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Bulldozer Training: Build Muscle With Rest-Pause

Bulldozer Training: A Rest-Pause Muscle Building System And Tool

Average: 4.1 (15 votes)
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Bulldozer training combines rest-pause sets with progressive resistance. Workouts are shorter but more intense, yielding impressive muscle gains.

Editor's note: here is a list of the current Bulldozer Training workout splits available on M&S:

Several years ago I began to play around with rest-pause training. I would load up the bar, knock out a set, and rest for only a very short period of time before performing another set. It didn't take long for me to realize one thing...rest-pause style training was both brutal and effective.

I was spending less time in the gym training but waking up with an incredible amount of DOMS (muscle soreness). Limiting rest between sets was also making my workouts far more engaging. I had no time to stop and think. Every workout felt like warfare. I would crush it, rest for a short period of time (never fully recovering), and get after it again.

Fast forward 12 months later. I was still using rest-pause training (now calling it Bulldozer training because I was charging slow and steady through my workouts) and was bigger than ever. I had refined my set and rep approaches in a manner I felt maximized my time in the gym as much as possible.

This article details the basics of Bulldozer training. Keep in mind that this style of rest-pause training can be used as a tool and inserted into your current workout structure, or as a complete workout system. Sample splits and workouts will be added in the very near future.

Dumbbell CurlsMaking Every Rep Count

The first several reps of a muscle building set can feel rather easy. On the other hand, the last few reps of a set are the most intense, and generally considered the most growth-inducing. With this in mind, let's take a look at how muscle fibers are recruited.

Small muscle fibers contract before large muscle fibers. Small muscle fibers are slow-twitch, or endurance muscle fibers. Slow-twitch fibers can keep going and going - think endurance athletes. Fast twitch are "the strength and power fibers", and important for weight training, strength training and high-powered sports like sprinting.

Slow twitch muscle units have approximately 100 fibers while fast twitch muscle units have up to 10,000 fibers. As you can see, there is quite a size difference between the two types of fibers, with fast twitch being the larger of the two.

Slow twitch fibers are much more likely to be triggered than fast twitch fibers. For example, it would not be uncommon for the ratio of slow twitch to fast twitch activation to be around 10-20:1. In addition, when a muscle fiber unit is recruited, it is on an all or nothing basis. It is therefore understandable that the larger fast twitch units are harder to activate than the slow twitch fiber units, and are reserved for more intense tasks.

There have been several studies that indicate the greater the effort there is on a rep, the greater the response. Dr Ralph N. Carpinelli, a faculty member at the Human Performance Laboratory at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, completed an exhaustive meta-analysis on the science of weight training and gains.

Dr. Carpinelli had this to say:

“The size principle states that when the central nervous system recruits motor units for a specific activity, it begins with the smallest, more easily excited, least powerful motor units and progresses to the larger, more difficult to excite, more powerful motor units to maintain or increase force.”

Why does any of this matter? Simple...more intense reps activate more muscle fibers. So, if you can raise the  average stress placed on a muscle per rep, you raise overall fiber recruitment and theoretically make your workouts more productive and efficient.

This is where rest-pause training enters the picture. By limiting rest between sets you never allow a muscle to fully recover, therefore each rep becomes more challenging. You have a higher percentage of quality, challenging reps.

Bulldozer Training - Art or Science?

During the time I spent refining my Bulldozer training set and rep schemes the science behind each rep was the furthest thing from my mind. Training is just as much of an art form as it is science, and I certainly didn't develop the Bulldozer approach based on any hard science. While it does make sense to bring up the average intensity of each rep, the adjustments I made were based around "feel".

I do not wish for anyone to walk away from this article thinking it is my intention to decry Bulldozer training as some magic/ultimate form of training. There are many ways to effectively build muscle, and I personally have used many approaches over the years. With that said, I do believe this to be extremely effective, and definitely something you should try and experiment with.

