Hello everyone, and welcome to the first Unleash series!
What is the Unleash series?
The Unleash series is a 6-week series with the core focus being to build a strong body… as with all of the programs and series we do!
The Unleash series is, like the IRON Program, Beastmode program, and EPIC program, geared towards hypertrophy training, with the intent to increase the amount of skeletal muscle primarily by creating mechanical tension as the main driver, with metabolic stress and muscle damage having the potential role.
However, this series will follow a different structure than the previous training blocks.
Our muscle fibres grow through increasing the number of myofibrils and the volume of sarcoplasm. Both are related and occur at different ratios depending on the rep range, but we can change the proportions depending on the actual rep ranges and intensities overall. And this appears to be one of the benefits of training across multiple rep ranges, anywhere from 5 to 30 reps. It is great to see more research coming out in this area, as for the last 15 years, I have not let the lack of research in this area create restraints in my training, as there are evidently many paths to grow muscle!
During heavier loads and fewer reps, this results in a greater proportion of myofibrillar hypertrophy, as seen in more traditional strength training. The actual contractions occur within the myofibrils; thus, the force and increasing myofibrils lead to greater strength overall.
During moderate/lighter loads and higher reps, this can lead to a greater proportion of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, as seen with more traditional bodybuilding training. This increase in the volume of the sarcoplasmic (fluid) can lead to greater work capacity.
Incorporating different rep ranges into our training can be introduced either within workouts or into training blocks for longer periods to allow for focus more towards strength or hypertrophy.
Within Unleash, we will be working within different rep ranges in a structured format, beginning with myofibrillar training with rep ranges typically between 6-15, and this will make up approximately 1/3 of the workout. Think heavier weight and lower reps.
The remainder, and the majority, will then be more focused towards sarcoplasmic training! This ratio is the opposite of the Iron program, where a majority of the workouts involved myofibrillar training, with more of that sarcoplasmic training reserved for the last 1 to 2 sets only.
And those lower reps at the beginning recruit a greater ratio of fast twitch fibres, whereas the slow twitch fibres help with fatigue resistance as we approach failure during those higher reps, so we are highlighting both throughout each workout!
Note that both types of hypertrophy (myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic) occur at the same time, as well as both slow & fast twitch muscle fibres being recruited. However, the ratios can be manipulated to prioritise one over another.
We will push the weight whilst not letting ego take over…. full ROM and seeking out that stretch will be at the forefront of much of our work!
What is the structure of the Unleash series?
The Unleash series spans 6 weeks, consisting of 5 workouts per week, with each workout approximately 35-40 minutes in duration (excluding intro and cool down).
There will usually be 2 x upper-body focused and 2 x lower-body focused, with a full-body workout each Friday.
This is a program of workouts aimed to challenge your main muscle groups between 2-3 times per week, with the focus being on stimulating muscle growth through different rep ranges and loads using different intensity techniques!
We will begin each session with 3-4 straight sets of 1 to 2 conventional compound movements with rep ranges anywhere between 6-15 reps for 3-4 sets each. These will typically have slightly longer rest periods, with the focus being on mechanical stress, applying tension to the muscles, and progressively overloading. It is less about metabolic stress and more about generating the greatest force possible through the greatest full range of movement suitable for you.
We will then transition to a more metabolite-increasing form of training, inducing metabolic fatigue and promoting muscle growth are two of the objectives here. Essentially, we will be incorporating moderate to higher reps aiming for close proximity to muscular failure with shorter rest periods and using intensity techniques to generate lactate and lower oxygen availability, but we are aiming for localised muscular failure, not cardiovascular failure!
Some of these intensity techniques we will see in the Unleash series include:
- Mechanical drop sets
- ‘Cheat’ / momentum reps
- Rest-pause reps
- Antagonist supersets
- Lengthened and occasionally shortened partials
- Constant tension
- Tempo schemes
And, of course, finishers!
If you have been training with me for a while, you have no doubt come across all of these before! And you will recognise that much of the actual metabolite work is nearly always towards the end of the workout, depending on the workout format itself (particularly the ‘cheat’ reps, partials and finishers as they can be fatiguing, to say the least)!
When we lift, we apply tension to our muscles, and this mechanical energy sends signalling for increased protein synthesis as opposed to protein degradation. This is the direction of the Muscle Protein Synthesis balance we want!
