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by UFEHQ on November 19, 2019


Submitted By Timothy Rigby, M.A., NSCA-CPT

Over the last few months, Ultimate Fitness Events (UFE) has been pleased to present you with a variety of specialty technique programs.  This series of workout protocols has been a reflection of the constant need for variety in exercise execution in order to keep gains consistent and improving long-term.  To date, these programs have revolved around the manipulation of sets, reps, rest periods and exercise selection.  In this fourth installment of Training Tips, we’re going to look at the larger picture of periodization, wherein you as a competitive athlete apply a specific training protocol for a short block of time, then switch to a similar but distinct scheme of sets and reps to capitalize on muscle stimulation and advance your gains.  This adjustment will be repeated after a second block of time, and a third scheme of sets and reps will be employed.  Once again, after the completion of this new block, another one will begin, and so on.

Should you ever retain the services of a personal trainer to assist in your plan to compete in Bodybuilding, Physique, Classic Physique, Fitness Model, Figure, Bikini or Glamour, you’ll not only learn a lot about exercise technique, but also program planning with industry terminology.  Periodization is the amalgamation of all the different cyclical schemes used over the long term.  This long-term program unto itself is referred to as a macrocycle.  The self-contained specialty blocks within the program are each known as a mesocycle, lasting about a month.  Should your trainer incorporate even more frequent changes to your training on, say, a weekly basis, these are each known as a microcycle.

The three specialty programs within this installment are all designed toward accomplishing your goals of building muscle and losing fat efficiently, and are laid out in detailed plans according to their periodization.  Let’s begin.

Shawn Voisin - Rear Double BicepsSHREDDED ‘N’ STRONG
Perhaps the biggest challenge in all of fitness is building (and shaping) muscle while simultaneously burning unwanted fat.  The reason for the latter goal is because even if you successfully develop significant muscle, its appearance will be obscured if you have a fatty overlay.  Beginners are quick to get enthusiastic about training because they witness the quickest gains in muscle mass relative to when they were sedentary.  However, it doesn’t take long for them to appreciate that all this new muscle they’re gaining has no aesthetic value unless it’s defined (also known as “cut”) as a consequence of fat burning.  Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the athlete and his or her trainer to establish a program that can efficiently accomplish both these goals.

The “Shredded ‘N’ Strong” program is an excellent method to achieve these goals for you, and as you’ll observe, it uses a graduated periodization system to constantly confuse your body and force it to adapt to new stimuli.  The emphasis throughout this program is to use multi-joint compound exercises which employ the highest relative number of muscle fibres and are therefore the most efficient at expending calories.  There is a great deal of rep-count variety in this program and with good reason: (1) training with a heavier weight for low reps (such as four to six) will keep your metabolism stoked for the longest time post-workout; and (2) for those lighter sets in which the rep-count is high, you’ll burn more immediate calories during your workout.

The other keys to this workout include using relatively short rest periods which decrease with each movement per bodypart.  This progression further increases calorie expenditure.  Also, notice that as you get stronger over time and your endurance builds, you’ll be altering the reps in opposing directions: for the heavy sets, the rep count decreases each mesocycle, while for the lighter sets, the rep count increases each mesocycle.  Make sure to therefore adjust the resistance accordingly, since your progress will dictate an increase in weight on the heavier sets; however, you may not have to decrease the weight on the lighter sets as much since you’ll be getting stronger.  This workout should yield substantial gains in muscle mass and fat burning over a 12-week period.

Sample Shredded ‘N’ Strong Workout (Back and Biceps):

Weeks 1 to 4

Exercise  Sets Reps Rest
DEADLIFT 3 6, 6, 6 1:30 mins.
BENT-OVER ROW 4 6, 6, 12, 12 1:15 mins.
LAT PULLDOWN 4 6, 6, 12, 12 1 min.
STANDING DUMBBELL CURL 3 6, 6, 6 1:30 mins.
SPIDER CURL 4 6, 6, 12, 12 1:15 mins.
HAMMER CURL 4 6, 6, 12, 12 1 min.

