When I first made the switch from focusing on bodybuilding to focusing on power training, I immediately enjoyed the training and the results they brought me. One of the reasons I enjoyed strength and power training so much was the implementation of heavy singles into my programs. It was enjoyable to lift near maximum weights on a regular basis—and to get great strength gains from all the uber-heavy training.
One thing that worried me about heavy singles, however, was losing a lot of my muscle size. I had originally been taught—by bodybuilders who were friends of mine or through the various articles in the bodybuilding magazines each month—that singles were good for building maximal strength, but would have little to no impact on gaining (or even maintaining) muscle mass. I had always been taught that for maximum hypertrophy you needed to concentrate on sets in the 6 to 8 repetition range. I thought if I started training with sets of 3 reps, 2, or (God forbid) 1 rep, I would be training my nervous system, and making my tendons and ligaments stronger, but I wouldn’t be getting any hypertrophy gains.
Imagine how surprised I was when, not only was I keeping my muscle, but my arms were soon larger than they had ever been. And the only things I had been doing for my arms were barbell curls, reverse barbell curls, and close-grip bottom-position bench presses—all for singles. I have been sold on singles ever since.
There are several good ways to implement singles into your training programs. Two of the best ways are to either use progressively heavier singles or to perform multiple singles with the same weight on all sets. The workouts below will use both of these methods. These workouts are great to use after a few months on the programs in Part Three. They will also prepare you for all the hard and heavy work you’ll be doing in the workouts in the upcoming parts of this series.
New To Singles
This first program is for those of you who are new to single-repetition training. It will also prepare you for the routines that are to follow. In this one (as in the others we have followed so far) you will be using the heavy/light/medium method of full-body training.
· Full Squats—3 to 6 singles. I wrote down full squats because I don’t want you to get in the habit of doing half squats since you will be using more weight than you are used to handling. Leave your ego at the gym door (or at the garage door if you train at home as I do) when squatting for singles. For this exercise (as with all the core lifts in the program), I want you to start out with a weight where you can get at least 3 singles (usually about 90-95% of your max) after a sufficient warm-up. Add singles at every workout until you are able to do 6 singles with the weight. When you get all 6 singles, add weight at the next workout and repeat the process. This is one of the time-proven methods to build maximum strength. It has worked for such all-time great strength athletes as Doug Hepburn, Paul Anderson, and Pat Casey. If it worked for them, it will work for you.
· Flat Bench Presses—3 to 6 singles. Use the same method that you used on squats. As for your technique, I want you to make sure you pause for a count of one second at the bottom of each repetition. Don’t get in the habit of bouncing the weight off your chest despite the heavy weights.
· Deadlifts—2 to 4 singles. On this exercise, you won’t need to do as much volume (deadlifts, by their nature, simply don’t require as much work to bring them up as squats and benches). For that reason, I want you doing no more than 4 multiple singles at around 90-95% of your maximum.
· Bent-arm Dumbbell Pullovers—3 sets of 10 reps. George Turner (one of the greats in bodybuilding) once called this exercise the upper body squat, and for a good reason—it works your triceps, shoulders, lats, and chest (especially your lats and tris). Work hard on each set, but take every set a rep or two shy of failure.
· Dumbbell Curls supersetted w/ bench dips—2 sets of 20 reps (each exercise). Work each set hard, and concentrate on getting a good pump. Because of all the heavy singles at the beginning of the session, you don’t need low repetitions on these exercises. As with the pullovers, don’t take any set to failure, but still work them hard.
· Abs—3 sets of 30-50 reps. Pick any of the ab exercises you have come to enjoy and work one of them very hard. If you need to, add extra weights via a plate on your chest (on crunches or sit-ups) or a dip belt (hanging leg raises, knee-ups, etc.).
· Full Squats—6 singles. For all 6 of these “work sets” use a weight that’s around 80% of the weight used on heavy day. Alternate between 3 different stances—2 sets wide, 2 sets close, and 2 sets medium.
· Flat Bench Presses—5 singles. All these sets should be done with 80% of the heavy day’s work weight. Concentrate on using good form (pausing on your chest, keeping your hips on the bench, driving the weight up with your feet, etc.)
· Deadlifts Off a Box—4 singles. Use only around 70% of the heavy day’s weight for conventional deadlifts. Your lower back will need the extra rest.
· Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions—4 sets of 10 reps. Take every set three to four reps shy of failure.
· Abs-3 sets of 30-50 reps.
· Bottom-position Squats—3 to 6 singles. Your goal here is to use 90-95% of what you used on your heavy day for all of the singles. For many, it’s going to be hard to even do that much. Train this exercise hard (I can’t stress that enough) and it will pay off big time, however.
· Bottom-position Bench Presses—3 to 6 singles. Use the same system that you used on the squats above, setting the pins at chest level.
· Rack Deadlifts—2 to 4 singles. Set the pins in the power rack so you start this exercise at about knee level.
· Barbell Curls supersetted w/ Close-grip Push-ups—2 sets of 20 reps (each exercise).
· Abs—3 sets of 30 to 50 reps.
