Compound Your Growth

Q & A with 8X Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney

QUESTION

You’ve been known to use a technique called “compound-compounds.” I know traditional compound sets are two exercises for the same bodypart done back to back. What version are you talking about?

ANSWER

Most bodybuilders use the standard straight-set regimen of one exercise at a time, one set at a time, resting for a minute or so between sets, with succeeding sets pyramiding in weight. Often, bodybuilders also will use overload techniques based on that one-set-at-a-time pattern, forcing themselves to try to go beyond their accustomed limits with cheat reps, forced reps, rest-pause and descending sets. 

The next level is supersets, compound sets, trisets and giant sets. In those, two or more exercises are grouped together to extend the workload on the target muscle group even further. 

Compound-compounds are an intense training concept. No other workout is as exhausting or tears down so many muscles to such a pathetic state of total fatigue. The good news is that this means muscles have to rebuild with a greater amount of hypertrophy to get back to full vitality. 

For one thing, my compound-compounds are done with free weights only. Supersets, trisets and giant sets are popular in gyms, but those who do them usually abandon free-weight movements for machines or cables, which often fix the body and/or the angle of movement into a position where the muscle group being worked does not have to call upon ancillary muscles or other muscle groups to help stabilize and support the weight. Consequently, those ancillary stabilizing muscles are not developed in tandem with the primary muscle, resulting in less mass and strength.

If you’d like to power your physique past those of the other guys in the gym, here’s what I recommend: once every couple of weeks, hit each bodypart with a workout in which each exercise is doubled or tripled (or more). Combine two (or more) freeweight compound exercises and go back and forth between them in superset, triset or giant-set manner, getting the number of reps for each that you normally would when doing straight sets.

For instance, say it’s back day. In the regular course of your training, you may do deadlifts, barbell rows and pullups, all in the eight- to 10-rep range. On compound-compounds day, you could group the three into a triset, still aiming for eight to 10 reps for each.

The crucial difference between straight sets and this technique is that compound-compounds are nonstop. Normally, for example, you might perform four sets of one exercise, resting between sets; compound-compounds mean doing four (or more) sets of two (or more) exercises, back and forth, with no rest until the workout is complete. This is not typical, as between standard supersets, trisets and giant sets, the general protocol is to rest for a minute or two. You don’t have to take this extra excruciating step, but it’s a test of will and fortitude that’s worth the effort if you can survive it.

Most important to the success of this method are the free weights you’ll be using instead of cables and machines. They’ll hit so many more muscles deeper and more thoroughly that you’ll kick yourself for not having known about compound-compounds sooner. - FLEX

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