For the average person, aesthetics will always be the most popular reason for embarking on a bodybuilding journey. And unless the individual is a genetic freak, they will probably have to start training in pretty unfavorable conditions, be it poor physical strength caused by a sedentary lifestyle, inability to gain mass or carrying too much excess body fat, which means they need an adequate training methodology to propel them toward the goal of becoming a ripped beast.
Although there are many great training protocols out there, the one more and more people keep coming back to is rest-pause training such as the RP-21 protocol, a specific high-intensity combination of heavy weights and short rest periods that has the potential to transform ordinary physiques into symbols of superior masculinity. This style of training isn’t something new, in fact it’s been used for a long time in the fitness game, with legendary Iron Guru Vince Gironda advocating it back in the 1950.
We don’t pretend to know which training program would be perfect for your personal strengths and weaknesses and ultimate goals, but we’re pretty sure that RP-21 will provide you with substantial gains and help you exploit your full muscle building potential further than you may expect, regardless of your current level of strength and size.
Here’s how to make the most out of it.
Can You Successfully Train for Multiple Goals?
One common mistake people make is not committing truly to one single goal when training – lifters usually want to progress in more, if not all, physical aspects simultaneously. However, most training programs are designed for a specific purpose and primarily focus on one aspect of fitness, so it’s impossible for them to optimally cover all specific goals.
Therefore, no one should expect to get everything from one protocol, as this kind of thinking will only result in disappointment and perhaps an unjust classification of one’s training regimen as “worthless”.
That being said, different programs can overlap in certain points. An individual might get incredibly strong with a bodybuilding-oriented program, while someone else can grow surprisingly huge muscles with a strength-oriented plan. Still, such variations in training response are heavily influenced by genetics, age, diet, previous experience, etc.
By the way, did you notice that we used “most training programs” instead of “all training programs” in the first paragraph of this section? That’s because, believe it or not, we know of one training system, called RP-21 (Rest-Pause 21) that when properly used, will allow you to train for strength, performance and aesthetics at the same time, and make astonishing gains in all three aspects. This article will give you a detailed map of the road to the best physique you can possibly build, so read very carefully and apply the following recommendations as strictly as you can.
Increasing Training Density With Rp-21
Rest-pause training incorporates very short rest periods, usually around 10-15 seconds, unlike traditional programs that allow you to rest up to 5 minutes between sets. Long pauses have been repeatedly found to significantly decrease the efficiency of a workout by causing the muscles to cool down too much and reducing anabolic hormone production and blood flow.
The RP-21 variant of rest-pause training, however, uses rest pauses of 30-60 seconds between sets – that’s obviously more than 15 seconds, but it’s still a lot less time than what you’d usually take when doing traditional heavy sets. According to exercise scientists, this particular duration of rest pauses is ideal for getting an optimal amount of work done in a short period of time, or in other words, achieving maximum training density.
Let’s try to define training density and explain why this is a crucial component of bodybuilding progress. Training density is the result of two specific factors of training – volume and duration; volume being defined as the total workload (sets and reps) you perform in a given workout and duration as the length of time that workout lasts. By combining these two, we get training density, or “the amount of sets multiplied by the number of reps completed within a certain timeframe.”
Now, it’s kind of a no-brainer that by increasing the amount of work you do in a given amount of time (density), you are able to improve your work capacity. And the end result of that process is greater hypertrophy and boosted strength, endurance and power.
So for example, you could be deadlifting 275×5 for 4 sets while resting 3 minutes in between rounds, which totals to 12 minutes of rest. Together with an estimated 30 seconds per set, it will take you around 15 minutes to complete the entire routine. But what if you performed 285×3 for 7 sets, resting only one minute between rounds?
That means you’ll need around 10 minutes to complete all reps while using a heavier weight, thus accomplishing more in less time. And not only that, but you’ll also enhance the production of anabolic hormones, increase the buildup of lactic acid and stimulate blood flow into the working muscles, all of which are precursors of growth. And that’s the basic philosophy of RP-21: reaping bigger muscle-building benefits by getting more done in less time.
