Pendulum Specialization

Hi CT,
I was looking at changing up my training coming off following the Strength-Skill Circuit program wanting to change the type of stimulus and do more bodybuilding work for 3-4 weeks with motivation towards doing a specialisation block for biceps and triceps, but have not been sold on how to program it. I then came across your ‘Pendulum Specialization Approach’ and was instantly motivated to give it a try.

Just a couple questions on it:

  1. Instead of rotating 2 specialised muscles each week, can I use this template to focus on the same specialized muscles (biceps/triceps) for 3 weeks in a row?

  2. Is there a difference between this weekly specialisation set up and the more traditional set up of 3 specialized days and 1-2 maintenance days? For me, your Pendulum structure connects better with my motivation to train better than the 3 specialized days and 1-2 maintenance days structure, is that the key to success with this, motivation?

  3. I noticed you advocate that the specialised muscles use high volume regular sets 2-3 reps shy of failure and your regular/other muscles to use lower volume with a very high intensity of effort which would include set extension methods ie rest/pause, drop sets, etc. What’s the logic behind this, just off the top of my head, I thought for the specialized muscles, that would be the correct time to implement set extension methods such as rest/pauses, drop sets, myo reps, etc, and your remaining other muscles to maintain on just regular sets. Could you help elaborate on the reasons for this?

Thanks for the help,

Well, yes, but it is no longer a pendulum approach. It’s just a normal specialization.

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Motivation is important for training intensity. That having been said, you are essentially talking about training nothing but arms for 3 weeks. I don’t see that as being very effective overall.

Sure, you can potentially increase biceps and triceps a bit more by only training these muscles for 3 weeks, but you are likely to lose muscle elsewhere.

That’s why when I do a 3-4 weeks specialization approach I keep a maintenance volume in for the non-specialized muscles. You can maintain your size and strength with 1/4 to 1/3rd of your normal volume for a muscle.

For example, if you typically do 10 sets per week for a muscle, you can maintain your size with as little as 2-3 sets per week. But not doing anything for 3 weeks can lead to some losses.

1-2 weeks is fine, but 3-4 weeks you will start to see some losses.

That having been said, if you are in a rut and don’t feel like training BUT that only training arms for a few weeks gets you back in the groove, it might still be worth it.

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Well, there are several ways to specialize. Volume is one of them… well, to be fair, when you specialize, volume will always be higher simply because you are doing more sessions for those muscles.

The thing is that muscle tissue has a limited capacity to recover (limited by your own physiology/anabolic hormone levels/mTOR response). The more volume you do, the more adaptative depends you put on your muscles. If you use set extension methods you increase those demands even more which will very likely be too much for you to positively adapt. It could even lead to regression in muscle size (by creating too much damage).

On the other hand, if you do minimal volume for a muscle (non-specialized muscle) doing extension methods make it possible to maintain your muscle mass with even less volume. You don’t have to use these methods for the non-spec muscles. But using them makes it possible to maintain your size with 1-2 work sets rather than 3-4. Doesn’t sound like a big difference, but when you have to do that with 4-5 muscles, it piles up. That’s the difference between 5-8 work and 10-16 work sets.


Hi CT,
Thanks for the reply, appreciate it.

Yeh, on the set up, I was comparing the structure of what normally gets prescribed for a specialization program not just training arms for 3-4 weeks ie:

  1. Train lagging/specialized muscles 3 days a week
  2. Train maintenance/rest of the body 1-2 days a week
  3. So, 4-5 training days a week

Thing I was getting at was the Pendulum Specialization is structured different where you don’t have sole specialized days but rather tag on maintenance muscles at the end of each workout, which for me is a more motivating way of training, as in, having sole arm workout days isn’t motivating for me.

  1. The question is, is there any difference in how these two ways of structuring specialization work in terms of efficiency, or does it just equal out as the same overall volume is used throughout the week for the specialized muscles?
  2. Just finally, what would be the optimal length to specialize biceps and triceps hypertrophy, 3 or 4 weeks?

Thanks again for the help,

“Optimal” is an abused word in training. What will work best depends on so many individual factors that there is no one optimal ways of doing things.

As far as this question is concerned, obviously the longer you can specialize on a muscle (or 2) the more that muscle will progress, as long as it can recover.

There are only two main issues with specializing for too long:

  1. You can desensitize the muscles to training more easily. Every time you sufficiently stimulate a muscle it becomes a bit less responsive. Meaning that the protein synthesis increase from activating the mTOR pathway during training (which trigger muscle growth) becomes slightly smaller with every session (which is why you need to gradually increase training stress over time to keep progressing). When you specialize on a muscle that muscle receives a stimulus more frequently and thus can become growth-resistant sooner. Note that you can re-establish sensitivity by dramatically reducing the stimulus for 3-4 weeks or by not training that muscle directly for 1-2 weeks.

  2. The longer you specialize on 1-2 muscles, the more likely you are to have a regression in other muscles which are not trained as much. Granted you can likely maintain your size with 1/3rd of your normal training volume, if you specialize for a very long period, something like 6-8 weeks, other muscles might start to suffer.

But in your case, I see no issue with a 4 weeks specialization.


Thanks again for the detailed information, always great & appreciate learning from your expertise.

Just to round out a few more questions on the program before I get started:

  1. As the program was built for 1 week at a time per muscle specialization, should I look to increase volume over the 4 weeks rather than use the maximal amount prescribed on the program, as in, build towards the proscribed volume into week 4?
  2. For the regular/maintenance muscles, for the set extensions, it’s asked to do 2 working sets per exercises, does that mean I use a set extension protocol for both working sets? I have read/watched you advocate set extensions, as they are a powerful training tool, to only do it on the last set of an exercise.
  3. In terms of weekly schedule, is Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, ok, with the Tuesday & Friday sessions helping to achieve a type of double stimulation effect by prolonging muscle protein synthesis by using higher reps pump work following the low rep work the day prior?

Thanks again for the help and hope you are having a happy holidays.


It’s likely not necessary since th volume is already super high, it will take more than a few weeks to become adapted. MAYBE, increase the volume a bit for the last week

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Yeah, start with an intensification method only on the last set. On week 4 you can do both sets that way.

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I normally prefer Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday

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Ok great, just to finish on the volume:

  1. It’s best just to keep the same volume prescribed for the 4 weeks, no need to complicate it?

Really looking forward to the change up in training stimulus coming off your Strength Skill Circuit program which has been great, all lifts have gone up over 20lbs in 12 weeks.

Thanks again for the help,