Maybe you have time to spend two hours a day, every day, in the gym. If that's the case, go ahead and focus on your calves today, just for the hell of it. Then you can do that mind-numbing hour on the elliptical tomorrow. And, instead of going to the beach this weekend with your friends, you can hit the weights.
This hardcore program might work for now, but at some point a job, a girl, or your social life (remember that?) will get in the way of that seven-day-a-week gym habit you've been cultivating. And when it does, you can either stay jacked, or go soft. The secret to remaining in that more desirable group is having an effective three-day training split.
Now, I'm not talking about the everyday back and biceps/chest and triceps/legs split everybody does. You could do that in your sleep. To stay fit—and even get bigger—by working out only three days a week, you need something more intense. This plan, designed by certified strength and conditioning specialist Chris Smith, is exactly what you need.
Instead of dividing workouts by muscle groups, Smith combines them into a trio of killer full-body sessions. That's right; the most effective training split isn't a "split" at all. It may sound crazy, but you know what's crazier? Missing out on parties, date nights, and your nephew's soccer game because you had to lift! If you're ready to spend more time getting out than working out, here's how to do it.
Ditch the Traditional Split
This three-day program targets your entire body every workout. Smith swears by this no-split technique for one simple reason: "High-frequency training exposes muscle fibers to a stimulus more often, which can lead to more muscle growth," he says.
Think about it. Instead of hitting your legs just once per week, those quads you targeted with front squats during the first workout will be called to duty again when you do back squats a couple days later. And they'll be up for it. As Smith explains, "You're breaking down the muscle without annihilating it, so it's ready to work again in a day or so."
Vary the Volume
A nonlinear programming strategy enables you to do multiple full-body workouts each week. Day 1 is a moderate volume and intensity session designed to create a baseline for the workouts that follow. On Day 2, you'll crank up the intensity to build strength and prime your body for the third workout. Day 3 is a high-volume workout designed to induce serious hypertrophy. Because it's so intense, you'll do it on your last training day of the week, giving your fried muscles maximum time to recover and build.
Having two consecutive free days may make you want to squeeze in another strength session. Don't do it. "Each workout is designed to be performed once per microcycle (one week)," Smith says. "There should be at least one day off between sessions." Smith suggests a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday schedule to free up your weekends.
The Devil is in the Details
During each session, you'll do alternating sets of compound, multijoint moves. Compound exercises engage a lot of muscle fibers at once, netting you more bodybuilding bang for your buck. You'll perform these compound exercises in alternating sets because they take a hell of a lot of energy to do.
To perform an alternating set, do one set of the first exercise in a group (for example, chin-ups) and then rest for the suggested amount of time. After you're rested, crank out a set of the next exercise. Repeat this pattern until you've done all the recommended sets, then begin the next group of moves.
Switching exercises each set also allows you to train using heavy weights set after set because you get more time to recover. Respect the rest, because you'll need it for optimal results.
Weight for It
"Choose a load that allows you to perform all of the recommended reps while maintaining good control and form," says Smith. "I usually like to keep a rep or two in the tank for the beginning sets and then go to failure on the final set." If you feel like you can crank out a few more reps on your last set, bump up the weight next week.
The conditioning workouts in this program are quick, so you can bust them out immediately after the strength session. "My cardio of choice is running outside," Smith says. Running hits the glutes, quads, and calves, while incinerating any flab you've got hanging around. Hoofing it outdoors also builds in terrain variety to challenge your muscle and joint stability. It prevents you from zoning out on autopilot as well. If you're injured and can't run, hop on the bike.
The first day's conditioning workout is moderate, just like the training session. You'll jog for 15 minutes, mixing in 30-second sprints to increase your endurance and incinerate fat. On Day 2, you'll push it harder, dividing a two-mile distance equally between quarter-mile runs and quarter-mile slow jogs. And on Day 3, you'll finish the leg frying you started the strength workout with by running two miles with quarter-mile recovery jogs between each mile.
Don't Forget Diet
A few days of binging on booze and wings can undo a week's worth of work in the gym. Because you're probably exercising less than usual if you choose this plan, you'll need to pay even more attention to your diet. For an easy-to-follow plan that even gives you leeway on the weekends, try the 5-Day Diet for some rules and guidelines.