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The little black book of training methods

Das kleine schwarze Buch der Trainingsmethoden

The little black book of training methods

Many of you have been training for many years and have experimented with dozens of training methods. Most of these methods are probably long forgotten like the girl with the braces and padded bra you went on a date or two with in high school. The chemistry wasn't right and you went different ways.

The thing is, we all grow and mature - we all change. The girl with the braces is now an underwear model for Victoria's Secret and has a degree in literature. She's definitely worth more than a second look. Likewise, the workout regimen we once discarded might now deserve a second look.

For that reason, here is this "little black book" of training methodologies. I've dug up a few dozen methods and described them. So if it's a cold winter day, you're lonely and you feel like trying something new or rekindling an "old romance", try one of these. The two of you could be a great match.

Rest break

This method usually involves the use of near-maximal weights. The exerciser simply performs one repetition with a heavy weight, sets the weight down, pauses for 10 to 15 seconds and performs another repetition, after which you pause again for 10 to 15 seconds.

This is repeated until 4 or 5 repetitions have been performed. If the trainee is unable to move the weight up a third, fourth or fifth time, a training partner can help.

Generally, only one set is performed, but up to 3 or 4 exercises (for that muscle group) can be performed.

People who use this method believe that training with near-maximal weights will give you the greatest gains.

German Body Comp

This is a method popularized by weight training coach Charles Poliquin and is designed to burn fat. Basically, the exerciser performs a series of high repetition sets - somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 repetitions - with very short rests between sets (30 to 60 seconds).

For example, the exerciser could start by performing a set of bench presses with 15 to 20 repetitions and after a short rest, they could perform a set of squats with 15 to 20 repetitions. The important thing to remember is that an upper body exercise is always followed by a lower body exercise (or vice versa).

Interestingly, the order, sequence or choice of exercises doesn't matter that much. All that matters is that you train each muscle group with sets of 15 to 20 repetitions and that you alternate between upper body and lower body sets. In addition, the entire training session should not last longer than an hour.

Poliquin theorized that the lactic acid production stimulated by this high-volume, short-break workout would cause an increase in the body's natural release of growth hormone, which would lead to fat loss. I personally believe that this type of training simply burns a lot of calories.

Either way, the system is effective when it comes to reducing body fat mass.

Super Slow

I have often said that the term "weight lifting" is a misnomer. Instead, it is better to speak of "lowering weights".

You may now say that this is little more than linguistic masturbation. Perhaps, but when you consider that it is the eccentric or lowering portion of the movement that results in the greatest muscle gains, then the term "lowering weights" seems to make a lot more sense.

The Super Slow Method uses the lowering portion of the movement to its advantage. This method involves the very slow execution of both parts of a movement (the lifting and lowering of the weight) or just the very slow execution of the lowering movement. For example, an exerciser could take 5 seconds to move the weight up, followed by a 1 second pause before lowering the weight over a 5 second period (a 515 tempo).

If you wanted to take this method to an extreme, you could raise the weight in one second and then lower it without pausing for 30 seconds. Obviously, in such a case, only one repetition would be necessary.

This method is useful in a number of situations. Injured exercisers can subject the muscles to a large amount of stress without having to use a lot of weight. Secondly, the slow tempo allows the exerciser to learn and use good form when performing the exercise. Thirdly, this method exposes the muscles to a large amount of tension for a prolonged period of time, which can lead to strong muscle growth if used wisely.

The negative system

This training system uses the fact that a muscle can lower more weight than it can lift to its advantage.

There are several ways to use a negative system. One way to use this system is to use a training partner. For example, Ian King often recommends that a trainee could load a bar with 120% of their maximum weight for bench presses and then have a training partner move the bar upwards at the right and left ends of the bar. The trainee then lowers the weight using their own strength. When the bar has reached the lowest point of the movement, the two training partners lift the bar back up to the starting position.

In addition to using training partners, a trainee can perform negative repetitions on different exercises by using both arms (or legs) to move the weight up and then lowering the weight with only one arm (or leg). For example, if you want to perform dumbbell tricep presses, you could use both hands to bring the dumbbell into position and then lower it with one hand. Also, many machines allow the exerciser to move the weight to the start position with both arms/legs and then use one arm/leg to lower the weight.

Examples include leg presses, leg curls and leg extension machines.

