Compound Exercise Overload (CEO)
Compound Exercise Overload (CEO) – The “Boss” of Rapid Strength Gain
by Nick Nilsson author of Muscle Explosion
Add 30 pounds to your bench press in THREE days? Impossible?
What if I told you that with just one very-specifically performed training session, you can increase your strength levels 5 to 10% in a matter of three days. If you currently bench 300 lbs, that’s a 30-lb increase!
You’d most likely tell me I’m insane (or some other not-so-polite choice of words)…conventional wisdom says that real strength is built over long periods of time, not in short bursts like this.
Well, some training “rules” are meant to be broken. All you need is the right framework, a touch of insanity, and the guts to put it to work.
Compound Exercise Overload (CEO) is my “secret weapon” designed to strategically overload a single exercise with MASSIVE volume in one session. With CEO, you take a single compound exercise (like the squat, deadlift or bench press) and do ONLY that one exercise for the entire workout. You’ll work with relatively heavy weights, you’ll get 30 seconds of rest between sets and you’ll do this for 40 minutes straight.
This technique is literally like compressing a month’s worth of training into a single workout…with the results to match it.
Compound Exercise Overload works to increase strength in several ways:
1. CEO focuses your nervous system on a single specific exercise/movement pattern, i.e. “greasing the groove” (credit to Pavel Tsatsouline for this concept). There is no competing training stimuli here, just a very specific focus on one exercise. This maximizes the neuromuscular adaptation to that exercise, tuning your nervous system to that exercise. Your body becomes its function and the function is that exercise.
2. The massive volume of training with CEO creates an emergency situation in your body. This “emergency” demands rapid adaptation in muscle and connective tissue, as well as in the nervous system. And, in the human body, emergency equals priority. Your body, in preparation for another future onslaught of this nature, pushes muscle growth and strength increases to the top of the list.
3. The high volume and short rest periods in CEO force a tremendous amount of blood into the target muscle group, driving nutrients into those target muscles. This influx of blood also stretches the fascia (the tough connective tissue that encapsulates muscle tissue, limiting its growth), which theoretically, will give the muscles more room to grow. This high-volume training also increases capillarization of the target muscles, resulting in a more permanent increase in blood supply. The better the blood supply, the more efficiently that muscle receives nutrients for growth and performance and gets rid of waste products.
4. CEO systematically reveals and addresses the weak points in your lift. For example, let’s say you’re using this technique with deadlifts and the weak link is your lower back. As you go through the workout, it’s going to be your lower back getting continually worked at its near-peak performance levels…everything else will be relatively sub-maximal. This is good because massive overload on your weak link is going to result in fast increases in strength in that weak link, which will directly carry over to the rest of your lift. When you go back to that lift in a normal workout, your lower back will no longer be the weak link and the rest of your muscles can now function closer to their actual strength potential, resulting in an immediate jump in total strength.
Put these four factors together and you have a training protocol that will give you big results in a very short window of time.
How To Do Compound Exercise Overload Training…
With this technique, your body will become a machine at whatever exercise you’re focusing on, so choose wisely…I recommend either the squat, bench press or deadlift for maximum results.
The deadlift is a good choice because it’s a great mass exercise, and all you need is a barbell and floorspace. You won’t tie up a bench press station or rack for 40 minutes. If you train when your gym is quiet and it’s not an issue, then bench or squat is fine (note: if you do choose to bench, I recommend doing these in the rack, especially if you don’t have a spotter who enjoys hanging out behind your bench for 40 minutes while you train…this technique doesn’t lend itself well to training partners working in with you, unfortunately).
Keep in mind, you’re going to be doing a LOT of sets of your choice of exercise and any form errors will be amplified over the course of the workout. Your form should be spot-on on every rep of every set…no exceptions. We’re trying to teach your body how to perform the exercise correctly.
Perform your regular warm-up before getting started, then load the barbell with a weight which you could normally complete at least 6 good reps with.
Ideally, you’ll want to use a stopwatch, regular watch or other form of timer here, to keep tight on your rest periods and total workout time. Otherwise, you’re going to have to count to 30 in your head, which is not accurate (plus that 30 seconds tends to stretch into a LOT longer as you go through the workout). Use a timer to stay honest.
Set the timer for the TOTAL workout time…in this case, it will be 40 minutes. During the workout itself, just mentally note the time you finish the set and count the time from there. For example, if you finish a set and there is 16:45 left on the timer, you have until 16:15 on the timer for rest.
