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

December 6, 2007

Have I gone mad, or have I stumbled across an advanced way to gain strength?

Well first let me give credit to where credit is due. This is a method that was introduced by a Soviet “Special Forces” Instructor named Pavel Tsatsouline. He speaks about it briefly in “Power to the People”, but it is easy to miss so I want to expand upon this method a bit…as well as give you my unique perspective.

lift light weights gain strength
[Tanya’s favorite lift is “12 ounce curls”. Don’t do this exercise too often, if you want to get lean!]

Muscle Size and Muscle Strength Are Not Always Directly Related

I used to think there was a direct correlation between muscle size and muscle strength…believing that the if gained strength in a muscle the bigger that muscle would get. If you think that this is the case you are mistaken! Don’t get me wrong…bodybuilders do strive to gain strength to get bigger, but they are gaining strength in a rep range of 6-12 and trying to “tear down the muscles” in the process.

They also employ methods like “forced reps”, “negatives”, and “supersets”. They rest and allow the muscles to repair…striving for the muscles to come back slightly larger and slightly stronger in the process (this is obviously a simplified explanation). Let me ask you to think about this…

What If You Gained Strength Without Damaging the Muscles in the Process?

Seriously…if damage to the muscle is minimized, the potential for growth is limited as well. One of the big reasons I’m against forced reps and negatives is that they are very effective at inducing damage to the target muscle.

This is effective for bodybuilding, but not for the slim and toned “Hollywood” look. Another problem with gaining size at the same rate that you gain strength is that you never develop good “muscle density”. An example of an athlete that displays good muscle density is an Olympic Gymnast. They need to get stronger without getting bigger, to be effective at what they do.

This is what I am talking about. The opposite of this would be professional wrestlers…their muscles have a really smooth and puffy look to them because they strive for size and strength.

How is It Possible To Get Stronger Without Getting Bigger?

I didn’t understand true strength training until I stopped reading mainstream bodybuilding and workout magazines. I became a student of martial arts philosophies, high level sports, as well as military training (from former soviet special forces trainer Pavel Tsatsouline).

After much research I discovered that strength was basically based on your ability to send neurological impulses from your brain to your muscles. So basically the better you get at contracting a muscle hard, the more strength you will display in that muscle.

How Does A Muscle Contract Hard?

There is a principle you need to know about called the “All or None Principle”. Each individual muscle is made up of many many muscle fibers. When a muscle contracts, you brain is basically sending an electrical charge to that muscle.

To keep this simple, let’s say that your bicep is made up of 100 individual muscle fibers. Each individual fiber is either contracted or relaxed. When you lift a light weight, maybe only 5-10 fibers will “fire off” while the other 90 fibers are completely inactive. When you lift a heavier weight, your brain may send an electrical impulse to “fire off” 15-20 fibers, while the other 80 or so muscle fibers are inactive.

So muscle contraction is based upon what percentage of muscle fibers are “firing off”…and how many are inactive. So the muscle fiber is either all the way activated or not at all..”All or None”.

A harder contraction would indicate that your brain is sending stronger electrical impulses to the muscle, recruiting more muscle fibers in the process.

So Strength is More Nerve Based than Muscle Based

Gaining strength is largely based upon your skill to recruit a larger percentage of fibers in a specific muscle. Think of your brain as a power source. Between the power source and the muscle is wiring (neurons). The better the wiring to the muscle, the more electrical current that can get delivered to the muscle.

The stronger the electrical current, the larger percentage of fibers you can activate in that muscle. This is what I’m referring to when I talk about the “mind to muscle link”. So increasing the neural pathways (mind to muscle link) is really the way to route to strong contractions and muscle strength.

Turn That Stream Into a River of Electricity!

I think that it helps to visualize a bit when you are tying to gain strength. It makes sense because strength originates from your brain. Have you ever seen a black belt in karate take his fist and put it through a stack of bricks?

Then you will see a beginner try the same thing and fail miserably? The experienced black belt has developed a serious neurological pathway between his brain and the muscles involved in that movement. The beginner has a small pathway between his brain and muscles involved in that movement.

The beginner has a small electrical stream going to his muscles and the experienced black belt has a massive river of electricity flooding his muscles to fire off a larger percentage of muscle fibers!

How to Build Your Neural Pathways With Light Weights

This may blow you away and challenge everything you thought about gaining strength. You don’t have to lift heavy weights all the time to get stronger! To be honest, if you have joint problems you could get stronger while never lifting heavy weights! To get stronger all you need to do is practice the skill of generating hard contractions in a certain lift.

If you developed the ability to contract your muscles hard, like you were lifting a heavier weight…you would experience many of the same benefits of lifting that heavier weight. Your muscles don’t know how much weight you are lifting. Lift light weights like they are heavy, to get stronger with light weights.

There Are Some Limitations to This Way of Lifting

To get extremely strong, your tendons need to feel a heavy load to get stronger as well. The way I like to lift light is to mix up light days and heavy days. I may use 75% of the weight I normally use and lift it for the same amount of reps (5 or less) at the same tempo (slow and steady). Also…even if I am going to lift heavy, I perform my warmup sets like they are super heavy.

For instance on the incline dumbbell bench I would do 50 for 5 reps and pretend like it is extremely heavy and lift it slowly while contracting my arms and upper chest hard…even though I could lift it easily, many more times than that.

Then I would do the same thing with 60 pounds before moving on to my work sets. You will find that your work sets feel lighter after doing this…it is really strange!

Tips to “Increase Your Skill” at Generating Strong Contractions

The easiest way to increase your mind-to-muscle link is to just practice contracting that muscle as hard as possible while lifting…regardless of how light the weight is. Don’t ever lift a weight again without taking advantage of this opportunity to gain strength. You have to lift the weight slowly to generate a lot of tension in the muscle.

The way I like to visualize it is this: Let’s say I’m benching…on the way down I’m squeezing harder and harder and my brain is charging up my muscles to the max…this takes about 2-3 seconds. At the bottom of the lift I easily push the weight back up, because my muscles are charged with electricity. At the top I rest for one second to let my brain charge up again before it gets ready to send voltage to the muscle again.

Borrow Electricity from Surrounding Muscles

This is a great tip that will help you get stronger immediately. It will also help you get toned over every inch of your body, when you master this skill! All of your muscles have a certain amount of electrical current in them at all times.

When you flex a muscle near the muscle being worked you can add a bit of voltage to that muscle and generate a stronger contraction. Here is a quick exercise I want you to try…1) flex your pecs without flexing any other body part…2) Now flex your pecs but this time make a fist and squeeze it as tight as possible…make the fist tighter and tighter over 2-3 seconds while flexing your pecs harder and harder. Did you feel a difference? Want to gain strength on a lift your next workout?

Next time you do any sort of bench press or barbell curl, squeeze the heck out of the bar! Eventually you will got so good at this technique that you will flex a muscle groups that aren’t even close to the muscle group being worked and it will aid in the lift. Believe it or not, contracting your abs can help with almost every lift…plus you will quickly get amazing abs, since you are increasing the mind to muscle link in this muscle every time you do a lift for a different body part.

But Won’t Strength Gains Stop at Some Point?

I was worried that once I developed the ability to “fire off” 100% of my muscle fibers in a given muscle that I wouldn’t gain any additional strength. What I found was very interesting.

Most of us are only using a very small percentage of our muscle fibers. The only way you would come close to firing off 100% of your muscle fibers is if you got electrocuted.

