BodyBuilding Principles with Shelby Starnes Vol. 2 – Lean Gain Edition

Sure, you can always pick up unsolicited advice from your local locker room guru, but what are the chances of it actually being good advice? Unfortunately, the odds aren’t in your favor.

That’s why we gave renowned nutritionist and successful bodybuilder Shelby Starnes his own column to answer your training and dieting questions. You see, unlike the big guy at your gym, Shelby has worked with hundreds of athletes who are looking for the same thing as you: a ripped, muscular physique.

In this installment, Shelby shares his three biggest tips for gaining muscle and losing fat, as well as how to stay lean and mean year-round.

Read it, learn it, and apply it…and then print out a copy and give it to your locker room guru.

How Lean is Lean Enough in the Off-Season?

Q: Do you consider there to be optimal body fat ranges for offseason lean gain? For example do you have a specific body fat percentage in mind that it would be good to hover at or perhaps a range to stay within?

Shelby: Optimal off-season condition will vary since we all have different metabolisms, hormonal profiles, and builds.

Generally speaking, I believe you should always be able to see at least an outline of your abs even deep in the off-season. The fat at the lower back “love handle” area should also be kept to a minimum. For most people this means a max of about 12% body fat or so. I’m not big on numbers and measurements, though; I just go by the mirror. How you look is more important than a number.

For those that really want to push the envelope, such as a bodybuilder looking to jump up a weight class, I believe it’s acceptable (and sometimes even advisable) to get a bit heavier, but 15% body fat is about the max.  If you allow yourself to get that high, make sure to allow extra time for dieting afterwards.

Another important factor to consider is where you feel socially and psychologically comfortable. 

Bodybuilding should be enjoyable (though challenging), so if staying lighter and leaner makes the journey more palatable to you, then by all means do it. You’ll never be consistent in your efforts if you hate how you look and feel in the off-season.

If it drives you nuts to try to stay relatively lean in the offseason, then just do your best and save the dieting for pre-contest time.  Not everyone has the same motivation and drive year-round. Just remember that your progress will mirror your effort, assuming your effort is intelligently planned.

I’m “Skinny-fat” and Need a Cure – Help!

Q: What would be your advice for those in the “skinny-fat” category?

Shelby: I have a handful of clients that I’ve been working with for a few years who, when we first started out together, you never would have guessed were bodybuilders because they were fat, small, and weak.  Fast-forward to today and they all look like completely different people: lean, muscular, and strong. The secret? Hard work and consistency.

My advice for the “skinny fat” isn’t much different than for anyone else: lift progressively, eat sensibly, and be both consistent and patient. 

Don’t miss meals, don’t miss workouts, and make sure you’re getting optimal rest and recovery. Do this for a few years straight and you won’t be “skinny fat” anymore. Great physiques are built over years, not days or weeks.

For an idea of how to set up a basic carb-cycling plan, check out my Troponin Nutrition Macronutrient Guidebook, available at EliteFTS.

Cardio in the Off-Season: Yay or Nay?

Q: What’s your take on offseason cardio? Is it a good idea or should I cut it entirely?

Shelby: Just as with diet, cardio requirements will vary quite a bit depending on a bunch of genetic factors.

If you have a great metabolism, I’d suggest keeping off-season cardio minimal while keeping body fat under control with diet manipulation. This allows the body to rest, recover, and grow as much as possible in between training sessions.
Someone with a slower metabolism might need to add in 2-3 sessions per week, mostly at moderate intensity (30 minutes or so) with perhaps one high-intensity interval training session per week. Again though, I’d try to keep these people lean with diet changes before adding much cardio. Save the treadmill work for when it’s time to get lean!

*Note: these recommendations are geared towards gaining the most muscle possible in the shortest amount of time. Abstaining from cardiovascular activity for any length of time is not always the healthiest choice, so if you’re an older trainer (40+) or want to keep cardiovascular health as a top priority, I’d recommend doing some form of cardio year-round.

What’s the Deal with “Mini-Diets?”

Q: I’ve read that you sometimes institutes “mini-diets” during the offseason. Are these always necessary?  What’s the reasoning for them?

Shelby: If you’re a bodybuilder and have a long off-season (four months or more) then it may be a good idea to add a “break” in the middle to drop some of the body fat and regain some insulin sensitivity. For this short break (4-6 weeks), I recommend dropping macronutrients down to pre-contest levels and also introducing cardio at about 30 minutes daily.

If you’ve been training progressively, this would also be a great opportunity to take a week or so to deload. When my clients deload, I almost always reduce carbs for the same reasons mentioned above.

When you resume your normal off-season eating and training, you’ll also get a nice “mini-rebound”, not too unlike the rebound you get after a long pre-contest diet, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Shelby is no slouch in the Off Season – 12 weeks out from competition

The Benefits of Cheating

Q: What are your thoughts on cheat meals or cheat days when bulking? Are they just an excuse to be lazy and eat like crap or do they serve a valid need/purpose?

Shelby: I like to use cheat meals more in the dieting phases than in the off-season. From a functional perspective, cheat meals serve a few purposes: they refill glycogen stores, ramp up metabolism, and also help mental resiliency (it’s much easier to get through a tough week of dieting when you have a weekend cheat-meal to look forward to).

In the off-season, however, you’re never really very glycogen-depleted, so cheat meals really aren’t necessary. They still serve as a nice mental break, so if having a meal out with friends helps you to stay on a good clean off-season diet, then do it.

Remember, the guy that can put in 90% effort for ten years will always beat the guy who puts in 110% effort for three years, burns out, and then quits.

Lose Fat While Maintaining Strength and Muscle?

Q: From a Powerlifting standpoint what are some dietary methods you would employ that would reduce body fat while maintaining strength and weight? I prefer limited weight fluctuations but my preference may not be feasible. I’m looking for basic principles more so than extremely fine macro counts and the like.

Shelby: Simultaneously losing fat and gaining muscle is difficult for most individuals, unless they have excellent genetics or are using anabolic steroids.

For one thing, you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose fat (and also in the optimal hormonal environment, which is accomplished with proper macronutrient manipulation). To gain muscle, you need to taken in a caloric excess, so right there you already have a conflict.

Also note that fat loss is a much faster process for most people than gaining muscle. It would be much more effective to focus on just one goal at a time.

That said, here are my top three fat loss tips and muscle-gain tips.

The Big Three – Fat Loss

1. Restrict your carbohydrate intake to no more than a few meals per day, namely Meal 1 and your post-workout meal. Periodically re-feed once per week by doubling your normal carb intake and reducing your protein intake by about 30%.

2. Raise your protein intake to ward off catabolism. Shoot for around 1.5g per pound of bodyweight per day when carb intake is low.

3. Don’t forget healthy fats (mono and polyunsaturates including Omega-3s). These fats are vital to optimal health and metabolism.

The Big Three – Muscle Gain

1. Raise carbohydrate intake to help support training, recovery, and growth. The particular amount will depend on a number of factors, including your metabolism, weight, age, sex, and workload. 

2. Keep protein high (at least 1g per pound of bodyweight per day).

3. Once again, don’t forget healthy fats (mono and polyunsaturates including Omega-3s).

Experiment with each of these to find your own individual “sweet spot”.

Protein: The Ultimate Nightcap

Q: What’s your opinion on nocturnal feedings during the offseason?  Are they worth disturbing sleep for?

Shelby: Nocturnal feedings are an easy way to get in additional growth-promoting calories. I like to have clients take advantage of them as long as it doesn’t disrupt their normal sleep patterns.

For quick and easy consumption and digestion, I prefer a protein drink, typically 50% whey and 50% casein (A protein blend such as Nitrean would do the job great), with some added healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil or macadamia nut oil). This provides a nice steady flow of aminos and calories through the night. Drink about half of it right before you go to bed, and finish the rest when you wake up to use the bathroom.

Written by Shelby Starnes

Got a question for Shelby? – The next edition will be on Very Low Carb Dieting. Anything related to low carb dieting is game – the diet itself, refeeds, supplements, cardio, training, etc. You can either post your questions on the forums (Next Q&A: Cardio for Fat Loss and Conditioning) or you can send them via email to Shelby at Be on the look-out for the next installment of his Q and A!

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Bodybuilding Principles with Shelby Starnes – Vol 2 discussion thread.

