Some of the fittest people I’ve ever met train a lot. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but for people who are constantly in fear of overtraining, it’s an eye-opener to understand how much good programming is one of the most important factors that determine how often you can hit the gym.
I remember interviewing Olympic athletes back in 2008 and being astonished by their 6- and 7-day per week plans, consisting of multiple hours pounding their muscles each day.
So much for worrying about more than 60-minutes of exercise turning your muscles into cortisol drained mush, right?
Your biceps respond best to specific, high-tension techniques that usually require nothing more than your body weight.
During my “famous” Dwight Freeney (the tire workout) interview, the All-Pro defensive end crushed his workout for 2 hours.
When interviewing and spending time with True Blood star and Evolution author Joe Manganiello, I learned that the shredded actor consistently pushed his body 6 days per week.
While most people don’t have the time (or desire) to train frequently, it’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of training.
You can achieve great results pushing your body with full body routines three days per week. You can also do it with bodyweight exercises. Or you can do it with more frequent, but shorter sessions. The secret lies in the execution, says strength coach Chad Waterbury.
To offer a different approach to building your biceps, let Waterbury be your guide to a better understanding of how to program your training frequency—and discover a unique way to bigger arms. -AB
The 4-Step Biceps Builder
By Chad Waterbury
Helping people add mass to their most stubborn muscle groups has been my passion since I started training professionally in 1996. For the first five years of my career I trained my clients using a mix of low reps with heavy weights and high rep sets to failure.
That’s what most trainers did back then, and still do today.
However, my approach to building muscle changed in 2001 after I went to see the Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere, in Vegas. As I was watching the now-famous Alexis Brothers perform their incredible feats of strength, I couldn’t help but be astonished by two things.
First, they had two of the best physiques I’d ever seen: an ideal combination of muscle, symmetry and cuts. Second – and this is most important – I was shocked when I looked at their weekly schedule.
Those two dudes were performing their mind-blowing strength performance 10 times per week.
I didn’t care if they were using every pharmaceutical that Tijuana had to offer. What they were doing defied all the “laws” of training and recovery I learned in college, textbooks and articles.
That’s when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity (thanks Pulp Fiction): I was going to start training my client’s most underdeveloped muscles more frequently each week.
That strategy changed everything for me; however, it was a long road of many failed attempts to figure out just how often a guy or gal with average genetics could stimulate a specific muscle or their entire body while avoiding burnout.
The High Frequency Training Plan
By 2012 I had accumulated enough experience with frequent training to write my first book on the subject, High Frequency Training (HFT).
My overall approach with HFT was pretty straightforward. You’d choose an exercise such as the pull-up and perform a total number of reps per day (e.g., 50), regardless of how many sets it took. Then you’d add one rep to that total and continue the plan for 6-8 weeks.
It worked well and many guys built up their biceps while the gals finally got the glute size they wanted. But, based on the feedback from a wide range of people around the world, that approach still didn’t work as well for some muscles as I’d hoped.
So I continued to endlessly experiment with higher frequency training plans. Part of my evolved strategy was to look at athletes that built proportionally large muscle groups from their sport. Cyclists have impressively muscular thighs, and gymnasts that do the rings have the best biceps on the planet.
These are their strengths. But for many people, these body parts are weaknesses. So my approach focused on taking what works from the best, modifying, and creating a structured plan to build up any weak body part using a frequency model of training.
The 4-Step Biceps Blast
Since it’s a common area of focus, let’s use the biceps as an example. First, unless you’re genetically gifted (congrats to those who won that lottery), my experience has taught me that most people struggle to build their arms from high rep training. If they did, every collegiate rower would have massive guns.
But maybe more importantly, it’s that people don’t know how to activate the muscles in your biceps. Everyone knows how to flex, but that’s not what happens when we start cranking away at curls.
Body language takes over. Your shoulders and back help move the weight. And the next thing you know, you cranked out an awesome set, only to see arms that look just like they did on rep 1.
Maybe you got a pump, but within an hour your arms are back at their original size.
Second, simply training heavy won’t work, either. There are plenty of guys with average-sized pipes that can curl a lot of weight. Your biceps respond best to specific, high-tension techniques that usually require nothing more than your body weight.
Here’s one biceps-building technique that uses what I call an Iso-Squeeze Countdown. One great exercise for this technique is the inverted row.
Here’s the 4-step plan that will turn the inverted row into powerhouse biceps builder.
Step 1: Assume the starting position with your arms straight and hands 10 inches apart with an overhand grip (palms facing down).
Step 2: Pull your body up to the peak contraction position, hold it, and squeeze your biceps as hard as possible for 3 seconds. Then, immediately do 3 full range of motion reps. Rest for 10 seconds.
Step 3: Pull your torso back up to the peak contraction position and squeeze your biceps intensely for 2 seconds, followed by 2 full range of motion reps. Rest another 10 seconds.
Step 4: Again, pull your torso up to peak contraction, squeeze your biceps with as much tension as you can muster for one full second, then do just 1 full rep.
That short but intense protocol, when performed for the right number of sets and frequency throughout the week is just one of the three ways I stimulate new growth in your most underdeveloped muscle groups. For example, I would combine that movement with an antagonist (opposite muscle) exercise, such as a pushup, and follow the same protocol. Superset just 2 sets of this combination, and then combined with a frequency model of training, you’ll be on your way to faster results.
Targeted Muscle Building and Strength
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Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.