There is certainly a point where you will quit gaining strength, but a lot of that is tendon strength and skeletal structure, etc. At that point you would want to just concentrate an generating strong contractions with that same weight instead of lifting heavier. This will increase muscle density and muscle tone.

Some Things To Avoid When Aiming For Strength

A big thing to avoid is lifting the weights at a fast pace. This is great way to workout your tendons and temporarily get stronger, but it is also a great way to get injured. Also…you want to avoid damaging the muscles. Your brain will not send a full electrical impulse to a damaged muscle! Ever try to flex a muscle that was really sore? It is next to impossible.

A great way to avoid muscle damage is to keep the your workout volume low. Just do a total of 8-10 sets per body part…and stick to around 5 reps (remember you can lift light weights for 5 reps as well).

The reason you keep the reps low is that it is hard to focus on generating strong contractions on each rep if you have to do 8-12.

Strength Training Is Actually The Best Route To Permanent Muscle Tone

I’m a big fan of getting stronger without getting bigger. This is a great way to look really well defined. Again…think of an Olympic Gymnast or a Welterweight Boxer. These are athletes with strong muscles that aren’t big.

Efficient muscles are defined muscles. That “high rep” way of getting defined muscles is caused by creating a temporary “pump” in the muscles. They will look great while working out, but this muscle tone is temporary. Obviously, to see all of this muscle tone, you will need to make sure your body fat is under control.

Here are 3 other articles I wrote that will help with the “Toned Look”

High Reps for “Muscle Tone”…BAD Advice!

An Aerobic Workout Program That Forces Your Body to Burn Fat

Is Diet OR Exercise More Important for Fat Loss and Getting Lean?

As always…your comments are GREATLY appreciated! Everything has to okay’d by me before it is posted for everyone to see (I normally do this at night)…and I try my best to reply to everything.

I have a fun time talking about these ideas with you guys…plus I am jazzed at all the people who comment from different parts of the globe. You gotta love the internet!

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler Durden December 6, 2007 at 8:04 am

i always wnated to develop a body like Olympic Gymnasts have!
Low body fat, great muscle tone really like greek idols.
And they are extremely strong compared to their weight.
But now i concentrate on adding some muscle mass then gaining strength

Hunter December 6, 2007 at 12:46 pm

The way you talk about electricity use in the muscles sounds a bit like what the Chinese martial artists call Qi. And it’s easy to see proof that works! What the Shaolin monks can do is amazing.

G. December 6, 2007 at 4:21 pm


I have read it three times…..Thankyou Rusty for sharing and posting that article.

Quick question on choosing the weight for the set.Lets say you can lift a weight for 8 reps fairly comfortably….Could this be the same weight used but for only 5 reps performed with maximum contractions and lifted in a slow and steady manner?
Also after each work set,do you recommend keeping the same weight for the next set?….i guess if you perform the set as described above your muscles still “fire” without having to go heavier in weight.

thanks again Rusty,


Jonneh December 6, 2007 at 5:00 pm

Rusty, this post was awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚
Thanks a lot for another new, wonderful view at working out!

Mark McCullagh December 6, 2007 at 11:11 pm

I have always been a fan of lower reps with heavier weights.

Performing high reps with light weights never really gave me a good pump and just didn’t “feel” like training. I like the mindset of feeling strong and lifting aggressively.

Speaking about strength and muscle size, you make a good point there Rusty. Many pro bodybuilders, although massive and much stronger than the average trainer, pale in comparison to powerlifters. However, on a pound-per-pound basis, they really pale in comparison to some martial artists and gymnasts.

Take care,


admin December 7, 2007 at 2:32 am


Yeah…I have learned about Qi or “Chi” and I’m just describing a different way to visualize this…and also adding a bit of a twist on this idea. I love this stuff!


You will like this method even better after a month or two of using it. You can quickly transform your body lifting like this. I like to keep using the same weight for set after set on occasions and other times I’ll add a bit of weight each set. You can be really flexible here. What is crazy is that sometimes you will use the same weight and the weight will feel lighter instead of heavier on each following set. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it is kind of a cool feeling.


You bet buddy! Glad you like it…you were one of the first people to comment on my blog, so I really appreciate the feedback. This way of working out will really make sense to you once you give it a shot.


I like sticking to low reps and “make each rep count”. If you are doing sets of 10-15…you are “going through the motions” for over 1/2 of those reps. I am a big believer in doing 3-5 perfect reps, where you are getting the hardest contraction possible out of each rep. I never enjoyed that old school high rep light weight type lifting either…a lot of work for half-assed results.

Great Comments Guys!


Ricky December 7, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Hey, Rusty I believe that you deleted my last post. All I really want to know is your exact workout. The reason I ask is because you really do seem to contradict yourself. You encourage the workouts of Pavel Tsatsouille who focuses on deadlifts and quats, which you speak gainst in one of your articles. Given all this info, I cannot piece together your own workout. You might as well reveal it. What harm will come of it?

admin December 7, 2007 at 10:30 pm


I didn’t delete your last post, it just won’t show up until I “okay” it. I usually do this at night. Sorry about the confusion…I need to see if I can install a script that will tell people that “comments don’t show up until moderated” or something like that.

Great question about giving conflicting advice. I know it can seem that way, but it really isn’t the case. See…I really enjoy Pavel’s principles on lifting, strength training, and increasing muscle definition. That being said…I don’t like the exercise selections he recommends. I also recommend cardio and Pavel doesn’t like cardio at all.

I write about this at the end of my post about Pavel, here:

Muscle Tone Philosophies of Former “Soviet Special Forces” Instructor

I have learned from a lot of people. I love Pavel’s philosophies, but don’t agree with everything he says. I probably don’t agree 100% with any trainer. My hope is that people pick and chose what works for them from me and form their own philosophy as well. I am not a fan of squats or deadlifts at all, but there is probably a rare exception where someone can benefit tremendously from doing them. I think the majority of people will get better and more functional legs from intense cardio. I think the benefits of squats and deadlifts are VASTLY exaggerated.

My workout is actually really basic. I have written about it before, but will post it here again.

Day 1) Chest, Back, and H.I.I.T. Cardio

Day 2) Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps, and HIIT Cardio

I train abs by doing planks 4-5 times a week at night. I usually workout 4 times per week, but add in the additional day of cardio on an off day on some weeks. When I do this, I try to jog outside or run around the lake by my house. This is done in a traditional steady state cardio intensity instead of a HIIT like the majority of my cardio workouts.

As far as sets and exercises go. I normally pick 2 exercises per body part. The first exercise is the same each workout and it is the exercise that I’m trying to get stronger in each week. For instance my chest workout starts with Incline Dumbbell Presses each time, but that second lift I will mix up…machines, free-weights, cables, etc.

Like this article talks about, I don’t go heavy each and every workout. For instance…I may hit 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps for 80-90 pound dumbbells in one workout, but may do the same amount of reps with 60 pounds in the next workout.

The total sets I do per body part is around 10 (two exercises for 4-5 sets a piece). The lifting part of my workout takes 30 minutes. The cardio takes around the same. I’m typically in and out of the gym within one hour. I occasionally hang around longer if I decide to abs in the gym instead of at home (I like doing planks on the large exercise balls every now and then).

This keeps me around 8% body fat year round. I’m 6’3″ tall and fluctuate between 185-190 pounds. I used to be closer to 230 pounds and 8-10% body fat for years when I was doing a more traditional bodybuilding routine. I changed my goals after deciding that the “slim and lean” look was a better look overall and now I feel much healthier. Even if you are at a low body fat level, too much muscle kind of slows you down a bit. I actually used to get exhausted playing sports when I was more muscular.