Leg Extensions

Bulldozer Training Basics

Bulldozer training is structured around the following principles:

  • Limited Rest Between Sets. Rest between sets is typically 15 to 30 seconds, but can run as high as 60 seconds for certain compound exercises, or for extended set schemes.
  • Shorter, But More Intense Workouts. Because of the restricted rest between sets you will spend less time in the gym on any given day, but your workouts will have a greater "per rep" intensity*.
  • Fewer Exercises Per Bodypart. You won't need 4 to 5 (or more) exercises to hit a bodypart hard. Bulldozer training uses a higher number of sets per exercise than most workouts, so you will generally use no more than 2-3 exercises for a given muscle group.
  • Weight Progression Using Rep Goal Totals. You will add up the total reps performed for a given exercise, and if it reaches a predetermined goal, weight will be added the next time you perform this lift.
  • Mini-Sets and Macro-Sets. Groups of sets for a given exercise are called mini-sets. They are distinguished with a different nomenclature because they are not performed like most sets, when fully recovered. Macro-Sets are groupings of mini-set clusters.
  • No Failure. Do not train sets to failure. Stop every mini-set when you feel like you may fail on the next rep. If you are not sure, stop the set and rack the weight.
  • Same Weight. Use the same working weight for each mini-set of a given exercise.

*Intensity in this context does not relate to absolute strength, but rather the burden placed upon a muscle as it relates to muscle fiber unit recruitment.

Annotating Macro-Sets and Mini-Sets

Bulldozer sets will use the following style of annotation:

  • Exercise x 5 mini-sets - 30/30/30/30

"Exercise" is obviously the exercise performed. "5 mini-sets" requires you to perform 5 total sets with the listed rest between each set: 30 seconds.

  • Perform set 1, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 2, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 3, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 4, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 5. Rest, then move on to the next exercise.

Huge BicepsBulldozer Training Examples

I do not recommend performing more than 7 sets for a specific lift. 7 mini-sets can be complete brutality, especially for a heavy compound exercise. One exercise performed for 7 sets is generally enough to trigger some painful muscle soreness (DOMS). Use the following mini-set guideline for each exercise type:

  • Barbell and Dumbbell Compound Exercises - 5-7 mini-sets per exercise.
  • Machine Compound Exercises - 5-7 mini-sets per exercise.
  • Barbell and Dumbbell Isolation Exercises - 3-7 mini-sets per exercise.
  • Machine Isolation Exercises - 3-7 mini-sets per exercise.
  • Bodyweight Exercises - 5-7 mini-sets per exercise.

7 Set Bench Press Example

The combination of a heavy compound lift and limited rest is intense. This 7 set example limits rest between sets to 30 seconds, and is extremely challenging to say the least. Remember to stop each mini-set shy of failure.

  • Bench Press x 7 mini-sets x 30/30/30/30/30/30

The sets will look like this:

  • Perform set 1, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 2, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 3, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 4, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 5, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 6, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 7. Rest, then move on to the next exercise.

7 Set Bench Press Example with Increasing Rest Periods

This is another great way to train compound lifts. The rest periods start at 30 seconds, and as you gradually become more and more fatigued, rest periods are lengthened.

  • Bench Press x 7 mini-sets x 30/30/45/45/60/60

The sets will look like this:

  • Perform set 1, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 2, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 3, then rest 45 seconds
  • Perform set 4, then rest 45 seconds
  • Perform set 5, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 6, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 7. Rest, then move on to the next exercise.

7 Set Bench Press Example with Extended Rest Periods

In some cases it can be more enjoyable to use up to 60 seconds of rest between sets. Certain compounds lifts are extremely taxing and require longer recovery periods. You may find that a straight 60 second rest period strikes a good balance between rest and effort.

The sets will look like this:

  • Perform set 1, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 2, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 3, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 4, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 5, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 6, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 7. Rest, then move on to the next exercise.

High Intensity Workout

5 Set Bench Press Example

5 set structures are perfect for secondary exercises, or for the lifter who prefers fewer sets per exercise and more exercises per workout or bodypart.

The sets will look like this:

  • Perform set 1, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 2, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 3, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 4, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 5. Rest, then move on to the next exercise.

