LL Cool J’s Favorite Workout

LL Cool J’s Favorite Workout

LL uses a wide spectrum of rep ranges. He hits the heavier weight and lower reps not only to stimulate the fast twitch muscle fibers (those most responsible for power, strength and size), but also because the heavier weight helps stimulate his metabolism long after the workout session is over. But he also flushes the muscle with light weight and higher reps toward the end of a workout. Reason being that hitting each muscle with higher reps and sets also helps enhance the “capillarization” of muscle fibers.

That means that the amount of blood vessels that feed those particular muscles increases, allowing for an increase in the delivery of water and blood to the fibers, or a better pump, as it’s commonly known. That pump enhances the stretch on muscle cells, which triggers them to grow by bringing all the nutrients (e.g., amino acids, creatine, glucose, and hormones) and oxygen needed to support energy production, growth, and recovery within the muscle. The pump also helps remove the byproducts of metabolism (e.g., carbon dioxide and lactic acid), which fatigue the muscles and inhibit performance.

LL understands that it’s critical to attack each body part from various angles, because that’s the only way to stimulate and innervate as many fibers as possible. As you’ll see in his workout examples below, each body part is hit from numerous angles. While LL makes certain to hit his muscle groups from various angles from week to week he automatically adds variety and muscle confusion to his routine, which keeps his body guessing. REST: He varies his rest periods, taking anywhere from 30 seconds to 2min between sets.

Drop Sets: After completing his reps in a heavy set, he’ll quickly strip an equal amount of weight from each side of the bar (usually around 20-30%) or select lighter dumbbells or drop the pin on machines. He continues repping until he fails, then uses less weight to complete even more reps.

Rest-Pause: He takes brief rest periods during a set of a given exercise to squeeze out more reps. For instance, he’ll use a weight he can lift for 5-6 reps but do only 2-3 reps with it, then rests up to 20 seconds, before trying for another 2-3 reps. He rests again briefly and repeats the sequence.



LL on the cover of our March 2011 issue
On Sale January 31, 2011



LL knows the importance of adding variety into his routine, and for that reason, no two weeks are typically the same. But here are some ideas or examples of his bodypart work.



Sets: 4 Reps: 6-8 Rest: 1 min

The barbell curl is probably one of his most important exercises for biceps. He likes to hit them first when he’s the most fresh and it’s usually the heaviest of all his biceps moves. More importantly, he manipulates his grip-width on the bar. Here’s why:

  • Wide-grip version: Taking a wide-grip on the barbell for curls hits the short, inner head of the biceps, by reducing the amount of stress on the long, outer head.
  • Close-grip version: Contrary to the wide-grip version, the close-grip curl places a greater emphasis on the long outer head. (The long, outer head is the muscle most responsible for the ‘peak’ of LL’s great arms)


Sets: 4 Reps: 8-10 Rest: 1 min

He moves to incline curls because not only does changing your grip alter the involvement of either head, so too does the angle of the arm to the body. The incline curl places great emphasis on the long, outer head (peak)


Sets: 3 Reps: 12-15 Rest: 1 min

The preacher curl conversely lessens the tension on the long, outer head and places the most focus upon the short, inner head (the muscle most visible during, say, a front double biceps pose).


Sets: 3 Reps: 15-20 Rest: 1 min

The reverse curl is a great finisher on biceps day, hitting the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles while also finishing off the biceps brachii.



It’s impossible to completely isolate any one muscle of the triceps but you can involve one over another depending on 1) angle of your arm to the body and 2) grip.


Sets: 3 Reps: 12-15 Rest: 1 min

The pressdown hits primarily the lateral head of the triceps and it also serves as a great warm-up exercise for LL prior to the compound move to follow, which in this case is the close-grip bench press.


Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 Rest: 1 min

The close-grip bench press is a great exercise that hits all three heads (with focus on the lateral head) but because he’s able to load up the weight on this move, it’s an excellent mass builder.


Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 Rest: 1 min

Anytime you raise your arms overhead, you automatically target the meaty, long head of the triceps. This is one of LL’s specialties, which is why his triceps are so pronounced.


Sets: 3 Reps: 12-15 Rest: 1 min

Finally, to fully exhaust each head of the triceps, LL flips his grip. By flipping your grip to underhand (and that rule applies to all triceps moves) you can increase the stress upon the medial head of the triceps.




Sets: 4 Reps: 10-12 Rest: 1 min

Hitting the incline dumbbell flye first means LL uses a method known as PRE-EXHAUST. The pre-exhaust method LL uses means he hits isolation exercises to target a particular muscle group prior to moving to compound moves for the same muscle. The objective of the technique is to get the target muscle as weak as possible before subjecting it to a multi-joint exercise. During the incline dumbbell flye like in our example, only the chest is involved in performing the movement. Then once it’s fatigued, he moves to the bench press where the chest gains assistance from the shoulders and triceps. Basically, the pre-exhaust method is used to breakdown the target musculature prior to adding in the help of other muscles.