Weeks 5 to 8

Exercise    Sets Reps Rest
DEADLIFT 4 5, 5, 5, 5 1:30 mins.
BENT-OVER ROW 5 5, 5, 15, 15, 15 1:15 mins.
LAT PULLDOWN 5 5, 5, 15, 15, 15 1 min.
STANDING DUMBBELL CURL 4 5, 5, 5, 5 1:30 mins.
SPIDER CURL 5 5, 5, 15, 15, 15 1:15 mins.
HAMMER CURL 5 5, 5, 15, 15, 15 1 min.

Weeks 9 to 12

Exercise   Sets Reps  Rest
DEADLIFT 5 4, 4, 4, 4, 4 1:30 mins.
BENT-OVER ROW 6 4, 4, 4, 20, 20, 20 1:15 mins.
LAT PULLDOWN 6 4, 4, 4, 20, 20, 20 1 min.
STANDING DUMBBELL CURL 5 4, 4, 4, 4, 4 1:30 mins.
SPIDER CURL 6 4, 4, 4, 20, 20, 20 1:15 mins.
HAMMER CURL 6 4, 4, 4, 20, 20, 20 1 min.


You may notice the word ‘speed’ and mistakenly think from its name that this method of training is all about simply executing every rep as quickly as possible.  This is not the case, actually; while a segment of each set will be performed explosively with speed, the cadence (rate of speed) for the majority of the set will in fact be slower (at different speeds).

In keTyler Spooner - Ab Bicepeping with our aim to help you build muscle while losing fat, this protocol effectively meets your needs by breaking down each 15-rep set thus: the first five reps are to be completed explosively; the middle five reps are to be completed with an exaggerated slowness of five seconds on the positive portion of the rep (to the peak position) and five seconds on the negative portion (returning to the starting point); finally, the last five reps are to be completed at a normal cadence.  It is recommended that you use multi-joint compound movements in order to expend more calories.  Furthermore, due to the inclusion of five ultra-slow repetitions, you’ll choose a weight with which you could normally perform 25 reps in a set (even though you’re only completing 15 here).

The strategy here is to use opposing muscle groups that will work out an entire region of your body very efficiently.  The example contained within the workout below features your quads paired with your hamstrings.  Should you attempt to apply this method to muscle groups that complement each other (e.g. triceps with chest, or biceps with back), you’ll be prone to overworking the smaller muscle group and inadvertently hinder proper growth.   The last key point is that you’ll enter into this six-week mesocycle slowly; that is, with only two sets per exercise for the first two-week microcycle.  You can, however, train each workout prescribed twice per week.  Each proceeding microcycle will add one set per exercise.  Have patience during these long reps and make sure you concentrate on preserving good form.

Sample ISV Workout (Quads and Hamstrings):

Weeks 1 and 2

Exercise Sets Reps  Rest
SQUAT 2 15 each (5/5/5) 1:30 mins.
DEADLIFT 2 15 each (5/5/5) 1:30 mins.
LEG PRESS 2 15 each (5/5/5) 1:15 mins.
POWER CLEAN 2 15 each (5/5/5) 1:15 mins.
BOX JUMP 2 15 each (5/5/5) 1 min.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFT 2 15 each (5/5/5) 1 min.

Weeks 3 and 4

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
SQUAT 3 15 each (5/5/5) 1:30 mins.
DEADLIFT 3 15 each (5/5/5) 1:30 mins.
LEG PRESS 3 15 each (5/5/5) 1:15 mins.
POWER CLEAN 3 15 each (5/5/5) 1:15 mins.
BOX JUMP 3 15 each (5/5/5) 1 min.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFT 3 15 each (5/5/5) 1 min.

Weeks 5 and 6

Exercise  Sets Reps Rest
SQUAT 4 15 each (5/5/5) 1:30 mins.
DEADLIFT 4 15 each (5/5/5) 1:30 mins.
LEG PRESS 4 15 each (5/5/5) 1:15 mins.
POWER CLEAN 4 15 each (5/5/5) 1:15 mins.
BOX JUMP  4 15 each (5/5/5) 1 min.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFT 4 15 each (5/5/5) 1 min.

