T Nation

4 Exercise Experiment


#1

I've been training regularly for about 15 years and have tried every system known to man. I've mostly utilized movement-based strength programs like 5/3/1 but have also used body part splits that included "calves and traps day" etc. Almost anything will work and variety is key -- but not at the expense of consistency.

I recently started training at a warehouse gym where a lot of high school athletes and young bodybuilders train. Naturally, these kids have a lot of questions. Back in 1995 questions were all we had since there were fewer resources like T-Nation and EliteFTS. Specifically they want to know what program I'm following right now and I'm always glad to offer advice. I try to emphasize a focus on the basics like heavy compound lifting.

Whether you're trying to be a bodybuilder or powerlifter you can't go wrong with basic heavy lifting, especially when you're first starting out. Pick a program, stick with it, and watch yourself grow. This doesn't mean that they should avoid isolation movements for different muscle groups -- it just means that you should learn to bench before you add in cable crossover drop-sets.

As you might imagine, this advice falls largely on deaf ears.

So I came up with an experiment, using myself as the guinea pig. I want to teach the young bucks under my tutelage that it is both possible and effective to use a minimalist approach to exercise selection (so long as the volume, frequency, and intensity are where they need to be).

The experiment will go as follows:

1) EXERCISE SELECTION:
I will only perform 4 exercises for the duration of this experiment (TBD probably 2 months) I will include 1 upper body push, 1 lower body push, 1 upper body pull, and 1 lower body pull. I have selected INCLINE BENCH PRESS, SQUAT, PULLUP, & CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFT as my 4 exercises. My personal favorite exercise is the Military Press, but Incline Bench Press is a better catch-all upper body push.

2) VARIATIONS:
The only variations on these exercises will be different grip widths on incline press and pullups. All squatting will be olympic and all deadlifting will be conventional w/o straps.

3) ASSISTANCE WORK:
There won't be any. The only exercises I am permitted to perform are the ones listed above.

My plan is to post a regular training log along w/ some photos to chart my progress. My goal is not to disprove the benefits of isolation exercises, bodypart splits, etc. because I've used them to success in the past. Rather my goal is to demonstrate that sticking to the basics can yield great results in strength and physique if implemented effectively.

Thoughts appreciated.


#2

how many days a week? i’m doing something similar now, but with RDL instead. I don’t think conventional DL hits the hamstrings enough.


#3

I plan on doing either a 4-day split where I dedicate 1 day to each lift or a 4-day split where I do a max effort and dynamic effort upper-body and lower body split.

For example:

Incline Bench 6x3
Incline Bench 5x10

Deadlift 6x3
Deadlift 5x10

Pullup 6x3 (weighted)
Pullup 5xMax (BW)

4
Squat 6x3
Squat 5x10

The above template is based on the “boring but big” template from Jim Wendler’s 531 Program. Basically you do the main lift of the day and then you do the same lift for hypertrophy.


#4

[quote]GraniteJack wrote:
My plan is to post a regular training log along w/ some photos to chart my progress. My goal is not to disprove the benefits of isolation exercises, bodypart splits, etc. because I’ve used them to success in the past. Rather my goal is to demonstrate that sticking to the basics can yield great results in strength and physique if implemented effectively.

Thoughts appreciated.
[/quote]

Always liked minimalist routines,
at the end of the day progression is the key, more load on the bar (with good form) in high reps number (8/12)…it will give results (size&strenght) and a solid foundation; doing a set of 10 reps of incline with 100lb isn’t the same that with 280 (in size terms ) but -after time- you 'll have to add “isolation/accessory” work for arms&delts,
said this if I were in your shoes I would switch to a split A/B,2Xweek; Incline and (front)squat one day, pull-up and dead the other, dead&squat 4x week it’s a little too much imo…each routine done 2xweek, one session with 80% of 1RM and 120sec rest,the other session 60% with 1mr est,about pull-up one session performed with standard grip,the other with rings (buy 2 carabines and 3ft of chain for rings,very minimalist),if possible use a band to perform second session of pull-up to hit more reps
I have put my buddy on this routine for last 5 mounth and his strenght&size improved a lot (300lb bench x3reps from 200x5)…


#5

Or my other thought was an upper/ lower ME/ DE split:

  1. Upper ME
    Incline Bench Press 5,3,1
    Weighted Pullup 5,3,1 (or 5x5)

  2. Lower ME
    Squat 5,3,1
    Deadlift 5,3,1

  3. Upper DE
    Incline Bench Press 5x10
    Pullup 5x10

  4. Lower DE
    Squat 5x10
    Deadlift 5x10

I prefer this split to the one posted earlier.


