Sunday, January 15, 2023

Training Programs -- Chris Donlon

Note: Chris currently has an ongoing article series in Hardgainer 2.0.
titled Yorkshire Nous

Also, there's a Flex mag "special" issue that would be great to put up here on the blog. It's a very large article and covers a whole lot of territory. Granted, it's Flex and there's no shortage of pictures. But it could gives a great look at the abbreviated approach, and it's fun to see how things improve and change over time as well. . . will put the one from this issue up sometime soon . . . 

Now, let's get to this . . . 

There are endless options, but if anyone is still unsure about what sensible training looks like, hopefully this will be useful. 

To start, my first experience with abbreviated training -- taken from a Stuart McRobert article in Flex from September 1996. I can't remember if I changed it slightly but this is what I recall doing. I've lost a few training diaries in house moves etc. over the years. 

I think I did a couple of very hard sets of 6-10 reps (15-20 on calves and abs). As a clueless 18 year old, I grew like a weed. Went away to university and a few months later when I returned home I was accused of using steroids! (Two daily gallons of whole milk also helped.)




Military Press
Dumbbell Row

My second program suggestion is the 20 rep trap bar deadlift routine. Use the low handles unless you are very tall/lanky). 


Trap Bar Deadlift 1 x 20
straight to:
Breathing Pullover
Dip 3 x 6-8
Chin 3 x 6-8


Trap Bar Deadlift 1 x 20
straight to: 
Breathing Pullover
 Incline Press 3 x 10-12
Row 3 x 10-12

If you are eating and recovering well, and you are young and healthy, you should be able to train twice a week, but if not, don't hesitate to take an extra day or two of rest if you need it. 

Use a weight on the trap bar deadlift with which you could get 22 reps if you had a gun to your head, but stop at 20. Then add a pound (yes, just one little pound) per session, provided you are able to make the full 20 reps with a rep or two to spare. 

On the dip and chin, as long as you get 8 reps on your first set, and at least 6 reps on the second and third sets, add a pound  the following week. 

On the incline press and row, the main objective is 12 reps on the first set. Ideally, get at least 10 reps on the second and third sets. However, some will struggle to do this and their reps may drop off to more like 8 reps on the subsequent sets. But as long as you get 12 reps on the first set, add a pound next time. 

Aim to stick to this program for 4-6 months and EAT! 

Most abbreviated training schedules have you training anywhere from 3 times a week to 3 times every two weeks. Here, we're going to see an example of the classic 3 times a week program, often used by powerlifters. As usual, this is not the only way to go about it, and later we'll see an example of how this could be modified for non-powerlifters, or for someone who wants to use different exercises. Even if you're a powerlifter, though, this will work for anyone who can perform the movements safely. It's tried and tested in the trenches!

Only work sets are listed. Use the same weight across all the sets of each exercise, except for the 3rd set of squats. For this set, reduce the load so that you are able to just eke out 10 reps. 


Squat 2 x 5, 1 x 10
Calves 2 x 15


Bench 3 x 5
 Press 2 x 10 


Deadlift 2 x 5
Chin 3 x 6

We have just looked at the classic 3 times a week powerlifting split. Now we're boing to modify that for a bodybuilder or someone who can't squat, deadlift and bench. We're also going to switch the Monday and Friday workouts. 

Only work sets are listed. Use the same weight for each set. 


Romanian Deadlift 2 x 8
Chin 2 x 5


Dip 2 x 5
Barbell Curl 2 x 10


Leg Press 3 x 12
Leg Curl 2 x 12
Calves 2 x 15

Okay . . . it's time for a Doc Ken program! 

Squat 15-20 reps
Pullover 10 reps
Military Press 10 reps
Chin 10 reps
Dip 12 reps
Barbell Curl 10 reps
Shrug 15 reps
Stiff Leg Deadlift 15 reps

Train as often as you can recover and, as Doc Ken says, if you're working properly, one set of each exercise is more than enough for anyone. 

Here is the program used by Vince Vaught, which was featured in Hardgainer magazine. You can find articles from the first run in the "print magazine" section: 

Week 1


Bench 6-8 reps
Pullup 6-8
Bench 6-8
Pullup 6-8
Thick Bar Curl 6-8


Squat 20 reps
Romanian Deadlift 12
Hyperextension 8-10
Calf Raise 2 x 8-10
Situp 8-10
Wrist Curl 2 x 8-10

Week 2


\Military Press 6-8
Lat Pull 6-10
Military Press 6-8
Thick Bar Dumbbell Curl 6-8, 4-6
Thick Bar Wrist Curl 8-10


Hyperextension 8-10
Trap Bar Deadlift 6
Leg Curl 8-10
Calf Raise 2 x 8-10
Situp 10-20

Week 3


Bench 6-8
Pullup 6-8
Bench 6-8
Pullup 6-8
Spider Curl 6-8
Triceps Extension


Squat 4-6
Leg Curl 8-10
Calf Raise 8-10
Situp 8-10

Week 4

Close Grip Bench Press 6-8
Lat Pull 8-10
Close Grip Bench 6-8
One Arm Dumbbell Press 6-8
Dumbbell Curl 5-8


Trap Bar Deadlift 20 reps
Leg Curl 8-10
Hyperextension 8-10
Calf Raise 8-10
Situp 15-20

Here we'll feature a program by the late Great strength coach, John Christy. 

John Christy's Hardgainer article compilation (160 p): 


Crunch 2 x 5
Squat 2 x 5
Stiff Legged Deadlift 1 x 15
Bench Press 2 x 5
Pulldown 2 x 5
Grip Work - DB holds for 60-90 seconds. 


Side Bend 1 x 5
Sumo Deadlift 2 x 5
Military Press 2 x 5 
Barbell Curl 2 x 5
Calves 2 x 15

Take 4-6 weeks until you get to the point that you could get 7 reps with your working weights, but stop at 5 reps. Then, as usual, aim to add a very small dose of iron to the bar every week, and try to "ride" the cycle for as long as possible. 

To most this will look too simple and primitive to work. It will be criticized or ignored by people who have made zero progress in the last year, despite using "advanced" or complex routines from the latest internet expert. John used to have some of his guys train on this type of setup (without changing anything) for more than a year -- at that point, they were moving 50-100 pounds more on each exercise than they were at the start of the program. Let that sink in for a moment, and ask yourself when, if ever, you did the same. 

Pay heed to the old mantra from Hardgainer magazine -- 
Read . . . Grasp . . . Apply . . . Persist . . . ACHIEVE! 

"A little bit of hard work will take you a lot further than a lot of work that's not very hard.: 
 - Ken Leistner

Military Press 1 x4
Squat 1 x 23
Stiff Legged Deadlift 1 x 14
Log Clean and Push Press 1 x 3
Barbell Shrug 1 x 13
Nautilus Pullover 1 x 6 (plus 3 half-reps)
Shrug (farmers walk handles) 1 x 12
Barbell Curl 1 x 6

Enjoy Your Lifting! 




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