The main reason that the majority of people begin to lift weights is that they are interested in making changes to their physique.
They are uninterested in walking around and being either fat, skinny, and weak.
They are tired of looking in the mirror and seeing all of their lack of exercise, poor food choices, and bad sleep habits staring right back at them.
It’s very similar to checking your credit report and seeing years of debt piled up. I’ve been super skinny and up to my eyes in debt.
As a result, I was disgusted at myself in both scenarios. The only way for things to change was that I had to change.
The folks who begin to embrace the iron game do not want to walk around with an unhealthy and unshapely looking body.
They want to shoot higher and are looking to build serious muscle and strength.
When I first began to take an interest in the iron game during my teens, my goal was to look like a superhero.
While building a spectacular physique was my original training goal, strength and performance became my main goals as I began to compete in track at the collegiate level.
What I learned at this time in my young athletic career was that the better I performed in the gym or on the track, the better my body looked.
What Is Your Goal?
Most people do not truly commit to a goal when training.
The common, but misguided theme is that a person wants to achieve the maximum levels of all training attributes simultaneously.
I’ve actually talked to lifters and trainees who think they can be as muscular as a bodybuilder, strong as a powerlifter, fast as a sprinter, and get hops like an NBA player all at the same time. This is admirable but sadly mistaken.
No single program can simultaneously maximize you in every attribute (strength, speed, power, athletic performance, etc).
For example, the great 5/3/1 program by Jim Wendler is designed mainly for increases in strength.
On the other hand Vince Gironda’s timeless 8 x 8 program is designed mainly for changes in the aesthetic quality of your physique.
But what if there was a way to blend strength and physique gains into one program?
Enter my RP-21 training system which is designed to build serious muscle and strength.
The blueprint of the program is simple but the results you can gain will be extraordinary.
Get More Done In Less Time
When training for strength, performance, and muscle mass you need a training scheme that allows for progressive overload.
Without a consistent challenge (heavier loads, more reps, shorter rest, etc.) you are wasting your time in the gym.
In other words your muscles need new challenges to grow. Doing 3×10 every week with 135lbs on the bench is the absolute definition of fake hustle.
What if there was a way to keep the weight moderately heavy (70-85% of your maximum) while performing more reps with that heavy load in a shorter time frame?
If you squat 225lbs for 4 x 5 while resting 3 minutes in between rounds, that is 12 minutes of rest.
A good estimate would be that each set would take up to 20 seconds per set. Therefore you are probably up near 13-15 total minutes to complete that series of 20 reps.
But what if you did 235lbs for 7 x 3 while resting 1 minute in between rounds?
That is 7 minutes of rest plus an estimated 10-20 seconds of work per set. This puts us at 9-11 minutes to complete those 21 reps while using a heavier load.
Don’t you think your legs will respond differently? When you combine relatively heavy weights and a brisk training pace you create a brutal but winning combination for muscle growth.
Inspiration: The Iron Guru
Let’s look back to the 1950’s and examine the famous training methodology of the legendary Iron Guru, Vince Gironda.
Gironda was known to get bodybuilders into stage condition using advanced dieting methods and his 8 x 8 training program aka “the honest workout.”
When you break down 8 × 8 to its core, you can clearly see that it is the earliest form of rest-pause training.
This scheme involves 8 sets of 8 reps with a very short (15-30 seconds) rest period during sets.
With a rest interval this short, the weights cannot be but so heavy or you would have zero chance to complete it.
4 Day Workout Split For Building Serious Muscle and Strength
Traditional rest-pause training uses much shorter rest periods in betwee sets.
But RP-21 allows you more time to recover between sets in order to move heavier weights.
RP-21 focuses on 7 rest-paused sets of 3 reps each.
You will start with 70-80% of your estimated gym max, 3 rep gym max, or raw estimate. The rest period during sets is 1 minute.
The differences between using your estimated gym max, 3 rep gym max, or raw estimate are:
Estimated Gym Max
• You will need to max out (leave 1-2 reps in the bank when you do this and use great form)
• Your initial weights will be higher so your earlier workouts in the program will be tougher
• You could stall faster due to the initial weight being heavier
3 Rep Gym Max
• You will need to find your 3 rep max (leave 1-2 reps in the bank when you do this and use great form)
• Your initial weights will be lower so your earlier workouts in the program will be easier
• You will be able to train a movement longer within a training phase due to a lower starting weight
• You will not need to max out
• Your initial weights will be chosen by feel. Since you are not maxing out aim for moderately heavy weight (relative).
• This method allows you to build your numbers from the ground up
For the max out methods, you are not maxing out to win a powerlifting meet. Use about 90-95 percent of what you think you can lift.
I don’t need you in the gym huffing ammonia and losing your cot dang mind. All you are trying to do is establish your initial opening numbers to use at the beginning of the program.
I want you to use great form and max out with some real weight but do not be stupid about it.
It’s A Numbers Game
For example, let’s say 300lbs is your 3 rep max in the full squat. Using 70% of your 3 rep max would leave you at 225lbs.
