If you're stuck on a training plateau or simply looking for something new to break up a stale routine, I have just the thing: my "4-minute muscle" technique.
Typically, we think of a given exercise in terms of sets and reps: 3 sets of 12 reps or 5 sets of 5 reps, for example. With 4-minute muscle, the premise is to squeeze as many reps as you can for a given exercise into a 4-minute block of time. You can do this for any muscle group, just pick one exercise and rep out for 4 minutes, resting as needed.
It may sound simple, but don't confuse that with easy. Here's everything you need to know.
4-Minute Muscle: The Details
First, weight selection is very important. If you go too heavy, your rep count in the 4 minutes will be too low to promote hypertrophy, and you'll end up fighting for your life far too soon. If you go too light, you'll get a ton of reps, but probably won't stimulate much muscle growth.
I recommend picking a weight that would normally have you reaching failure at 12-15 reps. Trust me, you don't want to go much heavier than this with the 4-minute protocol.
Once you have the exercise picked and you've loaded up the bar, machine, cable stack, or dumbbells with the appropriate weight, start the clock. In the span of exactly 4 minutes, you'll alternate between repping out and resting to achieve as many reps as possible.
I strongly suggest you don't go to failure right out of the blocks, though. On the first set, do somewhere around 10 reps. Then, stop and rest for 15 seconds or so before you start repping out again. You'll want to experiment with different rep-and-rest schemes over the 4 minutes, but the whole point is to find whatever strategy allows you to maximize the number of reps you do.
Ideally, you should complete around 36-45 reps in the 4 minutes to put you in the ideal muscle-building window or "sweet spot." If you're able to do more than 45 reps, you went too light and should use more weight next time. If you failed to hit 36, you went too heavy and should lighten the load next time. A typical 4-minute muscle rep scheme might look like this:
- 10 reps, rest 15 sec.
- 10 reps, rest 15 sec.
- 8 reps, rest 15 sec.
- 6 reps, rest 15 sec.
- 4 reps
That adds up to 38 reps total, which is plenty to give you a hypertrophy-promoting stimulus. It's also exactly how this protocol worked out for me when I recently performed it with EZ-bar curls.
4-Minute Muscle for Full-Body and Split Training
Repping out for 4 minutes may sound like it's custom made for being a finisher on a body-part split workout. But surprisingly, perhaps my favorite way to use it is with full-body training. Why train full body? For starters, a 2016 study showed that full-body workouts were better for fat loss than split-training workouts. 
Plus, constructing a full-body workout from the 4-minute technique is easy. Just pick one exercise per body part and do each for 4 minutes. If you rest 1-2 minutes between, say, nine exercises, you can easily get a serious workout in barely 30 minutes. If you're short on time and don't have an hour or more to train, drop one or two of the smaller muscle groups (like traps or abs) to cut the duration down by 5-10 minutes.
If a split is more your style, the 4-minute muscle technique works great as well. Pick three exercises for large body parts like chest, back, and legs, and two exercises for smaller groups like biceps, triceps.
Here's a sample 4-minute muscle full-body routine. If you have personal preferences, feel free to swap out different exercises for those I programmed. Give it a try and let me know what you think on either my Facebook or Twitter pages. Enjoy the burn, and expect to feel sore the next day!
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- Crewther, B. T., Heke, T. O., & Keogh, J. W. (2016). Biology of Sport, 33(2), 111-116.