Great questions Ricky…I know that everyone will read my blog and use some tips and discard others. Most of my tips focus on the “lean” look, but some of these methods can be applied to gain mass.

Have a great one,


Eric Jones December 9, 2007 at 3:19 am

Rusty, you probably already know what I am going to say about what you mentioned above, but I thought I would share it with your readers:
“What is crazy is that sometimes you will use the same weight and the weight will feel lighter instead of heavier on each following set. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it is kind of a cool feeling.”

That effect is due to an enhanced innervation of the muscles involved in the movement pattern. Many people report this phenomenon when doing multiple sets of the same movement, particularly with high tension. It is as if the movement gets ‘grooved’ in to the nervous system. This causes many trainers, such as Pavel, to regard strength as a skill.

I definitely regard strength as a skill. Just take a look at some of the lifting feats of Eugene Sandow. He was amazingly strong and well proportioned without being what we would call ‘huge’ today.

Bodybuilding was quite a different sport when it started, as compared to today. Bodybuilding contests always used to have a strength performance component to them. A key point of the past physical culturist/body builder was health. Today, health takes a back seat to size at any cost. It seems like the bodybuilding contests today are about who can endure the most drugs. Bodybuilders do work hard for their gains, but they are sacrificing their health.

Sorry…. I am ranting. Thanks for the great site Rusty.

Grant December 9, 2007 at 4:00 am

I think one key is diet. Follow a strength program, eat above maintenance cals you are on your way to gaining size and strength. Size can be gained by doing 1-5, 6-10, or 11 and above reps. It all depends on different situations. So to sum it up, even if you train for low reps, if you are eating enough you have a good chance of gaining size. The 6-12 reps for size is just a general guide line.

admin December 9, 2007 at 12:28 pm


Great comments. Old-school bodybuilding was a much better sport, I completely agree. I think the high-level bodybuilders these days look terrible. People rarely talk about the health repercussions of professional bodybuilding. These guys will pay the ultimate price of a shorter life due to the bombardment of chemicals into their body. I hope they believe it is worth it.


Yeah, you certainly can gain size at all the different rep ranges. Typically the size gains that people incur at the lower rep ranges is a bit more modest than people who strive for the pump…typically in the 6-12 rep range. Great point about eating. I like the idea of strength training under a slight calorie deficit. Thanks for pointing that out…I should have mentioned calories in this post.

Great points as always guys!


DownSouth December 10, 2007 at 12:23 am

This is called dynamic effort training. Professional powerlifters use 50-60 % of their one rep maxes for like 8 sets of 2 or 3 three days after a heavy max effort lift

Mark McCullagh December 14, 2007 at 6:10 pm


Speaking about the pro bodybuilders’ bombardment of chemicals, I have read journals of some top pros and their before contest GH and steroid routine and I was SHOCKED!

And I’m not one who is easily shocked.

Enough said.

admin December 14, 2007 at 10:15 pm


I read that Dorian Yates was on drip IV’s the week leading up to his contest. I think this was made up, but professional bodybuilding is headed in this direction. It is a NASTY sport. I can’t believe that these guys are role models for such a large group of people.

It is nuts!


Thomas December 22, 2007 at 12:10 pm

rusty been a while. I finally reached my goal i am 6’0 and i weighed in at 169.9 I am at 6 % bf this mourning so pumped. I wanted to ask you about weight lifting. I have a muscular natural body like matthew mconahey. I have been doing reps in the 4 to 6 rep range and just lifting heavy trying to increase weight each time in go in. I was wondering if that was an ok method towards weight lifting cuz i wanna be toned not to bulky like a bodybuilder

admin December 22, 2007 at 2:42 pm


That is the perfect rep range. Keep the volume a bit low and just focus on getting stronger, it should be a pretty quick workout. Then hit about 20-30 minutes of intense cardio. At this point, get out of the gym and enjoy life.

6 feet tall and 170 pounds at 6% body fat is perfect proportions in my opinion. That is very similar to Matthew McConaughey. Well done buddy!


kimberly December 22, 2007 at 6:45 pm

Rusty. I read tom venuto articles on cardio and it says 8 to 12 weks 6 times a week 30 – 45 min of high intensity cardio. do you think this would work?

admin December 22, 2007 at 9:26 pm


Tom Ventuo gives great advice. No doubt you will get lean in 6 high intensity cardio workouts per week. Just make sure your diet is in order. I’m a big fan of Tom Venuto because he is one of the few guys to really “tell it like it is” as far as losing weight goes. If you want to get really defined it is going to take a bit of work…Tom doesn’t try to sugar coat it at all in his outstanding book.


kimberly December 23, 2007 at 9:08 pm

when he describes his cardio its all out no intervals just as hard as you can for 30 or 40 min? do u think that workos or high intensity

Thomas December 23, 2007 at 9:10 pm

What do u mean by keeping the volume low ? just maintain weight? your at

admin December 24, 2007 at 4:01 am


They both work pretty well. Why don’t you alternate high intensity interval training with intense traditional cardio? Do each 3 times per week. I actually like to do 20 minutes of interval training followed by 20 minutes of steady state cardio in the same workout.


Keep your total sets and reps low. Bodybuilders do a lot of sets and reps…a “high volume” of lifting to build muscle. You want to do a “low volume” of lifting to create a lean “special forces” type build…ripped and lean.

I suggest that you do less sets and reps, but focus on strength instead. This will give you strength and build muscle density (the natural definition that comes with building efficient muscles). Think along the lines of a gymnast or middleweight boxer who wants to improve muscle performance without adding size. This is what creates an amazing looking body…an angular and defined natural looking physique.

Note: You will enjoy getting stronger at a light weight. It will make your muscles appear toned at all times, not just when you are “pumped up” (like a body builder). Also, you will become more athletic as a result.

Hope That Helps!


alex January 5, 2008 at 1:07 pm

I like the idea of getting stronger without gaining too much weight. It’s true, that lighter weights may have a better strength/mass ratio than the average bodybuilding system, hence, it is rather surprising that you can achieve an even better strength/mass ratio by lifting really heavy. In the end it doesn’t matter if you’re lifting hard or just pretending to do it. However it is interesting to know, that there are two entirely different options (see MAX and POWER groups in the following article) to reach this goal. I found this article to be extremely interesting as it offers additional information about fast and slow twitch muscle fibers and an even morge “scientific” p.o.v. concerning “strength deficit”:…strength-training.html

Ron January 5, 2008 at 3:11 pm


Could you please explain the difference between “warmup sets” and “work sets?”


admin January 6, 2008 at 3:00 am


Sure…I’ll use an exact example. Let’s say I’m doing 5 sets 5 reps of dumbbell incline presses (to work the upper chest). If I can do 5 reps with 80 pounds, this would be what the workout looked like.

Set 1: 5 reps with 55 pounds. This is a warmup set, because I stop well short of failure. If I can press 80 pounds for 5 reps, then I could do 15-20 reps with 55 pounds. Since I am lifting well below my max amount of reps with this weight, it is a warm up set. I wouldn’t call it a warmup set if I lifted this weight 15-20 times. I also don’t recommend doing the typical “pyramid” type lifting where you lift as many reps as possible on each set (I have to do a full post on this…see you guys give me great ideas).

Set 2: 5 reps with 70 pounds. This is still considered a warm up set because you are stopping well short of failure.

