I have always been incapable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time. I learned this about myself at an early age. My Mom or Dad would say, “Okay, son, we need to mow the lawn, clean your room, rake the leaves, clean out the gutters and the list would go on and on. I'd be nodding my head but I would be cringing inside. The listing of all that stuff was overwhelming and made me not want to do any of the stuff that they were telling me that we had to do. I would have rather that they told me to move a ton of dirt and then I’d be done. And even then, if they added another task later, that would be fine, as long as I didn't have fifty things to do hanging over me. I'm sure a psychotherapist would have a field day with all of that stuff, but I am still like that today. Give me one thing at a time to accomplish and I will get it done. A bunch of stuff to do? I’ll usually do none of it.
I remember reading an article in the early 1980’s in Muscle Training Illustrated Magazine, about Jusup Wilcosz, the great German Bodybuilder. He was Mr. Universe at the time, and was a frequent Mr. Olympia competitor. The author, Gary Bartlett, wrote about a session that he observed where Wilcosz was training shoulders. At the time, most bodybuilders trained with high repetitions and medium weights and trained with short rest periods and with multiple exercises. Bartlett observed Wilkosz training shoulders and he was surprised by what he saw: Wilkosz was performing only standing behind the neck presses for his shoulders and he was performing set after set with heavy weight and low repetitions, sometimes going as low as two reps per set. This was unheard of at the time, but being a bald faced teenager who was into questioning everything regarding training and who had a voracious appetite for everything Iron Game related, I started thinking, why not deviate from the norm and sometimes just pick one exercise per body part and obliterate it with that exercise and be done?
Bartlett wrote about how much fun Wilkosz seemed to be having lifting heavy and not running around from exercise to exercise like most of the pros at the time. He wrote how he'd do a heavy set, relax for a few moments, put some more weight on, crank out a heavy double, and then repeat the process. Seemed awfully close to powerlifting to me. And as we all know that powerlifters have some of the thickest, most dense physiques around.
I tell you what else reading that article did for me: It gave me permission, so to speak, to not feel guilty when I wasn't training like Arnold and Franco were at the time, that if the mighty Jusup can train that way and get good gains, so could I!.
To this day, I still change my training sessions all of the time. But my absolute favorite way to train is to just perform one exercise for a body part for a multitude of sets. For instance, sometimes, even when training for a bodybuilding show,
I don't know if it's my personality or what, but doing a bunch of different exercises doesn't really appeal to me. Oh sure, I still do three different exercises at times for a body part, and I still do high reps and go to failure and do negatives and all of that, but my absolute favorite way to train is to just say, “Okay, I have to train my legs today. I'm gonna do 10x6 squats and leave.” Something about not having anything after the squats to do appeals to me, like, oh man, now I have to do this and that and this. Instead, I like knowing that I can just crush this one exercise and leave. Just one and done. Performing bent over rows in this fashion is one of my favorite workouts. I remember for one bodybuilding show, I was only a week out and it was my last back session before the show. I was done with doing all of the cable stuff and all of the lat pulls which are unbelievably boring, and I was like, screw it, man. And of course, I was dieting and didn't have patience for a whole bunch of running around from exercise to exercise. So I just put on 225 pounds to 265 pounds on the bar and did 15 sets of 6 (15x6). I mean, bent over rows worked for Yates, right? And it's a great thickness exercise, right? So I just hit it hard and left.
I did the same thing for legs for all of my shows. I'd go in and do 10x20 of hack squats and leave, or 10x6 of squats and leave or 10x12 of leg press and leave. And I grew from all of those sessions. And I didn’t have to think, “Oh darn, I still have to do leg curls and leg extensions and all the other stuff. For the chest, sometimes I would just perform 15 sets of 6 repetitions on the dumbbell bench and be done with the chest. Or for biceps, 10x6 of easy curls or dumbbell curls. And it doesn't always have to be low reps, it can also be done, like I said before, with stuff like hack squats. When I did 10x20 on hack squats, I really didn't need to do anything else for legs, especially for my quads. I loved it! I'd do a set of 20, walk 20 steps to the water fountain, walk back, get on the machine and go. Or triceps, 10x20 dips and be done. Calves, 5x30, Donkey Calf Raise. Just wear it down and be done.
Most of the exercises that I choose are the compound ones, the movements that involve the most musculature, like squats, bent rows, deadlifts, presses, etc., but it is up to you. If you want to hit shoulders and feel like doing 10x12 of lateral raises with dumbbells, go for it. There are no set rules with this type of training.
If that type of training appeals to you like it does to me, give it a shot. Decide on one of your favorite exercises for a body part, run it into the ground for a mess of sets and leave. It's an excellent way to train and when you only have to focus on one thing, all of your energy can go towards that exercise. Give it all that you have and then leave. That way of training can become an integral part of your routine. Heck, it may become your favorite way to train, also.
About The Author
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog basbarbell.com, and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books, Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections. Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.