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The ABC Routine

 

One of the best bodybuilding programs ever written hardly ever gets mentioned when discussing workout routines. This is the ABC routine that Fred Hatfield, aka “Dr. Squat,” first published in his book Hardcore Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach in 1993. Hatfield is very respected in the fitness industry, having published multiple books, and possesses a Ph.d in sports sciences. He’s also a world record holding powerlifter and the founder of the personal trainer certification, ISSA.

Hatfield has trained some of the most elite athletes of his time yet many of his methods seem to have been forgotten over the last 20+ years. This article will revisit the advanced version of the ABC workout and recommend a couple tweaks from the original program to maximize gains.

Learning Your ABC’s

The ABC program is based off the variable rate of recovery of individual muscle groups in response to different workout intensities. Not all muscles recover at the same speed. For example, people often pair back and biceps but biceps recover much faster since they are a small muscle relative to the back. So by waiting until the back is fully recovered to hit biceps again you are missing out on potential growth by not hitting biceps more frequently. The ABC’s represent three different styles of workouts with recovery time based on the size of the muscle group and the workout intensity.

A Workouts

These are the least intense workouts of the three and take the least amount of time to recover from. They can be thought of as “pump work.” The goal of the workout is to minimize eccentric load while maximizing the pump and mind muscle connection. Originally Hatfield recommended a rep range of 8-12 for 8-10 sets while using a partner to employ a heavy spot on the eccentric essentially eliminating as much work as possible during this portion of the lift.

Unfortunately not everyone is able to have a workout partner every gym session and doing 8-10 sets can be very time consuming. Instead shoot for 3-4 sets with 25+ repetitions. This way the weight is light enough to minimize microtrauma during the eccentric portion and you can focus on the feeling of the muscles swelling with blood. Rest periods should be 60-90 seconds.

B Workouts

B days are considered the bread and butter of the program. These can be thought of as your typical bodybuilding day. You pick 3-4 exercises and perform 3-4 sets of each. The first exercise will have an emphasis on strength and be performed for 4-6 explosive reps. For this first exercise rest periods can be up to 3 minutes while keeping the rest to around 90 seconds between the other exercises.

The other rep ranges utilized will be between 8-15. Dr. Squat originally recommended 3 sets to focus on slow twitch muscle fibers by performing sets of 40 with slow continuous tension. As you will see next, C sets include this slow twitch targeted exercise which should provide all the emphasis they will need.

C Workouts

These are the most intense days of all and require the most recovery days. The workouts include “holistic sets” which are designed to fully fatigue your muscles by performing giant sets that switch focus between fast and slow twitch muscle fibers. This is done by changing the tempo used. When performing fast, explosive movements a higher percentage of type 2 muscle fibers are recruited and while slow twitch fibers contribute less to overall size, they are mistakenly overlooked in most training programs. You can target these by slowing down to at least 4 seconds during the eccentric and concentric portions without pausing.

Repetitions should be high, in the 15-30 range. Alternatively you could go off of time instead of reps, maintaining the slow pace for a total of 2-4 minutes. Holistic C sets alternate between 3 exercises. For our C sets the first exercise is fast and explosive for 4-6 reps, the second is “rythmic” for 8-15 reps, and the last employs 4 second eccentrics and concentrics with continuous tension for 15-30 reps.

Go through this 2 times without resting and repeat for 1 or 2 more sets. You are able to do this nonstop because even though it’s the same muscle group being worked, when your fast twitch muscles are reaching failure your slow twitch muscle fibers start to take over as you are doing the slow continuous set. The original holistic sets were just unbearable with over 200 continuous reps. This variation will still be brutal but will not lead to overtraining as easily as the original layout.

The Exercises

The first thing we must cover is the exercise selection. Since this program is designed to only be run for a month consecutively, don’t tinker too much with the chosen exercises. They are all carefully selected for complete muscular development.