About Shelby Starnes

Shelby is a successful National-level Bodybuilder & Powerlifter and has helped hundreds of athletes get into the greatest shape of their lifes.

  • 2009 NPC Central States Championships – 1st place Middleweight and Overall
  • B.A. in Psychology with Departmental Honors – estimated completion May, 2008
  • 2nd place 198-lb class – 2004 APF Michigan State Powerlifting Championships
  • Overall Novice Champion – Motor City Bodybuilding Championships, 2005
  • 2nd place open middleweight- Motor City Bodybuilding Championships, 2005 (nationally qualified)
  • 5th place middleweight – NPC Junior Nationals, 2006

Whether you are a competitive bodybuilder looking for pre contest/off season assistance or simply just striving to achieve a specific physique, Shelby is available to set up custom diet and training programs to suit your goals.

For more information on his diet and training programs and prices, see here.

Building Bigger Triceps and Biceps

Welcome to the Gun Show

I’ve heard that 90% of guys would like bigger arms. On the same note, I heard the other 10% are liars. In all seriousness, almost any way you go about it, guys want bigger arms.

It is possibly the sole reason you first set foot in the gym. The baggy sleeves on that small T-shirt just weren’t doing it for you. What sexy lady wants to hang onto a skinny little arm? Arm training can be very simple for some of the genetically blessed gunslingers you see walking around your local gym. If you aren’t one of these (which I am not), then arm training can be a little more complex and tricky.

In this article, I’ll outline the best eight tips and tricks I have used for myself and with countless clients to add that size we all desperately seek. With the application of what you will learn below, along with some ball bustin’ intensity, you better prepare to start turning the heads of those sexy ladies.

Let’s get straight into things then…

1. Stick to the Basics

Before you jump the gun and put me in the category of, “I don’t think you need single joint arm work”, give me a second. I love my curls and extensions as much as the next guy, but there are two multi-joint exercises I feel are a must for those seeking larger arms.

  • Close-grip bench press
  • Chin ups

These should be the bread and butter of your arm workouts. Everything else should be secondary (but necessary!).

Who do you think has bigger arms? A guy who can close-grip bench 315 for reps and hits sets of 8 on chin-ups with 50 pounds around his waist or a guy who hits 30’s for tricep kickbacks for reps and hits sets of 8 on cable curls with 50 pounds? This should be a no brainer.

Why these two exercises?

From my experience, I’ve found that most people can handle the most weight with the close-grip bench press and chin-ups. When you perform these with sufficient weight, you recruit the most motor units. This in turn (with time) will make your central nervous system more efficient at maximizing the number of motor units it recruits and will cause an increase in strength. Therefore, your newfound strength will lead to new muscle with sufficient volume.

2. Get Strong

As Ronnie Coleman once said:

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody want to lift no heavy ass weights”.

One of the simplest ways to make your arms bigger is to make your arms stronger. If you go from curling 35’s to 45’s for 10 reps, then your arms will have gotten bigger. There is a correlation between getting stronger and getting bigger. It may seem elementary, but if you are still curling the same weights you were six months ago, then I don’t want to hear any bitching about your small arms…I want you to get strong!

Pick the exercises you can handle the most weight on with good form (hint: no kickbacks).

Here is what I recommend:

For Triceps: Close-grip presses (bench, incline), floor press, skull crushers, dips, overhead tricep extensions, rack lockouts.

For Biceps: Chin-ups, barbell curls, cheat curls, dumbbell curls, hammer curls, machine curls.

Now I want you to implement a very basic yet often forgotten principle: progressive overload! This means progressively placing greater-than-normal demands on the exercising musculature.

In simpler terms, if you do not give your body an increased demand, then it has no reason to grow bigger or stronger.

Here is my favorite way to progress. It doesn’t involve any fancy supersets, dropsets, etc. It does involve big gains though.

For the first week on an exercise, start with slightly less intensity than usual. Focus on hitting the bottom end of the rep range with 1 rep or so “in the tank”. Then, the next week, try to beat the number of reps from the week before, even if it’s only by one rep on one set. Continue to slowly add reps until you hit the upper rep range. Now you can add a small amount weight to the bar and start over in the lower end of the rep range.

Let’s use barbell curls, as an example, over a six-week period with 3×6-8 reps. 

Proper progression should resemble the format below. Keep in mind that many factors dictate progress, so this is just a sample.

Week 1: 95/6 – 95/6 – 95/6

Week 2: 95/7 – 95/7 – 95/6

Week 3: 95/7 – 95/7 – 95/7

Week 4: 95/8 – 95/7 – 95/7

Week 5: 95/8 – 95/8 – 95/8

Week 6: 100/6 – 100/6 – 100/6

At this point, you could switch the exercises. Then, when you come back to barbell curls in six weeks, you would start at 100 pounds and start beating your best effort again. Continue to add reps to your sets, weight to the bar, and watch your arms grow.

Arnold proves that big arms never fail to impress the ladies

3. Improve Your Grip

I found that once I began strongman training, my arms seemed to grow overnight. Was I doing more curls? No, I wasn’t. Was it more pressing? No, it was about the same. The thing that was different was the addition of heavy farmer walks once a week. I’m talking 220 pounds in each hand…heavy! At first I couldn’t go too far without my grip giving out, but each week I increased the distance traveled before I couldn’t hold on any more. My grip was getting stronger and my forearms were growing. Once the competition I was training for was over, I added back my normal amount of bicep work. Once I added the work back, I was able to handle more weight on my bicep exercises due to the increased strength of my forearms. My forearm strength had been the weak link in my bicep training. End result: stronger forearms=bigger biceps.

Here are a few great methods for increasing your grip strength:

Farmer walks: To do these, simply grab the heaviest pair of dumbbells you can pick up and walk for distance or time. Stand tall with your head up, shoulders back, and abs tight. Incorporate these on your lower body day at the very end of your workout.

Farmer holds: These are similar to the farmer walks, but you remain stationary. Hold the weight at your sides for as long as possible. Stand tall with your head up, shoulders back, and abs tight. Incorporate these on an upper body day that is non-consecutive with a lower body day.

Rope or towel chin-ups: Simply take a rope or a towel and hang it over a pull/chin-up bar. Then perform your chin-ups by gripping the rope or towel. Add these on an upper body day in place of farmer holds for a change of pace.

Ditch your lifting straps: This seems to be a no-brainer, but anytime I go into a commercial gym I see it…guys using straps. Straps may have a time and a place, but when your grip is weak you don’t need them. Don’t use them on your heavy pulling exercises. You may have to decrease a little on weight or reps at first. That is fine; your grip will strengthen and you’ll be right back in no time. If you just can’t give them up, at least compromise. Only use them on your last sets and/or heaviest sets.

4. Don’t Vary  

It kills me to see how many guys go into the gym blindly. Today is arm day so they hit some dumbbell curls, rope press downs, blah, blah, blah. Then the next week they go in and do something completely different. They are trying to confuse the muscle. My suspicions were proven right in exercise physiology class–the muscle doesn’t have a mind of its own (sorry, P90X). It IS great marketing though. Stop trying to confuse it, trick it, or whatever the hell else you are trying to do to it! Pick some basic exercise that you can handle the most weight on for biceps and triceps.

5. Eat! & Gain Weight

How many pounds do you have to gain to add an inch on your upper arm?

Is it 6 pounds?

Is it 7 pounds?

Is it 8 pounds?

Does it really freakin’ matter? No.

Unless you’re an athlete who has a weight class requirement, just gain weight all over and your arms will grow. If you weigh a buck seventy then your frame probably isn’t built to carry around 18 inch arms. Eat for growth, make arm training your specialization, and watch them grow.

6. Volume

Most of the time, I prefer intensity to volume when it comes to training, but much as with everything else, there is an exception. Training arms can be tricky. Some people may require more volume to grow while some require less. Your muscle fiber type may just dictate how much total volume you need. The best range is usually between 80 and 120 total reps weekly.

This can be split up in numerous ways. For simplicity sake, I’ll use biceps to show how this amount could be split up for a person training biceps once a week and another training them three times a week.

