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

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.