Stan Efferding is best known for his “Vertical Diet.” However, I find his training advice to be even more valuable than his nutrition advice. Learn the secrets of the Stan Efferding training program and take your training to a whole new level!
- Part 1: Alternating Accumulation And Intensification Phases
- Part 2: Bodybuilding And Powerlifting Are Complementary Sports
- Part 3: Stan Trains Like A Bodybuilder
- Part 4: Quadriceps Hypertrophy Routine
- Part 5: Chest Hypertrophy Routine
- Part 6: Stan Trains Like A Powerlifter
- Part 7: Powerlifting Bench Press Routine
- Part 8: Powerlifting Routine Deadlift Routine
Stan Efferding is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry. He was a world-class bodybuilder and powerlifter, something that very few people have ever pulled off.
Stan Efferding was so strong that he was crowned the official “World’s Strongest Bodybuilder.” Not even Johnnie Jackson could match Stan’s super-human strength!
So how did he pull this off? How did Stan manage to compete at the highest levels in two completely different sports? I believe a huge part of it had to do with Stan’s unique take on program design.
Stan alternated periods of high-volume bodybuilding style training with periods of low-volume powerlifting style training.
When Stan was preparing for his bodybuilding competitions he trained with lots of sets, lots of reps, a huge variety of exercises and short rest intervals.
When Stan was training for his powerlifting competitions he did the opposite: he lifted much heavier on a smaller number of exercises and rested for several minutes between sets.
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to alternate back and forth between high volume and low volume phases of training like Stan Efferding. You will learn exactly how Stan structures his workouts when he is training for bodybuilding vs when he is training for powerlifting.
Trust me, you won’t find this level of detail on Stan Efferding’s training program anywhere else.
Note: if you have any trouble reading the workout routines in this article then please consult this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Alternating Accumulation And Intensification Phases
Stan Efferding often gets asked how he managed to compete in the highest levels of bodybuilding and powerlifting at the same time. His answer is always the same:
This may sound like a cop-out answer but Stan is telling the truth! In reality he only ever trained for one sport at a time. If you don’t believe me here is Stan Efferding himself discussing this topic with his powerlifting mentor Marc Bell:
When Stan was training for a bodybuilding contest he was 100% focused on building muscle and losing body fat.
He didn’t care what his 1-rep max was in the squat, bench press or deadlift because it wasn’t relevant to his goal. In fact Stan never performed the competition powerlifts during his bodybuilding training cycles!
Stan once went a full 6 months without performing a single squat. He was training for a bodybuilding contest and was relying on the leg press and other machine exercises to bring up his quads. After 6 months he shifted gears and started training for a powerlifting contest.
Within 10 weeks he hit a 900 pound raw squat in training! Most powerlifters would scoff at the idea of taking a full 6 months off squatting but you can’t argue with results!
After 3-6 months of training like a bodybuilder Stan would start his next powerlifting training cycle. He would pick a powerlifting meet about 12 weeks out and reverse-engineer all the weights he wanted to hit leading up to the meet.
His powerlifting training included a heavy diet of singles, doubles and triples on the squat, bench press and deadlift. During his powerlifting training cycles Stan would lose inches of muscle mass on his legs! Stan didn’t care though because he was training exclusively for powerlifting during this time.
Even in his 50s Stan continues to alternate these strength blocks and hypertrophy blocks of training. He has found it to be one of the most effective ways to train for size and strength.
Stan never used this terminology but he was basically alternating between accumulation (or hypertrophy) phases and intensification (or strength) phases of training.
The accumulation / intensification periodization model was first introduced to the strength training community in the 1980s by the brilliant German scientist Dietmar Schmidtbleicher.
The basic idea is that most trainees will make faster overall progress if they alternate back and forth between training phases that emphasize hypertrophy gains and training phases that emphasize strength gains.
Many of the world’s greatest strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin perfected this periodization model and used it with most of their world-class trainees.