During your first week of the program, you would use 225lbs for 7 sets of 3 until you reached 21 reps.
I would recommend you starting at 70 percent or even a bit lower if you are uncomfortable at the onset of the program.
With RP-21 you will have plenty of time to build serious muscle and strength, but you only have one time to load up too much weight and get injured.
The big picture matters significantly more than one training session.
You do not want to set yourself up to not be able to progress in the following weeks.
There will be plenty of time to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
The opening sets and weight may not feel supremely tough but as the program progresses, the weight gets heavier and the rest feels like it is getting shorter.
You are guaranteed to run into a wall of pain and doubt very soon. RP-21 will sneak up on you like Clubber Lang did against Rocky in their first fight.
Run this program as written to maximize it. You will want to stick to the 1-minute rest periods to sustain the intensity.
I would suggest a 2.5-10lb increase on a major lower body movement (squat/deadlift/hip thrust) each week during the mesocycle or training cycle.
I would suggest a 2.5-5lb increase on a major upper body movement (bench press/overhead press/pull-chin up/dip) each week during the mesocycle or training cycle.
Some lifters will be towards the lower end of the scale and some towards the higher end.
In my lifting career I’ve trended towards using a 5-10lb increase on big lower body moves and 2.5-5lb increases on upper body moves each week.
My RP-21 training system has two distinct parts to it and both are designed to help you build real muscle and strength.
The RP-21 set is the most important set of your day, so prepare your mind for it.
Sometimes even with your best efforts, you may not make it to 21 reps.
If you fail and say the total rep number you reach is 15 on that day in your squat, you will try to improve on that the next week.
If you cannot reach 21 reps at a certain weight within 3 workouts, you will sub out that move for a different one or a variation that targets the same muscles.
For example if you failed in the traditional squat you could then switch to a safety bar or a pause squat.
Failure to reach a number happens to the best of lifters so do not lose your mind over it. Without failure you cannot succeed.
We are not lifting to feed your ego. Let the pain of defeat soak in and then attack that move with a fury when it comes around again.
RP-21 is centered around big, compound movements so that you build serious muscle, strength, and increase your performance at the gym.
Fake hustle movements like triceps kickbacks, bosu ball one-legged squats, and jogging are not included at all.
4 Day Workout Split
RP-21 is a 4 day workout split.
There will be two lower body days and two upper body days. Your big movement of the day will be the RP-21 movement.
For your RP-21 movements I recommend:
• Safety Bar
• Barbell Hack
Note: Make sure you are maximizing your squat depth with every rep. Half squats get half results.
• Trap Bar
Bench Presses (barbell or dumbbell)
• Close Grip
Overhead Press (barbell or dumbbell)
• Pull-Up (overhand or pronated)
• Chin-Up (underhand or supinated)
• Neutral Grip (palms facing each other)
In time you will need a dipping belt for chins/dips if you are not already there at the moment. Go order it now.
The accessory moves will be slightly modified rest-pause sets using 6 sets by 5 reps but with only a 30-second rest between sets.
Accessory moves should start with a lower weight than your 7 × 3 sets since you will have incurred fatigue from the opening series.
The 6 x 5 sets are absolute muscle incinerators and they are actually tougher than the 7 x 3 sets. As a result, the seemingly moderate weight feels hard and heavy after a few short rounds.
The 6 x 5 sets are important because these are the sets where you earn your conditioning, toughness, and character.
Sidenote: All of the main movements can be used for 6×5 too so I will only list moves not already listed. For your 6 x 5 movements I recommend:
Bulgarian Split Squats (barbell or dumbbell)
• 6 total sets per leg
Lunges (barbell or dumbbell)
45/90 Degree Hip Extensions (Barbell or Dumbbell)
Standing or Seated Calf Raises
Gironda Neck Press
Bent Over Rows (barbell or dumbbell)
• Overhand or pronated
• Underhand or supinated
• Neutral grip or palms facing
• T-Bar or corner
• One arm
• Laying on side
Bent-Over Rear Delt Raises
Biceps Curls (Barbell or Dumbbell)
Triceps Extensions (EZ Curl Bar or Dumbbell)
Pullovers (EZ Curl Bar or Dumbbell)
4 Day Workout Split Overview (assumes training week starts Monday)
You can perform RP-21 as one of the following three splits:
• 2 days on/1 day off/2 day on/1 days off (train on M, Tu, Th, F)
• 2 days on/1 day off/1 day on/1 day off/1 day on/1 day off (train on M, Tu, Th, Sa)
• 1 day on/1 day off/1 day on/1 day off/2 days on (train on M, W, F, Sa)
• All of the 4 day workout splits work well, but use the one that will allow you to recover the best.
• Rotating your squats, deadlifts, and press variations is a great idea. Worrying about where to add in your cable crossovers or your machine bicep curls is a bad plan for success.
• The moves that you need to do will be responsible for the vast majority of your results. The moves that look flashy in the magazines will not save you.
• Focus on making progress with the basic moves to build a complete physique.
• Follow the same moves for 3 weeks before you even think about making slight changes to the movements.