Super overload

Although I've never used this system myself, I read about it in one of Fleck and Kraemer's books (Designing Resistance Training Programs). It is similar to the negative system above, but differs in that the exerciser performs multiple partial repetitions until muscle failure is reached.

As an example, a trainee would use 125% of their 1 RM weight on the bench press. His training partner would help him lift the weight from the rack and move it to the straight-arm position. Then the exerciser lowers the weight as far as possible (which, because they are using 125% of their 1RM weight, will only be a small amount) before pressing it back to the start position. Ideally, they would perform 7 to 10 such partial repetitions before lowering the weight all the way down, whereupon the training partner would help them move the weight back up and place it in the rack.

I suspect that this method would help build strength in the upper third of the bench press movement, which is a weak area for many exercisers, in addition to teaching the exerciser to use heavier weights, which would psychologically prepare them for heavier weights in the future.

Functional isometric movements or "Isometronic" training

This method is typically used to train a particularly short range of motion with the hope that the strength gains will carry over and allow the trainee to use more weight while performing a movement through the full range of motion.

For example, the trainee may wish to train the middle range of the bench press as this is one of their weak points. He would use a power rack, set the rack so that the bar rests at a point that roughly corresponds to the beginning of the middle range of motion. The next set of rack pins would be placed roughly 10 to 15 centimeters above this point.

The athlete would move the bar with momentum over the short part of the range of motion and then be stopped by the top set of pins. Instead of stopping, however, he would try to push the bar through the pins for about 5 to 8 seconds.

This would be repeated for 3 or 4 sets.

This method is most helpful for those looking to increase their 1RM weight.


This system was first introduced by Dann Ross, but it doesn't really matter who came up with it. It involves performing three sets in a row without rest. The trick is to perform an exercise for a specific muscle, followed by an unrelated exercise for the same muscle and then repeating the first exercise.

As an example, the exerciser could perform a set of 8 to 10 repetitions of barbell tricep presses, then immediately move on to a set of close bench presses with 8 to 10 repetitions and then immediately repeat the barbell tricep exercise.

I'm not exactly sure of the physiological reasons behind this approach. All I know is that it is an extremely effective method.

Descending sets (strip sets)

Ahh, the good old descending sets. This is usually the first advanced training method we learn and it is definitely of value when used thoughtfully.

This method involves performing an exercise to muscle failure with a specific weight, then quickly reducing the resistance and training to muscle failure again. For example, a trainee would perform 5 repetitions of the bench press, put the weight down and have their training partner take 10 to 20 kilos off the bar. He would then perform 4 to 5 more repetitions. He would then rest for about 2 minutes before performing his next superset. This could be repeated several times.

The problem is that this method is abused by masochists all over the world. Instead of reducing the resistance once, you perform more reps to muscle failure, pause, reduce the weight again, perform more reps to muscle failure, and so on.

This could be continued for 8 to 9 sets. As long as it is possible to reduce the weight by microscopic amounts - so much that they get into a subatomic range - these exercisers will perform further descending sets late into the night.

It's a cool method, but it can also easily lead to overtraining. I recommend using this method in the way it was originally intended.

1 ½-er

This method was popularized by Ian King. It simply involves extending a repetition. For example, 1 ½ squats involve performing a full squat and then going down to half height and then returning to the starting position. This would be one repetition.

1 ½ leg extensions would involve performing a full repetition followed by a downward movement to half height and then returning to the top position.

In addition to increasing the time under tension, this method allows for additional work to be performed in a specific part of the range of motion - an area where he may be weak.

Another reason to utilize the 1 ½ method is to train around an injury. Many exercisers are unable to perform heavy squats for a variety of reasons. However, if you use the 1 ½ method, then you could use less weight and still generate a lot of tension in your muscle fibers.

Wavelike load

Although the name of this method may sound more like a method for surfers, using a wave-like load is an excellent training method that seems to get the nervous system to become more efficient. This method involves performing a group of sets (a "wave") that usually includes one set of 4 repetitions, followed by one set of 3 repetitions 4 minutes or later, followed by one set of 2 repetitions 4 minutes or later. The weight is of course increased with each set, but not so much that the exerciser goes to muscle failure.

After the first wave, the exerciser performs another wave of 4, 3 and 2 repetitions using heavier weights on each set than during the first wave. Surprisingly, the second wave usually allows the exerciser to use heavier weights than they could have used if they had not performed the first wave.