Ex. 1
Biceps (1 day a week):
Exercise 1: 5×5
Exercise 2: 4×10
Exercise 3: 3×12

Ex. 2
Biceps (3 days a week)
Day 1: 5×5
Day 2: 4×10
Day 3: 3×12

As you can see, the total weekly volume is the same. The first example fits best with a body part split routine while the second example would best fit a full body or upper/lower split.

If you overshoot or undershoot the total number of reps, it isn’t a big deal. These are just guidelines and don’t have to be exact. Simply experiment with different volumes and find what works best for you.

7. Wrist Control / Hand Position

When doing a traditional bicep curl, the biceps and brachialis share the workload. A little trick I like to use is keeping my wrist as straight as possible (or even slightly cocked back, away from the bicep itself) while curling. By doing so, you are putting the majority of the stress on the biceps (vs. the forearm). However, I don’t recommend doing this if you have any prior wrist injuries or problems. When curling this way, focus on bringing the weight up till you reach peak contraction of the biceps and then control the motion back down to a full stretch.

As everyone knows, the biceps are primarily responsible for elbow flexion. You also may know that the biceps have two heads: the long head and the short head. By doing curls with the same grip each time, you are consistently hitting the same bicep head (you aren’t isolating it, it’s just taking the majority of the work). By doing this, you are neglecting the other head of the bicep. A simple way to fix this is to change your grip from time to time. This ensures that you will get full development of both the short and long heads of the biceps, and will also help with prevention of overuse injuries. Mix it up between close grip, medium grip, and wide grip work when using barbells.

Another way you can vary your grip is by using a neutral or “hammer” grip with dumbbells (palms facing each other, as if the end of the dumbbell is being used to hammer a nail) as well as a reverse grip (palms facing the floor) with either barbells or dumbbells. The biceps aren’t the only elbow flexors. The brachialis and the brachioradialis are also elbow flexors. If you neglect these, you will be limiting how much your arms can grow as an underdeveloped brachialis will definitely show up in the form of a lack of “thickness” in the upper arm. Regularly include hammer curls and reverse curls to fully develop your upper arm.

8. Specialization

If you are serious about building a bigger upper arm, then you must specialize. You have to devote time and effort to reach this goal. I recommend putting all other training goals on the back burner and focus on just growing your arms. For an arms specialization phase, there are a few guidelines:.

  • Keep training to four days a week if possible and no more than five.
  • Train in multiple rep ranges during this time (strength, hypertrophy, endurance).
  • Train all other muscle groups for maintenance.
  • Train all other large muscle groups heavy (>90% 1RM) for at least one set.
  • Increase your protein and simple carbohydrates pre-peri-post workout with something such as Opticen or Maximus.

After four to six weeks, you should end an arm specialization phase. Your training should switch back to “normal” and you should slightly reduce your arm training volume. Remember, your arms probably won’t change much during the phase. It will be in the weeks after the specialization program that your arms really begin to grow!

Closing Thoughts and a Bonus Arm Workout

So there you have it…my eight best tips for building bigger triceps and biceps. With the application of the tips above, some hard work, and time, you will be on your way to building the arms you want.

Also, you better save up some money to buy all new T-shirts or you may get accused of wearing extra-mediums!

The “Unleash Your Upper Arm Potential” Workout

  • A1. Close-grip bench press: 5×4-6 
  • A2. Chin-ups (medium grip, weighted if needed): 5×4-6
  • B1. Dips (weighted if needed): 4×8-11
  • B2. Barbell curls (wide grip): 4×8-11
  • C1. Overhead tricep extensions: 3×9-15
  • C2. Hammer curls: 3×9-15

Rest Periods:

  • A1 and A2 rest: 90sec – 120sec
  • B1 and B2 rest: 90sec
  • C1 and C2 rest: 45sec-60sec


  • Perform on a standalone day with one day of rest before and after.
  • Exercise pairings such as “A1, A2” are alternating sets. Perform a set of A1, rest for suggested time, perform A2, rest, and repeat.
  • Always warm up.
  • Select a weight you can use to complete the number of reps suggested with one or two reps “left in the tank”.
  • Shoot for the bottom of the rep range at first. Each week, try to move up in reps until you reach the top. Then increase the weight and start at the bottom again.
  • Utilize small weight increments such as 2½’s.

Written by Chase Karnes, BS, NSCA-CPT

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Building Bigger Triceps and Biceps discussion thread.

About Chase Karnes

Chase Karnes graduated from Murray State University with a degree in Exercise Science. He is a NSCA certified personal trainer and strength coach located in Western Kentucky. He is currently studying for his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification (CSCS).

Through Argonauts Fitness, Chase has worked in the exercise and nutrition arena for half a decade. He has hands-on experience working with strength and physique athletes along with athletic and general populations. Chase is also a competitive athlete himself competing in NPC Bodybuilding, Powerlifting (1330 Raw Total), and NAS Strongman competitions. He has worked or consulted with clients from over 6 states.

Chase can be contacted for personal and group training, program design, nutrition consultation and speaking engagements through his website or Argonauts Fitness

Four Laws of Training and Growing: The Perfect Hypertrophy Plan

The Pursuit of Hugeness

There’s a lot of talk online these days about all the ways to get thick: HIT training, body-part splits, full-body training, push/pull programs, compound movements only, biceps curls every hour for 12 hours…

Doesn’t it get a bit overwhelming?

If you’ve spent any time in a commercial gym, then I’m sure you’ll have seen and tried plenty of different methods while attempting to gain muscle. 

Now I don’t debate that many methods work. However, I do feel that we often don’t explore the simple laws of gaining intense amounts of muscle mass that lead to the best gains of your life.

As I pondered the idea of how hypertrophy works, I was reminded of the 6th grade science topic:

stimulus = response.

But first, let’s talk a little HGTV (Home and Garden Television).  

The Grass is Always Greener…When You Train Smarter!

You may not be a homeowner, but bear with me. If you wanted to take a decent lawn and turn it into a badass lawn, you’d need to do a few things to make it happen.

First, you would need to mow it. Cutting the grass would act as a stimulus for it to grow.  It spreads seeds and activates the plant to regenerate. 

Secondly, you’d need to water it. As we all know, water is a critical nutrient for plants and all living things, and therefore without it, the grass will not grow or survive.

Next, it needs sunlight, another critical nutrient that keeps the grass alive.

Finally, you need to add fertilizer. Think of it as a “supplement” for your lawn, an optional ingredient your lawn could live without, but would surely benefit from if administered correctly. 

You’ll notice that out of the four things you can do to increase the health and look of your lawn, only one of them is the stimulant. The other three are all components of adequate recovery! 

Some of the same rules of growing a badass lawn will apply to building muscle. The response, or recovery strategy, has to be appropriate for the stimulus, and the stimulus has to be appropriate for the planned recovery strategy in order to yield the targeted response.   If you do one without the other, you won’t get anywhere! 

If I fire up my lawn mower and mow my lawn every day (stimulus), I’m not only going to look like a meth-head who just hooked up, I’m going to end up with nothing but a giant mound of dirt. And if I only mow twice a month, I’m going to end up with sparse grass and weeds all over my field of dreams!

Now if I mow just like I should, once every five days or so, but don’t get sunlight or water, I’ll end up mowing the same pathetic field of thin gangly grass I started with, getting nowhere.

OK, enough grass analogies. Let’s focus on the weights.

You lift weights as a stimulus to do what? Grow mad amounts of muscle, of course. If you stimulate something, you’ll get a response. The less intense the muscular stimulation, the faster the recovery, while the more intense the stimulation, the longer the recovery. 

So when setting up your weight training routine, you need to strategize your appropriate recovery method.  So let’s talk about how to do that!

The 4 Laws of Training

The Program

Your weight training program is your stimulus. This will determine what you’ll need to do during your recovery phase in order to achieve any kind of growth. If the muscles you target aren’t appropriately stimulated, you won’t achieve the desired effect.

When outlining your program, you’ll need to take a few things into consideration:

  • How frequently will you be able to “consistently” hit the weights?
  • How much time will you have during each training session? 

If you’re limited to three days per week of gym time, then a body-part split is obviously not a good choice for a mass routine.  If you can get there five days per week, but are limited to 30 minutes, then I wouldn’t suggest full body training if you’re trying to get huge!

