Along with how to build the biceps, achieving a barrel-like chest able to hoist heavy weights is one of the most popular topics to discuss for bodybuilders all over the world, and incidentally also the muscle group with the most articles on how to train it.
Well, I might not have a great chest, and I struggled with my chest development throughout my whole lifting career until I finally figured out what worked. So rather than take training tips from someone who benched 100kg the first time they walked into a weight room, perhaps you have more to learn from someone who always sucked at benching but who still managed to triple his strength and fill out the pectorals into a respectable size.
So if you feel like you have stagnated or just want to spur some new growth in that area, bear with me and keep reading.
Let’s first talk about anatomy and function, without getting too technical and advanced.
The pectoralis major consists of two heads – the sternal head (lower chest) and the clavicular head (the upper chest). The chest’s primary functions are transverse shoulder flexion and adduction, as in bringing your arm from out to the side and forward, towards and across the midline of the body – like in a fly movement.
Generally, the angle of the bench determines what part of the chest you target, inclines target the clavicular, upper part and declines target the sternal, lower part. Or to be more correct – inclines REDUCES the contribution of the lower part, which is why you are generally weaker in this exercise.
A problem many lifters have when training their chest is that the anterior shoulder takes over. For pressing exercises, you will target the chest better with the elbows flaring out to the side. Vince Gironda once said that the guillotine press (elbows flared, bar travels down in a straight line towards the neck) is the greatest pec exercise ever invented.
The problem is that unless you have spectacular mobility, you will wreck your shoulders and rotator cuff muscles since the upper arm angle creates shoulder impingement and reduces subacromial space width. You can partially counteract this by focusing on scapular retraction, i.e. contract everything from your traps down to your lats as hard as possible and really pinch those shoulder blades down into the bench – but if needed you should also limit range of motion and stop a few inches short of touching your throat…or strangling yourself, if that is your flavour.
I would also suggest you get a manual therapist to loosen the muscle fascia and all surrounding structures (subscap, lats, serratus, and pec minor in particular). I highly recommend Active Release Techniques – ART® if you can find a qualified practitioner in your area.
If not, get any kind of deep tissue work from a therapist who has worked with athletes and lifters. It will do wonders both for your lifting technique, injury prevention, and potentially allow more room for growth expansion in the pectoral muscle itself (the latter point is debatable, though – as the fascia is extremely tough).
The bench press is famous for wrecking both shoulders and ripping pecs from their insertions, so mobility and perfect setup and technique is priority number one before you start loading up the bar. If you have persistent shoulder pain, first of all get it treated, as previously mentioned, but also default to a more powerlifting oriented bench technique (elbow tuck, J-curve bar path).
Even if it reduces pec stimulation, staying pain-free takes higher priority and the heavier loads you can lift with this technique will compensate a little.
I have another tweak to the bench I will share with you later in this article, which will improve stimulation while simultaneously reducing injury risk. I will also show you two other exercises that will really pack some beef on your chest!
But first – to train the chest optimally we need to find the best rep range, volume and frequency. This will depend on various factors, but I will give you some general guidelines and then a specific test you can use to optimize your program further.
Program variables to boost your pec size
Beginners can get great results from training at lighter loads of 60-70% of 1RM, or approximately a load you can lift from 12-20 reps with. The beginner also doesn’t need more than 3 sets total per workout, since his stimulus threshold is so low (0 sets when he first starts training).
Training frequency can be 2x/week, but even better is 3-4x/week, since a beginner needs more practice to perfect his technique, but also because the overall stress per workout is less since he is not strong enough to use heavy loads yet. For the higher frequencies, I would advise using 1-2 of the additional workouts to focus on technique, e.g. by doing several submax sets of 1-3 reps just for practice.
The more advanced you get, the higher loads you need to lift and the more volume you need to stimulate an adaptation. There is much to be said for the advantage of 3x/week or more, as I have covered in other articles, so I won’t dig into that here. I tend to recommend a 3-4x/week frequency for most bodybuilders unless we are talking about low volume, neural/technique practice. Some very successful benchers (in the drug free categories) are doing some variation of the bench press up to 5-6x/week, though.
For compound chest training, you should stay in the 70-85% of 1RM range most of the time, which is a load corresponding to 5-12 reps for most people. There are very few studies showing any advantage in lifting heavier, unless your main focus is absolute strength for powerlifting. Still, many of the most successful powerlifters in the world never max out in training. They save that for the contest – and the average load lifted in training is approx 75-80% of 1RM (depending on whether you count warm-up sets), usually with at least 1-2 reps in reserve on each set.
Muscle fiber type composition is largely genetically determined, and fiber type composition of each muscle varies in any individual person. In the general population, differences in percentage of slow to fast twitch muscle fibers are usually minor, and for pressing muscles the average number is 55-60% fast-twitch dominance.
Fast twitch fibers generally respond better to relatively low volume, more rest between sets, higher loads and lower frequency.
