ABC Training Made REAL Simple! Part I: Movements

by Frederick C. Hatfield II, MS, MFS, CSCS

The ABC system of bodybuilding training is a program based on the seven rules of training. These rules are not new, nor can anyone claim to have discovered them. Over the years, these rules have gained acceptance as “laws;” they are set in stone.

While Dr. Hatfield and the International Sports Sciences Association have noted them, every other credible expert in the training sciences acknowledges them, even if they have different names for them. When taking the ABC approach, watching your diet (that is, abiding by the 5 rules of performance nutrition) is critical.

THE ABC SYSTEM IS NOT SET IN STONE – THE PRINCIPLES BEHIND IT ARE!

Dr. Hatfield presented the ABC approach to training nearly two decades ago. His early work on this system is still valid today. Both Doc and I have received countless questions about the ABC program over the last ten years, and these questions lead me to believe there are still folks who simply don’t understand it. This article, therefore, is meant to break it down finitely — rep by rep, set by set and workout by workout. Before reading this article, however, you should read Dr. Hatfield’s article, “The Simplicity of Periodicity”, which is available in the articles section of Doc’s site, www.drsquat.com. That article will give you the scientific rationale why this program works.

Below, I have simplified what may have seemed to be a complicated and difficult program. Later, I’ll simplify several different approaches to ABC training.

THE ABC SYSTEM IS NOT SET IN STONE – THE PRINCIPLES BEHIND IT ARE!

For example, I will present programs which are meant to be applied 3 days per week, 5 days per week and ABC approaches which focus on movements rather than body parts.

The program outlined below is definitely do-able, even for folks who have a busy schedule. Yes, you will need dedication and you may have to train in the evening or early in the morning to fit it in. It is 7 days a week and I don’t feel sorry for you! As I said, I will give you alternatives that follow the universally accepted rules of training. But 99 percent of the population can, if they are dedicated, able to follow this program. None of the workouts in this program should be longer than 90 minutes. Most of them are 20 – 35 minutes long (unless you are exercising your jaw muscles too much between sets!).

Tables 1 & 2 give you a 28 day schedule. Following that are the workouts to be done on each day. In the next installment, I will list some general comments and tips.

Table 1

Exercise Day
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Legs A B C
Chest A B C B
Shoulders B A B C B
Triceps C B A B C
Back C B A B
Biceps A B C B
Forearms A A A A A A A
Calves A A A A A A A
Abs A A A A A A A

Table 2

Exercise Day
15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Legs B A B
Chest A B C
Shoulders A B C B
Triceps A B C B
Back A B C
Biceps A B C B C
Forearms A A A A A A A
Calves A A A A A A A
Abs A A A A A A A

Legs

For this body part our staple exercise will be the squat. With that in mind, you could break “legs” down to hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and lower back, in the same fashion we did with the upper body (chest, shoulders and triceps – with the main exercise the bench press). If you decide to do so, give the same amount of rest time to each muscle as listed in the chart for “legs”. With the lower back, stick with “A” workouts and give yourself two full days rest.

A Workouts B Workouts C Workouts
Squat 65%/6 reps x 3 sets Squat 75%/6 x 3
Hack Squat 65%/12 x 2
Giant sets Squat 80%/5 x 2
Hack Squats 65%12 x 2
Free Squats Bwt x 40 x 2

Chest

I understand it’s as tough to isolate the pecs from the shoulders and triceps as it is to isolate the various leg muscles. I will do my best, but realize it will still cut into recovery time of the other muscles. In the general notes section, I will point out that you can move workouts around so that they work in harmony.

It may be advantageous to use a wider grip (elbows out) in the bench press so that the pectorals get the brunt and not the shoulders or triceps. You could even use exercises like the pec deck or dumbbell flyes instead.

A Workouts B Workouts C Workouts
Bench Press 65%/6 x 3 Bench Press 75%/6 x 3
Chest Flyes 65%/12 x 2
Giant sets
Bench Press 80%/5 x 2
Chest Flyes 65%/12 x 2
DB Bench 35%/40 x 2

Shoulders

Shoulders – like triceps – must coincide with the chest exercises if we are using the Bench press as our main chest exercise. Moving exercises a day ahead or a day later is not that big of a deal.

