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The 6 x 6 Routine

by Mark Cammack    September 2, 2019


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This 6 x 6 method, or six sets of six repetitions style of weight training, is great for improving strength quickly. You may be surprised at how fast your ability increases. For the gains to last, we need to do this right.

We must know the nature of the 6 x 6. It is a unique animal. It does not produce much of a muscular pump or capillary development with traditional 2 to 5 minute rest periods between sets. The strength gain can be faster than the adaptation rate of supportive structures. For example, over a few weeks to months it is possible to reach the limit of joint capacity before the muscles are fully taxed. This does not happen with everyone but is something to be aware of. It is most notable with the bench press, overhead press, Scott curl, and triceps extension exercises. Good form needs to be maintained to protect the shoulders and elbows. Staying hydrated with water along with high antioxidant and low inflammation foods may help. The 6 x 6 can be like a wild tiger and we have to control it carefully.

Time is a factor as rest periods of more than one minute are traditionally done with compound movements. The compound exercises that work large groups of muscles are the squat, leg press, bench press, dip, row, and deadlift. For as much of a bodybuilding effect as possible with the 6 x 6, rest periods of no more than one minute are useful. This is the one minute rule: Rest periods between sets of one minute or less generally work well for bodybuilding and fitness, periods of more than one minute tend to be strength oriented.

If you have been training on a standard 10 to 12 repetition program, the 6 x 6 may seem easy - at first. As the poundage increases over time, more concentration and effort is required to move the weights. It is important to also remain safe. Lifts should be done securely with power racks, benches with safety supports, or helpful spotters.

If training alone consider V-bar or medium to wide grip dips instead of the bench press movement. Foot supports on many dipping bars will let you use your legs to lighten the load if desired. If the bars are at waist level, the floor itself acts as a foot support. You can control the amount of body weight transfer to the upper body by pressing more or less with the feet against the floor. The legs can be crossed from behind if needed for regular full body weight dips. It is common to begin a workout with warm-ups in this way with partial body weight, and then proceed to regular full body weight dips. If really strong, a special dipping belt will allow you to add barbell plates for extra resistance if needed. Usually body weight suffices for most people, and the dip program evolves into 8 x 8 and 6 x 10-12 methods.

There are two common ways of using the program. The first is a Same Sets or straight sets approach. The weight on the barbell or dumbbells is the same for the entire 6 sets following warming-up. The second variety uses PILE Sets, or the Progressive Increasing Load Exercise method. The initial weight of the first set is approximately 35-50% of your final working weight. The load is increased with each successive set. The last set is the heaviest. With either approach, the final set should be challenging but not maximal. Remember train don't strain as the adage goes. You might progress faster by being good for 1 to 2 more repetitions on the last set rather than trying to go all out. The final set should not go beyond 90% to 95% of ability, and you may find that you do quite well at the 85% to 90% range.

Examples with the barbell overhead press exercise:

Same Sets (following warm-up):

6 sets of 6 reps with 80 pounds

Written in exercise journal as:

Press    80
           6 x 6

Suppose the last couple of sets are only 5 reps, then we write this:

Press          80
           4 x 6    2 x 5

PILE Sets:

6 sets of 6 reps with 50-60-70-80-90-100 pounds

Written in exercise journal as:

Press    50 60 70 80 90 100
              6   6   6   6   6    6

If the last set produces only 5 reps, we need to note it:

Press    50 60 70 80 90 100
              6   6   6   6   6    5

The 6 x 6 can also be like the race with the tortoise and the hare. A person may push to extremes and get strong fast. Then they find that their poor fast hare has hit a wall and is knocked out. Gains can be lost as quickly as they came. They are bewildered as the tortoise passes them and keeps going. Sometimes steady is better than speedy.

We cannot greed our way to gains, we must give our way to gains. We have to give our body what it needs in a healthy way. This includes training that is just stimulating enough for results without wasting energy, producing excess stress, or damage. Quality food, supplements, sleep, positive mindset, good people, and healthy environments make all the difference.

The 6 x 6 routine is a method for specific results for a given time period. It was used by Vince Gironda as a specialized program for bodybuilding bulk when performed properly with the right nutrition. It has been adopted by athletes who need short-term bursts of power such as football players and power lifters. It can produce strength and some size when done wisely.






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© Copyright 2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.