By Nick Nilsson
Author of Mad Scientist Muscle
This a powerful and very intense training technique called "countdown alternating sets."
The goal of this style of training is to "front load" the reps for two exercises...this means getting as much work done up front while you're still relatively fresh, then continuing the sets using decreasing rep ranges to stretch that workload and do more overall reps.
And yes, it may sound confusing when I explain it like that but once you see it in action (and give it a try), you'll see exactly how it works and why it's so challenging and effective.
You're basically squeezing as much work out of your body as possible in a very short period of time and it's INCREDIBLY productive.
How to do Countdown Alternating Sets
I'll explain this one using a couple of demo exercises for legs...the bottom-start squat off the rails (also known as an Anderson Squat after legendary strongman Paul Anderson) and stiff-legged deadlifts.
And just so you know up front, you can use this technique with just about ANY exercise combination. I prefer antagonistic muscle pairings like quads and hamstrings, back and chest and biceps and triceps, but you could very easily do non-related exercise pairings as well.
The two exercises I used here are a GREAT combination if you're looking for some seriously efficient leg training. Literally all you need to train everything in your entire lower body is covered in about 4 to 5 minutes of training time.
Start by getting your equipment set up and ready to go. For bottom-start squats, set the rails a little higher than your normal bottom squat position. You'll need a bit higher start position because there is no elastic tension to help you out of the bottom...it's all muscle tension (which is great for the muscles but much harder in terms of the movement itself).
I'm using this version of the squat for two reasons.
1. Reduced time to start the exercise. Instead of having to get under the bar, unrack it and step back, then do the reps and step forward and rerack it, all I have to do is get under the bar and start the movement. You can absolutely do normal squats if you prefer.
2. Increase muscle tension and strength development out of the bottom of the squat. As I mentioned, starting with zero elastic tension is a lot harder for the squat and it'll help with quad and glute development as well as building strength out of the bottom.
For stiff-legged deadlifts, just get your bar set up right in front of the squat rack. No tricks needed there.
Get under the bar and do 5 reps. For this bottom-start version, I recommend setting the bar down on each rep so that you're starting from a dead stop on each rep.
When you're done, set the bar down and turn around do and 5 reps of the stiff-legged deadlift.
When doing this exercise, your knees should be slightly bent but kept stiff. Keep your core tight and an arch in your lower back. I can see in these pics, I need to work on my flexibility.
I've got 225 lbs on the bar, same as for the bottom-start squats. You should use weights that you could do at least 12 to 15 reps with straight through. I'd actually recommend erring on the side of lighter the first time through. The fatigue catches up to you FAST.
Similar to the bottom-start squats, I recommend setting the bar down on the floor in between reps and starting from a dead stop. I find this allows you to focus on engaging the hamstrings on each rep rather than worrying about coming back up right away. Also, it allows you to reset your back position at the bottom so you don't get excessive rounding.
When you've done 5 reps of this go DIRECTLY back to the squats for 4 reps.
When you've done 4 reps, go back to SLDL's and do 4 reps.
Then back to squats for 3 reps, then SLDL's for 3 reps. Then 2 reps, then finish with 1 rep.
Then you're done (and you will be DONE).
As you can see, even though I made it sound complicated in the beginning, it's actually pretty simple. You'll just bounce back and forth between two exercises, doing fewer and fewer reps. You're basically "chasing fatigue" with this rep scheme, decreasing the reps as you get tired.
And let me tell you, if you've got the weights about right, you will feel GASSED probably on the 3 rep sets. But because you have in your head that next sets are only 2 reps and 1 rep, you'll keep going and finish it out to the end.
For me, I only needed one round through of this and my legs were cooked. If you needed to, you could potentially do one or two more rounds through of this, but don't blame me if you can't walk up or down a flight of stairs for the next two days (ok, you can still blame me).
Give this combination a try in your next leg workout or try it with other exercises combinations. It's extremely time-efficient and incredibly powerful.
If you enjoy hard training, you're going to LOVE this technique.
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