If you are benching with a wide grip, you should still be able to fit these exercises in on their prescribed days. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, by all means move them to another day.

A Workouts B Workouts C Workouts
Front Raises 6 x 3 Front Raises 6 x 3
Lateral Raises 12 x 2
Giant sets
Front Raises 6 x 2
Lateral Raises 12 x 2
Overhead Press 40 x 2

Triceps

The commentary provided in the chest and shoulder section also applies to tricep work. Here are the workouts:

A Workouts B Workouts C Workouts
Lying Tricep Extension 6 x 3 Lying Tricep Extension6 x 3
Tricep Pushdown 12 x 2
Giant sets
Tricep Pushdown 5 x 2
Lying Tricep Extension 12 x 2
Tricep Pushdown 40 x 2

Back

There are two approaches you can take in training the back. You can use bent rows and work the posterior deltoids and rhomboids, or you can work the lats. Of course, you could do them both! I will detail a plan for them both. Like the Bench Press, your biceps will also be trained with some of the movements I’m giving. Keep that in mind and make adjustments as needed.

A Workouts B Workouts C Workouts
Bent Row 6 x 3
Pulldowns 6 x 3
Bent Row 6 x 3
Shrug Rows 12 x 2
Pulldowns 6 x 3
Lat Shrugs 12 x 2
Giant sets
Bent Row 5 x 2
Shrug Rows 12 x 2
Reverse Flyes 40 x 2
Pulldowns 6 x 3
Lat Shrugs 12 x 2
Pullovers 40 x 2

Biceps

I will give you three guesses which exercise I’m suggesting and the second two guesses won’t count! Barbell, dumbbell, EZ bar…. I don’t care what you use. However, you will want to do the 40 x 2 sets with both arms working at the same time to ensure constant tension, which is a must for what you want to achieve by doing them.

A Workouts B Workouts C Workouts
Curls 6 x 3 Curls 6 x 3
12 x 2
Giant sets
Curls 6 x 2
12 x 2
40 x 2

Forearms, Calves, Abs

These muscles are predominately slow twitch and therefore can be trained often, therefore, I don’t recommend the typical ABC approach to training them. For forearms, I like the Captains of Crush Grippers, which are available through Ironmind Enterprises. However, there are a variety of exercises you can do for your forearms. For calves, I recommend the strength shoe (a program for such is beyond the scope of this article), but good ole fashioned calf raises are great as well. Abs? Well, of course there is more out on abs then I like to acknowledge. However, I do have three exercises, which I think make up a complete program: Pre-stretched Crunches, Side Bends and Russian Twists.

General Comments:

  • You may find it advantageous to move a workout up a day or back a day. A general rule of thumb is to move workouts, which work larger muscles like the pectorals, back and workouts using smaller muscles like the shoulders or triceps up a day.
  • This system is very intense! Proper sleep, nutrition and supplementation are a must.
  • Listen to your body. You may find that you don’t need as much recovery as I suggested, or you may need an extra day. Listening to your body is a good thing – just don’t let it lie to you! Laziness is not a reason!
  • A Giant set (“C” workouts) is a set of 5 reps, a set of 15 reps and a set of 40 reps done without rest between sets. Furthermore, there is no rest between giant sets. This means you will be doing 130 reps in a row with no rest. Of course, you can take time to change weights and move to a different exercise, but that is a matter of 5-10 seconds. Yes, it can be done! You may need to lower the weight used a bit, but not much.
  • The 40 reps in a giant set are slow (2/2 cadence, but that is not a strict rule) and continuous. Don’t stop between reps! A slight pause between the other sets is ok…

Lastly:

THE ABC SYSTEM IS NOT SET IN STONE – THE PRINCIPLES BEHIND IT ARE!

In Part II, I’ll discuss an ABC approach that focuses more on movements, rather than body parts.

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