What Is A Balloon Method Workout? 

October 6, 2020

By Troy Adashun


How muscle is built during a workout isn’t really up for debate anymore, and you are about to learn the ONLY 3 things you need to do during every workout to be a muscle building machine!

Make sure you read until the bottom to check out a full video breakdown of a Balloon Method workout in action!

Based on the latest scientific research by Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, there are only 3 mechanisms of muscle growth: mechanical overload, metabolic stress and muscle damage.

Triggering all 3 in the most time efficient manner is a "Balloon Method workout."

The Balloon Method was created right here at SuperHuman Fitness after myself & our research team concluded that muscle can really only be built in 3 ways during a workout, and it's not that hard to incorporate all 3 in a short period of time.

The Balloon Method has transformed my physique and helped fill out every muscle in my body. What's great is that it will literally work for ANYONE, regardless of your body type, fitness level and age!

This was proven by Brad Schoenfeld, who many consider to be the leading researcher on science backed and peer reviewed studies on hypertrophy.

We know exactly how to do it, but until the Balloon Method workout was created there wasn’t an easy system you could follow for every workout to ensure all your workouts triggered all 3 of the science backed ways you build muscle. 

In today’s article I’m going to share with you exactly what a Balloon Method workout is and how you can ensure all your workouts follow the 3 rules of muscle building!

Let’s begin!

Does the Balloon Method Work For Everyone?

My 12 week before and after from Balloon Method workouts paired with about 3,000 calories a day. The result is I gained muscle while losing fat at the same time!

No matter if your goal is muscle building, fat loss or a recomp - the Balloon method workouts will help you get there faster by forcing you to get the most results in the least amount of time in every training session, and most importantly help you have more fun by incorporating some new intensity techniques in each workout!

This is not only great for building muscle mass, but also great for fat loss as by cranking up the intensity in your training you will burn more calories and fat in each workout session. 

Since I started implementing the Balloon Method into all my workouts in 2017, I have gained over 15 lbs. of lean muscle mass in just over 2 years while cutting body-fat.

This is newbie level gains and one of the reasons I get accused of using PEDs on Youtube, despite being a natural lifter.

Keep in mind that I was an experienced trainee who had been lifting for over 10 years before this and had already built a lot of muscle mass.

Almost every beginner or intermediate lifter who uses the Balloon Method workouts sees even faster results, as evidenced by the thousands of people who use it on the Superhuman training programs.

If you have been training seriously for less than 5 years and have never incorporated a lot of intensity techniques into your training - expect jaw dropping results the first few months of using the Balloon Method. 

So What is a balloon method workout exactly?

A Balloon Method workout is a training strategy that shocks the muscle into growth by combining all 3 ways your body builds muscle in less than 20 minutes per muscle group. It was named because of the balloon-like effect it has on muscle growth.

A 20 minute (or less) Balloon Method workout for a muscle group comprises three distinct types of sets designed to trigger all 3 proven ways your body builds muscle.

  1. 1
    Overload sets - think lifting heavy in the 4-8 rep range till failure.
  2. 2
    Tension sets - think “time under tension” or “chasing the pump” for 15+ reps until failure. Lighter weights, but taken till failure for any excruciating pump.
  3. 3
    Muscle Damage Sets -  drop sets, supersets, slow eccentrics or any type of new and shocking stimulus to the body. These are the epic and high intensity sets that really take your results to the next level!

There is of course some cross-over between all of these. For example you might be doing a heavy superset of bench press and weighted pull-ups. This is a hybrid of an overload set and a muscle damage set.

As you will soon see, with just a little creativity it's actually quite easy to incorporate all 3 in a very short period of time, making your workouts shorter and more effective for hypertrophy. 

Light Weight Vs. Heavy Weight

Based on the fact that both lifting heavy and lifting light weights until failure builds muscle, this ends the debate of light weight vs heavy weight for hypertrophy. 

