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Variable Training Method

This 12-week program manipulates all major training variables for gains in size, strength and leanness.

Variable Training Method

When it comes to lifting weights, change is good. It’s just that simple. Altering the exercises you do, when you do them and how many sets and reps you perform will keep your body progressing. On the other hand, doing the same exercises with the same number of sets and reps, over and over, week after week, month after month... not so good.

Well, get ready for some change – my 12-week Variable Training program is designed to take you through a lot of it. In a very systematic fashion, the plan will constantly alter training variables like exercise selection, exercise order, rep ranges, and amount weight used. This strategy will keep your body changing by preventing stagnation. And hopefully, it will change your mind as well – at least in terms of how you think about training. After all, most of my programs are designed to not only deliver you the best results possible, but also to teach you something new about lifting weights.

Variable Training Phases

There are six variables that cover all the major bases when it comes to changing up your workout routine: 1) exercise selection; 2) exercise order; 3) resistance (the amount of weight used); 4) volume (the total number of sets performed); 5) rest periods between sets; and 6) rep speed (how fast you push the weight up).

In the Variable Training program, you'll be changing variables one at a time. The program is broken down into six 2-week phases. Generally, when one variable is being manipulated, the other five will remain constant. This way you’ll know exactly which ones are working and which aren’t. Here’s a quick breakdown of how the variables will be altered, phase by phase, week by week:

Phase 1 (Weeks 1 and 2): In the first phase, exercise selection is the focus. During the first week, you’ll do nothing but compound (multijoint) exercises for large muscle groups (chest, back, shoulders, quads, even triceps) and major mass-building moves for the smaller groups (biceps, hamstrings and forearms). The second week will consist primarily of isolation exercises (the one exception being back, as there aren’t as many single-joint moves to choose from). On smaller bodyparts, machines, cables and other exercises will be incorporated.

Phase 2 (Weeks 3 and 4): Exercise order will be altered in this phase. You’ll be doing basically the same exercises as in Phase 1, only you’ll be mixing them together — that is, doing compound and isolation moves in the same workout. The first week, compound and mass-building exercises will be done first in the workout; in the second week, isolation moves will be moved to the front, also known as pre-exhaust training.

Phase 3 (Weeks 5 and 6): Here is where the amount of resistance you use will change significantly. During the first week of this phase, you’ll increase the weight and do sets in the 3-6-rep range, whereas in the previous month you did 8–10 reps on most exercises. The next week, resistance will drop dramatically to where reps will fall in the 12-20 range. Your muscles will surely notice the difference.

Phase 4 (Weeks 7 and 8): The number of sets performed (volume) will be altered here. Again, the exercises you do will remain the same, and you’ll be returning to 8-10 reps. The exception is during the first week when you’ll do only 1-2 sets for each exercise, which works out to 4-6 sets per bodypart. However, you’ll make up for this lack of volume by adding intensity — doing negative reps, forced reps and drop sets for particular exercises. The second week, you’ll do 5-6 sets per exercise (16-20 sets per bodypart), all of which will be straight sets.

Phase 5 (Weeks 9 and 10): Here I change rest periods. Up to this point in the program, you'll have been resting 1-2 minutes between all sets. Not anymore. The first week in this phase, you’ll be recovering three minutes between each set, except on abs and calves. The next week, every set will get just a one-minute break. But that doesn’t mean the amount of weight you use will change; keep it the same. Just expect to do fewer reps in the second week because of the shorter rest periods. (Where it says reps of 8-12, you’ll likely be closer to 12 the first week, 8 in the second.) In fact, in the first week, you should only be reaching failure on your last set of each exercise.

Phase 6 (Weeks 11 and 12): The one variable most of you are least likely to tweak is rep speed. Allow me to fix that for you. The first week of this phase, you’ll use a very light weight — one you can do 20–25 reps with — and do five reps as fast and explosively as you can on the way up (you’ll still let the weight down under control as you normally would). You’ll be tempted to do more than five reps, as the weight will feel extremely light, but the point is to NOT get too fatigued. So make sure to stop at five. The last week of this program will slow things down. On everything but abs, forearms and calves, you’ll select a weight that you can do five reps with and perform each rep with a five-second positive and a five-second negative. But only take the last set of each exercise to failure; if you’re failing before that, pick a lighter weight.

I suggest that throughout the 12 weeks, you always stay mindful of what variable is being changed and pay close attention to what results, or lack thereof, you’re experiencing because of it. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep a journal to track increases, or stagnancies, in weight used, reps performed and circumference measurements of particular bodyparts. Some bodyparts may respond better to certain variables than others. Identifying these will only help you learn your body.

Variable Training Program

Phase 1 – Exercise Selection

Week 1: Multi-Joint Exercises

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Week 2: Isolation Exercises

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Phase 2 – Exercise Order

Week 3: Multijoint/Basic Movements First

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Week 4: Isolation Movements First (pre-exhaust)

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Phase 3 – Resistance (Amount of Weight Used)

Week 5: Heavy (3–6 reps/set)

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Week 6: Light (12–20 reps/set)

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Phase 4 – Volume (total number of sets performed)

Week 7: Low (4–6 sets/bodypart)

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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*After reaching failure, do 2–3 negative reps.

^After reaching failure, have a spotter help you get 2-3 forced reps.

**After reaching failure, drop 30% of the weight and continue doing reps until you reach failure again.

^^After reaching failure, do a rest-pause set by resting 10-15 seconds, and then perform reps until failure again.

Week 8: High (16–20 sets/bodypart)

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Phase 5 – Rest Periods

Week 9: Long Rest (3 minutes between sets)

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Week 10: Short Rest (1 minute between sets)

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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*Take no rest while you alternate from side to side until all 3 sets are completed for each side.

Phase 6 – Rep Speed

Week 11: Fast/Explosive Reps (very light weight*)

*Choose a weight you can do for about 20–25 reps, but only do 5 reps – as fast on the concentric portion as you can, but slower and controlled on the negative rep.

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Week 12: Slow Reps**

**Each rep will take five seconds on the positive and five seconds on the negative. You should only reach failure on last set. Try a weight that allows you to get about 15-20 reps at a normal pace, then adjust from there.

Monday (Chest, Triceps, Abs)

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Tuesday (Back, Biceps, Forearms)

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Thursday (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

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Friday (Shoulders, Traps, Abs)

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Download Phases 1 & 2 Workouts Here

Download Phases 3 & 4 Workouts Here

Download Phases 5 & 6 Workouts Here

 

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