Your Muscle & Strength Authority Site Since 1999

“Working Up” To One Top Set

guest post by Jason Ferruggia

What is “Working Up” and Who is it Good For?

working-upBeginners shouldn’t work up. Novice lifters should always stick with straight weight and use what’s known as a “sets across” approach. So if the program calls for five sets of five they should pick a weight they could do for maybe eight reps and do all five sets with that weight.

For example:
135 x 5 x 5

Advanced lifters, on the other hand, should “work up.” So instead of doing five sets of five with the same weight they would work up to one top end set of five and maybe hit one back off set after that. All in all they may end up doing more than five sets. It might be closer to ten. But only one or two is a real heavy work set.

For example:
Bar x 10
95 x 5
135 x 5
185 x 5
225 x 5
250 x 5
275 x 5
315 x 5
295 x 5 (back off set)

That ends up being nine total sets. Just because only one or two sets is heavy doesn’t mean the others are useless. As anyone who has practiced speed training or the Dynamic Effort Method understands, you get a training effect with weights at as low as 50-60% of your max and above.

In the previous example, if the lifter was working up to a near five rep max with 315 we can assume a one rep max of around 370 pounds. Therefore every set above 222 will give him a training effect. In this case their are five productive sets. This is a much better approach and easier to recover from than if he just did five straight sets of five with say 295-305 pounds.

As long as you are exploding each of the “working up” sets as fast as humanly possible you are training speed while en route to your maximal strength sets. Essentially you are killing two birds with one stone. Especially if you do a large number (6-10) of “work up” sets, which I highly recommend for the big barbell lifts.

There have been plenty of times in the past where I’ve said that there’s very little reason for an advanced lifter to do more than one or two heavy sets on a big barbell exercise. On occasion people mistook that to mean I was a big proponent of HIT (High Intensity Training). That’s not the case. As you can see from the example above it’s actually closer to ten total sets but with only one or two being really heavy.

So what sets count as warm up sets and what sets count as work sets? I don’t even think about it to be honest. The line is blurred. Anything above 60% definitely elicits a training effect so if you wanted to count that would be the place to start.

The last thing I want you to do is a couple quick, half-assed warm up sets and then one or two work sets. That’s a terrible approach that doesn’t fully fire up your central nervous system and makes you more prone to injury.

What Exercises Should I “Work Up” On?


All of the big, compound barbell exercises. I never have intermediate/advanced lifters do more than one or two heavy sets on exercises like squats, deads, bench presses, military presses or deadlifts. I like to do all of these exercises for eight reps or less, for the most part, in order to maintain perfect technique and reduce the risk of injury. So we always work up to a top end set here. Note that it’s never a true rep max, just a good, clean heavy set.

You never want to do slow, grinding, ugly reps. That’s a prescription for weakness and injuries.

Certain assistance exercises are best done for sets across and others lend themselves well to working up. Bodyweightexercises like inverted rows and glute ham raises are usually best done for sets across. These types of exercises don’t beat you up too much so you can tolerate more volume on them.

Even if you are advanced it’s always best to do any new exercises you are trying out for sets across as well. For example, if you are just starting handstand pushups there is no way to really work up. So just do something like six sets of two. Or if you are just starting ring dips for the first time it would be best to do multiple sets of low reps with a constant load.

Other assistance exercises like a one arm dumbbell press lend themselves well to working up. So you might do something like this:

70 x 8
75 x 8
80 x 8 (top end set)
75 x 8 (knew you wouldn’t be able to get the 80’s again so you dropped down for one more set)

If your assistance lift is very similar to your main lift you need very little in the way of warm up or “work up” sets. If you bench press as your big lift of the day and follow it up with an incline dumbbell press your sets might look something like this:

90 x 8
100 x8

And that’s all she wrote.

The Same But Enormously Different

In my brand new ebook, Minimalist Training, I have a wide variety of set and rep schemes listed. The beauty part is that if you know the difference between “sets across” and “working up” the same loading parameters can be used for both beginner level and more advanced lifters.

Let’s say Little Johnny has a max squat of 185 and Big Bill has a max squat of 495. The program calls for ten sets of three.

Little Johnny will do ten sets of three reps with 160 pounds.

Big Bill will get to his ten sets like this:

Bar x 10
95 x 3
135 x 3
185 x 3
225 x 3
275 x 3
315 x 3
365 x 3
405 x 3
425 x 3
445 x 3

If they are doing dumbbell military presses for assistance work, Little Johnny will do four sets of eight reps with the 40’s.

Big Bill will do this:
70 x 8
80 x 8
85 x 8
90 x 8

Of course, I have different programs and different frequencies for beginner and advanced lifters but some of the set and rep schemes are sometimes similar.

The huge, colossal, magnanimous difference, however, is the “working up” part. High level intermediate to advanced lifters simply can’t do heavy “sets across” on big compound barbell or dumbbell exercises.

If you haven’t done so already pick up your copy of Minimalist Training. All the cool kids are talking about it.


Triple Threat Muscle Excerpt- Accumulation & Intensification

March 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Powerlifting, Recent Posts, Training

The following is an excerpt from Jason Ferruggia’s new 3XM Triple Threat Muscle program. Jason’s new workout he’s spent the last two years working on and testing is all about building the ultimate athletic physique. To start a surge of muscle growth, build strength and explosive power visit his site for more tips at

Chapter 3:  Accumulation & Intensification

triplethreatmuscle2I first learned about Accumulation and Intensification (or Adaptation) many years ago from the great Olympic sprint coach, Charlie Francis, and have long since adapted and applied it to the training of normal guys looking to get bigger and stronger.

