Peary Rader’s Abbreviated Mass Routine


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Previously on this site we have looked at the influence of Peary Rader on both bodybuilding and weightlifting. Editor of Ironman magazine for several decades, Rader was influential in the training of thousands of men during the course of his career and more importantly, his focus tended to be on ‘the common man’ as opposed to the bodybuilding giants of his era.

With this in mind, today’s post details several of Rader’s abbreviated routines from the mid 20th century. Abbreviated routines centred around compound exercises aimed at maximising as much muscle growth as possible for busy individuals.

So who would benefit from such programmes?

(1) Busy trainers with limited time
(2) Those with low energy
(3) Those struggling to gain on programmes with greater volume
(4) Those looking to bulk up
(5) Beginners

Peary’s abbreviated programme detailed here comes from his excellent book, the Rader Master Bodybuilding and Weight Gaining System. 

1) Breathing Bench Press – 12 reps
2) Breathing Barbell Rows – 12 reps
3) Breathing Squats – 20 reps (1st set) [any other sets do 10 reps]
supersetted with

4) Breathing Pullovers – 20 reps (Using a Barbell weighing no more than 20lbs)

In case your wondering what a ‘breathing’ bench press or barbell row is…

Rader believed that by taking 2 – 3 deep breaths in between reps, trainers could exert more force and hence handle heavier weights. Try it for yourself. Take a weight you can bench press for 12 reps and on an additional 10 more lbs. Take two deep breaths before pushing the weight out for each rep. Aside from lifting heavier weights you’ll notice the primitive feeling of power associated with this form of lifting.

What weight should I use?

For the bench press and barbell row Peary advocated using a weight that you can lift for 8 reps or so in the beginning and try to increase the reps to 12 with each session. Ideally increasing the amount of reps on 1 exercise each time.

For the 20 rep squats, Rader advised lifters to take a weight they could squat consecutively 10 times in a row. Once you’ve completed ten reps, continue with another ten. You’ll notice the importance of breathing with this exercise! Also note that more than 2 breaths is fine on 20 rep squats but you want don’t want to ‘rest’ too much between reps. If you’re performing any additional sets on the Squats pick a weight you can squat 8-10 times and perform 10 reps.

Finally for the  barbell pullover, use a barbell weighing no more than 20 lbs. directly after squatting. Don’t forget to breath deeply and focus on the stretch.

Importantly, Rader advocated progressing in the weights used as much as possible but not at the expense of form.

How many sets should I do?

In answering this question Rader was direct:

Beginners: 1 set
Intermediates: 2 sets, building up to 4 sets
Advanced: 4 sets, building up to 6 sets

Due to the taxing effect of the programme, Rader recommend a week layoff every four weeks. This allowed the trainee to come back fresh to the weights, mentally and physically. For those wishing to increase the number of sets, Rader recommended increasing them off the back of a layoff i.e. If I perform 1 set every session for four weeks, after my week off I perform two sets every session.

For those wondering, Rader advocated resting no more than 2-3 minutes between exercises.


Ever the experimentalist, Rader tried this routine twice a week and three times a week. To his surprise, the Ironman editor found that his body responded best when he only trained two times a week. For those wishing to do more, Rader saw 3 times a week as the max anyone should do.


For those wishing to gain weight, Rader recommended drinking up to two quarts of raw milk a day on this programme alongside eating a plentiful diet of lean meats, green vegetables and potatoes or home made bread. Healthy sources of fat such as cream, butter, cheese and nuts were all encouraged. As was the consumption of eggs and oily fish.

Above all else, Rader stressed the need to listen to one’s body. If you struggled with milk, find ways around it such as making it into protein shakes, or mixing it with their oat-bran/cereal in the mornings. There was no bells and whistles about it:

  • Eat sufficient amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat
  • Don’t skimp on vegetables!

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