TRAINING ARTICLES

The Two-Day Chest (and Arm) Routine: How to Gain Two Inches of Muscle in Two Days

If there were a program that could help you add two inches of muscle to your chest in two days, would you be interested? The two inches of muscle would be actual muscle, gained through what is technically called myofibrillar hypertrophy (myofibrils are the contractile components of muscle), not just two inches from a muscle pump that disappears.

In The Rader Master Bodybuilding and Weight Gaining System, published by iron legend Perry Rader in 1946, the One-Day Program of Specialization is described:

  • A target body part is worked every hour with two opposing exercises (agonist-antagonist pairing), for example, a biceps and a triceps exercise.
  • A slight massage might be applied after each workout.
  • A very light workout every half hour may be applied.
  • A small amount of protein is taken in every hour.
  • The program may be used about once per month.

Rader reports that up to three quarters of an inch was added to the upper arms with this program.

In more recent days, Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin has written a program called The One-Day Arm Cure, stating that he has updated the original program, but not directly referencing Rader.1

It’s worth noting that there are two approaches to multiple workouts within one day:

  1. “Feeder workouts” (10- to 15-minute workouts done at various times during a day), with the purpose of adding volume to your normal training. These workouts are not overly taxing and can be a regular part of your routine.2
  2. The One-Day Specialization Routine (as described above). The purpose of the One-Day Specialization Routine is to create a shock stimulus on the body to elicit a hypertrophy response.

What is a “shock stimulus” and is it possible to create myofibrillar hypertrophy within one day of training?

General adaptation syndrome (GAS) is often used to explain how the human body responds to a training stimulus. According to the GAS model, there is a three-stage response to the (training) stress:3

1: Alarm phase: When a new and more intense stress (e.g., volume or intensity) is applied, the first response is the shock or alarm phase that may be characterized by excessive soreness, stiffness and a drop in performance. This phase may last days or weeks.

In some cases, the alarm phase is associated with depletion of biochemical substances (for example, glycogen). However, certain texts assert that it is never proven which substances to actually look at to understand this process, and these texts deem the GAS model too simple to explain progress.

2: Resistance phase: The body adapts to the stimulus through various neurological, biochemical, structural and mechanical adjustments, leading to increased performance.

At any instant, the body has a definite ability to respond and adapt to the training stimulus. The body’s ability to respond to a training stimulus is termed the current adaptation reserves (CAR).4

In some texts, the resistance phase is referred to as supercompensation and is associated with enhanced levels of biochemical substances.

Note: One theory of muscle hypertrophy is called the energetic theory of muscle hypertrophy. According to this theory, muscle catabolism (breakdown) is stimulated by lack of energy for protein synthesis during resistance training sessions. Thus, during sessions, muscle protein can actually decrease. Then, during the recovery phase, also known as resistance or super compensation phase, the balance is reversed and protein synthesis exceeds protein breakdown. The results are a net increase in muscle – aka, myofibrillar hypertrophy.7

3: Exhaustion phase: If the stress persists for an extended period of time, the body loses the ability to adapt to the stress and soreness, stiffness, staleness and maladaptation may occur.

In the case of a “shock stimulus,” the “new and more intense stress” that is referred to in the above paragraph may involve performing double the normal training volume for a restricted period of time.5

In the training literature, the application of a shock stimulus over “several sessions” of high loads and incomplete recovery (between sessions) is referred to as an “impact microcycle” or overloading microcycle. After adequate rest, the super compensation will be greater than normal.6

There are currently no scientific studies to directly support that it is possible to create lasting myofibrillar hypertrophy after one day of training. Most trainees will experience increased circumference levels after a one-day specialization routine. However, this increase might be due to the pump/swelling that happens with hypertrophy training.

Initial tests of the program that follows resulted in a one-inch increase in chest circumference and one-inch increase in arm circumference after one day of training (measurements were repeated after the second day of training and another quarter inch was added to the arms. The measurements were repeated the day after the two-day cycle finished, and the gains were maintained. As per the GAS model, increases in muscle protein would happen during the recovery phase lasting several days after the impact microcycle.