This all brings me to my next point:
Part 2: Bodybuilding And Powerlifting Are Complementary Sports
Stan Efferding has said over and over that bodybuilding and powerlifting are complementary sports. I believe there is a lot of truth to this statement. Stan’s bodybuilding training cycles made him a better powerlifter. The reverse is also true: his powerlifting training cycles ultimately made him a better bodybuilder.
Let’s take a deeper dive into both of these arguments.
Training Like A Bodybuilder Makes You A Better Powerlifter!
Every experienced powerlifter knows that you can’t train all-out year round without a break. At least part of your training year must be spent in “off-season” mode to give your body a break from all-out powerlifting style training.
No one can train with maximum singles in the squat, bench press and deadlift year-round without a break. Guys like Eric Lilliebridge and James Strickland take plenty of time off from lifts in the 1-3 rep range after their powerlifting meets.
The greatest powerlifter of all time Ed Coan is another big proponent of a long powerlifting offseason. Ed only competed in powerlifting meets twice per year.
He would spend three months at a time in offseason mode where he trained primarily for hypertrophy using higher repetitions. After three months he would transition into his next 12-week powerlifting meet prep cycle where he always destroyed his competition.
There are many excellent reasons for a powerlifter to train more like a bodybuilder in the offseason:
- Increased muscle mass
- Increased cardiovascular conditioning
- Gives your central nervous system a break
- Decreased odds of suffering a major injury
The benefits of alternating bodybuilding phases and powerlifting phases are enormous.
When Stan started training like a powerlifter again he was just coming off a block of bodybuilding style training. His work capacity and cardiovascular conditioning was through the roof from all of his high-volume workouts. In other words he was in a position where he could recover very quickly from one workout to the next.
Stan correctly points out that one of the biggest weaknesses of most powerlifters is a lack of cardiovascular fitness.
Check it out:
Stan’s weakest body part on the bodybuilding stage was always his legs. In order to be competitive in a pro-level bodybuilding competition he had to dramatically increase the size of his quadriceps.
Stan’s bodybuilding mentor was Flex Wheeler. At one point Stan spent six months training with Flex for a bodybuilding competition. Stan did not perform a single squat during that entire 6-month training cycle! Instead he focused on the leg press and various other machine exercises with high reps and extremely short rest periods.
At the end of the six months Stan’s cardiovascular conditioning and overall work capacity were through the roof. When he transitioned to his next powerlifting training cycle he was in a position where he could rapidly recover from his workouts.
The break from powerlifting paid off: 10 weeks later Stan squatted an earth-shattering 905 pounds in training:
This proves it: training like a bodybuilder can make you a better powerlifter. That does not mean you have to oil yourself up and step onto the bodybuilding stage if you are a powerlifter.
However, using a dedicated “offseason” where you focus on building muscular hypertrophy and increasing your cardiovascular conditioning can go a long ways in improving your powerlifting performance.
Training Like A Powerlifter Makes You A Better Bodybuilder!
Stan Efferding was the official World’s Strongest Bodybuilder for many years. In my opinion Stan’s super-human strength was a huge part of the reason why Stan was able to compete at such a high level as a bodybuilder.
No, having a huge bench press is not going to magically make you a world-class bodybuilder. But being stupid strong on a wide variety of exercises in the traditional bodybuilding rep ranges goes a long way in helping you to build muscle mass.
There is an absolute army of professional and amateur bodybuilders throughout the world who believe that training for strength is a waste of time for building muscle mass. Nothing could be further from the truth!
If you want to maximize your bodybuilding potential, then there is no getting around it: you are going to have to lift some heavy ass weights!
Yes, there are exceptions. If your name is “Flex Wheeler,” “Paul Dillett,” or “Phil Heath” then you probably don’t need to lift heavy to build muscle mass. These guys can build muscle lifting the pink dumbbells, doing hot yoga or even mowing lawns!
These pump-artists had the following attitude about training: “I don’t want to train very hard today. I would hate to break a sweat and ruin my t-shirt!”