Set 3,4, and 5: 5 reps with 80 pounds. These are your actual work sets. Try not to fail on any rep. If you feel that you can’t complete 5 reps on a given set, stop at 4 reps. This is a work set because you are lifting to within 90% of failure.

Note: If you are lifting light and contracting the muscles as hard as possible with just light weights. You can still do 5 sets like described above. They would all be considered work sets…there really isn’t a warm up set when all the sets are light. Your goal would be to create a similar “feel” to a workout where you are lifting heavier weights. You would create super strong contractions and when you develop your skill at this, it will feel as if you have lifted close to failure…an increase in muscle tone will come with this increase in skill.

Hope that makes sense!


admin January 6, 2008 at 3:19 pm


WOW! Very incredible reading. I love reading about high level sports. The information is WAY ahead of typical fitness magazines. I’ll have to print this one out.

Great Stuff!


Brad January 6, 2008 at 10:49 pm

Rusty, another great article! I can’t wait to try the low rep lifting over the next few months. I have always dont the 8-12 reps in 90% of my workouts. I’m going to give this low rep for strength routine an honest try for at least the next 3-4 months. Something tells me I won’t be dissapointed.
I have a question for you. Last spring and summer when I was extremely focused on achieving a low body fat, I did almost all of my cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Then on a lifting day I would come back after work and lift for 30-45 minutes.
What do you do for you’re cardio. Do you believe in training first thing in the morning or do always do you’re cardio after you weight train? Thanks Rusty, I love you’re site!


admin January 7, 2008 at 12:15 am


Here is a link to my favorite cardio routine.

High Intensity Interval Training

I do variations of this year-round. You can certainly do cardio in the morning and lift at night. It isn’t really time efficient for me to do it this way, but that should work well.

You will do great with this routine! Keep on reading. I try to post 3-4 times per week.

Have a great one,


Brad January 7, 2008 at 12:30 am

Thankyou for the reply. I will definitely start adding HIIT Training into my cardio routine from now on!
How often do you do HIIT and how often do you do you’re steady state cardio each week?
Take Care, thanks again!


admin January 7, 2008 at 10:31 am


I like HIIT the majority of the time…maybe 3-4 times per week…and steady state 1-2 times per week. That is just the way I like it, you could really do well with any combination. Ideally hit cardio 5-6 times per week if you want to drop fat quickly…and then 3-4 times for maintenance.


Brad January 14, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Hey Rusty, how much do you rest between you’re sets when you’re lifting for strength? I’d imagine it can’t be real long since you’re workouts only last 30 minutes. Thanks!


admin January 15, 2008 at 1:49 pm


I don’t do too many sets in my typical workouts. If I’m doing my chest and back workout…I maybe do 16-20 total sets…two exercises for each body part…4-5 sets per exercise.

I rest around one to one and a half minutes or so between each set. Unless I’m doing chin ups (the toughest exercise for me right now). It doesn’t feel like I’m rushing things. Since my reps are only between 3-5. Make sure you rest enough so that you don’t compromise any of your sets…1-2 minutes should be fine.


Hassan January 17, 2008 at 11:03 pm

what kind of body can this give me, including the HIIT cardio, will it make me look fitter, or skinnier…which one because i would not like to end up skinny ๐Ÿ˜ lol

admin January 17, 2008 at 11:40 pm


If you still need to gain a bit more mass, then do a higher volume of lifting, a bit more calories, and less cardio. Gaining more mass is the easier part believe me!


Kevin January 22, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Hi, very interesting article. I have a question though, what do you think it would be like trying to ‘fire’ your muscles while doing a cardio exercise? I am an avid swimmer and I was just thinking what if I flexed my muscles as hard as I could on each stroke and how effective that may be. What do you think? Thankyou

Celine January 22, 2008 at 8:15 pm

Hey Rusty, i find your posts very interesting and im a big fan…but i read your post and i have to say this: you have to be careful with if you meant here sqeezing the hand on the bar, because this may cause carpal tunnel syndrome and other arm-hand related injuries. You probably never had problems with that but some people might, thats why i had to say something ๐Ÿ˜›

admin January 23, 2008 at 12:40 am


That is a great way of putting it. The better I get at sprinting, the quicker the muscle flex but for a shorter period of time. It is like a “firing” explosive movement…just like you described. My thigh muscles are now deeply toned at a level I never got when doing slow resistance exercise. I’m not a swimmer, but I would imagine swimming in this way could work.


Good point. I’ll keep that in mind. That is why I welcome comments, you guys address things I overlook.

Great Stuff!


Alex February 15, 2008 at 6:38 pm

love the article
I’ve always strived for a body similar to that of a gymnast, etc, but I’ve got one concern
while I do want to be ripped and fit, I’m also striving to gain a few extra pounds. I’m currently 5’7″, about 130-135. I really want to hit the 140 mark, and I’m wondering if that’s a possibility when sticking to aroutine like this

admin February 17, 2008 at 3:34 pm


Eat a bit more protein and do a higher volume of lifting. Gaining mass is all about higher volume and a bit more calories. Once you gain the amount of muscle you want, do less sets and reps hit cardio hard and lift 3-5 reps for maximum tension.

Hope that helps,


bj February 24, 2008 at 1:36 am

hey rusty! just stumbled across your site and i just wanted to say it is really great and informative. I have alot of questions to ask you about this but first I will just get a few basic ones out of the way.

1. Are you basically saying to take approximately 3 seconds on the negative portion of the lift, one at the top, and then one second to actually lift the weight?

2. After doing this routine for a week I noticed my forearms were always getting exhausted during my sets and were burning throughout the entire exercise and nothing else was while executing the various exercises? Is this normal? Or am I gripping the weight too hard?

Like I said I have a lot of questions for you but I will start off easy and just ask these for now. Thanks Rusty!

admin February 24, 2008 at 5:05 am


I would take 2-3 seconds on the negative and 1-2 on the lifting portion of the lift. You are taking a bit longer on the way down to generate tension.

As far as forearms burning. That is a good thing! They are a the weak link in the chain. As your forearms develop the ability to squeeze the weight harder, the more power you will be able to generate. Bruce Lee did massive amounts of forearm work and as a result developed that crazy “one inch punch”.

What you will find is that your forearms will increase in density dramatically in 3-6 months. Once that happens the density over the rest of your upper body will follow. Eventually you will grip the bar hard and your entire arm will get rock hard and tense. This is when the strength and definition will reach a new level.

Wild stuff!


bj February 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

thanks for your repsonse rusty. i can’t say enough how great this site is. it is so much more informative than those bodybuilding sites. i have some more questions but once again ill just ask a few.

1. Could you do your chest/back workout and your bi’s/tri’s/shoulder two different times a week? so could i do chest/back on monday and then again on thursday and then the other muscle groups on tuesday and friday? As long as I am not breaking down the muscle so it doesnt come back too big I should be alrite shouldnt I? I dont want to gain anymore size at all in my upper body I just want to get stronger and leaner.

2. I only started working out 5 years ago and when I started training I had a knee injury and so I have basically always lifted my upper body. Now it is much bigger than my legs and I want to fix this disparity. Could I do a traditional weight lifting leg routine consisting of high volume to add size to my legs while doing the toning routine for my upper body? I am not sure if this would work or not but I thought I would get your input on this.

