A “Sensible” Way to Build Muscle Mass

July 10, 2008

An article on how to build muscle mass? Have I gone mad?

Well, not really. I think many people believe I’m against building muscle, which isn’t the case. I’m against “excessive” muscle mass.

You know, getting so big that you can’t wear normal clothes. To be honest, many people need some size, especially when they are starting out.

I have a basic routine that works really well. Even if you don’t want to gain a lot of muscle, this is a way to create a slightly fuller look without looking like a “bloated and puffy” gym rat.

Hugh Jackman with long hair

[Hugh Jackman is a muscular guy who looks great. If you want to add a bit more size, he is a great role model…NOT the bodybuilders in the mainstream fitness magazines. He can still look “GQ”, even though he is big. One more thing…women love this guy!]

There Are Many Approaches to Building Muscle That Work

I am not saying that my approach to building muscle mass is the only approach that works. You can do the typical bodybuilder 3 day split routine with pyramids, etc.

There are dozens of other approaches that work as well. It isn’t rocket science, but many of these routines fail in some ways. The biggest problem with a lot of the common routines is that they take a lot of time.

Another problem is you have to be careful or you will end up with the “overly pumped” look…instead of the lean and angular look.

Full Muscles are Great as Long As This Isn’t Overdone

The last thing you want to become is a rounded mass of soft muscle. It is fine to get bigger, as long as you still have compact functional muscles.

Hugh Jackman & Duane Johnson (The Rock) are great examples of a bigger guys who maintains the angular look. There is a fine line between “full muscles” and simply overdoing it. These guys have the right idea.

Rep Ranges Are a Big Factor in Muscle Size and Density

The 2-5 rep range is geared towards strength and muscle density without significantly increasing the size of the muscle.

This is especially true if calories are kept under control and lifting is done a rep short of failure. Gaining strength without increasing the size of a muscle is a great way to get the hard angular look. The 6-12 rep range is very effective at building muscle mass.

This is why most “mainstream” magazines recommend this range. The 15+ rep range is more of a way of doing cardio with weights. This is the main idea behind circuit training.

The Problem With the Typical 6-12 Rep Range

This rep range does work in building muscle, I just don’t think it creates the best look. What happens is that the muscles wind up getting ultra-pumped during the lifting.

When I used to lift this way, my skin would get tight and I’d look like a different person while lifting. The problem with this is that the size is temporary. Another problem was that when my muscles weren’t pumped up…they looked decent, but soft.

The fluctuation in muscle size was unpredictable as well. Some days I looked huge, some days I looked much smaller. Anyone who has lifted this way for a number of years knows exactly what I’m talking about.

The Problem With the 2-5 Rep Range

This is the rep range I recommend the most, since it is great in creating “permanent” muscle tone. Technically semi-permanent…but muscles look defined 24 hours a day as long as body fat levels are low enough.

The issue behind this rep range is that it isn’t good for building mass. Well, that isn’t exactly true…since the routine I’m going to describe uses 5 reps…but done in a much different way than the typical routine I’ve outlined on this site.

Why 6-12 Reps Build Soft Muscles (technical explanation)

I rarely like to get technical here, but some people crave detailed explanations. If you are NOT one of those people, please skip this paragraph as well as the next one.

High rep, pump training creates sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy. This is an increase in muscle size due to an increase in the volume of the muscle cell fluid.

This fluid can account for up to 30% of the size of a muscle on a pumped up bodybuilder who trains with 6-12 reps. It is also why the size of the muscles can increase and decrease dramatically with this type of training. It is “fake” muscle growth to a certain extent.

“Real” Muscle Growth (technical explanation)

Again, I like to explain things in basic ways…but some people enjoy the scientific explanations. Myofibrillar Hypertrophy is an enlargement of the muscle fibers…muscle size gains from the actual growth of fibers in the muscle not the fluid within the muscles.

This is real and permanent muscle growth and this creates the dense and angular look. This type of muscle growth leads to stronger and harder muscles. The way this is accomplished is by lifting lower reps, but in a different way than I typically recommend on this site.

Low Rep + High Volume = Larger Dense Muscles

Most of the time I recommend low rep and low volume which is a way to build muscle definition without increasing the size of the muscle. Since this is a mass building routine, the volume needs to be increased substantially.

The strategy is to lift many many low rep sets, so you can still lift heavy to a certain extent, but have enough volume of lifting for a size increase.

The “Soviet Special Forces” Mass Building Routine

Former Soviet special forces trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline, came up with an ideal mass building routine. I have to give credit where credit is due.

This was the routine he used for guys he trained that wanted a bit more mass. It is quite simply the best mass building routine in my opinion. It builds a bit more mass, but this is quality muscle that looks great!

The “Evil Russian’s” Mass Building Routine

1) Do one set of 5 reps with a heavy weight that you can do 6 times to failure
2) Reduce the weight to 80% of what you used for the first set and do it for 5 reps
3) Do as many sets as possible using the same weight with only 30-60 seconds rest in between
4) Stop when you can’t do 5 reps in good form. This may be 5 sets or it could be 20…every person is different.

