Chuck Sipes is one of my favourite old-school bodybuilders. Chuck had 19.5 inch arms and won many bodybuilding contests including the 1959 Mr. America contest and the 1960 Mr. Universe contest.
If you want to learn some of Chuck’s secret training strategies then this article is for you!
- Part 1: The 1-10-1 Method
- Part 2: The Step Ladder System
- Part 3: The Heavy Supports Method
- Part 4: Chuck’s Secret Arm Workout
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you 4 of Chuck Sipes’ secret training routines that he used to become one of the strongest bodybuilders of all time.
Chuck had an incredible physique but he was better known for his super-human strength. In his prime Chuck could bench press 570 pounds at a bodyweight of just 220 pounds. He also performed many unusual feats of strength including bending 60-penny steel spikes with his hands and bending steel bars with his teeth!
Here is a great overview of some of Chuck’s biggest achievements in the iron game:
How did Chuck build up his unbelievable upper body strength? Chuck used a wide variety of routines including the 1-10-1 method, the step ladder system, the heavy supports method and his own secret arm workout.
These old-school training methods helped Chuck Sipes build 19.5 inch arms and bench press 570 pounds. If you are willing to put in the work then they will work for you to.
Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The 1-10-1 Method
Chuck Sipes popularized a training system called the 1-10-1 method. This was one of Chuck’s favourite routines for building bigger, stronger arms.
For the 1-10-1 method you are going to perform 19 sets in a row with 10 seconds rest in between each set. You perform 1 rep on your 1st set, 2 reps on your 2nd set, 3 reps on your 3rd set etc. all the way up to 10 reps on your 10th set.
Then you work your way back down: 9 reps on your 11th set, 8 reps on your 12th set etc. all the way back down to 1 rep on your 19th set.
Here is what the 1-10-1 method looks like in practice:
- Set #1: 1 rep, rest 10 seconds
- Set #2: 2 rep, rest 10 seconds
And so on…
- Set #9: 9 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Set #10: 10 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Set #11: 9 reps, rest 10 seconds
And so on…
- Set #18: 2 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Set #19: 1 rep, rest 10 seconds
Here is Josh Bryant giving a perfect demonstration of this high-volume training method:
I recommend that you start out with your 20-rep max for this training method. If you chose the correct weight then you will complete all of your sets in good form. However, every set starting with your 10th set will be very challenging.
Here is what a 1-10-1 method arm workout might look like. Check it out:
1-10-1 Method Arm Workout
- A1: Bench press against chains (shoulder-width grip), 19 x 1-10-1**, 3/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
- B1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 14-16, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 19 x 1-10-1**, 3/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
- D1: 60 degree incline cable curl (supinated grip), 3 x 14-16, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed as the 1-10-1 method as described above.
One of the hardest parts about the 1-10-1 method is picking the right weight. For most people using your 20-rep max or about 60% of your 1-rep max will work perfectly.
If for some reason you are not able to complete all of the reps then you may need to use a modified version of the 1-10-1 method on your first workout. For example let’s say that your 8th set is very challenging – you get the 8th rep up but you can tell you won’t be able to get 9 reps on the next set.
Don’t worry, that’s perfectly OK. Just work your way down from there. For example:
- Set #8: 8 reps (this was hard, you don’t think you can get 9 on the next set)
- Set #7: 7 reps
- Set #6: 6 reps
Etc. You just work your way down from there. The next time you perform this workout for your arms you would use the same weight and try to get 9 reps on your 9th set before working down. Heck, you may even be able to get 10 reps on your 10th set before working down.
I think you will be surprised at how fast your muscular endurance improves after a few workouts with the 1-10-1 method. Just make sure you can get all of your reps in before you think about increasing the weight.
Part 2: The Step Ladder System
The step ladder system is an AWESOME training method that Chuck Sipes regularly used in his training programs. This training method is difficult to explain so let’s take a look at Chuck’s favourite step ladder protocol:
- Sets 1-2: 8 reps
- Sets 3-4: 6 reps
- Sets 5-6: 4 reps
- Sets 7-8: 2 reps
- Sets 9-10: 1 rep
As you can see Chuck performs 2 sets at a specific rep range. Then he drops his rep range and performs 2 more sets with a heavier weight. Chuck repeated this process for 10 total sets.
Step ladders are an awesome training method for trainees who can handle a lot of training volume. Step ladders are so effective because they “excite” your central nervous system.
Your brain has to adapt to a novel training stimulus where the rep ranges drops every couple of sets. Performing 2 sets at each rep range is enough volume to force an adaptation at that rep range but without overly fatiguing your muscles.
In my experience the average trainee gets even better results if they perform 6 total sets during a step ladder rather than 10 total sets. Not everyone has Chuck’s insane work capacity!
Here are a few of the best step ladder protocols for the average trainee:
7/5/3 step ladder
- Sets 1-2: 7 reps
- Sets 3-4: 5 reps
- Sets 5-6: 3 reps
This is one of the best set / rep schemes to use if you are new to step ladders. You perform 7 reps on sets 1-2, 5 reps on sets 3-4 and 3 reps on sets 5-6.
This protocol is actually very similar to the 7/5/3 wave loading protocol. You get to “flirt” with heavier weights but without burning out your central nervous system.
6/4/2 step ladder
- Sets 1-2: 6 reps
- Sets 3-4: 4 reps
- Sets 5-6: 2 reps
This is another great step loading protocol that uses slightly heavier weights. If you are more interested in building maximal strength than hypertrophy then this method has your name written all over it.