#6

Considering the constraints of the program, I think your exercise choice is sound. FWIW I recently saw a segment on Elliot Hulse’s channel on this exact topic, and his exercise choices were almost identical, they were :
deadlift
front squat
pulllups
dips
The logic was basically acheiving balance between anterior dominance and posterior dominance, hence the choice of front squats over back squats. (He had many other ideas behind his exercise choice, for instance teaching basic movement patterns like hip hinging with the deadlift and thoracic extension and full squat depth with the front squat) You might give this program some thought, especially considering your goals. Dips instead of incline bench is even more minimalist, and (although I don’t know if this agrees with your personal experience) dips can be a GREAT hypertrophy exercise for chest, just for the sake of showing how unnecessary “fancy” exercises are.

But again as per your original program it looks good, you’ve got all your bases covered

As for the DE/ ME split I can’t really say or generalize, it just depends. There might be some that naturally lift explosively and don’t necessarily need dynamic work. You could program the lifts different ways for many different goals


#7

Thanks @Facepalm! Good points and very well thought-out. My preference for back squats over front squats is due to a hernia repair I had that makes front squats very uncomfortable for some reason. My first choice for the upper body press was either military or push-press but I didn’t want to exclude the chest entirely. I don’t normally do inclines but they seem like a compromise movement that enlists both shoulders and chest. However, I am now re-thinking it and might do dips instead. Maybe even ring dips.


#8

Very cool idea Jack. Thanks for sharing with everyone.

Are you going to be using barbells exclusively or will you mix in dumbbells for inclines as well? I like the upper/lower split with a heavy day and a pump day. I am looking forward to seeing how this works out for you. Welcome aboard!


#9

Yes good idea.I also have made good gains on a very simple set up of just main lifts rotated during the week.Sooner or later gonna have to run that again,its been a long time.Also Smashingweights your back is looking thick and detailed in that new avi man,good stuff.


#10

@Smashing: I am going to stick to barbell-only lifts. Even though swapping in DBs is basically the same movement, my goal is to be as minimalist as possible. I fear that once I say it’s okay to swap in DB Inclines, next I’ll justify swapping in Machine Inclines, etc and then it will just become another bodybuilding program.

This program is also a way to force myself to keep assistance work under control. I’ve been known to go a little overboard with every type of gadget known to man after my main lift.

The only variations on lifts I am permitting myself are grip variations:
Incline Barbell/ Closegrip Incline
Pullups/ Widegrip Pullups/ Closegrip Pullups (all on the same bar)
Deadlifts/ Parital Deadlifts (like Rack-Pulls or maybe Defecit Deadlifts, but all with the same bar)
Squats will all be ass-to-grass olympic

Regarding DL vs. RDL, I have found that my hamstrings get enough work out of conventional deadlifts. Also, I have been hitting hamstring too hard recently by banging out lots of RDLs, Leg Curls, and Good-Mornings so my hammies will appreciate a couple months of not being tight and sore all the time.


#11

Any thoughts on doing OH Squats instead of Back Squats? Although it’s harder to load OH Squats to the same extent, they might be a better option in a 4-lift program since they include stabilizing a bar overhead.


#12

After careful deliberation, I have decided on the set/ rep/ exercise scheme to follow for the next several months. At first I thought I might stick to either 5/3/1 or the “Iron Sport Method” style of training since I’m a strength junkie at heart. If you haven’t read the Iron Sport Method eBook I strongly recommend buying it http://www.flexcart.com/members/elitefts/default.asp?m=PD&cid=370&pid=5647

I’ve decided to go with a variation of German Volume training programmed around 3 training days. (I play rugby and have 2 practices and 1 game every week so that will be my conditioning)

DAY 1: Squat
Squat 10x10

DAY 2: Upper Body
Incline Bench Press 10x10
Pullups 10x10 (weight added once I can complete 10 sets of 10)

DAY 3: Deadlift
Deadlift 10x10

There you have it. For weights I will start w/ 60% 1RM on each lift. Once I can perform all 10 sets of 10 I will raise the weight by 10 pounds. No assistance work of any kind other than running/ conditioning from playing rugby. Probably going to start the program next week.


