Big Man Training

Tom MacCormick

Strength and Conditioning, Personal Training, Sports Science

Big Man Training (BMT) was the name of the program the strength and conditioning coach at my first professional rugby club put me on when they needed to add some size on my frame as fast as possible. It worked.

 

In fact, it was the first training program to put any significant muscle on my frame. Up until that point, the standard 3x10 and 5x5 programs I’d followed had failed miserably. To this day I still revisit BMT with clients that need a plateau busting mass gain routine.

 

 

Big Man Training Is German Volume Training with a Twist

BMT has a few striking similarities with German Volume Training (GVT). Firstly, it is a high-volume routine with a total repetition target of 100 reps per exercise. Secondly, it revolved around big compound lifts. A typical session, back in my rugby playing days revolved around lifts like squats, bent over rows, bench presses, and military presses.

 

While GVT requires you to hit 100 total reps following a 10x10 set and rep scheme, BMT takes a slightly different and, in my opinion, superior approach. The framework is 100 reps total and is as follows:

 

  • Set 1 – 20 reps
  • Set 2 – 20 reps
  • Set 3 – 15 reps
  • Set 4 – 15 reps
  • Set 5 – 10 reps
  • Set 6 – 10 reps
  • Set 7 – 10 reps

 

Why BMT Superior to GVT?

GVT is undoubtedly a highly effective program. It has helped thousands of guys build muscle. It does, however, have some drawbacks from both a physical and psychological perspective. BMT addresses these issues while still delivering a potent, high volume growth stimulus.

 

With GVT you generally use about 60% of your 1-rep max for your sets. This equates to about your 20-rep max. You use this weight for all your sets. As a result, the first 3-4 sets are pretty easy. Fatigue gradually accumulates, and the sets get hard—really fricking hard!

 

From about set 7 on it is a truly brutal workout. The problem is that many of those early sets really didn’t provide much of a growth stimulus.

 

Ensure Effective Reps

I have written on this topic before. Some reps are more effective than others when it comes to hypertrophy. In general, the magnitude of muscle building effect from repetition is higher as you approach failure. This doesn’t mean reps a long way from failure are a complete waste, but they are not as powerful a growth stimulus on a rep by rep basis.

 

Research seems to indicate that being further than 4 reps from failure is a bad idea when training for size. You get a bit of fatigue, some joint wear, and tear, but little muscle building stimulus. This makes sets more than 4 reps from failure a really bad return on investment if maximum muscle is your goal.

 

Given you are stopping set 1 in a GVT session about 10 reps shy of failure then, it is providing no real muscle building effect. All it really does is create some fatigue which gradually accumulates until the sets get hard enough to be effective muscle builders. In a GVT session, this is usually around 5 sets in. So, of your 10 total sets, only 5 of them are truly efficient muscle builders.

 

 

With BMT, every set is a muscle builder. Like GVT you use about 60% of 1RM. The difference is that this means you are hitting, or getting close to failure, on every set. As fatigue accumulates, the repetitions required reduce to match this and ensure that every set provides a potent hypertrophic effect.

 

It Can Get Boring

As I mentioned earlier, GVT does work. That is as long as you don’t die of boredom! The most common complaint I hear from people doing GVT is that it is mind-numbingly boring. Doing 10x10 on the same exercise with the same weight isn’t very exciting.

 

Sure, it can be effective, but if you are not excited and motivated to push yourself then you will get sub-par results. This is a universal truth of training. Even the most scientifically “perfect” program will be ineffective without the required motivation and effort needed to yield results.

 

BMT solves this issue. Every set is a challenge so you have to stay focused. The three different repetition ranges work fantastically well to keep you motivated. The simple change in reps helps.

 

Also, as you are grinding out reps towards the end of your second 20-rep set, you know you will get the reward of dropping down to 15 reps for the next set. Likewise, as your muscles are burning towards the end of set four, you can console yourself with the fact that you “only” have to gut out 3x10 afterward.

 

Maximizing the Benefits of BMT

BMT is a highly effective muscle building plan, period. But, to get the most bang for your buck I think where you place it within your periodized plan can magnify your results. I have found it to work best when placed after a period of more traditional bodybuilding work. It provides a novel and extremely effective stimulus after a sustained period of work in the 6-12 rep range.

 

Reverse linear periodization where intensity (as a percent of 1RM) reduces, but volume (sets x reps x load) increases over subsequent phases is an excellent periodization scheme for hypertrophy. As such, I suggest you utilize BMT as the final higher rep, higher volume phase in a bulking cycle. For example:

 

  • Phase 1 (4-6 weeks): 3x6-10
  • Phase 2 (4-6 weeks): 4x10-12
  • Phase 3 (4-6 weeks): BMT
  • Phase 4 (4-6weeks): A strength focused block (e.g., 5x5)

 

When your training is set up in this manner, each phase builds on the last to potentiate your results. As the body adapts, you provide a new, slightly different stimulus. Each phase increases training volume (a key driver of hypertrophy) which provides a continuous growth stimulus.

 

Then, by the end of the BMT phase when your body is becoming accustomed to high training volumes, you switch to a lower volume strength phase to allow your body to “re-sensitize” to high volumes and develop higher strength levels. The increased strength levels then, mean you can handle heavier weights in subsequent bodybuilding style bulking phases.

 

Exercise Selection for BMT

As with GVT, I am a proponent of using multi-joint exercises as the foundation of your training. However, I don’t think this should be exclusively limited to barbell exercises. For high rep leg training especially, I am a fan of utilizing machine based compound lifts for BMT.

 

For example, 20-rep deadlifts are not a good idea. The same can be said of back squats for the vast majority of lifters. So, to train the quads and hamstrings I prefer using machine hack squats and leg curls.

 

For the upper body, high rep barbell rowing can often get pretty ugly, too. The lower back fatigue tends to compromise form and increase injury risk. As a result, chest supported machine rows are my preference. As for pull-ups/chin-ups, I haven’t met anyone who can hit the BMT sets/rep scheme with sustained good form. For this reason, I use pulldown variations instead.

 

Getting the Best of Both

Big Man Training - Fitness, complex training, hypertrophy, muscle gain, muscle growth, training programs, strength program

 

Compound barbell lifts are phenomenal muscle builders. So, over the years I have refined the BMT workout structure to get the best of both. I achieve this by programming squat and deadlift variations first with a rep scheme best suited to the specific lift.

 

Then follow this with BMT on machine-based compound lifts for the legs to get an optimal muscle building workout in. In practice, this plays out in the following fashion:

 

Work up to 6RM on a barbell compound lift (think of this as your strength performance indicator lift). Then, do accessory work for the muscle groups using the BMT set/rep structure.

 

An example BMT session:

 

  1. Front Squat - Work up to 6RM
  2. Hack Squat - BMT
  3. Lying Leg Curls - BMT
  4. Calf Raises - BMT

 

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