Note: The “Evil Russian” is the nickname that Pavel gave himself. It is all in good fun!

I Would Recommend a Slight Change to His Routine

This routine was designed for just one exercise per body part. I like to do 2-3 exercises per body part. If that is the case with you, then you can’t do 20 total sets per exercise.

I stop at 7-8 sets per exercise and do 3 exercises per body part when I do this routine. It works very well. If you are only doing two exercises then you can do more sets per exercise, etc.

A Great Routine to Use Every Once in A While!

I actually use this routine 2-3 months each year…normally in the summer months. I really don’t want to gain excessive mass, but this is a way to make my muscles look full without looking soft.

If you are slim and have great muscle definition, but your muscles look slightly flat then you will love this routine. Another reason to do this during summer is that is takes a little longer to recover in between each workout.

You can’t workout as often with this type of training. This is great because it means less days in the gym and more days in the sunshine!

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{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

karie July 10, 2008 at 7:50 am

Rusty, i do not have a gym membership. I lift my weights at home. since i don’t have a spotter its hard for me to lift super heavy like you mention. any suggestions?

3ller July 10, 2008 at 8:42 am

Nice Post
I was goin to post tp you asking when would the next post appear. It has been six days

admin July 10, 2008 at 10:07 am


You can still lift heavy, because I recommend to never go to failure. Stop a rep or two short of failure and you will be fine.


I have some behind the scenes projects that are taking up a bit of time. I will most likely post twice per week now for a while, but I’ll make sure it is good info.


Yash July 10, 2008 at 10:34 am

hey rusty,

great post. i know you emphasize a lot on the getting lean and toned aspect of fitness in the long term, but getting a little size is a little important in the beginning. i mean if i started HIIT right off the bat, i’d be 5′ 8″ and 130! and i dont personally feel that would be the greatest look for me or most guys for that matter. thanks for the tips.

quick question, could i be gaining mass and be losing fat? and if so, how? i’m going to start doing HIIT in the mornings before work, and i do 3 days of weight and resistance training, interspersed with a day each of plyometrics, kenpo and yoga [basically a cardio routine]. i think my diet might be the key. i have a bowl of cereal w/ milk for breakfast at 7, a fruit smoothie at midday, lunch at around 2, and then nothing until my post workout protein shake at around 8. i try to eat a small dinner about 30 minutes later and then a casein protein shake before bed. after adding HIIT i would probably cut out breakfast so i dont eat at least until an hour after and have breakfast at work. should i be eating more or could i stand to cut out a little to drop a few bf%?


Mike OD - IF Life July 10, 2008 at 11:10 am

Well written Rusty. I personally like an alternating program of 5×5 and 3x10s but variation is the key to progress in strength and size. Great job….and like I always say, want bigger muscles? Lose the fat first! (then all of the sudden the muscles you do have look big!) If someone is not under 10% BF (for men) there is no reason they should be trying to gain mass, they need to get cut first.

Helder July 10, 2008 at 11:37 am

I also don’t like the 6-12 rep range, i’ve wasted years with that and the bodybuilding mainstream junk. The truth is that rep range don’t give you strength, don’t build real muscle, and like you always say and well, it doesn’t give you a hard toned looked, just round soft “muscles”. That aproach you talked about is really good, i’ve tried it myself before, pavel’s way, but usually for mass i do things like 10×3, 5×5, but the principles are just about the same, you keep doing heavy sets until you no longer can do the determined number of reps. Nothing like heavy low reps to create real muscle, hard muscle that looks good. Most of the time i keep my volume low 5×3 or 3×3 because i don’t want to add too much size, but when i feel i need to add a bit more of muscle, i just add more volume keeping the reps low. Top Info you give here like always Rusty

Jeff in PDX July 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm

When do you recomend uping the weight?

Kyle Lumsden July 10, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Hey Rusty,

Great blog, in response to karie you should take a look at http://www.shermworks.com/ it is a self spotting free weight . It has been great and help with the confidence when training in the basement by yourself.

Rusty, I am not sure if you know about elance and guru.com but they are freelance writers from around the world who bid on projects. You supervise them and they will assist you in writing and editing your material.

It might free up some time for you to help get your writing projects which your many loyal fans are waiting for.


Pat July 10, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Thanks Rusty! What do you think of something called “muscle memory”? I heard it’s a good idea to do different exercises, becuase otherwise the muscle will remember and get used to the exercise, is that true? Also I heard it’s possible in cardio workouts too so that we shouldn’t just for example run, but also run, bike, swim, etc.? Any thoughts on this? Thanks!

BurritoKid July 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm

can the mass still be built with low calorie diets, that are either at maintence or under?

i think you’re due for a photo of a pretty lady btw.

3ller July 10, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Rusty, this may sound stupid but can an endomorph slim down, gain the natural amount of weight and look as good as mesomorphs like Rock and Hugh Jackman?

