example, when training the chest you might do bench presses for the middle pecs, incline presses for the upper pecs, wide grip dips for the lower and outer pecs, cable crossovers or pec-deck flyes for the inner pecs and dumbbell pullovers for the serratus and rib cage. This is pretty much standard procedure for most bodybuilders.
The second advantage to using several exercises a workout to train a muscle is the interest/enthusiasm factor. Many people seem to get easily bored if they do only one or two exercises for a muscle. They seem to need more variety to keep their interest up. When doing several different exercises, bodybuilders get to utilize barbells, dumbbells, cables and machines, which allow them to enjoy their workouts more. This variety lessens the chance that they might take layoffs or skip workouts altogether.
Yes, the idea of multiple exercises when training a muscle is so time-proven and entrenched in the bodybuilder's mind that he is often unaware that there are even other ways of training a muscle.
While training a muscle with multiple exercises has its obvious advantages, it's not the only way to train a muscle, or even always the most effective way to induce muscle growth. That's where using only one exercise per muscle group per workout comes into play.
The concept of doing a single exercise for a muscle during a workout is not new. Many of the major stars used this method a lot back in the 1940's and 50's. Reg Park, the multi-Mr. Universe and one of the strongest men of his era, for one. He especially preferred this method when trying to increase his strength and the mass and size of his muscles. To give you an example, when training arms Reg would choose one exercise for biceps -- the seated dumbbell curl was a favorite of his -- and one exercise for his triceps -- say, triceps pressdowns -- and do 15 to 20 sets of each, keeping the reps mostly in the 6 to 10 range.
That would be his arms workout. He'd just keep hammering out set after set after set until his arms were pumped like balloons and worked into the ground. For his next workout he might choose two different exercises and blast his arms again that way. Only when it came time to train for a contest would he resort to multiple exercises to improve his shape and overall development. But for mass and bulking up, he thought the single-exercise method was tops.
Vince Gironda has often recommended either 8 x 8 or 10 x 10 as a way for an advanced man to work a muscle (or section of a muscle) very intensely. You'd change exercises every time you trained a muscle -- say, doing biceps drag curls one workout, preacher curls the next, dumbbell curls the next -- but only for either 8 x 8 or 10 x 10, keeping the rest between sets to 30-45 seconds. Vince called this way of training "the honest workout," claiming it was the best method he knew of for taxing a muscle to its limit in the shortest time possible and for totally isolating a muscle or section of muscle. Vince claimed that with eight sets of eight (8 x 8) there was a solid increase in muscle tissue and muscle density but not as much capillary building s with 10 sets of 10-12 reps. The higher reps improved neuromuscular pathways to a muscle, increased blood circulation so the muscle was better nourished, and built capillaries and blood vessels, ultimately leading to better pump and recovery.
Another example of a guy who often used single-exercise training for high sets and reps was Mr. Universe Serge Nubret from France. Serge would do as many as 20 sets of 20 reps of wide grip bench presses when training chest, would do similar workouts for his other muscle. Like Park, Nubret added in other exercises as he got into contest training. Serge claimed the high set, high rep method was better for shaping a muscle and bringing out cuts, striations and definition. Nubret was a champion ahead of his time and broke new ground for definition and muscularity back in the 70's. So what are some of the other advantages ofdoing a dingle exercise for 10 sets of 10 or 12 reps besides improving blood circulation and neuromuscular pathways and muscle shape and taxing a muscle to its limit? There are several.
The most obvious one is that it really allows you to concentrate solely on the one exercise you decide to do and really get into the groove, and get the maximum benefit from it. You're not as easily distracted and get in a much better workout. You do your set of 10 or 12 reps, rest only 30-45 seconds and then -- bang! -- you're into your next set. There's no time for socializing or for looking around the gym. You've got to keep your mind focused on what you're doing.
Sometimes it takes three or four sets of an exercise before you even start to feel the muscle working properly, but if you're only doing three or four sets then you're not going to get a lot out of that exercise. Haven't you ever done three or four sets of an exercise, as your routine called for, that you didn't get anything out of? Or have you ever found the muscle aching and pumping like crazy from an exercise but stopped and moved on to another exercise because you had done your allocated sets? Then, when you move on to another exercise, you lost the pump and feel of the muscle, and the quality of the workout doing three or four exercises for three or four sets each. It's a different kind of intensity, the muscle has to work a lot harder, and the pump is much more severe. You have to try it to understand what I'm talking about. The only thing you have to get through your head is that in this kind of training the amount of weight used is secondary to getting your sets and reps.
For example, I recently interviewed Vince Taylor after this third-place finish at the Mr. Olympia contest in Florida. As many readers know, Vince's legs and arms are among the best in all of bodybuilding -- and the rest of him ain't far behind! His arms measure an amazing 21 inches, with biceps peaks like ice cream cones. You take on look at Vince's arms and you can imagine him doing heavy sets of barbell curls with 200 pounds on the bar and dumbbell curls with 85's, right? That's what you would think. Imagine my surprise, then, when Vince told me that right now he is training his biceps with barbell curls with what he considers a heavy weight: 65 pounds. That's no typo, folks -- I said sixty-five pounds. And often he drops back to only 55-pound barbell curls.
Can you picture Vince with his 21 inch guns doing barbell curls with a 55-pound barbell while all the guys at his gym with 15, 16 or 17 inch arms gaze in disbelief as they do their curls for with double (or even triple) that weight? So what's going on here? How come Vince can use so little weight and still build and maintain such a huge arm?
Well, obviously the guy is gifted with exceptional genetics, but his secret is that he does 10 sets of an exercise for 12-15 reps a set. Often he does up to 30 sets for a muscle in a single workout. Now 65 pounds for 15 reps may not be too difficult to do the first few sets, but after six or seven sets that muscle is going to be hurting, and after 10 sets the biceps are going to be fried. Don't think so? Try it sometime.
