Three the Hard Way

TAGS: lamour, catabolism, build muscle, physique, time, bench, deadlift, squat


How much time does it take to really gain muscle? If you listen to some of the bodybuilders, they’ll tell you that you need two hours to really hit the muscles at all types of angles to create the right definition. Who has that kind of time? I know that the average trainee has a full-time job and might have a family, so he needs to get the most out of the workout in as little time as possible. Most coaches think that there needs to be a set time to complete a workout, but the truth is a good workout can last anywhere from 35 minutes to one hour. Who cares if your steak takes 30 minutes or an hour to cook as long as it’s to your liking? The same goes with the amount of time it takes to complete your workouts.

If you’re getting results with 35-minute workouts and you like the physique you’ve built, who cares what some strength coach says? There are no absolutes when it comes to individuals because everyone is different. I know many clients who care about the time they have to spend with their families in the evenings, so they workout early in the morning before they have to work. In this case, I favor conditioning or running before or after their workout, depending on their overall goals. I know that it’s optimal to run after the body has recovered from the trauma of the strength training in order to get the most out of the conditioning, which means working out in the morning and running in the evening. However, sometimes what is optimal isn’t what is feasible depending on the schedule of the client. I’ve seen it work hundreds of times with average Joes as well as athletes. Trust me—you aren’t going to fall apart or lose muscle mass.

The key is to manage the volume of the running depending on how you feel as well as if you’re trying to gain muscle or lose fat. Someone who is trying to gain muscle should probably steer clear of too many long intervals. I prefer a 10-second sprint with 30 seconds of rest for the more experienced trainees because the intensity of the sprint causes enough of a stimulus of the system to burn fat for hours after the workout, but the stimulus doesn’t last long enough to start eating up muscle through catabolism.

I think we’ve taken this short interval thing a little too far. I think that short intervals are optimal for the short amount of time they take to complete and for their fat loss benefit. However, you aren’t going to turn into a toothpick marathon runner because you do a 30-minute low intensity steady state aerobic session. In some cases, steady state cardio might help hard gainers burn enough fat to keep their body fat levels low but also low impact enough that most of their energy can be focused on the weight training portion. It also increases the blood flow needed to nourish the muscles with the proper nutrients to regenerate.

There isn’t any amount of time that is set in stone to complete a workout. Everyone has to find out what works for them and their lifestyle to get the results they’re after. It might mean three 60-minute sessions a week or four 45-minute sessions. You must find the key to unlock your muscle potential.

Exercise selection

If you want to pack on the muscle, you must know which exercises will affect the big muscle groups. No matter how many years pass by and how many fancy machines are built, the basics never stop working. Yes, I’m going to talk about the squat, deadlift, bench press, row, and pull-up. The reason these exercises have passed the test of time is because they work. However, if you aren’t going to perfect the technique of these exercises, you’ll never reap the maximum benefits. I know that when you’re lifting big weights, sometimes there might be a slight breakdown of form, but it shouldn’t be the norm. I’m not going to describe what perfect technique should look like in these exercises because that isn’t what I want to focus on in this article. If you need help with perfecting the form of these exercises, you should get help from a qualified coach.

These exercises are very simple, yet they can be manipulated to endless variations as the trainee becomes more experienced. You must find a way to progress though, which means you’ll need to lift heavier week after week. This is one sure way to tell if your workouts are working and you’re getting stronger and more powerful. If you can lift 225 lbs one week and the next week you lift 230 lbs, you’re 5 lbs stronger. Moreover, you’re more powerful because force equals mass times acceleration, especially if you were lifting at the same speed that you were when the 225 lbs was lifted. This means that we must make an effort to increase the speed of the concentric phase of our reps.

I’m not one of those coaches who believe that the eccentric phase has to be done as quickly as possible because in my experience it hasn’t helped add any extra benefit in muscle gain. All it has done is cause injuries. A quick eccentric rep wreaks havoc on your joints and tendons. One problem with most trainees who jump into these advanced methods of moving weight quickly is they don’t account for the fact that it takes the connective tissue time to adapt to new pounds of weight. This preparation phase of the connective tissue is probably the most overlooked tool in an injury-free program of adding muscle. Would you bungee jump without a strong band? Only if you want to land hard on a slab of concrete and be stumped out like Mini Me.

The basic squat, deadlift, pull-up, row, and bench press also allow you to use the most weight possible. You’ll be able to add more plates on the bar in the close grip bench press than you would with kickbacks to work your triceps. These exercises hit the big muscle groups, so you’ll have a quicker workout. Don't mistake a quicker workout with an easy workout. If you were in a hurry in the gym and hit the deadlift, bench press, and pull-up, you would definitely get an effective workout. Simply put, more weight is going to equal more trauma to the muscles, which means more of a possibility of muscle growth.


