The mainstream bodybuilding magazines exclusively, or at least predominantly, provide routines that encourage many hours of gym time. Four or more workouts per week,
three days on/one day off; split routines; double-split routines; eight, 10, 12 or more sets per bodypart-this is the type of training that the top bodybuilders use.
The fact that this genetically gifted-and probably steroid-assisted-minority can progress on this approach is irrelevant to us hardgainers. Millions of average
mortals have followed the champions' training methods without ever becoming big and strong, which gives testimony to the redundancy of the methods themselves.
To promote programs that consist of even eight exercises twice a week is heresy to those who are used to reading the popular literature. To promote programs of five
exercises or less may seem, to the uninitiated, to be sheer lunacy.
For those of you who are reading this column for the first time, please understand that training a hardgainer necessitates strategies that may, at first, appear absurd.
The truth is, however, that abbreviated routines can provide the quickest way to unabbreviated gains in size and strength. The less you train, the more you can gain.
This is undoubtedly true in the case of the typical, drug-free hardgainer. Try it for yourself.
The abbreviated routine has two main advantages. First, by only doing three main exercises at each workout, you don't spread your effort and intensity around much. You
concentrate on a few exercises. Remember, effort is at the root of all gains.
The second advantage is that you make much fewer demands on your recovery ability as compared to what happens on a more expanded routine. Using less of your recovery
capacity means you're far less likely to overtrain. You'll recover more quickly than usual, be less tired during your days off from the gym and be more enthusiastic for
your next workout. By putting more effort into less work, you stimulate growth-a magic formula.
Another big advantage of abbreviated routines is that you spend less time in the gym. This is an important point for those of you who have very busy lives. To be able
to stimulate a lot of growth in an hour puts effective training within the reach of overworked people.
Why haven't such workouts been promoted more over the years? They have, but not by most of the mass-circulation publications. Few people know of this training strategy.
By working out on abbreviated routines for a while, you can give yourself the foundation of size and strength you'll need to be able to respond well to a moderately
expanded routine later on. Praise the abbreviated workout.
This technique is the only way of moving forward for the extreme hardgainer who has physically demanding employment. Very abbreviated routines do lack something in terms
of balance. Their purpose is not to attend to the finer points. The people who are in the greatest need of abbreviated routines should not be concerned about all aspects
of balance, however. The attention to balance and the finishing touches can come later on when you have laid the foundation of size and strength. It's the very fact that
you cut back training almost to its absolute skeleton that makes the routines so effective. Some hardgainers will have trouble gaining on anything other than this sort of
approach, at least in their early phases of training.
The routines I suggest here, short though they undoubtedly are, provide comprehensive and demanding workouts if you do them properly. All the structures of the body get
a darn good hammering, with the key bodyparts taking the brunt of the work. Though I didn't include specific arm and shoulder exercises, these areas still get a good
workout. Don't think that your arm and shoulder muscles will melt away because you're not doing direct work for them. On this program, if you add 60 to 80 pounds to your
current best squat and stiff-legged deadlift for high reps, you'll add size all over your body, including the "little" areas.
Start each workout with a couple of sets of bent-leg abdominal exercise. Add resistance when you can get out more than 15 reps, but don't push yourself to the absolute
limit here. Save the big effort for later.
The first routine of the week opens with the squat. If you truly can't get anything but injury and irritation from this exercise, do an alternate movement-for example,
weighted stepups, which I will describe later.
If you can squat safely, then squat. It's not necessary to squat heavily at every workout, but on this program I recommend once a week. After two or three warmup sets work
up to your top poundage for eight reps-this may be an absolute-limit set if you're in the early part of the cycle. After five minutes or so of rest come back for another
set, only this time with a reduced poundage-25 percent less. With this poundage you do your absolute-maximum reps regardless of the stage of the cycle. Aim for 20 reps
minimum. As the cycle goes on, you go for heavier and heavier poundages on the top eight-rep set, so you use heavier poundages on the high-rep set as well-but without the
reps dropping. Don't forget to do a set of breathing pullovers after each of the final sets of squats.
If you prefer simply to do a single set of 20-rep squats with every ounce you can handle-which will be 30 to 50 pounds more than if you do them following a full-bore,
eight-rep set- go ahead. Skip the eight-rep set and instead go from the warmup work to the high-rep set.
With the squat and breathing pullovers finished, head for the bench. Work up to a submaximum eight-rep top set. Use a poundage that's about 80 percent of what you could
handle for eight reps. Purposely avoid pushing yourself to the max on the bench when you squat to the limit.
The T-bar row or bent-over row is the last "meat" exercise of this routine. Do a warmup set and then get into your eight-rep set. Keep your back flat and watch out for
dangerous, loose form. When you have pro-gressed to your top working poundage, set the weight down between the final few reps so you can get out more reps. Drop the poundage
the usual 25 percent, take a four-to-five-minute rest and then drive yourself into the ground for a truly limit-effort set of high reps. Do the second half of the set in
rest/pause style-putting the weights down for a few seconds between reps-and give your all.
