Generation Iron Perfect physique Kai Greene

Everything you need to know about program design for physique development.

This is part 3 of Coach Scott Abel’s 3-Part series. Parts 1 and 2 introduced strength bias, neuromuscular efficiancy, and bodybuilding strategies to build the perfect physique. Make sure to catch up with Part 1 and Part 2.


Tactical Considerations

Most of the arguments mentioned yesterday are strategic considerations for program design for gaining muscle mass and quality “muscle maturity.” To complete this “manifesto” it’s also necessary to at least begin to address some tactical considerations regarding program application as well.

First and foremost, exercise selection and sequence become important considerations when training for size and development because isolation exercises (as you get in bodypart training) can cause tendonitis in quick order. Human joints were not designed to be subject to movement stress of the kind where all the shock, force, tension, and compression are exclusively centered on one joint.

Knowing how to structure and sequence exercises and workouts, as well as reps schemes, goes a long way to preventing chronic tendonitis issues, adhesions, limited range of motion around a joint, scar tissue, joint inflammation and the like.

Understanding ranges and planes of motion of muscle function around a joint is important for tactical implementation of exercise selection and sequences, and also for implementing proper exercise techniques so you learn to “train the muscle, not the movement.”

For instance I witness in the gym all the time the example of “plane of motion overkill.”

A trainee is doing a biceps workout for example. He or she does barbell preacher curls, then does one arm preacher curls, then moves on to the preacher curl machine. This is a poor use of gym time. After that first exercise the redundancy of that plane of motion won’t create any more adaptation, yet the risk of overuse conditions and injuries increases with each new exercise because of that repeated same motion.

I witness this kind of thing over and over again in my observations observing other people workout. Angles of contraction of any muscle have been shown to be “as important” as training intensity when it comes to fiber recruitment and adaptive hypertrophy response.

Another common tactical error in applying otherwise reasonable programs, is trying to lift heavier than what you are actually capable of. This is a workout destroyer and a saboteur of good programs in general!

Learn to leave your ego at the door and don’t be a “weight worshipper.”

Ambition is great; self-delusion is not!

Do not lift more than you are capable of in good form. Too much weight on the bar is just as useless as not enough weight on the bar. Mentally mature and advanced trainees follow the program, not their egos.

Generation Iron Phil Heath Lift

So What’s the Lesson Here?

Stronger doesn’t always mean more weight on the bar and progress doesn’t mean that either!

When training for muscle development and mass with class, you should seldom require a spotter for an exercise you are doing. Even a newbie at the gym can spot something “off” with one guy supposedly bench pressing and the whole time his “spotter” has his hands on the bar and looks like he himself is doing an upright row! (Grow up!)

Another workout destroyer is lifting outside of your prescribed rep ranges. If, for example, an exercise in your program calls for 3 sets of 10-15 reps let’s say, and you choose a weight where you are only squeezing out 5 reps on these sets… then you aren’t adhering to the program then, are you?

This is destroys great programs. Many trainees ruin great programs by not being true to them. And when your goal is physique development, gaining muscle mass and achieving that muscle maturity look of “mass with class,” then don’t be so carried away with how much you lift; instead, how you lift is far more important.

A carpenter isn’t enamored with his screwdriver, he focuses on how well he uses that tool to get the job done. Moving the loaded bar from point A to point B isn’t necessarily the goal – creating an adaptive stimulus and response from the proper execution of repetitions and sets – that is the goal.

It’s not always about lifting “more.” It is always about lifting “better.”

To understand that is to employ a basic “tactic” of workout application that will never fail you. Yes, it seems like common sense to say so – but look around the gym and you will witness practically every day as I do – that common sense ain’t so common!

The other consideration when training for a balanced mature physique is the question as to whether to increase weight on working sets or not.

Although linear load increases may be expected week to week in programs designed solely to increase load-strength (max lifts), this is not the case in programs designed for enhancing muscle development. Whether the load you use during work sets increases or not is really incidental to the overall process.

What is far more important in programs designed for development is to choose a weight that is effective in challenging your performance within the reps indicated.

This is a workout to workout consideration based on your own subjective experience. It is not an absolute. Training for development is about connecting to feeling the muscles working – not measuring how much you lift.

In terms of varying training tactics within a program, there are other factors to consider as well here. Age of current trainee is a factor, current level of experience and training background is a factor. Current level of development is a factor, as is gender. These are all vital considerations that are “assessment tools” used for assigning the right program to the right person at the right time. This is true of both training “strategy” (program design) and how it is carried out by the trainee (its tactical implementation).

Finally, training “hardcore” doesn’t mean training to pound your body or training to incapacitation. Pro athletes in any sport “train” to perform better, not to incapacitate their bodies. You need to do the same. Train your body to perform better next time you workout. That is how you “progress.”

And there you have it! The above article series is the “manifesto” for program design for gaining muscle growth and quality mass with class. The number one consideration in all of this – is neuromuscular efficiency. But I suspect that, as usual: some of you will get it; some of you will not.

Coach Scott Abel is now well into his 4th decade as an expert in the physique-transformation game. He has been known as the Trainer of Champions and has Coached Olympia Winners Figure Pros, models, and taken clients from beginner level to National Titles and beyond – and of course Coach Abel now Coaches all those who want to improve.

Coach Abel has been a writer, ghost writer, and columnist in the industry – and is now a best-selling author on Amazon as well. Scott’s latest book, The Hardgainer Solution, is a bestseller on Amazon, and is available now.

You can read more of Scott’s free articles at, where you can also find his free video exercise library, and get free chapters from his books and several free workouts by signing up to his email list.