The 4-Phase Workout to Get You Big, Strong & Cut

4-phase workout

This 4-phase workout is one to give you a physique others will envy.

For decades, bodybuilders have been following training phases, depending on whether their focus is strength, mass or definition. But what if you could do a single workout that would accomplish all of those goals together?

Sound too good to be true?

It’s not – and this program will prove it. I’m about to lay out for you what is known as the Shotgun Workout. It doesn’t have much to do with firearms but it does have a whole lot to do with killing multiple birds with one stone (metaphorically!).

The Shotgun Workout in Theory

The Shotgun Workout is really not a single workout at all. Rather, it is a training concept that you can apply to any workout program and exercise selection. Here is how it works:

  • You will perform 4 exercises for each of the following body parts; legs, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps.
  • You will do 4 sets for each exercise.
  • You will choose a barbell exercise first with a rep range of 4-6.
  • You will choose a dumbbell exercise second with a rep range of 8-12.
  • You will choose a cable exercise third with a rep range of 15-20.
  • You will choose a body weight exercise fourth for 20 reps.
  • You will do each exercise to positive muscular failure.
  • You will choose different angles as much as possible for each muscle group exercise


So, why do you train this way?

Your first exercise is your strength move. You select a compound barbell exercise such as the bench press, squat or deadlift and perform reps in the 4-6 range. This has been well established as the best range for strength gains. You want to work with a weight that you will fail at six reps on for the first set. The fatigue factor will see you failing at between 4-6 reps on each of the three succeeding sets. Your rest between sets on this first exercise will be the longest of the entire workout. Give yourself up to 3 minutes rest between sets, as this will provide enough time to recover so that you can exert maximum strength on the next set.

protein powder for men nutrients muscle growth lean muscle bulking

The second exercise is your hypertrophy or muscle building workout (1). You will be doing 8-12 reps to failure on each of the four sets. This is the proven ideal range for muscle growth. You will use dumbbells as your basis for choosing your muscle building exercises. Dumbbells allow you to move through a greater range of motion on such exercises as the bench press and to work each side of a muscle group individually. Unilateral training has been shown to be more effective at building muscle than bilateral training. With this 4 set phase of the workout, give yourself 90 to 120 seconds rest per set.

The third exercise you choose will be a cable resistance exercise. Cables allow you to exert constant tension on the working muscle as well as to work from a greater range of angles than barbells or dumbbells. You will be doing 12-15 reps to work your slow twitch muscle fibers. Again each set should be to failure. Give yourself 45-60 seconds rest between sets.

Your final exercise for each body part is a bodyweight exercise (2). You will do 20 reps on each exercise with a rest of 45-60 seconds. This phase is designed to engorge the muscle with blood and oxygen in order to bring about a pump effect and to promote muscular definition. The greater the pump induced blood flow to the muscles, the more blood is also taken away from the muscle. This takes with it waste products that build up during exercise. Removing these waste products and delivering more oxygen to the muscle cells are crucial aspects of muscle recovery and growth.

A Couple of Great Finishers

Here are a couple of pump intensifying techniques that you can throw in at the end of your workout to ensure that you are leaving absolutely nothing on the gym floor.

Drop Sets

Once you have reached positive muscular failure, immediately strip the same amount of weight from each side of the bar or grab slightly lighter dumbbells. Continue repping out until you can’t do another rep with proper form. Now strip off more weight and continue repping out until you again reach failure. Make a total of four drops and your working muscle will be totally done for!

Drop sets allow you to push your muscles beyond the level of muscular failure by forcing them to continue contracting against increasing lighter weight (3). This produces elevated levels of growth hormone and insulin-like growth-factor 1. Both of these are important for building muscle, increasing strength and stripping off body fat.

Forced Reps

When you are unable to complete another rep with proper form, get your training partner to help out by giving just enough assistance to allow you to push out an additional 2-3 reps. Make sure that your partner knows how to spot properly as too much help will kill the set. If applied properly, however, this technique will ramp up your intensity for greater muscle and strength gains.

strong man

Sample Shotgun Workout

Exercise Sets Reps Exercise Sets Reps
Legs 4 Chest
Squat 4 4-6 Incl. Bench Press 4 4-6
Dumbbell Step Up 4 8-12 Flat Bench B/B Press 4 8-12
Leg Ext. 4 12-15 Pec-Dec Fly 4 12-15
Jump Squat 4 20 Plyo Push Up 4 20
Shoulders Biceps
O/head Barbell Press 4 4-6 Barbell Curls 4 4-6
D/B Upright Row 4 8-12 Incl. D/B Curl 4 8-12
Cable Side Lateral 4 12-15 High Cable Curl 4 12-15
Handstand Pushup 4 20 Close grip chins 4 20
Back Triceps
B-Over Barbell Row 4 4-6 Close Grip Bench Press 4 4-6
One Arm D/B Row 4 8-12 O/head D-B Extension 4 8-12
Straight Arm P-Down 4 12-15 Cable Kickback 4 12-15
Pull Up 4 20 Reverse Dips 4 20


The Shotgun Workout brings all three key bodybuilding goals – strength, muscle, definition – into a single training program. Start out by following the sample workout above for 12 weeks. Then take a complete week off and change out the exercises based on the guidelines provided here.

Looking for a pre or post workout boost? Check out Enhanced Labs, the home of Big Ramy, Mr. Olympia 2020 Champion Big Ramy, 11x Olympia Competitor Dennis “the Menace” James, and hundreds of other professional bodybuilders, athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and bio hackers.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

*Images courtesy of Enhanced and Envato


  1. Tipton, K. D.; Wolfe, R. R. (2001). “Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth”. (source)
  2. Harrison, Jeffrey (2010). “Bodyweight Training: A Return To Basics”. (source)
  3. Schoenfeld, Brad; Grgic, Jozo (2018). “Can Drop Set Training Enhance Muscle Growth?”. (source)
Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.