In today’s fast-paced world it’s easy to fall into the trap of overscheduling. Often the first compromise we make is our workouts – promising ourselves we’ll “get back into it when things settle down.” Rather than simply giving up, consider making a commitment to train 20 minutes a day.
One of the most memorable articles by Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus equipment, was published in Iron Man magazine as “The Time Factor in Exercise.” For those who have followed my writings, you know that one aspect of my training protocols that sets them apart from others is they take into consideration the basic loading parameters of reps, sets, tempo, frequency and exercise selection. In that Iron Man article Jones took it a step further by considering the duration of training or, simply, time. If a workout takes too much time, it loses its productivity. Let me give you an example of one of the workouts Jones recommended that got the maximum amount of work done in a minimum amount of time.
This workout used the concept of pre-exhaustion, a training principle that was introduced to the bodybuilding world in 1968 by the late bodybuilding writer Robert Kennedy. Believing that the limiting factor in working the legs with the squat was the strength of the lower back, Jones would recommend pre-exhausting the quads with a set of leg presses that were immediately followed by leg extensions and then immediately finished off with squats – the only rest was the time it took you to move from one exercise to the next. If the back were truly the limiting factor in leg development, by the time you got to the squats the amount of weight you would be able to lift would be considerably less and thus would effectively take lower back strength out of the equation. However, Jones believed that the body could develop the muscular endurance to adapt to such a system and still use impressive poundages. Proving the effectiveness of this system was Casey Viator.
Jones began working with Casey Viator in 1970. At a height of 5-feet-8 Viator weighed 198 pounds, had an upper-arm measurement of 18 1/6 inches and could not squat 500 pounds once. After 10 months of insane workouts that focused on insane pre-exhaustion supersets and tri-sets such as the one I just described, Viator weighed 218 pounds and had an upper arm that measured 19 15/16 inches! And it wasn’t just his arms that were freaky, as evidenced by his win at the 1971 AAU Mr. America, at which he became the youngest person ever to win this prestigious amateur competition. As for his levels of strength and muscular endurance, Jones says that in one workout Viator performed 20 reps in the leg press with 750 pounds, followed immediately by 20 reps with 225 pounds in the leg extension, which in turn were followed immediately by 13 full squats with 502 pounds!
To get a better grasp of how impressive this workout was, consider that three-time Mr. Olympia winner Sergio Oliva tried to follow Viator through one of these leg workouts. Now consider that Oliva had been on the Cuban weightlifting team and reportedly had best lifts of 280 pounds in the standing press, 280 in the snatch, and 360 in the clean and jerk – he also had arms that measured 20 inches cold and, said Jones, the width of his arms was “literally larger than his head, a size ratio never before approached by anybody else.”
Getting back to the workout, on his first training session Oliva did 17 reps with 460 on the leg press and 16 reps with 200 pounds in the leg extension; but when he tried to follow that with 400 pounds in the squat, he dropped straight down and couldn’t get up. So Jones removed 100 pounds from the barbell and Oliva did 7 reps. However, to show how quickly the body can adapt, during his second workout Oliva completed 4 reps with 400 pounds in the squat after pre-exhausting his legs in the same manner. As such, especially with Oliva’s weightlifting background, it seems feasible that Oliva could have eventually matched or exceeded Viator’s weights in this training system.
Fast Track to Quick Gains
Although Jones took pre-exhaustion to the extreme, such as by performing two isolation exercises before the compound exercise, I prefer to simply use one pre-exhaustion exercise. For example, you could pre-exhaust the long head of the triceps with the lying triceps EZ bar extension, and immediately follow it with a multi-joint exercise that involves all heads of the triceps, such as triceps dips or close-grip bench presses with chains. For the brachialis, you could perform a pre-exhaustion superset by combining standing EZ bar reverse curls with incline hammer dumbbell curls.
In selecting exercises for this type of training, consider that isolation exercises that recruit few motor units are not as effective as compound exercises for optimal development of muscle mass. As such, parallel bar dips and close-grip bench presses are more effective exercises to use for pre-exhaustion than dumbbell triceps kickbacks. This is not to say you should never perform these inferior isolation exercises, but they should not be emphasized as much as the compound movements.
Because free time often comes at a premium, pre-exhaustion and post-exhaustion (which entails performing the compound exercise before an isolation exercise) is a great way to get in a good workout in minimal time. I suggest focusing on just one body part per workout and simply blasting it in a workout that can take about 20 minutes! – perhaps the most brutal 20 minutes of your life, but still only 20 minutes. Here are some sample body part workouts, two for legs and two for arms, that will do just that:
Workout 1: Leg Emphasis (10 sets total)
A-1. Front Squat, 3 x 4-6, 40X0, rest only 10 seconds then decrease the weight by 10-15 percent
A-2. Heels-Elevated Back Squat, 3 x 6-8 reps per leg, 30X0, rest 3 minutes
B-1. Lying Leg Curl, Feet Neutral, 2 x 6-8, 40x0, rest only 10 seconds then decrease the weight
B-2. Romanian Deadlift, 2 x 10-12 reps, 4020, rest 3 minutes
Workout 2: Leg Emphasis (10 sets total)
A-1. Dumbbell Lunge, 3 x 8-10 reps per leg, 20X0, rest 10 seconds
A-2. Back Squat, 3 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 3 minutes
B-1. Step-Up, 2 x 8-10 reps each leg, 20X0, rest 10 seconds
B-2. Snatch-Grip Deadlift, 2 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 3 minutes
Workout 3: Arm Emphasis (12 sets total)
A-1. Close-Grip 60° Cable Preacher Curl, 3 x 8-12, 3010, rest 10 seconds
A-2. Palms-Up Close-Grip Pulldown, 3 x 8-12, 3010, rest 2 minutes
B-1. V-Bar Triceps Pressdown, 3 x 8-12, 3010, rest 10 seconds
B-2. Close-Grip EZ Bar Press, 3 x 8-12, 3010, rest 2 minutes
Workout 4: Arm Emphasis (12 sets total)
A-1. Hammer Curl, 3 x 8-12, rest 10 seconds
A-2. Parallel-Grip Pulldown, 3 x 8-12, 3010, rest 2 minutes
B-1. Low-Pulley French Press, 3 x 8-12, 3010, rest 10 seconds
B-2. Seated Dumbbell Press, 3 x 8-12, 3010, rest 2 minutes
Don’t get hung up on the exact exercises – if the gym where you are training doesn’t have a squat rack, do leg presses instead. And if your knees are trashed with tendinitis, give them a break and just focus on upper body protocols (with perhaps a few Petersen step-ups thrown in sometime during the day). The idea is to keep training so you will not regress in your training. Plus, after a few weeks of these types of short-circuit workouts, when you go back to more conventional training, the workouts will seem a lot easier.
I’ve always promoted workouts that are hard, heavy and fast – if a workout takes more than an hour, you’re making friends, not working out. You won’t have time to make friends when you do these workouts — try them and see what I mean.
Sergio Oliva was consider Arnold’s biggest challenger. Here is a interesting collection of photos of these two legendary bodybuilders comparing their two physiques side-by-side.