If you know you can get to the gym three or four times per week, but you don’t have any consistency as to which days those are in any given week, then you may need to work with upper and lower body push/pull splits and forget about full body and body-part splits for a while.

Now we’ve all seen the controversies surrounding each method of training and the myriad of haters of a specific training practice.  However, all things considered, most of them work and it’s not the method that becomes the problem, but the individual training parameters and execution of those methods. 

They all have their place in the hypertrophy department.

It’s how these routines are put together and how much time and effort you take inside and outside of the training program that yield your results, good or bad.


Too much is worthless, and too little is worth even less. Too many guys will show up and absolutely crush a muscle group, only to wait six days to do it all over again.  We’ve all seen it.  Monday is National Chest Day across America.  Roll into any commercial gym around 5:30 PM on a Monday and you’ll have to shoot craps to try and get your shot at using a flat bench. Roll in any other day and you could take a nap on any given chest-orientated machine that’s not being used as a cell phone perch. 

FACT – Monday is National Chest Day across America

Somehow, people got the idea that training one muscle group per week was the absolute most effective way to get bigger and stronger. For the average natural trainee, this is absolutely false.

You need to stimulate your muscles frequently and adequately. Once a week won’t cut it, even it you hit it like Hiroshima. You’ll be recovered before your six days are up and your muscles will already have started to atrophy. In order to prevent this, you’ll need to hit those muscles again as soon as recovery has taken place.  For the sake of not having to write a book on this topic, I’m going outline a few programs for you at the end of this article. This will help you to increase muscular stimulation frequency, and find appropriate loading parameters within your hypertrophy routine. 

I often use Chad Waterbury’s method of loading parameters outline in his book “Muscle Revolution”, and because I appreciate his research and don’t want to steal his lunch money, I’ll leave it up to you to buy the book and read it. It’s a good starting point for learning how to increase muscular stimulation, get adequate recovery time, and how to not destroy the nervous system along the way.


Too many times I hear these gym rats saying crap like, “Slow and controlled…really squeeze it at the top!” or “Ten more sets of over-head triceps kicking flutters! C’mon baby!”

Now I’m sorry, but that’s not what I mean by intensity.

I’m talking about speed. If you’re not putting every ounce of mental fire power behind every rep, you’re not working in a manner that’s going to make you get bigger.

Look at the thighs of a marathon runner. Large? I think not. Now look at the thighs of a sprinter, longer jumper, triple jumper, or speed skater. Large? You bet your Wannabebig ass they are, especially in proportion to the rest of their bodies. Every rep behind the training of these individuals is intense! 

Now keep in mind that the speed of the bar doesn’t clarify the speed of the contraction.  If you’re working a bench press set and doing reps with 225 pounds, but are capable of 355 pounds, then you’ll be able to move that first load much quicker than you will the latter. However, when under the bar at 355 lbs, you’ll certainly be pushing with more than equal intensity and speed of contraction when performing the heavier set. 
Keep in mind the effort and force production you apply when performing every set. Whether you think its light or heavy, you need to give it every ounce of effort you’ve got in you.

Now, on a side note, I’m not as much of an advocate of simply moving the bar through the set as fast as possible, nor do I employ ridiculous eccentric phases.  Simply lower the bar with stability and control, and fire it off as fast as possible in the concentric phase. 

If you want to stimulate a muscle, put some intensity behind it!


I’ve hinted at this a few times already. Personally, I feel as though you should rotate through each phase every four to six weeks in order to prevent injury and promote CNS (central nervous system) health, which will only lead to better muscular gains. 

The movements you’d perform during a five-day split would certainly need to be less intense movements than what you’d perform during a three-day split. 

For example, exercises on a five-day split may look something like this:

  • Plyometric Pushup 4 x 5
  • Barbell Floor Press 4 x 4
  • Incline DB Press 4 x 8
  • Neutral Grip DB Flat bench Press 4 x 8
  • Blast Strap Pushup or Rings Pushup 4 x 12

Exercises on a three-day split may look something more like this:

  • Box Squat 5 x 4
  • Floor Press 8 x 3
  • Chest-supported Row 6 x 4
  • Standing Barbell Press 4 x 6
  • Russian Barbell Twist 4 x 8
  • Face Pull 4 x 8

The more recovery time available, the more intense the movements and the loads need to be.

How do you increase the intensity of a movement?  Increase the amount of muscle groups required to move the weight (i.e., dead-lift to snatch), increase the speed and load, or decrease the reps behind each set. 

Let’s outline a few training rules for deciding on what training parameters you’ll be attempting to utilize in order to change your physique. 

Load:  Keep your load in the range of 70% – 90% of your 1RM, occasionally dipping into a max effort once every six weeks or so.

Duration of Phase: You should shift gears on your hypertrophy training parameters every four to six weeks.  For example: Full-body three-day split at 90 percent loading for four weeks followed by Upper/Lower split at 75 – 80 percent loading for four weeks.

Frequency of workouts: Within each week, this will depend on the volume within each workout. However, unless you’re an “assisted” athlete, you’ll need to be hitting each muscle group no less than two times per week and no more than three times per week. 

Recovery time between sets: No less than 45 seconds and no more than 120 seconds. The fewer joints involved in a movement, the less recovery time required.  The more joints involved, the more recovery time needed. 

Sets and reps per muscle group: This will be determined by the frequency of stimulation.  The fewer times in a week you stimulate a muscle group, the more sets you’ll need to do, and visa versa. As a general rule of thumb, you can refer to Chad Waterbury’s “24-50 principle” for stimulation volume. These rep ranges are refer to training frequency from two to four times per week, but not to stimulating a muscle group once per week.

The Four Laws For Growing

1) Food

The most important part of your recovery phase is going to be the food you eat and when you eat it. 

We learned a long ago that the more protein constantly floating around the bloodstream, the more opportunities for the muscle to use it, particularly when paired with a low-glycemic carbohydrate. In other words, you need to be eating frequently throughout the day, and you need to eat high amounts of protein in every single meal. What are high amounts?  No less than 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. See protein, eat it!

If you’re one of those guys who are always claiming that you eat a ton of food, and still can’t gain weight, you’re mistaken. You just don’t really know what eating a ton of food is. When my athletes are trying to gain weight, they have three to four days out of a week that they consume upwards of eight thousand calories a day. Now that’s a lot of food! 

If you really think you’re giving it all you got in the stuffing-my-face-for-size department, don’t give up hope.  Keep your protein high and your low glycemic carbohydrates higher. You need to eat to grow, and if you’ve got the metabolism of a hummingbird, you need to eat a lot!

If you’re a little carb-phobic, then you may need to follow the eating recommendations of fellow Wannabebig author Christopher Mason and reread his article on Eating Optimally For Massive Size and Strength.  No need to rewrite a great article. Just read it and pay attention!

If you’d rather keep it simple and follow a few rules, try these on for size (pun intended)!

Rules for Big 

  • Eat at least your weight in protein every day.
  • Eat six to eight times per day.
  • Make protein the staple of every meal.

Start consuming about 50 grams of high-glycemic carbohydrates and 30-50 grams of easily digestible protein 15-20 minutes before you begin training, while maintaining consumption throughout the workout in order to stimulate insulin and load the bloodstream with sugars.  This type of “pre- and peri-workout” nutrition has been proven to lower interleukin-6, which is a catabolic inflammatory cytokine highly stimulated in the muscles during exercise. In layman’s terms, bring down IL-6, bring down stress, which we both know (or should know) does not help in building muscle!”
Consume another 40-50 grams of high-glycemic carbohydrates and an additional 30-40 grams of easily digestible proteins immediately following your workout to further improve your anabolic threshold, further increase protein synthesis, and keep glycogen levels up to par.

If you want to grow, you gotta get your nutrition in order

2) Supplements

If you’re really serious about packing on the pounds, you may want to strongly consider the use of supplements if you’re not already doing so. 

When it comes to supplements, there’s a good deal of confusion and hype that can negatively influence what you use and how you use it.  

For the sake of getting huge, we’re only going to talk about the supplements that I believe will pack the most punch for your money, and that are absolutely proven to work when it comes to building muscle mass. 

Protein – By and large, protein is the most important supplement in your arsenal. Unless you’re able to eat solid meals as outlined above, you’re absolutely going to need to add an additional protein supplement to your grocery list. 