BurritoKid July 10, 2008 at 5:13 pm

ive been looking into the “eat stop eat” that you recommended. it almost sounds too good. granted there is still effort in dieting with the fasting but the benefits seem very worth it and actually more doable.

do you have any experience with this method? did you not have to be as strict with eating?

as you can understand I wouldnt want to just jump into something without getting some opinions on it. Thanks R.

john July 10, 2008 at 7:14 pm

I am also in favor of the lean look.
One may have to overshoot mass gains to arrive at a bigger and leaner physique. IE-get fat first, shred that shit down.

A good example of this is Christian Bale.
From the machinist, to batman, to now.

Bale reportedley had to overshoot his ripped wieght by a couple of pounds, actually being fatter than normal for the first batman movie but now having slimmed down looks better than ever.

Here however are the benifits of gaining mass once in a while:

increased muscle mass, increased metabolism due to higher food intake…maybe a cause or effect of the muscle mass but who knows.

-easier strenght gains

-faster and easier fat loss for subsequent diet phases.
(main reason why professional dieters can never get ripped…see lyle mcdonalds work for more info)

to sum up.
gain some size and strenght. get a little smooth, then maintain your strenght to reveal a really ripped body.

The bear routine. I love it. I have latley been shooting for a rep range around 24 total reps, meaning pick a wieght for a big excercise like an overhead press and go heavy and fast…terminate the set when you break form and go up to 24-30 total reps with 30-120 seconds rest. This had worked wonders for me in terms of gaining mass which I have been going for latley. I am up to about 180…a bit smooth in the abs but I won’t let it get too out of control.


Sam July 10, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Hey Rusty,

Great post, ive actually just started doing this type of routine a week ago, so hopefully in 6 weeks results will show…I was wondering though…ive been jump roping everyday for about 20-30 minutes now, in HIIT fashion..for about 10 days, and was doing low intensity cardio for about 10 days before that…so its been nearly 2 weeks since ive added regular cardio to my routine…BUT i am not seeing any visible change…i want to get rid of the fat badly…but it just doesnt seem to be going anywhere…my weight is staying exactly the same for about the last month…got any ideas or suggestions?

Venkat July 10, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Great post! Its funny as I have been following a routine like this with just body weight exercises. I do a set of pull ups, followed by a set od dips or push ups and then a 30 second set of planks. I repeat this 10 times. I have started seeing the definition in my upper body. I would like your suggestions on improving this routine for even better results. Thanks for creating this great blog!

ChuenSeng July 10, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Great post once again! Just the thing I’ve been wanting to know.. keep it up and looking forward to your next informative post

Rick July 11, 2008 at 12:24 am

Hi Rusty, very good post. I am regular reader of your web and have incorporated some tips. But i am confused as to how to get strong body. I have not more weight to loose. So should i follow weight training-cardio-weight training type routine everyday or i go for cardio-weight training-HIIT to have by body gain strongness. I want to be lean as well as strong.Little to no muscle mass is what i aim for.So please Rusty,which routine is the best.I have access to gym and am 24 male. So which routine is best to gain strong body?

dancav July 11, 2008 at 7:13 am

Hi Rusty
How many bodyparts do you do when you do this type of routine?
Could you give me an example on of how a typical week looks like with this routine.
And lifting heavy all the time with low rep low volume, can put a lot of stress on you joints and in the long run you could develope joint problems and other problems of lifting heavy all the time.

Jon July 11, 2008 at 4:00 pm

hey rusty, i read that the slower you move a weight, the more tension placed on the muscles, so wouldnt it make sense to use a lighter weight, not entirely light, but maybe more close to moderately heavy and do the reps more slower and controlled than say rather tossing around heavy heavy weights? the faster you move a weight, the less tension played on the muscles, are you in agreement with this? check out this article. thanks man, youre the best rusty!


Joe July 11, 2008 at 5:10 pm

Rusty, I think I seen someone on here ask you something similiar, but what are your thoughts on using light weights slow reps? I read before if you lift a weight slowly and controlled, it places more tension on the muscles rather than using heavy weight and throwing it around and having momemtum doing most of the work for you.

Byung July 11, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Hi Rusty,
Thanks for the interesting article. I like your approach to building lean dense muscle. My question involves weight. I’m 5′ 6″and weight 160lbs. I am definitely not fat or overly muscle bound, I look more athletic fit than anything else. My body fat percentage is fairly low. If I flex a little you can see a six pack. My only real exercise routine is Rock climbing twice a week. I will like to be lighter to better aid me in Rock climbing. If I build more dense muscle will it start weighting me down even more? Do you have any advice to become lighter and stronger? Is there anything I can do besides losing a few pound around the waist? Thanks in advance.

admin July 11, 2008 at 10:47 pm


You can actually gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. The key is to increase natural levels of HGH. HIIT and the compressed rest periods in this workout do the job. Just make sure you do this workout on an empty stomach followed by HIIT…then eat same quality whole food meals after working out. Also…some times dropping a bit of body fat makes the muscles appear larger.


Great point on dropping body fat to make the muscles look bigger. I completely agree that is the best approach…then decide if you want to put on more mass.


