When I first made the switch from focusing on bodybuilding to focusing on power training, I immediately enjoyed the training and the results they brought me. One of the reasons I enjoyed strength training and power training so much was the implementation of heavy singles into my program. It was enjoyable to be lifting near maximum weights on a regular basis -- and to get great strength gains from all those super-heavy weights.
One thing that worried me about heavy singles, however, was losing a lot of my muscle size. I had originally been taught -- by bodybuilders who were friends of mine or through the various articles in the magazines each month -- that singles were good for building maximal strength, but would have little to no impact on gaining (or even maintaining) muscle mass.
I had always been taught that for maximum hypertrophy you needed to concentrate on sets in the 6-8 rep range. I thought if I started training with sets of 3 reps, 2, or, god forbid, 1 rep, I would be training my nervous system, and making my tendons and ligaments stronger, but I wouldn't be getting any hypertrophy gains out of the muscles I trained with singles.
Imagine how surprised (!) I was when, not only was I keeping my muscle, but my arms were soon larger than they had ever been. And the only things I had been doing for my arms were barbell curls, reverse barbell curls, and close grip bottom position bench presses -- all for singles.
I have been hooked on singles ever since.
There are several good ways to implement singles into your training programs. Two of the best ways are to either use progressively heavier singles, or to perform multiple singles with the same weight on all work sets. The workouts below will use both of these methods. These workouts are great to use after a few months on the earlier programs. They will also prepare you for all the hard and heavy work you'll be doing in the upcoming advanced workouts.
NEW TO SINGLES
This first program is for those of you who are new to single-rep training. It will also prepare you for the routines that are to follow. In this one (as in the others you have followed) you will be using the heavy/light/medium method of full-body training.
Full squat, 3 to 6 singles. I wrote FULL squat because I don't want you to get in the habit of doing half squats since you will be using more weight than you are used to handling. Leave your ego at the gym or garage door when squatting for singles.
For this exercise, as with all the core lifts in this program, I want you to start out with a weight where you can get at least 3 singles (usually about 90-95% of your max) after a sufficient warmup.
Add singles at every workout until you are able to do 6 singles with the weight. When you get all 6 singles, add weight at the next session and repeat the process. This is one of the time proven methods to build maximum strength. It has worked for such all-time great strong men as Hepburn, Anderson, and Casey. If it worked for them, it will work for you.
Bench press, 3-6 singles. Use the same method as the squats above. As for technique, I want you to make sure you pause for a COUNT OF ONE SECOND AT THE BOTTOM of each repetition. Don't get in the habit of bouncing the weight off your chest, despite using the heavy weights.
Deadlift, 2-4 singles. On this exercise, you won't need to do as much volume (deadlifts, by their nature, simply don't require as much work to bring them up as squats and benches). For that reason, I want you doing no more than 4 multiple singles at around 90-95% of your maximum.
Bent-arm DB pullovers, 3x10. George Turner . . .
. . . once called this exercise the upper body squat, and for good reason -- it works your triceps, shoulders, lats, and chest (especially your lats and triceps). Work hard on each set, but take every rep a set or two shy of failure.
DB curls, 2x20
Bench dips, 2x20. Work each set very hard, and concentrate on getting a good pump. Because of all the heavy singles at the beginning of the session, you don't need low reps on these exercises. As with the pullovers, don't take any set to failure, but still work them hard.
Abs, 3 sets of 50 reps. Pick any of the ab exercises you have come to enjoy and work one of them very hard. If you need to, add extra weight (on crunches or situps) or a dip belt (hanging leg raises, knee-ups, etc.).
Full squat, 6 singles. For all six of these "work sets" use a weight that's around 80% of the weight used on heavy day. Alternate between 3 DIFFERENT STANCES -- 2 sets wide, 2 sets close, and 2 sets medium.
Bench press, 5 singles. All these sets should be done with 80% of the heavy day's work weight. Concentrate on using good form (pausing on your chest, keeping your hips on the bench, driving the weight up with your feet, etc.).
Deadlift off a box, 4 singles. Use only around 70% of the heavy day's weight for conventional deadlifts. Your lower back will need the extra rest.
Lying DB triceps extensions, 4x10 reps. Take every set three or four reps shy of failure.
Bottom position squat, 3-6 singles. Your goal here is to use 90-95% of what you used on your heavy day for all the singles. For many, it's going to be hard to do even that. Train this exercise hard (I cannot stress that enough), and it will pay off big time. HARD!
Bottom position bench press, 3-6 singles. Use the same system that you used on the squats above, setting the pins at chest level.
