Article last updated: April 2019 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
This article was inspired by a blog post at Danger & Play: How I Train.
“Oskar, what training routine and diet do you follow?”
This has been a difficult question to answer, since I don’t follow a traditional diet and training routine.
I don’t count calories and I don’t weigh my food.
I don’t go into the gym with a piece of paper telling me what to do.
However, what I can do is show you:
- The 2 most important training principles I follow.
- A list of my favorite exercises for each muscle group.
- How my training looked like last week.
- What foods I eat +80% of the time.
And, finally, I’ll tie it all together and explain why training and eating go together, and how I’m able to gain muscle while staying lean all year.
You can use this article as inspiration for learning about how to gain muscle staying lean.
Let’s start with the 2 most important training principles that I follow.
I Don’t Count Sets and Reps. I Achieve Muscular Failure.
I go to the gym with 2 principles in mind:
- Achieve muscular failure.
- Lift with my muscles and not with my ego.
Since I don’t track my exercises, the most important principle is that I reach muscular failure on a regular basis.
Usually, that means at least once a week.
By doing that, I know that I will grow as long as I eat enough.
1. Achieve Muscular Failure
Some people think that muscular failure is achieved when you can’t do more reps with a given weight.
I disagree; just because you couldn’t do more reps with say 200 pounds, it doesn’t mean that your muscles wouldn’t be able to do more reps at a lower weight.
In other words, muscular failure is not achieved when you fail to do more reps with a heavy weight.
It is achieved when you reach the point where you can barely lift tiny weights or do something simple like a push up.
My favorite way to achieve muscular failure is the drop set:
You take a weight, then go to failure with it.
Once you hit failure, immediately lower the weight, and achieve failure again.
You can repeat this process as many times as you want, until you reach the lowest weight on a machine or use tiny dumbbells.
See the video below from 1:20 to see how drop sets are supposed to be done.
I use drop sets a lot in my training.
2. Lift With My Muscles and Not With My Ego
I don’t try to use as much weight as possible on the exercises.
Instead, I prefer to use less weight, so I can use my muscles to lift the weight and get more reps in.
If I know I can lift 80 pounds, I’ll most likely use 50-60 pounds.
This enables me to focus on flexing the target muscle as much as possible during each rep.
Combining long time-under-tension with drop sets has been key to continue growing in my 5th year of training.
My drop sets often take several minutes, but they give me a better pump than anything else I’ve tried.
My Favorite Exercises for Each Muscle Group
So far I’ve explained the principles behind each of my training sessions, but how about exercises, sets and reps?
I don’t have that. I don’t go to the gym with a list of exercises, sets and reps.
Instead, I make up my workout based on which of my favorite exercises are available at the time I go.
Below you will find my list of favorite exercises for each muscle group:
(DB = Dumbbell, BB = Barbell)
Pull Ups and Chin Ups
Lying Machine Rows
Seated Machine Rows
Single Arm Lat Pulldowns
Quads, Hamstrings and Calves
Seated Hamstring Machine Curls
Sitting Machine Calf Raises
Standing Machine Calf Raises
Diamond Push Ups with feets tilted forward and hips up
Pec Deck Flyes
Incline DB Pullover
DB Lateral Raises
Reverse Pec Deck Flyes
DB Front Raises
Wall Handstand Push Ups
Close Grip Chin Ups
Diamond Push Ups
Machine Biceps Curls
Hanging Leg Raises
Ab Crunch Machine
My favorite exercises are selected based on how I feel when I do them.
There are some exercises which hurt my joints, so I can’t push myself on them without risking an injury.
A good example is skull crushers for triceps. When I do skull crushers, I get elbow pain before I even feel a burn in my triceps.
In contrast, I can do triceps pushdowns all day long, and my elbows won’t hurt, but my triceps will get a great workout.
Exercises like skull crushers don’t make the list, since there’s no point in risking an injury when there are so many great alternatives to choose from.
Current Training Routine: Sonny’s 5-Split
Currently, I follow a 5-Split Routine:
- Monday: Back, Traps, Abs
- Tuesday: Chest, Calves
- Wednesday: Biceps, Triceps, Forearms
- Thursday: Quads, Hamstrings
- Friday: Shoulders, Calves, Abs
As explained earlier, I don’t have exercises, sets or reps written down, but I usually do my favorite exercises, and make sure that I achieve muscular failure on a regular basis.
Below, you can see how my training looked like last week.
