Background Information:

Height/Weight: 5'8, 150 lbs
Sex/Age: M, 24 years

I spend all day at work in front of a computer (programming), so knowing I get to workout as soon as I'm done for the day keeps me mentally going. Being in the gym relaxes me, and is basically my sanctuary.

Currently, I workout/lift 6-7 days a week, and train Martial Arts for MMA 3-4 days. Since I compete in MMA, Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, I'm not looking to gain size! I need to stay below 155 lbs for my weight-cuts (I fight at 135 lbs in MMA, for example). Increased strength is always welcome, of course.

A typical schedule might look something like this:

Monday: Chest/Biceps (3 workouts for each, 3 sets of 12-14 reps)
Abs (2 times, halfway and end of workout)
20 minutes on the elliptical
Judo/Wresting (1 hour)

Tuesday: Legs/Shoulders (3 workouts for each, 3 sets of 12-14 reps)
Abs (2 times, halfway and end of workout)
Tae Kwan-Do (1 hour)

Wednesday: Rest Day

Thursday: Back/Triceps (3 workouts for each, 3 sets of 12-14 reps)
Abs (2 times, halfway and end of workout)
Tae Kwan-Do (1 hour)

Friday: Chest/Biceps (3 workouts for each, 3 sets of 12-14 reps)
Abs (2 times, halfway and end of workout)
20 minutes on the elliptical
1-2 Hours MMA training

Saturday: Legs/Shoulders (3 workouts for each, 3 sets of 12-14 reps)
Abs (2 times, halfway and end of workout)
Interval Sprints

Sunday: Back/Triceps (3 workouts for each, 3 sets of 12-14 reps)
Abs (2 times, halfway and end of workout)
Interval Sprints

So, my questions are the following:

  • Should I change my lifting workouts to better suit working out 6-7 days a week (sets, reps, muscle groups)?
  • Should I change my cardio workouts (concentrate in a few days, spread out through the week)?
  • What should I add to my current recovery regimen of Protein Shakes after workouts?

Keep in mind, I'm not looking to gain size (strength is welcome, though), and I don't want to be at the gym less than 6 days a week. Thanks in advance.

  • How long have you been on this plan? Nov 1, 2012 at 2:30
  • About a year and a half. There's a few weeks during the holidays, right after hard fights or I get tattoos where I have to slack a bit, obviously.
    – Taylor K.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 2:59

3 Answers 3


This looks like a good tough schedule. If you can handle it, good.

Strength training versus bodybuilding

There are three aspects of your lifting that strike me as bodybuilding instead of strength training:

  • Sets of 12-14 reps
  • Multiple exercises for each muscle group
  • Splitting up the workouts by muscle group

These methods are more focused on hypertrophy and possibly strength-endurance. I suspect you could get better strength and power development by switching to:

  • Sets of 1 to 5 reps (done much heavier--these should be near maximal)
  • One exercise per type of exercise
  • Doing whole-body workouts each day, or if splitting is necessary, then doing one exercise per day or splitting by upper and lower body.

Fewer reps done heavier is generally recognized as more productive for strength and power. Whole-body exercises (squats, deadlifts, cleans, jerks, snatches, presses, Turkish get-ups, farmer's walks) are generally recognized as optimal for combat sport athletes. I highly recommend thinking of lifting in terms of movements (meaning pushes, pulls, hinges, and squats) rather than muscle groups.

For instance, Glenn Pendlay's basic strength-training template for MMA athletes is as follows:

Monday: Squat, 3 sets of 5; Bench Press, 3 sets of 5; Rows, 3 sets of 5

Wednesday: Deadlift, 3 sets of 3; Military Press, 3 sets of 5; Chinups, 3 sets of 10, add weight if necessary

Friday: Step-ups, 3 sets of 10; Push Press or Incline Press or Dips, 3 sets of 5; Power Cleans or Power Snatches, 5 sets of 3

When I train judo/jiujitsu/MMA more than three or four times a week, I relegate lifting to once a week for maintenance only. I'll deadlift (or power clean), squat, press, and chin all in that one workout. I've also tried the "one lift a day" method, where I would do just one of those exercises after martial arts training, but driving home after class made it tough to re-warm-up for lifting. Perhaps it would work for you.