5/3/1 step ladder
- Sets 1-2: 5 reps
- Sets 3-4: 3 reps
- Sets 5-6: 1 rep
This is by far one of the most aggressive step loading protocols. You are performing near maximal singles on the final 2 sets. This protocol should be reserved for trainees with experience training with maximal singles and should be performed towards the end of a peaking cycle.
Here is what a 7/5/3 step ladder workout might look like in practice. Check it out:
7/5/3 Step Ladder Upper Body Workout
- A1: 45 degree incline barbell press (shoulder-width grip), 6 x 7/7/5/5/3/3, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Chin up on rings, 6 x 7/7/5/5/3/3, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: Flat DB press, 3 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Seal row, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Unilateral preacher zottman curl (offset grip), 3 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
- C2: Seated ez-bar french press, 3 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
This is a great “powerbuilding” style workout that will work well for anyone looking to get bigger and stronger.
If you are extremely daring then you may even want to perform this type of workout using Chuck’s original 8/6/4/2/1 step loading protocol. Just make sure you are paying attention to your recovery program if you use Chuck’s protocol!
Part 3: The Heavy Supports Method
Chuck Sipes was a huge fan of using heavy supports on the bench press. In fact this was Chuck’s secret weapon that allowed him to build up to a 570 pound bench press!
A heavy support is a partial range of motion lift designed to overload your central nervous system and strengthen your connective tissue. On the bench press you would press an ultra-heavy weight 1-3 inches and hold it at the lockout position for 5-10 seconds.
Here is the 700 pound bench presser James Strickland giving a perfect demonstration of heavy supports on the bench press:
Chuck Sipes had several different strategies for working heavy supports into his training routines. One of his favourite methods involved alternating heavy supports with full range of motion sets on the bench press. For example:
- Set #1: Heavy supports
- Set #2: Full range of motion bench press
- Set #3: Heavy supports
- Set #4: Full range of motion bench press
- Set #5: Heavy supports
- Set #6: Full range of motion bench press
Alternating your sets in this manner has many advantages. Actually it is a form of “contrast sets.”
The heavy support sets shock your central nervous system and force your body to get used to the feeling of ultra-heavy weights in your hands. Then when you rest and perform the full range of motion set the weight will feel as light as a feather!
Ok, it won’t feel that light. But it will feel light in comparison to the previous set. Most trainees find that they can perform more reps than normal on their full range of motion sets thanks to the heavy support sets.
Here is a Chuck Sipes inspired bench press workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Chuck Sipes Style Heavy Supports Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press heavy supports (shoulder-width grip)**, 3 x 1, 1/0/1/8, 180 seconds rest
- A2: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 6, 3/0/X/1, 180 seconds rest
- B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 7-9, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 1 x 10-12****, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Seated DB overhead press, 2 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Seated Poliquin DB lateral raise, 2 x 10-12****, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
**Press the weight 2 inches to lockout, then hold the weight at lockout for 8 seconds.
****Performed as a rest-pause set. Perform 10-12 reps to failure, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 2nd time with the same weight, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 3rd time with the same weight, done!
This is another extremely demanding routine. I tried to channel my inner Chuck Sipes as I designed it for you.
The first part of the routine features heavy supports and is designed to increase your bench pressing strength. The second part of the routine features some Chuck Sipes style “power-building” methods and is designed to boost your functional hypertrophy.
Give the heavy supports method a shot – I think you will be shocked at how effective the heavy supports method can be!
Part 4: Chuck’s Secret Arm Workout
Chuck Sipes was famous for his high-volume arm workouts. He had an incredible work capacity and could handle workouts that would put most men in the hospital!
Here is one of Chuck Sipes favourite arm workouts. He believes that this workout did more for his overall arm development and strength than any other routine. Check it out:
Chuck Sipes’ Favorite Arm Workout
- A1: Standing barbell cheat curl**, 4 x 4, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Seated concentration curl (supinated grip), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Seated concentration curl (hammer grip), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- C1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Barbell wrist curl (palms up), 2 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Barbell wrist curl (palms down), 2 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Lying ez-bar extensions (to nose), 4 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- G1: Standing tricep pushdown (straight bar / pronated grip), 3 x 20, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
- H1: Chin up (narrow / supinated grip), 6 x 6, 2/0/1/0, no rest
- H2: V-bar dip (upright torso), 6 x 6, 2/0/1/0, no rest
**Use just a little bit of momentum with your torso to overcome the “sticking point” halfway up the lift.
As you can see Chuck uses a wide variety of exercises to target his biceps, triceps and forearms. Most trainees do not directly train their forearms. According to Chuck Sipes this is a huge mistake!
He believed that direct forearm work was absolutely essential for maximally developing your arms. Chuck had 18 inch forearms so he is talking from experience here!
If you are looking for a brutal high-volume arm workout to try out in the gym then this routine is for you. Just make sure you record all of your weights in a training logbook and strive to beat them every time you repeat this workout.
Chuck believed that a training logbook was the most important training tool you can use in the gym. Without a logbook you really don’t know if you are making progress or not!
Chuck Sipes will go down in history as one of the strongest bodybuilders who has ever lived. He reminds me of Franco Columbo. Both of these men were every bit as strong as they looked.
Compare that to some of the modern day professional bodybuilders who can’t even bench press 315 pounds or deadlift 500 pounds!
Of course I have nothing against modern bodybuilders who “chase the pump” with their pink dumbbells. If that is what makes you happy then go for it! However, I can’t help but admire someone like Chuck Sipes who knows that there is no substitute for hard work in the gym.
If you truly want “the look of power” then you are going to have to throw around some heavy slag iron! I think Ronnie Coleman said it best:
“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights!”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
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