Once again I can’t thank you enough Rusty for taking the time to answer my questions along with many others. This site is awesome!

admin February 25, 2008 at 2:06 am


A lot of the bodybuilding sites have great info…it just isn’t as focused as this site. I’m not trying to be everything to everyone. If you want a slim, toned, and sexy body like a Hollywood star…this is where you need to hang. Want to get big? There are sites that do that better. Thanks for them compliments…I really do appreciate it.

If you want to build your legs, do squats for 4-6 months. I know, I know…I always say to avoid squats…but for people who really do need to get their legs to at least regular size, they are very effective. I tell people to avoid squats because I think they are “too effective” at building mass on the lower body. You can quickly get excessive muscle after just 6 months of squatting. Just throw in 6-8 sets of squats…do a traditional pyramid…15 reps, 12 reps, 10 reps, 8 reps, 6 reps, 6 reps, 6 reps, 10-15 reps. You can do this in 20-30 minutes and you will get results.

You can easily work each body part twice per week, just like you described. Add squats to your chest/back day. I’d do them first, follow with chest and then back. Maybe drop one of your back exercises down to 2. So squats…3 exercises for chest…2 for back.

This will work well,


Bryan March 8, 2008 at 5:15 pm

I just have a couple questions. So youre saying to have a 5 sets of 3 reps with light weight one day, and heavy the next time you work out that muscle group?

Also, im not going for the bodybuilder look at all, but i think that i need a little more muscle mass to look good tone. Should i focus on gaining mass, or will a toning routine still be ok, and allow me to build more muscles as well?

Thanks, great site.

admin March 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm


A good balance to gain a bit of muscle while increasing definition is to do sets of 5 reps, but do more overall sets and shorten the rest periods a bit…this will help you achieve a “slight” pump while increasing strength. Do 12+ sets on areas where you want to add size and less than that for areas that are more developed.

That should work well,


Bryan March 9, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Awesome, thanks.

Also, what exercises do you recommend for shoulders? I know you dont like shrugs, or anything else that works mostly the traps. I was thinking, military press, lateral/front raises, and upright rows?

Now should i follow the same set/rep advice for all exercises, or just areas that i want definition, such as chest, abs?

admin March 10, 2008 at 7:37 pm


Thanks for the compliments. I like seated dumbbell presses the best. I like the way it works the entire shoulder and feel healthier on my shoulders than barbell presses. I actually do them on an adjustable incline bench set at the highest level. It ends up being slightly less than 90%, but it feels best on my shoulders that sitting all the way straight up.

I also like lateral raises, but on a machine or cable. With dumbbells you only get really good tension at the top of the movement. I think machines do a better job at generating tension to the side delt through the full range of motion.

Your traps will get enough indirect work through shoulder presses, back work, and laterals. Your front delts will get tons of indirect work through chest…no need to do shrugs, upright rows or front raises.

Do a lot of volume on dumbbell presses if you want to build some mass in your shoulders. Grab a weight you can do about 8 times…and do it 5 times…rest 30-60 seconds…then do it 5 more times. Do this until it gets tough to complete a set of 5. Hopefully you will get at least 5 sets in, do more if it is feeling good. Then hit laterals with the same strategy. That will take care of shoulders for you. If you still feel like you need additional work, hit some machine presses after laterals for a few sets. This will finish shoulders off.

Hope that helps!


Bryan March 10, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Thanks Rusty. A couple more questions though. Should i be performing low reps and about 5 sets for all my exercises, or just for areas i want to tone?

Also, you recommend cardio right after a workout, but what about PWO shakes? I thougt you were supposed to take them right after lifting? My PWO shake consists of 1 and 1/2 scoops whey protein, 30g of dextrose, and 30g of maltodextrin for carbs.

admin March 11, 2008 at 2:03 pm


I wouldn’t worry too much about PWO shakes. Maybe once a week, do a high volume lifting workout and skip the cardio…then drink a big shake. To be honest, I’ve never noticed that much of a difference. I think it is more important when people are trying to gain as much mass as possible.

A good mass gaining strategy (that still builds hard and dense muscles) is many sets of 5 reps.

A good toning strategy is less sets of 3-5 reps.

Hope that helps!


Bryan March 11, 2008 at 3:50 pm

How about this routine:

Monday – Chest/Back – Light, followed by HIIT ( 5 sets of 3)
Tuesday – Bi/Tri/Shoulders – Light (5 sets of 3)
Wednesday – HITT
Thursday – cardio in the morning, Chest/Back – Heavy – PWO shake (5 sets of 5)
Friday – Bi/Tri/Shoulders – Heavy (5 sets of 5) – PWO shake

Basically mix up toning and mass building, would that work at all?


admin March 12, 2008 at 2:47 am


This looks like an outstanding workout to me. You are going to love how quickly you gain strength while getting lean. See…I love just giving you guys the principles behind how things work and you “tweak” these principles to fit your current conditioning and goals. This looks like a brilliant workout that will allow you to hit your goals for sure. Very Cool!


Bryan March 13, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Ive been thinking, and i think im just gonna try and tone for summer, so would i do 5 sets of 3 for both heavy and light days?

Tom Parker April 3, 2008 at 7:44 pm

Hey Rusty,
Thanks for the great advice. I’ve never heard or thought about this technique before. I’ve been struggling with increasing my strength/lifting heavier weights for a number of weeks now so this is definitely a technique I will be trying.

admin April 4, 2008 at 7:44 pm


Yeah…this is a way of gaining strength without killing your joints in the process. Give it a shot…it works well!


Asus May 6, 2008 at 6:04 am

Hi Rusty.

Indeed shocking post. I saw this approach once at, but the rest of their site focuses on bulk look, I personally don’t like it.
My friend stopped lifting weight 15 years ago. Now, he wants to join again. I can still see some muscles covered with fat. Funny though, but his pecs are like boobs you know, where the lower chest muscle is flabby. He’s 6 feet and 180 lbs, not that fat but flabby body tone.
The confusing part is here, how should his do his sets/reps in order to get lean. I was thinking 3 sets of 5 reps + 2 sets of 15 reps. I’m not sure whether 5×5 is suitable for beginner or should he just stick with 4×15 for the first few weeks.
One more thing, should he do HIIT after workout or before workout ? Can he consume whey protein[only whey without carbohydrates] after workout ?
P.S. I am really going to ban him from doing decline bench press for the first few month, so he won’t over develop lower chest muscle.

Really seek your advise and thank’s a lot Rusty ๐Ÿ™‚

admin May 7, 2008 at 12:57 pm


You are a good friend! Nice breasts only look good on our female friends. He probably shouldn’t do decline ever. He can go 5 sets of 5, just make sure he choses a lighter weight at first. To be honest, it will be easier for him then doing 15 reps…he only has to concentrate on good form for 5 reps vs 15 reps. HIIT is a great idea after a workout…and yes, he can consume protein after a workout. If he has a lot of flab to lose have him wait an hour. If he needs to add a bit of muscle he can consume it right after the workout (it can have carbs if this is the case).


Odin July 21, 2008 at 3:10 pm

I’m not sure of the rules on posting links so I will copy/paste as well. I’m 5″7 135lbs and I feel like a little(5-10lbs max) more mass would be great BUT I’m really looking for exactly what this site was made for , the “hollywood” toned strong look. Do you think this kind of workout would be good? Or do you think it has too many high rep things to match my goals?