5 Set Bench Press Example With Increasing Rest Periods

You can also choose to use increasing rest periods within a 5 mini-set framework, such as:

  • Bench Press x 5 mini-sets x 30/30/45/60

The sets will look like this:

  • Perform set 1, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 2, then rest 30 seconds
  • Perform set 3, then rest 45 seconds
  • Perform set 4, then rest 60 seconds
  • Perform set 5. Rest, then move on to the next exercise.

Rep Goal System

Bulldozer training utilizes the rep goal system. The rep goal system is a progression approach I developed that tells you when it's time to add weight to a particular exercise.

The rep goal system works like this...you simply count the total reps performed for a given Bulldozer training mini-set scheme, and when this total reaches a predetermined "rep goal", you add weight to that exercise the next time in the gym. So...

  1. Step 1 - Determine an appropriate rep goal total for a given exercise and Bulldozer set scheme.
  2. Step 2 - Count your total reps for that exercise, and if it reaches this goal, add weight the next time you perform this lift.

Rep Goal Totals and Compound Exercises

The following rep goal totals are merely guidelines. Feel free to adjust the totals based on the feel of an individual exercise. Also, remember that the average rep is more taxing, so keeping the average number of reps per set as low as 3 to 5 is perfectly fine. I tend to raise this average for machine exercises, moderately difficult compound movements and isolation exercises.

7 Mini-sets and Compound Exercises. Rep goal totals of 25 to 35 reps work well for 7 mini-set compound exercise schemes.

5 Mini-sets and Compound Exercises. Rep goal totals of 20 to 25 reps work well for 5 mini-set compound exercise schemes.

Rep Goal Totals and Isolation or Moderate Machine Exercises

Isolation movements work better with slightly lighter weight and an increased number of repetitions. Simply stated, performing 3 rep sets of exercises like dumbbell laterals is not the most efficient way to build muscle. An average of 6 to 8 reps per isolation mini-set works well, but again, this number is merely a guidelines. Adjust your rep goal totals as needed.

7 Mini-sets and Isolation Exercises. Rep goal totals of 40 to 50 reps work well for 7 mini-set isolation exercise schemes.

5 Mini-sets and Compound Exercises. Rep goal totals of 30 to 40 reps work well for 5 mini-set isolation exercise schemes.

3 Mini-sets and Compound Exercises. Rep goal totals of 20 to 30 reps work well for 3 mini-set isolation exercise schemes.

Rep Goal Totals and Leg Exercises

Certain leg exercises such as squats, leg extensions and calve raises are commonly performed using higher rep sets. For these types of exercises you may choose to utilize a rep average of 8 to 10 per mini-set.

Example Bulldozer Chest Workout

The following is an example chest workout using the Bulldozer training system. I have found that 15 total mini-sets is plenty of work for major bodyparts, and that 7 to 10 mini-sets is plenty for minor bodyparts. But feel free to adjust total sets based on feel and need.

These 15 total mini-sets can be performed using:

  • 7 mini-sets per exercise, 2 exercises. Generally 2 compound exercises, or a compound and a challenging isolation movement. I highly recommend compound or taxing machine movements for this approach, though it certainly is possible to gain on a compound and the right isolation lift.
  • 5 mini-sets per exercise, 3 exercises. An excellent option, this scheme is far more flexible and can allow for exercise progressions such as bench press, Hammer Strength chest press, and pec dec. (One heavy compound, one moderate machine, one challenging isolation movement)

You may also choose to use a 17 mini-set scheme, which is:

  • 7 mini-sets for one exercise, 5 mini-sets for 2 additional exercise. This is about as high as I would recommend going with mini-sets.