There are 3 primary factors assumed to be required for the adaptations necessary for MPS and hypertrophy when it comes to training, with evidence showing mechanical tension as the main driver, followed by mechanical stress and muscle damage. Increasing strength and continuously practising those multi-joint exercises will remain at the beginning of each workout, followed by higher repetition sets that have shorter rest periods that will complement the focus of compound movements completed.
The priority during the metabolite training will be to prevent any form of degradation by implementing rest-pause reps, not chasing numbers of reps in a straight set and reducing weight accordingly. We will focus on performing these reps in a continuous manner (rest pausing when needed to maintain technique integrity and minimise any risk of injury) so that the last set is indistinguishable from the first. My intent is that if you rewind my workout, you cannot tell the difference!
We will use a variety of different set formats, including supersets, tri-sets, giant sets, cluster sets, drop sets, and circuits with rep ranges resulting anywhere between 10-30 reps.
The increased blood flow and fluid retention within the muscle tissues can encourage muscle growth and often results in ‘the pump’ due to the high work intensity. We will likely experience a ‘pump’ (Transient Hypertrophy is the official term) from the high work density and overall intensity pumping that extra blood to the muscles. And with this extra blood, the number of blood vessels increases, which helps support further growth.
As a result of the muscle being pumped past its ‘normal’ size, it stretches the fascial layer just outside the muscle, allowing room for more growth over time! Interestingly, although temporary, many bodybuilders use the pump as a visual indicator of how their physique may look as they progress in hypertrophy!
And if you want to deep-dive into the science behind Transient Hypertrophy, you can read ‘The Pump’, which can be found within the Knowledge section under the filter ‘Deep Dive’.
Training across a wide range of loads and reaching ‘near’ failure will be our main consideration when training for the production of high mechanical tension.
What weights will Caroline be using as a reference?
The weight I will be using will range from 4kg / 8.8lb dumbbells to a 78kg / 172lb barbell.
Typically, the lighter weights, such as 4kg or 5kg, will be for my lateral raises and rear delt flyes. Heavier weights include 1 x 30kg or 40kg for squats, 2 x 20kg for lunges and 48kg/68kg or 78kg / 172lb for hip thrusts and bridges.
I will detail the weights I use during the introduction, where I talk and give an overview of the structure and tips for the workout. Also, in the description box below the workout, you will see the weights I use in written format in kg and lbs. If using two dumbbells, it will typically indicate the weight PER dumbbell.
Remember, this is simply for a guide and context. So, if you usually go slightly heavier or lighter than me, it may help you select the weights you might want at hand!
What equipment will I need, and what equipment is optional?
- GLUTE BAND
- STABLE CHAIR / BENCH / BOX
- YOGA BLOCK
- WRIST STRAPS
- DIP BARS
- PUSH UP BARS
- HIP THRUST BARBELL PAD
However, this list is not exhaustive! This is just a list of equipment that I will be using during some workouts, but you can incorporate many other pieces! Kettlebells, landmine set up, cables, TRX, plates, even machines!
Is there jumping within the workouts?
There will be the occasional movement that involves higher impact, such as squat jumps or plank to tucks, however, an alternative will be provided. That said, it will be minimal in relation to the overall workout and by no means necessary. This alternative will have a lower impact, however, this doesn’t mean lower intensity!
Is there cardio within the Unleash series?
Resistance training will always have an element of cardiovascular training, particularly if the intensity is there! There will be elevations in heart rate. However, the muscles will often be the limiting factor as opposed to being out of breath.
We are aiming for localised muscular failure, not cardiovascular failure!
It can be a great idea to record the weights you are using as you may consider repeating this 6-week program and progressively overloading with heavier weights for some of the movements 2nd time around and, in particular, those initial compound movements at the beginning of each workout. This is particularly relevant if you are new to training, as you will likely increase the weight you can lift earlier than you might think!
Some exercises appear more susceptible to progressive overload than others, so we shouldn’t expect linear progress across all muscles.
Adding Unleash to your CGX calendar
Head here for a step-by-step guide on adding a program to your CGX calendar: How can I schedule a workout or program?
Is there a printable calendar?
We get it – sometimes it's easier to have a physical copy to stick on your fridge to track your progress. Not to worry, we've got you covered!