In reality all of the largest, thickest, densest IFBB pro bodybuilders were lifting incredibly heavy weights in their training. When I say heavy I am not talking about singles, doubles or triples. I’m talking heavy slag iron for 6-20 reps per set.
Just take a look at the following list of incredible bodybuilders:
All of these bodybuilders had their own unique training style. Some of them used a high-volume / high frequency approach. Others used a lower-volume / high intensity approach to build muscle.
The only common factor in their training is the heavy ass weights that they throw around. And it is this heavy training that is largely responsible for their incredible muscular thickness.
Here’s a quote from the White Rhino himself that you may find interesting:
“At the end of the day, you have to train extremely heavy and hard for many years if you want to be freakishly big and strong.”
This is very similar to what Ronnie Coleman said: “It’s called bodybuilding. The only way you can build muscle is through repetition. Heavy weight, as heavy as possible and for as many repetitions as possible.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself! This is a concept I immediately try to teach to my online coaching clients.
If you want to reach your true potential then you have to make friends with the heavy-slag iron.
Stan Efferding threw around some unbelievably heavy weights in his bodybuilding training. Want a big chest? Incline pressing the 210 lb dumbbells for 9 reps sure doesn’t hurt…
I don’t care what some 150 pound internet troll has to say about this. If you want to realize your god-given genetic potential as a bodybuilder then you have to climb the strength ladder.
Stan Efferding built his strength through alternating bodybuilding and powerlifting phases. As a bodybuilder you don’t necessary have to do this. You can easily build strength without performing sets in the 1-3 rep range. But you have to climb that strength ladder.
I promise you incline pressing 405 pounds for reps will do more for your chest than performing Milos Sarcev style giant sets with 225 pounds on the same exercise.
Part 3: Stan Efferding Trains Like A Bodybuilder
Now we’re getting to the good stuff!
Stan trained as a bodybuilder on his own for many years. However, he knew he would need to hire a coach to take his physique to the next level. Stan hired the legendary Flex Wheeler as his bodybuilding coach and the rest is history.
Flex had Stan training twice per day, six days per week on a brutal high-volume training 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
- Off Day
This six days per week push / pull / legs split would absolutely destroy the average trainee. Stan got his best bodybuilding results from this split so perhaps he is just from another planet!
Stan’s Bodybuilding Training Philosophy
When Stan Efferding was prepping for a bodybuilding contest, he trained in a typical high-volume style. His workouts were characterized by multiple exercises per body part, relatively higher reps (especially for quads), and short rest periods.
He used what he called a “pounds per hour” approach to training. That is, he was more concerned with the total amount of sets, reps, and exercises he could squeeze in during a 30-60 minute workout than he was the raw numbers that he was lifting. This is very similar to the concept of escalating density training.
Things like the mind-muscle connection and really stretching out the muscle were bigger priorities than just moving a lot of weight for the sake of moving a lot of weight.
Flex Wheeler had Stan perform his exercises for every body part in a very specific sequence. It was actually very similar to the exercise sequencing that John Meadows uses in his Mountain Dog style training programs. Check it out:
- Step #1: Use an isolation exercise to pre-fatigue the target muscle
- Step #2: Use a big compound exercise to really train the target muscle
- Step #3: Use an exercise to maximally stretch the target muscle
Let’s take a closer look at each step:
Step #1: Use An Isolation Exercise To Pre-Fatigue The Target Muscle
The first exercise is more of an isolation movement designed to establish a strong mind-muscle connection with the working muscle.
The priorities with this exercise were really feeling the target muscle working and pumping the muscle full of blood.
Exercises like single-leg leg extensions and various machine presses work perfect here.
Step #2: Use A Big Compound Exercise To Really Train The Target Muscle
The second exercise is designed to be a big, compound, most-bang-for-your-buck exercise.
The idea is to take that muscle that is now engorged with a lot of blood and further increase the muscular damage and metabolic fatigue.
Stan really emphasizes the importance of training close to or even all the way to muscular failure here as this is necessary to fully activate the type IIX fast-twitch fibers on higher rep sets.