Rack deadlift, 2-4 singles. Set the pins on the rack so you start this exercise at about knee level.
Barbell curl, 2x20
Close grip pushup, 2x20.
ADVANCED SINGLES PROGRAM
After you have done the above program for at least six weeks, your body should be well acclimated to single rep work and ready for a more advanced regimen of heavy singles. This program has a greater total workload and better prepares you for the workouts to come.
You will notice that this program also contains an extra light workout. If you have been training Monday/Wednesday/Friday, then this extra light session would fit in best on Tuesday. While not everyone needs this extra session, it will work wonders for a lot of lifters who need to add in some extra work, but don't need to make their heavy workouts any longer than they already are.
Squat, 2-5 singles (followed by a possible max effort), followed by 1x5 and 1x10 reps. After the initial program, your nervous system should be more efficient at moving heavy singles, which is the reason I have you starting with a weight you can only get 2 singles with. If you manage to get all 5 singles with the weight you're using, then go for a personal record on a 6th set. Never attempt a weight you have done before -- go for a new record every time. After your final single, drop down in weight for a set that makes you work hard for 5 reps, followed by one that makes you work hard for 10 repetitions.
Bench press, 2-5 singles (plus max effort if necessary), followed by 1x5 and 1x10. Use the same method as squats above.
Deadlift, deadlift off blocks, or rack deadlift, 5-7 progressively heavier singles, followed by 3x3. For these use a different method than the squats and bench presses. Rotating between the three exercises every week, work up over 5-7 singles until you hit a maximum weight. After your final single, drop down to 80-85% of that weight and perform 3x3.
DB curls, varying rep ranges
Close grip bench press, varying rep ranges. Change the sets and reps every week, using 4x10-15, 2x20, 5x8, etc. Shoot for around 80-100 reps total between both exercises.
Abs, 5x40-60. Pick a hard ab exercise for this day -- hanging leg raise, steep incline situp, etc.
Light Day (one)
Front squat or overhead squat, 5 singles. Use a weight that's around 50-60% of that used on squats the previous day -- just don't go over 60%. Alternate between these exercises, doing the overhead squats every third week. As for form, on the front squats make sure the bar is resting high across your chest, almost on your neck. This will make you squat very upright and work your quadriceps hard. For the overheads, press the weight over your head. Once it is locked out, keep it there as you squat down and up over the course of the entire set.
Overhead press, 2-5 singles, followed by 1x5. Use the same technique as the bench presses from the heavy day, just make sure to drop the second down set of 10 reps.
Light Day (two)
Close stance, high bar pause squat, 2-5 singles. Use the same method with these as the squats on Monday, omitting any of the down sets. Make sure you pause for a count of 2-3 seconds at the bottom of the movement.
Incline bench press 2-5 singles. Same as the pause squats above.
Round back good morning, 4-5 progressively heavier singles. Work up to a weight that's around 90% of your maximum on the final single.
Dip, 5 progressively heavier sets of 8,5,3. Use a dip belt to add weight on these. Alternate between the three different rep ranges each week.
Box squat, 2-5 singles, followed by 1x5 and 1x10. Use the same method with these as the regular squats on heavy day -- without the maximum attempt after all 5 singles. The nature of this exercise should take care of how much weight you use, just make sure you don't exceed 90% of the weight from the heavy day. For form, use a box that, when you sit down on it, is below parallel. Make sure you sit BACK on the box, not straight down. Pause on the box briefly, relaxing your hip muscles but keeping your other muscles tight.
Close grip bench press, 2-5 singles, followed by 1x5 and 1x10. Use the same set/rep format as bench presses on heavy day, except don't attempt a max single at the end of the 5 singles.
Barbell shrug, 5-7 progressively heavier singles. Start out with a couple of light warmup sets of 5 reps. After that, work up over 5-7 singles until you hit your max for that day.
Barbell cheat curls, 5 progressively heavier singles. For these, don't just let your biceps do the work. Intentionally cheat throughout the concentric portion of the movement by using by using your hips and back to swing the weight up.Throughout the eccentric portion, lower with control and fight the weight.
After several months on the above programs, I can guarantee you will be bigger, stronger, and thicker than before you started. You'll also have the muscle and strength in all the right places since these routines focus on the rear of your body just as much as the front. Even if your goal in training is strictly a bodybuilding one, I don't want you skimming over this without trying it (or any of the other programs presented that include singles. Trust me, even if your main goal is hypertrophy, your body will benefit from these workouts. There's a noticeable difference between the look of muscle built with heavy, low rep training, and the type built with high rep pumping workouts. Never forget that.
Enjoy Your Lifting!