Wasted effort—it’s a momentum killer no matter the setting, whether it’s a project at work that goes nowhere or a home improvement project that you finish only to find out you need to rip out everything and restart because of a measuring error. In the gym, though, far too many people waste plenty of effort without stopping to question it. Day after day, month after month, even year after year they follow an inefficient and ineffective program that’s not precisely geared toward their goals. They don’t look the way they want to in the mirror, or the scale doesn’t budge in the direction they want it to go, yet they shrug and continue onward.
NutraBio Brand Ambassador Mike Occhipinti, CSCS, an in-demand personal trainer and owner of The Body Shop, in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, has had many new clients come to him with the same frustrations—desiring to add muscle but stuck on a program to nowhere.
The solution? A revamped workout strategy that eliminates the exercises and approaches that fail to build muscle, but doesn’t compromise on everything it takes to kick-start the body’s growth engines.
“I use the following three-day split myself,” Occhipinti says. “I continually rotate through the three training days and insert two off days from the gym whenever necessary, usually training five out of seven days each week.”
There are no squandered efforts. The plan targets the larger, more demanding muscle groups first before moving to the smaller ones such as biceps and triceps.
“Each session takes around 45-60 minutes, and for most body parts, you’ll just do 2-3 main movements,” Occhipinti explains. “That’s all you need if you train hard and with intention.”
Each of the sets listed are working sets, so you’ll want to add a couple of light and easy warm-ups, as needed, to get the blood flowing and the muscles ready for action.
“On every working set, your last rep or two—or three—should be challenging,” he adds. “The key to making gains is to progressively overload the muscle, so make sure you are increasing the weights over time. Once you can do the prescribed reps with little difficulty, it’s time to push the load next time.”
Day 1: Push Routine
The focus here is on the chest, shoulders, and triceps. For this workout and the two that follow, tempo is a critical element to success.
“Follow a 3:1:1:1 tempo,” Occhipinti says. “This means you take 3 seconds to lower the weight, pause for 1 second at the bottom of the movement, and then move the weight up as fast as possible while still maintaining control. Pause for a 1-count at the top to eliminate any generated momentum.”
Why so slow on the eccentric part of the rep? Occhipinti explains that a large portion of strength gains are made during the eccentric phase, so you don’t want to let gravity do the work for you.
Day 2: Pull Routine
This workout focuses on the back, traps, biceps, and forearms. Injury prevention is always a priority, and the back is an especially vulnerable area if you’re not approaching your training correctly.
“Here, and on all lifting days, exercise form takes precedent over everything, including the goal number of reps,” Occhipinti stresses. “Sure, it’s great to hit your intended number of reps, but not at the cost of a compromised movement pattern. Avoiding injuries is obviously key to hitting your development goals as fast and productively as possible.”
Day 3: Leg Routine
Great training programs should have a dedicated leg day, and Occhipinti’s is no exception. By hitting all the major prime movers of the lower body—quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings—in one session, you’re moving a lot of weight and incorporating synergistic movements that engage all those body parts together. That’s efficiency in action!
“In the other two workouts, you want to keep your rest times to 45-60 seconds, but on leg day it’s OK to increase to 60-75 seconds to allow for those big muscle groups to fully recover for the next set,” he says.
Occhipinti recommends doing hip mobility work for at least 10 minutes beforehand—for example, controlled articular rotations (CARs) and the Spiderman hip stretch—and performing 2 sets of the first exercise with lighter weight before increasing to your working weights.
By ditching your current routine and switching to this three-day split, you’re essentially pushing the reset button on your program, getting rid of all the excess exercises, varying set and rep schemes, and eliminating other odds and ends that have become tacked to your training over the years. If your old program was especially complex, you’ll notice a refreshing difference right away.
“These workouts will leave you sore but also invigorated,” Occhipinti says. “They’re quick, straightforward, and built around exercises that are proven to be serious muscle builders. Give this a try and you should start seeing a big difference in the mirror in a matter of weeks.”