By Travis/NUTRISHOP CONTRIBUTOR
I’ve been through many kinds of workout programs — German volume training, low-rep/heavy weight, powerlifting-inspired training, football-type training, suspension, plyometrics, isometrics — and the one constant through just about all of them has been this: Intensity matters. When things start to stagnate, what I always find is that changing an exercise or a set/rep scheme scarcely has the same effect as changing the intensity of the training I’m doing.
Sometimes, a shift in intensity can come from lowering rest periods, or throwing more weight on the bar. For me, I’ve been through all that and it’s hard to consistently reproduce the feeling of intensity you get from a new training experience. Given that I’m hardly what any true gym rat would call a real expert — I’ve never done a bodybuilding show or a powerlifting contest, for example — the odds are good that if I’ve gone through this, so have you. While I’m certainly not the “lowest common denominator,” I believe many of my experiences are ones you’ve shared, whether you know it or not.
To break the monotony and boost the intensity, I’m choosing to switch away from a standard “daily” schedule — yes, bros, this sometimes will mean that Chest Day will not always fall on a Monday, and Arms Day won’t be on Friday — and go to a three-day split that puts an emphasis on not only doing more frequent work, but having to be smart about the work I’m doing so that I can maximize each workout for its full benefit.
There are a couple benefits to this. For one, I like shifting up my days so that not every Tuesday is a leg day, or every Wednesday and Friday is core. I simply believe it’s more fun and more exciting to have a new goal and a new outlook each time you hit the gym, to salvage some form of relative spontaneity. Structure is good — in fitness, in fact, structure is king — but a little bit of rebellion within the confines of that structure is, I believe, important for the mental side of hitting the gym. Because once the work is done, fitness should be fun.
The second benefit that I’m expecting from a three-on, one-off split is, of course, gains. Many studies are starting to show that frequent exercise of similar muscle groups (i.e., hitting legs multiple times a week) is more beneficial than a once-a-week plan with six recovery days. I like the challenge there. It makes me ask myself: “Am I really too sore to hit squats again? Or am I using recovery as an excuse?” 3-4 days of rest sure seems adequate, when you get down to it, and I like the prospect of further challenging myself in that regard.
Thirdly, as I mentioned before, it forces the trainee into smarter lifting. For example, say I hit my quads hard on my first legs day in my three-day split, doing squats, split squats and maybe some cleans. I know I have another legs day coming up in four days, so I can work in just enough hamstring work to get them activated, then when my next leg day comes up, I know I can go full-bore on deadlifts and other hamstring work while working through the slight soreness to activate the quads. It’s a more complete, less compartmentalized approach to exercise, I think. The body doesn’t work one part at a time, but sometimes we can train that way (isn’t that right, Curls Day guy?). If we’re going to do that, to me, it makes more sense to maximize the time spent doing it.
Without further ado, I’ll show the approach for this plan, and you’ll see how pliable it is to your needs. The big change, again, is the frequency of your exercise — at the least, we’ll have four workouts a week; at most, we’ll have six. Is this brand-new stuff? No. The three-day split is fairly common, in fact, and I have even done it in the past. But I do find that when I’m getting bored or stuck at the gym, coming back to it always recharges my efforts.
The plan is below. Let the set/rep schemes dictate your weight — remember, your last two reps of each set should be a challenge.
Bench Press: 5×5
Pull-Ups: 5 to failure
Incline DB Press: 4×12
Seated Cable Rows: 4×8
Cable Crossovers: 3×8
Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldowns: 3×10
Day 2: Legs/Core
Day 2: Legs/Core
Power Cleans (bar starts and ends on the floor): 5×5
3 Supersets: 8 Kettlebell Swings/12 total Suspended Kettlebell Split Squats.*
*This one can sound confusing. If you have access to a suspension system like a TRX or hanging straps at your gym, set them up so that the foothold is about knee-high, no higher. If you don’t, just set up a bench behind you. Either way, you will have a trail foot in the straps or on the bench, and your starting position will be the trail-foot side knee on the ground, the other leg out in front, in a split squat. Holding a kettlebell straight ahead over your shoulder (use the arm that’s on the opposite side of the leg that is forward), rise to a standing position, then lower yourself back down to the full squat, but not until the back knee is on the ground — you want to stay under tension the whole time. After six, switch both the trail foot and the hand holding the weight.
Smith Machine Calf Raises: 4×20
Hanging Leg Raises: 3×10
Planks: 4 sets of :30
Day 3: Shoulders/Arms
Military Barbell Press: 4×10
Arnold DB Presses: 3×10
Lateral DB Raises: 3×15
Internal/External Rotations: 3×10 each, very light
Preacher Curls: 3×12
Triceps Cable Pushdown: 4×12
Incline DB Curls: 3×8 (heavy)
Close-Grip Bench Press: 5×5 (heavy)
3 Supersets: Cable Curls (21s)/Skull Crushers x 15
Day 4: Rest