Thanks for the compliment and great comments! Your blog is coming along nicely!


I like to increase the weight if my muscles don’t feel challenged after 5-7 sets. I don’t like to jump up in weight quickly, because I like to “milk” a weight for all it is worth.


I like it when people invent product that address a need. This self spotting advice looks good. As far as outsourcing…I won’t outsource my actual content creation, but I may outsource some of my link building to increase traffic to my blog. I outsource a bit already, but I need to do more of this…good call!


If you are trying to build maximum mass, then it makes sense to mix things up a lot. I don’t think it is needed as much if you are training for performance and strength. That being said…a little variety keeps it from getting dull…just don’t go overboard or it will be hard to tell if you are actually making progress.


The body is complex and yes it is possible to gain muscle on a low calorie diet, due to thing as nutrient partitioning, increase of HGH and testosterone in the bloodstream, etc. You will gain muscle faster if you eat a bit above maintenance for a while. Try for two weeks high calorie and one week lower calorie for 6-8 weeks…it is a way to build without putting on a bunch of unwanted body fat.


I see nothing wrong with that approach…I just like to do it for a much shorter duration that normally recommended. Maybe only 6 weeks of putting on a little size, then back to getting ultra-defined.


It has to be your diet, because everything else sounds good.


You are doing a bodyweight circuit training workout like Craig Ballantyne recommends in Turbulence Training. This is a great book, by the way!


You will love this routine. I started doing this again just last week and already like the slightly fuller look it is creating.


For a strong body…lift low volume but “High Tension” and rest a bit in between sets (different than what I recommend here). Then do HIIT for 10-15 minutes. If you are already really lean, don’t add steady state cardio after this. If you need to lose a bit of blubber, then add 20-30 minutes steady state cardio. Here are some of my best strength training articles:

Strength Training


I like to do Back, Chest, Abs twice a week…and Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps, twice a week. I get all the leg work I need from vicious HIIT and cardio. You don’t have to lift heavy all the time. You could certainly mix in “light days”.


Yes…this is the way I recommend to lift as well. Here is a post on that:

Lift Light Weights for Low Reps to Gain Strength and Muscle Definition


Read the link above…it certainly touches on that same point. If you are lifting heavy, slow is the way to go. High velocity training with heavy weights is asking for an injury.


I have quite a few articles on that subject. Here is one that kind of addresses your question.

Muscle Tone VS Muscle Mass Workout Routines

Great comments!


rustyisdaman July 12, 2008 at 1:28 am


Did I mention that you are the man? lol

I am looking to really lean out but also add some muscle (I am at a horrible 13.5% bf).What do you think of the following routine with a reduced calorie diet:

Mon:Lifting (chest,shoulders,triceps)
Wed:Lifting (biceps,back)
Fri:Lifting (chest.shoulders,triceps)
Sun: Lifting (biceps,back)

I would really appreciate some feedback.I am wondering about the type of results I can achieve doing this routine.Thanks!!!

karie July 12, 2008 at 7:25 am

Rusty, is it ok to do intervals or HITT everyday or should i alternate it with steady state cardio? I don’t want to overtrain.

Tom Parker July 13, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Great post as always Rusty. I’ve got to admit I have never gone below the 8 rep range and in recent months have been struggling to make any progress in the amount of weight I am lifting. As a result I have been trying to mix my workouts up with pyramid sets and throwing in a few machines (I usually stick to the free weights). This does look like another good way to mix up my routine. The only problem I can see is increasing the amount I lift to account for the lower repetitions.

For example, I currently do 3*8 reps of 65lbs on the flat bench dumbbell press. I’ve only just recently managed to push up to the 65lb dumbbells. Even though I would be doing less reps, I doubt I would be able to get 70lb up in the first place. However, if I drop the weight down to 65lb for 5 reps wouldn’t it be more beneficial to complete the full 8 reps?

P.S. What happened to the subscribe to comments feature? I’m sure you used to have one.

eric July 13, 2008 at 2:53 pm

hi rusty,
i will take a look at the if-life site you recommend in a while. but it might that it is not necessary because i think your diet approaches helps me a lot. thank you!
but i`ve a question and i hope i don`t go on your nerves!
i don`t know my bodyfat % but i am at 158 pounds and around 5″11 thanks to diet and cardio. the problem is that i still don`thave a “trained” body (my girlfriend said 🙂 ) . i have to confess that i concentrate more on cardio and diet instead of liftng because i want to see how good my muscle tone would be just by getting lean. so i am not sure if i should just go for tone by lifting heavy (low rep & volume) or buildng mass sensibly the way you have posted above. i am getting tired of hear other people say i am just thin! but considering my leg problem ( i asked you for advice ) i am a bit afraid about gaining mass and especially fat.

eric July 13, 2008 at 7:17 pm

p.s maybe i come up with a good idea for a post! i am very involved in studying for college these days. it makes it extra hard to follow a diet especially the warrior approach.. i am talking about staying at home most of the time and there is all the delicious food around so you are tempted to recompense yourself for learning! ….i love your article about partying in college while staying fit. wouldn`t it be interessting to write about “stay fit while studying hard for college/exams”?