I'm not sure who invented this method, but it was popularized by Arnold in his book "Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding". This method simply involves performing 21 repetitions in three mini sets of 7 repetitions. There are several ways to do this, but in my opinion the smartest is to perform 7 partial repetitions over the weakest part of the range of motion, followed by 7 movements over the full range of motion, followed by 7 partial repetitions over the strongest part of the range of motion.

If you use this method for curls, for example, you could perform 7 partial repetitions moving the bar up from the extended arm position to the position where the forearms are parallel to the floor, followed by 7 repetitions through the full range of motion and then 7 partial repetitions from the middle position to the full contraction position.

Strength coach Ian King also recommended pausing each time the direction of movement is changed to increase the training effect.

1.6 Training

This method is in some ways based on the same principle as the baseball batter who puts round weights on his bat to make his bat appear heavier. When he takes the weights off the bat, the regular bat appears lighter and he can swing it faster.

1.6 training is also known as the mixed neural drive/hypertrophy program, which was introduced in the USA by national weightlifting coach Dragomir Cioroslan. It involves performing one repetition with maximum or near-maximum weight, then resting for a few minutes before performing a set of 6 repetitions with a weight appropriate for that repetition range

By performing the one repetition with near-maximal weight and then resting for 3 to 10 minutes, you can move more weight in the set of 6 repetitions than you could have moved if you had not performed that single repetition.

Typically, the 1.6 program is performed in waves. You perform a set of one repetition, followed by a set of 6 repetitions and then the 1.6 protocol is repeated. In most cases, the exerciser is able to use even more weight during the second wave.

The system supposedly works by potentiating the nervous system, allowing the muscles to move more weight. Regardless of the exact mechanism, this system works quite well.

Contrast training

Contrast training is the reverse version of 1,6 training in that you perform the sets of one and 6 repetitions in reverse order. In other words, you perform a set of 6 repetitions (using a submaximal weight) followed by a set of one repetition 3 to 6 minutes later.

This method only works if you don't go all out during the first set. Performing the set of 6 repetitions prepares the body for using heavier weights and if you follow this with a set of 1 repetition, it will feel much lighter.

Typically, the set pattern looks like this:

  • 1x6 with 75 kilos
  • 1x1 with 85 kilos
  • 1x6 with 80 kilos
  • 1x1 with 90 kilos

The two "waves" are often followed by a set of 10 to 20 repetitions, in which a much lighter weight is of course used.

German Volume Training

Even though this training method was probably popularized by Vince Gironda, it has somehow earned the name German Volume Training or GVT.

This program involves performing 10 sets of 10 repetitions of the same exercises, with only about 60 seconds of rest between sets. Typically, the weight used is 60 to 65% of your 1RM weight, which will feel ridiculously light during the first few sets. However, as you continue and fatigue begins to set in, you will start to perform sets of 8, 7, 6 or even just 5 reps.

Amazingly, around the eighth set you will experience a sort of neurological rebound and your reps will increase again.

Once you can perform 10 sets of 10 reps, it's time to increase the weight.

The theory is that by exposing the muscles to such a high volume, they are forced to grow.

GVT 2000

This method is very similar to GVT, but it attempts to correct some of the shortcomings of the original plan.

Performing 10 sets of 10 repetitions of the same exercise seems to lead to overexertion of certain joints in some people. Furthermore, considering that the program recommended performing a few different sets for the same muscle group using more traditional repetition schemes, the volume was simply too high for most people.

In addition to this, it turns out that using only one exercise for each muscle group is not such a good idea. For example, let's say your goal is to perform 10 sets of leg curls with 10 reps each. Well, the leg biceps don't just flex the lower leg - they also act as hip extensors and the best way to target these muscles is to perform good mornings and deadlifts with the legs extended. Simply performing leg curls completely ignores the other function of the leg biceps.

And last but not least, the original German Volume Training program was boring as hell.

GVT 2000 uses the same theoretical goal of performing 10 sets of 10 reps, but it uses different joint angles. For example, instead of performing 10 sets of conventional squats, you perform front squats (3x10), squats with a medium-wide foot spacing and the bar high on your back (3x10), followed by squats with a wide foot spacing and the bar lower on your back (3x10). And after this, to give the lower leg extension ability some work, perform leg extensions (1x10).