My conversation with Vince Taylor reminded me of an article I once read by Steve Davis, Mr. World. Davis is an advocate of a training style where you do six or eight sets of a single exercise and keep the weight the same for each set. By restricting rest time between sets -- 30 to 45 seconds again -- you work the muscle very intensely and thoroughly. To make his point about how effective and taxing this method is, Davis told a story about a guy at his gym who was very proud of the fact that he could do barbell curls with 135 pounds strictly for several sets of 12 reps and was always bragging about how strong his biceps were. Although he could handle these heavy weights, he could only do it if he rested for a least three minutes between sets.
To put him in his place and shut the braggart up, Steve bet him he couldn't do 6 x 12 reps with a 65 pound barbell resting only 30 seconds between sets. I think it was a $100 bet. The braggart took the bet with confidence, figuring that since he was using less than half his usual weight he'd do the six sets of 12 with no sweat.
The first three sets were easy. No problem. By the fourth set, though, his biceps were aching and the sweat was forming on his face. He barely got the 12 reps for the fifth set, and by the time he got to the sixth set he was drenched in sweat and had to stop after six reps. He lost the bet. Steve had made his point. It's not just how much weight you use that matters; it's the quality of the work you force your muscles to do and the amount of time you do the work in -- "the honest workout," as Vince would say.
That's why the single exercise approach is so effective. It allows you to get in an honest workout, to tax the muscle to maximum in the minimum amount of time possible. I'll tell you this: it's a whole new kind of experience doing 10, 12 or 15 sets of one exercise for 10-15 reps.
That's not to say that you can't sometimes use heavy weights on the single exercise routine, because you can. You can pyramid up the weight and drop the reps each set, then reverse pyramid by dripping the weight and upping the reps to finish a muscle. Consider the following sets of bench presses:
Set 1: 1 x 15 (warmup set) Add weight.
2-3 minutes rest between sets
Set 2: 1 x 10. Add weight.
Set 3: 1 x 8. Add weight.
Set 4: 1 x 6. Add weight.
Set 5: 1 x 4. Add weight.
3-4 minutes rest between sets.
Set 6: 1 x 2. Add weight.
Set 7: 1 x 1. Add weight.
Set 8. 1 x 1. Add weight.
Set 9: 1 x 1.
30-45 seconds rest between sets.
Set 10: 1 x 10-15
Reduce weight if necessary.
Set 11: 1 x 10-15
Reduce weight if necessary
Set 12: 1 x 10-15
Reduce weight if necessary
Set 13: 1 x 10-15
Reduce weight if necessary.
Set 14: 1 x 10-15
Reduce weight if necessary.
Set 15: 1 x 10-15.
You might train the chest extra heavy like this every third or fourth workout; otherwise, you stick to 10 sets of 10-12 reps with 30-45 seconds rest between sets. And, of course, you don't always have to do flat bench presses every chest workout. You might do incline presses the next workout, flat dumbbell presses in another workout, and dumbbell flyes in another, before returning to bench presses again. This way you ensure complete development and keep your interest up as well (if you get bored doing the same exercises all the time).
You'd use the same concept with every muscle group, doing a different exercise each time your train a muscle group, giving special emphasis to weak sections of a muscle.
For example, if you had good biceps peak but poor lower biceps, you'd spend more time on preacher curls than on concentration curls, and if size was more of a priority than shape you'd spend more time on barbell and dumbbell curls than cable curls. But remember, you've to to do at least 10 sets of 10 for whichever exercise you choose. That's the whole workout for that muscle group so you really have to work hard. And if you restrict rest between sets to only 30-45 seconds, you will work hard -- very hard.
Here are a few other guidelines for you to follow. I think the muscles of the calves and thighs should be trained for higher reps than the muscles of the arms and torso, with the exception of the abs and forearms. I suggest you keep the reps for all calf exercises in the 20-rep range, all exercises for the quads and hamstrings in the 15-rep range, and exercises for the abs and forearms in the 20-plus range. All other muscles should respond well to 10 to 12 reps.
You can split your workouts up the way you normally do, training three or four days on and one day off. Just stick to only one exercise per muscle group. This means you'll probably never do more than three exercises per workout.
Here is a sample way to split your routine up that I have found effective:
Day 1: Quads and Hamstrings.
Day 2: Chest and Calves.
Day 3: Back, Biceps and Forearms.
Day 4: Shoulders, Traps and Triceps.
When following this four-way split, you might want to actually train on a two day on / one day off regimen. This gives you an extra day's rest every four day cycle and after ever two workouts for more total recovery. I find it really makes a difference.
Here's an example of how you might train over several workouts:
A final recommendation before we end: When trying for 10 sets (or more!) of 10 to 15 reps you'll obviously have to start a little lighter than usual and reduce the weights on the final sets in order to keep the reps up. Your first couple of workouts -- or your first four day cycle -- you might want to deliberately start light. Be conservative in your choice of weight because you'll be shocked at how taxing even very light weights will be when resting so little between sets.
It's better to start too light and get your sets and reps in than to go too heavy and have to stop before getting 10 reps in all 10 sets. Don't let your ego get in the way of giving your muscles a great workout.
Get a real nice pace going, get into the groove of the exercise, and make your muscles work like the devil. Use strict form, concentrate on what you're doing, and control the weight so your muscles are forced todo all the work.
On the last rep of the last sets it's perfectly all right to cheat (you'll have to!) to get the final reps out. Man, will your muscles ache and burn! But your muscles will respond like never before.
Give it a try. I'm sure you're in for a surprise, and your muscles won't know what hit them.
Enjoy Your Lifting!