Friday, January 1, 2016


I’ve always opened the floor to my readers to ask me any questions they want addressed, and SeanR has taken me up on the offer, having left a question in the comment section of my most recent post.  In order to try to stay on point and not go off on too much of a tirade, I will be addressing his question in parts.  Here is the question in its entirety.

I was hoping for your next blog if you could touch on what a beginners first year of training should look like. Lets say they have played some sports and have messed around in the weight room, but now they are starting from ground zero. Also what weight range in the major lifts do you think a person should have after 1 year of training hard if they started as a beginner. 

And now to break it down a little bit

I was hoping for your next blog if you could touch on what a beginners first year of training should look like. Lets say they have played some sports and have messed around in the weight room, but now they are starting from ground zero.

You can tell Sean is an avid reader of mine already because he’s already addressed one of the primary things I advocate ALL trainees do before lifting: play some sports and perform some basic bodyweight training.  I’ll still harp on it here while on the topic of beginner trainees though.  If I were to craft the perfect strength super soldier, I’d want them to spend at least 2-3 seasons playing some sort of athletic competitive sport.  Something with a lot of full body movement, resisting opposing forces, and some contact.  American football, wrestling, basketball, rugby, the basics/classics. 


You gain a lot of skills and experience from this that carries over very well into the weight room (tenacity, body awareness, coordination, flexibility, mobility, etc etc).  Additionally, one of the other huge benefits of this is you learn the difference between being sore and being injured, which is something a LOT of beginners seem to struggle with, having never actually BEEN injured before.  I remember after my first day of football practice as a high school freshmen I was so sore I couldn’t even get out of bed, but I also knew at that point that I wasn’t injured, and I just limped onto the field, warmed up, and was good to go again.  Getting all of this knocked out ahead of time means that time spent in the weight room isn’t wasted trying to figure out your body.  So many beginner trainees spend the first few years spinning their wheels because they don’t even know the very basics about ANY sort of training, and at least with sports you’ll get SOMETHING out of that time, while spending 3 years resetting on Starting Strength is far less valuable.

Alright, let’s actually talk about the question.  It’s true I’ve written my own beginner programs in the past, and advocated for a few as well, but these days, were I to start all over, I’d honestly just run 5/3/1.  I’ve been a pretty vocal proponent of 5/3/1 recently, and it’s not because there is some sort of magic formula in the percentages or anything like that, but more that Jim Wendler really figured out some great principles to base ANY training program around and put them all together.  Starting light, focusing on PRs, building strength in sub maximal ranges, using assistance work without obsessing over it, basing training around 4 big movements, valuing conditioning, scheduled deloads, all that stuff is just gold. 

I’ve had a fair series of blog posts recently addressing my issues with the current market of “beginner programs”, and basically the obsession with always adding weight to the bar is just building a bunch of kids who know how to peak their strength but have zero idea how to actually build it.  It makes sense that Bill Starr used these programs for off-season football players, because it was a quick way to get them back to their old strength numbers before the season started again, but for an athlete who is more focused on weights versus football, there are better ways forward.  Additionally, there is a LOT to learn from something like 5/3/1, with all the exploration and experimentation available, and as long as one puts in the effort in the main sets, they’ll grow.

And this crap will stop happening

As for WHAT version of 5/3/1 to run, I’d honestly just plain have them do the 4 day vanilla 5/3/1 to start, with the BBB assistance work.  I’d swap out BBB deads with another type of squat (so have them doing squats and SSB squats as an example), and I’d have them do the alternate exercise for assistance (so do BBB press on 5/3/1 bench day, BBB squat on 5/3/1 dead day, etc), but otherwise keep it simple.  After a little while, they could do first set last, 5s Pro, full body, etc etc, but the original recipe works just fine.  Throw in some loaded carries somewhere as a finisher or on a non-lifting day if they want to be a strongman some day too, but for just building the basics, this will do just fine.

Onto the second part.

Also what weight range in the major lifts do you think a person should have after 1 year of training hard if they started as a beginner. 

This is a mentality I think a beginner needs to get away from in all honesty.  So many new trainees screw up because they’re so fixated on the 1rms that they can’t grasp the idea of building strength in various rep ranges.  It’s why there is this bizarre critique of 5/3/1 progressing “too slowly”, because all they see is the increase to the training max and not the actually increase of their STRENGTH.

I mean, who cares that this guy used 5/3/1 to bench 600lbs in multiple weight classes...TOO SLOW!

The longer I train, the more I realize that how much weight one lifts isn’t necessarily the best indication of how strong one is.  I realize that sounds crazy, but hear me out.  Let’s take the bench press.  Say you got a kid who is 150lbs and benches 135lbs with their back flat on the bench.  Now, let’s say that I force feed that same kid a gallon of water on the spot.  Suddenly, he’s got a bloated belly, and the ROM of the bench just decreased, so he can move more weight.  Now let’s say I slap some tacky onto his traps and butt and then stick him onto the bench with the craziest arch I can manage.  I just increased his bench again.  Say I teach him how to touch on the highest part of his arch.  Another increase.  How about tucking his shoulder blades as hard as possible?  More gains.  What about teaching him to squeeze the crap out of the bar and pull it apart?  More gains.  Etc etc, you can witness the insanity here, but this an everyday thing on the net.  Anytime a beginner says that they’re stalling, one of the first solution is “your form is probably bad”.  Yeah, probably, but that doesn’t fix the strength issue, just the “weight being moved” issue.