Chest Workout Example - 7 mini-sets per Exercise, 2 Exercises

Chest Workout
14 Total Mini-sets
Exercise Mini-Sets Rep Goal Total Rest Periods
Bench Press 7 25 30/30/45/45/60/60
Machine Chest Press 7 35 30/30/30/30/30/30

Chest Workout Example - 5 mini-sets per Exercise, 3 Exercises

Chest Workout
15 Total Mini-sets
Exercise Mini-Sets Rep Goal Total Rest Periods
Bench Press 5 20 30/30/45/60
Machine Chest Press 5 30 30/30/30/30
Pec Dec 5 40 30/30/30/30

Chest Workout Example - 17 Total mini-sets, 3 Exercises

Chest Workout
17 Total Mini-sets
Exercise Mini-Sets Rep Goal Total Rest Periods
Bench Press 7 25 60/60/60/60/60/60
Dumbbell Bench Press 5 30 30/30/30/30
Dumbbell Flye 5 35 30/30/30/30

End Notes

Bulldozer training is deceptively simple. Try a moderately light day to get the feel of the system before going full speed ahead. Resist the urge to go high volume. Trust the process and train with common sense. The combination of rest-pause training and progressive resistance will yield some fairly impressive muscle gains.

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  • About The Author
    Steve is a powerlifter who has also spent 20 years training in bodybuilding. He is a national level competitor training for an all-time over 50 raw world record.
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Comments (42)

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Shane
Posted Tue, 05/01/2012 - 22:08

Awesome. This is exactly what I've been looking for. Any idea when you'll have some sample workouts up?

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Steve
Posted Wed, 05/02/2012 - 09:59

Very soon. One should be up today.

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Shane
Posted Wed, 05/02/2012 - 11:02

You're the man Steve. Thank you so much for everything you do. I have learned so much since I discovered this site 2 weeks ago.

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JOHN
Posted Wed, 05/02/2012 - 14:32

I guess my first question is what number of reps would be ideal on the first set?

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Steve
Posted Wed, 05/02/2012 - 18:14

Start with a weight you can easily do 10-12 reps with, and then add weight the next time in the gym if you hit your rep goal.

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Chris
Posted Wed, 05/02/2012 - 18:21

I really like the sound of this system and intend to try it right away. Can you tell me, is it a system mainly for strength increases more than size increases. And just how much size did you gain from your original version of Bulldozer Training ?

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Steve
Posted Wed, 05/02/2012 - 18:42

Hi Chris,

I used it to bring myself up to my current size, adding about 1-1.5 inches on my arms and 2 inches on my legs in a year with it after already having quite a bit of existing muscle mass.

You can contact me on the forum via PM and I can provide you some before and after pictures if you'd like.

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mark
Posted Thu, 05/03/2012 - 11:30

I don't understand why such high reps?IE- If I usually bench around 150 on with 5 sets of 5 reps what would the new bull dozer technique recommend?

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Steve
Posted Thu, 05/03/2012 - 12:14

It's not high reps. It's low reps per set.

It you do 7 sets of bench press with a goal of 25 total reps, that works out to 3.57 reps per set.

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Brandon
Posted Fri, 10/05/2012 - 14:12

I think you _really_ need to stress this point in your workout breakdown/description. My initial understanding of this workout (and the way I did it in practice for the first two training days) was that each mini-set I was supposed to attempt to hit the rep goal, and only then would I add weight to the workout. I did not understand it to be that the total reps of each mini-set were a running total of the rep goal.

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JJ
Posted Fri, 05/04/2012 - 08:44

Hi Steve,

Is tempo important for this workout program or just a controlled eccentric and an explosive concentric will be good enough? As for leg exercises like hams what compound movements you will suggest?

Thank you so much!

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Steve
Posted Fri, 05/04/2012 - 13:57

Hi JJ,

Keep the tempo natural - controlled eccentrics and powerful concentrics. For hamstrings you could do still leg deadlifts or glute/ham raises.

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James
Posted Fri, 05/04/2012 - 11:15

This seems like a great program but I was confused on the weight to use. Should you use a lower weight? if you do this it seems like your first mini-rep would have a lot of reps (like 14)because thats when you have the most power. Should I start heavier to lower the rep limit for each mini-set?

