May 09, 2021 10 min read
Rich Piana was a pioneer of a ton of workout tips and tricks that some of the biggest names in weightlifting still stick to even years after his untimely death.
He was the picture of performance at the height of his career and he took all of the time that he had left on Earth to teach others how to love weightlifting the same way he did.
That took a very particular diet and a unique approach to scheduling his workouts, but he found what worked for him. We’re going to blow that secret wide open and teach you how to teach yourself the Piana way.
Rich Piana was a competitive weightlifter for almost 30 years. He’d show up at NPC weightlifting competitions and totally destroy competitors. During that period of time, he’d pop into TV shows whenever a show like Scrubs needed an unbelievably massive dude to show off on screen.
After a couple of decades of training and winning high-profile events he set his sights on education. He went on to start a production line called Rich Piana: 5% Nutrition. The business had one guiding principle.
He was quoted saying "5% represents the percentage of people that are out there actually doing whatever it takes to fulfill their dreams, to accomplish their goals, and to live the type of life they want to live." He also had a successful YouTube career where he’d put out video.
Rich Piana was a huge dude that worked out for insane amounts of time. That meant he was going to need a similarly huge diet to fuel his body.
He would eat massive amounts of protein and he would focus on eating as cleanly as possible so he wasn’t hiding all of that hard work behind a layer of fat.
Everything from his workout to his daily diet was all about pushing his body to its limit and showing off all of the efforts he was putting in every day.
This is the most important part of the Piana diet. Rich Piana’s workout routine and diet were all about making him as big as possible. He had biceps bigger than some people’s heads, and you need the building material to create that kind of muscle to begin with.
Because of this Piana’s diet was all about cramming as much protein as reasonably possible into his body throughout the week so he’d be constantly building muscle after every workout.
When we say high protein we mean things like 10 eggs for breakfast and adding protein powder to his oatmeal in the morning when he was running low on time while getting ready to start his days. Eating like Piana means eating a ton of protein and cutting back on things like carbs and fats.
You’ll probably hear from every single professional lifter in the world that they’ve cut out a lot of carbs from their diets. This doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to enjoy a bowl of rice or that you need to turn every single sandwich into a lettuce wrap.
Rich Piana would go about limiting his carbs by cutting down on sweets throughout the day and keeping carbs off of his plate when he was winding down for the day. This is probably the best way to do it, especially when you take the time to consider what your body does with carbohydrates.
Carbs are a source of fuel in your body, and if they’re not being used then they’re being stored. Your body stores all of its excesses if it thinks they can be used in the future.
Storing carbs means adding fat to your body. So, to keep fat off of your muscles you need to make sure you’re using up the carbs you eat. That’s why we’re exercising, or you’re not stockpiling a ton of carbs before you lie down to do nothing for 8 hours while you’re asleep.
If you’re going to be packing on all of this nutrient-hungry muscle, then you’re going to need to be eating a lot of nutrients. Your body is going to be constantly craving food if you’re going to be working out as intensely as Piana. This means finding a way to keep yourself fed throughout the day.
Rich Piana would eat about 6 to 8 meals throughout the day. This way he’s able to keep his metabolism up while he’s awake and he’s not going to be stuffing himself with more food than his stomach can handle. If you’re stuffing yourself full to the brim every single time you’re eating a meal you’re going to resent the amount of food you need to be eating pretty quickly.
By keeping himself from having a hot dog eating contest three times a day he’s able to keep himself excited about the meals that are ahead.
We often hear about celebrities that have to bulk and cut for superhero roles getting sick and tired of their meals.
Rich Piana was a man that just loved working out for the sake of it. No matter what his results looked like or how much acclaim he got from his appearances on television, it seems like deep down he was just in it for a love of improving himself and the people around him.
This is reflected in his regular workout routine. The most important thing you need to take away from learning about Rich Piana’s routine is that he “trained how he felt” from day to day. Of course, he was careful to ensure he was hitting all of his muscle groups, but when you get to into the details of his daily routine, he was bouncing around from exercise to exercise.
There was a vague overall structure to his weekly workout, but when you zoom in there wasn’t a detailed plan for his time in the gym beyond which part of his body he’d be focusing on each day.
The first arm day of the week for Rich Piana would be much lighter than his last arm day of the week. You can only do so many 8-hour sessions (even Piana had his limits). You should be focusing on your lower arms to keep your grip strength growing at the same rate as your personal records.
Chest days are usually full of exercises like bench presses and the fly machine. This midpoint of the week is the perfect time to evaluate your lifts and figure out if you need to slip more feeder workouts into your routine.
Thursday: Lower Body
We’ve all heard it, never ever skip leg day.
Piana was an upper-body guy, but if you can’t squat, then you’re going to be embarrassing yourself in the gym with your top-heavy body and chicken legs. Every weightlifter worth his salt was all about a robust leg day, and you should be too.
Friday: 8-Hour Arms
This is the real bread and butter of Piana’s workout. He’s well-known for his massive arms, and he didn’t cut any corners when it came to beefing up his biceps and triceps.
This might not look like enough to occupy 8 hours worth of a workout, but the minimalism of this routine is what made it possible to be in the gym for 8 hours at a time.