Image result for huge bench arch

Instead of focusing on hitting certain lifts within a certain amount of time, I feel it’s more beneficial for a beginner within 1 year’s span to have gained enough principles to know how to train effectively with a great amount of intensity of effort, along with the knowledge of what assistance movements work for them and what techniques improve their strength the most.  Strength builds slowly, and 1 year is still scratching the surface, but if that 1 year is spent training intelligently with violent intensity, that trainee will be MUCH further ahead than some guy with a 300lb squat who got that way by running Smolov and peaking to a max, eating whole pizzas every meal, wearing a belt, weightlifting shoes and wraps out of a monlift after huffing some ammonia and blasting some metal.  One has learned how to get stronger, the other how to move more weight.

Thank you for your question, and if I can clarify anything, please let me know.  If anyone else has any topics they’d like covered, leave a comment.


  1. I really like your point about sports before lifting, and I wish I'd understood it during my extremely unathletic childhood. My first year-ish of lifting felt more like remedial work than actually getting strong, and looking back it's actually amazing how little body awareness I had to start out with.

    1. Thanks man, I appreciate your input. It's really a pretty new era, and it's one of those things that one has to keep in mind now when they read from authors from "back in the day". People just plain weren't unathletic back then, with kids playing outside until it was dark out, then doing 3 sports during the school year, many getting drafted into military service, etc etc. So many "beginner programs" were built for people with a great degree of physical training, just no weights. I'm glad to hear you were able to overcome your starting point though. It's a rough learning curve.

  2. Isn't "building strength" hypertrophy work while "testing strength" peaking strength

    1. Pretty much. The issue of course becomes that people hear that building strength is hypertrophy, so they decide that they gotta be in the "hypertrophy rep range", which still ends up missing the point. It's very much a journey with no map sometimes, haha.

  3. Long time reader with a question.

    I remember reading your post around stalling.

    I would be really interested on your advice around pushing past a max.

    My lift I am referring to is squats.

    What do you recommend manipulating when you hit your maxes? I squat 3 times a week with varying rep ranges 15,5,10 and am adding weight to the bar. Things are getting hard now and grindy so i know from your blog that this is where the real work begins.

    Standard advice when grinding and struggling is to deload, drop weight and work on form, eat more and work back up. Never worked for me.

    I am thinking based on your past posts that forcing adaptation by increasing the challenge on the body is the way to go.

    Any advice on a good way to do this?

    Say at the moment 2 sets at 5 reps are grindy and adding weight to the bar just causes me to fail to hit 5 reps and hit 3 instead.

    To force adaptation would you recommend increasing the weight and work on increasing the number of sets of 3s until i can get 5 reps or stay at weight i can do 5s for but increase volume of 5s from 2 sets over time to say 4 sets until i can increase weight again.

    cheers Pd

    1. Good to have you comment again Paul.

      When I was in that situation, my strategy was to keep the weight the same and try to beat the previous amount of reps I had hit before. So, if I was supposed to do 5x5, and I ended up doing 3x5, and then a set of 3 and 2 for a total of 20 reps, I'd do whatever I could to get 21 reps in 5 sets without going over 5 reps per set the next workout, and then keep that up until I could hit the full 5x5, then start over.

      Another approach you could take (and something I think I should've done instead) is do as many sets as necessary to get the 25 reps total, and then keep the weight the same and try to reduce the amount of sets until you hit it in 5, and then increase weight from there.

      OTHER options would be to just do as many reps as you could for the weight you need to, and then, after finishing all your structured work sets (so 5 sets of however many reps it ends up being), dropping the weight by half and doing some sort of killer balls out AMRAP set, just to force some sort of growth/adaptation. This would be another great set to try to shoot for a PR on.

      Lots of great ways to really get the effort in.

  4. Thanks Emevas,

    Awesome. Thanks.

    I plan to implement all 3.

    For my day I do 15s I will do option 2.

    For the days I do 5s I will do option 3 because pushing reps lower than 5s tends to wear on my joints over time plus it will give me some more volume.

    For the days I do 10s i will do option 1.

    As an aside based on your strong man jouney my son (7) and I are going to start hitting the park on the weekend and venture into our own version of strongman. It will be a lot around monkey bars and also sandbags and loaded carries (for him it will be a backpack with super super easy weight) for longer distance.

    By the way I recently hit dips + 32.5 KGS for 5 at a bodyweight of 63kgs thanks to what I learnt on this blog.

    Looking fwd to next post.

    1. I love the creative programming solution you came up with. Hope it works for the best. Really excited for you and your son to train like that as well. Getting outside and training is a blast.

      Congrats on the PR. That's awesome work, and it means a lot to be able to help.