Accumulation and Intensification involves alternating between phases of higher volume (more sets and reps, less weight and shorter rest periods) and frequency, with phases of higher intensity (less sets and reps, heavier weight and longer rest periods) and less frequency. For example, you might do a four week block of ten to twelve reps with one minute rest intervals followed by a three to four week block of four to six reps with two minutes rest. The Accumulation phase often focuses more on sarcoplasmic/ slow twitch hypertrophy and the Intensification phase focuses more on myofibrillar/ fast twitch hypertrophy.

The way I have set up the Accumulation and Intensification phases in Triple Threat Muscle is that a block of full body training is followed immediately by a block of upper/lower splits. The full body workouts serve as the Accumulation phase and the upper/lower workouts serve as the Intensification phase.

In the Accumulation phase you are training each muscle group every 48 hours with a decent amount of volume. The body responds by building up a reserve of adaptive energies. After three to four weeks the volume and frequency will get to be too much to handle and overtraining could be right around the corner.

However, when you cut this off just before it happens and switch to an upper/lower phase (still training three days per week) the drastic reduction in training frequency and volume leads to massive gains because of the extra recovery ability you built up during the full body workout phase. You go from training each muscle group directly three times per week to now hitting it directly once every five days. This is a HUGE difference and the body responds incredibly well to the reduced volume and frequency by building size and strength rapidly during this phase.

Eventually you may burn out on this and may even start to detrain because your training frequency may be too low. How fast it takes this to happen is individual and is based on a number of factors. But when it does, and hopefully before it actually happens, you switch back to full body workouts to spark new gains and kick start the whole cycle all over again with the increased volume and frequency. This plan prevents you from overtraining or undertraining, and keeps you in the optimal training zone at all times. It’s the best of both worlds.

For more information on Triple Threat Muscle and to get the full mapped out workout plan visit:

How Many Days Per Week To Train A Muscle?

August 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Recent Posts, Training

I”m glad to be back home even if it’s so hot it feels like I”m walking through pudding when I go outside.

I just returned from a trip to CT to visit the parents while attending a wedding in MA for my wife’s cousin Cassie.

Anytime I meet new people and I tell them I run an Internet Business related to building muscle the questions always start pouring in.

One guy at my table said he only trains each body part once per week. Another guy says he makes better gains training each body part twice a week. They asked who was right and I’m going to have to agree with my buddy Jason Ferruggia.

jay4If you don’t know Jason he’s the Chief Training Advisor for Men’s Fitness and he runs a hardcore gym in Jersey. He’s one of the top strength & conditioning guys in the country so when he takes the time to explain something, I listen.

I told the guys at the table I’d write a blog post about their question and I couldn’t think of a better person to have do a guest post than Jason. Here’s what he said when I asked him who was right…….

“I believe the two keys to effective training are overload and frequency. He who makes the greatest strength gains (in a hypertrophy rep range) over a given time period, while training the muscle as frequently as possible, will get the greatest size gains. The key is to do just enough to stimulate a hypertrophy response then get out and recover and get back to the gym as soon as possible. As long as you keep the volume low, the frequency can remain high and you can make consistent strength gains. As long as the weights are going up you know you are not over trained.

Like Lee Haney said, “stimulate, don’t annihilate.” No matter how many sets you do, the majority of people will not require a full seven days of recovery between body parts. But when you do a ton of sets you create the need for that amount of time between workouts because each workout would take three hours if you hit more than one or two muscle groups on a typical high volume bodybuilding program. That may be fine if you are inhumanly strong and 260 pounds of rock hard muscle. But for the average guy, he is going to detrain and actually start to lose size. It’s two steps forward, two steps back. With lower volume and higher frequency you can actually take one smaller step forward, but remain there with no steps back. This is the optimal plan for the average, drug free trainee.”

Another question people ask me a lot is what sites I like to visit and who I like to read up on. Well Jay’s site is right up my alley. I like his no BS attitude and he doesn’t sugar coat anything.

He’s the author of a best selling program called Muscle Gaining Secrets. It’s a great mass building program and totally explains why 95% of all hardgainers are dead wrong in how they train for muscle growth.

Jason is actually running a promo right now. He’s giving away three extra bonus items for anyone that buys his MGS program in the next 3-days.


Limited-Time Bonus #1: Renegade Cardio: Intervals, steady state, fasted, fed, high intensity, low intensity… with all the conflicting information and confusion it’s no wonder most people will never see their abs no matter how hard they try. They’re doing it all wrong! But I finally set the record straight and allow you to steal my closely guarded secret cardio workouts, usually only reserved for my highest paying clients. Get ready to get shredded!

Limited-Time Bonus #2: MGS Advanced Mass Building Guide: After you’ve completed the main program and packed on your first 20-30 pounds of ripped muscle you’ll be ready to move on to the advanced level. But be warned, this workout is so powerful that you absolutely must complete the basic program first in order to prepare your body for the extreme metamorphosis it’s about to experience!

Limited-Time Bonus #3: Armed & Dangerous: Let’s face it, everybody wants and envies a pair of big, muscular, sleeve stretching arms. A pair of pipe cleaners dangling in a loose t-shirt is a terrible look and one that will get you no respect from the guys or the girls. With this arm specialization workout you will add 2 inches of awe inspiring, rock solid muscle to your arms in just 8 short weeks!

You should go over to Jay’s site and find out more about his Muscle Gaining Secrets program while he’s offering these cool Bonus items.


Click Here Now To Take Advantage <<<<<