• Add 1-2 days of conditioning in after you lift.
• SS is a superset.
• Rest 30-45 seconds between moves and 60-75 seconds between sets on 7 x 3 and 6 x 5 supersets
Day 1-Lower Body
Barbell Squat SS GHR 7 × 3
Barbell Hip Thrust SS Barbell Hip Extensions 6 x 5
Seated Calf Raise 6 × 5
Day 2-Upper Body
Dips SS Chin-Ups 7 x 3
Dips SS Chin-Ups 6 x 5
Decline Dumbbell Skullcrushers SS EZ Bar Curls 1 x 8
Day 3-Lower Body
Trap Bar Deadlift SS GHR 7 × 3
RDL SS Walking Dumbbell Lunges (10 steps total) 6 × 5
Standing Calf Raises 6 × 8
Day 4-Upper Body
Pull Ups SS Decline Close Grip Barbell Bench Press 7 x 3
Gironda Neck Press SS Prone Dumbbell Rows 6 x 5
Dumbbell Pullovers SS Lateral Raises 1 x 8
RP-21 works the best when you train for 3 weeks followed by a 1-week deloading period.
This allows your CNS (central nervous system) to recover from what you did during the previous 3 weeks of training.
This is assuming you trained hard enough and did not play pattycake during those weeks.
Because RP-21 is a low to moderate volume training program you could offset it with a higher volume training program like 8 x 8.
Train hard for 3 weeks, deload for 1 week, and then begin 8 x 8.
If you try to train at a high-intensity with heavy loads every single week, your joints will erode like the economy did in 2007.
To deload, you can perform a simple legs/push/pull split using 2-3 moves per day while reducing your total volume. 3 sets of 8-12 reps will work.
People complicate nutrition more than Facebook relationship statuses. Your nutrition simply needs to match your goal.
If you are looking to build serious muscle and strength with RP-21 then you will need to increase your total caloric intake and increase your carbohydrate consumption.
To lose body fat with RP-21 you will need to decrease your caloric intake and lower your carbohydrate consumption.
Your fats and carbohydrates will always be inverse of each other and vary based whether it is a training day or a rest day.
If you want to gain muscle without excessive fat gain then you will want to have a lower fat content on your high carb days and a higher fat content on your low carb days.
The combination of high calories, high carbs, and high fat at the same time will have you looking like the Stay-Puft Marshmellow Man.
For a great nutrition plan that will work well with RP-21, check out my article below.
• How To Carb Cycle To Lose Fat And Build Muscle
Real conditioning gets you into phenomenal shape.
In addition conditioning keeps fat off your body.
Lifting will definitely allow you to build muscle and strength. But lifting alone will not allow you to truly increase your athleticism and get into fantastic shape.
In other words you do not want to be all show and no go. Who wants to look like Batman but play like Alfred?
Adding in 1-2 days of conditioning with this 4 day workout split is a great idea.
You can check out some of the insanely effective options below:
• Sprinting (Get my groundbreaking eBook, Use Speed To Get Lean to learn about how to add sprinting to your lifting workouts).
• Pushing the Prowler (walking or sprinting)
• Bodyweight Training Complexes
Whichever one you choose, just make sure it is short and to the point. You can have great conditioning session post-workout in under 15 minutes.
Leave the 2-hour treadmill sessions to the bozos in the “cardio” section.
The recipe to build serious muscle and strength is not sleeping 3-5 low-quality hours per night.
Make it your goal to get 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep each night and especially before training days.
Unfortunately, there will also be some days where you only get 5 or 6 hours as life is not always ideal.
You can still get the job done in the gym on these days, but do not be surprised when your lifting performance is relatively sluggish.
Training schemes give the iron game not only rules but structure.
The RP-21, 4 day workout split will allow you to build serious muscle and strength. If you follow the rules of the program, you will build an incredible physique.
If you are skipping days or putting in half effort then you will not progress on any program.
You will however look and feel like the average fake hustle lifter who hasn’t seen any progress since Myspace was relevant.
You cannot settle for average because you have greatness inside of you.
Use the RP-21, 4 day workout split as the main part of your yearly training program to reach new levels of muscle, strength, and performance.
I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer,
(This article was written on 12/25/2013 but has been recently updated. The previous version of RP-21, 4 day workout split was featured at T-Nation, Muscle and Strength, and Breaking Muscle)
I’m planning on using RP-21 for my next lean bulking phase. After 3 weeks of RP-21 and 1 week of deload, should I go back to RP-21 again for 3 weeks/1week deload or finding another high volume program to switch to? If the former, how many cycles do you recommend before switching to another program? Thanks!
1) Both options that you mentioned will work. I’ve used RP-21 for multiple cycles by itself and I’ve also used it in conjunction with higher volume training cycles.
2) My advice to you would be to start with 2 cycles of RP-21 and then go to a higher volume training program. You would still have the deload weeks.
3) By doing things this way you will be able to handle heavier weights and build more muscle during your higher volume training phases due to the big-time strength gains made in the RP-21 phase. If you have any more questions about RP-21 let me know.
Thanks for the question!