A simple test you can do to determine if you are an “outlier”, is the following:
Test your 1 rep max (1RM). It doesn’t have to be an extreme grinder, just estimate it based on your performance – i.e. if you managed a single at 95kg and felt like you could easily do one more rep, you can just set it at 97.5kg or 100kg and not have to test another set.
Now, rest for 3-4 minutes. This is important.
I think most bodybuilders are making too much out of the metabolic effects of short-rest training, and treating weight training as a HIIT workout. There are several studies showing short rest intervals (<2 min) impairing training adaptations for hypertrophy and strength.
Hypertrophy is a factor of both proximity to failure and absolute load. Long rest allows you to train close to failure with high loads, so I am not saying you should be doing one rep sets – just that there is an optimal amount of fatigue, and too much of it will inhibit adaption. But I digress.
Bill spent his resting periods wisely, practicing some easy Yoga positions.
Then the weekend came, and his enhanced mobility turned out to be very useful.
Following the 3-4 minutes of rest after the 1-3RM test, drop the load to 80% (down to 80kg if your 1RM is 100kg) and do 3 sets of max reps, separated by at least 2 minutes of rest. And by “max reps” I am not talking about absolute failure or cheating reps, it is fine to leave a rep in reserve.
Looking at your performance on these sets, we can make a couple of observations:
- Your fiber type composition: if you got 6-8 reps on the first drop set you have a pretty even distribution between fast and slow-twitch fibers. If you could do only 3-5 reps you are very fast-twitch dominant, and if you managed 10 reps or even more, you are probably very slow-twitch dominant. I will note that this test is NOT necessarily an accurate reflection of your muscle fiber type, it could also just be how you are used to training, your nervous system, your neurotransmitter balance, prior endurance adaptations and much more, as I have covered in my Norwegian online course – but the point still stands, I have generally found a high correlation between setting an intensity and setting the rep targets based on that vs. advocating general rep range recommendation.
- Your volume and work tolerance: if reps drop significantly from set to set, you have a low volume tolerance and should probably keep your total number of sets in moderation. E.g. if you see 10, 7, 5 reps, I would probably do only 2-3 sets per exercise. On the opposite side of the spectrum you have those who manage 10,10,9 reps displaying a higher rep and volume tolerance, and these lifters can usually also handle more sets in training. Even then, beginners should do fewer sets than intermediate and advanced lifters, so scale the numbers according to that.
I prefer to look at weekly volume and not just volume per workout when designing a training program.
For chest I find that a weekly volume of around 8-12 sets for intermediate lifters split into 2-3 workouts is a guideline that will fit most lifters – which is around 4-6 sets per workout.
As you get more advanced I tend to favour adding workouts, not volume per workout to increase weekly volume, if possible.
You can see this table to evaluate your relative level of advancement…
As you go from e.g. 4 sets over 3 workouts per week for chest (12 sets total), you would preferably go to 4 workouts per week and 4 sets (spread over two exercises) for 2 of those workouts + 3 sets (of one exercise) for the other 2 workouts, for a total of 14 sets – and so on.
There is no reason to overthink this, though. We humans are amazingly adaptive creatures, and gradually and progressively increasing the loads you are lifting is still going to be the most important factor for getting stronger and bigger.
If you’re not getting stronger (keeping a training log is mandatory), you need to adjust something. It’s really that simple.
Summing up – program variables:
– Lifter A did a 100kg 1RM, then followed it up with 80kg x 5,3,2 reps. He is most likely fast-twitch dominant and has a lower volume tolerance. My suggestion would be to focus his chest training in the 3-8 rep range, with compound lifts in the lower range and isolation exercises in the upper range, and number of sets per workout around 3-5 total and a higher frequency of training (3-5x/week).
– Lifter B did a 100kg 1RM, then followed it up with 80kg x 12,12,11 reps. He is most likely more slow-twitch dominant and can tolerate more sets. My suggestion would be to focus his chest training in the 8-15 rep range, compound in the lower range, isolation in the upper range, number of sets per workout around 5-8 total and a lower frequency of training (2-3x/week per muscle group).
My own personal tweaks: I have been training for 20 years, but I’m not very strong due to a partial supraspinatus tear and some slight instability in the joint.
Oh, and because I Suck.
I am also slightly slow-twitch dominant in my pecs and have a lower volume tolerance (which is probably why my pecs never grew much from my powerlifting benching). I rotate between a compound lift day 1 (usually chest dips or floor press for 2-3 sets of 5), Myo-reps on a fly movement day 2, then loaded pushups or Hammer decline for a dropset of 12-15 on day 3. I repeat the cycle with rest days wherever needed. So very high frequency but low-moderate weekly volume.
A side note is that when training for hypertrophy I prefer a constant tension rep performance with a fast, but controlled eccentric, an explosive concentric, but not locking out at the top. I know it is not legal in powerlifting to avoid locking out, but we are doing this for muscle growth and not to get three white lights at a powerlifting contest. It is by no means “cheating” either, as there is no extra muscle stimulation from the lockout position since there is actually less tension on the muscles, but more on tendons and joints.
