Training for mass without barbells is tricky business. I designed this program for just that purpose but before you write it off as just another bodybuilding routine, you might be interested to know that it’s a serious strength program for the upper body.
What I’m about to present to you is a two-week cycle that will add more weight to your weighted chins and dips than any other program I’ve ever encountered. During the time I did it, I added 20kg to my 3RM, which lead me to 150% bodyweight chins and dips.
You might be surprised by such low reps in a mass program, but it actually makes sense when you think about it. To build mass, you need to be strong first. Imagine what an additional 20kg in your 3RM would do for your 8RM — your previous weight will feel like child’s play! More weight = more gains.
The model I used was a block periodization design, alternating two blocks, one volume block and one intensity block, each two weeks in length. The strength increases gained in the intensity block allow you to lift more weight in the volume block. In this article, I will present the intensity block.
I can’t take credit for the basic outline of this program. It came to my attention by StrongFirst Chairman Pavel Tsatsouline, but is from an unknown Russian author. You might know it as “the fighter pull-up program” and it looks like this when applied to your 3RM:
Day 1: 3,2,1,1
Day 2: 3,2,1,1
Day 3: 3,2,2,1
Day 4: 3,3,2,1
Day 5: 4,3,2,1
Day 6: Rest
This means you do four sets each day starting with three repetitions (your maximum) and work your way to four. The program then continues by successively adding repetitions. But we want to add weight, so here’s what we’ll do instead:
- Figure out your 3RM. Take a day and work up to it. Keep adding weight until you no longer can get three repetitions. This is your starting point and the weight you should use for all sets to begin.
- When you’ve done the first six days, go back to day one but add 1.5-3kg. You’re starting over with three repetitions.
- Once those two weeks are finished, you switch to the volume block for two weeks and then back to this block again. You should be 3-6 kilograms better when you come back.
- Keep alternating.
Do this block with both chins and dips. The same progression works for both. They might not be at the same weight, and that’s okay. Pick any chinning variation you want: pull-ups, chin-ups, neutral grip, etc. You can even change them every block, just make sure you keep that variation for the entire block. For dips, I only suggest parallel bar dips, certainly not bench dips. I did my “parallel bar” dips between two chairs.
This is a ten- to fourteen-day block, depending on how well you can recover. Theoretically, you could do five days and then start over before changing the block. You could also do the program as listed above (a twelve-day block). Eventually, you might find that adding a rest day somewhere in the middle might be a good idea, therefore making it a two-week block. It’s all good as long as you recover.
What if You Fail a Repetition?
If you fail any set after the first one, you simply didn’t rest long enough. Take longer rest periods tomorrow. There’s no reason at all why you should fail after the first set. Rest periods are as long as needed.
If you fail the first set you have a couple options:
- Take a day off and try again after that.
- Try again tomorrow. Maybe you just had a bad day — it happens.
Combining This Program With Other Work
Lower body work is up to you — pistols, swings, squats — just don’t kill yourself. Personally, I found it best to do it later in the day in a separate workout. Even if it’s just 7-10 reps of the two movements fatigue will build up, especially since you’ll be adding weight at a fast rate.
A Little on the Volume Block
When the two-week intensity block is done you want to make use of your new strength in a higher volume, lower intensity block. Here are some guidelines:
- Focus on volume over intensity: more sets, more reps, and more movements but lighter weights.
- Include chins and dips but for higher repetitions (5-8 or even higher).
- Make use of a split routine, don’t do chins and dips daily.
- Eat and grow.
This program added 20kg to my 3RM chins and dips and got me to 150% bodyweight for reps in both movements while increasing significantly in mass. It can do the same for you. Good luck.