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Back and Fourth Training

Pump up the volume to build more muscle mass!

Back and Fourth Training

Back And Fourth Training is a six-week mass-gaining program where you basically go "back and forth" among exercises. The program also involves using four different rep ranges, not to mention four main types of exercises, for each major muscle group. Hence, the name "Back and Fourth." In other words, yes, not spelling it "Forth" is on purpose.

As with most of my programs, the main goal of Back and Fourth Training is to build muscle mass and strength, and it does this phenomenally well. But you can also use Back and Fourth to maximize fat loss while still getting bigger and stronger. To tweak the program for better fat-burning results, see the notes below in the "Rest Periods" section.

The Back and Fourth of It

The back and forth nature of Back and Fourth refers to the exercises used and the order in which they're performed. Most of the major muscle groups (chest, back, shoulders and legs) involve eight exercises per workout, where the first four exercises and the last four mirror one another. Using chest as an example, you start the workout with bench press, then you move to incline dumbbell presses. Next up is the dumbbell fly, and then comes low-pulley cable crossovers. At this point the workout is only half over.

The last four exercises go in the exact opposite order as the first four. So the fifth exercise is the high cable crossover, the sixth is incline dumbbell fly, the seventh dumbbell bench press and the eighth exercise is the reverse-grip bench press. Instead of doing the exact same versions as the first four moves, these last four exercises are modified versions. This increases the number of muscle fibers used during the workout to maximize muscle growth.

Another point to mention regarding exercise order is that the first four progress from multijoint to single-joint (often called "isolation") moves. This allows you to focus on using the most weight when you're at your freshest (and strongest) to enhance strength as well as size by overloading the muscle fibers.

The last four exercises, however, move in the opposite direction, with single-joint exercises done first and multijoint moves finishing things off. This technique, called pre-exhaust, helps boost muscle growth by making the target muscle the weak link on multijoint exercises to more thoroughly exhaust it and help instigate better muscle growth.

For more details on pre-exhaust, as well as how research has gotten it wrong, check out these links: Pre-Exhaust Primer Pre-Exhaust Update

The Fourth of It

The "four" in Back And Fourth refers to the fact that the program uses four main types of exercises for larger major muscle groups (chest, back, shoulders, and legs), as I outlined above for chest. But "four" also signifies that you start the program in week one using four different rep ranges for these muscle groups.

The first exercise is done for 8-10 reps per set, the second exercise 10-12, the third 12-15 and the last set 15-20. The last four exercises follow the same pattern but in the reverse direction (15-20, 12-15, 10-12, 8-10) so that the similar exercises use the same rep range.

Smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, abs, calves, traps, forearms) are the exception. Because they involve fewer exercises per workout, the rep ranges are condensed on either side. For biceps, triceps, abs and calves, you'll do six exercises each. The first and sixth exercises will use 10-12 reps per set, the second and fifth exercises will involve 12-15 per set and the third and fourth exercises are done for 15-20 reps per set.

Forearms only involve four exercises total, where exercises one and four use 12-15 reps per set and exercises two and three involve 15-20. For traps, you'll also do just four exercises per workout, but they're condensed in the opposite manner as forearms, with sets one and four getting 8-10 reps per set and sets two and three using 10-12.

Using a variety of rep ranges for the same muscle group in each workout allows you to attack the muscle with a variety of loads (heavy, moderate and light weight) and rep ranges (low, moderate and high). This way you maximize overload on the muscle fibers in the form of weight as well as maximize the fatigue the muscle cells undergo. All of this can lead to greater gains in muscle mass and strength, not to mention endurance.

This approach is a bit novel from many of my other programs, which use the same rep range for all exercises in a single workout. That makes this technique ideal to move to after doing one (or more) of my other programs. Remember, variety is key to continued progress. This program will deliver that variety in a number of ways, including rep ranges used, exercises performed and total volume placed on each muscle group.

To see me demonstrate a sample Back and Fourth workout (a back routine from Weeks 1 and 4), check out this YouTube video.

Periodized Progress

As you may know form reading my articles and other training programs, I'm a firm believer in the benefits of periodization. This program combines both a linear model and a reverse linear model so you get the benefits of both styles. To read more about the different types of periodization and their benefits, click this link:

Using Periodization

In Back and Fourth, each week the rep range for every exercise changes. If you've done Shortcut To Size, Shortcut to Shred, Superman or any of my other programs, you may recognize this as a microcycle. This means the program is a periodized program that changes the rep ranges and weight used every week in a planned manner.

As mentioned above, in week one of the Back and Fourth program, you do 8-10 reps per set for the first and eighth (last) exercises, 10-12 reps per set for the second and seventh exercises, 12-15 reps per set for the third and sixth exercises and 15-20 reps per set for the fourth and fifth exercises. But each week in each of the two 3-week phases, the rep ranges change in a linear pattern for the first four exercises and in a reverse linear pattern for the last four. This means that each week for three weeks the weight gets heavier and the reps get lower for the first four exercises, while the weight gets lighter and the reps higher for the last four exercises.

Then, after you've completed the three weeks of Phase 1, you go back to the original rep ranges in Phase 2 and repeat the pattern. But now you'll be able to use heavier weight for the same rep ranges you did in Phase 1. For smaller muscle groups, the first three or two exercises (depending on the muscle group) progress in a linear manner, while the last two or three progress in a reverse linear manner. See the table below for how the rep ranges change each week for the two three-week phases.