This does NOT mean you should bounce your reps or cheat, the injury potential is greater that way, even with lighter loads.
Let us continue…
Exercises and tweaks
Accommodating resistance training might be a term you have heard of before, popularized by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. In this context, it refers to using implements such as elastic bands and chains attached to the bar to change the resistance curve of the exercise.
Let me explain that further.
Due to biomechanics and levers, the load will be heavier at the bottom of a bench press and squat, but at the top, you can probably do partial reps with 150-180% of your 1RM. And since so many people in gyms everywhere don’t know how to squat, or they just use the squat rack for biceps curls, this is what you see them do: add too much weight to the bar and barely quarter squatting it to impress the ladies.
To compensate for this uneven resistance curve, you can fasten elastic bands to the bottom of a power cage or to dumbbells on the floor, and then attach them to both sides of the bar. At the bottom of the movement, the added resistance will be low, but as you lift the bar the bands will stretch and add progressively more resistance.
Whereas you normally would have to decelerate the bar to slow it down towards the top, you can now push it with full force and still have it move at a constant speed. This leads to a powerful contraction in all the involved muscles!
You will also overload the eccentric, as the elasticity is rebounding and adding tension on the bar when you lower it.
Studies have shown that accommodating resistance training improves power, strength and hypertrophy significantly more than traditional training, but it also increases the overload to tendons and muscles, so do not overdo this type of training.
Chains are also a great tool, but they are more of a hassle to use unless your gym is already equipped with them. Bringing 30-40kg of chains to the gym in your backpack isn’t very feasible, whereas elastic bands can easily add 30-50kg or more to the top of a bench press and are easy to transport.
If you have shoulder instability or pain in the bottom ROM, you can use a reverse band setup, where you hang the bands from the top of a power cage. This will unload the bar at the bottom, and progressively add resistance to the top as the band unstretches, and the eccentric stress is a lot less compared to a regular band setup.
I also insist that you get a tight setup with your feet planted below your hips, shoulder blades pinched hard together into the bench, grip the bar as tight as possible and ALWAYS with the thumbs around the bar (trust me, this is safer AND will increase strength via neural activation or “irradiation” as other authors have called it). Use a wider grip and flare the elbows out if your shoulders can handle it. I actually allow a slight butt lift to simulate a decline angle, which will hit more pectoral muscle fibers and reduce delt involvement.
Another option is the floor press, with the added safety feature of the elbows hitting the floor if your biomechanics are suboptimal for benching (short arms, big barrel-like chest vs. long arms and flat chest).
A final option is chest dips, where you make an effort to tilt forward in order to hit more chest and less shoulders. Quick tip: twist the weight plate and put it on top of your knees. Lift your knees up to your chest and you will shift your center of gravity forward, making it easier to hit the appropriate angle:
This video is really old, and the account isn’t active anymore. My hair is better now, too.
As for progression, I recommend that you make an effort to increase loads as often as possible. Unless you are very strong, I actually suggest getting 0.5kg plates, which will allow more consistent loading increases.
I know you might think that adding only 1kg per week sounds incredibly easy, but over a year that is actually a 52kg gain – and how many do you know who increased their bench by that much last year? Right, so acccept that there will be good workouts where you can increase the loads faster, but also bad workouts where you might have to reduce the weight or just end the session and go home – come back stronger the next time.
For someone advanced or elite, I recommend a double, or non-linear periodization where you have days with higher reps and days with lower reps. This effectively stretches the progression out over time, so instead of adding 1kg or 2.5kg every workout twice/week, you add 1-2.5kg to each rep range.
I only pre-plan my first set of an exercise. This is my “testing set” to see if I got stronger since last time. I have a rep target or range I want to hit on each exercise, based on prior testing. I will push close to failure here, but not beyond it. Most of the time I will leave 1 rep in reserve. Based on the outcome of the first set, the next sets will be determined:
- If I was successful in reaching my rep target, and I either got more reps or incremented the load since last time, I just keep doing subsequent sets with the same load, and ending the set when rep speed noticeably slows down. This way you can get in more volume without limiting recovery by excessive fatigue. The number of reps here will also auto-regulate, so if you pushed yourself hard on the first set, the subsequent sets will be lower reps, and overall volume will be lower (e.g. 8,5,3 reps). If you have a high work tolerance, subsequent sets will be higher in reps and volume, and overall stimulus-adaptation will still end up optimal (e.g. 8,7,7 reps). The load will increase next workout if you reached your rep target.
