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Routines/Splits and Sets

The following examples for routines and sets are the guidelines for your own workout routine. Remember to change or rotate your routine, type of sets (& rep schemes), the order of the exercises in the routine and the selection of exercises every few weeks. This keeps the body more adaptive and more importantly can help to stave off repetitive type injury. The following depiction of routines and sets will also give explanations to allow you an understanding of the underlying concepts behind their development. This will allow you to modify and construct exercise schemes more to your own liking. For a body part listed in the routines – simply go to the exercise section to find a list of exercises for that specific body part. I recommend selecting three or four exercises per body part per workout and limiting the amount of sets performed to a total of 15 or less with occasional exceptions. Anything more is often too much for most of us (the mature athlete) and can exceed our ability to recover. This is of course, relevant to your scheme of repetitions – high repetitions for each set would tend to reduce the amount of total sets you do while a heavy weight used for low repetitions would tend to increase the amount of sets you do. It is your responsibility to closely monitor yourself and determine your own level of effort in this regard.

Monday – Chest
Tuesday – Back & Abs
Wednesday – Biceps
Thursday – Triceps
Friday – Shoulders
Saturday – Legs & Abs
Sunday – Rest
This is a classic routine that hits each body part once per week directly and like many routines, is designed to evolve around a seven-day week. Because of this, every Monday can be chest day or whatever. The downside to this routine is that there is a lot of overlap or indirect influence. A classic example is on Monday when you do chest (normally bench presses and the like), triceps are also heavily involved. Because of this, hitting them heavily again on their own day could be too much. The same is said for back, most back exercises use some biceps indirectly. This is another good reason to alter the muscle groups through this one routine alone. Try changing the order just within this routine. Example, after one week start with back exercises on Monday, the following week you could start with biceps or any order you can imagine. Don’t be afraid of adding extra days of rest through the week and creating an 8 or 9 day cycle.

Monday – Chest & Triceps
Tuesday – Back & Shoulders
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Biceps & Abs
Friday – Legs
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest
As you can see, this routine doubles up and slightly educes some of the overlap or indirect influence. It also creates two extra days of rest allowing for additional cardio or simply recovery. A routine like this might allow you to hit many more sets than normal simply because of the extra rest. Most importantly, a different routine creates different influences of stimuli and adds to the body’s need
to adapt. Should you like these combinations but feel there’s too much rest – simply eliminate the seventh day and create a six-day cycle.

Monday – Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
Tuesday -Back & Biceps
Wednesday – Legs & Abs
Thursday -Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
Friday – Back & Biceps
Saturday -Legs & Abs
Sunday -Rest
This is a classic twice per week routine. One of the beauties of this workout is that it virtually eliminates crossover or overlap. This allows you the ability to focus on any weak or lagging muscle groups without creating very many unwanted side effects.
Because this routine is so fundamental and basic, it can be divided up many ways amongst itself. For instance, the first workout in the week for a specific muscle group could be a very heavy workout with low repetitions. The second workout in the week could be light weights with very high reps. Again, the first workout could be all compound movements (more than one muscle used at a time in a movement – i.e. bench press) while the second occurrence could be all isolated movements (only one muscle used in the movement – tricep extension). There are a multitude of ways to apply this concept. Different exercises between the first and second workout of the week, example: flat bench presses the first time and incline bench presses the second. One other great advantage is that because you are working each group twice a week, should you not feel up to the challenge or need to miss one day’s workout, it won’t be like some other routines where you would have to wait a full week for it to come around again. It also allows you to grab some extra rest simply by occasionally dropping one of the workouts.

Monday – Chest, Back & Shoulders(Mode 1)
more Tuesday – Biceps & Triceps
Wednesday – Legs & Abs
Thursday – Chest, Back & Shoulders(#2)
Friday – Biceps & Triceps
Saturday – Legs & Abs
Sunday – Rest
This is similar to #3 except you create more of a division in the direction of movement. As listed in the following parentheses, on,
Back & Shoulders(#2) Monday you would perform that group of exercises that moved perpendicular to the core of your body-Mode 1(bench presses, cable flies, chest flies, seated rows, single db rows). On Thursday when repeating that muscle group, you would select exercises that moved parallel to the core of your body-Mode 2 (military presses, front raises, side raises, shrugs, pull-ups, chin-ups).
This is simply a way of splitting and mixing your work load up to create muscle confusion and to vary the amount of focus.
You could attempt to do the same thing with the biceps and triceps although it would be difficult to copy the angles but not the concept.
You could simply select very different exercises on the first and second occurrence of arm or leg day. Of course, as with any routine – especially #3 & #4, you can alternate between sets of opposites such as a chest exercise then a back exercise, back and forth until you are completed.