Squat or box squat 2 x 5
Glute/Ham Raises or pullthroughs 3 x 10
Bent Row or Chest Supported row 4 x 6
Barbell or Dumbbell Curl 3 x 8
Calf Raises 3 x 15

Bench Press or low board press 3 x 5, or 3 x 3
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 4 x 8
Military or Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 x 8
Skull Crushers 3 x 10
Ab work 3 x 10

Deadlift or rack deadlift 2 x 5
Leg press 2 x 10
Chin or lat pull-down 4 x 6
Barbell or Dumbbell Curl 3 x 8
Calf Raises 3 x 15

Incline bench press or Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 5, or 3 x 3
Dumbbell Bench Press 4 x 8
Military or Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 x 8
Tricep pushdowns 3 x 10
Ab work 3 x 10 Monday

Squat or box squat 2 x 5
Glute/Ham Raises or pullthroughs 3 x 10
Bent Row or Chest Supported row 4 x 6
Barbell or Dumbbell Curl 3 x 8
Calf Raises 3 x 15

Bench Press or low board press 3 x 5, or 3 x 3
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 4 x 8
Military or Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 x 8
Skull Crushers 3 x 10
Ab work 3 x 10

Sets are NOT taken to failure, at least 1 rep short, or to the point RIGHT before form starts to break down. If you do not recover well, reduce 1 set from each of the lifts.

Tammy August 3, 2008 at 8:19 pm

I just want to get this right before i hit the gym. I am female as you can probably tell by the name, and I want to lose fat (dont all females?) ha. anyhow I was doing more reps with a light weight and I see nothing. I want to slim down my arms and legs and am not sure how to do that with weights. I don’t want bulk, can you tell me how I will know what weight to use for the low reps? Would I do 3-5 reps at a heavier weight to tone and not build up the fat I already have?

Bryan September 3, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Hi there,

Your method seems genius and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions regarding it. I remember you said that I could get benefits just by lifting light all the time. Say for example for me light is something like 15-20 pounds, would it be alright if I just stuck to those weights? Also what do you think of compound exorcises versus iscolation exorcises? Thank you!

Amitt October 11, 2008 at 2:59 pm

i am overweight i do 3 sets for my chest in bench about 20kgs plus 15kg bar the first 3 are ok but after that struggling.i really dont see a gain in muscle or strengh or fat loss. what am i doing wrong. i use a good width just a little out of shoulder.i would appre.iate some advice

eric p. October 23, 2008 at 5:37 pm




Jerdog January 7, 2009 at 1:22 am

What is your perspecitive on wave training for strength training and muscle tone? I was able to put an average of ~7 lbs per week consistently on my bench using the routine mentioned. I did start out fairly low at ~170 for a 1 rep max. The routine consisted of the following for several upper body areas, chest, back, shoulders, etc. I lift about 70-75% of my 1 rep max for 6 reps, 3 reps of 85-90% of 1 rep max, 75-80% of 1 rep max for 6 reps, 90-95% of 1 rep max for 3 reps, and then roughly 65% of 1 rep max for about 8-10 reps. I didn’t plateau with this method on any of the muscles I was training and the site I found it on said you should be able to avoid plateaus, but 8 weeks may be to short to notice it. I never made the muscles completely fail using this method, because I would cut a rep off a set if I knew I was unable to complete it. I was not lifting the weights as slow as you recommend for time under tension, but by “default”, the sets of 3 reps made me lift slower since it was a heavier weight. By reading your site, I believe I primarily need to reduce body fat for definition and increase my time under tension when I lift, but I would appreciate any comments on if this method is adding more bulk or definition.

Farbod January 13, 2009 at 2:34 am

Hi I came across your site because I wanted to see if there was a way to get stronger while lifting light. I only have dumbbells that can go up to 20 pounds. so this was a refreshing thing to see. I was wondering if you had any advice on how I should go about my workout. I weigh 145 pounds and I’m 5’11 I didn’t want to really get bigger, but increase my strength.

I found these exercises to use, and I think your article on hiit looks interesting, do you think that would be good to include? I had these exercises in mind.

upright row
shoulder press
bench press
Tricep extension
dumbbell curl
hammer curl
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row
straight leg dead lift
dumbbell lunge
calf raise
dumbbell squat

how should I structure my workout and how many reps/sets should I do should I do 5×5 for each workout?

Wayne February 3, 2009 at 9:32 am

Hey Rusty,

I workout for 5 or 6 days a week (1 or 2 rest days per week), often I will workout continous over a period of a few days with no rest days in between, purely because i enjoy doing exercise.

I alternate everyday between the following

1) on 1 day i do weight training for 30 minutes plus 30 minute swimming training (cardio) directly after
2) the very next day i do HIIT (running)
3) I would then return to the training mentioned in item 1 the very next day and would continue with this alternating.

Is this good for muscle tone? I am concerned because of the following:

1) Not much rest between days
2) Not musch rest between exercises (weight training and then the swimming directly after).

Let me know your thoughts!


Rayner February 24, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Hey rusty.

My brother and I are both extreme admirers of Eugene Sandow, and the true essence of strength and muscular developement. Your article basically blew our minds. Eugene Sandow regularly referred to the mind when training, but the material he provided is always vague. But now the dots connect. Anyway, my big question was actually just; how long do recommend someone should rest between sets, in accordance with your methods?

Thanx a mil, Rayner

Jimmy March 18, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Wow! What a mind-blowing article! I can’t wait to journalize my workouts in proving this for myself! Conceptually, it makes sense when taken into context the amazing feats that shaolin monks are able to accomplish!

Ganio May 28, 2009 at 12:19 am

Yet, another amazing article. I’m excited to implement all the new ideas I have gotten from your site.

phil September 16, 2009 at 4:41 pm

hi Rusty
im a pro golfer, ive been working out for about four years solid. i do lots of dynamic flexibility and mobilty work but still feel stiff and sore, so i started doing the 5 reps always short of failure instead of normal run of the mill stuff. im still stiff and a little sore and my elasticity is suffering. last year i did high reps and lost stiffness and soreness. my question is what would you recommend to keep getting stronger(not bigger) but not suffering as this affects my practise.
thanks -Phil

logan October 26, 2009 at 9:23 am

rusty, you are a genius… i have been workin out for a little over a year now, just learning as i go and within the last two to three hours i have learned more than that whole year! your 56 paged book taught me soooo much. thank you so much for that man. i appreciate it greatly. you will definitely be hearing from me regularly from now on. ๐Ÿ™‚

with a LOT of appreciation – logan

Jeff Todd October 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm

Hi from Canada Rusty – This site ROCKS – I am 46yrs young and have done the gambit – Volume, BRE, HST and others over the years. The information you have here is honest and straight forward. I love what you say about the “6 meals a day” and “eat protein till it comes out your ears” myths that we’ve been shoveled at us for years. Exercise should be intense and short – out of the gym/garage and enjoy life period.
I do have a question if you would be so kind to answer – I just started some “lactic acid” circuits to cut fat. Doing them 2 to 3 times a week can I still throw in 1-2 strength workouts or is that overkill?

Thanks and keep it up Rusty,

admin October 27, 2009 at 12:08 am


Thanks for the compliment. I need to organize my site a little better to make the content more accessible, but I know you will get a lot out of it!


You would be fine throwing in a few low volume strength training workouts…just keep them focused and brief.

Glad you enjoy the site!


Jessica November 12, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Hi Rusty!
Thanks for this site. Every weight lifting site only focuses on how to build the most muscle. Well I like muscle and all but I don’t want legs that look like sausages with the skin on in my tight jeans… you know what I’m sayin… So there was a female who named Tammy who posted about a year ago wondering what to do before she got to the gym so she got the body she desired. You never answered her and I’m wondering the same thing. I have tried several different techniques to achieve the “hollywood” body, and I have most of it… except the legs. What should a lady do who wants slender legs that look like the beautiful Jennifer Aniston?