A couple interval sprint workouts each week and one or two distance running/swimming/biking/elliptical workouts sounds fine. I'd try to rely as much as possible on technical workouts (judo/wrestling/BJJ/TKD/MMA) instead of elliptical sessions. Robb Wolf and Greg Everett, who both train jiujitsu and are knowledgable strength and conditioning professionals, are adamant on this point:

For cardio, nothing translates to fighting like fighting.

I'd try to separate these speed/endurance/conditioning workouts from your strength and technical (TKD/wrestling/MMA) sessions in order to get maximum returns from the strength work, but generally this looks fine.

Pendlay is more inclined towards variety and non-sparring work in conditioning than myself, Everett, or Wolf, but he also relies much less on the elliptical and more on strength- and power-biased varied work. Here are the exercises he recommends that I've found success with:

1) Push a prowler.

2) Kettlebell clean and jerks.

5) Farmers walk.

6) Kettlebell snatch.

7) "Freestyle" complexes... Take a barbell, a light one, and keep it moving without setting it down for 10 minutes. Do whatever you can think of. squats, presses, cleans, good mornings, push presses. Just keep it moving and do not set it down...

11) Flip a big tire....

(See forum post for specifics.) When I train combat sports several times a week, I run in the mornings and train in the evenings. Personally I would spread the sprints out through the week instead of concentrating them on two concurrent days. If I'm training less often, I try to fit in a Pendlay-style odd conditioning workout instead of running.


Your recovery regimen should primarily consist of sleep, food, and staying happy by socializing. A protein shake after workouts is part of your diet, and might be very much called for, but it isn't the linchpin of your recovery regimen. Getting enough quality food and sleep is.

If you're not getting enough quality sleep, then I'd recommend adding another rest day. If you're not getting enough quality food, then I'd recommend more eggs, more greens with olive oil, more meat, more milk, yogurt, and kefir, more sweet potatoes, more rice, and more vegetables. It's hard to gain weight when training like you are, so don't worry about eating too much unless you start to get bigger. (I'd be more concerned with undereating causing overtraining.)

  • That link you provide in the first paragraph with the charts is rather interesting. I've always been under the impression that doing exercises 4 x 4 (4 sets of 4 reps) is the recipe for getting big, but that information claims the opposite. I started lifting like 3 years ago, and have went from 130 lbs to 150ish. Granted, I was very scrawny. My gains have peaked out for a year now, so I'll definitely try less reps with more weight. As long as I keep cardio involved in my workouts, I hopefully won't put on mass. And I can't restrict lifting to 3 days a week, I'd honestly go insane.
    – Taylor K.
    Oct 31, 2012 at 23:45
  • Don't you have martial arts classes to take up your energy? Or could you do barbell complexes or another form of strength- or power-biased conditioning on non-lifting days? Oct 31, 2012 at 23:49
  • Also--I've seen 5x5 and 6x6 hailed as great recipes for getting bigger...if you lift three times a week, don't do cardio, and eat a ton. But I bet 3x3 or 4x4 plus six days a week of cardio won't get you too big. Oct 31, 2012 at 23:52
  • Yeah, that's the key: I have to stay around the same weight. And I have martial arts stuff 3-4 days a week, but I like to workout 6 days a week. When I workout I can listen to music full-blast and just zone out. Martial Arts I have to concentrate and learn new things, they are different activities mentally for me. I'll try probably 3 x 5 or 4 x 4 for a while and see how it affects me. I'm just glad no one has said "You're overworking yourself, you are doing more hard than good, you have to cut back". That's what I was mostly checking on.
    – Taylor K.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 0:19
  • @TaylorKimmel Whether or not it's too much depends on whether you're recovering. Some months I can train six days a week, other months I can't. It depends on food and sleep and other recovery factors like stress. That's what I meant by my first paragraph--if you're getting stronger and able to train, it's working. If not then you may have to cut back. Nov 1, 2012 at 2:25

Why are you working in the 12-14 rep range if you don't want to increase size? You should pick just a few, full body lifts (squats, deadlifts, overhead press, etc.) and do them 5 reps at a time. That will build more strength.

