Chuck, in 2013, raw squatting 600 at age 43. Chuck is a lifetime drug-free powerlifter. But his training guidance works for both lifters and bodybuilders.
Here's Chuck demonstrating the Bulgarian split squat in his basement gym, in 2022. Bulgarian split squats target your quads more if you sit straight down and allow your knee to track forward over your toes, as Chuck demonstrates. If you sit back and maintain a near-vertical shin, they activate your glutes and hamstrings more. A bench provides support for your rear leg if you don't have a roller, but the roller facilitates easier movement. A stick may improve your movement quality, but only grip it lightly for balance rather than to assist your descent. The majority of your weight should be on your front foot, and you should avoid pushing with your rear foot to aid your ascent. Stand tall at the top and squeeze your glute on the working side. Elevating your front foot on a stable riser isn't necessary but, depending on your build, may allow you to descend to parallel or slightly below.
Routine Design: A Few of the Best Set-Ups
1) Full Body Twice a Week
If you've skimmed even just a couple of issues of this magazine, you've probably seen some variation of the quintessential hard gainer's training routine. Listing it again even seems a bit silly at this point. Nevertheless, here's the old, familiar standby:
squat, bench press, chest-supported row
deadlift, standing press, weighted chin-up
If you're not as keen on the powerlifts as I am, this set-up is adaptable to many other effective exercise choices that may be better suited to your particular body type and preferences. Let your ability to load a movement progressively with good form, along with your enjoyment of it, be your guide as to whether it might be suitable for inclusion in your program.
Here's the routine configured differently, but no less effectively:
safety bar squat, weighted dip, single-arm dumbbell row
Romanian deadlift, 80-degree incline dumbbell press, pulldown
Full body twice a week might be basic and boring, but it's where I start almost everyone I train. it's also the routine I spent many years toiling away on, only I never thought of my training as toiling until I became strong enough that my workouts dragged on for too long.
When my sessions began stretching to 90 minutes because of needing extra warm-up sets for 400-pound squats, and I didn't have interest in or energy for a couple of sets of curls and/or calf raises to finish, I knew I needed to consider making a change.
Three workouts a week (L-U-L and U-L-U) or two workouts a week (U-L- or L-U)
If the signs point to needing to split your routine as they did for me, don't waste time searching for some optimal split. Instead, make your first foray into split routines a simple upper/lower arrangement.
Upper/lower gives you several options for managing workload. When you first make the switch from full body, you may want to consider training three times a week, in L-U-L fashion (and U-L-U the following week).
To be successful, you'll need two different upper-body workouts, and two different lower-body workouts. Otherwise, you'll have to do your primary squatting and hinging movements together. A few paragraphs down, I'll show you how you can do that in an upper-lower (or lower-upper) split with only with only two weekly training sessions, but it would be too much to recover adequately from with three-times-per-week training frequency.
Done correctly, although you'll add a training day, you'll actually do slightly less work each week, at least on the major compound lifts, and that reduction may be enough to keep you progressing for a long time.
Here's how it might look over two weeks:
Monday Wednesday Friday
squat bench press deadlift
leg curl chest-supported row Bulgarian split squat
press start over with
chin-up the first workout
. . . I hear you exclaim. "I thought we were reducing, but you just added leg curls and Bulgarian split squats."
Yes, I did. Guilty as charged. But you don't have to add those exercises or any others. I just thought a little accessory work targeting the hamstrings on squat day and the quadriceps on deadlift day might be a prudent addition that wouldn't be overly taxing.
Since I view my squats as generally quad-dominant and deadlifts as posterior-chain-dominant, pairing accessory work like I just did trains opposing muscle groups in the same fashion that pairing rows with bench presses, and weighted chin-ups with standing presses, also trains opposing muscle groups. In the case of the upper-body work, you're really training opposing movement planes, but let's not split hairs over small technicalities that don't matter. Either way you look at it, you have a nicely balanced training routine.
For the over-40 trainee who's also quite strong, a further reduction in weekly workload to an upper-lower (or lower-upper) split with only two weekly training sessions may be the right prescription for continued progress. For what it's worth, I think this arrangement is the bare minimum amount of work most people should consider.
That's not to say I think it's too little work. On the contrary, it can be just the right amount of work for the right person in the right situation. Any less, however, probably is too little for most people in almost any situation.
The simplest option for arranging your exercises in an upper-lower (or lower-upper) split with two weekly training sessions is to keep the identical exercises you were using in your full-body routine and arrange them differently. It lays out as follows:
squat, deadlift, weighted chin-up
bench press, standing press, chest-supported row
Sticklers may argue that this isn't a strict lower-upper split because it has chin-ups on the so-called lower-body day. I'd concede that argument but wouldn't lose any sleep over it. Perhaps it's all in my head, but I like the spinal decompression of chinning after loading my spine, and I also want to maintain a balanced workload over the two training days.
But don't relax your shoulders at the bottom of the chins in a misguided effort to get more spinal decompression. Keep your shoulders tight!
For those who question the idea of squatting and deadlifting in the same workout, not only can it be done, but many, myself included, have even thrived on training this way. I wrote about squatting and deadlifting together way back in Issue #72 of HARDGAINER 1.0 (May-June 2001).
Back issues here:
I didn't mention back then that I was training with Marty Gallagher, and we would squat and pull together every Saturday, leaving me on my own only to bench press during the week. Just as he told me they would, squats made an excellent warm-up for deadlifts, and I could get to my work sets on the latter with only one or two low-rep lead-up sets just to feel a medium-heavy weight.
Deep into my training cycles squatting and deadlifting together, I'd sometimes alternate the lift I emphasized from week to week, pushing myself hard on squats while holding back a little on deadlifts one week and taking the opposite tack the next. Although this lengthened the cycle by a few weeks, I didn't mind unless I had a looming competition.
If you're having trouble squatting and deadlifting heavy in the same workout but don't care for the idea of alternating intensity, another way to regulate workload is to alternate your main squatting and deadlifting movements with lighter variants. For example, do squats and Romanian deadlifts one week, then the following week, do conventional or sumo deadlifts and front squats.
By their very nature, even if you go all-out on Romanian deadlifts and front squats, you'll still be using far less weight than you're capable of on your primary squatting and deadlifting movements. The poundage reduction alone, even when training as hard as possible on the selected variants, is enough to alleviate the systemic fatigue many trainees experience when handling 400 or more pounds in the competition lifts week in and week out.
Finally for this set-up, you may eventually find, like I did, that alternating squatting and deadlifting (or bench pressing and overhead pressing) from week to week provides the right balance of work and recovery to continue progressing. Before you dismiss this idea as strictly the province of old men, know that some very strong powerlifters in their primes have set records by squatting and deadlifting just twice a month each in this fashion.
Who knows what part drug use played in their training, or in the training of some higher-volume advocates who've also set records? But the fact remains that infrequent training isn't just for hard gainers or the decrepit. It can also be for young, easy gainers.
Next time: the final section of this excerpt, which has another two of the best setups for a training routine.
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Enjoy Your Lifting!