Even though the total increase in muscle protein might be limited after only one or two days of training, it is known that the muscle-building processes are stimulated after only one session. Thus, an impact microcycle with nine short sessions per day over one or two days clearly can be expected to be a stimulus for hypertrophy.

A key reason that an impact microcycle can be a powerful aid for your long-term progress is that since the body responds to stress (see above), it is often the change in a training stimulus that sparks new growth. For maximal benefit of an impact microcycle, you should, of course, continue your regular training of that body part (after you have recovered from the impact cycle). Further, as Rader recommends, you might consider repeating the impact microcycle about every four weeks, until you have reached your desired size for that body part.

The Two-Day Chest (and Arm) Routine

The program to follow is called the Two-Day Chest (and Arm) Routine because the main focus of the program is the chest muscles, but because of the exercise selection, the arms are stimulated as well.

The program can be performed for one or two days; best results might be expected if two days of training are performed.

On each day of training, nine 15-minute workouts are performed. A higher number of shorter workouts follow the fundamental training principle of “training as often as possible, while staying as fresh as possible.”8

Depending on your particular circumstances, you might prefer to do this program in the gym or at your home. With a different set of exercises, you could theoretically perform this program with no equipment at all. The program outlined below requires two dumbbells.

What follows is a list of the exercises in the program, their specific purpose in the program and a brief explanation of how to perform them.

While different kinds of pushing (e.g., bench press) definitely could be included in a chest-specialization routine, this program focuses on covering all the single-joint movements that the chest is involved in:

  • Horizontal adduction (bringing the arms towards each other at shoulder level)
  • Initiating shoulder flexion (lifting the arms forward and up starting from the hip level)
  • Initiating shoulder extension (lowering the arms forward and down from a position above your head)

Studies on muscle activation show that different portions of the target muscle contract depending on where in the movement the tension is the greatest. Thus, exercises that challenge both the stretched and the contracted positions are included.

In each program, exercises for the upper back are included to maintain muscle balance and prevent injury.

All exercises are performed on the floor or standing, but the exercises on the floor can also be performed on a bench.

Workout 1

Circular Supine Front Raises with 2 Dumbbells, Hips Elevated

Purpose: The chest muscle initiates flexion in the shoulder joint (bringing the arms from hip level to above your head)

Execution: Lie on the floor on your back. Bend your knees and lift your hips up. Lifting your hips places the shoulders in greater extension (hyperextension) when the dumbbells start on the floor. Keep your elbows locked and perform circles with the dumbbells (lift them to slightly above hip level, two to three inches away from the body and then back towards the floor). Experiment with the position of the dumbbells, palms up, thumbs up or anything in between. Keep the dumbbells off the floor throughout the sequence.

Tempo: Begin with two slow circles, emphasizing feeling the tension throughout the up portion of the circle, followed by two fast circles emphasizing almost dropping and catching the weight with the chest muscles. Continue with a three-second isometric hold with the dumbbells just above the floor. Then lift the dumbbells until your arms are vertical, thus taking the load off the chest muscles. Repeat for a total of three to six sequences.

Bent-Over Triceps Kickbacks with 2 Dumbbells

Purpose: Strengthen the posterior deltoids for muscle balance. The posterior deltoid is responsible for bringing the arm behind the level of the body (active hyperextension).

Execution: Use the same two dumbbells that you used for the circular supine front raise. Stand with a hip-width stance and bend over from the hip, maintaining neutral (normal) curves in your spine. Bring your elbows past your rib cage (feel the posterior deltoids engage). While maintaining your elbows in a position behind the body, extend and bend the elbows.

Tempo: Use a medium tempo in both the lifting and the lowering phase.

Plate-Squeezed Double Pull-Overs

Purpose: While the circular supine front raise emphasizes strengthening the chest muscles in a stretched position, the plate-squeezed double pull-over strengthens the chest muscles in the contracted position (full horizontal adduction).

Execution: Lie on your back and squeeze two weight plates between your palms. You should feel a significant contraction in your pectoral muscles from the squeeze needed to avoid the plates slipping between your hands. Begin with the plates at the hip/waist level an inch or two above the body. Then, keeping your hands close to the body, move them to a position above your head. Repeat.