After you have done the above program for at least six weeks, your body should be well acclimated to single-repetition work and ready for a more advanced regimen of heavy singles. This program has a greater total workload and better prepares you for the workouts to come. You will notice that this program also contains an extra light workout. If you have been training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then this extra light session would fit in best on Tuesday. While not everyone needs this extra session, it will work wonders for a lot of lifters who need to add in some extra work, but don’t need to make their heavy workouts any longer than they are already.
· Squats—2 to 5 singles (followed by a possible max effort), followed by 1 set of 5 reps and 1 set of 10 reps. After the initial program, your nervous system should be more efficient at moving heavy singles, which is the reason I have you starting with a weight you can only get 2 singles with. If you manage to get all 5 singles with the weight you’re using, then go for a personal record on a 6th set. Never attempt a weight you have done before—go for a new record every time. After your final single, drop down in weight for a set that makes you work hard for 5 reps, followed by one that makes you work hard for 10 repetitions.
· Flat Bench Presses—2 to 5 singles (plus max effort if necessary), followed by 1 set of 5 reps and 1 set of 10 reps. Use the same method as the squats.
· Deadlifts, Deadlifts Off Blocks, or Rack Deadlifts—5 to 7 progressively heavier singles, followed by 3 sets of 3 reps. For these use a different method than the squats or bench presses. Rotating between the three exercises every week, work up over 5 to 7 singles until you hit a maximum weight. After your final single, drop down to 80-85% of that weight and perform 3 sets of 3 reps.
· Dumbbell Curls alternated w/ Close-grip bench presses—varying repetition ranges. Change the sets and reps every week, using 4 sets of 10-15, 2 sets of 20, 5 sets of 8, etc. Shoot for around 80-100 reps total between both exercises.
· Abs—5 sets of 40 to 60 reps. Pick a hard exercise for this day—hanging leg raises, steep incline sit-ups, etc.
Light Day (one)
· Front squats or Overhead Squats—5 singles. Use a weight that’s around 50-60% of the weight used on squats the previous day—just don’t go over 60%. Alternate between these exercises, doing the overhead squats every third week. As for form, on the front squats make sure the bar is resting high across your chest, almost on you neck. This will make you squat very upright and will work your quadriceps hard. For the overhead squats, press the weight over your head. Once it is locked out, keep it there as you squat down and up over the course of the entire set.
· Overhead Presses—2 to 5 singles, followed by 1 set of 5 reps. Use the same technique as the bench presses from the heavy day, just make sure to drop the second down set of 10 repetitions.
· Snatch Grip Deadlifts—3 to 6 singles. By snatch grip, I’m talking about using a wide grip, with your pinky finger almost touching the power rings—the same grip used by Olympic lifters when performing the snatch. This exercise is naturally tougher because of your grip and the way it works your back muscles. Still, make sure you use no more than 50% of what you used on your back exercise on the heavy day.
Light Day (two)
· Close-stance, High-bar Pause squats—2 to 5 singles. Use the same method with these as the squats on Monday, omitting any of the down sets. Make sure you pause for a count of 2 to 3 seconds at the bottom of the movement.
· Incline Bench Presses—2 to 5 singles. Use the same 2x5 system as the pause squats above.
· Rounded Back Good Mornings—4 to 5 progressively heavier singles. Work up to a weight that’s around 90% of your maximum on the final single.
· Dips—5 progressively heavier sets of 8, 5, or 3 reps. Use a dip belt to add weight on these. Alternate between the three different repetition ranges each week.
· Abs—5 sets of 40 to 60 reps.
· Box Squats—2 to 5 singles, followed by 1 set of 5 reps and 1 set of 10 reps. Use the same method with these as the regular squats on heavy day—without the maximum attempt after all 5 singles. The nature of this exercise should take care of how much weight you use, just make sure you don’t exceed 90% of the weight from the heavy day. For form, use a box that, when you sit down on it, is below parrallel. Make sure you sit back on the box, not straight down. Pause on the box briefly, relaxing your hip muscles but keeping your other muscles tight.
· Close-grip Bench Presses—2 to 5 singles, followed by 1 set of 5 reps and 1 set of 10 reps. Use the same set/rep format as bench presses on heavy day, except don’t attempt a maximum attempt at the end of the 5 singles.
· Barbell Shrugs—5 to 7 progressively heavier singles. Start out with a couple of light warm-upsets of 5 reps. After that, work up over 5 to 7 singles until you hit your max weight for the day.
· Barbell Cheat Curls—5 progressively heavier singles. For these, don’t just let your biceps do the work. Intentionally cheat throughout the concentric portion of the movement by using your hips and back to swing the weight up. Throughout the eccentric portion, lower with control.
· Abs—5 sets of 40 to 60 reps.
After several months on the above programs, I can guarantee you will be bigger, stronger, and thicker than before you started either program. You’ll also have the muscle and strength in all the right places since these routines focus on the rear of your body just as much as the front. Even if your goal in training is to be a competitive bodybuilder, I don’t want you skimming over this part without trying it (or any of the future parts with programs that include singles). Trust me: even if your main goal is hypertrophy, your body will benefit from these workouts. There’s a noticeable difference between the look of muscle built with heavy, low rep training, and the type built with high-rep pumping workouts. Never forget it!