As with the GVT, the same weight is used for all sets of an exercise.

The 5 x 5 training method

5 x 5, originally developed by Reg Park, involves performing 5 sets of 5 repetitions using the same weight. This is the goal. However, if you choose the right weight, you will not be able to perform 5 sets of 5 repetitions - at least not immediately.

If you choose the right weight, the workout would look like this:

  • Set 1: 5x100 kilos
  • Set 2: 4x100 kilos
  • Set 3: 3x100 kilos
  • Set 4: 3x100 kilos
  • Set 5: 2x100 kilos

Remember that the goal of performing 5 sets of 5 repetitions is a hypothetical goal. If you can immediately perform 5 sets of 5 repetitions, then the weight you have chosen is too light.

The 6x4 method

This method requires you to choose a weight with which you can perform 6 sets of 2 repetitions. Normally this would be between 80 and 87% of your 1RM weight. The goal is to eventually be able to perform 6 sets of 4 repetitions. And you are not allowed to increase the weight until you have reached this goal.

Legend has it that by constantly using this weight, you force your nervous system to accept it as a normal weight.

Remember to rest between 4 and 5 minutes between sets. This is a long time, but users of this method often train opposing muscle groups together so that the first muscle group can recover while they train the antagonistic muscle group.

For example, perform a set of biceps curls followed by a set of triceps presses.

The 5/4/3/2/1 method

This method involves performing one set of an exercise with your 5RM weight (the maximum weight for 5 repetitions). Then, after resting for 3 to 5 minutes, increase the weight by 2 to 3% and perform a set of 4 repetitions. Continue in this manner, increasing the weight with each set until you reach your 1 RM weight.

A typical repetition pattern could look like this:

  • Set 1: 5x100 kilos
  • Set 2: 4x102.5 kilos
  • Set 3: 3x105 kilos
  • Set 4: 2x107.5 kilos
  • Set 5: 1x110 kilos

Advocates of this system like it because it teaches the body to perform a repetition with a real maximum weight for one repetition. They believe that you can't go from performing sets of 8 reps to a true 1RM weight until you teach your nervous system to recruit the higher threshold muscle fibers.

As you perform the prescribed sets and reps, increase your starting weight and recalculate the pyramid.

The oscillating wave program

This program has not been scientifically studied and in some ways it goes against standard practice, but it still works.

The program uses 3 varying repetition schemes, 3 varying tempos and 3 varying rest periods - all in the same 5 day split.

  • Day 1 is dedicated to biceps, triceps and shoulders.
  • Day 2 is dedicated to legs
  • Day 3 is training free
  • Day 4 is dedicated to chest and back
  • Day 5 is another non-training day
  • On day 6 the split starts again.

The first biceps/triceps/shoulder training session is dedicated to strength training. The reps are very low (3 to 6 reps), the pace is slow (3121) and the rest periods are long (at least 120 seconds).

The next training session on the following day - legs - is dedicated to hypertrophy training. The number of repetitions is moderate (8 to 12) - just like the tempo (2020) and rest times (90 seconds).

The third training session, which follows a day off, is for chest and back. This training unit is dedicated to endurance training. The number of repetitions is high (15 to 20), the tempo is explosive (10x0) and the rest intervals are short (60 seconds).

After another day off, the split starts again, but this time you perform hypertrophy training for the shoulders and arms (8 to 12 repetitions), endurance training for the legs (15 to 20 repetitions) and strength training for the chest and back (3 to 6 repetitions).

You continue to vary the type of training for each muscle group with each subsequent 5-day split. To look at it from a different angle, when you train arms and shoulders for the first time, perform strength training with low repetitions (3 to 6). The next time you train your arms and shoulders, perform hypertrophy training with moderate repetitions (8 to 12). The third time you train your arms and shoulders, perform endurance training with a high number of repetitions (15 to 20).

And then start the cycle again with a low repetition workout.

Each muscle group is trained in this way. Never use the same repetition range for the same muscle group twice in a row. In addition, you never perform two training sessions in a row using the same repetition range.

Of course, in this article I have in no way documented all the training methods that are out there - probably not even a tenth of them. However, the methods I've included in my little black book are some of my favorites and if you want to try them, you should.

From TC Luoma | 12/22/00


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