The most effective style of running for someone who is attempting to gain muscle is controlled sprinting. I think shorts sprints of 10–30 yards at full tilt with 30–90 seconds of rest will get the job done if you’re an advanced trainee. These short sprints diminish the risk of injury because of the distance traveled. They also recruit the high threshold muscle fibers, which means the greatest amount of muscle is being tapped. Also, more lactic acid is being released, which has been shown to create a good fat burning environment. If you want to know what lactic acid training does, just look at any sprinter or football player. These guys are shredded because they sprint with incomplete recoveries. This kind of high intensity sprinting isn’t something I recommend more than twice a week. It’s too demanding on the central nervous system and is hard to recover from. I prefer that my clients run these sprints on the same day that they lift weights, so they have more time to recover. Running should also be progressive in order to make strength gains whether you increase the reps or time or add resistance. Something has to give.

What if I’ve never sprinted before? I wouldn’t recommend that you jump right into sprinting unless you want to pull your hammy. Beginners should start with walking and create some kind of conditioning base using body weight exercises or tempo runs that they can handle. This will give the structures in your feet, tendons, and ligaments a chance to adapt to the added pounding that running creates. Some people actually do better with strictly steady state cardio because it’s easy to recover from and it burns fat. The only downfall to steady state cardio is that you might have to spend more time with this type of conditioning compared to high intensity intervals, although even someone who does intervals two times a week needs some type of lower intensity conditioning like swimming, body weight circuits, a good bike ride, or steady state jogging to reach optimal body fat levels. The point is there has to be a happy medium between the two styles of conditioning in order to recover properly and burn a considerable amount of fat.

I like this set up:

Monday: 10–30 yard sprints with 30–90 seconds rest

Wednesday: Biking, swimming, body weight circuits, walking, tempo runs for 20 minutes

Friday: 10–30 yard sprints with 30–90 seconds rest


Monday: 20-minute steady state option

Wednesday: High intensity intervals for 10 seconds with 30–90 seconds rest

Friday: 20-minute steady state option

Let's get to what the strength training looks like.


Short on time workouts


Warm up for five minutes (rotational press X 8, windmills X 8, scap push-ups X 8, Frankensteins X 8, jump rope or jumping jacks for one minute)

1A) Squat variation (Olympic squats, box squats, front squats, Zercher squats), 5 X 3, rest 180 seconds

1B) Pull-ups, 3 X 6–8, rest 60 seconds

1C) Planks, 4 X 40 seconds, rest 60 seconds


Warm up for five minutes (rotational press X 8, windmills X 8, scap push-ups X 8, Frankensteins X 8, jump rope or jumping jacks for one minute)

1A) Bench press variation (bench press, incline bench press, decline bench press, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell incline bench press), 5 X 3, rest 180 seconds

1B) Single leg variation (single leg squats, reverse lunges, split squats, single leg Romanian deadlifts, lateral lunges, single leg step-up), 3 X 6–8, rest 60 seconds

1C) Rotational abdominal movement (Russian twists, wood choppers, side bends, medicine ball side slams, side planks), 4 X 6–10, rest 60 seconds


Warm up for five minutes (rotational press X 8, windmills X 8, scap push-ups X 8, Frankensteins X 8, jump rope or jumping jacks for one minute)

1A) Military press (dumbbell variations, barbell variations), 5 X 6–8; rest 180 seconds

1B) Pull thrus, 3 X 10–12, rest 60 seconds

1C) Horizontal row/ab circuit (dumbbell row)/reverse crunches, 4 X 6–10, rest 60 seconds (perform row and crunches right after to equal one set)

Pick exercises that affect the big muscle groups, which will allow you to hit the most muscle in a short period of time. Work the core and posterior chain, which are typical weak areas for most trainees. The volume is adequate enough to elicit growth in most trainees, but like most programs, it will be hard to diagnose every single problem a trainee has without actually seeing him. This will be an experiment. You might have to add more sets, but the main thing is you have to push the intensity and increase the weights on a weekly basis. This workout has proven to be an effective means of muscle building with many trainees if you eat enough, recover properly, and increase the weight.

Don't be fooled by all those fancy, long winded workouts. The basics have worked since the beginning of time and they still work today. If you look at the most effective programs, the gift might be wrapped differently, but it’s still the same gift at its core.

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