The principle of dropping the resistance used in a set appears very basic at first glance: as you near completion of the set, you lower the weight and continue repping.  In itself, this can have some small advancements in your muscle development, but if you know the really best way to apply this principle, you can enhance your gains much more substantially.  The questions at hand are many.  For starters, when do you drop the weight (do you wait until failure, or plan it for one or two reps before)?  How many drops per set should you do?  Which exercises are the best suited for drops, or are all of them?  Do you rest between drops?

So you can see that you really need a plan based on scientific evidence that supports the concept of dropping sets in a certain manner to derive substantial gains.  The Drop Chop workout herein is one that helps maximize your gains using a strategic drop set protocol, applied with variables over the course of the microcycles.  Like the previous technique of ISV training, you’ll use a six-week mesocycle divided into three two-week microcycles to keep the stimulation on your muscles high.  While the drop set principle can be applied to the purposes of strength gain or endurance, for our purpose here we’re going to target muscle growth paired with calorie burn.

The key to the Drop Chop is to use the most drops with the heaviest compound exercises to stimulate muscle mass, growth hormone, and consume a lot of calories.  With each subsequent exercise, you’ll “chop” or reduce the number of drops on the last one or two sets.  Plan to use a weight that would cause you to fail if you attempted to perform one more rep than the number prescribed for each exercise.  In keeping with our theme of periodization, you’ll adjust the sets and reps with each microcycle as your body adapts, in order to maintain muscle confusion which stimulates growth.

Sample Drop Chop Workout (Back):

Weeks 1 and 2

Exercise  Sets + Drop Sets Reps Drops Rest
BENT-OVER ROW 2 + 1 8 3 1:30 mins.
SEATED CABLE ROW 2 + 1 10 2 1:15 mins.
LAT PULLDOWN 2 + 1 10 1 1:15 mins.
UPRIGHT ROW 3 + 0 10 0 1:15 mins.
STRAIGHT-ARM PULLDOWN 3 + 0 12 0 1 min.

Weeks 3 and 4

Exercise  Sets + Drop Sets  Reps Drops Rest
BENT-OVER ROW 3 + 1 7 3 1:30 mins.
SEATED CABLE ROW 3 + 1 9 2 1:15 mins.
LAT PULLDOWN 3 + 1 9 1 1:15 mins.
UPRIGHT ROW 4 + 0 9 0 1:15 mins.
STRAIGHT-ARM PULLDOWN 4 + 0 11 0 1 min.

Weeks 5 and 6

Exercise   Sets + Drop Sets Reps Drops Rest
BENT-OVER ROW 3 + 2 6 3 1:30 mins.
SEATED CABLE ROW 3 + 2 8 2 1:15 mins.
LAT PULLDOWN 3 + 2 8 1 1:15 mins.
UPRIGHT ROW 5 + 0 8 0 1:15 mins.
STRAIGHT-ARM PULLDOWN 5 + 0 10 0 1 min.



You really put your muscles through the wringer when you perform specialty programs – and that’s a good thing.  But as your body adjusts to new stimuli and grows much quicker for you compared to standard training, you have to do your part too.  Increase you protein intake to compensate for the additional strain on your muscles.  Take more B vitamins, BCAAs and glutamine.  Drink more water and get more sleep.  Otherwise you’re delaying your progress, and that’s something a fitness competitor does not want to do.

Remember also that although these radical systems of training are effective if executed as prescribed, you won’t get “even more” results if you take it to the extreme level of performing an excessive number of sets or reps this way.  For instance, just because drop sets work in moderation on a certain proportion of your total exercise volume, this does NOT mean that if you do every set of every exercise this way you’ll induce even more gains.  It just doesn’t work that way, and by doing so you may leave yourself vulnerable to overtraining, burnout and possibly injury.

As we told you at the beginning of this installment, periodization is the most effective long-term plan to keep your gains consistent and reliable.  There’s no such thing as a purely linear progression where you achieve the exact same amount of muscle gain and fat loss week after week.  But periodization is the next-best thing in order that you achieve excellent results consistently – that’s why it’s the most widely embraced long-term plan for successful fitness athletes worldwide.

Timothy Rigby, M.A., NCSA-CPT is a freelance writer and one of Canada’s most published fitness writers.

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