“Compound Exercise Overload” to Force Muscle Growth and Gain Strength

Compound Exercise Overload is a technique I recently heard about through Nick Nilsson’s Newsletter.

While I have different goals than Nick, I respect him for being a trail blazer and thinking outside the box. I subscribe to a bunch of fitness newsletters to see who actually delivers solid info, and so far I’m pleased with the info I’ve received from Nick.

Good stuff! In this post I want to discuss one of his muscle growth techniques in more detail. Nick calls it “compound exercise overload”. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks to me like it would work extremely well.

compound exercise overload
[I wish I would have known about this technique when I started out. I struggled with the bench press for quite a few years and this would have helped me avoid lengthy sticking points.]

The Story of “Bear” – The King of Our College Gym!

I went to the University of Washington in the late 80’s and early 90’s…and I probably spent too much time in the gym and not enough time studying back then. We had access to a free gym called the IMA. There was a big friendly giant that trained at our gym that went by the name of “Bear”.

Bear looked like a cross between Mike Tyson and the huge guy in the movie “The Green Mile”. He looked intimidating, but was friendly and made our gym a fun place to train.

I’m Pretty Certain That Bear Bench Pressed Every Day

I’ve never seen a guy with a thicker chest and upper back. When Bear shook your hand, it felt like it was made of stone. I’m pretty certain that 90% of Bear’s workout was set after set of the bench press. I’m not sure he did a whole lot else. I think we occasionally saw Bear hit incline presses and perhaps some behind the neck shoulder presses.

Most fitness magazines would tell you that bench pressing every day would lead to over-training…but why then was Bear the so impressive at the bench press?

Extraordinary Adaptation by Focusing on 1 Single Movement

Unlike Bear, you are not going to want to just perform and master one exercise forever. Instead, Nick Nilsson suggests focusing on just 1 single exercise for 5 days straight. As Nick puts it…

“The results you are going to see in these five short days could very well surpass what you’ve seen in the last 5 MONTHS”

The general idea of compound exercise overload is to train using just one exercise for 5 workout days in a row. The lift is going to be trained for multiple sets of 3 reps short of failure.

To ensure growth, the total volume of the workout is going to be very high. The rest periods are also going to be shorter than traditional strength training.

Avoiding Training to “Chemical Muscle Failure”

When you train with medium to high reps, the muscle fails due to lactic acid buildup or ATP stores getting low <—Nick calls this chemical muscle failure.

What happens is that chemicals in your body stop the muscle from being able to lift additional reps…so the muscle fibers aren’t worked to their full capacity. To avoid chemical failure completely, you will do sets of 3 reps. This is going to allow you to target muscle fibers.

You also want to avoid failure in this low rep range to allow you to do many more sets…a greater volume. High volume is important for gaining muscle quickly, so this makes sense.

* Low Reps for Growth? * The “Compound Exercise Overload” workout involves hitting the muscle with 120+ reps per workout…and hitting that same muscle with that volume each and every day for a week. This is crazy amounts of volume and fatigue done with low reps.

If you want to train for tone without growth, then you wouldn’t want to use Nick’s method.

How to Use the Compound Exercise Overload Technique:

  • Let’s say you want to focus on bench press.
  • Pick a weight you can do for 6-7 reps and do 3 reps.
  • Rest for 20 seconds, then do another 3 reps.
  • Repeat until you are unable to get 3 reps.
  • Now remove 10 pounds off the bar and do 3 reps.
  • Rest for 20 seconds, then do another 3 reps.
  • Repeat until you are unable to get 3 reps.
  • Continue on in this fashion for 20 minutes.

Note: On Day 1 it will be 20 minutes. Day 2 is 25 minutes (using 5-20 pounds more than Day 1). Day 3 is 30 minutes (using 5-20 pounds more than Day 2). Day 4 is 35 minutes (using 5-20 pounds more than Day 3). Day 5 is 40 minutes (using the same weight you used on Day 1).

Rest, Nutrition, Other Activities, etc.

You will try to keep all other activities to a minimum during this time. That means no cardio, no abs, no sports, etc. Try to avoid anything that is physically demanding during this week.  Nick puts it best…

“We don’t want to confuse the body with any other stimulus”.

You also want to eat A LOT during these 5 days. There is an exceptional amount of muscle fiber breakdown and you will need some additional nutrients. You will also want to drink a lot of water to maximize muscle growth.

Some Additional Pointers from Nick

End each set before failure. Stop at 2 reps if the 3rd rep is going to be a struggle…then reduce the weight on the next set. After your final set, when the time is up…rest 2 minutes then do one final set with as many reps as you can at that weight you ended with.

You should be able to get 5-8 reps.



110 thoughts on ““Compound Exercise Overload” to Force Muscle Growth and Gain Strength”

  1. Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Thank you

  2. hi i am 90 kg..have been very active in sports for years but have done my cruciate for the 3rd time recently..just want to really tone up..is compound the best way for me?? not overload just compound exercises and what way would i do it? 4 days a week 2 upper and 2 lower??

  3. I’ve never heard of an overload like this, but I certainly don’t doubt its results. However, I do have a hard time understanding how overloads like this play into general muscle building results down the road. For example, if I overload the bench one week and ignore it for a couple weeks while I overload other compound exercises won’t that bring me right back to where I started?

  4. This is a great way to force muscular adaptation I use a similar system for bench, squats and deadlifts. I start each workout with 1 set of 5 reps for each exercise before doing my normal work out. I do 2 weeks on 1 week off and the results have been great

  5. Thanks Rusty,

    Great info, I’m giving crossfit a go for the next month but after that I want to give this a try on my bench press, my weakest muscles by far.


  6. I have never heard of a method like this, I really want to try it out. My only concern is that after a workout, muscles need at least 24 hours to recover. It may increase the risk of an injury.

  7. It is possible to do effective interval training outdoors, but you have to take a slightly different approach compared to doing them on a treadmill. With a typical cardio machine you can adjust the intensity level by simply pressing a button. When you perform intervals outdoors, you are simply guessing at how hard you need to run for the intense portion of the interval. I plan on outlining a solution and better way to perform HIIT when you aren’t near a cardio machine.

  8. This really is an interesting theory, which I’ll be practicing when I’m in the gym again. I was always told that a muscle has to recover for at least 48 hours, so this is contradictory, but I’ll give it a try. Thanks!

  9. Adding HIIT training at the end of your workouts can through your metabolism into serious overdrive and burn calories for hours after your workout is over.

  10. Strengthen your body, heart, and lungs with just one exercise 15 minutes a day! Introducing the 8-count bodybuilder. All you need is yourself and a little floor space:
    1) begin with a body weight squat (hips down and weight in your heels)
    2) drop your hands to the ground and kick your legs out to plank position
    3) PULL yourself down to the floor (don’t just drop)
    4) explode back upward into plank (try to make your hands leave the floor)
    5) kick your legs out to form an x while maintaining plank position
    6) bring your legs back in
    7) pull your feet up under your chest
    8) jump straight up

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