Monday, February 4, 2013


This is going to be a long one, so pull up a chair and grab your favorite snack.

It also doubles as a blanket

A request has been made for me to write down how I train and the lessons I have learned.  Thought it will be worth getting into my current state of events, I wanted to use this as an opportunity instead to list what I would advocate for a brand new trainee, looking to become the biggest and strongest trainee they could be.  This is about laying down the foundation for success from the get go and logically progressing from point to point.

Without further ado, here is the protocol.


In the Beginning

A foundation in athletics is necessary before starting any sort of resistance training program.  You don’t have to be captain of the football team or all American, but just 1-3 years/seasons of being active should be enough to lay down a solid foundation in coordination, conditioning, flexibility, strength, power, mobility and tenacity.  People who play sports also tend to be able to understand the difference between soreness and injury, and have an idea of when to play through pain and when to sit things out.  These are just lessons you can’t learn academically, and without them beginners tend to spend a lot of time spinning their wheels in the weightroom killing their gains by overthinking shit and spending too much time addressing mobility.  This doesn’t need to be anything extreme, but cross golf and bowling off the list.  Stick with the basics: football, wrestling/boxing/mma, basketball, hockey, track and field, etc.

No...just no.

If it was not covered during your time in sports, perform some calisthenics to continue to prep yourself for heavy resistance training.  Dave Tate had a suggestion that someone should be able to do 100 push ups before doing a bench press, and I think it’s solid.  Include pull ups and lunges at a minimum and you’ll do yourself a favor.


The Workout

This is the part everyone skipped to because they aren’t going to do the first two things (which is mostly why people struggle so much in lifting).

Don’t think in muscle groups, think in movement planes.  Beginners screw themselves up from reading too much Muscle and Fitness and Arnold’s Guide to Bodybuilding, and are overly concerned with hitting every muscle group or asking “what muscle does that work” when seeing Benni hit a 1015 deadlift.  As a beginner, you want to train your body how to move weight in multiple directions the best way possible.  Once it gets good at this, you can stress muscles.  Until then, know that your body can’t make a muscle NOT work if it’s needed to move a certain way.  If you are pressing, your shoulders and arms are going to get involved.  If you’re pulling, your back is going to get involved.
Here are the 4 types of movements we will deal with
Upper body push
Upper body pull
Here are the two planes of movement we will operate in when dealing with the upper body


Ultimately, you want to have a program with one squat variation, one deadlift variation, one upper body vertical push and pull, and one upper body horizontal push and pull.  Performing an equal amount of pushing and pulling in various planes will create symmetry and balance in both your physique and strength, and the heavy squatting and deadlifting will lead to great whole body size and mass gains.
If I were to design a program for a beginner who went through the above two phases, had access to the best equipment, and was not training specifically for a strength sport, it would look like this
Day A
Barbell Squat or Safety Squat Bar Squat 

Glute ham raise 
1xAs Many As Possible (AMAP)

Parallel Bar Dips or Standing Strict press (Alternate each training day) 
1xAMAP w/50% of previous load or bodyweight w/dips if applicable


Tricep extensions

Day B
Barbell Squat or Safety Squat Bar Squat 

Parallel Bar Dips or Standing Strict press (Alternate each training day) 
1xAMAP w/50% of previous load or bodyweight w/dips if applicable
Deadlifts or Trap Bar lifts or Mat Pulls
1x5 or 1x15-20 (alternate each training week)

Kettlebell Swing
1-2x25-50, emphasis on explosive pop from hips (1 set on the 1x15-20 week, 2 sets on the 1x5 week)

Weighted inclined sit-ups

Band pull aparts

Day C
Barbell Squat or Safety Squat Bar Squat 3x5

Parallel Bar Dips or Standing Strict press (Alternate each training day) 3x5
1xAMAP w/50% of previous load or bodyweight w/dips if applicable

Dumbbell rows

Backwards sled drag 
1 long trip or 3 short ones
Note: Just do something to blow up the quads here, don't overthink it 

The reasoning behind this program design is the option of having a severe lack of technical aspects in all of the movements.  

Squats are obvious. If you want to know why they are in the routine, start over.

The safety squat bar’s design negates bar placement, is easy on the shoulders, and the squat it creates is far more brute strength than technique limited, meaning that even if the lifter falls forward, they can finish the lift.  