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Steve
Posted Fri, 05/04/2012 - 13:58

Start with a weight you could normally perform 10-12 reps with, and then when you reach your rep goal, add weight the next time in the gym.

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James
Posted Fri, 05/04/2012 - 20:55

Great! Thanks Steve I look forward to trying out this method

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Jonathan
Posted Mon, 05/14/2012 - 15:12

Some stupid questions:

1. Deadlifts when you say total 15reps in 10min, can I perform 15reps at once or they should be spread on 10 min with heavier weight?

2. In general when you say 5 mini sets with a total 25 rep that means I can perform 5 reps on each mini set for a total of 25? example 5reps 30/30/30/30 with a total of 25reps

3. In each mini set for a given exercise the weight should remain the same right? example 10Kg 30/30/30/30

4. Abs how many exercises? reps? mini sets?

5. How can I replace wide Grip Pull-ups?

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Steve
Posted Thu, 05/24/2012 - 14:26

1) No, you want heavy singles. I don't recommend high rep sets when performing deadlifts.

2) You try for as many reps as you can for each set. when you hit 25 total you add weight.

3) Yes, you won't have time to change weight.

4) No rest-pause work for abs.

5) Lat pulldowns or rack chins.

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Gio
Posted Thu, 05/31/2012 - 19:18

I know this may sound stupid but, How many reps do u do per set?

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Steve
Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 14:04

There is no predetermined number. You do as many as possible, stopping each set shy of failure.

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BigAugie
Posted Sat, 06/02/2012 - 13:00

Thanks for this, Steve. I'm looking forward to your full-body 3x/week variation of this but I just want to make sure I understand the rep scheme/loading parameters.

Using the example with 7 sets of bench press and a total of 25 reps, you're averaging 3.57 reps/set. But you recommend starting with a weight you could normally perform 10-12 reps and stopping a rep short of failure.

If I start with a weight I can do 10-12 reps but try to average 3-4 reps/set then how will I reach the positive failure limit?

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Steve
Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 14:08

Not sure what you mean by positive failure limit.

Your first workout with that weight may look like:

10-7-5-4-3-3-2 reps.

When you get the rep goal, add weight.

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BigAugie
Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 16:29

Sorry, by positive failure I meant doing reps until either proper form breaks or the tempo slows. For me that's my equivalent to stopping 1 rep shy of failure.

Appreciate the follow-up. Today is my last day of Ultimate Diet 2.0. I've got a week deload coming up and then plan to start Bulldozer when I return. I don't think you've had a chance to release a full-body 3x/week version yet so I may have to wing it. Still, I'm looking forward to it.

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Steve
Posted Wed, 06/13/2012 - 11:31

I understand now. That is reasonable. About one rep shy of failure is perfect, however you approach it, as long as you are focused on progression.

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farad
Posted Wed, 06/27/2012 - 16:25

I am a beginner. Hope u dont mind me asking...
20 reps * 5 sets looks too much for me. I am slim 180cm 65 Kg. What you suggest?

regards

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Steve
Posted Thu, 07/05/2012 - 11:34

It's 20 reps total, not 20 reps per set.

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Travis
Posted Wed, 07/11/2012 - 03:51

So I worked a 12hr night shift so when I got to the gym came acrossed this and didnt have time to read it just wanted to switch my rotine up. So any way instead of doing the rep goal I did go to failure. How will that effect me would that be over training?

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Jimmy
Posted Fri, 07/13/2012 - 02:00

Steve,I just want to ask about the time of the rest between set that suitable????
cause my trainer just shorten it to 6 seconds...
so what is your comment about it??

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BigAugie
Posted Tue, 07/17/2012 - 11:54

Hey Steve, I've been doing a 4-day split of Bulldozer and enjoy it. However, I have two buddies who prefer to train full-body 3x week and they don't like upper/lower splits. Do you know if there's a way to structure Bulldozer for this?

Thanks!

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ALI
Posted Wed, 08/22/2012 - 07:36

Hi Steve ,
How about if I do 4 sets each one like this 20reps/15reps/10reps/and 8reps with increasing the whit.
Is it ok?
Thanks!

