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The Flying Solo Workout

No spotter? No problem. Get a full weightlifting workout on your own with this solo workout.

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  • 5 days

  • 20

  • Yes

The Flying Solo Workout
The Flying Solo Workout

They say that men think about sex every 15 seconds.

They don’t tell us, of course, what fills the time between one lascivious moment and the next. For most guys, it’s probably sports. For the serious gym rat, though, it’s the thought of taking his muscles to the point of failure and beyond in an effort to build ridiculous amounts of mass. Sexy it ain’t, but you’ve got that covered already. Everyone knows that to build big muscles, they need to be pushed workout after workout. By exhausting your muscles, you help them undergo mechanical and chemical changes that induce growth.

The sticking point for many guys is that the high-intensity techniques that wreck your muscles so they can be built up bigger, stronger and faster—techniques such as forced reps and negatives, or stripping weight quickly as you work through drop sets—often require a training partner. And, as many of you know, trying to find an adequate partner can make the story of Job seem quaint by comparison.

But bodybuilding is an individual sport by nature, and bodybuilders tend to be self-motivated, independent thinkers. Does that mean you’re out of luck on the muscle mass front? No. You can still train your muscles with fiber-busting intensity well beyond the point of failure. You just have to train smarter than the average gym rat. That’s where we come in.

We’ve put together five bodypart programs for the solo flyer, each utilizing a different intensity technique. These workouts will be so effective at helping you build muscle mass safely and effectively—without a partner—that you may soon be thinking about sex (with a partner) every five seconds. That ought to make for a productive life.

Solo Intensity Technique 1: Rack Training

Muscle failure is the point at which you can no longer do another rep with the prescribed weight, and it’s the first sign that you’re taking your training in the right direction. Achieving failure using dumbbells, cables and machines is easy without a partner. The challenge arises, however, when you add the three barbell exercises critical to mass gain—the bench press, overhead press and squat. Without a partner, the inherent difficulty in taking these moves to failure, or in an attempt to determine your one-rep max, can result in injury. The solo trainee’s best solution is the power rack.

Although it may look like just another rack for squats, the power rack has horizontal safety bars that run through it from front to back on both sides and can be used like a spotter. The key is to set these safeties at a height equivalent to the bottom of your range of motion (ROM) for the exercise at hand. On the bench press, for example, they’d be at chest level when you’re lying on the bench. On the seated shoulder press, they’d be at shoulder level when pressing to the front or slightly higher when pressing behind the neck.

On the squat and bench press, your best option is to lower the barbell from the J-hooks through the negative portion of the lift until it taps the safety bars, then drive it back up. When you want a spot on a hard rep, bounce the barbell off the safety bars to provide just enough lift for an extra rep or two.

Upon reaching absolute failure, simply leave the barbell resting on the safeties. For shoulder presses, we suggest you start with the barbell in the bottom position on the safety bars; trying to unrack the barbell can be awkward and cause injury. With this technique, you can even test your true one-rep max without a spotter.

Solo Intensity Technique 2: Negative Reps

Performing negative reps (lowering a weight without pushing it back up) obviously requires a training partner to help you lift the weight through the positive portion of the rep. Those who train alone have envied this technique for years because it’s a great way to overload a muscle with more weight than it’s used to handling. (You can resist much more weight than you can lift.) It also induces more muscle damage, which causes the muscle to grow larger and stronger.

The solo trainee’s best approach is to do single-arm negatives on a Smith machine. Find a weight you can bench-press on a Smith machine with one arm, then add 20%-30% more weight to use for negatives. Unrack the bar and slowly lower it using just your right arm. Try to make this negative rep last about five seconds. When the bar reaches your chest, use both arms to press it back to the start. On the next rep, use your left arm for the negative. You can use this technique on the Smith with overhead presses for delts, rows for lats, close-grip bench presses for triceps and drag curls for biceps; you can also use it on the leg press machine for legs.

Solo Intensity Technique 3: Single-Limb Forced Reps

Forced reps are one of the all-time great intensity techniques in the sport of bodybuilding. Research shows they’re more effective at boosting growth hormone (GH) levels than regular sets taken to failure, and they also help athletes drop more bodyfat. This is likely due to higher GH levels, which not only enhance muscle recovery and growth but increase fat-burning as well.

In most cases, forced reps require a spotter to assist you in completing the extra reps after you’ve reached muscle failure. In this version, you provide your own spot by doing one-arm or -leg exercises, then using your nonworking limb to help get an extra two or three reps.

