When I first started lifting seriously in a commercial gym, my routine consisted of one body part a day. I'd go to the gym and absolutely trash that poor body part.
A typical two-hour workout was like a boxing match. I'd use about every exercise available to hit that body part from all angles until I left it bleeding in the corner. There was nothing left by the end of the workout. Talk about overtraining! But at that age, between sleeping, eating, and some raging hormones, I was able to recover.
For the most part, training in this manner can only be successful long-term if you have some chemical assistance, but that doesn't stop many gym rats from trying one body part a day training anyway. Whether they're making any progress is another story.
To not only survive but also thrive on this type of regimen, you need to remove the fluff that will otherwise deplete your energy stores, hamper recovery, and promote a catabolic environment. In other words, you need to get the most results from the least number of exercises.
The number of exercises required to accomplish big results? Just one a day!
Here’s the prescription: You're going to do two programs, one for size and one for strength. You'll do 6-8 weeks of routine 1 (for size), and then 6-8 weeks of routine 2 (for strength). In each program, you'll do just one lift a day, six days out of the week.
Routine #1 – Size Rx
Monday: Back Squat
Wednesday: Incline Barbell Press
Thursday: Hex-Bar Deadlift
Friday: Seated Cable Row or Bent-Over Barbell Row
Saturday: Parallel-Bar Dips
Rest Interval: 3 minutes
Routine #2 – Strength Rx
Monday: Front Squat
Wednesday: Standing Military Press
Thursday: Snatch Podium Deadlift
Friday: One-Arm Dumbbell/Cable Row
Saturday: Close-Grip Bench Press
Rest Interval: 3 minutes
The Rest Interval
To avoid a significant decline in performance and yet maximize anabolic hormone production, both routines require 3 minutes of rest between sets. Research indicates that this particular rest interval allows the use of greater intensities and improves the ability to sustain repetitions resulting in a higher training volume and greater gains in muscular strength.
You can utilize this time to your benefit by stretching tight antagonistic or non-competing muscles. For example, between sets of rows, you can stretch either your chest (the antagonistic muscle) or calves (a non-competing muscle), whichever requires greater attention. Static stretching works best in this case. Perform multiple sets at various angles for the tight muscle(s), and hold each stretch for only 15 seconds. It is more effective to use many different angles for a short duration with static stretching rather than holding one angle for a long period of time. The rule is the more intensive the stretching, the shorter its application. You can read more about this on page 151 of my book The Elite Trainer.
And if you think that stretching between sets is used just to fill in the time, think again! Research shows that a greater amount of work can be performed after active rest compared to passive rest. During the rest interval, a diverting activity, such as stretching, can facilitate faster recovery of the prime movers. The end result: flexibility of the muscles being stretched will improve over time, and performance of the muscles being trained will improve immediately.
The day dictates the sets. You should make progress every workout. If you’re eating right and getting enough rest, you should be stronger right from the beginning of the workout. If that’s not the case, then you’re doing something wrong! It’s likely that your nutrition is poor or sleep is inadequate. You can’t screw around during the “off” time with this program. If you have not made progress on your first set and you have to skip the workout for that day, you’ll mess up the entire schedule. You must stay disciplined. If there are exams or an excessive amount of partying in the near future, don’t attempt this routine yet. Wait till things are calm and you have the time, energy, and focus to concentrate on daily training and recovery.
Now, although the prescription involves a high number of sets (8-10 on Routine #1 and 10-12 on Routine #2), the second your performance drops significantly from one set to the next, terminate the exercise. That’s it for the day! And what’s a significant performance drop? Well, it’s not uncommon to drop a rep or two per set if you’re using repetition maximum (RM) loads, which is what you should be using for this program – don’t leave any reps in reserve. That’s why a 2-rep range is given to accommodate fatigue. (To get an idea on how you can manipulate the weight when using RM loads, check out my article Sicilian Volume Training.) However, if you drop 3 reps or more from one set to the next, that’s significant! End there.
You should stay on each program for about 6-8 weeks, or until you fail to make any real progress. After you complete both routines, you can start back on a conventional multi-exercise regimen with more frequent off days for recovery.
If your training is “hurting” these days and you have some time on your hands, try the one-lift-a-day cure. It may be exactly what the doctor ordered for larger and stronger muscles!
About The Author
John Paul Catanzaro is a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com and T-Nation.com. His new book Lean and Mean: Fat-Loss and Muscle-Building Strategies for Men and Women is available on Kindle.