As a personal trainer, the skill of aiming a bow and arrow toward a target has never been on my radar… not even in the same zip code!!! However, as is the case with many significant life lessons, I gain the most powerful insights from the most random events. In considering how an arrow is shot when engaging in archery, for example, forward trajectory can only be brought about by pulling backward on the bow. Similarly, when life in general seems to be holding me back, this is often an indication that I am about to be propelled forward toward a new goal.

If you find yourself, or your clients, stuck on a plateau in terms of strength, you might try employing the bow-and-arrow technique, also known as “The Backwards Workout”. The premise is simple: by flipping sets and reps, you can maximize strength gains as well as size.

It is well documented that the typical 3 sets of 10 reps will virtually assure hypertrophy over time. However, this growth might be submaximal, since the lighter poundage you’ll be using to complete all of the reps will not necessarily train the muscle to its full potential. By flipping the arrangement, performing 10 sets of 3 reps, high volume as well as high tension can be achieved in the same workout. Prolonged rest intervals will not be required in this scheme, either.

The protocol is as follows: for every muscle group, or movement pattern, select a weight that allows you to safely perform no more than 6 repetitions with ideal form. Using this weight, perform only 3 reps, as fast as possible, followed by a rest interval of 1-2 minutes. The theory is not to take the muscle to failure, or total exhaustion; you do not want to become fatigued just yet because there are 9 more sets to go! Continue is this fashion until 10 sets of 3 repetitions have been performed. trainers with clients

This pattern is followed for all body parts, all movement patterns, for 1 week. On week 2, perform 10 sets of 4 reps; Week 3 jumps to 10 sets of 5 reps. At the end of this round of Backwards Training, return to seeking your 6-rep max. Be prepared to find it has increased dramatically! Since lifting weights involves training not only muscles but also the collection of nerves that activate them, this ultimately leads to improved muscle-mind communication. The more muscle fibers worked, the greater the potential for growth. As it turns out, research on backwards training has revealed that this method activates as many motor units as sprinting or jumping.

If your clients are eager for a new protocol this spring, offer them this new approach on training. Sometimes the best way to move forward is by taking a step backward once in a while!

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!