Monday – Chest & Triceps
Tuesday – Biceps & Abs
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Back
Friday – Shoulders
Saturday – Legs & Abs
Sunday – Rest
Another once per week routine, simply doubling up on chest and shoulders because we tend to hit the triceps so hard anyway when we do bench presses and the like. Other routines will double up on other groups and combos. Again, this creates different intensities of work load/stimulus and also creates different timing in the amount of rest/recovery obtained.

Monday – Chest & Shoulders
Tuesday – Legs & Abs
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Back
Friday – Biceps & Triceps
Saturday – Triceps
Sunday – Rest
Similar to #2, just a little less doubling up to create a little less rest and a little more intensity on some individual muscles. As with all of these routines, don’t forget to experiment with the order of the muscle groups within the week. Remember, the idea of hitting only one muscle group per workout usually allows for more intensity because of the amount of sets you can perform, specifically on that group. When you start combining groups, you usually run the risk of “running out of gas” and don’t hit each muscle group
as hard as you’d like – however, you are trading this off by hitting them more often. The following routine shows a slightly different angle.

Monday – Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
Tuesday – Rest
Wednesday – Back & Biceps
Thursday – Rest
Friday – Legs & Abs
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest
You get the picture, just like #3, except with a tremendous amount of rest. This should allow you to achieve a higher volume of work (sets & reps) since you’re always coming back from a day off. This routine works particularly well with someone who wants to work on calisthenics, aerobics, plyometrics and a host of other conditioning programs. Without the additional training, many individuals will simply feel that this is not enough work to aid them in the quest for their potential. Like all the other routines, use it for what it is
worth – use it for a period of rest or supplement it with other programs.

Monday – Shoulders & Biceps
Tuesday – Chest & Back (light)
Wednesday -Shoulders & Biceps
Thursday – Legs & Abs (light)
Friday – Shoulders
Saturday – Biceps
Sunday – Rest
This is a specialization routine. It is advanced (light) and to be used only for a short period of time. The idea is that it focuses heavily on a selected (light) problem area for one or two weeks before going for a full week of rest. Extreme caution must be applied to avoid repetitive type injury. Naturally, most of us are overtraining here (other than the very young or gifted) but only for a short period of time. The ideal once again is to create shock. Imagine over a period of time, being able to build noticeable muscle mass in specific areas.
This is the idea behind specialization, it is the short term high-intensity focus on lagging or target body parts. Most of us would benefit both athletically and aesthetically by bringing up any lagging body parts. You can see, over a period of time, by being able to build some noticeable muscle mass just in the shoulders and biceps (or quadriceps for that matter) and how it would change your physique.
By periodically and cautiously using specialization routines, we can possibly accelerate our progress in thes arenas. This concept can be used with a variety of substitutions such as calves, quads and the like.


I’m sure you’ll agree, that eight routines are enough to show you how to mix, match and build your own routines to come up with countless combinations. It’s changing these combinations that creates different types of stimulation and creates different time periods of rest. This of course, is one of the ways to create muscle confusion. By changing routines, changing the order of the exercises in the routines, selecting different exercises and applying different types of sets, you will go a long way toward creating the anabolic and adaptive body that appears and performs pathologically younger than it’s chronological years. I hope you will apply this to avoid being one of the many I have seen at the gym. These are the people who you see everyday “playing” around on different machines, no set pattern or progress to their efforts – the proverbial feather in the wind. Sadly enough, most of them just wear themselves down at best and two years from now don’t appear to have made any improvements in appearance or their performance.

This is what I want to impress upon you, to strive to find that balance between constant change and methodical, intense effort. By constantly selecting predetermined programs, you follow a host of proven principles and methods yet create that muscle confusion that we so desperately need. By being a bit more “scientific”, we hope to be effective enough as to spend less time and effort so we can get on with living!

The following are different types of sets that you can apply to your actual exercises to change the intensity, the type of muscle fiber hit as well as to add to the “confusion”. Keep in mind, some of these sets will actually alter your routine. An example would be the agnostic type sets (opposites) – using the sets would almost dictate you would have to work the biceps and triceps (for instance) in the same workout. Other types of sets can have a similar effect as well. As explained in the bodybuilding section, a set is simply a series of repetitions in one movement before stopping. As an example, grabbing a bar with a selected weight and curling it for eight repetitions without really stopping would be considered one set of eight.



Pyramid Sets: A series of sets with each one increasing the weight lifted until a desired maximum is reached. An example would be a benchpress of 150 pounds X6 reps, 170 pounds X4 reps, 185 pounds X3 reps and perhaps finally 200 pounds X1 rep with the goal being to slightly increase the weight when the one rep maximum becomes easy enough to increase the weight by say, 5 pounds or so. Another thought is to wait to increase the weight when the one rep max can be performed twice.


Descending Sets: Reducing the weight of each set as you progress. Often used toward the end of a workout were fatigue is setting in.


Drop Sets: Similar to the descending set, but usually performed as one set with no rest in between. An example would be shoulder pressing with 2 – 45 pound dumbbells until failure and immediately exchanging them for 2 – 35 pound dumbbells and continuing. This of course can be compounded even further by reducing the weight again and again with no rest.