(DB = Dumbbell, BB = Barbell)
Monday: Back, Abs
- Pull Ups: 3 x 8-12 (1 minute rest)
- Lying Machine Rows: 8 x 8-12 (30 seconds rest)
- Lat Pulldowns: 4 drop sets (1 minute rest)
- Single Arm Lat Pulldowns: 4 drop sets (2 minutes rest)
- Reverse Pec Deck Flyes: 3 drop sets (2 minutes rest)
- Leg Raises: 3 sets (1-2 minutes rest)
Tuesday: Chest, Calves
- Cable Crossovers: 5 x 8-12 (30 seconds rest)
- Pec Deck Flyes: 5 x 8-12 (1 minute rest)
- DB Flyes: 5 x 8-12 (30 seconds rest)
- Incline DB Pullovers + Diamond Push Ups: 8 supersets (3 minutes rest)
- Standing Calf Raises: 4 x 8-12 (1 minute rest)
Wednesday: Biceps, Triceps
- DB Curls: 4 x 8-12 (1 minute rest)
- Triceps Pushdowns: 4 drop sets (2 minutes rest)
- Triceps Pushdowns + Single Arm Cable Curls: 8 supersets (no rest)
- Diamond Push Ups + Regular Push Ups: 1 Superset
- Chin Ups + Negative Chin Ups: 1 Superset
- Machine Biceps Curls: 4 x 8-12 (2 minutes rest)
Thursday: Quads, Hamstrings
- Leg Press: 1 drop set, immediately followed by bodyweight squats to failure
- Hamstring Curl Machine: 4 drop sets (2 minutes rest)
- Ab Crunch Machine: 3 drop sets (2 minutes rest)
Friday: Shoulders, Calves, Abs
- BB Press: 1 x 3
- DB Lateral Raises + BB Press: 4 supersets (2 minutes rest) NOTE: I used 3 pairs of dumbbells to dropset the lateral raises.
- Reverse Pec Deck Flyes: 4 Drop sets (2 minutes rest)
- DB Front Raises + Diamond Push Ups: 8 supersets (1 minute rest)
- Sitting Calf Raises: 8 x 8-12 (1 minute rest)
- Hanging Leg Raises: 5 sets (1 minute rest)
- Ab Crunch Machine: 3 drop sets (2 minutes rest)
As you can see, there’s a lot of sets and reps in my routine and fairly low rest. This is the way I like to train and it works.
I just completed my 2nd week of Sonny’s split, and I’ve already seen an increase in the measurements of my arms and chest!
Also, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t train traps on Mondays and forearms on Wednesday. That’s simply because I don’t want to grow those muscles.
When I Bulk, I Eat More. When I Cut, I Eat Less.
I eat 2 meals a day:
- Breakfast/Lunch: Rye bread with natural peanut butter or liver paste.
- Dinner: Rib steaks or ground beef with white rice and a bowl of green vegetables. (Sometimes I’ll have a glass of wine or a beer with dinner).
This is how my eating looks like 80-90% of the time, with the last 10-20% being cheat meals.
The biggest difference in my eating lies in the quantity of food consumed.
As explained in my bulking article, I cycle bulking with cutting every few weeks so I can gain muscle while staying lean.
I’ll bulk for 2-3 weeks while training hard. I have a large appetite, so I just eat when I’m hungry during my bulks. This results in me gaining a combination of fat and muscle.
My short bulks are followed by a 2 week cut, where I eat less, and lose the excess fat I gained during my bulk. When I cut, I’ll have smaller portions at home and eat less cheat meals.
Here’s an example of how my eating differs during bulking and cutting:
- Bulk (2-3 weeks): 2 bigger meals a day and 3-4 cheat meals a week
- Cut (2 weeks): 2 smaller meals a day and 1 cheat meal a week
It’s that simple. The foods I eat at home stay the same, but the quantity of food and amount of cheat meals change.
Conclusion: How to Gain Muscle While Staying Lean
In this article, I showed you how ONE week of my training looked like.
I was bulking during that week, so I was able to push myself much harder compared to if I had been cutting.
When I decide to cut, I will keep using Sonny’s 5-Split, but I will reduce the intensity and volume.
Instead of doing 23 sets for chest, I may do 12. Instead of doing 11 drop sets for back, I may do 4 or 5.
This is because training and eating go together. If you want to do an intense training routine, you need to eat enough to support that intensity.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, then it’s that sentence!
Finally, my training and nutrition may look messy, but I’m able to gain muscle while staying because:
- +80% of the time I eat REAL, NUTRITIOUS foods.
- I train hard 4-6 times a week, with maximum 3 weeks off each year.
- My training matches my eating. When I want to gain muscle, I eat more and train like a machine. When I want to lose fat, I eat less and train hard, but not as hard as during my bulks.
I hope this article showed you that having a diet and written down training routine is not the only way to progress! You need some amount of structure, but even the best diet and training routine can’t replace putting in the work in the gym and in the kitchen over a long period of time.