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Compound Exercise Overload - One of The Most Stunningly Powerful Single Workouts You Will Ever Do

Sep 10, 2008
Right now, I'm going to unveil to you one of THE single most powerful training techniques that I've ever discovered for making rapid gains in strength in a single exercise. It's elegant in its simplicity, brutal in its execution but quite literally astonishing in its effectiveness.

I'll tell you right now, this will blow the doors off any preconceived notions you might have about training volume and how the body can respond and adapt to it.

Now, the very first time I came up with this technique, I used it to do dumbell shoulder presses. It was a Friday afternoon workout, and I did a set of presses with a pair of 60 lb dumbells. I was able to do 8 reps with them.

But on Monday, only a few days later, I pressed 80 LB dumbells for 11 reps - same exercise, and using strict form. That was a 25% increase in strength in only a matter of 4 days!

So what happened in that one single workout that gave me such a huge increase in strength in only a matter of days?

I'm going to tell you...

I call it "Compound Exercise Overload." And let me tell you, if you've hit a plateau in any exercise, this technique will shatter it like a brick through a window!

Basically, you're going to take a single compound exercise (a.k.a. multi-joint exercise like bench press, squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, shoulder presses, close grip presses, etc.) and do ONLY that single exercise for 45 minutes straight.

And that's not even the brutal part...

The brutal part is...you are only allowed 20 seconds of rest between sets!

And, here's the other brutal part...you're going to end up doing between 80 to 100 sets with near-maximal weights (relatively speaking - I'll explain below) of that single exercise for the entire workout.

This is one of the toughest workouts you can do (when you do it right) but you WILL be rewarded with results.

Compound Exercise Overload works to increase strength in several ways:

1. It focuses your nervous system on a single specific exercise, i.e. "greasing the groove" at a specific rep range. No competing training stimulii here, just very specific focus - it's one of the reasons Olympic lifters only use a few lifts in their training. It's also one of the reasons they can lift such extraordinary amounts of weight!

2. It allows you to have a lot of practice lifting heavy weight - this helps you to perfect your form and become more efficient with your lifting technique.

3. The high volume of training (those 80 to 100 sets you're going to do) creates an emergency situation in your body which forces rapid adaptation by your body (both in muscle and connective tissue).

4. The high volume also forces a tremendous amount of blood into the target muscle group, which helps drive nutrients into those target muscles, which helps them recover and grow!

Combine these four factors and you've got one powerful workout.


This technique is best done at a time when your gym is not very crowded. You're basically going to be hogging a single exercise area for the entire 45-minute workout.

First, select a compound exercise to work with. We'll use the bench press as an example here. In actuality, you can use this technique with almost any exercise, whether it be compound or isolation (single joint). I refer to this as Compound Exercise Overload because it's most effective when done using a compound exercise like presses, rows, deadlifts, squats, etc. Isolation exercises can be used, but the effects won't be quite the same.

So get your exercise set up. If you're doing bench press, I highly recommend doing it in the power rack with the rails set up. That will allow you to use maximum weights without having to worry about being crushed or having to use a spotter the whole time. If you don't have a rack to use, the other option is to do dumbell presses. With dumbell presses, if you can't complete a rep, you can always just set the dumbells down.

Do a warm-up before getting started - whatever you prefer to do for a warm-up is fine. I like to do some general movements (like push-ups or a few pull-ups or a couple of minutes of walking on the treadmill) then a few light sets of the specific exercise I'm going to be working - nothing that will tax the body for what's to come.

With this technique, I encourage you to use a stopwatch, regular watch or other form of timer. If your gym has a clock with an easily readable "second" hand, that will be fine, too. Otherwise, you're going to have to count your 20 seconds of rest in your head, which is not as accurate (plus that 20 seconds will tend to turn into a LOT longer as you go through the workout and it's critical to keep it constant).

You're going to start with a weight you could normally do for about 6 reps or so. Start your timer or note the time on the clock because you're going to be doing this exercise for 45 minutes straight!

Lay down and perform ONLY 3 reps with that weight, even though you can do six. DO NOT go anywhere near failure on this first set.

Now re-rack the weight and rest 20 seconds. Lay back down and do 3 more reps. Rest 20 seconds. You are going to repeat these 3 rep sets with those 20 seconds of rest until you are unable to get 3 reps with that weight anymore. This could take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the exercise and the amount of weight you're using.

The set where you only get 2 reps, Stop and remove 5 lbs each side of the bar (If you started with 225, you now have 215). Start again doing 3 reps sets and continue with 20 seconds rest period. Drop the weight by 10 lbs whenever you can't complete 3 reps during a set.

Be sure to stick with 3 reps on each set - no more, no less. Your body hits a rep-range groove and will acclimate to it very quickly. It keeps your nervous system efficient.

On the final set (after 44 minutes are up) rest for a full minute (aren't I generous :) then lay back down crank out as many reps as you can with the same weight you just ended with. You'll find that can probably get 6 to 8 reps on that set, just because of the increased rest period. [Note that the total of 45 minutes of the exercise includes the 44 minute of 3 rep sets and the final set.]

This training uses neuromuscular specificity to allow you to teach your body the absolute most efficient way to perform a single exercise. Your body will learn to fire the exact sequence of muscle fibers it needs to do the exercise most efficiently, making fast strength gains possible.

And, don't use different variations of the same exercise (e.g. don't start with incline bench then go to flat bench). It's important to use the exact same exercise the whole 45 minutes for maximum adaptive response.

Do your best with the 20 second rest, too. This rest period will naturally increase during the times when you're making weight changes but even then, try to keep it as close as possible. Just do your best to stick with the 20 seconds.

When doing this technique with a barbell exercise, I like to load the bar with small plates as I load it for my starting weight. For example, if you're starting with 225 lbs on the bench press, don't just throw two 45 lb plates on either side. You'll be pulling a pair of those 45's off pretty quick! Instead, put one 45 lb plate on either side, then a 25 lb plate, then a 10 lb plate then two 5 lb plates. It's the same weight but when you can no longer hit 225 lbs for 3 reps, all you need to do is pull a small 5 lb plate off either side. This is much easier than pulling 45's off either side then loading 35's and a 5 back on.

Be sure to keep track of your starting weight and ending weight so you know what your numbers are and can improve on them the next time you do this technique. And be absolutely sure you take a full 2 days off training after you get done with this one. To maximize the adaptive response, those 2 days off are CRITICAL!

If you're going to try this technique with a training partner, it helps if they're the same strength level as you are (especially if you're doing barbell work). If you're doing dumbells, it's not as critical as you can just grab different sets of dumbells.

With a partner, you're basically going to be going back and forth with no real break. Twenty seconds is not a lot of time. If you're working with a barbell exercise and you need to switch weights, the moment you finish your set, you need to both start switching weights before your partner starts. When he/she finishes, you need to jump back and switch again.

It can be done (I've done it a few times training with another person) but it does make it harder to execute, depending on the exercise.


If you're looking for a fast way to get past a plateau and build your strength, I don't think there's anything better. It won't be easy but the results are well worth it!
About the Author
Nick Nilsson is Vice-President of BetterU, Inc. and has been inventing new training techniques and exercises for 17+ years. Nick has written many training books including "Muscle Explosion! 28 Days To Maximum Mass" & "Metabolic Surge - Rapid Fat Loss" - http://www.fitness-ebooks.com
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