Enter the Rp-21 Program
Frequency and Exercises
This program includes four training days (two lower-body and two upper-body days) and three days of rest, which are optimally split like this:
- DAY 1: Lower-body training
- DAY 2: Upper-body training
- DAY 3: Off
- DAY 4: Lower-body training
- DAY 5: Upper-body training
- DAY 6: Off/conditioning day
- DAY 7: Off
This is the list of recommended exercises:
- Squat variations: barbell hack squat, full squat and front squat
- Deadlift variations: conventional, sumo and Romanian
- Bench press variations: flat, incline, dumbbell and close-grip
- Overhead press variations: standing, seated and push
- Pull-up variations: pull-ups and chin-ups
- Hip thrusts
The first and most important exercise on each training day always includes 7 sets of 3 reps with 60 seconds of rest, while the following ones are designed as 6×5 with 30 seconds of rest between sets – these are performed with moderate loads that will effectively destroy your muscle fibers after a few rounds.
Note that you can be flexible with your choice of exercises, and it’s best to rotate moves so that you can hit your target muscles with a wide variety of training stimuli. However, you need to consider the practical limitations of the conditions you’re working out in, i.e. equipment accessibility, proximity between machines, etc.
You’ll start with 70% of your 1RM on the first week of the program, then progress to 80% of 1RM during the next couple of weeks. Still, if 70% of 1RM feels like too much at the beginning, go lighter. As each week passes, you’ll gradually increase the weight and the rest period will feel like it’s getting shorter, so be prepared for that. At some point you’ll inevitably fail to complete all required reps on the RP-21 set – when that happens, just continue with the program and try to improve next week’s numbers.
However, if you fail to reach 21 reps within 3 consecutive workouts, replace the exercise with a different one that targets the same muscles, but don’t reduce the load.
If you don’t have an idea what your max is on the exercises you’ve chosen, try maxing out a few weeks before you start the RP-21 program to get your starting point.
Train with the following cycle for 3-6 weeks before introducing a de-load week.
DAY 1: LOWER BODY
- Barbell Squat: 7 sets x 3 reps, rest: 60 seconds
- Romanian Deadlift: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Barbell Hip Thrust: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Dumbbell Walking Lunge: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Seated Calf Raise: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
DAY 2: UPPER BODY
- Dip: 7 sets x 3 reps, rest: 60 seconds
- Chin-up: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Overhead Press: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Barbell curl: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Skullcrusher: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
DAY 3: OFF
DAY 4: LOWER BODY
- Barbell Hack Squat: 7 sets x 3 reps, rest: 60 seconds
- Dumbbell Lunge: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Glute Ham Raise: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Weighted Burpee: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Standing Calf Raise: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
DAY 5: UPPER BODY
- Pull-up: 7 sets x 3 reps, rest: 60 seconds
- Gironda Neck Press: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Seated Dumbbell Press: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Preacher Curl: 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
- Dumbbell Flat Tight Press (elbows tucked in): 6 sets x 5 reps, rest: 30 seconds
DAY 6: CONDITIONING
Hill sprints, bodyweight complexes, jump rope, farmer’s walks, etc.
DAY 7: OFF
You can replace any of the exercises included in the sample workouts with other tough moves that target the same muscles, preferably from the list we’ve mentioned earlier. But once you choose your exercises, stick with them for 3 weeks before switching to new movements.
In terms of weight progression, you should aim for a 2.5-10 pound increase (2.5-5 pound increase is typical for upper body movements, while a 5-10 pound increase is better suited for lower body movements) on the weight used for the main 7×3 lift each week, assuming you were able to complete the prescribed 21 reps with the previous load. For the rest of the exercises, use light-to-moderate weight, depending on your strength progress.
Finally, don’t even think about doing this kind of high-intensity heavy training every single week, or you’ll end up with complicated joint and tendon injuries and a nasty burn out. After 3-6 weeks of following the RP-21 protocol, take a de-load week with a high-volume, low-load training scheme.