This technique is great to use on one-arm preacher curls for biceps, one-arm pressdowns for triceps, front raises and lateral raises for delts, straight-arm pulldowns for lats, one-leg extensions for quads and one-leg curls for hamstrings.

Solo Intensity Technique 4: Dumbbell Drop Sets

Drop sets are a fantastic way to continue a set after reaching failure. When you can no longer perform more reps, reduce the weight by 20%-30% and continue the set. The key here is time. After reducing the weight, continue as if it’s the same set. For drop sets to be effective, you should make the switch within 5-10 seconds, max.

Trying this technique with the barbell bench press usually results in two separate sets because it takes too long to make the appropriate weight change. The solution? Dumbbells—they allow you to immediately pick up a lighter weight and continue the set within the 5-10-second time frame. You can also do drop sets by using fixed barbells, cables or machines with weight stacks.

Solo Intensity Technique 5: Partial Reps

Partial reps mean you perform the exercise over only part of the ROM. At M&F, we define muscle failure as the inability to complete a rep with good form. That means your muscle fails to complete the rep over the full ROM on its own. It doesn’t mean that the muscle has reached absolute failure.

For example, when doing pull-ups, you reach failure when you’re unable to pull your chin all the way up to the bar. However, your lats can still pull you up part of the way. So after reaching failure on pull-ups, you continue repping through as much of the ROM as possible until even the slightest movement becomes impossible. At that point, you’ve taken the muscle to absolute failure.

Partials are great for bench presses (barbell and dumbbell) and flyes for chest; overhead presses and upright rows for delts; pull-ups, pulldowns and rows (barbell, dumbbell and cable) for back; curls (barbell and dumbbell) for biceps; pressdowns and extensions for triceps; and squats for legs.

Routine

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Rack Training

Solo Workout for Shoulders

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 1 of 20

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
3
Reps
5-6
Rest
--
In power rack.
Exercise 3 of 20

Barbell Upright Row

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
3
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
Exercise 4 of 20

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
3
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Exercise 5 of 20

Bent-Over Cable Lateral Raise

Equipment
Sets
3
Reps
12-15
Rest
--

Negative Reps

Solo Workout for Chest

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 6 of 20

Smith Machine Negative Bench Press

Equipment
Sets
3
Reps
5
Rest
--
Equipment
Smith Machine
Sets
3
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
Equipment
Bench, Dumbbells
Sets
3
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
Exercise 9 of 20

Incline Dumbbell Flye

Equipment
Bench, Dumbbells
Sets
3
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Exercise 10 of 20

Cable Crossover

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, D-Handle Attachment
Sets
3
Reps
12-15
Rest
--

Forced Reps

Solo Workout for Biceps

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 11 of 20

Barbell Biceps Curl

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
4
Reps
6-8
Rest
--
Exercise 12 of 20

One-Arm Preacher Curl

Equipment
Dumbbells, Preacher Bench
Sets
3
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
On the last two sets, after reaching failure, perform 2-3 forced reps by assisting with your nonworking arm.
Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
3
Reps
10-12*
Rest
--
*Per arm. On the last two sets, after reaching failure, perform 2-3 forced reps by assisting with your nonworking arm.

Drop Sets

Solo Workout for Triceps

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 14 of 20

Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extension

Equipment
Sets
4
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
On the last two sets, after reaching failure, select dumbbells 20%-30% lighter than the original weight and continue the set to failure.
Equipment
Bench, Dumbbells
Sets
4
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
On the last two sets, after reaching failure, select dumbbells 20%-30% lighter than the original weight and continue the set to failure.
Exercise 16 of 20

Triceps Pressdown

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment
Sets
4
Reps
10-12
Rest
--

Partial Reps

Solo Workout for Back

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 17 of 20

General Pullup

Equipment
Pullup Bar
Sets
3
Reps
To failure
Rest
--
On the last two sets, after reaching failure, continue doing partial reps through the first half of the ROM until that becomes impossible.
Exercise 18 of 20

Seated Cable Row

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment
Sets
4
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
On the last two sets, after reaching failure, continue doing partial reps through the first half of the ROM until that becomes impossible.
Exercise 19 of 20

Lat Pulldown

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, Lat Pulldown Bar
Sets
4
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
On the last two sets, after reaching failure, continue doing partial reps through the first half of the ROM until that becomes impossible.
Exercise 20 of 20

Straight-Arm Pulldown

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, Lat Pulldown Bar, Straight Bar Attachment
Sets
3
Reps
12-15
Rest
--
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