Training Advice Programmes

Training Advice  Programmes

Effective Weight Training Made Simple

Mario Van Biljon

Heavy weights with low volume or moderate weights for higher reps, 6 sets per body part or 16 sets, machines vs free weights, full range of motion or partial reps, dumbbells vs barbells, each body part once a week or twice a week? Whew, the list of training methods seems endless and is often confusing to even the most experienced of gym goers.

So, which is the right way?

As a result of my own personal experience in the gym (I’ve been training consistently now for over 30 years) as well as having consulted with, advised and assisted countless successful physique conscious individuals over the years, I am of the conclusion that the best approach is to not over complicating things i.e. KISS (keep it simple stupid). After all, at the end of the day when all is said and done, effective weight training is actually quite simple, no matter what some would have you believe. To effectively build lean muscle and change your body for the better I believe three things are key:

1) You Must Progressively Overload the Muscle
Training to failure or as close to failure as possible i.e. until you cannot possibly perform another rep, is crucial to stimulating maximum muscle growth. You could conceivably reach failure by using a light weight and performing hundreds of reps. For obvious reasons I believe that this is not the most effective way of overloading the muscle – far from it. A far more effective approach is to train with heavier weights, and fewer reps. This is significantly more effective in terms of your ability to remain focused, preserve precious energy levels and save time. My general advice, which incidentally is supported by the best scientific research currently available to us, is to use good exercise form & generally stay within the 6-12 rep range. If you can do more than 12 reps using good form – then the weight you are using is probably too light. If you can’t do 6 reps – then the weight is a probably a little on the heavy side. The emphasis needs to be on using good form, ensuring a strong peak contraction on each rep and striving to increase your strength by training in a progressive manner with small incremental increases in the weights you use.  You need to continually strive to improve on your best – challenging your muscles on a regular basis by striving to use a slightly heavier weight than you did in the past.  Remember, because progressively overloading the muscle is what stimulates hypertrophy (muscle growth), you need to be regularly looking to increase your training poundage’s.

2) Proper Recovery is Essential
After training a particular muscle group heavily and with sufficient intensity, you need to let your muscles fully recover before blasting them again. My real-world experience, again supported by scientific research, indicates that it takes muscles anywhere from 48-96 hours to recover from intense weight training. As a result, I personally believe that you needn’t train each of your major body parts more that once a week and certainly no more than twice. To further facilitate optimum recovery, I recommend at least 8 hours sleep per night, taking 1 or 2 complete rest days per week and one complete rest week for every 10-12 weeks of continuous, intense training.

3) Consistent, Balanced Nutrition is Vital
It is critical to the recovery process that you employ good nutritional habits and place a high priority on consuming sufficient high quality protein in your daily diet. It is important to the recovery and muscle building process that you maintain these good nutritional habits on a daily basis, throughout the week, and throughout the month. Consistency is essential. Remember that every skipped meal is one lost opportunity to feed and nourish your body with vital nutrients. Just one missed chance a day means seven a week and results in 365 lost opportunities in a year! How could you ever fulfil your true physique potential with this kind of inconsistency?

Building a lean, toned or muscular body really is that simple. The hard part is being persistent and actually following through on a constant basis with these strategies – without looking for an easier answer. 





I could never profess to know exactly what the “right” amount of sets are for a particular person & / or body part because I have been witness to a number of effective strategies over the years, often differing quite radically in training volume.  However, I do feel that mental focus & training intensity plays an important role and that if you truly train with super high intensity on each set, then you will need to do fewer sets per body part. If on the other hand, you train with less intensity you may need more sets to effectively stimulate muscle growth. Since I have personally always experienced my best results training with good intensity, which correlates quite nicely with scientific research indicating that the key to muscle growth lies in the degree of stress applied to the muscle, my personal approach and recommendation is as follows: After warming up sufficiently, perform no more that three to four intense working sets per exercise with a maximum of two to three exercises for smaller body parts (eg. arms, calves, abs) and three to four exercises for larger body parts (eg. Chest, Legs, Back). With 100% mental focus and physical intensity put into each and every working set, there should be no benefit for you to add any extra volume to your work out, let alone energy left over for you to contemplate doing so.