Choosing a protein like Nitrean is a surefire way to know that you’re getting what you’re paying for!  It is an excellent tasting, clean, and highly bio-available product that obviously stands out in the crowd.  
Carbohydrates – Wait?  Supplement carbohydrates?  That’s right, and usually in the form of dextrose, maltodextrin, or waxy maize. Trust me…it’s a lot easier to knock down some Nitrean with a 50 gram serving of dextrose or waxy maize immediately following a gut buster, than it is to eat five pieces of white bread and ten egg whites.

It’s especially convenient to mix up a solution of the two so that you can sip on it while you train.  This will greatly aid in the prevention of muscle catabolization and will decrease fatigue. Opticen is a great choice for a post workout, combined carbohydrate and protein hit. You’ll get 35 grams of carbohydrates and 40 grams of protein per serving.

BCAAs – Branch chain amino acids make up approximately 35 percent of your total muscle mass and are quickly depleted during intense weight training.  By supplementing them before, during, and after your weight training, you’re preventing catabolism and encouraging protein synthesis, which is muscle growth!  Yes, you get a good amount of them from the high quality proteins that you eat, and even more so from a good protein supplement like Nitrean.  However, supplementing BCAAs is a cost-effective way to saturate your muscle tissue and save on excess calories.

Creatine – People can argue all they want, but anyone who has used creatine knows that it works.  Does it build muscle?  Not really, although some research does suggest that it may aid in protein synthesis.  Does it aid in building muscle?  It absolutely does.  Without getting too scientific, creatine plays a role in the creation of ATP, which is the chemical energy on which muscular contraction is based.  The more creatine available, the faster your body can produce energy, which means increased intensity and decreased fatigue during weight training.  Better stimulation to the muscles = better muscular response! Check out AtLarge’s Creapure Creatine Capsules for a convenient way to supplement with Creatine.

Fish Oil – If you’ve spent any time reading about health and fitness, then I’m sure you’ll have come across the benefits of omega-3’s, especially from fish oil. They’re downright ridiculous!  However, for the sake of muscle building, I’m only going to name a few.  They can help to decrease inflammation, and we’ve all had achy joints and mad trigger points. If there’s a supplement that can help decrease joint pain, and in return, allow you to move heavy loads properly again, you should probably take it! 

Fish oil may also help to increase focus and elevate mood.  Feeling a little down?  Not going to make the gym?  Maybe that wouldn’t happen if you were taking your fishies. Fish oil may increase insulin sensitivity and can aid in the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, allowing more carbs to be stored within the muscle tissue (and not your waistline). It also aids the heart and cardiovascular system, aids in preventing stroke and certain types of cancer, and has been proven to help prevent and treat many mental disorders among children.  Get on it!  You can grab some here – Fish Oil Capsules

3) Sleep

Let’s face it…you’re busy. You wake up around 9 a.m., eat a bowl of Cheerios with skim milk, throw a granola bar in the backpack, and head out to school or work. You get to the gym around six, check out some girls, do some bench press, and hit the shake bar. You get home, play some Halo with your online crew, and hit the sack around 1 a.m. with a stomach full of Lil’ Caesar’s Hot n’ Ready. 

You don’t have time for sleep, I get it. I also get why you’ve got the chest of a Calvin Klein underwear model and the arms of a marathon runner. You need to sleep! 

Hopefully, your diet and workout are a little better than I projected.  However, if you’re not sleeping, you’re not growing. When and how we sleep is when and how our body repairs. Would you like spotty healing for 4-5 hours, or intensive full blown healing for 7-9 hours?

When you sleep, your body produces the growth hormones responsible for allowing your CNS and muscular system to adapt to the training you’ve performed that day, also known as Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID).  This happens when we sleep, so it’s obvious that if you want to adapt–or in other words, to GROW–then you need quality sleep!

How do you get it?  Here are a few rules to follow:

  • Reduce alcohol and stimulants.
  • Reduce spicy foods and foods that are high in saturated fats several hours before bed.
  • Avoid large meals directly before bed.
  • Eliminate all lights and shut off your computer.
  • Meditate.
  • Supplement with ZMA (can be a wild ride the first two or three nights).
  • Wake up earlier.
  • Be consistent.

It seems simple, but it’s often the little things in life that take you the furthest.  Count sheep, do yoga, pray, read the Anarchist’s Cookbook, whatever you gotta do to relax.  Nobody gives a damn but your body, so get some damn sleep!

4) Soft Tissue Work

Hopefully you’ve recently read Nick Tuminello’s Upper Body Warm-Up and Lower Body Warm-Up articles and were somewhat introduced to the art of foam rolling.  If you haven’t, do so when you’re done here and learn a little something about warming up! 

You can take similar principles and apply them greatly toward your recovery.  More specifically, utilizing SMR (Self-Myofascial Release) techniques helps to unlock adhesions and allow blood flow and muscular contractions to function as normal.  If your muscles are locked up with trigger points, then your movement patterns will be greatly flawed. Your mobility will suck and only continue to worsen, and your active muscles will become hypertensive and overactive, while your inactive muscles will begin to atrophy and become more inactive, providing your body with zero aid for movement.

As this happens, your performance will obviously decrease and you’ll be primed and ready for injury like an X-51 Hypersonic Cruise Missile.  If you undo the damage by utilizing SMR techniques, allowing your muscles to heal and become balanced again, you’ll significantly increase your muscles’ ability to do their job.  Therefore, you’ll stimulate more motor units, yielding a better opportunity for growth.  As a personal side note, SMR techniques and dynamic mobility have become the cornerstone for my training. Since implementing these methods over the last two years, I’ve been able to increase performance much faster than before, decrease pain like never before, and increase size without feeling like Frankenstein. 

Start taking ten minutes prior to every workout and roll your tissue out!  If you don’t know how, considered purchasing Nick Tuminello’s DVD on Self Myofascial Release, or just do some of your own research.  However you go about it, just start doing it, all of it!

Self-myofascial for Hips and Glutes at Nick Tuminello’s Training Facility

Wrap Up

Ok, let’s reiterate a few strong points that’ll get you shopping in the big and tall department in no time!

  • Change your programming modalities frequently; however, when following a program, be consistent!
  • Focus on speed and power during every rep of every set!
  • Don’t write your own programs.  Find someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to programming and listen to them.
  • Don’t beat the crap out of yourself every single day.  Too much stimulation is just as bad as too little.
  • Don’t ever walk into a gym for bicep day.  Please, just don’t be that guy.  Be the guy who bends bars during deadlifts and hogs the squat rack with front squats and rack pulls.
  • Eat like the biggest animals in the world, not like the smallest.
  • Be smart about your supplements.  Buy what you know works, and spend the rest of your money on good food!
  • Sleep and grow.
  • Give your muscles a little ghetto spa treatment.  Foam roll and stretch.  It’ll be the best thing you’ll ever do. 

Now go, do yourself a favor….lift something heavy!

A Little Somethin’ for Reading the Whole Thing…

I’ve provided three different hypertrophy routines for you to give a go – a three, four and five day split!

Full Body 3-Day Split

Note: Day 1, 2, and 3 are separated by one off day while Day 3 and 1 are separated by two off days. 

Day 1

Begin with a proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – full body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. * Box Squat  6 x 4/2 x 8 120 sec 80-85/70
2. Floor Press 8 x 3 90 sec 85
3. Chest Supported Row 6 x 6 60 sec 75-80
4. Push Press 5 x 8 90 sec 70-75
5. Weighted Chin 3 x 8 45 sec 70-75
6a. ** FB Neutral DUmbell Press 3 x 10 30 sec 70
6b. ** Bent-over Lateral Raises 3 x 8 30 sec 70-75

* Perform 6 sets of 4 reps at 80% of your 1RM, then lighten the load to 70% of your 1RM and perform 2 sets of 8 reps.