We have two versions of the Unleash series calendar available for download: one in full colour, perfect for digital use, and one in black and white, which is great for printing and saves on ink. Click on the links below to get started and choose the version that suits you best. Happy printing!
Why can’t I access all 30 workouts of the Unleash series?
During the initial launch, each workout will be released on the day relating to the calendar. Once made available, it will always be there to complete any time that suits you!
This means that many of us can complete the series together and work through the workouts on the same days.
What other considerations are important to maximise output?
Mind to Muscle Connection
I am a big proponent of the mind-to-muscle connection. And this will be a key part of the Unleash series. Maximising tension and maximising activation of the intended muscles through actually visualising the muscles lengthening during the eccentric portions (think lowering a dumbbell during a curl) to then the shortening of the muscles during the concentric phase (think curling the dumbbell upwards). And one of the best ways to improve that connection is to slow it down or even reduce the weight lifted.
But it is important to not overthink this. Often it can be a skill that comes with experience. We can all experience this to varying degrees, and even more so during some exercises than others. For me, I have great mind to muscle connection during rear delt work and glute isolation exercises. It has been shown to not be essential for everyone in order to build muscle so focusing on the best range of movement you can move through at the joint and level of control throughout is of the greatest importance, particularly for beginners who are learning the movement patterns.
Our muscles do not know the KG (or LB) written on the dumbbells, but the muscles do know tension. Highlighting the importance of mind-to-muscle connection during certain exercises, particularly the more isolation exercises, usually leads to a lighter load being required, therefore less force on the passive connective tissues, which can be good news for our joints! And the more experienced the lifter, perhaps this mind-to-muscle connection becomes more important as it can help us gain more from each rep as opposed to necessarily having to increase the load or reps further.
It is important to highlight here that the mind-to-muscle connection tends to apply more to some exercises and movement patterns than others, such as regular squats and chest presses. With these large compound movements, there are multiple muscle groups involved, and the focus is less on mind-to-muscle connection due to the intended muscles simply having to work in response to these exercises, and this is more so as the load increases. Compared to hip thrusts, heel elevated squats or tricep push-ups, we can apply focus to the intended muscles being placed under tension and being essentially the limiting factor.
Range of Motion (ROM)
We have varying degrees to which we can move through the joint depending on our mobility, strength and anthropometry.
Throughout this 6-week series, as always, I will aim for uniform ROM once I complete the first few reps where I gauge this ROM. Following that, I will aim to standardise how low I descend during a squat, for example, and the tempo at which I move. I will aim not to deviate at any point, and if I do suspect I will deviate during the next rep, I will usually pause to reset.
It is important to not strain in order to reach a certain depth or push through any aggravation at the joint. You do not need to squat ‘ass to grass’ to build your lower body, nor touch your chest to the floor during push-ups to work out your chest or front delts! However, aiming for the muscle to be trained at the stretch position that you can do with each rep is one key way to optimise hypertrophy, particularly in many of the lower body exercises such as squats, so I would encourage you to always train the muscle using YOUR full ROM.
We all perform exercises slightly differently!
Find what stance feels best for you during squats, perform a shoulder press within a range of movement that doesn’t cause aggravation, slow the eccentric even more or place hands under hips for leg lowers… I implore you to always make these workouts your own and what feels best for your body, so how you perform that set might look different to how I do!
Keep an eye on your recovery
Depending on how well you recover, it may mean changing the days on which you train, such as having more rest days or even different loads for the same exercises across the week. Prioritising sleep is the number one in my book. Lack of sleep can have a huge impact on your training, but also on your nutrition and overall mood!
And we actually build that muscle outside of the gym!
If there is something I have learned to be one of the most important elements of training, it is consistency. And consistency requires that we enjoy what we do daily. Movement should add to our life, not take away from it. Of course, there are times when it is more challenging to begin that workout, but appreciating the skill of ‘delayed gratification’ we know that within just a few reps or sets, we have that feel-good factor and rarely, even never, do we regret that workout!
As always, listen to the feedback your body is sending you.
Have fun with your training, try not to overthink it and put in the work during those heavier sets at the beginning before the real fun begins!
Bring the intensity, seek out the challenge and aim to make that last rep indistinguishable from the first!
Bring on the next 6 weeks!