Stephen July 13, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Hey, i’m 19 years old and i happen to be on the skinny side. I can eat whatever i want and not gain weight, which i fully take advantage of. Not very healthy unfortunately. But i really want to gain some mass. I’m 6’2″ and 165 lbs, so pretty skinny. But i’m pretty ripped, because i’ve been lifting on and off for a year and i’m very active. I run 2-3 miles daily and sports on top of that. So i just need mass to get where i want. Do you suggest this routine with “Back, Chest, Abs twice a week…and Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps, twice a week”?

tim July 14, 2008 at 11:40 am

Hey Rusty,

Can I lift for an hour followed by using the elliptical for 40 minutes and both build muscle and lose weight? I would drink a protein shake after the elliptical.

Sawyer July 14, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Hey Rusty,

I was watching Blade 3 recently and was pretty amazed by Ryan Reynolds in that movie, he looked like he was in great shape.
Just wondering if you knew anything about his diet or his workout regiment for that film, since he looks like an entirely different person from Van Wilder.


Jade July 15, 2008 at 8:41 am

I am really surprised after going through your posts regarding muscle toning and muscle mass building Rusty. Actually i have just joined a gym to get a toned and strong physique and they are making me workout on light to medium weights for 3 sets and 15-18 reps on 3-4 exercises per body part. So Rusty is this the right advice they are giving to me because i am bit confused regarding it. Also rest periods between sets should be less or more as they are recommending around 30 secs max to build tone body. Actually i am a 25 male software engineer and usaully don’t free time but somehow i have devoted atleast 1 hour everyday for gym.Also i am getting married next year so i really want you to help me out.My body fat % is around 16% so i know i have to do cardio and i have started it in your way of HIIT and am feeling great. Thanks.

Paul July 15, 2008 at 9:47 am


This link might be of some help –


Pretty extreme if you ask me!

Jon July 15, 2008 at 2:05 pm

rusty, just curious, but do you squat and deadlift? if so, how much weight can you handle on both? can you also use these two exercises for fat loss? maybe like tabata style? thanks

admin July 16, 2008 at 12:37 pm


I haven’t done a single leg lift in over 6 years. I like sprinting, jumping rope, running stairs, and other forms of cardio to get ripped lean legs instead of blocky legs, wider hips and mid-section and an overly large butt.

I am a natural at both lifts. I suck at bench press and shoulder press, but these lifts came really easy for me. After just a few months of squatting I could do 405 for 5-6 deep reps…a little more on deadlifts (without straps).

I would be careful with these lifts as they are great at building mass…probably too good in my opinion. The issue is that you can quickly get that blocky look and lose the sleek and athletic look…plus you are going to have a tough time finding pants that fit if you aren’t careful.

A better compound movement to use for high reps for fat loss, would be high rep “power cleans” and high rep “cleans from a dead hang”. You have to stay pretty light which won’t load the leg muscles enough to build them up…plus you are using all the muscles in your upper body as well. I should do a post on this.


admin July 16, 2008 at 12:42 pm


They are giving you good advice. What you are doing is a form of circuit training. You are basically doing HIIT with weights. Here is a post on that:

Circuit Training Routine


Cenz July 16, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Hey Rusty,
Would you advocate doing pyramid sets to get a more symmetrical look, or do you think that’s a slippery slope to start down? For example, sports like tennis, squash, and crew promote over development of muscles on an athlete’s dominate side. Are there good strategies to counteract that?

And I would love to see a post on compound movements like cleans, as you mention above. I know I would benefit from a discussion about ways to replace squats other than just dropping them for sprinting. I have a hard time letting go of squats and deadlifts.

Odin July 21, 2008 at 6:48 pm

I tried to your ideas here, what do you think of this 3 day routine as far as getting that dense fit look while building a little muscle, everything is 7 sets of 3-5 reps

Day 1 Bi’s back
Dumbell Rows,
Lateral pulldown
Straight Bar Curl (using an olympic bar if available):
Hammer Strength Preacher Curl:
Incline Dumbbell Curls:

Day 2 Chest-tri
Incline Barbell Press:
Incline Dumbbell Press
Flat Bench Dumbbell Flyes:
Lying Triceps Extensions with Barbell:
Close Grip Bench Press:
Cable Triceps Extension

Day3 Shoulders Legs
Seated Dumbbell Presses:
Dumbell or Cable Laterals:
Hammer Strength Military Press
Incline Leg press
Hamstring Raises
Calf Raises

Nik July 22, 2008 at 1:55 am

Good Post Rusty. Actually i was searching more information about Pavel Tsatsouline because i am a really big fan of his. I have got his book Power To the People and i really want to train like it. So Rusty if you wished to suggest only one exercise per body part then which exercises would be best for total body strength? I am not able to do deadlifts and dont like squats at all as they might make my legs bigger. And is cardio on stationary bike count as a cardio workout or leg workout as i am a bit confused about it.
Thanks in advance.

