Although personal training clients hire personal trainers for a multitude of reasons, the overwhelming majority of personal training clients, hope to build strength or achieve a lean physique. Fitness professionals should have a variety of methods to incorporate to achieve these goals—to keep things interesting and to ensure success.

Burning Muscles

Are Goals Mutually Exclusive?

The tried-and-true methods of high volume/low weight loads and low volume/heavy weight loads remain at the top of many trainers’ agendas when presented with such requests. Recently, I wrote an article on how best to achieve strength gains while also increasing hypertrophy. These two goals need not be in conflict, thanks to a training style referred to as the “Backwards Workout”.

An example of a typical high-volume workout includes 4 sets of 10 repetitions each. Rest intervals are short, 30-45 seconds. Endurance develops concurrently with hypertrophy through this type of training. Most athletes will select a weight they can comfortably lift for this volume, a middle-of-the-road load to suit their abilities.

Conversely, to achieve pure strength, one must apply a significant weight load to maximize results. Trainers often suggest 3-4 sets of 4 repetitions each, incorporating a rest interval of 2-5 minutes.

Fatigue will eventually occur at some point during a workout, regardless of the goal. The frustration, however, originates from different points: reaching failure too soon and missing out on volume due to the weight load; or compromising the strength-building in favor of getting lean.

The Backwards Workout bridges these two approaches to bodybuilding, with the end result being a leaner and stronger body.

Blending Strategies to Maximize Gain

The premise is simple.

Instead of executing 4 sets of 10 repetitions for a single exercise, perform 10 sets of 4 repetitions.

This protocol allows the client to derive all the benefits of a high-volume workout as well as cultivating strength with a challenging amount of weight. You may choose to think of this more as “inverse training” than backwards.

Incorporating Backwards Training Into a Split Routine

There is, however, a single drawback to training in this manner. The necessity of increased rest intervals between sets makes this a time-consuming, muscles-on-fire process. For this reason, I suggest targeting a single body part, or at most 2 body parts, within a week’s time. If glutes and biceps are the client’s priorities, help her train only these muscles using a Backwards Workout technique, spacing the training sessions at least 72 hours apart. In between, she can work on all other body parts employing more traditional approaches. A program such as this allows for the ample recovery time required for a successful Backwards Workout.

Try Before You Apply

If you are not yet convinced of the efficacy of this protocol, incorporate it into your own training for 3-4 weeks. Be sure to increase hydration on these training days, as a greater amount of lactic acid is likely to accumulate during the lifting process. When you return to a traditional workout program, the dynamic improvement in muscle strength and size might just surprise you! After your success, you can instruct clients with reassurance and confidence.

Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at She welcomes your feedback and your comments!