** Perform set (a), rest 30 seconds, perform set (b), rest 30 seconds and repeat.

Day 2

Proper 20 min warmup minutes including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – full body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Walking Barbell Lunges 5 x 20 (10/side) 120 sec 70
2. Incline Dumbell Press 6 x 8 90 sec 75
3. Neutral Grip Pulldown 8 x 4 90 sec 80
4. DB Lateral Raise Cheaters 5 x 8 60 sec 70-75
5. Single Arm DB Row 3 x 8 45 sec 70-75
6a. Weighted ½ Dips 5 x 4 60 sec 80
6b. Barbell Curls 5 x 4 60 sec 80

Day 3

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – full body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Sumo Deadlift 5 x 6 120 sec 80
2. Bench Press 6 x 4 90 sec 80-85
3. *Pullup 6 x 4 90 sec 80-85
4. Upright Row 5 x 8 60 sec 70-75
5. Incline Neutral DB Press 3 x 8 45 sec 70-75
6a. Leg Extension 3 x 10 30 sec 70
6b. Single Leg Barbell RDL 3 x 8 30 sec 70-75

* Add weight to your pullup if necessary, and if body weight pullups are still too difficult, move to prone wide grip pull downs.

Upper/Lower 4 Day Split

Day 1 Lower Body

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Lower body and back

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Broad Jump 4 x 4 90 sec Body Weight
2. Sumo Deadlift 5 x 6 120 sec 80
3. *BB Bulgarian Split Squat 4 x 8 60 sec 70
4. Romanian DeadLift 3 x 8 60 sec 70-75
5. Hack Squat (Full ROM) 3 x 15 60 sec 60-65
6a. Weighted Jump rope 4 x 45 sec 45 sec Body Weight + 15-20lbs
6b.  Seated Calf Raise 4 x 10 45 sec 70

* This works best when utilizing a barbell and elevating the forward foot 3-4 inches.

Day 2 Upper Body

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body and hips

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Incline BB Press 5 x 6 90 sec 80
2. Neutral Grip Pulldown or Pullup 4 x 6 60 sec 80
3. FB Neutral DB Press 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
4. Bent-Over Lateral Raise 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
5. Barbell Push Press 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
6. EZ Bar Curls 4 x 6 45 sec 70
7. *Single Arm Preacher 2 x 25 60 sec 40-50
8. Russian BB Twist 3 x 16 (8 each side) 60 sec 70

* Only perform this movement if using a Hammer Strength type machine, selectorized machine, or a cable attachment.  If you only have dumbbells and barbells available, move to a standing single arm supinated dumbbell curl, possibly adding a forward lean.

Day 3 OFF

Day 4 Lower Body

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Lower body and back

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Box Jump 5 x 3 90 sec Body Weight
2. Front Squat 5 x 6 120 sec 80
3. Elevated DB Reverse Lunge 4 x 8 60 sec 70
4. Weighted Squat Jumps (Dumbbells) 3 x 10 60 sec 60
5. *SHELC 3 x 8 60 sec Body Weight
5a. Weighted Jump Rope 4 x 45 sec 45 sec Body Weight + 15-20lbs
5b.  Seated Calf Raise 4 x 10 45 sec 70

* If 3 x 8 is too easy with two legs, move to using one leg at a time.

Day 5 Upper Body

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body and hips

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. 1- Board Press 6 x 3 120 sec 85-90
2. Chest-Supported Row, wide grip 5 x 6 90 sec 80
3. *Weighted ½ Dips 4 x 8 75 sec 70-75
4. High Pull 4 x 6 60 sec 70-75
5. Single Overhead DB Press 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
6. Blast Strap or Ring Pushups 3 x failure 45 sec Body Weight
7a. Weighted Chin 3 x 8 60 sec 70-75
7b. BB Rollouts 3 x 8 60 sec Body Weight

* Serious forward lean

Day 6 and 7 OFF

5 Day Body Part Split

Day 1 Quads

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Lower body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Front Squat 4 x 6 60 sec 75
2. Walking Barbell Lunges 4 x 20 (10/side) 60 sec 70
3. DB Squat Jumps 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
4. Hack Squat 4 x 15 60 sec 60-65
5. Leg Extensions 3 x 12 60 sec 65-70
Free Time Calves 2 movements > 30 reps, < 50reps    

Day 2 Chest/Triceps

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Incline DB Press 4 x 6 60 sec 75
2. Floor Press 5 x 6 60 sec 75
3. FB Neutral DB Press 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
4. Incline Cable Fly 4 x 10 60 sec 70
5. Weighted Dips 3 x 8 60 sec 70-75
6. Supine DB Extension 3 x 8  60 sec 70-75

Day 3 Back/Biceps

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Weighted Pullups or Supine Pulldown 4 x 8 60 sec 75
2. T-Bar Row 5 x 6 60 sec 75
3. Neutral Grip High Low Cable Row 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
4. Single Arm DB Row 4 x 10 60 sec 70
5. * Bicep Death March      
6. ** Preacher Curl Up Set      

* Use an EZ Bar and one pair of DB’s: EZ 10r, DB 20r, EZ 8r, DB 16r – 60 sec rest- EZ 8r, DB 16r, EZ 6r, DB 12r – 30 sec rest- EZ 6r, DB 12r, EZ 4r, DB 8r, EZ 2r, DB 4r – DONE

** Start with a weight you can perform easy for 6 reps.  Do 6 reps as fast as you can, add 5lbs, repeat: focus on speed and eliminate all recovery time between additions.  Reach the peak and drop back down by 5lbs performing only 3 reps again for speed until you reach starting weight.  One set only.

Day 4 OFF

Day 5 Hamstrings

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Lower body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Sumo Deadlift 4 x 6 80 sec 75-80
2. Romanian Deadlift 4 x 8 60 sec 75
3. Barbell Glute Bridge 4 x 8 60 sec 70
4. SHELC 4 x 10 60 sec Body Weight
5. Seated Hamstring Curls 3 x 8 60 sec 70-75
6. Free Time Calves 2 movements > 30 reps < 50 reps    

Day 6 Shoulders

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Barbell Push Press 4 x 6 80 sec 75-80
2. Lateral Raise Cheaters 4 x 8 60 sec 75
3. Upright Row 4 x 8 60 sec 70
4. Face Pull 4 x 10 60 sec 70
5. Seated Arnold Press 3 x 12 60 sec 70-75
6. *Single Arm DB Shrug 4 x 8  60 sec 70-75

* Heavy forward lean.

Day 7 OFF

Written by Mike Scialabba

About Mike Scialabba

Mike is the Director and Owner of the Missoula Underground Strength Training Center located in Missoula, Montana.

He’s an Expert Strength Coach and has been in the business for nearly a decade working with hundreds of individuals utilizing conventional and unconventional training methods. 

Michael has sent over a dozen kids to collegiate football and basketball and has spent endless hours in the trenches getting dirty with real training and real results.

Be sure to check out his blog!

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Four Laws of Training and Growing discussion thread.

Strongman Training for Maximum Hypertrophy

It’s obvious that strongman training is a great way to build mass, but this type of training is not commonly leveraged by bodybuilders or athletes looking for maximum hypertrophy. In fact, few programs exist that provide a comprehensive solution for those who are seeking a combination of aesthetic, power, volume, and speed work.

The program described in this article is designed to be a highly effective protocol for athletes, strongmen, and bodybuilders alike.

First, let’s take a look at the components of an effective hypertrophy program: volume, compound movements, good technique, overload, and recovery.

We all know that strongman movements can build power, but they can also yield great muscle-building gains when utilized properly. Each strongman movement calls on multiple muscle groups and many of these exercises can be performed with minimal equipment.  Most competitive strongmen do very little hypertrophy work, yet they have muscular physiques due to the complexity and difficulty of event training.

One of the primary differences between strongman training and standard training splits is the way that the programs are structured. Not only do strongman training sessions require more recovery time between workouts, but the athlete also needs to be fully recovered going into the event training day. The typical protocol for a strongman workout includes 3-5 events (exercises) of 1-2 sets each, and it is not uncommon use 5-15 minute rest periods between sets. This means that a workout may consist of less than 10 sets but may range from 90-180 minutes in duration.

How does all of this apply to hypertrophy? We can go back to the beginning of this article for the answer: compound movements, overload, volume, and recovery.

Strongman training is characterized by high intensity/high volume and is very demanding. However,  adding long rest periods and cycling intensity easily allows for proper recovery. Adding in strongman workouts is a great shock principle for the experienced athlete/bodybuilder and novice lifter alike.

Here are some of the most common strongman exercises:

Giant Tire Flip – Take a large heavy equipment tire and flip it end over end.

