Everyone is always looking for the next best thing, and when that comes to training, its always looking for some new and novel training split. Oddly enough, the most effective training protocols I’ve ever used have been around for quite some time and worked because they emphasized the basic principles of progressive overload in a caloric surplus to gain lean tissue. This is a universally accepted truth that needs to happen if you wish to acquire significant amounts of muscle tissue. Now, you guys know me by now. I’ve tried everything in the book on myself and my hundreds of clients and no matter what, nothing will beat a properly periodized program customized to your specific needs. Basic biological inter-individuality essentially means that we all need a varied amount of a stimuli to achieve our goals. In training, this variation comes from training intensity, frequency, and volume, as something as to give if another is heightened. But, if you cannot program your own training split or cannot afford a prep coach, there are three programs that stood out to me over my years of training. Those are DC training from Dante Trudel, PHAT from Dr. Layne Norton, and Fortitude Training from Dr. Scott Stevenson.
Beginning with DC training, we must understand the basic principles first and foremost. This section is directly taken from Dante Trudel:
• Strength Gains via Heavy Progressive Overload – In order to incur new muscle growth, one must consistently provide the stimulus for adaptation to occur. By increasing weight on the bar over time, the muscles must adapt (grow) to be ready for the new stimulus (heavier weight).
• Low Volume / High(er) Frequency Training – Low in volume when compared to traditional bodybuilding splits. DC Training focuses on hitting each body part every 4th or 5th day as opposed to every 7th day in a typical bodybuilding split
• Rest-Pause Sets – 3 sets with an aim for 11-15 reps total per body part on any given training day.
• Extreme Stretching – After the work set is over, the trainee performs a loaded stretch for a total of 60-90 seconds.
• Periodization – Blasting and Cruising.
You are training 3 non-consecutive days per week rotated in the ABA BAB fashion. Week 1 workouts would land on Monday, Wednesday and Friday rotating ABA and then for Week 2, the workouts switch and rotate BAB. For each specific focus you pick only 1 exercise for that day. On A day, you might pick bench press for chest, cable pushdowns for triceps, DB presses for shoulders etc. On B day, you would pick a movement for biceps, calves, quads, hamstrings etc. Every exercise utilizes the rest pause method except the exercises for quads, calves and back thickness. For quads, if one chooses to do squats, they would perform 1 straight set of 4-8 reps followed by a higher rep set of 20 also know as a “widow-maker.” When training calves one is advised to do 1 set of 12-20 reps with a 10-15 second pause at the bottom of each rep. Back thickness exercises consist of rack deadlifts, and row variations. The set and rep scheme for back thickness exercises are the same as for quad movements to ensure safety. Select a weight that allows one to perform 6-8 reps. For the 1st set, do as many reps as possible without going to failure. Rack the weight and wait about 25-30 seconds. Do another set getting as many reps without going to failure. Then for the 3rd set, do as many reps as possible which will probably only be 2-3 reps. Follow up the rest-pause set with 60-90 seconds of Extreme Stretching. DC Training recommends stretching the muscle group to the point of discomfort for the full time frame mentioned. Extreme stretching is supposed to enhance recovery and induce hyperplasia. Blasting and cruising is a phrase used by the DC advocates to describe the 2 distinct periods of their training protocol. Blasting is simply a period of time (6-12 weeks) where one is constantly trying to make strength gains from workout to workout. They are constantly aiming to beat the log book. Cruising is the time period (7-14days) where a trainee gives their body a break from the heavy weights and scales back their training to sub maximal workloads.
Our next program is PHAT from Dr. Layne Norton. This protocol incorporates a moderate amount of frequency with an emphasis on including different factors of hypertrophy (mainly progressive overload with heavy poundage.) There are several dozen forms of the PHAT program but the basic premise is the same. Each muscle gets worked 2x/week. The first 2 days of the week are split into upper and lower body power days. This is followed by a rest day. Then 3 days of traditional hypertrophy orientated bodybuilding training. A very basic PHAT split looks as follows:
◦ Day 1: Upper Body Power
◦ Day 2: Lower Body Power
◦ Day 3: Rest
◦ Day 4: Back and Shoulders Hypertrophy
◦ Day 5: Lower Body Hypertrophy
◦ Day 6: Chest and Arms Hypertrophy
◦ Day 7: Rest
During the first 2 days of the week you will focus on big power movements for your upper and lower body like squats, front squats, deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, and box squats for lower body. Barbell and dumbbell presses and rows as well as weighted pull-ups for upper body. Your goal should be to stay in the 3-5 rep range for 3-5 working sets on the compound movements. Make sure you rest enough in between sets to completely recover and be ready for your next heavy set. If that means you need to take 5-6 minutes between sets then so be it. The purpose of these workouts is to move maximum weight! Save short rest periods for your hypertrophy days. On your power days you need to have a POWER mentality. A good way to make consistent progress is to rotate your power movements every 2-3 weeks. A few sets of assistance exercises can be done for smaller body parts like hamstrings, calves, shoulders, and arms.
On your hypertrophy days you should do some speed work (6-8 sets of 3 reps) with 65-70% of your 3-5 rep max to start your workout with the power exercise you used earlier in the week. For example, if you did squats for 3 sets of 3-5 reps with 300 lbs earlier in the week, then you would do 6 sets of 3 reps on squats with 195-210 lbs with an emphasis placed on moving the weight through the concentric phase of the lift as quickly as possible. Do not go too heavy on your speed sets. Rest no longer than 90 seconds in between each of the speed sets. This builds explosiveness and speed and may stimulate growth as well. Even though you are using less weight, you should still be applying maximum force to it. After you finish with your speed work for the day you should train basically like you normally would for a bodybuilder. Your rep range should be 8-20 and keep your rest periods to 1-2 minutes between sets. I would increase the volume of these sessions by approximately 50-75% compared to your power days. Make sure you do not over use failure on your hypertrophy days or you will burn out quickly. I only recommend going to absolute failure on the last 1-2 sets of each exercise once you have adapted to the routine. On prior sets stop 1-2 reps shy of failure.
Finally, we look at Fortitude Training by Dr. Scott Stevenson which is an extremely comprehensive training system, including a dietary and nutritional supplementation approach strategically coupled to the rigorous resistance training program. FT offers two Versions of this high-frequency resistance training program that target major muscle groups either three times or four times per week . Each Version has three Volume Tiers (Tiers I, II and III) which vary the number of sets for each muscle group. FT is structured to ensured progressive overload within a system that varies the growth stimulus by including high repetition, discontinuous sets, and intensive stretching. These training variations keep the workouts fresh, injury-free, and customizable. Dr. Scott also addresses the basic conceptions and guidelines for proper nutritional and supplemental practices based off of what research we have available to us. This is the most comprehensive and complete protocol out there. Although you can customize the split many ways, a very simple one is as follows:
Day 1 Upper loading/Lower Pump sets
Back width/Back Thickness
Day 2 Lower Loading/Upper Pump
Day 3 Muscle Rounds
These are easily the three best training protocols available on the market for those who cannot afford a customized protocol (although if you understand biofeedback and auto-regulation, you can make any of these programs work tremendously. And Fortitude Training offers variations to make it easier for you.) If I had to rank them I would say that Fortitude Training is easily the best BUT also the most comprehensive and can be overwhelming for some, then followed by DC training, and leaving PHAT in third place. These protocols all emphasize progressive overload through a multitude of stimuli and rep ranges and you truly cannot go wrong with any of them!