These are the muscle fibers with the greatest potential for growth, after all, so it doesn’t make any sense to neglect them.
Stan would sometimes perform 2-3 of these big “money” exercises in a row. For example Stan might perform leg presses and hack squats for his big quadriceps exercises.
Step #3: Use An Exercise To Maximally Stretch The Target Muscle
Stan’s final bodybuilding exercise is always an exercise that places the muscle in a deep stretch. The idea is to perform a loaded stretch when the muscle is already engorged with blood. Bodybuilding coaches John Meadows and Dante Trudel are also huge proponents of performing loaded stretches for building muscle mass.
Stan often uses walking DB lunges and high step-ups to stretch his quadriceps or isolation exercises such as cable flies or the pec-dec machine for his chest.
Now let’s take a look at a couple of specific bodybuilding routines that Stan liked to use.
Part 4: Stan’s Quadriceps Hypertrophy Routine
Here is an example of the exact type of workout that Stan used to bring up his quadriceps while working with flex wheeler. Check it out:
Stan Efferding Bodybuilding Quadriceps Workout
- A1: Unilateral leg extension, 4 x 12, 1/0/1/0, 90 sec rest
- B1: Leg Press, 7 x 15-20**, 2/0/1/0, 90 sec rest
- C1: Hack Squat, 4 x 15-20**, 2/0/1/0, 90 sec rest
- D1: Walking lunge w/ DBs, 4 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 90 sec rest
**In-between sets take 20-30 sec and sink down into a deep squatting position to achieve an occlusive stretch on the quads. This stretch will have a synergistic effect with the rest of the workout in stimulating quadriceps hypertrophy.
This is a perfect example of the type of workout Stan Efferding used to build his best-ever set of legs from a bodybuilding perspective.
Each exercise is performed in the correct order so that his quadriceps have to work as hard as possible.
Stan starts off with the unilateral leg extensions:
I’m normally not such a huge fan of leg extensions unless they are done as part of a post-exhaustion superset or post-exhaustion triset. However, they do make a lot of sense here in Stan’s routine.
The idea is to really isolate the quads and get a tremendous amount of blood flowing into the muscle.
Stan wants his quads “firing” as much as possible before moving onto the big meat-and-potatoes exercises that follow.
After the leg extensions Stan moves onto his big meat-and-potatoes exercises such as the leg press:
I don’t know about you, but I was absolutely shocked when I first heard Stan Efferding say that he didn’t do squats leading up to his bodybuilding competitions.
This is the same guy who has squatted over 900 pounds in the gym to legal powerlifting depth! I mean, this guy just lives for the heavy slag iron! How could he not squat to build muscle…?
As the saying goes, “there is a method to the madness.”
During his hypertrophy blocks Stan is primarily concerned with maximizing his pounds-per-hour. He wants to increase his training volume to sky-high levels while also minimizing the overall stress to his central nervous system so he can train legs progressively twice per week.
Considering all these factors the leg press makes perfect sense. It doesn’t tax the lumbar spine or the central nervous system too hard so he can really jack up his overall training volume and frequency this way.
Stan also frequently used hack squats after the leg press to stimulate his quads. For example:
The machine hack squat is another fantastic meat-and-potatoes exercise that no doubt played a big role in Stan’s quadricep development.
It’s important to note the exercise sequence here! Stan only performs hack squats after leg extensions and leg presses, when his knees are warmed up and his quads are engorged with blood.
Many bodybuilders will find the hack squat a little too tough on their knees if they perform it first in their routine, especially if they have a weak or underdeveloped Vastus Medialis muscle.
Finally Stan liked to finish his workouts with a movement that really stretched the quads. For example Stan often finished his leg workouts off with walking DB lunges:
Another Stan-approved choice would be a front step-up on a high box, almost like a triple-jumper’s step up.
Stan’s quad routine capitalizes on this research perfectly. More importantly, his training ideas produced the real-world results he was after.