Again, opinion on this matter varies widely. Some suggest 10-12 reps while others insist that 6-8 reps are the ideal amount. As I say, scientific research coupled with an understanding of the biochemistry of muscle metabolism indicates that the best approach to stimulating muscle growth is to train heavy and with intensity and to maximally overload the muscle. To train with this degree of intensity – in a progressive manner, always seeking to improve upon your previous best – requires focus, concentration and explosive anaerobic energy. We know that the less time we are forced to focus and concentrate, the better our focus and concentration tends to be.  Based upon this understanding I believe that you should typically aim for a rep range of 6-15 repetitions per set. My personal rep range generally varies between 8 and 12 reps, and often up to 15 on legs. It has been my experience that some people respond better to slightly higher repetitions for leg training i.e. in the 12 – 20 rep range. This may very well be due to the large size of this muscle group and the greater number of muscle fibers, which need to be stimulated.  The fact that it is not that easy to train legs to the point of “failure” coupled with it being difficult to “hit” all the fibers with a low rep scheme, and we begin to understand why a slightly higher rep range is often a more appropriate approach for the lower body.

My “Keep It Simple” Approach Summarised:

To ensure optimum and sustained progress in the gym:

  • Train with focus and regularly challenge yourself with heavier weights.  Muscles need to be regularly stressed (eg with progressive overload) in order to continue to grow. 
  • Train with a moderate to low workout volume but with a high intensity level. After performing sufficient warm up sets to minimise injury risks with the first exercise for a particular body part go straight to a heavier weight for 3 or 4 maximum effort working sets on each subsequent exercise.
  • Perform your exercises with good form. Never cheat to reduce intensity but rather consider using “controlled cheating” only as a means of increasing intensity i.e. to get one or two more reps out of a set after reaching positive failure. If the weight is too heavy your form will be too sloppy to be effective. If on the other hand the weight is too light, you may use great form, but remember that you can’t progress without the challenge of incrementally lifting more weight.
  • Perform every set (except warm ups) to failure or as close to failure as possible.
  • Keep total number of sets to a minimum e.g. 6-8 (excluding warm ups) on smaller muscle groups and 8-12 on larger ones.
  • Ensure adequate rest before training a muscle again. Train each body part no more that once a week (or once every 4 days at the most) and always take a day or two off during the week to ensure adequate recuperation.
  • Back up your training with good nutrition and pay particular attention to adequate protein and fluid intake.
  • Back up your training with a well thought out supplementation program. Self-education in the field of nutritional supplementation is essential in order for you to take advantage of the tremendous physique enhancing benefits offered by some the latest cutting edge sports supplements.
  • Be unwavering and unrelenting in your pursuit of a better body.  You need to remain patient and committed as developing a physique to be proud of can be a challenging, yet very rewarding, long-term endeavour. Impatience with the process of building a better body is the greatest threat to you ever achieving your physique goals.

Train & Live With Passion!

Mario van Biljon

Sample Training Routines:

Sample 3 Day per Week Training Plan

DAY 1 – Quads, Calves & Abs



Barbell Squats 5* 10/6-8/ 6-8 / 6-8/10
Leg Press 3 10/6-8/6-8
Standing Calf Raises 4 10/6-8/6-8/6-8/6-8
Abdominals: crunches superset with leg raises 3 10-12
* warm up with 2 light sets of 20 reps    
DAY 2 – Chest, Shoulders & Triceps



Incline bench-press (30 degree) 3* 6-8
Flat dumbbell presses 3 6-8
Incline dumbbell flyes (45 degree) 3 8-10
Seated barbell presses 3* 5
One arm cable lateral raises 3 10-15
Lying Triceps Extension 3* 6-8
Triceps Pushdowns 2 6-8  
* Warm up with 2 light sets of 15-20 reps DAY 3 – Back & Biceps



Hyperextensions 2* 15
Deadlifts 5** 10/6-8/6-8/6-8/10
Barbell Rows 3 10/6-8 / 6-8
Close-grip Pulldowns 3 6-8
Barbell Curls 3 6-8
Preacher Curls 2 6-10
* Hyperextensions are performed as a safety factor to warm up the lumbar region prior to deadlifts ** Warm up with 2 light sets of 15-20 reps    

Sample 4 Day Per Week Training Plan

DAY 1 (eg. Monday) – Chest, Triceps & Calves



Incline Bench Press on the Smith Machine 4 10-12 / 8-10 / 6-8 / 6-8
Flat Dumbbell Press 3 8-10 / 6-8 / 6-8
Wide Grip Dips 2 6-8
Close Grip Bench Press 3 10 / 6-8 / 6-8
Lying Triceps Extensions with an EZ Bar (Skull Crushers) 3 10 / 6-8 / 6-8
Standing Calve Raises 3 12-15 / 8-10 / 8-10
Seated Calve Raises 2 8-10 / 8-10
DAY 2 (eg. Tuesday) – Quadriceps, Hamstrings & Abdominals



