You’ve heard it your entire life: To get in shape, burn fat, and build muscle you have to “feel the burn”. This means doing lots of reps and cutting your rest between sets very short, so you feel your muscles ache. This approach has its value, but it’s lacking in one key area—it will never get you strong. Instead, follow this program for the next six weeks; you’ll break all your records on lifts and add slabs of muscle, and you’ll do it, mostly, with sets of only one rep.

How it works

Getting bull strong isn’t just good for the ego. Stronger muscles are generally bigger muscles with a greater capacity for work. Maximum strength training also thickens your bones and connective tissues, making them less susceptible to common injuries, especially as you get older. The best and quickest way to get super-strong is to lift the heaviest weights possible—loads with which you can only manage about one rep. It may not sound like much work, but heavy training is exhausting—just in a different way from the higher-volume pump training to which you’re probably accustomed. Doing sets of one rep won’t cause the burning you feel doing 8–12 reps on curls, but it will take your full concentration. Still, because the sets are short and you need to rest fully between them to recover, it’s a relatively comfortable and fun way to train, and the satisfaction you’ll get from seeing your lifts improve dramatically over time will be a powerful motivator to keep going.


Perform each workout (Days I, II, III, and IV) once per week. For the paired exercises (marked A and B), complete one set of A, rest as prescribed, then do a set of B, rest again, and repeat for all sets. For the first exercise on Days I and II, work up to the heaviest weight you can handle for one rep with perfect form. This should take at least seven sets. Begin with an empty bar and complete 10 reps. Then add weight gradually, performing sets of 3-5 reps until the load feels heavy. Then perform sets of one rep until you reach a weight that’s very near your max. Be sure to use a spotter or perform your sets in a power rack with spotter bars in place.

Change the main lift you perform each week to something similar. For example, you can switch the bench press to an incline bench press or floor press; you can substitute a squat or box squat for the deadlift. Skip the main lift in Week 4. Repeat the bench press and deadlift after five weeks, and note the improvement. The remaining exercises are performed for higher reps to build muscle and conditioning, and support the main lifts. You can experiment with the number of sets and reps you perform (hence the ranges) as well as the weight you use.