Training your upper body twice a week is a surefire way to build size and strength, but you don’t want to lift as heavy as your first day. Grow more with these push-pull trisets!
At least one day each week, I think it’s necessary to train with gut-busting, balls-to-the-wall intensity. But even the most experienced lifters have trouble programming meaningful secondary days, especially for the upper body. You can’t go HAM all the time and continue to make progress and stay healthy. If you could, we’d all be Ronnie Coleman by now—you know, before the surgeries.
However, even if you train yourself to absolute fatigue on your primary upper-body days, you can still complete a huge amount of additional work in a pain-free manner during the week with trisets and giant sets. You can plug them into a full-body program, an upper/lower split, or a more regional body-part split. And no, you won’t have to hog five pieces of equipment and make gym enemies every time you train.
This type of training will provide the ying to your primary-training-day yang when used properly, but it’s no walk in the park. In fact, this is maybe the toughest secondary upper-body training day that I’ve ever written. Yeah, you’ll have your heart rate maxed out and you’ll be sweating bullets, and you’ll do it while pushing decent weight and strategically crushing yourself in a controlled manner.
Welcome to the new way of training upper body twice a week.
Your Second Upper-Body Training Day
Program this complete training day into your routine late in the week, after all your primary training days have been completed. This routine works as a great way to conclude your training week, since a day of rest will be absolutely necessary before you can hit any aspect of your upper body again with any meaningful intensity.
Before you jump in, ensure that you complete a pretty thorough upper-body warm-up; don’t just jump right into the fire. When in doubt, try my 3-minute banded shoulder warm-up giant set to grease up your shoulders, activate the all-important intrinsic muscles of the shoulder complex, and prepare for battle.
Banded Shoulder Warm Up Giant Set
After the warm-up, go through these three trisets in order, using two ramp-up sets in each set of movements to get your stations set and your body ready to perform.
Don’t be a hero on these sets. Simply move the loads up over the course of the two warm-up sets, and land on your top-end weights for each movement by the time you get into your working sets. This ramp-up scheme adds a little more pain-free volume to this training day, which is a bonus.
Now, if this day doesn’t leave you blasted, you’re not training with the right loads or intensities. Get aggressive with the loads, hit all your reps, and keep the pace of the workout moving. This session can be completed in less than 60 minutes and should have your heart rate maxed out under heavy loads at least three separate times, probably sending you to the nearest garbage can.
Enjoy, and don’t say you weren’t warned.
I wouldn’t have you replace your major free-weight movements on your primary pushing day with machines, but on a second day, they definitely have their uses. First and foremost, they are far less stressful on the joints, particularly with these set and rep schemes.
The Hammer Strength machines offer a few key advantages over dumbbells and barbells in this routine, especially for continuing to “warm up” the tissues being targeted in training after the general dynamic warm-up. Locking into a range and movement plane also allows you to place more emphasis on the muscles themselves instead of controlling the movement pattern.
Finally, by controlling the movement to a greater degree in a locked-in range, you can implement novel training tools like bands and loaded stretches to emphasize driving blood into the muscles, lubricating joints, and increasing the overall readiness for your body to perform.
Don’t think that you are just limited to plate-loaded machines for this, though. Any machine will work, including the pin-loaded machines that are starting to take over the commercial-gym industry. Just make sure that you choose two machines located close together, so you can jump on and off.
As a rule, pick the same type of machine for each movement, as these machines are grouped together a majority of the time in the big boxes.
Hammer Pull-Push + Shoulders Giant Set
Here are some notes to get the most out of each movement:
Hammer Strength Single-Arm High Row
Emphasize a full range of motion, getting a stretch at the top of each rep and making sure to flex your lats and scapular retractors hard in the contracted position of every rep.
As you will quickly find out, doing these in single-arm fashion will challenge your back not only from moving the weights, but holding that loaded, stretched position. This expedites the pump effect, which makes this variation perfect for first in our training day.
Hammer Strength Banded Flat Chest Press
To create a little more tension in this movement, throw a light resistance band on each side of the machine. This will create a better contraction and make up for some of the loss of tension that comes with a machine press.
Contract for a half of a second at the top of every rep, and limit the range of motion at the bottom of this movement. Really work the top half, because you want to keep as much tension on the pecs as possible. Also, the bottom half and semi-stretched position is notoriously brutal on the shoulders.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Hit 15 full-range-of-motion reps with a slow and deliberate tempo in the lateral raises. Your shoulders should already be on fire from the previous two exercises, and your heart rate should be getting up there, as well. Concentrate on perfect execution on these shoulder movements, as even more experienced lifters tend to get sloppy under serious muscular and metabolic fatigue.
After your last set, take a few minutes and let yourself recover a bit, because the next triset is going to be a blood bath. Here are some notes to get the most out of those movements.
Pull-Push-Shoulder Giant Set
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Load this up as heavy as possible while still maintaining good rhythm. Complete 10 full-range reps, emphasizing the stretch at the bottom and letting your shoulder blade protract and rotate around your ribcage into a nice squeeze at the top of each rep. To place a greater amount of focus on the lats and back, strap up for this movement.
Slight-Decline Dumbbell Press
Use the same dumbbells you used for rows. You can create a slight decline by placing a single 45-pound plate under the foot of the bench, or use one notch up on an adjustable flat bench (as featured in the video above). The movement is nothing fancy here, just 8 perfect reps with a squeeze at the top of each rep.
This angle should feel great on your shoulders, but as you move through the sets, your limiting factor will be neural fatigue from the rows and the growing metabolic fatigue from the cumulative training.
Prone-Incline Dumbbell Rear-Delt Raise
Use the same adjustable bench that you’ve been using for the rows and presses, set at a higher incline. Lock your core and hips, and move the dumbbells through a full range of motion for 20 reps. If you can’t quite get there, finish the set off with a few partials. This will be torturous.
I had my heart rate around 195 beats per minute on the set above, so monitor your recovery, and work hard to bring that heart rate down between sets. If you have to extend your rest period a bit due to fatigue, that’s fine. Remember, your goal is to go heavy and get all the reps, so modify accordingly.
You’ll Be Seeing Stars
Voila! In less than an hour, you’ve got a convenient and effective secondary upper-body training day that will hit your muscles hard, have you huffing and puffing, and give you a pain-free way to keep moving toward your muscle and strength gains.