Hey GAME OF THRONES geeks, ever wondered how Jason Momoa got so ripped to play Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones AND Conan the barbarian?

He used a method consisting of a tremendous amount of volume in his workouts to pack on lean muscle mass and shred fat. By training with a relatively light weight, he was able to use a (accumulatively) high rep count and very little rest time between sets. For most exercises he was only using a weight of around 60-65% of his 1RM.

A 1RM or One Repetition Maximum is a weight that can be lifted for 1 repetition and no more for any given exercise. For example, if you can bench press 100kg for only one rep, your 60% 1RM would be 60kg.

The program is based around a system called AR7 invented by a guy called Eric Laciste. Over a series of giant sets and using an interesting work/rest ratio Momoa was performing 110 reps per exercise! The template for the program was printed in Mens Health a few months back and although I’m not often excited by most fitness mag workouts, but this one caught my eye, and I’ll explain why;

In a bid to minimise the loss of lean mass brought on by long monotonous medium intensity aerobic training (I hate distance running), I have been using this program in preparation for a Tough-Mudder race I have in June. Tough Mudder is only a half-marathon distance -but I really hate distance running- The high work/rest ratio and short rest intervals of this program will help to raise my lactate threshold; lactic acid is a by-product of your muscles working at a high intensity without (time for) the use of oxygen. It is what creates that ‘burn’ feeling in your muscles when you train very hard and fast. This type of resistance training is not only effective at building strength and muscle, it (an increase in lactate threshold) also improves aerobic fitness too.  It’s a win/win situation! My muscles will be better prepared for the endurance event, but I should be able to maintain any muscular speed and power that I have!

You see, when more and more individual muscle cells become fatigued via lactic acid build up, the body is forced to recruit higher, more powerful muscle cells (known as Fast-twitch fibres) which would otherwise not need to be switched on; as would be the case of training using only distance running. Additionally because the repetitions are performed as fast and explosively as possible (NB: speed + strength = power), the body is already being forced into recruiting the more powerful fast twitch muscle fibres within the muscle. I will unfortunately not be able to put on significant  amounts of lean muscle (certainly not Momoa amounts) if I concurrently increase the tedious amount of distance running i perform but at least I will minimise the counter-productive effect of the running. (Did I mention how much I HATE long distance running by the way?)


SIDE RANT

By ‘you’ I mean guys AND GIRLS. Girls, just because Jason used this training style to become Conan does not mean this program (or any program for that matter) will cause you to wake up looking like the she-hulk in 2 weeks’ time. IT DOES NOT WORK LIKE THAT. I’m not going to go into the ‘why’ in this article but I will in future posts, that is for certain. If you want to lose some fat and tone up your butt/thigh’s then read on.


So, to the program! The exercises will consist of mainly big compound exercises. These are exercises that involve multiple joints of your body and therefore more muscle mass.Remember: More muscle mass= More metabolic demand= More calories burned.Below I have modified the program, initially to prevent myself from dying the first time i attempted it but also so you don’t kill yourself on the first session if you are willing to try it.  The extremely high volume of sets, lactate build up and endurance requirement is quite a adaptive challenge for your muscles if you haven’t tried a workout like this before so be warned! Do NOT be alarmed if you have to start with less than 60% your 1RM at first to complete all the reps. I have given advice on how to progress the program as you improve.  Since you are not hindered by a need to concurrently perform tons of endurance running ( hopefully), you could benefit from this program more than I!


Method

The programs are based around a Lowerbody and Upperbody split and you should aim to perform each session twice a week for 4 to 6 weeks. Your week may look like this:

MON
TUES
WED
THUR
FRI
SAT
SUN
Lower-body Upper-body REST Lower-body REST Upper-body REST

Of course you could perform the second upper-body session of the week on the Friday to leave both Saturday and Sunday as rest days if you are the type who is allergic to the gym on weekends. On your rest days you can perform some low intensity form of exercise, a walk or bike ride, but you WILL need your rest days especially after the first few sessions. In fact you may find walking the next day rather difficult after the first few lower-body sessions. Just warning you.


Repetitions

Each workout will consist of 4 exercises (A,B,C and D) with each exercise performed for a total 110 reps before moving onto the next. 440 total reps for the whole program.
Yes 440.

  • Exercise A – 110reps
  • Exersice B – 110reps
  • Exersice C – 110reps
  • Exersice D – 110reps
  • TOTAL – 440reps

Feel free to only perform the first 3 exercises of each program (330 total reps) on the first few attempts if you feel the 4th exercise will be too much. The 4th exercises however, are isolation exercises (involve only one single muscle group), therefore they are not as taxing metabolically as the others so harden up, you should pull through!


Phases

Each exercise will be performed in 3 phases each consisting of 7, 6 and 5 sets respectively.