Part 5: Stan’s Chest Hypertrophy Routine
Here is an example of the exact type of chest hypertrophy workout that Stan used while training with Flex Wheeler:
Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout
- A1: Chest flat machine press, 4 x 12**, 1/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: 15 degree incline DB press, 4 x 12**, 1/0/10, 90 seconds rest
- A3: Standing cable fly, 4 x 12, 1/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
**Perform manual chest stretch with your arm extended on a fixed piece of equipment for 20-30 sec per arm in between sets
Stan’s bodybuilding chest workouts are based on the same principles as his bodybuilding quadriceps workouts:
- High volume
- Short rest periods
- “Pounds per hour” approach
Let’s take a closer look at each of Stan’s chest exercises exercises:
Stan often liked to start his chest hypertrophy routines with some type of machine press. For example:
Stan places a huge emphasis on keeping the sternum up high throughout the entire movement and really focusing on maximizing the stretch on the muscle.
As they say, the muscle that is stretched the most is recruited the most.
After he finished his sets of machine presses Stan often moved onto a low-incline DB press. For example:
This was Stan’s meat-and-potatoes movement for this workout. However, even here Stan never went all that heavy!
Yes, this is the same man that incline pressed the 210 pound dumbbells for 9 reps (a feat of strength not even Ronnie Coleman in his prime could match!).
However, Stan found he got his best results when he stuck to his guns and focused on accruing lots of sets, reps, and volume. By his own admission he never went over 90-100 pounds per dumbbell on this movement when he trained with flex.
Finally Stan preferred to finish his chest hypertrophy workouts with a movement that really stretched the pecs.
The cable crossover and the pec-dec machine were two of Stan’s staples. For example:
Nothing fancy here – just a simple exercise that Stan can use to stretch out his fully pumped pecs.
Stan really emphases that the sets and reps don’t matter all that much.
He generally liked to shoot for 20 reps per set with quads and 8-12 reps per set with most other body parts, but he was chasing a high-quality hypertrophy stimulus more than any magical number of reps.
Stan’s achievements as a bodybuilder are insanely impressive, but his powerlifting records and his Herculean level strength played a bigger role in him becoming a household name in the fitness industry.
When I first heard of Stan I couldn’t wait to find out more about he trained for his powerlifting meets.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I was utterly shocked by what I learned…
Part 6: Stan Trains Like A Powerlifter
Stan may have trained twice per day, six days per week to prepare for his bodybuilding meets, but his powerlifting training couldn’t have looked more different!
Stan eventually cut his training schedule down to 2 total workouts per week!
He had one day where he focused on the bench press and another where he focused on the squat and deadlift.
- Sunday: Off
- Monday: Bench
- Tuesday: Off
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Off
- Friday: Off
- Saturday: Squat / Deadlift
- Sunday: Off
Stan’s powerlifting split only gets weirder when you dive into the details.
Stan trained the bench press heavy one week and had a relatively “lighter” week the next. For his squat and deadlift training, Stan found he got his best results training the squat one week and the deadlift the other. He only squatted or deadlift once every 2 weeks!!
- Week 1
- Monday: Heavy Bench
- Saturday: Heavy Squat
- Week 2
- Monday: Light Bench
- Saturday: Heavy Deadlift
This 2 days per week upper body / lower body split is very, very similar to The Lilliebridge Method as used by Eric Lilliebridge and others.
Here’s Stan Efferding talking to Marc Bell about the benefits of this reduced-frequency approach for elite level powerlifters:
On each training day Stan would put 100% of his effort into the main lift for the day (bench, squat, deadlift) where he would work up to a few singles, doubles, or triples, depending on how far out his next meet was.
After the main lift for the day he would perform 1-2 supplementary movements at most before calling it a day. Talk about a total 180 from his bodybuilding training! Stan would only perform 1-3 exercises per training session!
Part of the reason this powerlifting schedule worked so well for Stan is that he built this enormous foundation in terms of muscular balance, hypertrophy, and conditioning from his bodybuilding training.