Supersets: Performing an isolated movement directly connected with a compound movement. Sometimes simply a related movement. The two sets are performed together with no rest to simulate one “super” set. Cable flies immediately after bench pressing with no rest would be considered super setting. Very similar to giant sets.


Giant sets: Similar to supersets but normally with a minimum of four different combines sets and often opposing muscle groups.


Antagonistic Sets: (opposites) This would involve working muscles groups that are total opposites. An example would be performing a bicep curl and then immediately performing a tricep extension. Although sometimes one might plan to perform all of the sets a bicep curls first and then engaging in all of the tricep extensions. Both concepts have their benefits. As mentioned earlier, these types of sets often rearrange the routine itself because of their very nature. Some routines simply do not allow for the opposing muscle to be worked and therefore this concept would not work in those routines.


Time under Tension Sets: A set of repetitions aimed more at a duration of time then the amount of actual reps. 30 – 45 seconds is a standard timeframe to keep constant tension on the muscle by never fully locking out or bottoming out and often slowing down simply to keep going for the duration of time.


Altered Rep Scheme Sets: The idea here is to periodically change the rep scheme by going heavy with low reps for a period of time and then switching to a lightweight with high reps. Intermediate rep scheme’s work as well. This is effective because a different rep scheme effects different types of muscle fiber. You can use this concept to your advantage by routinely changing your rep scheme up and down.


5 X 5 Sets: Almost exactly as described by its name. You simply select a weight that you can barely move for 5 repetitions and continue for 5 sets. The important point is that you must select a weight that you cannot quite achieve this with. In other words, the weight will be enough so that your last few sets will only be three or four repetitions. When you progress to the point where you can complete the 5 X 5 scheme, you simply add a small amount of weight until you can no longer complete this scheme.


Partial Rep Sets: Once becoming too exhausted to complete another full repetition, another way to extract a little more energy out of the muscle is to perform a partial repetition. This is usually performed at the easiest range of the movement.


Assisted Rep Sets: Once again, becoming a too exhausted to complete another full repetition, a spotter will simply assist you to allow you to complete one or more repetitions. From an energy standpoint, it’s similar to a drop set but with no rest at all.


ROB (Rest Only Briefly) Sets: This is a method where you only allow 10 to 15 seconds between sets. Altering your rest time between sets is an efficient way to create muscle confusion. Short rest periods will cause you to use lighter weights because of the lack of recovery. On the other side of the spectrum is a rest of 2 and 3 min. to allow you to lift the maximum amount of weight possible.


Extended Sets: Much like the Rest Only Briefly technique, you would actually rest within this set itself to make the set last longer. Often called lift pause and various other names, it allows you to keep the fatigue or burn continuing at a high level without peeking and and causing failure prematurely.


Combined Sets: As you might imagine, many of these techniques or schemes can be combined to create even more variety and often create more intensity during the workout. The 5 X 5 concept can be applied to the ROB method or the assisted rep sets and a whole host of combinations.


Extended 5 X 5 Sets: This is an excellent combination referred to above. For instance on the benchpress, you would select a weight that was very close to your one rep maximum. You would lift the weight once or twice and place it back in the rack, resting for only a few seconds before lifting the weight again for one rep. You would continue to do this until you reach the five reps. Then you would rest for 1 min. or so before performing another extended set. As the name implies, you would do this for five sets.


Cheat Sets: Used cautiously, this is an old-style principle that allows you to crank out one or two more repetitions to totally exhaust the muscle. Usually, this technique causes you to violate good form or to recruit muscles not normally used in this exercise. An example would be to swing the weights while doing bicep curls or to use your legs for a boost while military pressing.


There are of course, many other types of sets as well as a multitude of descriptions. I believe these to be the most fundamental and profound. By proper application of the aforementioned, you will find not only can you create constant and ongoing muscle confusion, but you will be able to create levels of intensity far beyond anything you have ever known. Hopefully, the combination of routines, exercises, sets, recovery time and the order of muscle groups worked being changed regularly will allow you to constantly guide your body into that anabolic/adaptive state. Remember that most of these techniques, if applied with extreme effort, are considered advanced and should only be performed after you have been working with this for several months. Your most important responsibility is to monitor yourself for growth, soreness, recovery (or lack of) and learn to adjust accordingly. It is almost always better to undershoot the target then to overdo it and create damage.

In the exercise section, I will give you a variety of exercises to use for each muscle group. Don’t be concerned with having to learn a bunch of different exercises right away. Even with only a few fundamental exercises, you can still make fantastic progress by applying all of the techniques listed on this page! Furthermore, these are mostly considered bodybuilding/weight training type exercises – in other sections, I’ll show you calisthenics and other conditioning exercises you can do without weights.


Tommy Atlas

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