- If I reached my rep target and it was way easy, I will add another load increment for the next set. E.g. 100 x 8,8 – 102,5 x 6
- If I didn’t reach my rep target, and got the same number of reps at the same load as last time – Stagnation (temporary) – I drop the load by 10-20% and just do a couple of easy sets of 3-5 reps. If I incremented the load by 2,5% since last time and dropped more than 2 reps (2 reps is an approx. 4% strength difference) I also view that as (temporary) stagnation. So e.g. if I did 100 x 8,6,5 last time and now did 102,5 x 5 on the first set, I’ll drop down to 90kg and do 3,3 reps.
- If I didn’t reach my rep target and experienced a regression in strength, e.g. I lost 1 or more reps at the same load as last time or 4+ reps at 2,5% higher load, I will end the session there. Whatever I did since my last workout, I didn’t recover in time, so reducing the volume acutely is the better solution. If this happens several workouts in a row, we need to go back and redesign the program for that muscle group – or redesign the whole program if you are getting weaker overall.
Next, we move on to an isolation exercise.
I don’t recommend dumbbell flyes, as they have an imperfect resistance curve – maximum at the bottom where the shoulder is also the most vulnerable, and zero at the top, where you can just balance the weights effortlessly.
So how do we get full chest stimulation without compromising your shoulders?
I am using a slight incline to hit more clavicular pec fibers since we just hit more of the sternal fibers with the arched-back, butt-lifted bench setup. Also notice that the resistance curve is evenly distributed all the way from the stretch position to the contracted position.
By doing cable flyes in the same way you are doing your bench press, you achieve full scapular retraction and increase subacromial space width, which creates extra stability, better pec recruitment, and minimizes unwanted body momentum like you would see in the way most perform standing cable crossovers.
It is important that you don’t allow the elbows to travel too far behind your torso, as this will only overstretch the ligaments and tendons without adding extra pec stimulation. A ROM of elbows 10-20 degrees below the bench is plenty.
The final tweak for maximum stimulation is to do cable flyes with internally rotated shoulders like we discussed for the bench press, i.e. the thumbs should be pointing towards each other.
If your gym doesn’t have straight handles, ropes or ankle straps to allow this grip, you can just hold the cable attachments like me in the illustrations. A slight elbow bend is necessary to reduce bicep strain. You don’t want your curling strength to determine how much pec stimulation you can achieve in this exercise.
Reps move into the middle-upper range, since this is an isolation exercise, and my own 1RM testing/estimation and using 60-70% intensity (as % of 1RM) I will get 18+ reps, but your numbers will probably be lower since pecs are commonly fast-twitch. At higher rep ranges (15+) I tend to favor Myo-reps, so that’s what I’m doing on this exercise.
I found that adding more work to cable flyes increased my pec activation significantly in the bench press, too. Before this, I would get a major tricep pump, but not really feel my pecs working, even back in my powerlifting days when I was able to do reps with 180kg in the bench press.
These days, I get a tremendous pump with only 100kg bar weight on my banded bench press. If this is a problem you also have experienced, I recommend you cut the volume on bench press in half and double the sets of cable flyes until you notice your pec activation increase, then you can increase your bench press volume and drop cable flyes back down again.
Last, but not least: one of my all-time favourite exercises, and you will all be familiar with it:
Yes, it is just a regular push-up! But why is it such a great exercise? Well, closed kinetic chain exercises, where you move the body in space (chins and squats are other examples) will always be more biomechanically efficient than open-chain exercises where the body is still and the weight is moving.
This is what we are designed to do by nature. We were not meant to lie on our backs and press a heavy load above our chests, we were meant to push our bodies away from something, or push something in front of us while walking forward, or to throw implements, spears, beer bottles and women. I was joking about that last one, of course. Or not.
With push-ups you also get high core activation, which will improve total body stability and strength. Lying on a bench, your scapulae are locked into place, which is why it puts so much strain on the shoulder and rotator cuff muscles. In a push-up, your whole shoulder complex can move freely, so you get a full range of motion with less strain on joints and tendons.
The pec contraction and stimulation you can achieve with push-ups is almost unequalled, except for one thing: the exercise itself is difficult to load properly. Most people can do 20 or more pushups with their own bodyweight with ease, and we need to get into a loading range where we approach failure at 8-12 reps or so.
The solution is to add elastic bands stretched behind your back.
Twist it to shorten it and increase resistance, and to avoid having it slide around during the set. You achieve the same benefits as on the bench press, but given that you don’t have to fear dropping a bar on your chest, you can move even more explosively on push-ups.
Second, get a sturdy backpack and fill it with weight plates. Get one with metal instead of plastic fasteners on the shoulder straps, and have someone help you load it up – or place it on a bench so you can kneel in front of it to get both shoulder straps on before lifting it. A more expensive option is a weight vest, but those are also impractical to bring to the gym for every chest workout.
Put your hands on dumbbells on the floor or low step boxes so you can lower your body between them, and safely stretch into a higher range of motion. Be careful the first couple of times if you have limited mobility (it will improve with this exercise).
