Neurotransmitter Based Program Design: The Ultimate Guide!


neurotransmitter based program design

There is no such thing as the perfect training program that will work for everyone. World-class bodybuilders and powerlifters have built muscle mass and strength using a wide variety of training programs.

The important thing is to figure out what type of training you respond best to. When you figure out how to customize your training programs based on your genetics and your personality your results will shoot through the roof!

There are many different ways to customize your training. Some of them are more effective than others. In my experience the most effective way to customize your training programs is with Neurotransmitter Based Program Design!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The Braverman Assessment
  • Part 2: Dopamine Dominant Training Protocols
  • Part 3: Acetyl-Choline Dominant Training Protocols
  • Part 4: Balanced Training Protocols
  • Part 5: Bonus: Hybrid Training Protocols

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to use neurotransmitter based program design to customize your training programs to build muscle mass and strength as quickly as possible.

Neurotransmitter based program design is a periodization model developed by the world’s greatest strength coach Charles Poliquin.

He believed that a trainee’s personality actually influenced the types of training programs they would respond best to. It wasn’t just the trainees personality that influenced their results though – it was their neurotransmitter profile.

There are four main neurotransmitters in the human brain:

  • Dopamine
  • Acetyl-choline
  • GABA
  • Serotonin

I’m sure you’ve heard of at least one of these neurotransmitters before. Neurotransmitters are just chemicals that your nervous system uses to communicate with itself.

Yes, there are more than just 4 neurotransmitters but these are the big ones that really influence your personality and how you respond to training programs.

Most trainees either have a balanced neurotransmitter profile (they have roughly equal amounts of all 4) or they are dominant in 1 specific neurotransmitter (they have a lot in 1 and less in the other 4).

Here is the really important point: the ratios of these 4 neurotransmitters is the single biggest factor in figuring out which types of training programs you respond best to!

Imagine you had a simple test you could perform in 15 minutes that told you exactly how you should train for optimal results. That is the beauty of neurotransmitter based program design!

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you the exact test you need to perform for this periodization model and how to properly interpret your results. I will also teach you the best training strategies for building muscle mass and strength for every personality type.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information!

Note: if you have any trouble reading the training 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 Braverman Assessment

Charles Poliquin was determined to find the best way to measure someone’s neurotransmitter levels. He experimented with a variety of tests including blood and saliva tests to get the best results. However, the gold standard for measuring someone’s neurotransmitter profile is the Braverman Assessment.

Dr. Eric Braverman is a physician and one of the world’s leading brain researchers. He developed the Braverman Assessment as a means to measure his patients neurotransmitter levels so that he could use customized interventions to improve their brain health.

Charles took this same concept and applied it to the world of strength training. If you want to optimize your results in the gym then the first thing you need to do is take the Braverman Assessment.

Here is the link for it:

CLICK HERE To Take The Braverman Assessment

The above link will take you to a web page where you can take the assessment. You will answer a series of True or False questions. It is very important that you answer these questions truthfully. There is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions.

Once you have completed the assessment you will receive a numerical score for each part of the test. For example here are my results for the assessment:

  • Part 1: Dopamine = 42
  • Part 2: Acetyl-choline = 47
  • Part 3: GABA = 17
  • Part 4: Serotonin = 21

If you do score a 40 or more in any of the tests then you have a balanced neurotransmitter profile. Congratulations! You are probably a balanced, well-rounded person.

If you score 40 or more in any section then that indicates you have a slight dominance in that neurotransmitter. 

If you score 50 or more in any section then that indicates you have an extreme dominance in that neurotransmitter.

For example I am primarily dominant in acetyl-choline but I am also quite high in dopamine. My GABA and serotonin levels are naturally quite low.

In Charles’ experience most people who are passionate about strength training have one of three personality types:

  • Dopamine-dominant
  • Acetyl-choline dominant
  • Balanced

Trainees who are dominant in GABA are probably more interested in conducting strength training research and studies than they are actually training. Serotonin-dominant individuals on the other hand are probably more interested in yoga and eating avocado toast than they are pumping iron in their free time.

Part 2: Dopamine Dominant Training Protocols

If you scored a 40 or more on the Dopamine section of the Braverman Assessment then information has your name all over it! Dopamine dominant individuals tend to be incredibly driven and reward-driven. It is extremely important for these individuals to leave a workout feeling like they “won.”

If these guys have a bad workout then it ruins their mood for the next 1-2 days! Dopamine dominant individuals get their best results if they change their exercises every single workout.

For example they might rotate through 2-4 different workouts per body part and then start over with their first workout. This gives them plenty of time to make strength gains on a variety of exercises before they have to start beating the logbook again.

Here are 3 awesome exercise rotation strategies for the dopamine-dominant individual:

  • Rotate through 2 different workouts per body part
  • Rotate through 3 different workouts per body part
  • Rotate through 4 different workouts per body part

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these training strategies.

Dopamine Dominant Strategy #1: Rotate Through 2 Different Workouts Per Body Part

This is a very simple strategy: you rotate through 2 different workouts per body part. These workouts will be similar to each other but feature slightly different exercises. For example you might use back squats in your first 5 x 5 lower body workout and front squats in your second 5 x 5 lower body workout. Here is how a dopamine-dominant individual might organize 2 months of training using the accumulation / intensification periodization model:

Month #1: Accumulation Phase

  • Workout #1: “A” Exercises 
  • Workout #2: “B” Exercises 
  • Workout #3: “A” Exercises 
  • Workout #4: “B” Exercises 
  • Workout #5: “A” Exercises 
  • Workout #6: “B” Exercises

Month #2: Intensification Phase

  • Workout #7: “X” Exercises
  • Workout #8: “Y” Exercises
  • Workout #9: “X” Exercises
  • Workout #10: “Y” Exercises
  • Workout #11: “X” Exercises 
  • Workout #12: “Y” Exercises

This exercise rotation strategy works EXTREMELY well for a large number of trainees. Rotating through two different pairs of exercises helps to prevent you from burning out on any one exercise.

On the other hand you never have to wait very long between workouts for each body part so your body doesn’t “forget” how to perform any of the exercises.

Dopamine Dominant Strategy #2: Rotate Through 3 Different Workouts Per Body Part

This is a more advanced way to rotate through exercises. Instead of just rotating through 2 different exercises per body part you will be rotating through 3 different workouts.

This tends to work well for trainees with an extremely dopamine-dominant neurotransmitter profile. It also tends to work well with extremely strong and experienced lifters who need a TON of variation in their training to make optimal progress.

Here is how a dopamine-dominant bodybuilder might organize a 9 workout progression using this system:

3-Way Workout Rotation

  • Workout #1: “A” Exercises (6-8 reps per set)
  • Workout #2: “B” Exercises (5-7 reps per set)
  • Workout #3: “C” Exercises (2-3 reps per set)
  • Workout #4: “A” Exercises (6-8 reps per set)
  • Workout #5: “B” Exercises (5-7 reps per set)
  • Workout #6: “C” Exercises (2-3 reps per set)
  • Workout #7: “A” Exercises (6-8 reps per set)
  • Workout #8: “B” Exercises (5-7 reps per set)
  • Workout #9: “C” Exercises (2-3 reps per set)

Every time the bodybuilder repeats a workout they would try to beat their previous performance on those exercises. In my experience one of the best ways to gauge your progress is to use the 2% rule.

The 2% rule states that if you are making progress then you should be 2% stronger every time you repeat a workout. This can mean adding 2% to the bar and getting the same amount of reps or performing 1 more rep with the same weight.

If you are training in moderate rep ranges (say 5-12 reps per set) then every 1 additional rep you perform with the same weight is the equivalent of adding about 2% to the bar.

These rep ranges might seem a little low for a bodybuilder but dopamine dominant guys THRIVE on these rep ranges. For example the 6x Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates performed most of his exercises around 5-8 reps to failure.

The only exceptions to this rule were body parts like quadriceps and rear delts which he performed for slightly higher reps depending on the exercise.

DC Training is perhaps the most famous program that uses the 3-way exercise rotation scheme. It is another great option for the dopamine-dominant bodybuilder looking to build as much muscle mass as possible.

Dopamine Dominant Strategy #3: Rotate Through 4 Different Workouts Per Body Part

This is an even more advanced system for rotating exercises for the dopamine-dominant individual. In my experience this method works EXTREMELY well for advanced powerlifters and strength athletes.

Check it out:

  • Workout #1/5/9/13: “A” Exercises (7-8 reps per set)
  • Workout #2/5/9/14: “B” Exercises (5-6 reps per set)
  • Workout #3/7/11/15: “C” Exercises (3-4 reps per set)
  • Workout #4/8/12/16: “D” Exercises (1-2 reps per set)

The rep ranges are cycled through the 4 workouts. You start with higher-rep accumulation style workouts and finish with your heaviest intensification style workouts.

This is sort of like daily undulated periodization but it may take you 2-4 weeks to cycle through all 4 workouts per body part rather than just 1 week like with daily undulating periodization.

Once again your goal is to increase the weight by at least 2% every time you repeat a workout. For example you may lift 100 pounds for 8 reps during your “A” workout. You then do your B, C, and D workouts then next time you train that body part. Then when you perform the “A” workout the second time you would want to lift at least 102 pounds for the same 8 reps.

By rotating through 4 different exercises you really prevent burnout on any 1 exercise. If you are an advanced dopamine dominant lifter and you don’t “forget” how to perform exercises easily then this can be a great option.

Now let’s look at some of the best training methods to use if you are a dopamine dominant lifter. I will break this discussion into two parts:

  • How to train for strength gains as a dopamine-dominant lifter
  • How to train for hypertrophy gains as a dopamine-dominant lifter

Obviously training for muscle mass and or strength will involve slightly different training protocols. Check it out:

How To Train For Strength Gains As A Dopamine Dominant Lifter!

There are many different training protocols that you could use. For optimal results you should perform multiple sets of low reps. Something like 6-12 sets of 1-5 reps per set would be idea. Here are three different training methods that you could try:

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Dopamine Dominant Strength Method #1: Cluster Sets

Many of the world’s best strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin and Christian Thibadeau believe that cluster sets are the single best way to train for strength gains.

Cluster sets were invented by Olympic weightlifters way back in the 1950s. The scientific literature was slow to catch on but in 2008 the first paper on cluster set training was published.

The standard cluster set protocol is as follows: 

  • You perform 5 sets of 5 reps with your 3-rep max
  • In order to do this you rest 15-20 seconds in between each rep

So your set looks like this: perform rep #1, rest 15-20 seconds, perform rep #2, rest 15-20 seconds, perform rep #3, rest 15-20 seconds, perform rep #4, rest 15-20 seconds, perform rep #5, rest 2-5 minutes, repeat!

Cluster sets are so effective for dopamine dominant individuals because they let you perform a large number of reps at a relatively high percentage of your 1-rep max. This protocol places a tremendous overload on your fast-twitch muscle fibers and can result in screaming fast strength gains.

Here is a sample lower body cluster set workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Lower Body Cluster Sets Workout

  • A1: back squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / toes pointed out)****, 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Front foot elevated split squat, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds res
  • B2: 45 degree back extension (against bands), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a Poliquin-style cluster set protocol. Perform a set of 5 reps but rest for 15 seconds in between each repetition. You finish your rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds and then walk the weight out and perform your next set.

**Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range. See the video below for more details.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Cluster sets can be very demanding on the central nervous system. This is a good thing because they help to force adaptations within your nervous system that might not occur with more traditional training protocols.

However, it can be a double-edged sword. You have to make sure that your recovery is on-point before you try a program this severe.

Dopamine Dominant Strength Method #2: Isometric Training

Isometric training has a very long history in the iron game. However, in recent years Josh Bryant has done more than perhaps any other strength coach to popularize the use of isometric training.

As you may already know there are three main types of muscular contractions:

  • Concentric muscular contractions
  • Eccentric muscular contractions
  • Isometric muscular contractions

Concentric contractions occur any time your muscles are contracting while shortening. In other words they occur when you are lifting a weight up. For example when you push the barbell from your chest all the way to lockout during a bench press you are performing a concentric contraction.

Eccentric contractions are the opposite: they occur when your muscles are contracting while lengthening. When you lower the barbell from lockout all the way down to your chest during a bench press you are performing an eccentric muscular contraction.

Finally there are isometric contractions. These are a little different or even weird: they occur when your muscles are contracting without moving!

Go try and push against a brick wall – you are now performing an isometric contraction! The brick wall and your muscles may not be moving much but your muscles sure are working hard.

I’m not suggesting you should go and push against a brick wall to get stronger. Instead I recommend my dopamine-dominant readers to experiment with powerlifting-style isometrics as popularized by Josh Bryant. Let’s use the bench press as an example.

The idea is simple: you are going to press an empty 45-pound barbell into a pair of safety pins. When the barbell hits the pins you are going to start pressing as hard as you can. Your goal is to break the pins in half! Here is a perfect demonstration:

I recommend you listen to the above video with the audio turned up. It will give you a much better idea of how hard you should be pressing here!

Isometric bench presses work for many reasons. They increase the amount of force you can produce and they allow you to recruit more motor units than you can with traditional concentric or eccentric contractions. However, their biggest advantage is that they let you eliminate weak points or “sticking points” in the bench press.

During a normal set of bench presses you might spend .3 seconds at your sticking point. During an isometric bench press you might spend 6-8 seconds attacking your sticking point! This makes a huge difference in terms of eliminating your weaknesses.

Here is a Josh Bryant style isometric bench press workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Josh Bryant Style Isometric Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip)**, 1 x 2, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press isometric, 3 x 1***, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Speed bench press (competition grip)****, 4 x 3, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B3: Narrow supinated grip chin ups, 4 x 4-6, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: V-bar dips, 2 x 5-6, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: T-bar rows, 2 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest 

**Performed with your estimated 3-rep max for that day.

***Press an empty 45 pound barbell into a set of safety pins set right at your sticking point. If you don’t know your sticking point then set pins so that your upper arms are parallel to the ground when the barbell hits the pins.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise B3, exercise C1, exercise C2.

Here is the basic idea for the workout: You are going to warm up and then perform one top set of bench presses. After the top set you are going to alternate between sets of isometric bench presses and sets of speed bench presses.

The isometric bench presses will actually “prime” your nervous system so that when you go to perform your speed bench presses they will move faster than normal!

Finally the workout is finished with some supplementary / accessory work. If you are an advanced dopamine-dominant powerlifter then isometric training is easily one of the best ways to blast through training plateaus.

Dopamine Dominant Strength Method #3: Eccentric Training

If you are a dopamine-dominant lifter then it is very important to vary the method and mode of muscular contraction in your routines. This is just a fancy way of saying that you must overload all 3 types of muscular contractions:

  • Concentric
  • Eccentric
  • Isometric

For this routine I want to show you a great way to overload the eccentric range of various exercises. Eccentric training has many benefits. It is a powerful way to stimulate strength gains through nervous system adaptations and an increase in size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Eccentric training is also great for recruiting your “survival fibers” or the muscle fibers that are really only activated during life-or-death situations.

I have talked a lot about eccentric training in the past. Here are just a few of the articles you can read:

For this routine I want to show you a way to perform eccentric training for the deadlift. Yes, you read that right – training the deadlift with accentuated eccentrics! This concept is really not new or controversial.

Bob People’s was using eccentric deadlift training way back in the 1940s to deadlift an unbelievable 720 pounds at a body weight of only 181 pounds! That would be extremely impressive even to this day!

Bob’s secret weapon for boosting his deadlift strength was eccentric deadlifts. He would use his tractor to lift the weight up to lockout and then he would slowly lower the weight back down to the ground.

Of course you don’t need a tractor to perform eccentric deadlifts! If you have a couple of well-trained training partners then you are good to go. Your training partners will simply lift either end of the barbell to help you during the concentric range. You would then lower the weight back down to the ground.

In my experience this training method works extremely well with deficit snatch grip deadlifts because the exercise naturally limits the amount of weight that you can use.

Here is a sample training routine (with videos!) that you may want to try. Check it out:

Eccentric Snatch Grip Deadlift Routine

  • A1: Eccentric-only snatch grip deadlift (2 inch deficit)**, 5-6 x 3, 10/0/1/0, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: Kneeling leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing straight), 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree leg press against bands, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: Reverse hyperextension, 2-3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Have two training partners help you lift the weight through the concentric range. You will then lower the weight on your own through the eccentric range. See the video below for more details.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1.

If you are a dopamine dominant strength athlete then eccentric snatch grip deadlifts as demonstrated above are one of the best ways to strengthen your lower back and your entire lower body. Of course there are many other ways that you can incorporate eccentric training into your routine.

Training methods such as eccentric hooks, the 2/1 method and 6-8 second isometric pauses on the eccentric range also work well. I talk more about them in my article on the best eccentric training methods.

If you are a dopamine dominant individual then it is ESPECIALLY important to experiment with various eccentric and isometric training protocols. They are one of the best ways to blast through strength plateaus.

How To Train For Hypertrophy As A Dopamine Dominant Lifter!

Training for hypertrophy as a dopamine-dominant lifter is a tricky subject. Most people believe that high volume training protocols with lots of reps, sets and exercises is the way to go.

I agree that for most individuals a higher-volume / higher-rep training approach is a great option. However, if you are a dopamine dominant lifter then this is one of the worst things you can do!

Believe it or not most Dopamine dominant bodybuilders grow best on sets in the 5-8 rep range. They need to use heavy weights in order to target their fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Here are 3 of the best methods you can use to train for hypertrophy in the 5-8 rep range:

Let’s take a closer look at each of these training protocols.

Dopamine Dominant Hypertrophy Method #1: Devil’s Tri-Sets

Devil’s tri-sets are an extremely effective and underrated training method to increase the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. I first learned about this method from the writings of Wolfgang Unsold and have sense used it with many of my bodybuilding clients.

The idea is simple: you are going to perform a tri-set where you perform 6 reps on all three exercises.

Here is what your tri-set might look like:

  • Perform exercise #1 x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #2 x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds 
  • Perform exercise #3 x 6 reps, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!

Devil’s tri-sets gets its name from the 6/6/6 rep scheme which is traditionally associated with the devil. Don’t worry, you won’t be banished to Christian hell if you use Devil’s Tri-sets.

I may have been raised Catholic (**shudders**) but I’ve repeatedly used Devil’s tri-sets to pack on slabs of muscle mass on myself and my clients. They are an unbelievably effective way to train for functional hypertrophy. You know, hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Here is a Devil’s tri-set bicep workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Devil’s Tri-Set Bicep Workout

  • A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This bicep routine is ridiculously effective for building muscle mass.it uses the best, most bang-for your buck exercises to train all of the elbow flexors including the long head of the biceps, the short head of the biceps, the brachialis and the brachioradialis.

One of the reasons that this type of routine works so well is that it forces your muscles to work longer by prolonging the time under tension of the set. Just think about it: one set of six reps performed on a 2/0/X/0 tempo takes about 18 seconds to complete.

There’s no way around it: you aren’t going to build maximum muscle mass when your sets only take 18 seconds to complete. However, if you string 3 of these exercises together in a row as part of a tri-set then suddenly your set takes 54 seconds to complete.

That is a heck of a lot of time under tension on the fast-twitch muscle fibers! You will be surprised at how good of a pump you get despite the low reps. 

Dopamine Dominant Hypertrophy Method #2: Rest-Pause Sets

Rest-pause sets were popularized by Dante Trudel in the early 2000’s through his “DC Training” system. They are an unbelievably effective way to train for hypertrophy gains but they also work extremely well for building maximal strength.

Here is what a DC-style rest-pause set typically looks like:

  • Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, 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!

With a rest-pause set you are training to failure 3 times in a row with the same weight with relatively short rest periods. All three sets performed in a row count as 1 rest-pause set.

Rest-pause sets work so well for hypertrophy because they prolong the time under tension of the set. However, unlike drop sets or other high-intensity training techniques you keep the weight the same even for the post-failure reps. This ensures that the fast-twitch muscle fibers are thoroughly exhausted.

If you are a true dopamine-dominant individual then you may actually find that the rep ranges on traditional rest-pause sets are a little to high for you. Remember, if you have a dopamine dominant neurotransmitter profile then you will get your best results with lower rep sets, even when you are training for size.

Fortunately Charles Poliquin found a way to tweak Dante’s rest-pause method to work better for fast-twitch athletes. Charles calls his modified rest-pause method the “5 to 8 method.”

Here is the protocol:

  • Perform 5 reps with your near 5-rep max, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep, done!

Please note that none of these reps are taken to muscular failure. Your last rep on the set of 5 and all of the singles should be “grinders” but you do NOT want to miss any weights. This modified rest-pause method works unbelievably well for increasing the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Because you are not training to failure it is possible to perform multiple rest-pause sets for a single exercise. This is unlike Dante’s original rest-pause method where only 1 set per exercise is recommended.

Here is a lower body “5 to 8” workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Lower Body “5 To 8” Front Squat Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels slightly elevated), 3-5 x 5**, 2/2/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curls (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 3-5 x 5**, 3/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Machine hack squat, 3 x 7-9, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing barbell good mornings, 3 x 7-9, 3/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

I recommend you perform anywhere from 3-5 of these “5 to 8” sets for both the front squats and the leg curls in this workout. The number of sets that you perform depends on your recovery ability and your performance on that given day.

If you are having one of those days where you feel like Popeye after he downs a can of spinach then go ahead and perform 5 total sets. On the other hand if you feel like Superman on Kryptonite then you may want to stick with just 3.

If you have below average recovery ability then you may want to consider performing the 5 to 8 method on your last set of 5 reps only. So you would perform 2-4 straight sets of 5 reps and then on your last set of 5 reps you would use the 5 to 8 method.

Dopamine Dominant Hypertrophy Method #3: Forced Reps

Forced reps are a high-intensity bodybuilding training technique that were popularized by the 6x Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates. Dorian used forced reps on the majority of his exercises as a way to train beyond muscular failure and stimulate as much muscle growth as possible.

The procedure for performing a set with forced reps is as follows:

  • Perform 1 set to failure in the 5-10 rep range. On your last rep you should actually fail trying to lift the weight up.
  • On the rep that you fail your partner will give a little assistance to help you lift the weight up. For example on a set of incline dumbbell presses he would lift under your elbows to help lift the weight up.
  • Lower the weight back down under control without any help from your spotter. 
  • Repeat this process for a possible 1-2 more forced reps.

Let’s take a look at a sample training video. Here is a video of Ronnie Coleman performing a set of incline dumbbell presses with a couple of forced reps thrown in at the end. Check it out:

As you can see Ronnie performs 5 reps on his own and then starts to fail on the 6th rep. His training partner then jumps in and helps him complete the 6th rep. Ronnie then lowers the weight on his own and his training partner helps him complete 1 more forced rep.

Forced reps work so well because they are actually a form of accentuated eccentric training. Think about it: your partner is helping you to lift the weight up after you reach failure so that you can lower the weight back down under control.

These additional eccentric reps are unbelievably effective for stimulating muscular growth. This is especially true if you are a dopamine-dominant individual with a lot of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Dorian himself primarily trained to failure in the 4-8 rep range (with some forced reps thrown in at the end for good measure) and his results speak for themselves.

Here is Dorian’s triceps routine featuring forced reps on every exercise. Check it out:

Dorian Yates Forced Reps Triceps Routine

  • A1: Standing cable pushdowns (pronated grip), 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Lying ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Standing unilateral cable pushdowns (supinated grip), 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1.

Forced reps are an awesome tool to use for the dopamine dominant individual. There are a couple of ways to use them:

  • Rotate them in and out of your training along with other high-intensity bodybuilding techniques
  • Use them as a core component of your training program (ala Dorian Yates)

Both of these training strategies work. I recommend you play around with both of them and figure out what works for you. Of course hiring an experienced coach can save you a lot of time spent with trial and error.

Part 3: Acetyl-Choline Dominant Training Protocols

If you scored a 40 or more on the acetyl-choline dominant portion of the Braverman Assessment then congratulations: you have an acetyl-choline dominant neurotransmitter profile! Acetyl-choline is the neurotransmitter of focus, concentration, learning and memory.

Trainees with a lot of acetylcholine love trying out new training methods and pushing themselves to the limit on their sets.

Someone like 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw is probably the quintessential acetyl-choline dominant trainee. He is constantly experimenting with new exercise variations and implements in his training. He loves to find creative solutions for strengthening his weaknesses and improving the strongman competition lifts.

There is nothing worse for an acetyl-choline dominant trainee than performing the same-old, same-old routine week after week. These guys need lots of variation in sets and reps to make optimal progress.

These guys also tend to thrive on more creative set and rep schemes such as wave loading and cluster sets etc. More on this in a minute.

Acetyl-choline dominant trainees tend to get their best results switching exercises every 3-6 workouts per body part although some incredibly strong trainees like Brian Shaw may get better results rotating exercises every single workout.

One of the challenges with acetyl-choline dominant trainees is they quickly overtrain if the training volume is kept to high for too long. These guys put so much effort into their sets that they quickly burn out unless they have some sort of built-in deloading strategy in their training.

Let’s take a look at some of the most effective deloading strategies for these trainees.

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Deloading Strategy #1: Reduce The Volume Every 3rd Workout

This is a very straightforward strategy: you simply drastically reduce the number of sets you perform per bodypart every 3rd workout. This strategy tends to work quite well as many trainees have a hard time recovering from 3 high volume workouts in a row. For example:

  • Workout #1: 100% training volume
  • Workout #2: 80-90% training volume
  • Workout #3: 20-30% training volume

Please note that you are reducing the training volume every third workout, NOT the training intensity! You would use the same training loads (or slightly higher) on the deload workouts as you would the regular workouts. You are still pushing yourself to get stronger, you are just using less volume so that your body can overcompensate.

Here is what this strategy might look like in practice if you are alternating accumulation and intensification phases:

Accumulation Phase

  • Workout #1: 12 total sets per body part
  • Workout #2: 10 total sets per body part
  • Workout #3: 3 total sets per body part

Intensification Phase

  • Workout #1: 13 total sets per body part
  • Workout #2: 11 total sets per body part
  • Workout #3: 4 total sets per body part

This deloading strategy works ridiculously well for a lot of acetyl-choline dominant trainees.

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Deloading Strategy #2: Lower The Training Frequency

This is a slightly more complicated deloading strategy. Rather than reducing the number of sets that you perform, you are going to insert extra rest days so that you reduce your overall training frequency for a short period of time. For example:

  • Week #1: 4 total workouts per week
  • Week #2: 4 total workouts per week
  • Week #3: 3 total workouts per week
  • Week #4: 2 total workouts per week
  • Week #5: 4 total workouts per week
  • Week #6: 4 total workouts per week
  • Week #7: 3 total workouts per week
  • Week #8: 2 total workouts per week

This strategy has some advantages over the prior strategy where you reduce the volume every third workout. With this strategy you keep the number of sets that you perform on each workout the same.

This deloading strategy tends to work best if you are using a higher-frequency training program where you are training body parts every 3-5 days. That way you are still training body parts once every 7 days even on your “deload” weeks.

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Deloading Strategy #3: Cut The Volume / Intensity Every 4 Weeks

This is a deloading strategy that the world-class strength coach Josh Bryant has used very successfully with a lot of his powerlifting clients. The idea is simple: you are going to dramatically decrease both the number of sets that you perform AND the amount of weight you are lifting every 4th week.

Josh Bryant likes his clients to use about 70% of the training loads and volume during a deload week compared to a regular week.

For example here is what a Josh Bryant style bench press workout might look like on a regular week vs a deload week:

James Strickland Heavy Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 3**, 1/1/X/0, 4 minutes rest
  • B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 5 x 3***, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest  
  • C1: Reverse band bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 2****, 1/0/X/1, 4 minutes rest
  • D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 6, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
  • E1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 x 10, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest  

**Performed at 83% of his projected 1-rep max

***Performed at 70% of his projected 1-rep max

****Perform 3 sets of 2 ramping up to one top set with maximum weight. The top set should be hard but NOT an absolute grinder.

James Strickland Deload Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 3 x 3**, 1/1/X/0, 4 minutes rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 6***, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
  • C1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10***, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 x 10***, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 x 10***, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest 

**Performed at 65% of his projected 1-rep max

***Performed with 70% of weights used during weeks 1-3

As you can see both the training volume AND the training intensity are dramatically reduced on the deload workout vs the regular workout. This deloading strategy works very well for powerlifters and other strength athletes who need to peak their strength for a single competition day.

As you can see there are a number of deloading strategies that the acetyl-choline dominant trainee can use. If you are an acetyl-choline dominant trainee then I strongly recommend you play around with these different deloading strategies to figure out which one works for you.

Remember, the reason you need to deload is because of how hard you focus during your sets. If you are truly pushing yourself to your limits on your sets then a deload is justified and will accelerate your progress.

Now let’s look at some of the best training methods to use if you are a dopamine dominant lifter. I will break this discussion into two parts:

  • How to train for strength gains as an acetyl-choline dominant lifter
  • How to train for hypertrophy gains as an acetyl-choline dominant lifter

Obviously training for muscle mass and or strength will involve slightly different training protocols. Check it out:

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Strength Method #1: Wave Loading

Wave loading is easily one of the most effective ways that you can train for strength. A strength training “wave” consists of three sets performed with decreasing rep ranges.

For example here is what a 7/5/3 wave would look like:

  • Set #1: 7 reps 
  • Set #2: 5 reps
  • Set #3: 3 reps
  • Set #4: 7 reps
  • Set #5: 5 reps
  • Set #6: 3 reps

Most acetyl-choline dominant trainees make AWESOME progress on wave loading protocols. Remember, there is nothing worse for an acetyl-choline dominant trainee than to be bored in the gym.

These guys need a lot of variety in terms of their set and rep schemes. They also tend to do well when they are exposed to new or novel rep schemes.

Wave loading works perfectly for these trainees because the target reps vary from one set to the next. The feeling that you get is completely different with this type of workout than a 5 x 5 workout for example.

One of the nice things about wave loading is that it is extremely customizable. Here are a few wave loading protocols besides the 7/5/3 wave listed above that you may want to try:

  • 6/4/2 waves (2 total waves performed per workout)
  • 5/4/3 waves (2 total waves performed per workout)
  • 5/3/1 waves (2-3 total waves performed per workout)

Each time you repeat a workout your goal is to increase the load on all of the different rep ranges in each wave. This makes things a little more exciting for many trainees as you have several different training objectives in a single workout.

Here is how you might structure a 7/5/3 wave loading upper body workout. Check it out:

7/5/3 Wave loading Upper Body Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press (medium grip), 6 x 7/5/3**, 3/1/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/2, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline close grip bench press, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope face pulls, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated DB zottman curls, 3 x 7-9, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Standing cable external rotations (arm adducted), 3 x 7-9, 4/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 7/5/3 wave loading protocol. Perform 7 reps on your 1st set, 5 reps on your 2nd set, 3 reps on your 3rd set, 7 reps on your 4th set, 5 reps on your 5th set, and 3 reps on your 6th set. 

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

You do have to be careful with some of the lower rep wave loading protocols.

For example the most famous wave loading protocol is the 3/2/1 wave. This tends to be a little to hard on the nervous system for most acetyl-choline dominant trainees and should be reserved for instances where you are trying to peak your strength on a particular lift.

The other wave loading protocols listed above will do a better job at building strength for most acetyl-choline dominant trainees.

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Strength Method #2: Wave Loading

Contrast sets are another one of those training methods that work extremely well for individuals with an acetyl-choline dominant neurotransmitter profile. A contrast set is actually very similar to the different wave loading methods.

The primary difference is that you are cycling between 2 different rep ranges rather than 3. The 1/6 contrast set method is easily the most famous contrast set protocol in the world. The idea is simple: you are going to alternate back and forth between singles and 6-rep sets on a specific exercise.

For example:

  • Set #1: 1 rep
  • Set #2: 6 reps
  • Set #3: 1 rep
  • Set #4: 6 reps
  • Set #5: 1 rep
  • Set #6: 6 reps

The 6-rep sets should be performed with your true 6-rep max. On the other hand the 1-rep sets can be performed with anywhere from 90-100% of your 1-rep max.

The 1/6 contrast set method takes advantage of the principle of post-tetanic potentiation. This is just a fancy way of saying that the routine excites your central nervous system so that you can lift heavier loads.

Acetyl-choline dominant trainees tend to do awesome with this method because they find it to be a very exciting way to train. The variation between the 1-rep sets and the 6-rep sets keeps the workout very interesting.

As a general rule of thumb you will always get better results when you are really excited to perform your workout. Using novel set / rep schemes like the 1/6 method is very important for an acetyl-choline dominant trainee.

Here is how you might use the 1/6 contrast set method to increase your overhead pressing strength. Check it out:

1/6 Method Overhead Pressing Routine

  • A1: Standing behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 6 x 1/6**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree incline DB press, 4 x 6-8, 2/2/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Decline DB extension, 3 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Reverse pec dec, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 1/6 contrast set. Perform 1 rep on your 1st set, 6 reps on your 2nd set, 1 rep on your 3rd set, 6 reps on your 4th set, 1 rep on your 5th set, and 6 reps on your 6th set.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise C2.

Of course there are many other ways that you could structure a 1/6 method workout. The key is to give everything you have on the 1-rep and 6-rep sets. You can perform some more accessory work later in the workout if you wish but the most important part of the workout is the singles and sixes.

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Strength Method #3: The 4% Solution

The 4% solution is an unbelievably effective and versatile training method. In my experience it is most effective for acetyl-choline dominant trainees but it also works well for dopamine-dominant and balanced trainees.

As a general rule of thumb you should be about 2% stronger every time you repeat a specific training routine. For example if you bench pressed 200 pounds for 8 reps in one workout then yo

u should be able to bench press about 204 pounds for 8 reps the next time you repeat that exact workout. No, you will not be able to progress like this forever. An acetylcholine dominant trainee typically has to switch things up after about 3-6 exposures to the same training routine. After that you will stop making progress.

However, while you are performing that specific routine you should be about 2% stronger every time you return to the gym.

The 4% solution is an interesting twist on this progression model. You are going to increase the weight by 4% every workout while dropping a rep.

Here is how you might progress over the course of 6 workouts using the 4% solution:

  • Workout #1: 100% x 7 reps
  • Workout #2: 104% x 6 reps
  • Workout #3: 108% x 5 reps
  • Workout #4: 104% x 7 reps
  • Workout #5: 108% x 6 rpes
  • Workout #6: 112% x 5 reps

After the 6th workout you should probably move onto another training program. However, if you were to repeat the workout a 7th time you would be able to lift 110% x 7 reps. That is a 10% increase in strength on that exercise in just a few workouts!

You can use anywhere from 3-8 reps per set with the 4% solution. For example you could use the following rep brackets for your workout progressions:

  • 3-5 reps per set
  • 4-6 reps per set
  • 5-7 reps per set
  • 6-8 reps per set

Here is a sample bench press workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

4% Solution Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 4-5 x 5-7**, 3/0/X/1, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 4-5 x 5-7**, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing overhead cable rope extensions, 3-4 x 9-11, 3/2/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 60 degree incline cable curls, 3-4 x 9-11, 3/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest

**Perform sets of 7 reps on your 1st workout, sets of 6 reps on your 2nd workout, sets of 5 reps on your 3rd workout, sets of 7 reps on your 4th workout, sets of 6 reps on your 5th workout, and sets of 5 reps on your 6th workout.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

The 4% solution is a great choice for acetyl-choline dominant trainees who are training for strength. The fact that the rep ranges fluctuate a little bit from workout to workout keeps things interesting.

The fact that the weight increases somewhat dramatically from workout to workout also helps to motivate you. Again, any time you are more psychologically engaged with your training program you are going to put more effort into it and get better results.

This is yet another reason why it is so important to take into account your personality when designing a training program. Remember, the best training program only works if you do!

Now let’s look at some of the best hypertrophy training methods for the acetyl-choline dominant trainee. Check it out:

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Hypertrophy Method #1: Omni-Reps

Omni-reps means you are going to utilize a wide variety of repetition ranges within a single workout. In my experience acetyl-choline dominant trainees respond incredibly well to omni-rep protocols when training for hypertrophy.

These guys tend to have a good mix of both fast-twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. They need the varied rep ranges more-so than other trainees to build maximum muscle. The varied rep ranges also help when it comes to keeping them psychologically engaged in their training programs.

One of the best ways to structure an omni-reps hypertrophy routine is with tri-sets. You would use relatively low reps on the first exercise, moderate reps on the second exercise and relatively high reps on the third exercise.

The first exercise helps you to target your fast-twitch muscle fibers and maintain a good strength base while the second and third exercises absolutely thrash the rest of your motor unit pool and dramatically increase the time under tension of the set.

Here is an awesome omni-reps quadriceps routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

Quadriceps Omni-Reps Hypertrophy Routine

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 3-4 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 45 degree leg press against bands, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated machine leg extension, 3-4 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

Most body parts respond well to this type of protocol but those with a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers respond especially well. I highly recommend you give this type of omni-reps tri-set routine a shot with body parts such as the quadriceps, upper back and deltoids.

If you have the guts to power through the higher-rep sets then you will be rewarded with some sick pumps and some screaming fast size gains.

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Hypertrophy Method #2: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets

Mechanical advantage drop sets are probably one of my all-time favourite hypertrophy training methods. They work well for all of the neurotypes covered in this article but in my experience they work especially well for acetyl-choline dominant trainees.

To perform a mechanical advantage drop set you are going to pick 2-4 different variations of the same exercise. You are then going to perform these variations back-to-back as part of a superset, tri-set or giant set.

You want to start with the hardest mechanical position and end with the easiest mechanical position. In other words you want to start with the variation where you can use the least amount of weight and end with the one where you can use the most amount of weight.

One of the cool things about this method is you don’t have to change the weight when you move from one exercise to the next. You simply change the exercise a little bit and keep on going.

If this sounds confusing then I highly recommend you watch this video by Christian Thibadeau on mechanical advantage drop sets:

Usually you will get somewhere around 6-12 reps on the first exercise and then the reps start to fall off on the 2nd-4th exercises. This method works extremely well for building functional hypertrophy or hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Unlike traditional supersets, tri-sets and giant sets this method is actually very easy to perform in a busy commercial gym. You are only hogging 1 exercise station even though you are performing 2-4 different exercises in a row!

Here is an awesome mechanical advantage upper back routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow supinated grip chin ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Barbell dead stop rows, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight you used on exercise A1. For example if you had 25 pounds hanging from your dip belt on exercise A1 then you would use that same 25 pounds hanging from your dip belt on exercise A2.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1.

If this routine looks like it is “not enough volume” then you have no idea how hard you are supposed to be pushing yourself on these sets!

Every single one of these sets should be taken just shy of concentric muscular failure. That means you push yourself right to the edge of where your form starts to break down on the pull ups and then you stop.

Trust me, the narrow supinated grip chin ups are HELL on your lats when you perform them right after a set of wide / pronated grip pull ups. And the barbell dead stop rows will thrash whatever is left in your lats along with your scapular retractors and spinal erectors.

If you think a moderate-volume routine like this (remember, you are performing 9-14 total working sets!) would never work then I challenge you to try it out for just 1 workout and prove me wrong. I think you will be surprised at how much growth you can stimulate with a routine like this!

Of course you can pair this upper back routine with some work for your elbows flexors or chest etc. for a more complete upper body workout if you want. Just don’t add anything else for your upper back!

Acetyl-Choline Dominant Hypertrophy Method #3: Eccentric Training

I talked about eccentric training in the sections on building size and strength for the dopamine-dominant trainee. Eccentric training can still be very effective for the acetyl-choline dominant trainee. However, you have to be a little more careful with how you structure your routines.

The typical acetyl-choline dominant trainee will quickly burn out if they perform too many maximal singles with weight releasers (for example). However, if you are smart about it eccentric training can be one of the best ways for the acetyl-choline dominant trainee to build muscle mass and strength.

In my experience one of the best methods ways for these trainees to build muscle mass with eccentric training is to perform multiple eccentric-only reps at the end of their routine. In other words you would perform 1-3 exercises at the start of your routine as normal. Then at the end of your routine you would perform eccentric-only reps as a form of post-exhaustion for your working muscles.

In my experience this training method works ESPECIALLY well when training the arms. This is because it is very easy to pick exercises where you can skip the concentric range and perform several eccentric-only reps.

Here is an arm routine using accentuated eccentrics that you may want to try. Check it out:

Eccentric Arm Training Hypertrophy Routine

  • A1: Lying ez-bar extension (to nose), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B1: Unilateral DB french press, 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Machine preacher curl, 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Eccentric-only v-bar dips (upright torso), 3 x 3, 10/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Eccentric-only unilateral DB preacher curl (supinated grip), 3 x 3, 10/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as eccentric-only reps. Start in the top position by standing on the dipping platform, then lower yourself down over 10 seconds. At the bottom your feet hit the floor, then you stand on the platform again and perform your next eccentric-only rep.

****Performed as eccentric-only reps. Start the exercise in the top position, then lower the weight down over 10 seconds. In the bottom position use your non-working hand to help lift the dumbbell back up to the starting position, then perform your next eccentric-only rep.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

Dips and preacher curls are two exercises where it is very, very easy to perform eccentric-only work. On the dips you lower yourself down to the starting position and then you stand up on the dipping platform to bypass the concentric range.

On the preacher curls you use your non-working hand to help lift the weight back up to lockout. I find this works well on preacher curls if you grab the wrist of your working hand with your non-working hand.

It is very important on these eccentric-only reps that you lower the weight over 8-10 seconds. This is partly for safety reasons. You do not want to suddenly “lose control” of a weight when performing eccentric training.

The other reason is because you will get better results this way. Remember, when it comes to eccentric training the slower you lower the weight the harder your muscles will have to work.

If you find that you cannot lower the weight over 8-10 seconds on EVERY rep then the weight is too heavy. Lower the weight and try again. Remember, this is a hypertrophy routine. The weight is just a tool to inflict maximum muscle damage to your arms. 

Part 4: Balanced Training Protocols

If you did not score 40 or more on any one section on the Braverman Assessment then congratulations, you have a balanced neurotransmitter profile! For simplicity’s sake I will be referring to these individuals as “balanced trainees.”

Note: if you scored a 40 or more on the GABA section of the Braverman Assessment then you will probably get your best results using the “balanced” training protocols so pay attention!

Balanced trainees make up a large percentage of the training population. These individuals tend to live well-rounded lives and often do not have any major character flaws.

Balanced trainees have a greater percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers and typically respond best to higher-volume training programs with lots of reps, sets and exercises per workout.

Some famous balanced bodybuilders include Arnold Schwarzenegger and Larry Scott. These guys grew like weeds on higher-volume bodybuilding-style routines where they chased the pump.

On the other hand some famous balanced strength athletes include Ed Coan and Chad Wesley Smith. These guys have set world records in powerlifting using linear periodization where they barely changed the exercises at all during their 12+ week peaking phases!

Balanced trainees have some very unique needs when it comes to program design so let’s go ahead and discuss some of the best strategies for these guys.

How To Train For Size And Strength As A Balanced Trainee

If you are a balanced trainee then it is very important to understand that you ARE NOT designed to perform lots of low-rep sets. This is true regardless of whether you are training primarily for size or for strength.

If a balanced trainee tries to perform routines such as cluster sets, 3/2/1 wave loading or the modified Hepburn method on a regular basis then they will quickly burn out and overtrain their central nervous system.

For these trainees it is very, very important that you do not overdo low reps. Balanced trainees typically get their best size gains in the 8-20 rep range and with 40-70 seconds of time under tension per set.

Of course sets lasting much longer than 20 reps can sometimes be used. Some body parts such as the quads, upper back and deltoids can even respond well to sets in the 30-50 rep range!

Time under tension prolonging techniques such as subsets, tri-sets and giant sets also tend to work very well for these guys. Anything that you can do to make your muscles work longer by prolonging the time under tension is fair game.

Just make sure you do this without burning our your nervous system too much. Techniques such as rest-pause sets and forced reps are probably not your best bet unless you use them occasionally.

If you are a balanced trainee and respond well to high-volume workouts then you may want to consider waving your volume over the course of a few workouts or even weeks. John Meadows often has his balanced trainees slowly ramp up their training volume over 5-6 weeks before ramping it back down. This can be an awesome strategy to use.

Balanced trainees also need less variation in terms of their exercises than other trainees. They can easily make progress using the same exercises for many weeks in a row.

Chad Wesley Smith’s Juggernaut Training Program is an excellent example of this. He has you change the rep ranges but mostly keep the exercises the same as you progress through the program.

Now let’s look at some of the best hypertrophy training programs for the balanced trainee:

Balanced Trainee Hypertrophy Method #1: Supersets

Supersets are definitely one of the best hypertrophy training methods for the balanced trainee. Supersets are very straightforward: you perform 2 exercises back to back for the same body part with only 10 seconds rest in between sets.

The 10 second rest break is just long enough of a break to flush some of the waste products out of your muscles so that you can continue to produce strong muscular contractions. However, it is short enough that the second exercise acts as a sort of post-failure method that further fatigues your muscles after the first exercise.

There are a number of ways that you could design a workout with supersets. If you are a balanced trainee then you can get great results from performing multiple different supersets per workout for the same body part.

Here is an extreme high-volume supersets workout for the elbow flexors that I learned from Charles Poliquin himself. It features 18 total sets of work! Check it out:

Elbow Flexors Superset Workout 

  • A1: Bilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing bilateral cable reverse curl, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 10-12, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

This routine features three different types of supersets designed to thrash all of the available motor units in your elbow flexors.

The first superset features 2 different types of preacher curls to target the short head of your biceps.

The second superset features 2 different types of reverse curls to overload your brachialis muscle. Most trainees have an underdeveloped brachialis so this superset is especially important in this routine.

Finally the third superset features 2 different types of incline curls to absolutely thrash the long head of your biceps. The long head of your biceps is responsible for the biceps “peak” so this superset is also very important.

If you love to perform high-volume arm workouts and chase the pump then this workout is for you. Make sure to take your intra-workout drink, post-workout drink or whatever else you use to optimize your recovery. As Charles used to say your biceps will be so sore after this routine that you will have trouble brushing your teeth for at least a few days!

Balanced Trainee Hypertrophy Method #2: Tri-Sets

Tri-sets are another extremely effective hypertrophy training method for the balanced trainee. Tri-sets are very similar to supersets. However, instead of performing only 2 exercises in a row you are going to perform 3 different exercises in a row.

In my experience the key to designing an effective tri-set is to pick exercises that overload different parts of the strength curve.

In other words you want to pick exercises that overload your muscles in 3 completely different ways. This helps to stimulate as many different muscle fibers as possible and it also helps to prevent you from overtraining your central nervous system.

Here is a great tri-set routine for your chest that you may want to try. It features 3 completely different types of chest exercises to stimulate as much muscular growth as humanly possible. Check it out:

Chest Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3-4 x 6-8, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-4 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Stretch push ups, 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/1/X/0, rest as needed

**Perform as many reps as possible with just your body weight. Aim for a deep (but safe!) stretch on every rep. The reps are not as important as your ability to *feel* your chest stretch and contract on every rep.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This tri-set routine was somewhat inspired by the writings of John Meadows. He would often use exercises such as stretch push ups at the end of his workouts to really stretch out the chest after its been pre-fatigued with some bigger compound exercises.

On the stretch push ups you want to do everything you can to really emphasize the bottom position of the exercise. The exact number of reps that you perform per set really doesn’t matter that much. I hate to say it but for the purposes of this routine the tempo on this exercise doesn’t matter that much either.

I want you to perform this exercise with one goal in mind: stretching and fatiguing your chest as much as humanly possible!

If you get 5 reps before tapping out that’s fine. If you get 30 reps in a row before your chesticles explode then that’s fine too. I think you will find this chest tri-set works unbelievably well for packing on some fast growth. 

Balanced Trainee Hypertrophy Method #3: Giant Sets

Giant sets were popularized by IFBB professional bodybuilder Milos Sarcev. Milos built his Mr. Olympia physique almost exclusively with giant sets. He then went on to train an absolute army of amateur and professional bodybuilders using his giant sets methodology.

Here is Milos Sarcev himself talking about why he likes giant sets so much for building muscle:

Milos is right! If you are looking for maximal muscle stimulation then it really is hard to beat a properly designed giant sets workout!

Giant sets are a lot like supersets and tri-sets. The main difference is you are going to perform at least 4 different exercises back-to-back rather than just 2 or 3.

Of course you can perform more than just 4 exercises in a giant set if you want to. Milos Sarcev often has his bodybuilding trainees perform as many as 10 different exercises in a row for a single body part!

Giant sets work so well because they dramatically prolong the time under tension of your sets. Every time you progress to a different exercise you target a different portion of the motor unit pool in the working muscle and further jack up the metabolic fatigue within the muscle.

You also get to accomplish this while still using reasonably heavy weights on the first 1-2 exercises.

Giant sets might be the ultimate weapon for balanced trainees to stimulate hypertrophy.

Of course there are some downsides to this superior training method. Giant sets can be very difficult to recover from. If you are a balanced trainee then this probably won’t be an issue but you have to be careful about not performing too many exercises in a single workout.

The other major problem is they can negatively impact your strength levels if you perform them too often. I recommend you perform giant sets for a few workouts before moving onto a different type of routine.

Here is a great upper back giant sets workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Upper Back Giant Sets Workout

  • A1: T-bar row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Wide overhand grip lat pulldown, 3 x 10-12, 3/1/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Wide neutral grip lat pulldown, 3 x 10-12, 3/1/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Seated v-bar cable row, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Lying DB pullovers, 3 x 12-15, 2/1/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A6: Rear-delt pec dec, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/1/1, 180 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise A5, exercise A6.

This routine uses a wide variety of exercises to target all of the different muscles of your upper back and to maximally overload different portions of the strength curve.

The different variations of lat pulldowns and DB pullovers are used to increase your back “width” while the t-bar rows and seated cable rows will improve your back “thickness.” Finally the reverse pec dec exercise will thrash your rear delts.

Giant sets are incredibly useful when training the upper back as the upper back is such a complex muscle group with many different muscles. I highly recommend you give this giant sets routine a try if your upper back is a lagging body part.

Now let’s look at some of the best strength training methods for the balanced trainee.

Balanced Trainee Strength Method #3: Multiple Straight Sets

Balanced trainees tend to be more gifted for building muscle mass than getting freaky strong. However, there are plenty of balanced trainees who are more interested in building super-human strength than they are building a lot of non-functional muscle mass.

As I mentioned before balanced trainees typically don’t need as much variety in terms of their set and rep schemes. They have the ability to make great progress with some very simple, straightforward routines. Actually when you make their routines too complicated they actually get stressed out!

One of the most effective strength training methods for these guys is the good-old-fashioned multiple straight sets workout. For example they could perform multiple sets in the 4-8 rep range on 1-3 major exercises per body part.

For these guys the strength gains come from the overall large volume of work rather than their performance on any 1 individual set.

Here is a sample lower body strength workout emphasizing multiple sets of 6 repetitions. Check it out:

Lower Body “Multiple Straight Sets” Strength Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4-5 x 6, 2/2/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Kneeling leg curls (Poliquin method / feet pointed straight), 4-5 x 6, 2/0/X/2, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 4-5 x 6, 4/0/1/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed in), 4-5 x 6, 4/0/1/0, 100 seconds rest
  • C1: 90 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1.

It’s really important when performing this kind of routine that you do not put too much effort into any one individual set. This workout has more of a “slow and steady wins the race” feel to it. Your job is to pick a weight that you think you can perform all 4-5 sets with for 6 reps.

For example you may need to start out with your 8-rep max on your first set of front squats and perform it for 6 reps. That may feel pretty easy but by your 4th-5th set the weight is going to feel much harder.

If you can’t make all 6 reps with the same weight then you have a choice: you can lower the weight a little bit and continue busting out sets of 6 reps or you can just shoot for 4-5 reps on your last 1-2 sets.

Just make sure that you keep the weight the same at your next workout and shoot for 6 reps on all of your working sets.

Balanced Trainee Strength Method #2: Drop sets

I found over the years that drop sets work rather well for balanced trainees who are looking to get stronger. Normally drop sets are thought of as a hypertrophy training method.

Indeed many world-class bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger have used drop sets to help build their unbelievable physiques.

However drop sets can work extremely well for building raw strength. The key to making them work for strength gains is to use relatively lower rep ranges. In my experience balanced trainees tend to make awesome progress on the 4/2/2 drop set protocol.

Here is what this protocol looks like in practice:

  • Perform 4 repetitions, reduce the load by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 2 repetitions with the new lighter weight, reduce the load by -10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 2 repetitions with the new lighter weight, rest 2-5 minutes, repeat!

One of the reasons low-rep drop sets work so well for balanced trainees is that they prolong the time under tension of the set. As you already know by now balanced trainees do AWESOME on all kinds of training methods that prolong a set’s time under tension. Here is a sample upper body 4/2/2 drop set workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

4/2/2 Upper Body Drop Set Workout

  • A1: 60 degree incline bench press (close grip), 3-4 x 4/2/2**, 3/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Chin up on rings, 3-4 x 4/2/2, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 x 6-8, 5/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Preacher ez-bar curls (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 30 seconds rest
  • C2: Dead stop skull crushers, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 30 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

You do have to be careful about performing this type of workout. It is very easy to over-do it and torch your central nervous system. I recommend you stay somewhat conservative with your weights selection on the first drop set.

For example you may want to pick a weight that is closer to your 5-rep max just to make sure that you do not struggle too much with the weight. It is perfectly OK to have some “grinder” reps on this kind of workout. Just make sure you don’t overdo it!

Balanced Trainee Strength Method #3: Isometronics

Earlier in this article I talked about how dopamine dominant trainees might use isometrics to build strength. These are an extremely effective training method but most balanced trainees will have a hard time recovering from them. They are just too demanding on the central nervous system.

Fortunately there is more than one way to perform isometrics. In my experience most balanced trainees thrive on an isometric training protocol known as “isometronics.”

Isometronics is basically a hybrid of two different training methods: 

  • Partial range of motion repetitions
  • All-out overcoming isometric contractions

This training method is a little bit complicated so let’s go ahead and watch a sample training video before discussing it further:

To perform this training method you are going to need 2 pairs of safety pins, or 4 safety pins in total. You can perform this method on any barbell movement such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses etc.

For this routine I assume you want to increase your bench press. You are going to divide the bench press into three separate ranges of motion:

  • The bottom third
  • The middle third
  • The top third

For each of these three ranges of motion you want the safety pins to be about 6-8 inches apart from each other. It is OK if the ranges of motion overlap a little bit from one section to the next.

For each isometronics set you are going to perform 4-6 partial range of motion repetitions between the safety pins. On your last rep you are going to press against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. This is a “life-or-death” rep – I want you to press like you are trying to break the pins in half!

At the end of your isometric contraction you should lower the weight back down to the bottom pins and then attempt one more partial range of motion rep.

A full isometronics workout consists of 10 total sets:

  • 3 isometronics sets in the bottom range of motion
  • 3 isometronics sets in the middle range of motion
  • 3 isometronics sets in the top range of motion
  • 1 full range of motion set

The last set should literally be a regular set of bench presses or whatever exercise you are training that day. The full range of motion set is very important as it teaches your body to transfer the strength gains over to the full range of motion exercise.

Here is what a full bench press isometronics workout might look like. Check it out:

Bench Press Isometronics Workout

  • A1: Bottom position bench press isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/1, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Bottom position bench press isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/1, 180 seconds rest
  • C1: Bottom position bench press isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/1, 180 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 6, 2/0/X0, 180 seconds rest
  • E1: Standing v-bar cable pushdowns, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: DB floor flys, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Perform 5 partial range of motion repetitions. During your 5th rep perform an all-out overcoming isometric contraction against the top pins. Your goal is to break the top pins in half! Then lower the weight down and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep. See the video below for more details.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1-D1, exercise E1, exercise E2.

If you have the guts to perform this training program then you will be rewarded. It works UNBELIEVABLY well for building both maximal strength and functional hypertrophy.

The partial range of motion reps are easily one of the best training methods for busting through training plateaus. They teach your body to recruit the high threshold motor units and they help to down-regulate the golgi tendon organ.

Anyone who has performed a training cycle with partial reps understands how powerful they are. However, when you combine them together with all-out overcoming isometric contractions you take it to a whole-nother level!

The isometric contractions literally force your body to recruit dormant motor units and produce more force than otherwise possible. I commonly see intermediate-level trainees boost their bench press 1-rep max by 20-40 pounds in just a few short weeks using isometronics.

Probably the biggest downside to this training method is that it is a huge pain in the ass changing the safety pins every 3 sets. This is a small price to pay for the screaming fast strength gains you can expect on it.

Part 5: Bonus: Hybrid Training Protocols

Upper lower split

It is relatively rare that someone has a “pure” dominance in any one neurotransmitter. For example, it is somewhat uncommon for someone to score a 50 or more for either acetyl-choline or dopamine on the Braverman Assessment and score very low on all the other neurotransmitters.

Just take a look at my score:

  • Dopamine = 42
  • Acetyl-choline = 47
  • GABA = 17
  • Serotonin = 21

I am dominant in acetyl-choline but I also run on quite a bit of dopamine. It’s actually reasonably common for someone who loves lifting weights to be relatively high in both acetyl-choline and dopamine.

If this describes you then you will probably get your best designing your strength training programs somewhere in between a pure-dopamine approach and a pure acetyl-choline approach.

As I’ve talked about before pure dopamine dominant trainees often get their best results when they rotate through 2-4 different workouts per body part. This helps to prevent them from burning out on any 1 exercise.

However, acetyl-choline dominant trainees usually get their best results performing the same exercises about 3-6 workouts in a row. If you are a hybrid acetyl choline / dopamine dominant trainee then you may get your best results using a hybrid approach.

For example here is how you may want to try rotating your workouts:

  • Workout #1-2: A Exercises (Accumulation #1)
  • Workout #3-4: B Exercises (Intensification #1)
  • Workout #5-6: A Exercises (Accumulation #2)
  • Workout #7-8: B Exercises (Intensification #2)

As you can see you are performing the “A” workouts and the “B” workouts 4 times each. However, you are performing each workout twice in a row before progressing to the next one. This pattern is repeated until you have performed all 4 workouts.

This may sound like a slightly complicated way to organize your workouts but it works very, very well for certain trainees.

There us a lot more I could write about for hybrid trainees. For example, these guys may or may not need to incorporate regular deloads to prevent themselves from burning out.

However, it seems that I’ve already “gone off the deep end” in writing this article so I will stop myself here before they come for me with a straight jacket!

Conclusion

neurotransmitter based program design

There are many different ways that you can train. Almost every training program works for some people at least some of the time. However, no training program will work optimally for everyone 100% of the time.

The important thing is to figure out what type of training you personally respond best to. In my experience Charles Poliquin is 100% on the money: your unique neurotransmitter profile determines the type of training you will respond best to.

As Charles used to say:

  • “If you are a cheetah then train like a cheetah!”
  • “If you are a grizzly bear then train like a grizzly bear!”
  • “And if you are a mongoose on PCP then train like a mongoose on PCP!”

In other words you will get your best results if you train the way you were born to train.

My recommendation to you is simple. First of all take the Braverman Assessment. It is a free personality quiz that will take you about 20 minutes to complete. Then interpret your results as follows:

  • If you score 50 or more in any 1 section then you have an extreme dominance for that neurotransmitter.
  • If you score 40 or more in any 1 section then you have a slight dominance fro that neurotransmitter.
  • If you do not score 40 or more in any 1 section then you have a balanced neurotransmitter profile.

Once you know which type of trainee you are just go to the corresponding section of this article, read it and start applying it in the gym. I cannot cover everything there is to know about program design in this article but this should give you a very, very good head start.

If you enjoyed this article and are still hungry for more information then I highly recommend the following 2 articles:

I hope you found this article helpful. It is one of the most important articles I will ever write. If you are a long-time reader of Revolutionary Program Design then you know I don’t say that very often.

Of course I cannot take credit for all of the ideas presented here. Neurotransmitter Based Program Design is Charles Poliquin’s brainchild. However, I do believe I have made this periodization model more accessible to the masses by adding my own thoughts based on my experience as a coach.

I will leave you with one of my favorite Charles Poliquin quotes of all time:

“There are three key to strength training success: hard work, hard work and hard work!”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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