Do both in the same workout and do it with intensity and you will see some serious results.

According to Brad Schoenfeld in his article “3 Evidence Based Guidelines of Hypertrophy Training“ emerging evidence indicates that there may be a fiber type specific response to training in different rep ranges, with heavy loads showing greater hypertrophy in type II fibers and lighter loads targeting type I fibers. This further suggests a benefit to training with both high and low loads to maximize whole muscle hypertrophy.

The key is really within the rep ranges you chose to lift “heavy” and “light” and how far you can take it.

The key to lifting heavy weight for hypertrophy

You don't need to lift crazy heavy weight to build muscle fast. Focus on training hard and activating your muscles and you will build muscle fast!

When I say lifting heavy to induce mechanical overload, you don’t want to be lifting more than 90% of your 1 rep max on a lift. This means your rep ranges will be between 4-8 and taken til close to failure or failure.

If you are unsure what your 1 rep max is on a particular lift and need some guidance on figuring out what 90% of your 1 rep max so you can get the most out of overload sets, I recommend you check out our Superhuman 1 rep max calculator!

The age old debate of the powerlifter vs the bodybuilder makes perfect sense here.

Powerlifters do tons of training 95%+ of their 1 rep max, and a lot of 1-3 rep range training. This is great if you’re trying to get stronger and be a world class powerlifter, but not necessarily true if you want to build the muscle as fast as possible. This is why you see almost all bodybuilders train with lighter weights and more time under tension. Even their “heavy sets” usually fall within the 6-8 rep range.

The key to lifting light weight for hypertrophy

Machines and Cables are great for time under tension sets and going higher rep.

Light weights build muscle by inducing metabolic stress, but only if done properly. When I say lifting lighter weights I basically mean to chase the pump and maximize time under tension. This doesn’t mean that it's “easy” and you are lifting 5 lb. dumbbells for 100 reps however.

The sweet spot is usually in the 15-25 rep range or keeping the muscle under constant tension for at least 45 seconds.

You need to take these light weight sets until failure or very close to it to actually see results from this type of training. You will know you are doing it right when you have an excruciating pump in the muscle you are training. 

So what does a Balloon Method workout look like?

You can do a balloon method workout regardless of what split you follow. Most of the SuperHuman Training programs follow pretty close to a push, pull, legs split or training at least 3-4 muscles per workout.

Here would be an example of a Balloon Method push workout that would hit your chest, deltoids, and triceps and trigger all 3 mechanisms. 

#1 Incline Barbell Bench Press
Target Upper Chest, Outer Chest, Triceps, Front Delts
Sets 3
Reps 4-8 (overload)

As you should know, free weights are your top priority when the task at hand is creating maximum overload.

For this second overload exercise, we’re utilizing the incline angle and the intensity that a barbell offers.

The incline angle allows for better activation of the clavicular head of the pectoralis major (Upper chest).

Pressing exercises done under this angle must not be neglected, given that we are looking for good overall development.

Note that the optimal upper-chest activation angle forms at 45 degrees or slightly higher.

If you go way higher than that, you’ll activate the shoulders more and it pretty much won’t be a bench press anymore, more so than a shoulder press.

execution

  1. 1
    Setup the barbell so that the threads in the middle are right at the center of the backrest of the bench
  2. 2
    Lie down and grab the bar wider than shoulder width, with the thumb going over the bar (Very important! Avoid using suicide grip)
  3. 3
    Un-rack the barbell and bend elbows slightly, out of lockout to avoid excessive tricep activation
  4. 4
    Let the bar go down to the upper portion of your chest, slowly
  5. 5
    Without resting the bar on your chests, pause for a split second at the bottom
  6. 6
    Push up explosively, contracting the chest up top, with no elbow lockout
Note that you can go really heavy on this exercise, as long as you maintain constant tension and proper exercise execution.