#13

P.S. -

On each of the 3 training days I will probably first work up to a 3-5 RM before hitting the 10x10. The volume will be high but I respond well to higher volume and there won’t be any supplemental assistance work.


#14

Very interesting, I will be following.


#15

[quote]bulkNcut wrote:
Very interesting, I will be following. [/quote]

samesies


#16

This is awesome. 10x10 conventional deadlifts is no joke


#17

This is going to be a good exercise in humility for me. I had a hernia repaired just over a year ago and haven’t squatted or DL any amount of weight since then. I’ve stuck to unilateral leg work and machines. So I know this will be a long, hard slog back to decent strength.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to post the final workout and my first log. The 4 exercises I’ve chosen are DEADLIFT, SQUAT, STRICT- PRESS,


#18

[quote]GraniteJack wrote:
I plan on doing either a 4-day split where I dedicate 1 day to each lift or a 4-day split where I do a max effort and dynamic effort upper-body and lower body split.

For example:

Incline Bench 6x3
Incline Bench 5x10

Deadlift 6x3
Deadlift 5x10

Pullup 6x3 (weighted)
Pullup 5xMax (BW)

4
Squat 6x3
Squat 5x10

The above template is based on the “boring but big” template from Jim Wendler’s 531 Program. Basically you do the main lift of the day and then you do the same lift for hypertrophy.[/quote]

I know you’ve already decided on your program but I’ll throw this out anyway since it hasn’t been suggested yet.

Incline Bench 6x3
Chins (weighted) 5x10

Deadlift 6x3
Squat 5x10

Pullup 6x3 (weighted)
Incline Bench 5x10

4
Squat 6x3
Deadlift 5x10

This split you hit each exercise twice a week, once max effort and once repetition effort. By staggering the exercises you can go heavier on the repetition effort than you could if you did it as a BBB style drop set following the max effort sets.

I did my first month with the repetition effort set at 50% of my max, this month it’s 60%, next month it’ll be 70%…


#19

@somedude: Great ideas. It appear my lest post was cut off short, so I need to try again. My first week is already underway so I will consider these changes in the following weeks. In fact, I welcome variety of rep schemes since my exercises are limited. Here’s my program for this week:

Day 1: DEADLIFT
DL: work up to a new 5RM
DL: 10x10 (light)

Day 2: UPPER BODY
Strict Press: work up to a new 5RM
Strict Press: 10x10 supersetted w/ Pullups 10x10

Day 3: SQUAT
Squat: work up to a new 5RM
Squat: 10x10 (light)

Notes: I based this basic program off of Jim Wendler’s “Boring But Big” template combined w/ German Volume Training. I have shown in the past that I respond well to the volume. On the DL I focus on an explosive pull and a deliberate eccentric phase. I am weak on the eccentric phase and training it is essential to recovering from my injury/ preventing future injuries. I perform all DL’s double-overhand, no straps. My all-time best DL is 585 at a BW of 265. Mixed grip, raw. I now weigh 240.

TRAINING LOG for 4/23/13

DL: worked up to a 5RM of 275. Felt like I had a lot left in the tank but need to take it really slow since I haven’t deadlifted in a year. This low early # gives me ample room to improve.

DL: Dropped down to 185 and did 10x10. Felt smooth and safe. Explosive lift, and maintained tension through the descent.


#20

Not sure why but sometimes I click submit and my posts don’t go up. So I’ll try again…

TRAINING LOG for 4/24/13

Strict Military Press: Worked up to a 5RM of 185
Strict Military Press: Dropped down to 100 and did 10x10. About 1 minute rest in-between sets.

Pullup: Picked a number of reps that I could maintain for all 10 sets instead of doing 10 max sets. My plan is to add 1 rep each week of the program. Did 10x5 dead-hang pullups w/ a 2 second pause at the bottom fully extended. About 1 minute in-between sets. Could’ve done 6 reps/ set but not 7. Once I reach 10x10 I will start adding weight.

Trying to get in to squat tonight.