Tempo: Use a medium tempo in both the lifting and the lowering phase.

Bent-Over Butterflys

Purpose: Build endurance in the posterior deltoids for muscle balance. Flush the chest muscles with blood and stretch the pectoral fascia.

Execution: Stand with a hip-width stance and bend over from the hip, maintaining neutral (normal) curves in your spine. Start with your arms hanging straight down. Lift them to the side until they are on the same level as your upper back. This movement is called horizontal abduction. If someone tried, he should be able to slide a dowel rod in through one sleeve, across your back and out through the other sleeve. From there, move your arms forward until they are close to the ears. Keep your elbows locked. You can now feel the lower trapezius kick in. Now, move your arms across each other until the elbows pass each other (you can feel the chest muscles contract in this phase). From there, move your arms back to the position where they are level with the upper back. You will be surprised how challenging this exercise is when performed for a high number of repetitions.

Tempo: Use a medium tempo.

Workout 2

Supine Circular Flyes with 2 Dumbbells, Palms/Thumbs Up

Purpose: The chest muscle performs a movement called horizontal adduction, bringing the arms towards each other at the horizontal level. The supine circular flyes emphasize the stretch position of that movement.

Execution: Lie on your back, knees bent or straight depending on your preference. The two dumbbells are placed next to you at shoulder level (your body and arms form a cross). Keep your elbows locked or slightly bent while performing small circles with the dumbbells, looking for a range that creates maximal muscle activation. Experiment with palms up or thumbs up.

Tempo: Begin with two slow circles, emphasizing feeling the tension throughout the up portion of the circle, followed by two fast circles, emphasizing almost dropping and catching the weight with the chest muscles. Continue with a three-second isometric hold with the dumbbells just above the floor. Then lift the dumbbells until your arms are vertical, thus taking the load off the chest muscles. Repeat for a total of three to six sequences.

Supine Crossover Reverse Flyes

Purpose: Strengthen the posterior deltoids in horizontal abduction in the stretched position.

Execution: As you finish the last repetition of the supine circular flyes, bring your arms towards the midline of the body (the end position of a normal flye movement). Bring each arm past the midline so the elbows cross each other. You will now feel the tension on the posterior deltoid muscles. From this “crossover” position, bring the arms to the neutral vertical position and repeat.

Tempo: Use a medium tempo in both the lifting and the lowering phase.

Side Lying Flyes

Purpose: Strengthen the chest muscles in horizontal adduction in the contracted position.

Execution: To work the left chest, lie on your left side with your legs spread out for balance. The left leg (the bottom leg) is moved forward, and the right leg (the top leg) is moved backwards. Place a dumbbell at shoulder level. Keep your elbows locked and lift the dumbbell off the ground with your left arm with a normal flye movement. Because of the position of your body, the movement is a very short one, and you will realize that the chest is working in the contracted position, similar to the end of standing cable flyes.

Tempo: Use a medium tempo in both the lifting and the lowering phases.

The bent-over butterfly is now performed in the same way as previously described.

Workout 3

Circular Pull-Overs with 2 Dumbbells

Purpose: The chest muscle initiates shoulder extension (bringing the arms forward and down from a position above your head). This version of the pull-over emphasizes that action, while keeping the weight in the range where the chest is most active.

Execution: Lie on your back with your knees straight or bent, depending on your preference. Lift two dumbbells up and lower them behind your head as you would do in a normal pull-over movement. While keeping the dumbbells behind your head and close to the floor, make small circles with the dumbbells, looking for the range that gives the best chest contraction. Experiment with either the pinkie side up or palms up to find the angles that give you the best chest contraction.

Tempo: Begin with two slow circles, emphasizing feeling the tension throughout the up portion of the circle, followed by two fast circles emphasizing almost dropping and catching the weight with the chest muscles. Continue with a three-second isometric hold with the dumbbells just above the floor. Then lift the dumbbells until your arms are vertical, thus taking the load off the chest muscles. Repeat for a total of three to six sequences.

Supine Front Raises, Palms Down

Purpose: Strengthen the anterior deltoids (the front of the shoulder) for muscle balance.