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
You can see that Rich Piana’s workout routine leaves a lot of room for rest days. He’s usually in the gym for hours at a time and he’d be aiming for huge gains from week to week. This meant he’d be having some pretty intense workouts. Intense workouts need to be met with intense rest days.
You’re going to need to give your body a lot of time to recover when you’re going this hard. Rest days don’t mean you’re going to be sitting on your butt for three days out of the week. Piana would opt for active rest days. He’d be doing light cardio and stretching to keep his muscles from becoming so rigid that they’re more of a headache than they’re worth.
Rich Piana wasn’t just plinking around in the gym. He’d try some pretty insane stuff in there. He’s the pioneer of things like the 8-hour arm workout and he’d swear by another innovation of his called Feeder Workouts.
He’d add all sorts of challenges to his workouts so he’d be constantly pushing his body to its limits and even though his routine was planned using the shotgun method, he’d be constantly making sure that every single muscle in his body got some love one way or another.
One look at Piana’s arms would tell you everything you need to know about this guy. When he’d hit the gym, he’d hit it as hard as he possibly could for a pretty long time. He eventually became pretty well knowns for something called 8-Hour Arms, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.
This is something you only get to do if you’re insanely dedicated to the craft or your entire life has been built around the gym. 8-Hour Arms meant you’d be in the gym for the length of an entire workday just beating your arms into shape.
Every thirty minutes over the course of those 8 hours you’d be picking up the weights and doing two workouts with two sets of exercises for a total of 16 mini-workouts every 30 minutes. For 8 whole hours. It’s not easy, and if you’re going to set out to tackle this, then you’d better be ready for some serious punishment.
This kind of intense long-term workout is how Rich Piana was able to become the impossible giant of a man that he was by the time he passed. If you’re going to take this on, then you need to come prepared.
Your diet is going to be a little bit different than normal, obviously. Since you’re going to be in the gym all day you’re going to need a lot of energy and a lot of protein.
When Piana would dive into his 8-hour arms he’d come strapped with 16 protein shakes and a ton of power bars. This is going to keep your body’s energy tanks topped off. Don’t come underprepared for this, you can cut down on the clutter by bringing a blender bottle and enough powder to get yourself through the day instead of prepping nearly 20 shakes ahead of time.
Don’t forget that you’re going to need some serious recovery time after this. If you’re going to try to stuff this into your workout routine then you should stick it before two full rest days.
Your body is going to be in some real agony afterward, and if you want the effects of this workout to actually kick in then you need to be giving your body the chance to recover and repair the intense amount of damage you’ve done to your body over the course of an entire day of rigorous workout.
This is another one of Rich Piana’s most famous contributions to the world of fitness. Feeder workouts are a way to get yourself to break through even the most stubborn plateaus. The basic idea is to isolate the muscles that are struggling to make a new personal record and isolate the auxiliary muscles that are involved in the lift.
Feeder workouts are a massive help because of how they consider your body’s anatomy and give you the tools you need to harness the power of all of your muscles so you’re reaching your potential effectively.
Feeder exercises aren’t really any different from any other exercise you’re going to be doing regularly.
It’s just about adjusting your routine when you hit a wall. For example, if you’re having trouble getting your bench press to the next level, then you’re going to need to branch out past just the raw power of your chest.
The power of your bench press comes from your chest, but other parts of your body are going to provide stability and power when they’re engaged as well. Your triceps, biceps, and forearms, for example, are going to be lending a lot of strength to the lift.
So, if you’re going to be working in feeder exercises to get your bench press record up, you should add a superset onto the end of your regular routine that isolates any of those auxiliary muscles.
You want a superset here because it’s going to increase the endurance of those muscles, which are usually muscles that aren’t getting the same attention of your larger muscles that do the bulk of the lifting in your routine.
A superset is also going to improve the mind-muscle connection to these auxiliary muscles. When you’re more in tune with your body you’re going to be able to engage your muscles in ways that are much more constructive and efficient, leading to more gains and bigger personal bests.
Is the routine for you? Only you can answer that question for yourself, but remember that the Rich Piana approach to health and fitness is extreme. He was a dude that would routinely spend the entire day in the gym, he was all about building muscle and figuring out how to force his body into giving him the best results possible.
He also wasn’t shy about using steroids to boost his results. He’s well-known, even in death, for building an exceptional physique and pushing his workouts to the extreme, steroids or not. If you’re going to try taking this kind of routine on, you’re going to have to keep that kind of information in mind.
You’re not going to be able to just jump out of bed one day and spend 8 hours in the gym working out your arms in hopes of looking like he did at the end of his life. You’re going to have to really consider how often you’re capable of working out and how much your diet reflects your capabilities in the gym.
Rich Piana was one in a million, so you’re going to have to adjust your expectations accordingly. If you want to get this big and work out for this long, you’re going to have to earn it by putting in the time every single week and treating your body right every single day. It’s not a routine for everybody even though everybody can learn something from it.
If you’re going to give this a shot remember that it takes dedication, careful consideration of what you’re putting into your body, and a smart approach to your workouts. If there’s something to take away from this it’s that you should be trying to find the fun in your workouts.
Piana would treat the gym like his playground, his routines had enough structure to give him a mental foothold every day, but once he was in there he would approach the weights and freestyle the workout until he thoroughly worked out each area of his body. You can get like that too if you’re ready to put in the work.