The high-rep set, following a hard, medium-rep set, will work you to the limit and in a different way from what you get from previous routines I've discussed in this
column. By doing only a few exercises per workout, you should be able to pour yourself into the two hard sets per exercise.
Remember, the name of the game is effort. There is absolutely no substitute for it. The abbreviated routine provides the finest recipe for stimulating workouts that are
short and simple, but the effort can only come i from you. Pour it out!
Start your second workout of the week with breathing squats for two sets of 30 reps. This will give you a big dose of anabolic heavy breathing without demanding a lot from
your legs and back, which will ensure that your legs are not tired for the next heavy squat workout.
Barbell stepups are a good squat alternative, a fine exercise that gives the thighs and hips a great workout- to say nothing of the benefit to your cardiovascular system.
They do all of this without providing the stress to the back and shoulders that you get from the regular squat.
Get a sturdy bench that's as high as the middle of your kneecap. If the bench is too high, stand on a board or something else that will raise your starting position to the
correct height. Start off with a light barbell over your shoulders. Lead with your left leg and follow with your right. Once you're standing on the bench, lead off with your
left leg. Now lead with the right leg and follow with the left. Each leg gets an automatic rest/pause while the other leg does its rep. It may take you a few workouts to get
the balance and execution established.
Add sufficient poundage to the bar at each stepup workout, and get to your top working poundage at the third session. Savor the challenge of gutting out the final reps of
your sets. Don't expect to use very big poundages here, because what you're doing is one-limbed exercise. The height of the bench makes a big difference- the lower it is,
the more poundage you can use. Stick to the recommended height for the moment.
You can also do the stepup with one leg continuously leading, then rest awhile before doing the other leg. This style usually avoids the rest/pause factor of the other style
and will likely force you to reduce your poundage.
After you dismount the bench, be careful not to land too hard. Lower yourself with control. You may want to land on some type of cushioning to reduce the impact.
As you mount the bench with the leading leg, avoid getting a big push with a strong heel raise from the trailing leg. Save this push for the end of the set as a means of
forcing out the final reps. Make your thigh-hip structure do the work.
With your leg work completed, move on to the bench press. In this workout you work the bench heavily. Progress to your maximum poundage for eight reps. Rest a few minutes and
come back for a second set with 25 percent less weight.
You do the stiff-legged deadlift similarly to the heavy squat in routine 1, and the poundage you use ought to be pretty much the same. Be careful when performing this exercise.
If you're not used to it, build up to your top working poundage over a month or more.
Stand on a bench with the loaded barbell resting on the bench in front of your toes. Take a grip that's slightly wider than hip width so you won't hinder the lockout. Using a
regular, bent-leg deadlift style, take the barbell off the bench and straighten your legs. With your knees slightly unlocked lightly touch the top of your feet and then stand
up with the weight. Look up as you lift so as to discourage excessive rounding of your back. Keep the bar traveling on a path that brushes against your legs. Do not let the bar
travel away from your body.
Pull in a smooth, jerk-free manner, and do not lean back at the top of the lift. Lower the bar slowly, lightly touch the top of your feet again and then immediately pull the
next rep without any sudden jerk. Keep the stress of the exercise evenly spread over both sides of your body-no twisting to one side.
If you prefer to do just a single full-bore-effort set of deadlifts, go right ahead. The choice is yours. Do what you think you can best progress with and make sure that at the
end of the cycle you have well exceeded your previous best for the same reps. It's progress you're after, not just adherence to a given rep-set scheme.
As with all my programs start off using less than your maximum poundages for your eight-rep sets. Work it out so that in the third week you're using your maximum poundages for
these sets. From then on add five to 10 pounds to the squat and deadlift every week-so long, that is, as you made your eight reps at the previous workout.
Add five pounds to the bench press and row exercise in a similar manner. As your eight-rep-set poundages move up, so should your high-rep-set weights. Keep those reps up, no
letting them slip down in this program. Once you're into the maximum-effort work for both the eight-rep sets, maintain it for as long as you can. Six to 10 weeks of this effort
should be about right.
Don't forget to begin each routine with a couple of sets of abdominal work and end each with a few sets of a calf exercise. Keep the reps in the medium-to-high range. For calves
you might do a couple of sets of one-legged calf raises with the biggest dumbbell you can use. Aim for 20 or more in the first set and 15 in the second. At the end of the second
set put the dumbbell down and immediately do as many reps as possible without resistance, followed by a few forced reps.
Here's how each workout looks:
Light bench presses
Heavy T-bar or bent-over rows
Abdominal work Breathing squats or stepups Heavy bench presses Heavy deadlifts Calf work Alternate the two routines and work out every third or fourth day, depending on your recovery
ability. By doing so little at each workout, you should recover much more easily than you're used to from more expanded routines.
This truly is a terrific pair of abbreviated workouts. Alternate the two for a few months, give yourself a lot of rest between workouts, get plenty to eat and lots of sleep, plan
your workouts, keep adding poundage to the exercises, maintain accurate records, put your all into these few movements, and you will grow.