Farmers Walk – Carry one implement in each hand for a given distance or time.

Log, Axle, Keg, or Dumbbell Clean & Press – Take a weight from the ground to overhead.

Vehicle, Chain, or Sled Pulling (harness, drag, arm-over-arm) – Move an object by pulling/pushing for a specific distance or time.

Yoke Walk – Carry a weight across your back for a designated time or distance.

Sandbag, Keg, or Stone Loading and Carrying – Pick an object up and put it on a platform or carry for a designated time / distance.

Deadlift Variations and Medleys – Grab a weight and stand up with it.

Strongman Tom Mutaffis in action!

Analysis of some of the strongman movements shows that many of them incorporate movements that are similar to common gym exercises. This list includes:

  • Military press, incline press, push press
  • Partial squat, front squat
  • Deadlift, SLDL, bent-over row, shrug, power clean, rack pull
  • Calf raises, high intensity cardio

Imagine the amount of muscle activation, hormone release, and overload that this type of training provides! When done once per week, these workouts can spark incredible mass gains.

Here is an example of how to work strongman training into a hypertrophy/mass program:


Week 1:

  • Monday – Chest / Triceps / Shoulders
  • Tuesday – Lower Body / Squat
  • Focus (Front or Back), Deadlift
  • Accessory (SLDL or Deficit)
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Back / Biceps
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – *Strongman (Volume)
  • Sunday – Rest

Week 2:

  • Monday – Chest / Triceps / Shoulders
  • Tuesday – Lower Body / Deadlift
  • Focus (Rack Pull, Standard),
  • Squat Accessory (Front, Box)
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Back / Biceps
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – **Strongman (Speed)
  • Sunday – Rest

Week 3

  • Monday – Chest / Back
  • Tuesday – Lower Body / Speed –
  • Power Cleans, Jump Squats, Power or
  • Hang Snatch
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Biceps / Triceps / Shoulders
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – ***Strongman (Power)
  • Sunday – Rest

Week 4

  • Monday – Chest / Triceps / Shoulders
  • Tuesday – Lower Body / Squat
  • Focus (Front or Back), Deadlift
  • Accessory (SLDL or Deficit)
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Back / Biceps
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – *Strongman (Volume)
  • Sunday – Rest


Repeat training sessions from weeks one, two, and three.

  • Week 5 = Week 1 Workout
  • Week 6 = Week 2 Workout
  • Week 7 = Week 3 Workout

Week 8 (DELOAD)

Active recovery activities can be performed such as stretching, walking, swimming, or cycling.

Make sure to get plenty of rest and consume an ample amount of protein.

*Strongman Volume Workout: Distances of 100-200 feet, 2-3 sets per event (65-75%) / 4-5 events

**Strongman Speed Workout: Distances of 50-80 feet, 3 sets per event (60%) / 4-5 events

***Strongman Power Workout: Distances of 30-50 feet, 1 set per event (90%+) / 4 events

This program can be repeated continuously by starting back at the beginning following the ‘Deload’ week.

A Word on Progression

As with any program, the goal is to make progressive increases from week to week by increasing volume, weight, reps, or decreasing the time in which the workout is completed. One effective way to make progress is a dual-progression program alternating between volume objectives and power objectives from week to week and constantly aiming to break previous PRs.

For example, an athlete with a 350 lb 1RM incline press might do 225-250 lbs for max reps one week (aiming for 15+) and then try to improve his 3 RM the following week (315+ lbs). This approach will provide further balance of strength, hypertrophy, and conditioning, which is a theme of this program.

You may notice above, I’ve talked about Speed, Volume and Power workouts. I have outlined a typical training session for each below:

Strongman ‘Speed’ Workout

Overhead Press:

  • Log clean and press (clean each rep) – (2) sets of   7-10 reps at 70%.

Moving Events:

  • Tire Flip – (2) sets of 50’ with moderate tire for speed.
  • Yoke / Farmers Medley (superset) – (2) sets at 75%, 60’ each for speed.

Static Event:

  • Atlas Stones – (2) sets of stone over bar for reps, 60-90 seconds @ 75%

Conditioning Work:

  • Sled Drags – (2) sets of 80 feet with moderate weight for speed.

Strongman ‘Volume’ Workout

Overhead Press:

  • Log clean and press (clean once) – (3) sets of   10 reps at 65%.

Moving Events:

  • Farmers – (3) sets of 100’ with moderate weight.
  • Yoke/Tire Medley (superset) – (2) sets at 80’.

Static Event:

  • Atlas Stones – (3) sets of 5 stone series.

Conditioning Work:

  • Harness Sled Drags – (1) sets of long range sled drag (500+ feet each)

Strongman ‘Power’ Workout

Overhead Press:

  • Log clean and press (clean each) – (2) sets of 2 reps at 85-90%.

Moving Events:

  • Yoke – (3) sets of 35-50’ with increasingly heavy weights. Drops are ok, just finish the course.
  • Farmers / Tire Medley (superset) – (2) sets, one light and one max effort; 50’ each way.

Static Event:

  • Atlas Stones – (5) singles with heavy stone.

Conditioning Work:

  • Tire Drags – (2) sets of 50 feet, heavy.

In summary, this is a long-term and comprehensive strength / size / conditioning program that will yield consistent gains in all physique and performance aspects!

And I’ll leave you with a video of me performing some tough strongman exercises!

Tom Mutaffis Training Video – January 2010

Written by Tom Mutaffis

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Strongman Training for Maximum Hypertrophy discussion thread.

About Tom Mutaffis

Tom Mutaffis is a seasoned Strongman competitor, possessing a rare combination of lean muscularity, athleticism, and raw power.

His first Strongman competition was in 2006, and once again he was a quick study winning his third competition and following that with a string of 6 podium appearances (to include 4 wins!). His early success propelled him to the 2007 North America’s Strongest Man Nationals in Las Vegas. Once again, Tom prevailed defeating a field of 22 state and regional champions to be crowned the 200 lbs class National Champion.

Tom has also competed in Powerlifting and broke the RAW American Deadlift Record in the 220 lbs Junior Class at the 2007 APA United States Open.

Tom is sponsored by AtLarge Nutrition and you can find more information about him here – Tom Mutaffis AtLarge Nutrition Athlete Profile

Having it all, Power, Strength, AND the body of an Adonis!

Power-lifting involves the relentless pursuit of all-out strength. In this sport, competitors pour all of their energies into moving the heaviest weight possible in a single, spleen-bursting, hernia-inducing effort. Their maximum successful poundage for the bench press, squat, and deadlift are added together to give the grand total. The highest total wins. Simple…well, apart from the spleen bit.

Bodybuilding is exactly what it sounds like…the aim is to build the ‘perfect’ body as decided by contest judges on criteria such as muscle size, symmetry, proportion, and condition.

Size and strength are both highly sought after byproducts of training…but so is looking good with no clothes on! So what if we could have it all? Power, strength, AND the body of an Adonis?

There are rare individuals (generally, you hate them for having what you don’t!) who have achieved both. Try to look past the envy and become a part of the fraternity. If you’re quick, you might gain founding father status, considering the lack of membership in this exclusive club (they don’t offer discounted joining fees either…I’ve tried). However, entry will cost you a healthy dose of blood, sweat, and tears.

One of those rare people is  Mariusz Pudianowski. Now this guy is a freak, and Mariusz, if you’re reading, I mean that with the utmost respect and admiration. He hasn’t merely achieved a high level of functional strength along with looking pretty good…no, this guy doesn’t subscribe to anything mediocre. He simply dominates the strongman competitions as World Champion and he sports a year-round physique that would normally require a month-long bodybuilder-style diet-down to don the baby oil, hit the stage, and win!

World Champion Strongman, Mariusz Pudianowski sporting his year-round muscular, lean physique

Why not you? If he can be great at both the functional and decorative aspects of strength training, surely you can improve your raw stats as well as shedding bodyfat to an all-time low, right?

‘But Mariusz must have great genetics, and can afford top sports nutrition and have trainers at his beck and call’, I hear you say, but I don’t buy it. I’m willing to bet that the harder he works, the better his ‘genetics’ are.

It’s time to maximise your genetics and finally reach your potential! Follow me on the trail to the best of both worlds.