Glute ham raise is here to give your posterior chain some more volume without forcing you to do high rep squats (and subsequently die).

Standing strict press for the vertical press. Military press is garbage. Press the bar straight up, not in an arc around your face.

Also an inferior military press

Chins for vertical pull. Again, simple, hard to fuck up, great overall impact on physique and strength.

The parallel bar dip is a much simpler movement compared to the bench, with far less to consider when training it.  You don’t have to worry about spotters, setting up your arch, what to do with the elbows, etc, it’s just down, and then up.

Deadlifts, like squats, are an obvious choice.

The trap bar lift is again far less technical than a straight bar deadlift.  A trainee will still learn how to pick a heavy weight off the floor, but since the weight will be in line with their body rather than out in front of them, they will place less stress on their back and be able to lift heavier loads sooner.  That being said, I would only make use of this implement if the trainee is using the safety squat bar, due to the carryover of that equipment to deads.  Otherwise, go with a straight bar.

Mat pulls are the most ideal here, range of motion progressed down to the floor. If you are a true beginner, you can deadlift each week with no issue, but otherwise, this is a great way to become a strong deadlifter without burning out.

The DB row is again less technical than a barbell row, and allows the trainee to support themselves with their other hand while they row, allowing the focus to remain on the row itself rather than supporting the lower back.

Tricep extensions are just there to take care of the elbow, and because trainees HATE it when their program doesn't have direct arm work.

KB swing is a great way to train the explosive lockout of the deadlift and get a pump for the PC. Will also get your heart going, so I snuck in some conditioning.

I can't be burning calories.  I need them for my gains!

Incline weighted sit-ups are some basic core work. Again, trainees need this, and it will help you squat more.

Band pull aparts are for shoulder health. There is minimal rear delt work this day.

Curls are for elbow health, and because everyone wants them.

Backwards sled drag is a great way to hammer your quads without fatigue. It is concentric only, and will also get you in better shape in general. 


Method to the Madness

Now to explain the method and reasoning behind the movement selection and programming.

3x5 indicates 3 straight weight sets of 5 reps.  No ramping, no tricks.  It's basic and brutal. Low reps make you strong, and the low volume will facilitate high frequency in training.

So what's with the 1 set of high reps afterward? The intent here is to use this set to promote hypertrophy and improve work capacity. Along with serving as motivation for a new trainee to "get the pump", it should also have an overall impact on strength, size and conditioning.

So why aren't the rows or chins trained at 3x5? The back seems to respond better to higher volume training. Additionally, when pressing for low reps, there is a natural limitation based on form, in that if you really fuck up your press, the weight will not move. Pulling does not have this limitation. There are multiple variety of circus act movements one can perform to try to manhandle a row or chin. This is what happens when a beginner tries to do low rep rows or chins. The high reps should prevent this from happening, while still developing a big and strong back.

The deads/TBLs/Mat pulls are only trained for 1 set at the end of the middle day.  This is because that the muscles involved in this movement are trained via the squat anyway.   One week, you will perform a heavy set of 1x5, and the next week you will perform a high rep set of 10-20 reps.  The 5 rep set will help build strength off the floor, while the higher rep set will help develop some necessary muscle in the posterior chain.
Perform the 5 rep set as a deadstop set and the high rep set as touch and go.  The extra time under tension will be helpful for muscle gain, while pulling from a dead stop will further contribute to strength gains in terms of pulling off the floor.  The intent here is more to train the movement rather than the muscle, and with 1 set, you can really go balls out, especially on those sets of 15-20

The press and the dips are alternated every time you train.  This just creates balance between horizontal and vertical pressing.

The 100 band pull aparts at the end of the middle day are simply there due to the lack of true upper body pulling.  It should help balance out the rear delts and further contribute to upper back development.


