Since I literally had no chest muscles and weak lats before I started my quest, I had to figure out a good number of sets and reps to build both muscle and strength. The sets and reps I've found to work best to gain MUSCLE and strength are as follows:
A few initial things to know:
1. cross pullouts use a block (cross pullouts picture
2. I am posting sets:reps.
This is the preference in which you are to do exercises starting with the best to the least effective for cross:
1. Assisted crosses with a spotter
2. Weighted progression therabands cross pullouts and/or dream machine cross pullouts. Paul's pulley system
is one example.
3. Cross pullouts with block
4. Theraband cross pulls
Cross pullout workouts (and a general template for the others):
1. Start with 3x5 on the block as far as you can get out your legs
2. Progress with 3x5 until you can make it all the way out to your heels
3. Start upping the sets from 3x5 :arrow: 4x5 :arrow: 5x5
4. Start upping the reps 5x5 :arrow: 5x6 :arrow: 5x7 :arrow: 5x8
5. Start weighting the exercise with 5-10 lbs and go to 3x10.
6. Increase the weight each workout as you move from 3x10 :arrow: 3x7 :arrow: 3x4 over the course of a week (assuming 3x a week).
7. Rinse and repeat steps 5-6 for additional weight
Theraband workouts (can be weighted with a weight vest):
1. Pullouts with therabands from ring to underneath feet to ring. About 2s down, 2s up.
2. Isometric holds: <1s down, 3-5s hold, <1s up
A few things to note for doing the exercises:
1. You MUST have your elbows locked at all times. If your elbows can't take the exercises, then cut down on the volume a bit and start doing more elbow conditioning exercises like rings flys and archer pushups. Back levers with your hands supinated can also help build the strength for a back lever as well as condition your elbows (courtesy of Roger).
2. Cross pulls rep time is about 1-2s down and 1-2s up. For those that don't need extra muscle, do them a bit quicker. Holds at the bottom can also be incorporated to mix up the routine.
3. Isometric holds at the bottom are also beneficial; however, it would be better do to these with therabands or spotted since cross pulls don't hit exactly right spot of the muscles that are going to be activated during the cross.
Elaboration on the different workouts:
Assisted crosses are, without a doubt, the best. They require you to have maximum effort the whole time which is extremely good for developing strength and muscle mass (provided you eat enough), and a training partner makes your workout more effective by pushing you to work harder.
Theraband cross pullouts with weighted progressions or a dream machine type device with pulleys which can be connected to weights/your bodyweight are second preference. This is because it simulates the cross position very well, and can give you a means by which to measure your strength gains to see that you are progressing. I went the cross pullouts with a block route, which I thought was pretty good, but my progression would have been faster with these.
With the cross pullouts with the block, the first 1-4 should take you anywhere from probably 2-8 months to do depending on how much muscular mass you have coming into the program. Once you can do 5x8 with bodyweight without struggling on any of the reps with 2-3s holds at the bottom of each, you should be able to go down very close to a cross position (~15-20 degrees from horizontal) and hold it for about a second or two (e.g. my homeshow cross picture
). I was only doing about 2 days of training a week, but it is possible to do 3 days of cross training a week (m,w,f or tu,th,sat) like I am doing and will continue doing. The last 15-20 degrees will be the hardest, so prepare yourself.
With therabands, you can basically use the same progression. It is less measurable though since you don't know how much of your weight is being assisted, but generally pick something where you are going to be struggling and then push through it. That's the only reason I would put this exercise below block cross pullouts even though it is a more effective exercise in terms of simultaneously stimulating the muscles needed for a cross (e.g. block crosspullouts are more lats-centric while therabands hits them nearly evenly).
In terms of a training schedule in a week, I would suggest at first 2x a week and then work your way up to 3x a week. The extra training day to elicit strength gains especially in the latter periodized (DUP) portion of the workout is very important to progressing quick. If you are set on doing 2x a week or cannot handle 3x a week, it is basically like alternating light and heavy days.