Sets: 4 Reps: 10-12 Rest: 1 min

Next, obviously he moves to the compound move (also termed multi-joint) to hit the target upper chest with the help of the shoulders and triceps.


FLAT BENCH PRESS (in power rack)

Sets: 3 Reps: 8-10 Rest: 1 min

LL does much of his benching inside a power rack for a number of great reasons, but mainly because he likes to use partials. Partials are all about overload. With partials, LL breaks a lift into smaller components within the range of motion (ROM), allowing him to handle a weight that’s much heavier that he could normally use if he were working in a full ROM. Of course, his gains in strength will be limited to the particular ROM that he trains in, so he adjusts the safety bars, working all various parts of the ROM so he gains strength throughout the ROM.



Sets: 4 Reps: To Failure

LL likes to use plyo-push ups for a couple of reasons. He likes the fact that plyometric moves stimulate the fast-twitch fibers because they remove the element of deceleration. For example, during a typical push-up, we naturally (without realizing it) decelerate our bodies so our hands stay in contact with the floor. But if we disregard deceleration, we can recruit more fast-twitch fibers than usual. And like we’ve said, the fast-twitch fibers are mostly responsible for strength and size.

Then upon failure with the plyo version (which doesn’t take long for anyone), he’ll go into a more standard push and continue till failure. Doing the push-up last in his routine is great for securing an incredible pump.

And truly, anytime you’re working with just your bodyweight, it’s critical to take those sets to absolute failure. It makes no real sense to stop a bodyweight-driven exercise prior to fatigue; another key to his success.




Sets: 4 Reps: 15-20 Rest: 1 min

Much like our example earlier about pre-exhaust, the laterals do the same for the shoulders. Laterals are isolation moves which target solely the delts without the help of other muscles.



Sets: 4 Reps: 12 Rest: 1 min

The overhead press is the meat and potatoes of LL’s routine, targeting all three heads of the shoulder with emphasis on the front and middle heads. He often works overheads inside the power rack much like he does for chest and for all the same reasons.



Sets: 4 Reps: 8-10 Rest: 1 min

LL works the wide-grip version of the upright row for a few reasons. In the wide-grip upright row, your elbows are pointed more out to your sides, allowing the middle heads more involvement (think of the angle of your elbows during a lateral raise). Second, the narrow version of the upright row places more undue stress on the smaller, delicate muscles of the rotator cuff as you try and raise your elbows above your hands. And third, because the traps and forearms are highly recruited in the narrow version, the delts share much of the workload, so widening your grip like LL does not only protects the delts, but allows them highest priority.



Sets: 4 Reps: 15 Rest: 1 min

LL finishes off his delt routine by hitting the rear delts using cables. The great thing about cables is that they provide constant tension, especially at the start of this particular move and that’s something not even free weights can provide.


4. ABS

Even though the six-pack looks like several individual muscles, the 6-pack or rectus abdominis is really only one muscle. Running vertically from your sternum to your pelvis, the rectus is a thin sheath of continuous muscle, and while you can’t isolate the upper or lower portion, you can emphasize an area with specific movements. This particular example of LL’s routine is all bodyweight driven, and therefore each set is taken to failure. However, occasionally, if LL wants to make his abs more pronounced, he’ll involve some weighted moves.


Sets: 2-3 Reps: To Failure Rest: 30 sec


Sets: 2-3 Reps: To Failure Rest: 30 sec


Sets: 2-3 Reps: To Failure Rest: 30 sec

The rectus abdominis (upper and lower abs) is responsible for the standard crunching motion – moving your ribcage toward your pelvis. It also gets trained in the opposite direction, bringing your pelvis to your ribcage, as in the reverse crunch. LL combines them in a very difficult move called the double crunch.



Sets: 2-3 Reps: To Failure Rest: 30 sec

He hits the obliques with the crossover crunch. The obliques are along both sides of the rectus abdominis and run diagonally from your lower ribs to near your hipbone. The external obliques are the ones you can see, as they’re superficial to the internal obliques, which are hidden underneath. The internal and external fibers run in opposite directions. Both the internal and external obliques are responsible for torso rotation and lateral flexion of the torso.



Sets: 2-3 Reps: To Failure Rest: 30 sec

The transverse abdominis (core) lies beneath the rectus abdominis, and whereas the rectus fibers run vertically, the transverse fibers run horizontally. The main function of the transverse abdominis is initiating abdominal compression during an intense exhale. You’ll find this function very useful during core exercises such as this exercise here, the plank, where you need to keep your navel drawn in tight. Typically we finish off the day with the plank.

Which brings me to a good point. We always work abs last in our routine, simply because you never want to fatigue your core and abs prior to other bodyparts. Because of the support they give for all other exercises, it makes the most sense to save abs and core for the very last thing of the day.

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