Do You Stagger?

by Tom Furman

Stagger“arrange (events, payments, hours, exercises, etc.) so that they do not occur at the same time; spread over a period of time.”

Staggering, other than that which occurs after a night out getting tanked, is defined above. Spreading something out over a period of time.

Many years ago, the late Joe Weider, who published many magazines, sold exercise equipment and food supplements, decided to name training methods after himself. Hence, “The Weider Principles”. So if Dave Draper or Frank Zane or Arnold did something noteworthy in their training, it was adopted as a, “Weider Principle”, immediately. It gave Joe the credibility of, “Trainer of Champions”, and it was good PR for the Gold’s Gym gang to sell courses.

One of the principles mentioned, was the, “Staggered Set Principle.” It basically involved sandwiching in a smaller exercise between a larger exercise. The tale was told that Arnold Schwarzenegger would do calf work between upper body sets to increase workload, time under tension and total tonnage. Of course, by following the Weider Principles, Arnold rocketed to stardom via Mr. Olympia victories, box office blockbusters and Governership of California.

The thing is, one has to be careful with the application of this method. If you isolate a muscle with a smaller, locally exhaustive exercise, you could impair the bigger movement. This is a step backward. Ideally the, ‘staggered exercise’, will be distant and not involved with the primary movement. As well it could be a light stretch or mobility movement. This last method is utilized heavily by Coach Chris Sommer of

Some general rules would be —

  • Don’t combine staggered sets with a pure strength, competition, movement.
  • Don’t exhaustively train the core during overhead movements or any others that require, ‘peak’, core stability.
  • Grip work will be affected by pumping up your forearms.
  • Training the opposite end of the body can avoid changes in form.
  • Exercising the neck muscles before other efforts can be impairing.

Another thing that staggered sets do is push you a bit. There is no reason to rush through workouts, but making constructive use of time between sets is an exercise in efficiency. Don’t be afraid to push a bit.

“I don’t like being pushed!!!!” — Sampson Posey, The Dirty Dozen

What does Either/Or Fallacy mean?
“Sometimes called the “either-or” fallacy, a false dilemma is a logical fallacy that presents only two options or sides when there are many options or sides. Essentially, a false dilemma presents a “black and white” kind of thinking when there are actually many shades of gray.”

The Cosmetic vs Functional training argument is an ongoing war of internet words, memes and discussion. It is a perfect example of an Either/Or Fallacy. Why not do both? Why not stagger them?

There may be a need to focus on purely appearance. Nothing wrong with looking good. However, adding a bit of athletic challenge in that workout, could benefit you. This is one of the benefits of Crossfit. You learn, through hopefully a scaled method, to lift, jump, climb, push and run. It’s not a lengthy workout either. What can be done in 30 minutes might well save your back when changing a tire or carrying a child during a hike. Much more rewarding than training your pecker muscles with cable crossovers while staring into a mirror and endless texting. But again, you can do both.

“I’ll be too busy looking good!” — Williams, Enter The Dragon

A good example of cosmetic vs functional is film work. Actors realize that their appearance will be seen, endlessly. How they appear, on that day, exceeds anything that exists in the physique competition arena. More money, more fame and forever. Two actors went through training processes focusing primarily on appearance. Of course, getting stronger and leaner helps health and performance. However it didn’t prepare them for the physical acting that was required by the role. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig trained specifically for a beach scene, as well as wanting to be, “Bond- Fit”. The scene is well remembered, however the actor mentioned that during the physical scenes and less dangerous stunts, he developed some nagging injuries. So during prep work for the next movie, “Quantum of Solice”, he did more running, climbing and general physical preparedness. It paid off with less injury and, according to Craig, better movement.

Daniel Craig’s experience was mirrored by Chris Hemsworth. His appearance in Thor had him huge and jacked. He certainly filled the shoes of a thunder god. His trainer was Luke Zocchi, a boyhood friend. Chris, in addition to obvious iron pumping, employed some kick boxing and Foundation Training for his low back issues. However Chris felt he didn’t move as well as he liked. Luke brought in his friend, Da Rulk, of Raw Functional Training, to add the movement elements. Now the mixture of pumping iron, kick boxing and movement training are combined to produce an actor that not only looks the part, but moves the part.

Daniel Craig and Chris Hemsworth realize action films need more than cosmetic appearance.

Some ideas on how to employ staggered sets are —

  • Do a set of pull ups between sets of Turkish Get Ups.
  • Between upper body super sets, do walking lunges.
  • Calf work between upper body sets.
  • After a timed set of Sit Thru’s, do dumbbell laterals or curls.
  • Front and side planks between sets of lunges facilitate hip mobility.
  • If your whole workout is push ups and kettlebell swings, splice in some face pulls and face-the-wall Hack squats.
  • During machine work, stability is less of an issue so go ahead and squeeze in your abdominal work between sets.

Two vital areas that can be game changers are the use of carries and mobility drills. This ties into the actors above. If you want incredible pectorals for your next blockbuster, why not walk around the gym with some dumbbells in a weighted carry between pec deck sets? How about doing some kettlebell arm bars between bicep curls for those gunz? Doing the cat-camel spinal mobility drill after each set of pull ups? The combinations are endless and you end up with fitness that is as deep as it is broad.

As a final shot, here is a partner drill to do outdoors —

Partner #1 Does a bear crawl. Partner #2 does walking lunges with light dumbbells.

When Partner #1 is fatigued, he stands, grabs the dumbbells and does curls. Partner #2 does push ups.

Repeat until you cover 100 yards and then change roles.

There are many, many, ways to employ Staggered Sets. This is only my opinion and remember —

“Opinions vary. “ — Dalton, Roadhouse

The End.

For more personalized training I am available for Online Fitness Coaching. Please contact me at

Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and conditioning since 1972. With an early background in wrestling and a student of the methods of the York Barbell Club, Tom immediately separated fact from fiction growing up outside Pittsburgh. Eleven members of his family were combat veterans, the most famous one being “Uncle Charlie” (Charles Bronson) His down to earth training methods are derived from his decades long practice of martial arts and his study of exercise science. The application of force, improvement of movement and durability rank high on his list of priorities when training. He gives credit to hundreds of hours of seminars, training sessions, and ‘backyard’ workouts, including training time with many martial arts legends. He also credits his incredibly gifted training partners who came from varied backgrounds such as Exercise Physiologists, Airborne Rangers, Bounty Hunters, Boxing Trainers and Coast Guard Rescue Divers. His best selling ebook, “Armor of War’’, is available at His guide to mobility, “Bamboo Gods, Iron Men and Rubber Bands’’, is available on Amazon.