Also, why are you doing 3 different exercises for each target muscle group? Why not just one exercise at a higher weight?

  • 5
    I think this is more a comment than an answer. Please check the FAQ how the site works.
    – Baarn
    Oct 31, 2012 at 19:44
  • I was under the impression, ever since I've been lifting, that less reps with higher weight = bigger size. More reps with a lower weight = more endurance. Also, I do three lifts for each group. So like Biceps I sometimes do: Single Arm Curls, Hammer Curls then Uppercuts with the Cables. If I only did one exercise, I would A) get bored, and B) bet out of the gym in 30 minutes. I like to be there for a while.
    – Taylor K.
    Oct 31, 2012 at 20:14
  • @TaylorKimmel This is the correct impression, high weight tends to equate to more size. This isn't always true, but if you're looking to get big you want to exhaust your muscles, and the easiest way to do that is lots of weight. For maintenance your current regimen looks pretty good.
    – tmesser
    Oct 31, 2012 at 20:30
  • @YYY That's not my understanding. Size hypertrophy doesn't start until four to six reps minimum. One to five reps can increase strength with minimal increases in size or weight. Oct 31, 2012 at 20:45
  • 2
    @TaylorKimmel. Oh okay. I thought you were looking for strength, not entertainment.
    – powerpack
    Nov 1, 2012 at 16:32

Your fundamentals look very good. I can't see any major problems or inconsistencies with your workout. As a result, none of my following suggestions should be taken in the spirit of a large overhaul or immediate change. They should instead be taken as just that - suggestions and options. With that qualified, here they are:

  • Consider adding stability exercises into your regimen, possibly by replacing either the first or last workout for each body part. These are things like planks, slow burn lifts, and other lifts that work out connective tissue or body parts. I'm thinking wrists (kettlebell hammer curls), ankles (cable resistance movements), etc.
    Note: Slow burn lifting is thought to help with muscle size/workout efficiency. There is no clinical evidence to prove that yet. I bring it up because, biomechanically, it is difficult to come up with an approach that better recruits the small, tertiary muscles that are nonetheless critical for overall functional strength. You're probably sophisticated enough with working out that you will be able to tell if this helps or not after 6-8 weeks of trying it. If it doesn't, forget about it.
  • Do NOT change the ethos of your cardio workouts. Cardio works best when spread out to provide consistent toning for the heart and lungs. However, you might consider some more variety in your cardio than just the elliptical. Shadow boxing, punching bags, and swimming could provide your cardio a bit more durability under different circumstances and tempos. Since MMA fights happen at all sorts of different tempos this could be helpful.
  • For my own training recovery, I love the following procedure:
    • 10-20 minutes of heat. I prefer saunas or whirlpools, but steam rooms or even a long, hot shower will do well.
    • Follow immediately with liquid nutrition. Whole milk with supplements is good for high-calorie needs. Water with electrolytes is good for low-calorie needs.
    • Followed within 1-2 hours by a nutrient-dense snack/small meal. Peanut butter, greek yogurt, or 1-2 eggs are all options that come immediately to mind.

This procedure relaxes away any minor aches and pains that could theoretically linger, then feeds my body with exactly what it needs to repair and react to the pressures I've put on it. It also feels great to be worn out, relaxed, and fed.

  • Yeah, I more just do the elliptical work to shred calories and listen to music. I'm interested in mixing in some slow burn lifts, but do you think with how often I workout it might be a bit too much? The link you provided suggested only doing those once a week.
    – Taylor K.
    Oct 31, 2012 at 23:47
  • @TaylorKimmel That link is also presupposing you're doing it as your entire workout, but your question is well made. Simple answer is I have no idea. Slow burn lifting has worked really well for me mixing it into my workout 2-3 times a week, but even then I make an entire workout over it and not just a stabilization exercise encompassing one set. I'd definitely start slowly, just do one set per body part, see if that has any merit for how you train. If it doesn't seem to help or hurts your recovery, forget about it.
    – tmesser
    Nov 1, 2012 at 4:00

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