#2 Barbell Overhead Press
Target Front Delts, Side Delts, Upper Traps
Sets 3
Reps 4-8 (overload)

The barbell overhead press (or "military press") is a powerhouse of an exercise that works the muscles of the shoulders and upper back.

When executed with precision and technique, it can not only define your shoulders but also shape your upper back to give you a broad, balanced physique. This total-body lift effectively develops the shoulders and upper back, two of the most vital areas of the body for strength and muscle tone.

Troy barbell overhead press

Overhead pressing strengthens the entire body. The press isn't just for the shoulders and arms—the standing overhead press is also a great way to work the abdominals and hips, as well as helping to improve your leg strength.

The overhead press may be the most effective exercise for developing bigger shoulders, upper back, and triceps. It's a favorite of fitness enthusiasts because it's an incredibly effective way to develop these muscle groups. The weight you use for the press must be heavy enough that your muscles won't tire out and at the same time light enough that you can complete 8-12 reps in an extended set.

Before You Perform The Overhead Press: Safety First!

You'll want to stay away from the overhead press if you're new to strength training because of its heavy loading and nervous system demands. While it's one of the most impressive lifts and it's fantastic for building your upper body, you need a solid and established fitness baseline and a grounded education in strength training before making a foray into the military press. The truth is, some folks' bodies just can't handle training with heavy weights overhead without injury.

Troy doing a barbell overhead press at the gym wearing a camouflage top

The barbell overhead push press and other overhead press variations can be dangerous when performed by weightlifting amateurs. If you don't have the proper upper body strength to manage the weight, you can cause serious injury on your very first rep. Even strong lifters must take great care to perform the overhead press with the appropriate technique to ensure that they don't cause muscle strain on their neck, shoulder blades, arms, pectorals, or core muscles.

Most people can't afford a personal trainer, but there are some exercises you can do to check your core, arm, and shoulder strength to find out if you're ready to start adding the overhead press to your lifting regime.

Shoulder Blade Touches

Troy showing his back standing in front of green wall

Stand straight with your arms at your sides and feet at shoulder-width apart. Reach both arms behind you and touch the tops of your shoulder blades. If you can do this without touching anything other than your arms, then you have the flexibility to perform the overhead press.

If you can't, you can still perform this exercise with dumbbells or kettlebells, but don't pick up the bar quite yet.

Overhead Reach

Troy holding his hands up preparing for barbell overhead press

Stand in front of a mirror, arms at your sides. Raise both arms overhead. If you can, raise both arms parallel with your ears—without your ribs moving, and without anything else moving.

To pass this test, you need to be comfortable while standing straight with your arms upright and make sure your ribs are still.

If you've failed, don't overanalyze why. Just attack your next workout with more power and precision. Don't hit the bar just yet, but you can start trying a light overhead dumbbell press (or kettlebells).

When To Use The Overhead Press

A multijoint movement should always be done first in your workout. While you don't necessarily need to perform overhead pressing first in a workout, it's best to do this heavier exercise as your main lift especially if you're just starting out.

Depending on the lift variation, place it as an accessory movement or a support exercise for your primary lifts. This heavy exercise is taxing on your CNS because of its full-body nature and relatively heavy loading.

Planning Your Overhead Press

Form is essential when it comes to complex movements, especially when lifting weight that's too heavy. When form breaks down during a training session, injuries increase the likelihood of poor results. As a result, athletes are better off choosing sets and reps schemes that allow for form and posture maintenance.

The ideal rep range for overhead pressing is 3-8. Any more or any fewer reps and you risk breaking form, muscle strain, and fatigue. This has been proven time and time again in studies on overhead press form with novice to advanced lifters. On the other hand, 3-8 rep ranges are also known for increasing strength gains over longer durations of training.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Sometimes increasing the number of reps can lead to plateaus rather than progress. If you're going over your 8-rep goal, try adding more weight or reducing rest time. As with any workout, training balance is typically the answer more than going to extremes.