Now on to the topic of progression from workout to workout.  One’s goal should always be to get stronger every time they train, at least as a beginner.  Start out light with a weight that you can easily hit all the prescribed rep ranges for while still having room to progress up.  Every time you train, increase the weight.  Smaller increases are preferable to larger ones, as this will prolong your gains.  Once you eventually reach the point wherein you cannot hit the prescribed reps with your weight, count how many reps total you hit in a workout.  The next time you train that movement, beat those total reps in any way possible while not going over the prescribed rep range.
EXAMPLE: For  squats, say you were working with 225lbs.  Your work sets looked like this

This equals a total of 13 reps.  The next time you train, get at least 14 reps in any way possible.  This could be



Or any other way to do it, just get more reps, as this is how you get stronger.
This is heavy, high volume training, and will be taxing on a trainee.  It will require a deload after every 6-9 workouts.  Deloading can be accomplished in many ways, but for purposes of this program, you will accomplish it by keeping the weight the same and reduce the total number of reps to 70%.  If you had performed a full 3x5 in your previous workout, you could do this by doing 2x5 or 3x3.  If you had hit less total reps, just multiply the total by .7 and break that many reps into however many sets and reps you need without going over 5 in a set.  These workouts will be fast, but most likely still tough due to how broken down you are.  Get in and out of the gym, and heal up.  Deload for one training week (workouts A-C), and then go back to your old volume for another 6-9 workouts.      



There will come times in the program where you run into stalls. To be clear, a stall is defined as an inability to progress in either weight OR total reps on one or more movements from workout to workout. It does NOT mean that you feel uncomfortable moving up a weight after completing the full amount of sets and reps and decide to force yourself to stagnate, that is just poor training. Additionally, if the reason you are not progressing is due to poor sleep or nutrition, this is not a stall, but human error. All of this being said, even with all the variables controlled, eventually, you will simply be unable to progress past a certain point. When this happens, it is time to change movements.

When you pick a new movement, you want to still follow the rules set above for training. Try to pick something similar and in a full range of motion that will compliment your goals of getting stronger. Some replacement movements are as follows.

For Squat Variation:
SSB Box Squat
Box Squat
Front Squat
SSB squat or Barbell squat (whichever you didn't use before)

For Parallel bar dips:
Bench w/pause
Touch and go bench

For Chin ups:
Pull ups
Neutral Grip Chins
Any other variation of chins/pull ups

For Deadlift Variation:
Trap Bar Lift
Deadlift (conventional or sumo)
Straight legged deadlift

For Strict press:
Touch and go strict press
Push press

For Dumbbell row:
Dead stop dumbbell row
Chest supported machine row
Additionally, consider adding chains to any movement to create variety.

Please note that many of these movements are more technical than the ones previously advocated for a beginner. It is the hope that at this point in your training, you have become more coordinated and able to pick up more complex training movements. Be realistic when picking an alternative, it still needs to be something you can load up to be heavy and challenging. If you throw in too many variations to create a new movement (unbalanced, against chains and bands, on an incline) you may end up greatly reducing the bar weight beyond anything possibly beneficial.

Start training your new movements like you did the old ones, but starting off light and building back up again. Once this stalls, return to your previous movements, starting low and building up. You should find that your time invested in alternative movements will strengthen you at different angles than previously accomplished, resulting in being able to push past previous plateaus. 

Once you find that this strategy no longer works, and all other variables are under control, it is time to consider undergoing a phase of higher volume/weak point training. Something like Joe DeFranco's Westside Barbell for Skinny Bastards III ( works great here, or any similar approach where the goal is to target weaknesses while still developing whole body strength. Keep in mind, the goal here is to correct weaknesses, not pick a bunch of pet lifts that you enjoy or are good at so you can stroke your ego. Pick what you suck at, hit it hard, eat a ton and grow. The strength and mass you gain from this phase will pay off when you transition back to more abbreviated training.

Upon your return to abbreviated training, start low on weight again, and aim to get your working set weight up to around your 1-3rms from your time on WS4SB. If you are able to get to this point, you will have a great foundation in strength and size, and will be able to tackle any goal you have.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for that. Helps to know someone is reading.

    2. So I stopped being a girly man doing circuits and did real heavy work.

      I hit 2 of my 3 goals and added 5kg in mass.

      I love you. Keep posting.

  2. Thanks for the super-informative post.

    I'm trying to get back into lifting after stupidly dropping it just as I started to progress from extremely weak to moderately weak 2 years ago.

    I'm just starting this routine but thanks to Virgin Active I can't do glute ham raises (no machine) or sled drags (I can just imagine that conversation with gym staff). Unfortunately changing gym is not an option right now. Could you recommend alternative exercises?

    1. For the sled drag, consider this at your gym

      I think those will go a long way. For the GHR, consider a home version.

      This one is really space economic

      I think a few other companies make something similar. You can also find a cheap full GHR from yukon fitness, named the giant back extension machine, or something similar. Well worth the investment.