Mike August 7, 2008 at 1:04 am

Hey Rusty,

I’m very happy that I found your web site today. Thanks for all of your time and effort.

I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on doing bar dips and pull ups. I’ve recently tried to get serious in working out and for about a month now I’ve been using a bar dip/pull up machine i have at home which has become the main part of my workout. I’m wondering what are your thoughts on these exercises as well as the capability of these exercises in adding muscle mass and/or definition.

Thanks Rusty.

Thanks Rusty.

gene heil September 28, 2008 at 11:15 am

when using pavel’s routine you start by using a heavy weight that you could do 6 times but only do 5 reps correct.? then you reduce that weight by 80% and do as many sets of 5 as you can. shouldn’t you be increasing that 80% working weight each time you workout.? how do you calculate that.?

mass October 29, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Great article…just make sure to also include the a higher amount of protein in your daily diet. By eating a balance of protein and carbohydrates every 3 – 4 hours, it creates an anabolic effect (builds muscle and burn fat), it also stabilizes sugar levels and gives you energy. Also at night time include a protein shake before going to sleep.

Martin December 20, 2008 at 10:59 am

I go to the gym 3 times a week and i lift light weights only i also do cardio ,i never lift heavy weights what results can i expect to see.

john December 27, 2008 at 8:47 pm

Hey Rusty,

Ive always worked out from time to time but now im starting to get serious about it. Also id like to thank you for all the info you have on your site. I have a couple of questions though. My routine simplified down is pretty much like yours, chest and back first day and bicep, shoulders and triceps the next, both with cardio after and maybe ill use some machines for core or calves. the third day i do more intense cardio with some core. The fourth day ill do a more intense strength workout based on a routine bruce lee used. Fifth day ill do the same as third day, 6th day the same as first, and 7th day the same as second, then start over.

Even though the first 2 and last 2 workouts are one days right after the other, will i be fine if i stick to the heavy weights low rep rule? Would it be a smarter idea to give my muscles some rest in between these workouts? As for the Pavel variation of working out, if i do 80% of the weight im doing its going to be a ridiculously low amount of weight. Should i only use this variation after im conditioned enough to do it with heavier weights? I would greatly appreciate any advice

john December 27, 2008 at 9:51 pm

disregard that last question about the Pavel variation, i had it backwards. Thank you again for everything, probably one of the most useful sites ive came across

Joseph December 27, 2008 at 11:08 pm

Hi Rusty,

My personal trainer told me that lifting heavy weights with low reps will make you gain mass. He advised me to lift high reps (10-15) and lighter weights to gain that lean and toned look.

What he told me does make sense because sprinters have that muscular look due to short explosive runs, which rely on creatine phosphate and glycolysis; both requiring supply from muscle. However, marathon runners are lean because they are using aerobic pathways, which rely on quicker delivery of oxygen to muscle.

Why would my trainer who happens to be very lean and toned, tell me to lift higher reps instead of low reps that you recommend?

Hope you can clarify my question.


Gareth December 29, 2008 at 12:25 am


great website but not sure on your take about the bulky look. People don’t just get bulky by lifting weights, you’ll find that most of the bulky guys you refer to are steroid users.

A few of the above posters are at 160lbs and afraid to get muscly, do they think they’re going to suddenly get massive overnight by changing reps etc? there’s more to it like genetics.

I’m at 225lbs hovering at 13%BF el natural I would hazard a guess I look better and more natural than the lighter folk and yes I deadlift and squat. These should be staples in a programme.

You can’t suggest skipping will give you lean legs etc, as fat loss is whole body it is not possible to spot reduce.

In response to ‘Mass’ above you do not need to eat every 3-4hrs.

Salman January 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Hi Rusty,

Im 15, and I was just wondering if using lights weights, such as 15-25 pound dumbbells would stunt my growth. I have researched on the internet about it, however I have mixed reviews as some say that when you lift weights your body releases growth hormone which will make you taller, but then end your growth spurt. Thanks for your reply!

Fredster February 3, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Hi Rusty!
Would it be possible to substitute the last (the tiring and growth promoting) sets for a tabata session instead. What I mean is; would it be possible to do Pavels first two strength building sets (deadlift and sidepress) and then follow up with, say, a barbell squat thruster tabata instead of the “bearsets”. You would certainly get your muscles tired and the hiit factor of the tabata would give you the HGH “hit”. You would also get the tabata benefit of increased VO2 max and a higher lactate threshold.
If you also did everything in the morning and followed up the whole thing with the cardio à la Lyle McDonald’s stubborn fat program for 45 minutes you would really get a complete workout (including HGH an all that) in a very short time.
What do you think?

marc March 8, 2009 at 11:59 am

hi.. great article… could you tell me how often you would recommend me to train this routine per week.. thx marc

admin March 10, 2009 at 2:05 pm


You can work with heavy weights on back-to-back days, because you aren’t breaking down the muscle like a typical high-volume bodybuilder routine. Two days in a row followed by a day of rest is fine.