Start your timer then perform ONLY 3 REPS with your starting weight, even though you CAN do 6. DO NOT go anywhere near failure on this first set or ANY set for the entire workout. The key is massive training volume, not training to failure…and that’s one rule we can’t break here.
When you’ve done your 3 reps, rest 30 seconds. Now set up and do 3 more reps. Rest 30 seconds.
Repeat these three-rep sets with 30 seconds of rest until you are unable to get 3 reps with that weight anymore. This could take anywhere from two to ten minutes or more, depending on the exercise and the amount of weight you’re using.
Here’s the key…if you’re on the second rep and it feels like you would have to really push hard to get that third rep, STOP! That’s the end for this weight.
The idea here is NOT to push yourself to the max on each set…stop short of it and train the body with volume. ALWAYS keep the “do or die” rep in you. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL FOR THIS PROGRAM TO WORK.
If you’re doing squats or deadlifts, remove 10 lbs from each side of the bar – 20 lbs total (if you started with 315, you now have 295 on the bar). Start again doing 3 rep sets and continue with the 30 second rest period. Drop the weight by 20 lbs (total) whenever you can’t complete 3 reps during a set. If you’re doing bench press (which is generally the weakest of the big three lifts), you can choose to go with a 5 lb-per-side drop (10 lbs total), if you like.
Stick with 3 reps on each set – no more, no less. Your body hits a rep-range groove and acclimates to it very quickly. This keeps your nervous system efficient because it becomes tuned to those three-rep sets.
The reason we’re using three reps as the “magic” number is because it IS the magic number. Any more reps and your body starts to build up significant metabolic waste products, causing early fatigue, which necessitates faster weight reduction. Any fewer reps and either the training loads are too high or you don’t accumulate enough volume over the course of the workout to maximize the effectiveness of the training.
After much experimentation, I’ve found 3 reps to be that magic number for this type of training.
Use Compound Exercise Overload training no more than once a week, and only on ONE exercise at a time, to maximize adaptation to that exercise. I also recommend having at least one or two rest days directly after using it.
And while you CAN use this technique as a single workout and see a nice jump in strength, a good way to utilize this technique is 4 to 6 weeks in a row. Perform this workout as your Friday workout every week for those 4 to 6 weeks, taking the weekends completely off. Do not use that exercise at any other time during the week. After those 4 to 6 weeks, your max will be significantly higher on your target exercise.
Key Notes to Maximize the Effectiveness of CEO Training:
1. Keep track of your start and end weights and the length of time you were able to lift each amount of weight. Chart your progress, so next time you have a PR to aim for. If you were able to go more than five minutes at your start weight, then increase the weight next time.
2. Only stretch the target muscle group after the final set of the workout, not during the workout. We want to keep as much blood in the area as possible to maximize the capillarization effects of this training…stretching will flush the blood out.
3. When doing this training with a barbell exercise, use plenty of small plates to finish the loadout. For example, if you’re starting with 315 lbs on the squat, don’t use three 45 lb plates on either side. Pulling those 45’s off takes up valuable training time and energy. Instead, use two 45’s, then a 25, then two 10’s. It’s the same weight but when you can no longer hit 315 lbs for 3 reps, all you need to do is pull a small 10 lb plate off each side. This is much easier and less time-consuming than pulling 45’s off then loading 35’s back on.
4. Stay tight to the 30 second rest period. This naturally increases a bit during the times you’re making weight changes, but even then, try to keep it as close to 30 seconds as possible. Start getting into position for the exercise before your 30 seconds rest is fully up. Even though you have 30 seconds of rest, it takes a few seconds to get into position for the exercise. If you start getting into position right at 30, you’ll be taking 35 to 40 seconds of rest.
5. When you’re doing this technique with deadlifts and using a mixed grip (one hand over, one hand under), it’s a good idea to switch around your grip on alternating sets to help keep your body balanced, e.g. if you grip overhand with your left hand and underhand with the right on one set, grip overhand with your right hand and underhand with your left on the next set.
CEO Training is an extraordinarily effective way to produce fast gains in strength and muscle mass. By tuning your nervous system to a specific movement pattern, eliminating weak points, improving blood circulation and stretching the fascia, this single session of massive training volume overload will deliver gains far beyond what you can achieve with conventional training.
This style of training is an integral part of my mass-building program “Muscle Explosion – 28 Days to Maximum Mass“.
Over the course of 5 days, you’ll be using this technique to perform more than 300 sets of a single exercise of your choice.
It’s an INCREDIBLY challenging and powerful technique that, when used in conjunction with the full Muscle Explosion training system, can yield gains similar to what you would normally achieve in a 4 to 6 months of training (no exaggeration).