It is important that you tighten your core, and even squeeze your glutes to shift and rotate the pelvis forward and lock it there. You don’t want your lumbar spine sagging down like a banana hammock. Core stability is important to get full force production throughout your upper body. The reps here will be in the higher range, but since you will already be fatigued from the banded bench and cable fly, you shouldn’t need a lot of extra load to approach a failure point around 8-12 reps.
A note on the 1RM test/estimation for pushups: When estimating your 1RM, use 70% of your bodyweight + extra load in the calculation, as that is approximately the total load you are lifting (studies show this number to be anywhere from 70-75%).
So let’s say I managed 3 reps at 100kg bodyweight + 40kg added load (I don’t include the elastic band in the calculation). This is a total weight of 110kg (70% of 100kg + 40kg), and from the calculator I get a 116kg 1RM.
I use a load of 70-75% of 1RM for pushups, 81-87kg in this case, and subtracting 70kg from this (70% of my bodyweight) I get 11-17kg of added load.
So I put 15kg in my backpack and just rep out. I get 16 reps and this is now my personal rep target. I get 16, 10, 7 reps over 3 sets, even with 2+ minutes of rest, so with my low volume/rep tolerance I might do only 2 sets or go with Myo-reps for optimal stimulation.
So let’s look at a great starting point for most lifters who want to grow their chest:
Day 1 (e.g. Monday):
A. Bench Press (w bands or reverse bands) or “decline” Floor Press
2-3 sets @80-85% of 1RM
B. Cable Pec Flyes
1-2 sets @50-60% of 1RM OR 1 Myo-rep set
Day 2 (e.g. Wednesday):
Loaded Pushups w bands
3-4 sets @70-75% of 1RM OR 1-2 Myo-rep sets
Day 3: Repeat Day 1 (e.g. Friday)
My own personal program, being more advanced and having a low volume tolerance:
Day 1 (e.g. Monday):
Cable Pec Flyes
2 sets @50-60% of 1RM OR 1 Myo-rep set
Day 2 (e.g. Tuesday):
Bench Press (w bands or reverse bands) or “decline” Floor Press
2-3 sets @80-85% of 1RM
Day 3 (e.g. Wednesday):
Loaded Pushups w bands
2 sets @70-75% of 1RM OR 1 Myo-rep sets
Day 4: rest or repeat cycle (Thursday or Friday)
Note the sequence light-heavy-medium, as found in research by Mike Zourdos to be better than the more common light-medium-heavy.
Having a bulging chest with developed and full pectoral muscles are easily recognized by our primitive nature as the primary sign of strength and masculinity. Some just need to do some heavy bench pressing and achieve this look with ease, while others such as myself have been struggling for years, never getting much out of the standard bench press except nagging pains and little to no chest development to show for it.
In this article I have given you some new ideas and tweaks that have finally cracked the code in my own chest training, and everyone with similar issues as myself I have shared it with. I encourage you to implement the exercises and methods I have provided here, and with some concerted effort and hard work, you will also be able to take your shirt off in public.
Bonus points for being able to show off that entertaining trick where you contract and make each pec jump. Small children will laugh and point, old women will clap, and the ladies will be jumping into your lap. At least in your dreams. But find comfort in the fact that the bros will like it. And for some people – that might be enough.
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42 Comments on “Better chest training”
Thank you for this exceptional article. It’s not only a pertinent piece on chest training but critical for program design as well! Glad to have you back.
Thanks Eddie 🙂
Fantastic article from a genius! I really love it…
If I currently train my chest 3x /wk ~ 16 straight sets and using different exercises, do you think it is a good idea:
(1) To keep session volume as it is (3-4 sets) but add additional training day and slowly go to 5 sets, 5 weekly sessions (I usually stagnate at 22-25 sets/wk for chest)
(2) Is it better to grab one of the recommended exercises and keep the rest 2 as they are at the moment, or dramatic shift from what I’m doing (in terms of movements) would be ok too?
(3) I’m not doing myo-reps at the moment and wondering what would be the best approach to start i.e. go for myo-reps straight away as outlined or more gradual approach would be more suitable?
(4) Do you use the same training/programming principles for other muscle groups or this is something specifically design for your chest as they seems to be a weak point for you?
Thanks for the great article! I already shared it and hope more guys to read and learn from it.
1. This often depends on the person, some people thrive on frequency, some on volume (as mentioned in the article), but if you are at 16 sets now you should get all you need for the next step by adding another day of training and a total weekly set volume of 18 sets for now. So e.g. two days at 5 sets (perhaps split between two exercises), 2 days at 4 sets.
2. I think some variation is good for optimal growth, so keep a few of what you are already doing, and add one of the recommended exercises for the additional day.
3. I think you can go straight to Myo-reps. Sometimes you need to take a big step forward to initiate growth.
4. Same principles for all muscle groups, but my chest is low volume tolerance and responds better to higher frequency. When you start to know what the individual muscle groups respond best to, you will end up with a program that has no defined split to it – some muscle groups get 2x/week frequency, some 3x, some 4x etc. This is where art meets science 🙂
Thanks for your excellent answer and taking the time to help us. Let us know how we can support you…..I have the firm believe that we, your audience, need to invest in and buy products/services from great guys like you, so you can continue producing invaluable content and great products.