Squats 5 20 / 15 / 10-12 / 8-10 / 8-10
Leg Press 3 10-12 / 8-10 / 8-10
Front Squats on Smith Machine 3 10-12 /8-10 /8-10
Leg Curls 3 10-12 / 8-10 / 6-8
Stiff Leg dead lifts 2 8-10
Crunches 2 10-15
Hanging Leg Raises 2 10-15
DAY 3 (eg. Thursday) – Back, Biceps & Calves



Dead lifts 4 10-12 / 10 / 8-10 / 8-10
Lat Pull downs to the Upper Chest 3 8-10 / 6-8 / 6-8
One Arm Dumbbell Rows 2 6-8 / 6-8
Barbell Curls 3 8-10 / 6-8 / 6-8
Seated Alternate dumbbell curls 2 6-8 / 6-8
Calve Raises on Leg Press Machine 3 12-15 / 8-10 / 8-10
Seated Calve Raises 2 8-10 / 8-10
DAY 4 (eg. Friday) – Shoulders & Abdominals



Seated Dumbbell Press 3 8-10 / 6-8 / 6-8
Dumbbell side raises 2-3 6-10
Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral raises 2-3 6-10
Barbell Shrugs 3 8-10 / 6-8 / 6-8
Crunches 2 10-15
Hanging Leg Raises 2 10-15

Sample 5 Day Per Week Training Plan

Day 1 –   Quadriceps                                                                                              Sets                         Repetitions


Leg Extensions supersetted with Leg Curls                                                            3                              ± 20 / 15 to 20 / 12 to 15

Squats                                                                                                                     5                              ± 12 / 10 to 12 / 8 to 10 / 6 to 8 / 4 to 6

Front Squats                                                                                                            2                              ± 8 to 12 / 8 to 12

Day 2 – Chest


Incline Bench Press                                                                                                 3                                ± 8 to 10 / 4 to 8 / 4 to 8

Flat Dumbbell Press                                                                                                2                                ± 4 to 8 / 4 to 8

Incline Dumbbell Flyes                                                                                           2                                ± 4 to 8 / 4 to 8

Wide Grip Dips                                                                                                       2                               ± 6 to 8 / 6 to 8

Day 3 – Back

45 degree close grip pull downs                                                                              3                              ± 8 to 10 / 6 to 8 / 6 to 8

Dead lifts                                                                                                                 3                              ±10 to 12 / 8 to 10 / 6 to 8

One Arm Dumbbell Rows                                                                                      2                              ± 8 to 10 / 8 to 10

Chins                                                                                                                       2                              ± 8 to 10 / 8 to 10

Day 4 – Shoulders & Hamstrings

Overhead Smith Machine Press                                                                              3                              ± 8 to 10 / 6 to 8 / 6 to 8

Dumbbell side raises                                                                                               2                              ± 8 to 10 / 8 to 10

Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral raises                                                                         3                              ±10 to 12 / 8 to 10 / 6 to 8

Dumbbell Shrugs                                                                                                    3                              ± 8 to 12 / 8 to 10 / 8 to 10

Leg Curls super setted with Stiff Leg dead lifts                                                    4 super sets               ± 12 to 15 / 10 to 12 / 8 to 10 / 6 to 8

Standing one leg curls                                                                                             2                              ± 8 to 10 / 8 to 10

Day 5 – Biceps &Triceps

Barbell Curls super setted with Close Grip Bench Press                                            2                          ± 6 to 8 / 6 to 8

45 degree dumbbell preacher curls supersetted with overhead EZ bar extensions       2                          ± 8 to 10 / 6 to 8

Seated alternate dumbbell curls super setted with Tricep pushdowns                         2                          ± 8 to 10 / 6 to 8

Calves and Abs should each be trained twice per week.  For Calves, choose two exercises from the following:

Standing calve raises, seated calve raises, donkey calve raises, calve raises on the leg press

and after warming up perform 3 sets of 10-20 reps for each exercise. 

For Abdominals, perform 3 sets of 10-20 reps on two exercises eg. Crunches and Leg raises.