Coach Joe Rodonis explains why you’ll make major gains in this advanced-level four-week program.
Every time you do a coach-led workout on Tonal, you’re completing a specific series of exercises in a particular order designed to maximize your results. In this series, The Why Behind the Workout, we break down the science behind a particular workout or program.
Here, we go deep on Divide and Conquer: Level Up with Tonal coach and certified personal trainer Joe Rodonis.
Who It’s For
Divide and Conquer: Level Up is an advanced-level program designed for experienced lifters looking to gain strength and lean muscle mass. “It’s great if you’ve been performing a lot of compound movements for a while,” says Rodonis. “This program allows you to isolate specific parts of the body and give other areas the rest they need.”
Fans of the original (and hugely popular) Tonal program Divide and Conquer will see some similarities in the new program, but these workouts feature advanced rep schemes to accelerate hypertrophy. “The beauty of a program like this is we are going to build muscle by the end of it and the body will be feeling primed and ready for more,” says Rodonis. Unlike high-intensity resistance training, this type of strength training includes plenty of rest in between sets to drive growth. You’ll feel the burn, but also feel prepared for your next challenge.
How it Works
Inspired by classic bodybuilding splits spread across five workouts per week for four weeks, each workout in Divide and Conquer: Level Up focuses on a specific body part: chest, back, arms, and shoulders, and two leg days. “The vast majority of bodybuilders follow a split similar to this where they focus on one muscle group per week,” says Rodonis. “We hit legs twice because we never skip leg day.”
Josh Clay, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and Fitness Programming Specialist at Tonal who collaborated with Rodonis to design this new program, explains that the first two blocks in these workouts are structured around the modified wave method. That means for your big lifts—such as deadlifts, bench presses, and rows—you’ll alternate between higher-rep, lighter-resistance sets and lower-rep, heavier-resistance sets.
“The heavier exercises help to build strength, while the higher rep exercises help to build muscle,” says Clay. “Those heavier sets will activate the higher threshold motor units we’re trying to grow within the muscle fibers.”
Mixing up the rep scheme also ensures you’ll be able to perform every set at high intensity. “Higher volume sets, even anything above 10 reps, is extremely fatiguing and extremely demanding on the tissues,” says Clay. “Including lower-rep, heavier-load sets helps mitigate fatigue.”
You’ll also balance work and recovery within the Divide and Conquer: Level Up workouts by performing an active recovery move in between sets of your main lifts—think: a prone shoulder sweep after an overhead press—to give your muscles time to rest. “By incorporating active rest, we give the body the time it needs in order to maintain a high level of output from set to set,” says Clay.
“Hypertrophy programs like this are not high impact and we isolate muscle with plenty of rest to drive growth,” Rodonis adds. “Strength training and lifting at max effort can take its toll. So having this [recovery] phase incorporated in your training will serve you well.”
When to Do it
Because the workouts in this program are divided up between different parts of the body, allowing certain muscle groups time to rest while others work, Rodonis says you can “absolutely attack this back-to-back,” performing the workouts on five consecutive days and resting two days. For example, if you train Monday through Friday and rest on Saturday and Sunday, you can complete the 20 workouts in this program in four weeks.
Alternatively, you could split up the five workouts and take your rest days on Wednesdays and Sundays. “I would just want to make sure you have 48 hours of recovery between leg days,” says Rodonis. Whatever cadence you choose, Rodonis recommends listening to your body. “If you feel tired and need a day, take it and then hop back in,” he says.
The Key Moves
Here’s a taste of the lifting you’ll do in this program. These exercises are designed to challenge all your major muscle groups.
Standing Chest Press
One of Rodonis’s favorite chest movements, this exercise is a good complement to the classic bench press because it allows for a deeper stretch as you pull your arms back. You’ll work your shoulders and triceps along with your chest muscles and—because the move is performed standing—you’ll also engage your core.
“Mastering the hinge will change your training,” says Rodonis. He calls the RDL “a beautiful hamstring move” because it truly isolates those big leg muscles. It strengthens the hamstring in the lengthened position, where most people tend to be weakest.
This fly variation is excellent for working the back and shoulder muscles, especially the rear deltoids. “Don’t sleep on the rear delts,” says Rodonis. “They add great detail to the shoulders and arms.”
Overhead Triceps Extension
To isolate the triceps and build strength in the upper arms, Rodonis loves this single-joint exercise. In addition to sculpting your triceps, this move will also boost your performance in compound exercises like the bench press.
“How can you not love the deadlift?” says Rodonis. “It’s a staple in any program I do.” Ideal for developing “raw strength,” this basic lift is essential for building strong glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
What to Do Next
Looking for your next challenge? Try one of these four-week programs to build on the strength you’ve gained in Divide and Conquer: Level Up.
“Power Build would complement [this program] nicely if you want to condition the muscle you’ve built to generate more speed and power,” says Rodonis. In Power Build, you’ll keep working on strength and hypertrophy through heavy lifting while adding explosive movements to express power.
Like Divide and Conquer: Level Up, this program is geared toward hypertrophy with reps in the 6-10 range that’s the sweet spot for building muscle. This program also adds the challenge of Tonal’s dynamic weight modes, like Eccentric Mode to gain strength and Chains Mode to develop power.
For a different approach to hypertrophy, Clay recommends this program that utilizes drop sets, a proven technique for packing in volume to build muscle. The workouts in this program use Tonal’s Burnout Mode to reduce resistance during a set as you fatigue so you can keep pushing to the finish.