Training for either Powerlifting or Bodybuilding

Bodybuilders tend to lean towards sessions that are:

  • Short and intense
  • Planned around body-part splits, hitting a muscle or group HARD and from different angles
  • Stimulate as many fibres as possible through high volume training in order to maximize growth

Bodybuilders also tend not to stray too far from the 10-15 rep range (and generally, never go lower) in order to stimulate maximum muscle growth

Powerlifters, on the other hand, don’t care about the girth of their biceps or working their calves to failure. Their focus is purely on:

  • Training competition movements, the squat, bench, and deadlift
  • Longer training sessions to accommodate the rest periods needed between sets of near-maximal lifts
  • Neural and physical recovery; the CNS plays a major role in heavy lifting and needs to recover for the next attempt.
  • Assistance work, though not to pursue muscular definition, but purely to strengthen the secondary and synergistic muscles (such as the triceps and anterior delts) for their role in the bench press.

Generally, powerlifters stick to a max of 5 reps and work up to single-rep loads. This is more in the accepted strength training range and also more closely replicates the competition requirements.

Eating for either Powerlifting or Bodybuilding

Diet obviously plays a major role in each sport as well to fuel workouts, recovery, and body development. Key features for each athlete’s diet would be as follows:

For both:

  • Adequate calories
  • Sufficient protein, carbs, and fats

This is pretty much where the similarities end. I spoke to a competitive bodybuilder and a high-level powerlifter about their diets. Here is a rundown of what each said, starting with our bodybuilder:

  • Sufficient protein intake based on bodyweight (1.5 g per lb)
  • Seven meals daily, evenly spaced, no longer than three hours apart
  • Supplementation from protein shakes (four daily)
  • Limited carbs during all afternoon meals (bar the post-workout meal)
  • Protein at each meal paired with carbs OR fat, but not both
  • Huge water consumption (manipulated along with sodium and carbs during pre-comp preparation)

In contrast, here are the general diet guidelines according to our powerlifter:

  • No calorie counting
  • Meal frequency based on hunger
  • Protein with every meal
  • No restrictions on macronutrient pairings
  • Calories from food, not supplements
  • Supplements for joint integrity

Admittedly, these are the habits of only two individuals, but they illustrate the main qualities that each one values in a diet. The bodybuilder will often eat based purely on nutritional need and won’t put a premium on satisfaction, instead following more rigid, scientific guidelines. This approach ignores hunger and focuses on specific guidelines to treat the body essentially as a machine. Diet might even be more important to a bodybuilder than training! It plays a big role in the final physique product and is manipulated largely throughout the training year to provide not only fuel and recovery, but to serve as a primary tool in fat loss.

The powerlifter seems pretty content with his diet as long as protein intake is high enough to support tissue growth and repair and he steers clear of supplements that aren’t completely necessary. This diet is more dictated by satisfaction as long as it sticks to the basic rules. The only function of food intake, aside from any individual physique-based goals, is to fuel training sessions and allow for recovery and energy to do it all over again.

I’ll admit, these training styles and diets sound like polar opposites, but there are still similarities:

  • Effort towards the end goal
  • Protein

That seems to be it.

Powerlifter, Donnie Thompson eats for brute strength and boasts a World Record 2,850lb total

Achieving the best of both worlds

So, assuming you put in the effort and follow a sensible balanced diet with enough calories, what should you do in the gym to get the ‘Mariusz’ look?

Regardless of whether your focus is getting stronger or leaner, I’ve put together a body-part split to target both, with enough volume AND emphasis on the three main lifts.

Each training day has a specific emphasis:

  • The Big 3 will be trained once weekly with adequate rest for neural recovery and adaptations to take hold (between sets and workouts)
  • Superset component in each day 
  • Conditioning circuit in each day

This plan ensures that the main strength work takes priority while the body is still fresh and energetic. Supersets are a tried-and-true system used by bodybuilders as a way to work a muscle that is already in a state of fatigue (two exercises, same muscle) or to provide a rest for the agonist while the antagonist does the work (non-competing superset).

The conditioning circuit is designed to raise the heart rate and boost metabolism while preserving and even developing muscular strength and size.

This plan also includes a power move to ‘prime’ the nervous system for high-power motor unit recruitment prior to the day’s main lift. This is not done to failure, but generally 2-3 reps shy of fatigue with an emphasis on speed of movement.

The Program


Bench, Upper Body Push

  • Plyo pushups 3×5 (CNS primer)
  • Bench 3×5 (build to 5RM), 2x3RM, 1x2RM, 2x1RM – rest as required
  • Standing military press & lateral raise (superset) 1×12, 1×10, 1×8 – 1 min rest
  • Tricep dip & EZ-bar lying extensions (superset) 1×12, 1×10, 1×8 – 1 min rest

Conditioning Circuit (2 circuits, 1-2 mins rest)

  • Kettlebell swing x20
  • Pressups x20
  • Walking lunge x 20 steps
  • Kettlebell squat-press x 15
  • Kettlebell swing x 20 


Squat, Quads, Calves

  • Jump squats, weightless 3×6 (CNS primer)
  • Squat 3×5 (build to 5RM), 2x3RM, 1x2RM, 2x1RM
  • Bulgarian split-squat & Goblet squat (superset) 3×12 each leg
  • Straight leg hops (30secs) & Single leg calf raise (full ROM) x5 each leg (slow) x3

Conditioning circuit (2 circuits, 1-2 mins rest)

  • Split jump lunges x 10
  • Kettlebell single arm swing x 20
  • Step-ups x 20
  • Static squat x 30secs

Wednesday: Rest


Deadlifts, Upper Body Pull

  • Clean pulls 3×5 (CNS primer)
  • Dead-lifts 3×5 (build to 5RM), 2x3RM, 1x2RM, 2x1RM
  • Romanian deadlifts & step-ups (superset) 3×12
  • Pull-ups (alter grip each time) & face-pulls  (superset) 3×12

Conditioning circuit (2 circuits, 1-2 mins rest)

  • Kettlebell high pulls x 15
  • Bodyweight row x max reps
  • Reverse lunge x 10 each leg
  • Bent-over reverse fly x 15
  • Kettlebell high pulls x 15


Abs, Arms, and Metabolic Conditioning

  • Close grip underhand chin-ups 3 x max
  • Close grip bench press 3 x 8
  • Alternating bicep curl (start at top) & dumbbell decline extensions (superset) 3×12
  • Barbell roll-outs 2 x max
  • Cable wood-chops & Paloff press (superset) 2 x 25

Conditioning circuit (2 circuits, 1-2 mins rest)

  • Kettlebell clean & press (right arm) x 10
  • Kettlebell renegade row x 20
  • Kettlebell clean & press (left arm) x 10
  • Kettlebell swing x 25
  • 1 min max-effort rowing

Saturday and Sunday: Rest

Before you get into the programme, I want to add a quick aside about nutrition. Clearly this is a different type of training than your regular heavy lifts or hypertrophy sessions, so it’s important to fuel it correctly and to recover correctly.

You don’t want to go too crazy on the additional calories, but at the same time, you need to take in calories at a level slightly above your maintenance intake to make sure you have the energy to complete the sessions in a quality manner.

Another of our writers, Daniel Roberts, gives more detail on this subject, including macronutrient percentages and pre- and post-workout nutrition in his article, “To bulk or to cut – That is the question”.


Here is your mission, if you choose to accept it: Unleash your biggest, strongest, AND leanest physique ever!

Try this program as an addition to or as replacement for your current program or mix a couple sample days into your regular routine. A few simple changes to your current routine might be all that you need to unleash your leanest, strongest, and most powerful physique ever.

Take a before photo, indulge me for a month with single-minded focus and intensity, and take an after photo. Then….take it to the beach!

Written By Stuart Gatherum

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Having it all, Power, Strength, AND the body of an Adonis discussion thread

About Stuart Gatherum

Stuart Gatherum is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by way of the NSCA and runs Stuart Gatherum Personal Training in Englands South West. He works with a variety of clients of hugely varying goals. Also on the resume are roles as a college lecturer in Gym Instruction and Personal Training as well as freelance writer covering exercise and fitness.

His exercise philosophy: Consistency, frequency and effort yeild fantastic results. His exercise motto: Go Hard or Go Home Stuart can also be found blogging on his website –