Well, a good base of initial strength is nice, but it is not necessary. For any of the block cross pullout workouts you will probably not need any programming at all until you start adding weight. Even then you might not need programming if you are progressing at a solid pace of an additional 5-10 pounds a week.
Firstly, the block cross pullout workout is actually a good program setup even though it is probably one of the least recommended exercises to do now. The initial 3x5 is a good balance of strength repetition and volume to allow any newcomer to do the program and elicit strength gains (see Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength for more info). The progression up to 5x5 allows a solid increase in volume while maintaining strength gains. From there, the increase in volume from 5x5 to 5x8 is primarily to adjust the users CNS to the exercise somewhat like grease the groove style. This helps to (1) increase muscular endurance to eliminate soreness when the weights start progressing and (2) to acclimate the CNS to the exercise which results in increased efficiency in the movement allowing heavier weights to be used. From there, I feel daily undulated periodization (DUP) works very, very well. My experiment a few months ago let me progress from an extra 10/15 lbs in cross pullouts to an extra 52.5 lbs over the course of 5-6 weeks. This is particularly amazing progress (~25-30% of my bodyweight increase in strength) considering I was only working out the cross sometimes only 2 times per week, and I had a very bad diet at the time.
For more on DUP read this:
As for the reps and sets in my periodization scheme I recommend, that is just what *I* used. It can be modified depending on what you want to do with it. For example, something like 3x10, 4x7, 6x4 might also work, but I haven't tried it. It would keep the volume relatively the same while increasing the amount of work done per workout. Something like 3x8, 4x6, 8x3 would also work keeping a lot of the work in the strength range. I am not sure how all of this would pan out. If you feel that the 3x10, 3x7, 3x4 is not working fast enough, then try out another scheme. The good part about DUP is it is variable and can be optimized to how you train best because you do not have the same genetics that I do.
And a few conclusions from my training:
The major hang up I had in my training in the beginning was that (1) I didn't know what exercises were the most effective and (2) I had no idea how to manage volume and intensity of the exercises. I got stuck on 3x5, 5x5 and 5x8 stuff for a while. I basically was feeling my way around so I had no clue with how to progress beyond that. I starting doing stuff like 7x7 and 8x7, but that was too high with the volume. It was better, I found out, to start weighting the exercises. From there, I thought that increasing reps from 5x5 to 5x8 would work well, and it did, but it was not very fast. Then I informed myself on periodization, and that let me progress lightning fast compared to how I had before even with a bad diet and sleep schedule. Programming definitely helps beyond the linearity of 5x5 to 5x8 once you have a good base of initial strength.
This was the cross progression that I did if anyone wants to know (by going by through my log to see what I did):
1x5, 2x5, 3x5, 4x5, 4x6, 4x7, ~4x5-6ish weighted, 5x5, 3x5 with holds at bottom, 8x5, 7x7, 8x7, 5x8, 5x8 with holds at bottom, weighted progressions on the order of 5x5 :arrow: 5x8. After the summer I went back to unweighted 5x5 and started progressing up the weight again on 3x5 to 15-20 lbs. From there, the DUP with 3x10, 3x7, 3x4 with increases in weight from workout to workout, and then theraband crosses in mass quantities to prepare my CNS for holds.
I would suggest starting out with 3x5 with an assisted spotter or with therabands. From there, depending on the types of exercises you use you can modify your exercises to fit your ability level. For example, if you are having trouble with 3x5 block cross pullouts, then I would suggest to step down to 1x5 and work up to 3x5 and/or start at the back on your knees and work out from there.
I will probably editting this further in the future with possibly a more outlined way of scheduling workouts. This is just a general outline so far and will give any of you trying to get a cross semi-specific way on how to approach it. With this guide you should and will be able to get a cross within 12 months of starting training assuming you don't injure yourself (elbow conditioning!!) and start with nothing like I did. I'll guarantee that.
Last update was in May... but I have some new tidbits to add in since then.. hehe.