I’m so sad to not understand Norwegian which prevents me from taking advantage of your online course which I’m sure is full of great deal of very useful text, tips and insights.
Keep up the great job and let me know if I can do something for you. You have tons of fans and we all look forward for new online paid product/services coming from you … hopefully in English this time ;).
Really appreciate the feedback and kind words, Boz. I have chosen not to set up a donation option, but I will be launching some products and books in the next year or so if all goes according to plan 🙂
That’s great to hear! Look forward to seeing what’s next…
Phenomenal content, Borge, as one has come to expect from you. Nice to see you back!
A few questions, if you don’t mind.
1) On myo-reps:
a) What kind of progression scheme does one use for myo-reps? Still looking to add weight session by session on the “activation” set? Is that feasible when one’s looking at 15+ reps?
b) Since you measure training volume by sets/week/body part, how much would one set of myo-reps be in that measurement unit?
c) Wouldn’t doing two sets of myo-reps with the same load diminish the quality of the second MR set?
2) Is a +2.5% increment a generally reliable guideline across different exercises (at least for major lifts – bench, ohp, squat, rdl, pull-up, etc)?
3) Is volume tolerance a local trait (specific to certain muscles)? For example, on pushing movements, I almost always fail to match my first set’s reps in the subsequent sets, mainly for the failure of locking out (unsurprisingly, this effect is the most pronounced on tricep isolation work, like overhead rope extensions).
4) Are you planning to write such detailed guides on other muscle groups as well? (Would be a boon for a tricky one like the back region.)
Thanks a lot, Borge, for the effort you take to freely share your knowledge. Deeply appreciate it!
a) You add load so you stay at or slightly below the rep range. So any time you hit a certain target reps, or the upper end of the range, add load next time.
b) I estimate one Myo-rep set to be approx equal to 3 regular sets.
c) What, specifically, do you define as “quality” in this context? Additional volume is additional volume. Whether you choose to do more volume really depends on the overall split and weekly volume, vs. the individual needs.
2. For beginners and intermediates, yes. For more advanced lifters this may be too much. E.g. A 250kg squatter would not be expected to be able to add 5+kg to the bar on a regular basis. At this point, we are probably talking a double or triple periodization scheme with light/heavy or light/medium/heavy – which is just a way to stretch out the progression over time, by progressing in each individual rep range.
3. I find volume tolerance to be both individual to a person, to a muscle group/exercise grouping, and even to the constantly changing recovery capacities of the individual person and muscle/exercise grouping.
4. I have one for back training coming up, actually 🙂
Thanks for the thorough response, Borge.
Last question: on setting up double/triple progression schemes… My gym only has 2.5 kg plates as the minimum, which means a 5kg (for dumbbells, it’s 5lb, which results in 10 lb) increments… (Still working on procuring smaller plates).
Therefore, I suppose setting up double/triple progression scheme is the only way I can progress systematically. Do you reckon that I use the same movement but in different rep ranges (OHP 5-8 on one day, and OHP 8-12 on other) or use different movements (say OHP 5-8 and DB presses 8-12)?
Both can work.
Use wrist/ankle weights of 1kg instead of smaller plates.
Great article, nice food for thoughts.
“My own personal tweaks: I have been training for 20 years, but I’m not very strong due to a partial supraspinatus tear and some slight instability in the joint.
Oh, and because I Suck.”
“…back in my powerlifting days when I was able to do reps with 180kg in the bench press.”
You are obviously selling yourself short. Repping 180kg (without the benchihg shirt, I suppose?), even if you are on the juice, is not “sucking” by any means. And if you are natty, it is close to an elite level results.
I did 130 kg touch and go, and 120 kg 2 reps at bodyweight 67 kg at 180 cm height (yeah, my looks have strong DYEL status). But benching above 100kg hits my scull with a high pressure, so I stopped doing flat and concentrate only on incline now (can rep 90kg 6-7 times). What is your take on dropping flat out of the training routine entirely, if the goal is the hypertrophy? I somehow have a feeling that you would approve.
Borge, I get, that you are all for high frequency, but what is your take on benching every 4 days? Bench 3 times a week (high-medium-low intensity, 1-2 reps shy of failure) does not let me improve. May be in my case protein synthesis still takes 3-4 days, considering I am novice in my muscle mass size?
Thanks for your site. You are from my type of people – hope to meet you one day. Cheers.
I didn’t say I sucked in my early twenties when I was able to bench that (although I got injured and lost strength shortly thereafter), I’m saying I suck now that I’m a pretty lean 100kg but still barely able to bench 120kg 🙂
There is no need for a flat bench at all in a program to build hypertrophy. In fact, I would only say a flat bench press is mandatory if you intend to compete in that lift.