For many new lifters, dumbbell and kettlebell variations are their main lift. The overhead press is just one example of the many lifts that can be done with a lighter load and easier form.

Perform dumbbell or kettlebell overhead press sets in the 5-12 rep range with lighter loads, and you'll give your body the time it needs to grow. The 5-12 rep range is ideal for these exercises since it builds strength without setting you back in terms of your range of motion or exertion.

How To Perform The Overhead Press

Troy performing a barbell overhead press at the gym wearing a blue top

To perform an overhead press with proper form, stand with the bar on your front shoulders. Position the bar on your shoulders, and grab it with an overhand grip, just outside shoulder-width apart. Straighten your arms until you are in a rigid pressing position, elbows locked at the top, keeping a straight bar path. At the top, hold the bar for a second before lowering it back to your front shoulders.

The overhead press with dumbbells and kettlebells is similar in execution but with one slight difference. The hands start out in a neutral position at the bottom, like a dumbbell press. Rotating the arms parallel to the ears as you press makes use of the shoulders' entire range of motion. The rest is the same. As the weight is moved up and back, the elbows extend as they are pressed up and back.

Overhead Press Form And Stance

When doing the overhead press, your heels should be under your hips. This means that you should have a narrow stance. But your heels shouldn’t be touching. Stand similarly to how you stand when you perform the deadlift.

Lower Body

Staggering your feet might improve your overhead press, but it can also hurt your lower back and hips. Overhead press with your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart to evenly distribute the pressure on your back and hips.

You can turn your feet out slightly, but make sure that they are aligned horizontally when you look down. Don’t stagger your stance by putting one foot forward.

Your feet should be flat on the floor when you overhead press. This increases body balance and allows you to use more of your body weight to lift the bar. To optimize your bar control, keep your forefeet, heels, and toes firmly on the floor.

Avoid lifting your toes or raising your heels. Use only the muscles in your feet and legs to overhead press, not momentum from your upper body.

Troy doing a barbell overhead press with correct lower body form

Keep your legs straight and squeeze your glutes. Your shoulders are doing the work, not your knees. Hyper-extending your knees is cheating — you’re taking the work away from your shoulders.

Squeeze your quads and keep your legs straight. If your knees hurt, you’re probably hyper-extending. If you still can’t lock your knees, decrease the weight by 10%.

A push press is not the same as an overhead press. The push press uses your stronger hip muscles to drive the bar off your shoulders. It allows you to press heavier weights, but it doesn’t work your shoulders like an overhead press does.

If you bend your hips while doing an overhead press, you will cheat yourself out of better results. You should never cheat during a workout. Think about squeezing your glutes to keep your hips straight.

Grip

Troy performing a barbell overhead press with correct grip

Your grip is very important for the overhead press. If you want to do this exercise safely, you must wrap your thumbs around the bar.

This way, the bar cannot slip out of your hands and hit you in the head. It also makes you stronger because you get to squeeze the bar harder.

This helps engage your arms, shoulders, and chest muscles more — making them stronger too. Plus, a full grip allows you to overhead press more weight without causing bad form.

Should You Stand Or Should You Sit?

What's the difference between doing this movement standing vs. sitting? When you do barbell movements with weights, your body must use stabilizer muscles in each shoulder joint to keep each body part pressed against the weight at all times, or you'll experience a painful injury. Strong, stable shoulders help prevent you from bending over during lifts.

Standing Overhead Press

Troy performing a standing barbell overhead press outside

The standing barbell press takes more total-body strength because it builds more core stability, trunk stability, and tension. It also builds more shoulder strength. However, if you're already in fantastic shape and strong, the seated overhead press will build a higher percentage of your overall upper-body strength, but not necessarily more overall strength.

Standing overhead presses require more core stability and total-weight tension than the seated variety because your hips and legs need to be engaged to prevent you from bending over.

Seated Overhead Press

Troy performing a seated overhead press at the gym

Seated overhead presses are best for those with stronger core strength and less flexible joints. They're typically easier to perform since you stabilize your body with the bench.