  • PHASE ONE will consist of 7 sets x 7 repetitions, (49 reps total)
  • PHASE TWO will consist of 6 sets x 6 repetitions, (36 reps total)
  • PHASE THREE will consist of 5 sets x 5 repetitions. (25 reps total)
  • TOTAL REPS = 110

Rest no more than 15 seconds in between the sets, and rest only 60-90 seconds between the phases.

So after a good warm up of the muscle groups you are training that day, your program should look like this for each exercise:

EXERCISE
PHASE 1
REST
PHASE 2
REST
PHASE 3
REST
A 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec

Tempo (speed of repetitions)

Tempo is not such a concern with this program. The accumulated amount of tension placed on the muscle in each phase is certainly going to be enough to trigger hypertrophy in the muscle. Just make sure the concentric phase of the exercise (where you are pushing/ pulling the weight against gravity) is as fast as possible and the eccentric phase (where you are lowering the weight with gravity) is swift, but controlled at all times. All the repetitions must be through the full range of movement. No half reps or you won’t benefit!

The Workouts

For the exercises below, work out or estimate what your 1 RM would be for that exercise. Where there is more than 1 option for an exercise, pick the one that you think will better correspond to your 60-65% 1RM the best. But stick to that one exercise for future sessions to see progression. For example, if full body-weight pull ups are to difficult (and they most likely will be!), use an assisted chin/pull up machine (if your gym has one) or use a lat pull down machine. If by the second or third set of the first phase you are not completing all the reps, you may have over-estimated your 1RM or you may just need to start with around a lower 50% 1RM for the first few sessions. This is fine, guys leave your ego’s at the leg press.


Lowerbody Session

EXERCISE
PHASE 1
REST
PHASE 2
REST
PHASE 3
REST
A: Back Squats 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec
B: Hanging/Supported Knee Raises
OR
B: Sit ups/ Weighted Sit Ups 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec
C: Barbell Hip Thrusts 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec
D: Lying leg-curl
OR
D: Weighted Calf Raises 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec

Upper-body Session

EXERCISE
PHASE 1
REST
PHASE 2
REST
PHASE 3
REST
A: Bench Press
OR
A: Press Ups 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec
B: (Assisted) Pull Ups
OR
B: Lat Pull Downs 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec
C: Shoulder Push-Press
OR
C: Dumbbell Shoulder Press 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec
D: EZ-Bar Bicep curls back supported 7sets x 7reps 60sec 6sets x 6reps 60sec 5sets x 5reps 60sec

Because of the high proportion of fast twitch fibres of the hamstrings (powerful fibres that fatigue easily) I would advise you to start at no more than 50% 1RM for the lying leg curl as they will fatigue very quickly. You will end up walking like a cowboy/girl for the following week so be warned. Feel free to substitute these for weighted calf raises if you prefer.

Try not to take more than 2 minutes between moving and setting up for the next exercise. I know in busy gyms this can be difficult, but don’t use that as an excuse to muck about. I would also normally advise allowing someone to work in with you or share a machine if necessary however in this instance the short strict 15 second rest periods are crucial to this program so you’ll have to politely explain that to anyone wanting to share your barbell or machine, that they can’t.

Stick with this program for the next 6-8 weeks to see continuous lean gains and fat melt away.


Step it up

As your body adapts and the program gets easier, there are a few ways to progress the workouts. Firstly, if you are certain you were under the 60-65% 1RM weight at the start, gradually add more weight each program until you are at the 65% level, then only focus on the rest times to progress the workout, that way you will approach the harder more strict AR7 protocol that Conan himself was using. Firstly periodically reduce your inter-set rest times from 15 seconds to 12 seconds, to 10 seconds and so on until you are able to perform the 7 sets of 7 reps with only 7 seconds rest between, the 6 sets x 6 reps with only 6 seconds rest between and the 5 sets x 5 reps with only 5 seconds between. OUCH!

But wait it gets harder. 

Once you’ve done that, turn those short rest times into ‘active rest’. This means that during the inter-set rest times you do not re-rack the weight. You continue to hold onto it maintaining some constant tension in the muscles as you do. DOUBLE OUCH. However only ever actively rest in an anatomically advantageous position. For example, with back squats this would be standing upright but with the bar still on your shoulders NOT resting with it on your shoulders with your ass 2 inches off the floor! For the bench press this means holding the barbell above your chest with your arms in a lockout position, NOT resting the barbell on your chest. Active rest is not possible with barbell hip thrusts as you will be sitting on the ground (lucky you) and it will be virtually impossible with pull ups.

I told you that you wouldn’t need to progress via only increased load didn’t I?

Now go forth and enjoy. You could be cast to play Khal Drogo re-incarnated in the next season of Game of Thrones. You know he’s not dead right…?

Only kidding.

(or am I?).

ACTIVE REST: During inter-set rest times do not re-rack the weight. Hold onto it maintaining tension in the muscles as you do.

ACTIVE REST: During inter-set rest times do not re-rack the weight. Hold onto it maintaining tension in the muscles as you do.

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