I am an advocate of high frequency for the right individuals under the right circumstances, as I also mention in the article. For most people, 3-4x/week will be optimal. 5-6x is recommended for someone at an advanced level with everything in order (stress, sleep, nutrition, connective tissue health).
Thank you for the kind words. Come and talk to me if you are ever at the same venue or gym 🙂
“I am an advocate of high frequency for the right individuals ”
I don’t think of myself as the “right individual”, cause my recovery after training session takes too long (even if I go at least 2 reps shy of failure on al of my sets). I will definetly try higher frequency down the road, but for now I will have to be very careful about that.
You and Menno are the guys I would like to work with. Unfortunately, living in Siberia, it is too far away to attend any of your seminars in Europe. But it will eventually happen – I am too invested in this fitness stuff, so I’ll figure something out, lol.
Wish you to fix whatever is wrong with your shoulders, man. Be well!
You should make sure that you’re not doing too much volume per session, and that you are varying your intensity/rep ranges. If you have two heavy, low rep workouts at 6-8 sets per week per muscle group as a baseline, you would then add two lighter weight, higher rep workouts and drop volume down to 2-4 sets per workout, for example.
Other than that, given that you have your stress, sleep and nutrition handled, you will eventually adapt to the higher frequency – that is, after all, the whole point of training… 🙂
Will try that. Appreciate the info!
First, thanks for this!
Secondly, do you have any other “Informations” about “High frequency Training” ?
Beautiful Greetings from Vienna
Yes, here is an earlier article I wrote:
Hi borge, in your opinion, if i want to focus on my upperbody:
Is it possible to alternate heavy session of pulling with heavy sessions of pushing (focusing every day on a different big exercise)?
Day1 heavy pullup, high reps push exercise (bfr or myo reps)
Day2 heavy bench, high reps back and traps (bfr or myo reps)
Day3 heavy row, high reps push
Day4 heavy military press, high reps pulling exercise.
Day5 rest or repeat
Or maybe do you think is not good to mix different stimulus? Why?
Yes, that is one way of doing it.
Thanks Borge !
Do you think is good to mix different rep ranges in the same workout or it would be better doing only one range (heavy, medium or light) at time?
In terms of muscle activation, muscolar damage and hypertrophy.. are there some notable differences between BFR and myo reps?
Last question.. myo reps, in advanced athlete, 1 or 2 sets?
Tried today afternoon the “fiber’color test” for the upper body..
4 exercise.. military press, chinups, triceps extension and biceps curl.
In all the 4 exercises, I haven’t done no more than 7 reps (military and chins) and 6 on arms.. obiviously with 80% of 1RM.
So my ideal rep range for this movements is 6-8 or less?
There is no risk of injury using always this range in isolation movement (especially elbows)?
80% is for compound lifts, for iso you can go with 65-70%.
Ok, i will do!
But in my case for the upper’s compound, (7 reps done) it would be give better results working in the 6-8 range or maybe less?
Yes, for compounds. You could probably go up to 12-15 reps for isolation exercises, though (and use Myo-reps, obviously)
Borge why you can’t increase the volume during the mesocycle?
What I’ve seen in your program is the same amount every week.
Just curious, this is very interesting!
Why would you need to, as long as loads are increasing? The volume will increase as you get more advanced, and this takes several weeks and months. I see no need to increase volume just for the sake of increasing it.
With this progression model, i think the true limit is do RPE 9 every session, so there is to quickly fatigue accumulation…
Hi Borge, do you have any auto-regulation method that can be used when working out with multiple submaximal sets of medium to low reps, something like the Doug Hepburn routines (https://www.myosynthesis.com/doug-hepburn-routines) ?
In one of those programs, for example, you start out with a weight you can lift for 5 sets of 3 reps and work you way out to 5 sets of 5 reps; so, the first set will almost always be quite easy, and it would be difficult to gauge your readiness/recovery from it.
Or do you simply don’t like those approaches at all, and prefer to always work closer to failure?
I personally like them when you’re forced to use bodyweight only, since they’re an easy way to create a progressive overload without any additional equipment (especially for someone like me who sucks at high reps no matter what).
That is essentially just cluster training, and I do indeed use those types of methods. One of my go-to methods is e.g. 6 sets of 3 reps with your 6RM. When you can do all 6 sets of 3 reps with only the last rep of the last set approaching failure (RPE 9), you increase the load next time.
That’s great, thank you. However, sometimes you can’t know how the session will go, since you don’t have a “money” set, or testing set, to rely with at its beginning.
Let me explain it better with a personal example: yesterday the first triple I did felt great (or, at least, it seemed so), but as the workout progressed, the sets become harder and harder, and the last one was almost painful. And I did the exact same workout as the previous one (without increasing volume nor intensity, not even in other exercises), so it was clearly a stagnation or even a regression. Theoretically I should have stop it immediately (or just do some light stuff), but how could I recognize it without a benchmark, i.e. the testing set that you outlined in the article?