Helen November 27, 2009 at 11:12 pm

great article..
aside from being personally useful, its the first time ever I’ve read an explanation of how the body works that can easily account for when those moments when normal people become ‘superman or woman’ and lift a car thats crushing someone… imperative making the brain fire off far higher % of the fibres, despite the potential of long term damage

Michael December 16, 2009 at 8:25 pm

does this kind of weightlifting make the muscles grow at all?

Michael January 2, 2010 at 3:22 am


This is great. Last time i got checked i was at 3.2% body fat and still to my shock i didnt have the “look” i wanted. I have increased it a little because i really didnt think i was that low. Im 5’9” 160 and i can lift a lot of weight for my size like i can bench 330 (which isnt too much but ill ive with it at 160 lbs). I had noticed this concept before when i was working out but never really took the time to actually think about it. Im glad i came across this because i mean at as low of a body fat as im at yeah i look lean but i never really looked “ripped” regardless of the amount of body fat or strength i had. My goal is to look something like Cam Gigandet from never back down or like the old calvin klein model you showed in one of your posts. I feel like this might be what ive been looking for. Ive been researching and asking around for over a year now about how to get more of this kind of look. So i want to thank you for taking the time to put this information up here and helping everyone.

Random January 26, 2010 at 11:12 am

Hey Rusty and all other viewers,

I have been coming back to this site for 4 days or so and constantly reading the article. I used to train quite frequently, and then all of a sudden just totally lost passion for it. For the last 6 months or so I have been trying to get it back, but much easier said than done. One of my BIGGEST problems is, trying to understand the vast amounts of information out there, I can’t seem to start a program until I am 100% confident in it, and I can’t get 100% confident in anything because every article you read there seems to be one that contradicts it completely. Anyways, it seems a lot of posts here are about people 145-175 lbs and CUT. Well I wish that was me. I am roughly 245, big frame, quite strong. I haven’t trained seriously in almost a year yet it takes a week or two to get 315+ off the bench. The problem is I am not going for a BULKY bodybuilder frame. I want to get in shape and even gain some flexibility (for golf season). Would anyone reading this article be kind enough to share some type of weight training program that they feel would be beneficial to my goals? Obviously I will use the methods discussed in the article (slow negative, charge up the muscles, pause at the top, etc.) I was wondering what the best muscle split would be for this routine and some of the top exercises. I am working in a remote community so our gym access is limited to our living room (we have barbell with plenty of weight, 20lb, 40lb and 80lb dumbbells. Some cables, and a chin up bar. Thanks to anyone who can find the time to reply to this post. I have never felt so confused in a long time and really need to snap out of this rut, lose weight and lean up. Looking forward to some further discussion.

Thiago February 6, 2010 at 5:02 pm

I still have one doubt on this kind of working out.

When you lower the weights (the negative part of the exercise), you do it really slowly or just like “common” working out, fast? Because this negative part, when done slowly, can leave the muscles sore, right? I usually lift the weights in 4-5 seconds, and lower them in the same amount of time. Am I doing it correctly? Do you recommend lowering it faster/lifting it slower?

Thanks in advance!

Jimbo March 1, 2010 at 8:24 am

Great site Rusty!

you mentioned about picking ~2 exercises per body parts. Wouldn’t that be sufficient if i’m going to work on my chest?

Jimmy from HK

sam March 4, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Hi mate if you look at the worlds strongest men or super heavyweight olympic lifters or power lifters one thing they have in common is that they are all massive!

Im sure they use use a combo of bodybuilding type hypertrophy as well as very low rep strength training!

My question is is it better to use higher rep hypertrophy AND low rep strength training

Or is it better to ONLY use low rep workouts for strength training?

If you were at the bottem of a weight division for say olympic weightlifting would it be better to gradually increase in size using ONLY low reps? Or will you not put on any weight at all at low reps?

Or would it be better to use bodybuilding type hypertrophy to get to the highest weight allowed in that division before using the low rep strength training?

They say a bigger muscle has more potential to be a stronger muscle! But I dont understand why an increase in bodybuilding hypertrophy which then gets put through low rep strength training will end up stronger than someone that ONLY does low rep strength training!

Can you explain why this is the case? (If it is at all)

Kind regards great info cheers Rusty!!!

Ty May 23, 2010 at 6:03 am

Hey Rusty,
First off, I have to say what a great site this is, i’ve just stumbled on it and love all that i’m learning…and it seems i’m not the only one!
I’m 20 yrs old, about 6’3 @ 172lbs. I am recovering from a microdisectomy surgery I had in January and got the OK to start training regularly last month. I have always been involved in sports(i injured my back playing soccer) but I didn’t have a ton of size or strength before my surgery and have since changed my focus to my overall health and fitness level. I spend plenty of time on core strength and flexibilty, but my goal is to gain OVERALL strength/size while dropping down to about 8% bf. I wont have access to a gym or free weights any time soon, although, i do have a pullup bar. What do you suggest I do to acheive my goals?
I’m patient and more than happy to take things slow after having back surgery at 19 yrs old! ha
Hope you can help!

Demond May 31, 2010 at 11:16 am

Rusty, Im 14…what would you recommend for me to get abs..? i have most of them but can really only see when i flex…

mike August 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Hey Rusty! I’ve read a lot of your articles, and I’ve also bought Visual Impact, in the hopes of finding a simple training routine that would help me keep defined muscles indefinitely. I’m a 5’3″ gymnast, 17 years old and I’m quitting gymnastics because of old leg injuries, so I’ll now have to train on my own. I’ve never done weights before, so I’m use to doing simple exercises with my own body weight, and I’m having a hard time understanding how to use these exercises in the 2-3 rep ranges you talk about in visual impact, since i want to focus on muscle density (I already have big muscles, and abs that almost look like a beer belly). I don’t have a bench press so I can’t use that for pecs, so I was also wondering which type of exercise would work the TOP part of the pecs… I already do Planks, the arch position, chin ups, pushups, the L sit (40 sec) and other gymnast-like exercise, but I’m not sure how I’n suposed to perform these if I only want muscle density and tone… I really loved Visual Impact, and it really helped me understand a lot of stuff, but all of your examples are with weights, so that was kind of dissapointing and left me a bit confused, since I want to try to train with my body weight. one last thing! I don’t have much body fat, but my skin is SO elastic that i can stretch it at least 4 cm away from any part of my body… so this doesnt help much for my ab deffinition, and i dont undertand what i have to do to get rid of this. Please help! I don’t train (gymnastics) anymore, and my muscle tone is really important tome and I dont want to stumble blindly trying to keep and improve my muscle tone (we use to do ALL of our exercises till muscle failure, so we didn’t work only for toning and density)
Thanks for all the intresting articles, and for Visual Impact!

p.s.: sorry for the long comment


Will August 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I just stumbled across your site and it sounds very intriguing. I have always been somewhat envious of the gymnast physique. I’ve trained for quite a while now and built up a good amount of muscle mass, but I still have relatively little definition (I am 195 pounds at 6’3″).
My question is this: what do you think of a 5-8 rep range? I’ve designed my latest routine as follows, based on this article: 8,8,6,6,5(reps). Is this a good rep range or should I veer more towards the 5×5 routine which you mentioned in one of your earlier posts? As I said, I’m very intrigued and excited by your concept, and any feedback would be highly appreciated.
Will Jolly

John March 18, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I am a little confused by this article on lifting light weights for low reps in order to gain strength which goes against every study I have read or in my designing resistance programs.