Large Muscle Groups (chest, back, shoulders, legs)

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Small Muscle Groups (triceps, biceps, calves, abs)

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Specialized Muscle Group (forearms)

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Specialized Muscle Group (traps)

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Back and Fourth Split

The Back and Fourth program uses a five-day training split. You train chest and calves in workout 1, back and abs in workout 2, shoulders, traps, and calves in workout 3, triceps, biceps, forearms and abs in workout 4, and legs and calves in workout 5. (See the table below.) You can train Monday through Friday and take the weekend off to rest if that fits your schedule. If it doesn't, feel free to train any five days of the week you prefer.

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Doing the program as a five-day split has you training each major muscle group once a week. The exceptions are abs, which you'll train twice, and calves, which you'll hit three times per week.

Due to the volume you'll be using (16 sets each for most major muscle groups), it would be tough (read: time consuming) to condense the workouts and combine more muscle groups in the same workout. You can, however, skip one or both of the rest days if you really want to increase your training frequency. But be careful with this -- the body needs rest days to recover and grow bigger and stronger.

Volume Overload

You might look at the Back and Fourth program and think there isn't enough volume (total sets) to truly maximize muscle growth. After all, I only have you doing two sets per exercise. But keep in mind, you're doing eight different exercises for large muscle groups. This much volume, if you're not used to it, will be plenty to overload your muscles and push growth. You won't need to add any intensity techniques like drop sets or rep pauses. But if you really want to, feel free to add drop sets, rest-pauses or rest-pause drop sets on the last set of each of the last four exercises for large muscle groups, the last three exercises for smaller bodyparts and the last two for traps and forearms. I don't recommend doing intensity techniques for all sets, at least not in Phase 1. If you're really a glutton for pain, you can add them to all exercises in Phase 2.

But try the program for the first week without any intensity techniques and see how sore you are. You may very well decide to forego these techniques for this program and let the volume do its magic.

Rest Periods

Rest periods between sets will vary depending on your goals. If you want to really focus on maximizing strength gains, as well muscle mass, and you have ample time to spend in the gym, give yourself 2-3 minutes between all sets. If time is an issue but you still want to maximize size and strength gains, limit rest periods between sets to 1-2 minutes.

If your goal is to maximize fat loss, then I'd suggest limiting rest periods to one minute or less. And if you want to use cardioacceleration to really maximize fat loss, use that as your minute of "rest" between exercises and keep yourself moving. You can bump your rest time up to 90 seconds, with cardioacceleration taking up the full 90 seconds. Or if you want to burn fat and also boost strength, do 60-90 seconds of cardioacceleration, then take a breather for 60 seconds before the next set.

I do encourage most people to use cardioacceleration with Back and Fourth training for one simple reason: It allows you to keep your mass gains lean. It's also great for your cardiovascular health, as well as your endurance and athleticism. Plus, those who use it regularly know that it actually enhances your recovery between sets. And given that you would otherwise spend that minute sitting around doing nothing, it seems like a huge waste of time to NOT do cardioacceleration.

The only people that I might discourage from using cardioacceleration are those who have difficulty gaining any kind of weight. Cardioacceleration may cause you to burn too many calories and make gaining mass that much harder for you. But that's a pretty small part of the population and usually pertains to high schoolers and guys in their 20s. I'm not in my 20s anymore!

If you find that with so much volume the workouts take you too much time, consider doing staggered sets. Staggered sets are sort of like supersets, where you do two exercises back-to-back, However, supersets are done with no rest between the exercises. Plus, supersets are usually strategically done to train two opposing muscle groups (ie, biceps and triceps or chest and back), or done for the same muscle group to really push fatigue in the muscle fibers.

Staggered sets can be done for any two muscle groups, but they're usually are done for two bodyparts that don't really influence one another. For example, chest and calves make a good staggered set pairing. Staggered sets can also be done with a bit of rest between exercises, if you need it.

For an example of staggered sets, consider workout one where you train chest and calves. You do 16 sets for chest and 12 sets for calves. You could do staggered sets of chest and calves for any of the 12 sets of chest you like. You could start doing them on the third exercise for chest, or start the workout with staggered sets and be done with them after completing the sixth exercise for chest. On arm day, you can superset all the triceps and biceps exercises to save on time and then stagger set forearms and abs.

Diet for Mass Gain

If you major goal is to gain lean muscle mass, use my Muscle-Building Nutrition Rules and sample diet linked here:

Jim's Muscle-Building Rules

This will allow you to make solid gains of lean muscle mass with minimal or no fat gain. Some may be able to lose body fat while gaining muscle with this diet, especially if doing cardioacceleration or HIIT.

If you have a hard time gaining weight no matter how much you eat, and/or if your goals are to absolutely maximize the amount of mass you gain on the Back and Fourth training program, follow the diet used in my Six Weeks to Sick Arms program here:

Six Weeks To Sick Arms Nutrition

Diet for Fat Loss

To diet for fat loss so that you can make the greatest fat loss over the long term without hitting a plateau, I suggest you use my Dieting 101 diet linked here:

Dieting 101

However, for those times where you want to lose the most fat in the quickest amount of time, such as for a wedding, a holiday or some other event, use my 1, 2, 3 Lean Diet here, which you can find in this e-book: 1-2-3 Lean e-book

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