The advice your trainer gave you is the most common advice given in the gym. You see, high reps will burn calories and that leads to fat loss, but it doesn’t really develop true “muscle tone”. The side effect of high reps can be a lower body fat percentage, if the diet is in order…but you would lose even more body fat if you implemented a strategic HIIT-Steady State Cardio routine or did a great body weight circuit.

Here’s an excerpt from another post I did on the subject:

“Muscle tone (aka residual muscle tension or tonus) is the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles. Unconscious nerve impulses maintain the muscles in a partially contracted state.

So basically the higher the residual tension in a muscle, the higher the muscle tone in that muscle. The way to increase tension in a muscle is to engage in “high tension training”. Lifting heavy weights generates higher tension in the muscle than lifting light weights.”

So in summary, if you have two people with the same level of body fat…the one who lifted using heavier weights and generated stronger contractions will look much more toned than the guy who used light weights.


I have a slightly different definition of bulky. Even natural guys get bulky in my opinion…they don’t get freaky huge like steroid users, but they have more than an optimal amount of muscle. I also think most guys and girls would be better off skipping leg resistance work altogether and concentrate on hardcore HIIT. The explosive nature of sprinting and running stairs, etc. builds the ideal amount of muscle in the legs for most people. It also makes them more athletic than the guys who spend a lot of time in the squat rack. Note: If someone was playing football or a sport that did require a lot of mass, then obviously they would need to do squats and deads.


I messed around with weights when I was 13, and it didn’t affect me. Our school in Junior High had a bench press and we used to hang out after school to see who could bench the most (yeah…I fell into this trap). To be honest, you can get a great workout doing bodyweight exercises. Talk to a your PE teacher for now…It has been a looong time since I was in Junior High and maybe they have discovered that weight lifting at that age is bad.


You plan sounds solid to me. I love it when people take these concepts and create a custom workout based upon their circumstances and goals. Give it a try and tell me how it works for you!


I have found that it works best to work each muscle group 2 times per week. So if you were doing a 2 day split, that would be 4 total workouts per week.

Hope that helps!


Bill July 24, 2009 at 9:21 am

Hey Rusty,

Great idea, instead of bloated muscle that looks like it comes and goes with the wind, have lean hard muscle that feels great and looks great too.

Agree with you usually do 3 exercises for the large muscles and 2 for the smaller ones.

Another trick been trying is do 5 reps with exercise 1, then in superset fashion do exercise 2. Then rotate each one for 5 to 7 sets then finish with the 3rd exercise that stretches the muscle for a finish.

Thanks for your straight up real deal articles.

Have a Great One!!


Nove August 23, 2009 at 6:36 am

Hi Rusty,
i just wanna says thanks
your articles are really-really cool


Sandeep November 17, 2009 at 6:32 am

Hey Rusty.

First off, I love your blog. No offence to anyone but I don’t have access to supplements so I got sick of reading articles over at http://www.bodybuilding.com. I’m trying a lot of your stuff and feel great.

My question is, I’m 6′ 1” and about 170 lbs, so I’m trying to put on some mass to look.. normal. However, I’ve got my problem fatty areas. How can I include a cardio workout with the workout described in this post?

Thanks so much,

Kevin Kenney December 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm


For years, i have lifted like a bodybuilder, using continuous tension, low rest, and high volume. I weigh 205 and 12 percent bodyfat. I have good size but i noticed that my density is lacking. This article is great because to become a complete package you have to train for strength as well. Now, for example i’ll do 12 sets of 5, with 3 minutes rest. Then i’ll finish off with my typical bb routine. My muscles are still full but are getting harder. Thanks for the article.

kevin k.

Morgan Polotan March 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm

The best way to lose body fat is to create a weekly caloric deficit. This can be done through eating less everyday, or eating normally most of the week and creating the entire deficit in 1-2 days by fasting. To lose a pound of fat per week eating at your maintenance level one must burn roughly 500 calories per day, which is 60 minutes of hard jogging everyday. This is unsustainable and will make your body more catabolic through the release of cortisol. This hampers muscle gains and may even cause muscle breakdown when done in excess (marathon runners, anyone?). Not only this, but your body will quickly adapt to steady state cardio done 7 days a week which will decrease the calories burned per session each time.

To sum it up: use your diet to lose bodyfat and stop doing chronic cardio. Cardio sessions should be intense, infrequent, and follow the same Law of Progressive Overload that you use with your weight training.

Ethan November 6, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Doing the “Evil Russians” routine, how many times per week should I hit a single muscle group? Do you recommend the traditional body building split (one per day)? Or what?

Wes Mc - Muscle Gain Tips February 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Hi Rusty,

This post is rather old but hey ho.

I think that what a few people elaborated on in the comments on slow reps to increase tension is the best way to go. To add to that I like to increase the length of the lift on the negative portion, ie. when I’m bringing the weight back down and explosive when lifting up, it promotes both explosive strength and works those muscles harder. What are your thoughts?