Let’s take a look at a typical upper body and lower body training session.
Part 7: Stan’s Powerlifting Bench Press Routine
Here is an example of one of Stan’s heavy bench press workouts:
- A1: Bench press competition grip, 2 x 3, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Bench press competition grip, 1 x 1, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Incline dumbbell press, 2 x 6-10, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- D1: Dips, 2 x 14-20, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
On this workout Stan did his two sets of triples with 495 lbs and his single with 545 lbs.
Here is a video of Stan’s triple on the bench press:
And here is a video of Stan’s single on the bench press:
Of course these work sets were done after a long warm-up.
Stan’s typical powerlifting bench press workout had about 3 exercises: the bench press itself and 2 heavy supplementary movements.
Of course everything is done with weights that would scare a silverback gorilla!
On Stan’s “lighter” bench press workouts he would sometimes perform a 2-board press to give his shoulders a little bit of a break.
Other training cycles saw Stan treating his “lighter” bench day as just a heavy, high-intensity chest/shoulders/tricep workout. This may include incline benching 500 pounds for reps, behind the neck pressing 315 for reps, or banging out reps with the 200 lb dumbbells.
Here’s a video of Stan incline pressing 500 pounds for reps on one of his “lighter” powerlifting bench press workouts:
Again, nothing fancy. Just an emphasis on the big compound movements and then getting the hell out of the gym so he could rest and come back stronger.
Part 8: Stan’s Powerlifting Deadlift Routine
Here is an example of what Stan’s heavy deadlift workouts might look like:
- A1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 1-5, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Banded leg press, 2 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- C1: Wide overhand grip lat pulldowns, 2 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
That’s it – just three exercises for the entire workout! Again Stan is putting 100% of his effort into the main powerlifting lift for the day.
For example, here is deadlifting at the start of a 10-week peaking cycle:
Everything else (if he even does anything else after deadlift!) is just some quick supplemental work to hit the deadlifting muscles with a little bit of volume.
Stan often used linear periodization to peak for his powerlifting meets. If Stan wanted to hit an 800+ pound deadlift at a meet, then he would simply work backwards from there to figure out what numbers he wanted to / had to hit each week.
- Week 1: 700 pounds x 4 reps
- Week 3: 720 pounds x 3 reps
- Week 5: 740 pounds x 2 reps
- Week 7: 760 pounds x 2 reps
- Week 9: 780 pounds x 1 rep
- Week 12: 800 pounds x 1 rep
This is pretty similar to what former professional strongman Eddie Hall did to become the first man in the world to deadlift over 1,100 pounds!
Stan’s squat workouts were relatively similar – he pretty much worked up to 1-3 sets of 1-3 reps in the competition squat, followed perhaps by 1-2 supplementary movements.
I can’t emphasize enough how much Stan’s powerlifting training benefited from the 3+ months of bodybuilding training he did before the start of each meet pre cycle. For example, Stan did not squat or deadlift for 6 months straight before he started a powerlifting meet prep cycle where he went on to squat over 900 pounds in the gym!
If you are an advanced powerlifter or strength athlete and find that most powerlifting routines just beat you into the ground then I highly recommend you try Stan’s version of the Lillibridge Method.
As they say, success leaves clues. If it worked for Stan then it just might work for you!
If there’s one thing I have taken away from the Stan Efferding training program, it is this: bodybuilding and powerlifting are complementary endeavors!
Alternating strength phases and hypertrophy phases (his way of saying accumulation and intensification phases) really is one of the smartest and most productive ways that you can train. This is true regardless of whether you are primarily training for strength or hypertrophy.
If you want more help with designing your accumulation and intensification phases then check out my online coaching program. God may not have given you the good looks, bodybuilding / powerlifting genetics or even the work ethic of a Stan Efferding but I can still help you realize whatever potential you do have.
“I don’t know any other way to live but to wake up every day armed with my convictions, not yielding them to the threat of danger and to the power and force of people who might despise me.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
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