Chest

Workout Day Exercise Reps/Sets Days Needed To Recover
A Partial DB Chest Press

Cable Cross Over

2×25

2×30

1
B Bench Press

Incline DB Press

Cable Flyes

3×6

3×10

3×15

2
C Flat DB Press

Machine Incline Press

Machine Chest Flye

First exercise is 5 explosive reps, second is 12 rhythmic, and third exercise is 30 slow continuous reps. Superset 2x, repeat once 3

Back

Workout Day Exercise Reps/Sets Days Needed To Recover
A Hyperextensions

Cable Row

2×25

2×30

2
B Deadlifts

Pull Ups

Cable Rows

Straight Arm Lat Pull

3×5

3×10

3×12

3×15

3
C Barbell Row

Pull Downs

Machine Row

First exercise is 5 explosive reps, second is 12 rhythmic, and third exercise is 30 slow continuous reps. Superset 2x, repeat once 4

Legs

Workout Day Exercise Reps/Sets Days Needed To Recover
A Leg Press Varying Stances 4×25 2
B Squats

Walking Lunge

Leg Extensions

Leg Curls

3×6

3×12 steps each leg

3×15

3×15

3
C Leg Press

Hack Squat

Leg extension

First exercise is 5 explosive reps, second is 12 rhythmic, and third exercise is 30 slow continuous reps. Superset 2x, repeat once 4

Shoulders

Workout Day Exercise Reps/Sets Days Needed To Recover
A Arnold Presses

Lateral Raises

2×25

2×30

1
B DB Military Press

Upright Rows

Lateral Raises

3×6

3×12

3×15

2
C DB Press Military Press

Lateral Raises

Arnold Presses

First exercise is 5 explosive reps, second is 15 rhythmic, and third exercise is 30 slow continuous reps. Superset 2x, repeat once 3

Triceps

Workout Day Exercise Reps/Sets Days Needed To Recover
A Cable French Press 3×30 1
B Dips

Cable Push Down

Skull Crushers

3×6

3×10

3×15

2
C Dips

Cable French Press

Tricep Rope Extension

First exercise is 6 explosive reps, second is 15 rhythmic, and third exercise is 30 slow continuous reps. Superset 2x, repeat once 3

Biceps

Workout Day Exercise Reps/Sets Days Needed To Recover
A Cable Curl 3×30 1
B EZ Bar Curl

Preacher Curl

Drag Curl

3×6

3×12

3×15

2
C Ez Bar Curl

Preacher Curl

Cable curl

First exercise is 6 explosive reps, second is 15 rhythmic, and third exercise is 30 slow continuous reps. Superset 2x, repeat once 3

Structuring Your Program

We’re going to outline a month-long protocol for you. It’s important to note that this program is for advanced trainees only. It can be easy to overtrain on this protocol so if you feel like you need to take an extra day off, go for it. If you feel like a muscle group is not recovered, push it back a day. If the C days are too much make them a B day instead.

Conversely, if you are recovering well and wish to increase intensity change out some A workouts for B ones and C days for B. Although accessory body parts such as calves, abs, and traps are not covered in this outline, make sure to include some volume for them 2-3x per week.

Days 1-10

Body Part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Chest A B C B
Shoulders A C B
Back C B A
Legs C B
Biceps A B C B
Triceps B C B

Days 11-20

Body Part 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Chest A B C
Shoulders A B C B
Back B C
Legs A B C
Biceps A B C
Triceps A A C B

Days 21-31

Body Part 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Chest B A B C
Shoulders A B C
Back B A B
Legs B A B
Biceps B A B C
Triceps A B C B

Final Notes

Notice that the prescribed number of recovery days is not always adhered to. This is because a workout scheduled to fall on a workout day is moved either a day earlier or later. There is also some overlap between muscle groups. For example you may work triceps the day before chest. In this case make sure to emphasis the pecs by doing a partial range and using a grip to minimize tricep involvement.

This is a very high volume program so make sure to supplement with creatine to help fuel your muscles longer, and Sheer Recovery post workout to immediately kick-start the rebuilding process. Once you have finished a month of this program, go through a two-week deloading period where you lower the volume significantly. A 4 days a week upper/lower split is a good option to run during this deload before you repeat this 31 day cycle.

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