Hope it makes some sense.
Well, that’s the whole point – you auto-regulate the volume here by stopping at a certain number of sets, not reps. So it ends up being a different approach that achieves the same outcome.
So with a rep target approach of 6:
100 x 6,4,3
102.5 x 6,4,2
105 x 4,3,3
105 x 4 – 80 x 3,3 (reactive deload)
With the 6 sets of 3 model
100 x 3,3,3,3,3,3
102.5 x 3,3,3,3,3,3
105 x 3,3,3,2
105 x 3,2
105 x 3,3,3,3,3,3
There are obviously theoretical examples, but still pretty much true to how it happens in the real world. The first method can be said to be more conducive to hypertrophy, but also more conducive to lifts that aren’t the big compounds. The second method is more specific to strength gains through the “greasing the groove” (GTG) method as per Pavel and Dan John, and is also well suited for squats, bench, deadlift (I use it by default on deadlifts) – and I also like it for OHP and chins.
Outstanding Borge, thank you very very much.
When using clusters, do you go beyond 6 sets? I’m asking this because, if I remember correctly, in the recent online powerlifting summit you said that 6 sets per exercise (or muscle group) is a sort of “upper limit” (as a general guideline, of course) you use to prescribe for a single session. I’m not sure if this still apply for this particular methodology.
Clusters are by definition sub-maximal work, and you can go all the way up to 8-10 sets if you do singles.
Great article. I love bodyweight moves whenever reasonable. I do full arm extension and chest touches the floor 1 arm pushups with my feet no more than 24 inches apart in a hollow body hold. I am working towards doing them with my feet on a bench. ‘Maybe’ i will wear a backpack or use a strap then. What are you thoughts about the 1 arm pushup as a horizontal push movement?
I think it is a pretty good movement, the main downside being that anything which requires a lot of balance and coordination will reduce activation in the target muscles. For functional strength you could argue in favor of it, for absolute/relative strength you would be wise to include some more stable exercises in the mix.
Thank you. I left out that I do regularly rotate in weighted dips and DB bench. After having done the movement for quite a while, I can say that the balance and coordination aspect has reduced significantly. It is still there. I think most people dismiss calisthenics because they only know about the more commonly seen ones. People would be amazed at the possibilities ‘IF’ they were to educate themselves on the progressions to doing things with one arm or leg.. It is far more technically difficult to teach progressive calisthenics than to just add weight to the bar and offer not only a method to get a workout in when away from a gym, but also a whole different way to keep strength building interesting.
A free resource to learn the progressions is Startbodyweight.com BTW, I am not affiliated in any way with them.
Nice article! Will try the pushup!
A question on shoulder development. I know overhead pressed mainly target the front delt and many ppl do not have the mobility to do it. Anyway, would you simply focus on side and rear delts with lateral raises and face pulls with external rotation?
I am a small boned trainee and prone to injury, need time to recover, especially with connective tissue (36 years old)
Can you advise a basic full body template for 2 training days a week? I seem not to tolerate 3 full bodies that well..I can try upper lower since I feel it gives me a few more days to recover but setting up volume can be complicated….I love staying within 30-45minute training time
Yes, I know there are many who get awesome results from overhead pressing, and some experts consider it as mandatory as squats and deadlifts – but I guess I just cringe a little when someone claims you should “always” or “never” do something. They are just movements, and we are all biomechanically and structurally different. For every single person who got great results from all of those exercises I can name you at least one who got nothing but discomfort, pain or even injury from them (and yes, even with perfect technique).
As for full-body splits, there are many to choose from – it depends on how your individual muscle groups or lifts respond and recover form training. I prefer to use a data-driven approach here, start with quite moderate volumes and see if adding rest days improves, maintains or decreases rate of progress.
Read this for more: https://borgefagerli.com/the-short-and-sweet-borge-fagerli-guide-to-getting-bigger-and-stronger/ – some good info in the comments section, too.
A couple of suggestions:
Hip-dominant legs (RDL, back extensions, deadlift)
Pushups or dips or bench press
Face-Pulls and/or rows and/or lateral raises (upper back and shoulders)
Knee-dominant legs (squat, split squat, hack squat etc)
Lateral raises if not hit on Day 1
Bench or Dips
1-2 isolation exercises of your choice
Shoulders (pressing or lateral raises)
1-2 isolation exercises of your choice
I like option A a lot! I feel it is great to alternate face pulls and lateral raise since both also hit the side delt some way.
I only have 1 doubt, everything is hit twice a week with this template (directly or indirectly) BUT there is an issue with legs since I would choose Romanian deadlift bit that one does not hit the quads properly. Day 2 is either squat or leg press or split squat and that definitely hits hams too which is great. As I said day 1 does not have quads so in comparison to every other muscle volume will be lower but it could be that legs take longer to recover…..am I overthinking?
…also, on the B day there is nothing that hits chest…should I add something there too?