James February 7, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Hi rusty. I’ve been using the training program you discussed here (for more than 2 years, in fact), and its been highly succesfull for me. But recently, I’ve started loosing alot of muscle, and I can’t seem to put it back on. I don’t like how scrawny I look! The only reason I think something like this could have happened is because I started doing a program like this:

Week 1: 4 circuits x 6 reps 90s rest
Week 2: 4 circuits x 6 reps 75s rest
Week 3: 4 circuits x 6 reps 60s rest
Week 4: 4 circuits x 6 reps 45s rest
Week 5: 5 circuits x 6 reps 90s rest
Week 6: 5 circuits x 6 reps 75s rest

After each complex I rested for 90 seconds and repeated for four complexes.
Anyway, once I stopped doing this (which was just to develop stamina for boxing), thats when I started having the muscle loss problems. Even lots of high protein meals and more frequent excercise hasn’t helped. I like your program, but I just want a way for it to get it back working like it used to. Any insights you have would be much appreciated.

James February 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm

So, to restate, my old program consisted of 8 excercises, each with 6 reps = a total of 48 reps. That was 1 circuit. Then I rested for 90+ seconds and did another circuit. Brutal stuff!

Could it have been responsible for interfering with my normal mass building routine? Or perhaps it was my diet (I seem to be eating a bit more sugary foods lately, but still within safe limits).

Chris February 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Hey Rustry, excellent content here. I love the Evil Russian workout and have used that in the past, however I am definitely going to try out your improvement of it. It’s about 3 months until summer time so I hope it’ll get me in the good summer time shape that I’m looking for!

Thanks man.

Josh -- @ How To Play Chess For Beginners June 3, 2011 at 1:34 am

Hey Rusty,
It’s been over a year since I’ve hit any kind of weights and I’m looking for ways to really turn it up again. I’ve lost a lot of mass in the year I’ve been out..almost 15 pounds mostly muscle weight. This routine seems WICKED!

Bodybuilder June 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I find the biggest problem is that people just don’t eat enough. I eat quite often during the day and keep it high in good fats and protein.

Bodybuilding June 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Are 6 – 12 reps a fair amount to group into one range? I think 6 is still close to that “low reps, heavy weight” mentality. One of the hardest things for me, is that if I’m aiming for 6, in my head I’ll probably make the weight heavier than I should and only get 4-5 reps at the most. If I’m mentally preparing for 8-10 reps, I adjust the weight and sometimes even get up to 12 reps.

Steve September 26, 2011 at 12:37 am

Great information here. I like the individual breakdowns as to how to achieve certain results. Excellent read for people looking to transform things.

My site: does creatine help?

Exercise On Abs November 2, 2011 at 5:55 am

Great post! But i would like to add something. I’m not doing the classical sets reps, because what does matter is muscle under tension. So I watch for how long do I work my sets. I try to do it 40-60 seconds for 4 weeks, then I do a switch to 20-30 sec under tension for 2 weeks. I do that for the maximum hypertrophy.

Greg C. Bieg November 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I just wanted to add that I’ve made absolutely the best gains in real muscle using very high reps 20-30 with medium, not light weight. I use good form and get the muscle to really burn. Now, once again everyone is different, this has served me very well.

Scott November 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm


Thanks so much for the V.I.T. Been on it for two months now, and I love it.

A little history- I am 39 years old, 6’4, 205lbs at 12% body fat. 1 year ago, i was 6’4, 238 and 29% body fat. I have made HUGE changes, and all is going well….except for one area. My Biceps. I simply can not seem to gain here. I know Triceps are the way to gain overall arm size, but I simply have not been able to “Gain” in this area. My arms are 14.5″, not flexed.

I want the Visual Impact body, and am well on my way, but man I need some bicep help. I don’t want Huge, soft muscles here, but i need some size before I start phase 2. I took a week off from VIT, and did 5 days of very high cumulative fatigue bicep work, and I am about to start two days off before switching to the same for triceps…… here’s hoping….

What is your suggestion here? I take BCAA’s, and a little protein, and I eat sensibly. I am a Fire Fighter, and have a strange workout schedule, but 10 days a month, I have almost unlimited time to train, with a gym here in the firehouse.

Thanks for all you do.


Lou December 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Hey Rusty,

I have a qeusetion on split training from visual impact muscle building. If I were to do back and biceps can I switch between muscles such as: 4 sets curls then 5 sets chinups then incline curls then lat pulldonws? Im on phase 1

Supplement Maniac March 26, 2012 at 8:29 am

Yeah, I have a few friends that love to do high reps because of the pump. What they don’t understand is that it only last a few hours and then it’s gone!

www.bioinformatics.org November 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Inessa Kravets, of the Ukraine, won the woman’s first ever gold medal with a distance of 15. This isn’t easy if you are leading
a very busy life, but you must give yourself at least 7-8 hours of sleep at night to give your body the rest it needs for your next vertical jump training.

Therefore, the muscle is attempting to contract, but it is still lengthening.

rob link January 27, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I want to try this for mass. My question is regarding frequency. With this program can you train each muscle group twice a week?

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