Can you point to a study or studies that back this up? From what I understand and from my studies to gain strength with very little hypertrophy you need to lift in the 1-5 rep range with heavier weights and employ the progress overload principle

It seem that this article is saying that one can gain strength with a 20 lb dumbbell as long as reps are low and contractions are strong.

I could be wrong is just misinterpreted the article wrong.

Helpless small April 6, 2011 at 3:49 am

I was unable most of my life to gain size or weight. I finally went to the gym and lifted with some friends who had lifted for a long time but were big. They told me to start my workout. I went from exercise to exercise fast as I could. One asked me If I was late for an appointment. He said if I wanted to gain size I needed to slow down and do less not more. So he started me out on a new routine. For 4 weeks I did 3 sets of 8-10 reps of each excersize for the purpose of gaining strength. I never did more than 18 sets in one workout. I lifted 4 times per week. Then for second 4 weeks I did sets of 5 reps the first week, 4 the second 2 the third and 1 the fouth. I kept Increasing the weight each set till failure. If I did not fail, I was not lifting enough wait. I kept careful records of all I did. At the end of my heavy month I took 1 FULL week of to heal. ( you don’t grow while lifting. You tear down muscle tissue. Your body grows during your days off.) Also on your heavy weeks you only excersize each muscle group one day each week. On my heavy weeks I would excerse chest on Monday, legs on Tuesday, Wedsnday was off, Thursday I did back and shoulders. Friday I did arms. I always had at least 2 people to spot me and I rested 5 minutes between sets on the heavy weeks so I could do the very heavy weights that I was lifting. I started out with my weight at 150lbs. After 1 year I weighed 208lbs. I ended up squating with 405lbs and benching 275lbs. As for diet, I don’t eat sweets cause I am a juvinile onset (type 1) Insuline dependant diabetic. I also had to watch my blood sugars very close during each workout. Everyone is diffrent. Just try it. I ate flank steak and fruit almost excusively for dinner and lunch. For breakfast I ate Grapenuts, Banana and milk. I always eat some snack before bed. Well there it is. simple and hard to stay on the routine. Oh, also if you don’t feel like lifting one day, just take it off. Start again the next day. You can’t get fat lifting this way. Email me and let me know how this is working for you. I am anxious to hear how this is working for you. Maybe I should charge for this so I can buy some new weights. HaHaHa!!!!!!

Michael Altieri June 10, 2011 at 1:43 am

I practice pull-ups and deep knee bends on Tues, Thurs and Sat; then push-ups, the Captains chair, and jogging on Mon, Wed, and Fri.. Doesn’t that work all the muscles?

Stephane July 9, 2011 at 11:30 am

Hello Rusty!

I recently bought your book on visual impact. Since then I have been reading most of your articles. I have to say that I am very impress and motivated on getting leaner,stronger and more defined. I’m 48 years old, I have been training for the last 10 years, but never achieved the lean look. Always been stuck with those last 10-15 pounds (fat around the waist). I will eat better now, try the eat stop eat twice a week and see. Most peoples tell me i’m in great shape but I want to be i the best shape. I’m so happy to have found your info , thanks for sharing all that infos I,ll keep you posted on m y progress. Rgds Stรฉphane

Biniam Maru August 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Hey Rusty,
I am 17 years old and I play basketball. I am trying to get stronger without getting bigger and I can use all of the advice that I can get. Please and thank you for your time.

Walter I. December 29, 2011 at 7:59 am

Very helpful post. Believe it or not so far this is the best website for healthy advice. Strength and etc. Keep it up.

Amber January 12, 2012 at 11:41 am


I echo the comments of many of the people on here in that this post has been very helpful. As an ex wildland firefighter, I am no stranger to the gym and lifting. In the past for my work I was always interested in gaining strength, which equated into a strong but “bulky” look. After reading your post I am interested in trying your method in order to get strong again but not bulky..aka, the hollywood look. I am used to lifting to failure w 2 sets at 8-10 reps. But as a few other women have posted on here, with using the low rep, light weight technique, how do I know how light of weights to use? Thanks so much!

glenn February 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm

I am a 16 year old boy and I’d really like to lose my body fat and increase muscle definition. Could you give me some advice for a good diet and cardio routine? I would greatly appreciate any help

Brian March 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

I think that is very helpful thanks for everything man I really fell motivated

Toby March 17, 2012 at 6:43 am

I have basically been doing this for a month.
I have built up my routine of doing normal workouts I would typically do, but exchanged the weight for 10 lbs. I did this because I really enjoy chinese martial arts and am a vegetarian,and at one point I learned that I can get stronger without even moving or flexing, just by focusing on being enabled. This wasn’t an easy way to train so I did this a few times and stopped because I realised it would be hard to track my gains, and progress.. So about a month ago, I decided to get back in the gym but lift 10 lbs, and decided I would figre it out as I go along..
In the beginning I visualized lifting heavy weights like I used to, and after a week or so, I learned that I was faster and stronger, and was more aware of my form naturally without as much effort.
As I have been progressing, I have learned that I am simply just lifting the light weights by flexing as little as possible. In turn this is proving my form by cancelling out the unnecesarry stress. Thus I believe causes focus, and the need for a better flow of neuron juice.
I have also learned that I am training my tendons by doing this as well.
The plan is to lift the 10 lbs withut flexing barely at all, with such good form; and once I master the weight I will go up to 15 lbs.
I think this is a fairly safe and extremely effective way to gain overall power, as long as you flex enough, to keep form.
The only time I lift heavy, is just to test my strength.
I used to lift the bodybuilder/power builder way, but I want to cut the unnecessary bulk. I would rather look like I have the strength of a 150 lb guy, but bench 700 lbs!
Please reply, I am quite curious to see what you think of this.

Oliver May 4, 2012 at 8:06 am

Hi Rusty, great fan of the blog here.

Have you seen this article ?

“Light Weights Are Just as Good for Building Muscle, Getting Stronger, Researchers Find”

jeff June 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm


Huge fan of both visual impact and your site. I have a question and apologize if you have addressed this topic already:

Do you use prime sets in phase 2; 2 prime- 3 work sets with the same weight or all 5 sets the same weight?

In phase 3 can the work sets be done with the same weight or should they gradually increased?

Haris Velic July 15, 2012 at 4:19 am

I knew that our electrobalance in the body had with or muscles to dooo i knew it!!!!

PK Leghaei July 19, 2012 at 11:04 am

Just tried your work out with 5 sets of 5 5push ups! Dude I don’t think I’ve ever in felt my muscles work so hard as they did just now, and I’ve been lifting weights for over 20 years.
Rusty you now have a new raving fan.

Brazil Butt Lift August 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Hi, yup this post is in fact pleasant and I have learned
lot of things from it about blogging. thanks.

Prince August 18, 2012 at 12:15 pm

hey rusty, i just want to ask for gaining muscularity and reducing loose fat what should be done light weight or heavy weight, less reps or more reps . Please help as iam not getting that result which i should according to my workout.

Dumbbell Exercises October 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Although the widely shared opinion is that no significant muscle gain can be achieved without weightlifting supplements, this is not always true.

Or the idea that women have sex drives that are as strong as
men’s. They are deceiving themselves if they think all they need to do is to exercise till they feel “the pump”.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: