Stan Efferding is an absolute legend in the fitness industry. He was known for many years as “the world’s strongest professional bodybuilder” and has competed at the highest levels in both bodybuilding and powerlifting.
One of the things that I really like about Stan is he is a real student of the iron game. He has worked with many of the world’s best bodybuilding and powerlifting coaches including Flex Wheeler and Marc Bell in his unrelenting quest to become bigger and stronger. Over his career Stan has formed his opinions on the best ways to train for size and strength.
In this comprehensive guide I want to cover five training tips that make up the core of Stan Efferding’s overall training philosophy. Here they are in no particular order:
Stan Efferding’s Training Philosophy
- Tip #1: Focus On Growth Sets
- Tip #2: Manipulate Your Frequency
- Tip #3: Minimize Lower Back Fatigue
- Tip #4: Use 20 Rep Sets For Legs
- Tip #5: You Don’t Grow In The Gym
If you want to become as big and strong as possible like Stan Efferding then these training tips are for you. Now let’s take a closer look at each of Stan Efferding’s training tips.
Stan Efferding Tip #1: Focus On Growth Sets
Stan Efferding was a professional bodybuilder and a world record holding powerlifter. Stan made huge changes to his training program depending on whether he was training for a competition in bodybuilding or powerlifting.
Stan used a very high-volume approach for his bodybuilding workouts and a lower-volume approach with heavier weights for his powerlifting workouts. However, one thing remained the same in all of Stan’s workouts: he focused on “growth sets.”
For Stan Efferding the growth sets are the sets where you train all-out with maximum intensity. Here are Stan’s exact thoughts on growth sets:
“Maximum intensity provides the stimulus for muscles to grow, not endless reps and sets. Save your energy and your joints for the sets that count, the growth sets.”
Stan performed 2 heavy working sets per exercise in almost all of his bodybuilding and powerlifting workouts. He performed as many warm up sets as he needed to get ready for his heavy sets. However, he never counted these warm up sets as part of his actual workout. The only sets that counted were the 2 all-out working sets with maximum weight.
Here is Stan discussing how he sets up his bodybuilding style workouts:
“We’re going to build a workout around a few really big sets – I call them growth sets. One way to make progress is to stay focused on them and to really give 100%.”
Here is a chest workout that Stan performed while preparing for a professional level bodybuilding competition. Let’s take a closer look at it so we can really see what Stan means by growth sets.
Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout
- A1: 30 degree incline barbell press, 2 x (5, 8**), 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 2 x 6-8****, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Decline hammer strength press, 2 x 7-9**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Standing cable crossover, 2 x 15-20, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
**Performed as a double drop set. Perform 7-9 reps, drop the weight, perform as many reps as you can, drop the weight, perform as many reps as you can, done!
****Perform 6-8 reps to failure, then perform 4 extra forced reps with the help of a training partner.
Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program.
Here is a training video for this workout:
As you can see Stan performs four exercises for his chest. For each exercise Stan performs several warm up sets and then two all-out working sets to failure.
On the other hand he busts out 4 extra forced reps on both sets of incline dumbbell presses after reaching failure in the 6-8 rep range. Dorian Yates would be proud!
This workout looks completely different from the typical bodybuilding workout where you perform endless sets, reps and exercises with no real goal or plan of attack. Stan believes that training with maximum intensity on your growth sets is more important than how many sets or reps you do.
Here are Stan’s exact thoughts on bodybuilding training:
“You know your sets, your reps, your exercises, your order of exercise, slow-twitch, fast-twitch, whatever you decide I think makes a minimal difference. The big difference is do you train to to failure, do you bust your ass in the gym, or do you just go through and do your 4 sets of 12 and call it a day?”
“So you need to go to failure, you need to have some forced reps, you need to just go all out and take your body some place it’s never been before so it has to adapt and become bigger and stronger. Everything else is minuscule in comparison.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself!
Now let’s look at a one of Stan Efferding’s powerlifting style bench press workouts. Once again Stan sticks to his guns and performs two heavy growth sets per exercise. Check it out:
Stan Efferding Heavy Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 2 x (1, 3), 1/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Incline dumbbell press, 2 x 6-8, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- C1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
You can click right here to see Stan perform a heavy single from this workout.
For his powerlifting style bench press workouts Stan works up to some heavy singles, doubles or triples on the bench press. Then he picks a couple of bench press accessory exercises and performs two growth sets per exercise.
Stan believes that performing isolation exercises like tricep pushdowns and dumbbell flyes is a complete waste of time when you are preparing for a powerlifting competition. The only thing it will do is eat into your recovery ability! Here is Stan dropping a knowledge bomb:
“What about speed work? What about it? Waste of time!! The only reason to lift weights is to stimulate a growth response. Lifting half what you’re capable of isn’t going to stimulate anything.”
I’m not saying speed work is completely useless. I wouldn’t have written the internet’s two best articles on speed work if that was the case:
- Compensatory Acceleration Training: The Ultimate Guide!
- The Dynamic Effort Method: The Ultimate Guide!
However, for Stan Efferding performing some speed reps with 60% of his 1-rep max was about as useless as a vegan diet for helping him reach his powerlifting goals. This is the Bruce Lee principle in action:
“Adopt what is useful, reject what is not and add what is uniquely your own.”
The bottom line is Stan Efferding performed two growth sets per exercise in his bodybuilding and powerlifting workouts. Stan believed that these growth sets are what made you bigger and stronger, not some magical set or rep scheme.
Stan Efferding Tip #2: Manipulate Your Frequency
Stan Efferding gets this question all the time: “how did you compete in bodybuilding and powerlifting at the same time?” Stan’s answer is always the same: “I didn’t!”
Stan is right! He never actually trained for bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions at the same time. Instead he alternated back and forth between training like a bodybuilder and training like a powerlifter.
He would spend 3-6 months preparing for his bodybuilding competition and then another 3-6 months preparing for his powerlifting competitions.
The biggest thing that changed between Stan’s bodybuilding and powerlifting programs was his training frequency. When Stan trained like a bodybuilder he used a high-frequency training split where he trained each body part twice per week. Check it out:
Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Split
- AM: Chest
- PM: Shoulders
- AM: Back
- PM: Biceps / Triceps
- AM: Quads
- PM: Hamstrings
- AM: Chest
- PM: Shoulders
- AM: Back
- PM: Biceps / Triceps
- AM: Quads
- PM: Hamstrings
- AM: Off
- PM: Off
You read that right – Stan Efferding trained twice per day, six days per week when he was preparing for his bodybuilding competitions! Stan was an absolute animal! Here are Stan’s exact thoughts on this high-frequency training schedule:
“I prefer to do 2 a day training. 40 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. We do our quads for 40 minutes and then we come back at night and do 20-30 minutes of the same type of training just for hamstrings.”
“That way we get the benefit of those stimuli for all of the hormones and all of the water and glycogen and sodium in the muscles. And all of that stuff together is what stimulates hypertrophy. It’s not just the loading, it’s the whole environment.”
Of course Stan wasn’t just doing light pumping sets with the pink dumbbells. He stuck to his guns and performed a maximum of two growth sets per exercise. But Stan really felt that the high volume / frequency approach was optimal for building maximum muscle mass.
When Stan trained for powerlifting he took a completely different approach: he dropped his volume and frequency of training way down. In fact when Stan was breaking powerlifting world records he only trained twice per week!
He trained the bench press on Tuesday and the squat and deadlift on Saturday. That’s it! Here is Stan’s exact powerlifting training split:
Stan Efferding’s Powerlifting Split
- Monday: Bench Press
- Saturday: Squat / Deadlift
Talk about a low volume training program! Stan felt that this minimalist training split was optimal for powerlifting. The split gave him plenty of time to rest and recover between his heavy powerlifting workouts.
Remember, your central nervous system takes up to 5-7 times as long as your muscles to recover. Stan was bench pressing 500-600 pounds and squatting / deadlifting 700-800 pounds every week in his powerlifting workouts.
When you are lifting as heavy as Stan you need all the time you can get to recover between workouts. Eric Lilliebridge is another powerlifter who really likes this abbreviated training schedule.
So what’s the big takeaway here? When Stan wants to build muscle he uses a high volume / high frequency training program with two-a-day workouts. This helps him to perform as many muscle-building workouts during the week as possible and really create an environment for growth.
However, when he trained to get as strong as possible he used an ultra-low training frequency and prioritized rest and recovery. When you are squatting and deadlifting 800+ pounds in training you need all the rest you can get!
Stan Efferding Tip #3: Minimize Lower Back Fatigue
Stan Efferding believes that if you want to become as big and strong as possible then you have to manage your lower back fatigue. In other words you have to be very careful with how often you perform exercises that overload your lower back.
When Stan Efferding decided he wanted to become a professional bodybuilder he hired the legendary pro bodybuilder Flex Wheeler as his coach.
Flex told Stan that he was not allowed to do any squats or deadlifts in his workouts! This was a hard pill for Stan to swallow because he loved these exercises and he was very strong on them. However, that was part of the problem: Stan’s squats and deadlifts were so taxing on his lower back / lumbar spine that it reduced the amount of overall training volume he could perform and recover from.
If Stan wanted to perform Flex’s two-a-day workouts six days per week then he had to back off of almost everything that stressed the lumbar spine. And that meant no squatting or deadlifting!
Of course Stan still used some exercises like barbell rows and t-bar rows to train his lower back muscles. However, he made sure to do them in a way that minimized the stress on his lumbar spine.
Here is a bodybuilding-style back workout that Stan performed while working with Flex Wheeler. Check it out:
Stan Efferding Bodybuilding Back Workout
- A1: Cable pulldown (wide / overhand grip)**, 2 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Pull up (narrow / neutral grip), 2 x 12-16, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Barbell bent over row****, 2 x 6-8, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Machine pullover, 2 x 14-16, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
**Stan uses plenty of “body English” to get the weight moving on this exercise
****Stan lets the bar bounce against the ground in between each rep. He feels this technique hits his mid-back harder and takes some of the stress off his lower back.
Here is the training video for this workout:
Stan does a couple of things to make sure that the barbell rows don’t overtax his lower back.
First of all he pre-fatigues his upper back with pull downs and pull ups. This means he won’t have to use as much weight when he finally gets to his heavy sets of barbell rows.
Stan also modifies his form on the barbell rows to keep the stress off of his lower back. Instead of stopping the barbell in the air he let’s it bounce off the ground before initiating the concentric phase of the movement. In other words the ground decelerates the bar rather than his lower back.
Stan used strategies like this to minimize lower back fatigue during his bodybuilding workouts so that he could use a very high training frequency and build as much muscle mass as possible.
But what about Stan’s powerlifting workouts? How did he manage his lower back fatigue when he was lifting 800+ pounds on squats and deadlifts? Stan found through trial and error that he had to perform squats and deadlifts on alternating weeks. For example:
Stan Efferding’s Squat / Deadlift Training Schedule
- Week 1: Squat
- Week 2: Deadlift
- Week 3: Squat
- Week 4: Deadlift
Yes, you read that right – Stan was only performing the squat or deadlift once every two weeks in his prime! This style of training was popularized by Eric Lilliebridge and is often called “The Lilliebridge Method.”
For Stan this was the only way to minimize the stress to his lumbar spine so that he could continue to lift heavy weights and get stronger.
Here is what one of Stan’s typical powerlifting style deadlift workouts looked like. Check it out:
Stan Efferding Deadlift Workout
- A1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 1-5, X/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: 45 degree leg press (with bands), 2 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Cable pulldowns (wide / overhand grip), 2 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Seated cable rows (v-handle), 2 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
You can click right here to see a video of Stan deadlifting a heavy set of 4 reps in training.
As you can see Stan picked accessory exercises that wouldn’t stress his lumbar spine too much. When you are deadlifting as much as Stan your lower back doesn’t need any extra stimulation!
Stan made it a priority in his bodybuilding and powerlifting workouts to manage his lower back stress. During his bodybuilding workouts he completely eliminated squats and deadlifts to make sure that he could recover from his high-frequency workouts.
When Stan trained like a powerlifter he performed squats and deadlifts on alternating weeks to give his lower back as much time to rest as possible.
The bottom line is if you want to become as big and strong as possible then you must learn to manage your lower back fatigue. There is no other way!
Stan Efferding Tip #4: Use 20 Rep Sets For Legs
Almost every bodybuilder has at least one lagging muscle group that holds back their physique. For Stan Efferding it was his quads. No matter what he tried, Stan could not increase the size of his quads.
Of course this was just a minor obstacle for Stan. He has what you call the “growth mindset.” Stan knew that there was a way to bring up his lagging quads and he was going to figure it out. Eventually Stan hired Flex Wheeler as his bodybuilding coach and he finally figured out how to train his legs for maximum size.
Stan’s solution was to perform sets of 20 reps on all of his quad exercises. Here is the exact quad workout that Stan performed while working with Flex Wheeler. Check it out:
Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Quadriceps Workout
- A1: Single-leg leg extension, 2 x 20, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: Leg press, 2 x 20**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Machine hack squat, 2 x 20, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Walking DB lunge, 2 x 20, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
**Squat down for 60 seconds in between sets to stretch out your quads.
Here is a video of Stan Efferding taking Marc Bell through similar quadriceps workout:
So why do 20 rep sets work so well for building huge quadriceps? Actually 20 rep sets are a time-honored tradition in the iron game. The quads have a large percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers and just seem to respond well to higher rep ranges.
Tom Platz built the most impressive pair of legs the world has ever seen and he relied heavily on sets of 20-50 reps. More recently Ben Pakulski had the best pair of legs in professional bodybuilding and he credits 20-rep sets for most of his leg growth.
Of course when Stan transitioned back to powerlifting he dropped the 20-rep sets and focuses on lower rep ranges to build his top-end strength. However, when it came to training for his bodybuilding competitions Stan relied exclusively on 20-rep sets for his quads.
If you still have chicken legs after many years of training then stop being a stupid person and give Stan Efferding’s 20-rep quad routine a shot!
Stan Efferding Tip #5: You Don’t Grow In The Gym
Stan Efferding has some great insights when it comes to training. However, Stan believes that the training program you use or even how hard you train is relatively unimportant. What really matters is whether or not you are eating and sleeping enough to get bigger and stronger.
Here are Stan’s exact thoughts on the subject:
“The vast majority of people who want to get bigger and stronger already train hard enough to grow, they just don’t eat and sleep enough to grow. It’s never the training routine that’s limiting growth, it’s always the recovery phase, eating and sleeping.”
In reality you don’t grow in the gym. All you are doing in the gym is breaking down muscle tissue and stressing your central nervous system. You grow outside of the gym when you are eating and sleeping.
If you want to maximize your results then you must optimize your recovery process. And that means tracking your nutrition and your sleep even more closely than you track your workouts.
When Stan was nailing his diet and getting enough sleep he felt absolutely invincible in the gym. He felt like he could do whatever he wanted in the gym and grow bigger and stronger.
If you want to realize your true potential then you must pay at least as much attention to the things you do outside of the gym as you do your actual workouts. And don’t even get Stan started on supplements! He felt they were pretty much a waste of time.
As Stan used to say, “If you’re taking creatine and getting five hours of sleep a night then you’re a f*cking idiot.” Enough said!
If you want to build size and strength then you have to find some mentors in the iron game. Stan Efferding was already competing at a high level when he started working with Marc Bell and Flex Wheeler. However, working with them helped him to take things to the next level.
If you are looking for a mentor in the iron game then Stan Efferding is one of the best in the business. Before he started his never-ending campaign for the Vertical Diet he had some very powerful things to say about how to optimally train for size and strength.
I recommend you test out Stan’s tips in your own workouts and see if they work for you. While you’re at it you can check out the following articles about Stan Efferding available right here on Revolutionary Program Design:
- The Stan Efferding Training Program!
- The Stan Efferding Powerlifting Program!
- The Stan Efferding Bodybuilding Split!
After reading these articles you will have a much deeper appreciation for how Stan Efferding trained to become one of the biggest and strongest human beings on planet Earth.
You will also have plenty of ideas for how to optimize your own workouts to help you reach your fitness goals.
“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
There are many different ways to squat. However, one of the most popular variations is to squat with your heels elevated. There are many ways to do this: you can use special squatting shoes...