This makes them a good choice for lifters who are newer to weightlifting exercise and those who aren't in the best of physical shape. They're also the best alternative for lifters with lower-body disabilities who want to utilize the ultimate upper-body lift.

Muscle Groups Worked By The Barbell Overhead Press

The overhead press utilizes a variety of muscles to lift the weight. Your shoulders and arms are the prime movers that press the bar overhead. But everything between your shoulders and the floor should stay tight to balance you as well as keep you from dropping the weight on your neck or elbows. The overhead press concentrates several muscle groups all at once to build strength and power.

Arms

Straightening your elbows works the muscles on the backs of your arms, your triceps. Their size makes them stronger than any bicep. Your forearm muscles also jump into action to hold the weight.

Back & Shoulders

To overhead press, lift the bar with straight arms so that your feet don't leave the floor. This targets the muscles in your shoulder: your front, side, and back deltoids. Muscles are developed evenly with heavy weights so that you build wider shoulders.

Core

Your core muscles are the foundation of a strong body. They stabilize your torso while you press the bar overhead. Stronger abs are leaner abs, especially when paired with a balanced diet.

Legs

Your legs balance your body while your arms and shoulder press the bar. This works your hips, thighs, calves, and ankles. The overhead press doesn't work these muscles quite like squats because your legs don’t move during your reps. Instead, they stay straight. They have to support the heavyweight of the bar. If you want to work your lower body, squats are a better choice.

Important Safety Considerations For The Overhead Press

Any exercise can cause unnecessary strain or injury when done incorrectly, but the overhead press is a full-body workout using a heavy free weight overhead. This makes it one of the more hazardous lifts you can perform, and a number of things can go wrong if you're not adequately prepared or if you don't have enough strength to perform the overhead press correctly.

Before adding the overhead push press to your workout routine, perform the safety checks listed above and consider these safety risks associated with the lift.

Watch Your Shoulders

The overhead press has been proven beneficial for shoulder health, but you need a good form. It strengthens your shoulders and rotator cuff muscles. These muscles secure your shoulder joints and prevent dislocations. Good form also prevents muscle imbalances in the bench press by strengthening your rear shoulder muscles. However, poor form will hurt your shoulders. The bench press is a great exercise to do for strong shoulders that will then help with your overhead press form.

Do shoulder shrugs. Start by holding the bar up high with your elbows 45° in. Don’t use a grip wider than this or your elbows will flare like you do on the bench press. Press the bar in a vertical line until your arms are straight at the top. To finish the rep, lift and tilt your shoulders. The barbell should stay on a straight bar path directly over your shoulder joint while you do this.

Barbell Bench Press

Shrugging is a key to strong shoulders. This will activate the trapezius muscle, rotating the shoulder blade out and lifting the bony process of the upper arm bone (humerus). This creates space between the top of your humerus and your acromion, which can alleviate shoulder pain and decrease inflammation.

If you don’t shrug at the top of your bench press, you are putting yourself at risk for injury.

Be Ready To Drop The Bar

People are scared of overhead pressing when they’ve never done it before. They think that the barbell will fall on their head and crush them before they even get a chance to finish the lift. However, this is a myth. A weight that is too heavy for you to control won’t go as high as your head. You'll fail at the bottom because it's too hard.

Troy unracking the bar for a barbell overhead press outside

When doing the overhead weight press, there are only two ways you can drop the bar on yourself. The first is to use a thumbless grip. If this happens, the bar will fall out of your hands and hurt you. It’s better to have a full grip with your thumbs wrapped around the bar.

Another way to drop the bar is to not lock your elbows at the top of the move. The weight will collapse over your head if you fail to lock your elbows. Always lock your elbows at the top of the overhead press.

You don’t actually need to overhead press inside the Power Rack with safety pins set. You can simply go right into your shoulder press when you fail a rep. If you prefer to overhead press inside the Power Rack with safety pins set, arm yourself with confidence and do it.

