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The Staggered Deviation Training Program to Fix Your Weaknesses

Deviate from your normal routine to bring up your lagging body parts.

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  • 60 min

  • 6

  • Yes

Bodybuilder doing a shoulder workout with a seated dumbbell lateral raise exercise
Ian Spanier
Bodybuilder doing a shoulder workout with a seated dumbbell lateral raise exercise
Ian Spanier

Unless you’re training like a powerlifter, you’re hoisting heavy weight, over and over, you don’t need to rest very long between sets. Cutting rest periods can help you burn more fat and keep your workout intense. You can, however, give the muscle you’re working a rest by shifting your attention to another area that may need more work—like maybe your calves or biceps.

Enter staggered sets. The execution is simple: Insert a set or two of a smaller muscle, unrelated to the primary muscle you’re working, between sets of your main exercises. For example, if you’re training legs, you’d do all four sets of the leg press and then two sets of curls. Or one set of leg presses immediately followed by curls. And since you’re not hitting any of the same muscles, staggered sets shouldn’t affect your primary muscle—though they may tire you out. The result is more volume for that particular area and more calories torched overall, as you’re not just sitting on your ass “resting up.” You’ll thank us later.

STAGGERED SETS BASICS

  • Train a smaller, weaker body part during rest periods while working a bigger body part. Make certain the smaller body part isn’t stressed during compound exercises for the larger body part.
  • Abs, calves, forearms, and cardio are the best candidates for staggered sets.

STAGGERED SETS TIPS

  • The classic method of staggering is to alternate one set for the smaller body part between every two or more sets for the larger body part.
  • Try to plan combinations that you can do in the same area. For example, dumbbell flyes and crunches can be done on the same bench.
  • Don’t stagger if you need the rest period to recover from an exhausting set.

3 Ways to do Staggered Sets

1. UNRELATED SUPERSETS

Alternate a set for a bigger body part with one for a smaller, unrelated body part. You probably won’t want to do as many sets for the smaller body part, so skip supersetting one or two exercises. For example, if you do 16 sets and four exercises for the back, do 12 sets and three exercises for calves.

2. ASYMMETRICAL COMBOS

Do one set for the smaller body part for every two or more sets for the larger body part. For example, complete one set for abs between every two sets of arms, and after 12 sets for bis and 12 for tris, you’ll have also cranked out 12 for abs. This is the classic method of staggering.

3. BETWEEN EXERCISES

Perform one set for a smaller body part between exercises for larger body parts. For example, throw in a wrist curl set after completing every leg exercise, and over the course of a workout consisting of four exercises for quads and three for hams, you’ll squeeze in seven sets for forearms, almost without noticing.

Routine

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Weak Point: Rear Delts

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 1 of 6

Barbell Biceps Curl

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
3
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Exercise 2 of 6

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
3
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Perform as a bentover dumbbell lateral raise.
Equipment
Bench, Dumbbells
Sets
3
Reps
8-20
Rest
--
Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, D-Handle Attachment
Sets
3
Reps
10-12*
Rest
--
*Per arm.
Exercise 5 of 6

Triceps Pressdown

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment
Sets
4
Reps
15
Rest
--
Exercise 6 of 6

Band Pull-Apart

Equipment
Sets
4
Reps
20
Rest
--
Exercise 7 of 6

Dumbbell Bench Press

Equipment
Bench, Dumbbells
Sets
3
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Exercise 8 of 6

Face Pull

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

Weak Point: Calves

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 9 of 6

Lat Pulldown

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, Lat Pulldown Bar
Sets
4
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Exercise 10 of 6

Standing Calf Raise

Equipment
Box
Sets
1
Reps
15-20
Rest
--
Perform 2 sets if you can.
Exercise 11 of 6

Barbell Upright Row

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

Seated Calf Raise

Equipment
Bench
Sets
1
Reps
15-20
Rest
--
Perform 2 sets if you can.
Exercise 13 of 6

Cable Row Standing

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, Straight Bar Attachment
Sets
3
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Perform as a low-cable row.
Exercise 14 of 6

Seated Calf Raise

Equipment
Bench
Sets
1
Reps
20-25
Rest
--
Perform calf raises on a leg press machine. Do 2 sets if you can.

Weak Point: Forearms

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 16 of 6

Behind-the-back Barbell Wrist Curl

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
3
Reps
20
Rest
--
Exercise 17 of 6

Leg Press

Equipment
Sets
3
Reps
20
Rest
--
Exercise 18 of 6

Cable Biceps Curl

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, Straight Bar Attachment
Sets
3
Reps
12
Rest
--
Use a reverse grip. Perform one arm at a time. Do 12 reps per arm.
Exercise 19 of 6

Barbell Squat

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
2
Reps
12-15
Rest
--
Exercise 20 of 6

Dumbbell Hammer Curl

Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
2
Reps
10-12
Rest
--

Weak Point: Upper Chest

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 21 of 6

Lying Leg Curl

Equipment
Sets
6
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
Exercise 22 of 6

Incline Dumbbell Flye

Equipment
Bench, Dumbbells
Sets
6
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Exercise 23 of 6

Stiff-legged Deadlift

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
3
Reps
6-8
Rest
--
Equipment
Bench
Sets
3
Reps
10-12
Rest
--
Exercise 25 of 6

Good Morning

Equipment
No Equipment
Sets
3
Reps
15
Rest
--
Equipment
Smith Machine
Sets
3
Reps
8-10
Rest
--
Use a wide grip.
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