Execution: As you finish the last repetition of the circular pull-over, move the dumbbells directly to the level of the thighs. From this position, simply lift the dumbbells in an arch until your arms are vertical. Then lower them back down and repeat.

Tempo: Use a medium tempo in both the lifting and the lowering phases.

Partial Side-to-Side Pike Push-Ups

Purpose: Strengthen the upper chest in a somewhat stretched position.

Execution: Assume the position for a pike push-up: Your hands should be placed as they would in a normal push-up, but your feet should be closer to your arms and the hips should be high, so that your body forms an inverted “V”—hence the name “pike push-up”. Keep normal curves in your back and neck and bend your elbows so that your head is one to two inches above the ground. You will feel the tension on your chest muscles. Now “pull” yourself from side to side by contracting your chest muscles. As you pull yourself towards the left side, resist with the right side and vice versa.

Tempo: Use a relatively slow tempo.

The bent-over butterfly is now performed in the same way as previously described.

Sets, reps and load

Now that you know each of the exercises in the program and how to perform them, let us take a look at the number of sets, the number of repetitions to perform and what load to use.

As you can see from the above, the program consists of three different workouts, performed in sequence at the hour. The sequence is repeated three times for a total of nine workouts.

If you perform one warm-up set of the first exercise in each program and then one set of each of the three other exercises, it takes approximately 15 minutes to complete the program. If you have a lot of time and great work capacity, you might shoot for two work sets in one or more of the exercises.

Choose a load that results in a solid effort in all the sets. During the day you should aim to reach the upper range of the repetition bracket in each set. If you find that your performance decreases during the day, that’s good! It means that you’re tapping into your adaptation reserves.

Consider performing biceps curls (workout 1 and 2) and triceps extensions (workout 3) in the same position as the first exercise. Pre-fatiguing the arm muscles may shift some of the work to the chest.

Perform each exercise with your eyes closed and all your attention on the feeling of the contracting chest muscle.

Workout 1:

A1. Circular Supine Front Raises with 2 Dumbbells, Hips Elevated: 1 × 3–6 sequences

A2. Bent-Over Triceps Kickbacks with 2 Dumbbells: 1 × 12–30

B1. Plate-Squeezed Double Pull-Overs: 1 × 12–20

B2. Bent-Over Butterflys: 1 × 30–50

Workout 2:

A1. Supine Circular Flyes with 2 Dumbbells, Palms/Thumbs Up: 1 × 3– 6 sequences

A2. Supine Crossover Reverse Flyes: 1 × 12–30

B1. Side Lying Flyes: 1 × 12–20

B2. Bent-Over Butterflys: 1 × 30–50

Workout 3:

A1. Circular Pull-Overs with 2 Dumbbells: 1 × 3–6 sequences

A2. Supine Front Raises, Palms Down: 1 × 12–30.

B1. Partial Side-to-Side Pike Push-Ups: 1 × 12–20

B2. Bent-Over Butterflys: 1 × 30–50

Take a little bit of protein before and after each workout, topped up with your favourite FUSION supplements! If you tend to get sore in, for example, the elbow or shoulder, consider icing the sore area after each workout.

Take your measurements before and after the two days to record your progress. Continue your normal routine and repeat the specialization program every four weeks.

References

  1. Poliquin C. The one-day arm cure. T-Nation. 1998. Accessed November 4, 2012.
  2. Simmons L. Training methods, part 2. max effort day. Westside Barbell. Accessed November 4, 2012.
  3. Wathen D, Baechle TR, Eaerle RW. Periodization. In: Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2008:508.
  4. Siff M. Adaptation and the training effect. In: Supertraining. Denver, CO: Supertraining Institute; 2004:83.
  5. Pistilli EE, Kaminsky DE, Totten LM, Miller DR. Incorporating one week of planned overreaching into the training program of weightlifters. Strength Cond J. 2008;30(6):39-46.
  6. Zatsiorsky W. Basic concepts of training theory. In: Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2006:11.
  7. Zatsiorsky W. Athlete specific strength. In: Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2006:53.
  8. Zatsiorsky Z. Timing in strength training. In: Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2006:93.

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