Benefits Of The Barbell Overhead Press

You don’t need to isolate your shoulder muscles with lots of different exercises. The overhead press gets the job done. It works your entire shoulder girdle evenly, allowing you to lift heavier weights.

The overhead press strengthens your rotator cuff muscles. It's a safer and more effective way to prevent and fix shoulder injuries than internal and external rotation exercises with dumbbells. Plus, unlike the bench press, it strengthens the back of your shoulders, not just your chest.



#3 Dumbbell Bench Press
Target Lower Chest, Outer Chest
Dropsets 3
Reps 10 (muscle damage)

Odds are, you generally start your chest workouts with this exercise.

But to finish off a dumbbells-only workout, you can aslo utilize it as a compound, heavy finisher.

The goal – Going as heavy as possible for 4 sets in the 6-8 rep range.

This range will stimulate both myofibrilar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

The first one, responsible for strength gains and the second one, for bulk-muscle, bodybuilder-like growth.

execution

  1. 1
    Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie down on the flat bench press
  2. 2
    Keep the dumbbells above your chest with elbows slightly bent
  3. 3
    Keep head rested and let the dumbbells go down to the outer sides of your lower pecs
  4. 4
    Once you feel a good stretch at the bottom, push up explosively
  5. 5
    Contract the chest up top without locking out the elbow


#4 Low to High Cable Flys
Target Upper Chest
Sets 3
Reps 15 reps/45 seconds under tension (metabolic stress)

This exercise reverses the position you’re using with the cables and now rather than pushing down, you’re pulling up.

As you might imagine, that is going to change the nature of the stress being placed on the chest, putting more emphasis on the upper chest instead of the lower.

execution

  1. 1
    Stand in the middle of the cable machine
  2. 2
    Grab both lower pulleys and keep them to the sides of the hips
  3. 3
    Lift the handles up and contract the chest up top
  4. 4
    Go back down and repeat, alternating between arms – Left over right, right over left


#5 Dumbbell Lat Raise
Target Side Delts, Front Delts, Traps
Sets 3
Reps 15 reps/45 seconds under tension (metabolic stress)

The dumbbell lat raise puts a huge focus on attacking our side delts and getting a great shoulder pump to start the workout. Charles teaches a unique form on this, so I highly suggest you watch the short video above. With this exercise we are targetting the largest part of the shoulder, the side delt which is what will give you that 3D shoulder look from the side. The key with this move is you want to keep your chest up, and think about pushing the weight away from your body instead of lifting the weight up, which will get your traps too involved.

This is definitely a move you will want to go very light on and make sure you have perfect form. Another unique form cue on this db lat raise is that you will be internally rotating your elbows as you push the weight up, so your hand will be pointing down. If you have a current shoulder impingement or have a nagging ache or pain in your shoulders I don't recommend this, but if your shoulders are healthy this will put even more activation on your side delts.

#6 Tricep Pressdown

Sets

3

Reps

15 reps/45 seconds under tension (metabolic stress)

As you can see, a Balloon Method workout is not only more intense but more fun because you get to try several different intensity techniques in the same workout, which will increase your motivation to train more often and see faster results.

How to use the Balloon Method for the fastest results?

The best way to incorporate the Balloon Method is to use it all year long regardless if your goal is to build muscle fast, recomp and get ripped, or burn fat aggressively.

The SuperHuman Muscle program uses the Balloon Method workouts in a way that helps you build muscle as fast as possible, while the SuperHuman Fat Loss program uses the Balloon Method with HIIT finishers to shred fat at Superhuman Speed!

Balloon Method workout benefits for fat loss

  1. 1
    Burn more calories every workout.
  2. 2
    Increase your post workout metabolism.
  3. 3
    Keep your hard earned muscle mass even when you are dieting.
  4. 4
    Can shock your muscles into growth even in a calorie deficit.

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