Attention Deficit Training: Single sets, many exercises, surprising results

I recently introduced a new style of workouts into my VIGOR Strength Athlete training program. I call it Attention Deficit Training (ADT), for reasons that will be obvious once I explain it.

Attention Deficit Training takes well-proven strength training principles and modifies how those principles play out in a program.

It’s an ideal training format as part of an annual, periodized program. I designed ADT to:

  • Maximize muscular work: Accomplished by performing many max-effort exercises, but with single sets, for each body part. When you perform multiple sets of the same movement, it becomes increasingly difficult to put forth a max effort on each subsequent set.
  • Minimize mental fatigue: Accomplished by using single sets instead of multiple sets. This helps you avoid the mental fatigue that comes from knowing you still have two or three sets of the same exercise after already giving your first set all you had.
  • Avoid boredom: Accomplish by providing various exercises for the same body part, rather than doing multiple sets of the same exercise. Even if you have to do a movement you hate, you only have to give it your all one time.
  • Stimulate hypertrophy while minimizing aches and pains: Accomplished by completing high volumes of work for each body part while avoiding repetitive sets on movements that could cause pain to previously injured joints.

Keep reading to learn how it works. VIGOR Training members who currently (at the time of this post) follow VIGOR Strength Athlete are in the midst of a 12-week cycle of ADT.

Though this type of training isn’t for beginners, I do have an option for those who haven’t been weight training. Check out Genesis, my free 24-week Beginner Gym Workout Program. It’s a complete, 6-month, strength and conditioning program.

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How Attention Deficit Training Works

Like all VIGOR Training programs I design, I designed Attention Deficit Training to build lean body mass. At any age, the benefits of building muscle are more far more than aesthetics.

The basic principles of muscle growth are pretty well established. To build or maintain muscle, you must consistently create mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage.

Your workout program should include:

  • Max-effort sets leading to momentary muscle fatigue
  • Shorter rest periods
  • Multiple sets for each muscle group
  • Training for each muscle group once every 4-7 days, which allows for enough recovery time, but not enough that you lose what you’ve gained during that recovery period

In addition, your lifestyle should also include:

While I wanted to maintain a higher volume of total sets for each muscle group, I also wanted to avoid the monotony of multiple sets of the same exercise (though I’ll still use a traditional format during other parts of the year).

Instead of using a “multiple sets per exercise” program design, I implemented a “single sets, multiple exercises” format.

The program design makes for a refreshing approach to training while inducing some pretty serious delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and continuing to help you build muscle, move better, and feel better.

The Split

I set up ADT as a three-day split routine, performed over a four-day workout week.

  • Session 1: Lower Body
  • Session 2: Back & Chest
  • Session 3: Shoulders & Arms

I scheduled the training days for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday sessions. However, you could adjust the days to work with your schedule.

Also, my primary client base is middle-aged men and women. Younger adults eating well and getting sufficient sleep might benefit from a five-day workout week, which would allow them to cycle through the sessions with a little less recovery time between workouts.

With the “three sessions completed over four days” rotation, you complete each session four times in three weeks, at which time I recommend changing the exercises for another three-week block.

As I always do with VIGOR Training programming, each session starts with 5-10 minutes of prep work, and then we jump in.

The Importance of Progressive Overload

I’ve always stressed the importance of tracking your training sessions.

VIGOR Training members do that in their app to quickly see what they did the previous week and ensure they exceed it “this” week. If you don’t increase the reps or weight from one session to the next, you won’t create progressive overload, which is necessary for building or maintaining muscle mass.

You can’t follow a training program like this and base your effort on how you feel. If you do that, you’ll end up with subpar results, which happens with most gym members.

Many strength training programs work well until they don’t. While I believe ADT will deliver excellent results, it won’t do so forever. You need to modify the style of your training every two to four months.

ADT Exercises & Example Workouts

In a more traditional resistance training program, you’d complete two to six sets per exercise, which means you’d only use two or three movements in a workout. Any more than that, and your training session would probably take more than an hour.

In addition, it’s unlikely you’d give it all you’ve got, each set when performing multiple sets of the same exercise. Some sets wouldn’t be at an intensity high enough to stimulate muscle growth.

The following are example workouts, not including prep work. The first exercise for a major muscle group should include one to three warm-up sets. Rest periods are 60-90 seconds, or the time it takes to set up the next exercise.

Lower Body – ExerciseRep Target
Leg Press20
Barbell Hip Thrust15
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift15
Machine Leg Extension20
Lying Leg Curl15
Barbell Power Step-Ups – Alternating Legs12 (total)
Glute-Ham RaiseMax
Cossack Squat20
Leg Press Calf Raise50
Seated Calf Raise50
Chest & Back – ExerciseRep Target
Barbell Bent-Over Row8
Bench Press8
Strict Pull-Up (add weight as necessary)10
Chest Dips10
45 Degree Pulldown12
Incline Dumbbell Chest Press12
Straight Arm Pulldown15
Pec Deck15
Cable Low Row20
Hammer Strength Chest Press20
Shoulders & Arms – ExerciseRep Target
Seated Dumbbell Press8
Prone Incline Dumbbell Press12
Dumbbell Front Raise (thumbs up)12
Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise12
Dumbbell Lateral Raise20
Dumbbell Shrug20
Alternating Dumbbell Curl12
Dumbbell Skull Crushers12
Incline Dumbbell Curl20
Overhead Rope Tricep Extension20
Hammer Curl20
Tricep Rope Pressdowns20
Barbell Curl30
Straight Bar Tricep Pressdown30

The numerous exercises allow you to train a muscle group from more angles or to leverage more of a variety of strength curves.

On a more basic level, the session holds your attention better because once you’re done with an intense set, you’re done with that exercise.

The above workouts create a starting point for your program design as they did for mine. While you can modify the exercises, you might also introduce other advanced training techniques such as eccentric training or rest-pause sets as well.

Getting Started with Attention Deficit Training

If you’re brand-new to strength training, I do not recommend this type of training. Instead, I have a 6-month intro program called Athlete In Training, which I’d recommend starting with. Your membership gives you access to all of my programs and teams, including AIT, when you join VIGOR Training.

A novice would be better off with fewer exercises and multiple sets, which allows you to learn the basic movements better, and ensure you fatigue each muscle group appropriately.

That said, if you have some experience with strength training and need something to keep you focused and avoid mental burnout, ADT could be just for you.

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