Saturday, December 5, 2015


As a fan and student of abbreviated training, what I am about to write is very difficult, but after having witnessed this trend for too long I feel an obligation to do so.

The current fixation with beginner trainees is to follow “beginner programs”, which are comprised of low reps, few sets, low volume, and high frequency.  The justification for this approach is that it will quickly get a beginner trainee’s numbers up, allowing them to finally have the strength base to move on to an “intermediate program”.  It’s all about speed, making the fastest, most efficient gains possible.

 Image result for taco bell nacho crunch wrap mean there is a way to eat nachos faster?!

As I have written about many times in the past, these programs are not BUILDING strength; they are simply realizing the strength that is already there.  This is why there is so much variance of mileage in these programs.  Some trainees can run them and get to a 300lb bench, 400lb squat and 500lb deadlift without slowing down, while others are lucky to hit 135 for all of those numbers before hitting the mythical “3 stalls” and then resetting or following a new program.  This is due to the fact that some trainees start out with significantly greater strength potential due to a background in athletics or some other form of resistance training which is able to be peaked at a much higher level compared to a lifelong sedentary individual.  But in any case, what was the point of all that?

Why must a beginner progress as fast as possible?  Is this not a lifelong journey?  Tell me, how much further ahead will a beginner who ran Starting Strength for the first 6 months of their career be compared to a trainee that ran 5/3/1 out the gate when we compare them 10 years down the road?  We’re talking microscopic differences if any, and in all honesty I would argue that the trainee running 5/3/1 was better prepared to progress.

And hell, after a long enough timeline, it REALLY won't matter

Why?  Because actually taking the time to learn a program with a logical progression scheme that employs a variety of rep ranges, assistance work, conditioning, and forces you to experiment will give you a far more valuable skillset than simply doing the same 6 exercises for the same sets and reps over and over again.  We constantly observe trainees that are simply lost when it comes time to move on after their fabled “beginner gains” have stalled out, as they learned NOTHING from the process of training.  These trainees inevitably latch on to an almost identical looking program comprised of low reps, few sets, and high frequency, with only the minorest of differences to distinguish it from before.  These programs are “safe”, because once again the thinking element has been removed from the equation.  Consequently, I have NEVER seen anyone emerge from these programs with anything impressive physique or strengthwise…have you?

You can not build strength quickly.  I know this upsets a lot of people, but it’s the truth.  Strength does not get built quickly.  Strength takes many years of grinding away to be amassed.  It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, it’s not quick, but if it WERE any of those things, there would be WAY more strong people running around.  This is why the race to bigger numbers is a fool’s errand.  It seduces away so many trainees with its false promises of great strength in little time, but the end result is a trainee who is no better off than when they began.  They became better at a movement and realized their full potential, but did nothing to actually improve it.

People like to say that training is a marathon and not a sprint, but it’s even more arduous than that.  A more apt analogy is that training is like siege warfare, and all you can hope to do is outlive your weakness.  It’s a war of attrition, there is no quick ending, it’s brutal and uncomfortable, and in the end you’ll be pretty beat up from it.  However, those with the discipline to hang back and let the enemy fade away will eventually be the winners, while those that get too anxious and go for the bayonet charge right out the gate are going to be the ones that get mowed down by machinegun fire early. 

Image result for charge of the light brigade
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:

Outlive your weakness.  Do not try to directly engage it, for if you do, it will drag you down to its level.


  1. This blog is quickly becoming one of my favorites. This post recalls thoughts I have had regarding beginner programs and the dogma surrounding them, particularly your statement that a beginner program does not build strength, but realizes it. I have always been suspicious of those who steadfastly believe that any given trainee should be squatting over 300 pounds inside of a few months, and if not "something's really wrong/you're not doing it right."

    Anyway, I really love these posts. Keep it up!

    1. Awesome man, much appreciated. Thanks for being a reader. The sentiment you discus is when I've written about in the past as well regarding the community of forums. You quickly establish a community based around a core set of beliefs and then ostracize anyone that demonstrates anything that opposes these beliefs. We've seen this repeat in history a LOT, and the lifting community is just a microcosm of it.

  2. Your blog is dope.

    When you said novice programs simply realize the strength that is there, that made SO much sense. You basically detailed my experience exactly when you talked about the 3 stalls at 135, except for me they were at 115 for bench. Had no idea what to and spun my wheels for a while and was finally able to get it just recently using, guess what, 5/3/1. I know it's not "strong" but at the risk of being too corny, it's progress and it feels both awesome and relieving.

    Super glad I found your blog man, I wish more of the r/fitness guys would listen to you.

    1. Hey man, I appreciate that. You're not alone in your experience; pretty much all of this blog is just my current self yelling at my past self for being so stupid, haha. I'm glad you're finding a way forward through this all.

      Most people on the internet would rather be right than strong, so it doesn't phase me that they don't listen to me. The hivemind will always gravitate toward the path of least resistance, and that tends to get the least results.