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Gale
Posted Sun, 11/11/2012 - 23:56

Thanks for the plan Steve. Migrated to this from a 5x5 plan that was really productive for strength gains. Good size gains here, especially legs & arms. Have some concern though as my bench numbers are dropping significantly. Was hoping you could say this is normal due to fatigue from the higher focus on shoulder/upper body exercises. Any other thoughts?

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Louis
Posted Thu, 01/24/2013 - 16:06

Alright so does it matter how many reps yo do I the set, say you do 10 in the first,then 7 in the second, just as long as you do as many as you can?

Cheers

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Matt
Posted Tue, 01/29/2013 - 15:52

Hi Steve, just chanced upon this site. Need a workout for washboard abs and reducing fat/weight. Also some diet recommendations I can make part of my lifestyle. Any suggestions?

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billy
Posted Tue, 02/12/2013 - 17:07

I iust read everybodys comments and I do 10 sets of 3 reps on benchpress for strength, what do ya'll think about that?

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billy
Posted Tue, 02/12/2013 - 17:11

I like doing 10 sets of 3 reps. ? Do you think about that for strength?

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balaji
Posted Mon, 03/04/2013 - 11:11

i workout in the home only.i don't have the machine to workout some exercise in it.can i do something else?

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mnsjason
Posted Thu, 03/07/2013 - 18:29

Check out this link for some great home-based routines: http://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/home.html

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PatrickM
Posted Fri, 05/17/2013 - 12:59

This may be a total noob question, but for the "rest" days, what are the pros vs. cons of doing cardio such as running or cycling? Will this help or hurt?

Background:
- Main goal is muscle/strength building
- 165lbs, 5'10"
- Great shape already, but recovering from shoulder surgery (6 months ago)

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mnsjason
Posted Tue, 05/21/2013 - 18:54

Feel free to include some cardio on your off days. Just make sure you adjust your diet accordingly (add calories) to compensate for the increased activity level. Keep in mind that in order to gain muscle mass, you'll need to eat more than you burn.

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PatrickM
Posted Tue, 05/21/2013 - 18:57

Thanks! One more question... What about protein, BCAA and other supplements. Should I continue them during the cardio days?

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Marty
Posted Fri, 08/09/2013 - 02:27

Excellent read regarding rest/pause workout schemes. One thought. What about decreasing rest periods between mini-sets once the rep goal is achieved as opposed to adding weight? For example, if and when using 30 second rest intervals between mini-sets, once the rep goal is achieved, consider 15-20 second rest intervals using the same weight.

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Binny
Posted Mon, 09/23/2013 - 17:06

Steve, came across this routine this weekend and really want to try it out. My question is about the reps. Surely, in each workout I will hit my Rep Goal, even if it takes me multiple mini sets to perform, so every week I would need to add weight?

This is my question really.. what is the criteria that fails me achieving my rep goal ? For a 5 mini set, If I do it in 6 or more to complete my rep goal, do i add weight next time or try again to keep it to 5 sets or less?

If I am to target a weight I can do 10-12 reps, then I might end up doing 25 reps in just over 2 sets..so this is where i add weight the next time?

Any clarification on this will be really useful. I used to use Chad Waterbury's Huge in a Hurry routines where it had a rep goal but the 1st set had to be of a specific rep range.

Thank you

Binny

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Nathan
Posted Thu, 10/24/2013 - 14:48

Steve, I love this workout! I hate standing around in the gym so I usually work opposite muscle groups, but there is enough overlap that I think it takes away from some lifts. This is far superior.

2 quick questions:
1. 20 squats - what's your pace here? There is the temptation to do them quickly, and I think it has a negative effect. What do you think, maybe a 1s or 2s count between?

2. What about pushups and pullups - I really like your 4 day plans, and I dont want to take away from proper rest for the muscles. However I really like pushups and pullups as fundamental exercise for life. If I did them with the same delay that you recommend for cardio (or on the off days) do you think it would detract?

Thanks again for a great workout.

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