Let me be the first to say that no, the ideas behind this template are of course nothing revolutionary. It is based on proven principles that are used in lots of popular novice programs. The ideas behind a lot of these programs are the same because they work, plain and simple. Nobody is reinventing the wheel here. This template in particular is based on two key concepts:
1. Simplicity. The program revolves around a small number of compound lifts and uses a very simple and consistent pattern. Each day involves a lower body barbell movement, an upper body barbell movement and an upper body bodyweight movement for assistance. You don't need to write your workout down on a pad of paper before you hit the gym, it doesn't get much simpler than this.
2. Efficiency. Each workout is designed to be short and to the point. You only have 2 main movements to worry about that involve spending time warming up and loading plates, and one accessory movement that can be performed very quickly with no additional warmup and minimal use of equipment. It is very unlikely that you would ever be in the gym for more than an hour, even when working up to fairly heavy work sets.
Rationalizing the Template
Once we had settled on these two cornerstone values of the program, we needed to iron out the minutia and really determine what we believed would be the best way to lay out the lifts.
Choosing the lifts themselves was simple; the primitive compound lifts are the best bang for your buck and never go out of style. What we needed to figure out was how to best pair them, and then how to organize those pairings throughout the week.
1. Squat/Press/Chinup. Starting the week with the Squat is a no-brainer. The Squat is the foundation of any good strength training program and it's no different here. For the first day of the week, it made most sense to use the Press because it is the lightest of the upper body movements, and therefore requires the least recovery time and will have the least impact on subsequent upper body movements later in the week. The logical choice for bodyweight assistance here is the Chinup, to balance the upper body pressing movement with an upper body pull.
2. Deadlift/Bench Press/Chinup. We went back and forth several times when deciding whether to Deadlift in the middle of the week or at the end of the week. Eventually we agreed that deadlifting in the middle of the week was preferable because it allowed the Squat sessions to be distributed more evenly. The upper body movement had to be either the Row or Bench Press. The Bench Press won out because it places zero strain on the low back, unlike the Row where performance would suffer due to fatigue from the Deadlift. The downside is that this creates a less than ideal distribution of barbell pressing throughout the week. Fortunately, by placing the Press on Day 1 and the Bench Press on Day 2, the upper body is able to completely recover from the lighter stress of the Press before the Bench Press session, so there will be no impact on performance. Chinups are again performed at the end of the session to balance out the pressing.
3. Squat/Row/Pushup or Dip. It is widely accepted that squatting frequently is more beneficial than deadlifting frequently, so it made sense to make the third lower body lift another Squat session. The Row is the best upper body pulling exercise one can do with a barbell, so it was the logical choice to finish the week off as well. Pushups or Dips (depending on the trainee's abilities) are done as the bodyweight assistance to compliment the Row with a pressing movement.
Sets, Reps and Progression
The program uses the traditional 3 sets of 5 rep scheme for most exercises, and 3 sets of 3 reps for the Deadlift. This is very similar to other setups endorsed by world class coaches such as Mark Rippetoe and has proven to be effective for building strength and muscle mass in countless trainees time and time again. For the bodyweight exercises, 3 sets are performed where the number of reps depends on the trainees level of strength. Make sure not to push the first two sets so hard that the third set is a wash. Leave a couple of reps in the tank. It is better to do two sets of 8 and a set of 7 than to do a set of 11, a set of 5 and a set of 2.
Being a novice program, the goal is to increase the weight for every exercise each workout. It is recommended to begin by increasing the weight on all exercises by 5 pounds per workout, except the Deadlift which can be increased by 10 pounds per workout to keep up with the Squat. Eventually progress will slow down and it will become necessary to use smaller increments. Once progress can no longer be made from workout to workout, it's time to move on to intermediate programming.
1. What if I can't do a single Chinup?
This is a common problem for a lot of new lifters. The simplest option is to perform them assisted until you develop the strength to do them without help. There are several ways to do this:
- Place a bar in a rack at about shoulder level. Take your grip, squat down and perform your Chinups with your feet on the floor, using as little assistance from your legs as possible to get up.
- If you are using a doorway Chinup bar, place a chair in the doorway and use it as a stool to assist with your legs just like doing Chinups in a rack.
- If you train with a partner, they can help you perform your reps. Grab the Chinup bar and hang with your feet crossed and have your partner put his/her hands under your feet. Have them help just enough for you to make it over the bar, you want to be doing as much of the work yourself as possible.
- Loop a resistance band over the Chinup bar and place your knee or foot in it to help you up. I don't like this as much as using your legs for assistance because the strength curve is changed a lot, but if you have a hard time staying "honest" when using your legs to help, this can work well, especially if you have several different bands so you can gradually reduce the amount of assistance.
Another factor that can impede Chinup progress is bodyweight. If you are very overweight, the best way to earn your first Chinup is to lose weight. Strength training can certainly help with that, but it's by and large going to be dependent on diet which is beyond the scope of this program.
2. Why not Squat three times per week?
Lots of other novice programs have you squatting three times per week, this one has you squatting twice per week. Two squatting sessions is more than enough to make solid progress and it keeps the sessions shorter by avoiding deadlifting and squatting in the same day. In addition to this, you can train your Deadlift harder when you are not already fatigued from squatting earlier in the session.
3. Where's the Power Cleans?
Power Cleans are a tremendous exercise but are challenging to learn without an experienced lifter to help you. Without good technique, it is hard to move a lot of weight in the Power Clean and get the full benefit of the exercise. While the Power Clean trains you to be fast and explosive, it is not necessary to perform to develop full body strength. If you are comfortable with the exercise and would like to include them, using them as a warm up before the Deadlifts on Day 2 is the best place to put them.
4. When should I start doing Dips instead of Push-ups?
If you are doing more than 15 Push-ups per set, you should definitely be doing Dips. The Push-up is only really included as an alternative for people who lack the upper body strength to do 3 sets of Dips, so the goal is definitely to move away from them. As an aside, you don't have to go balls out on the pushups/dips on the last day. There are already 2 heavy pressing sessions in the week so stopping well before failure on all sets just to get some blood flowing is a perfectly acceptable approach, especially for people who are able to do a lot of reps.
5. How do I know what weight to start with?
It is hard to layout a scientific approach to choosing a starting weight for each lift. The best advice I can give though is to start lighter than you need to. The more room you give yourself to run, the more progress you will make before stalling.
If you've never lifted before, spend the first workout trying to establish where you're at. Start with just the bar for a set of 5. If it's really easy, add some weight and perform another set of 5. Continuing adding weight in manageable increments until it stops being really easy. Once it feels like about a 6 out of 10 effort, you are at a good starting point. It is important to note that it should stop being really easy a long time before it gets really hard. A 6 out of 10 shouldn't be a struggle by any means.
If you have already been lifting for a little while and have a good idea of your one rep max (1RM) or five rep max (5RM), a good starting point would be around 70% of your 1RM or 80% of your 5RM. It's light, but the weights increase quickly and you can build some momentum which will help you progress further before you hit any walls.
6. I failed a set, what should I do?
First things first you need to figure out why you failed a set. It's always going to be for one of 2 reasons:
- Something you are doing outside of the gym has affected your performance. This means maybe you didn't sleep enough, you aren't eating enough of the right foods, you were not hydrated enough or maybe you played a 2 hour game of pickup soccer before heading to the gym. In this case, attempt the same weight next time and make sure you are doing what you need to do outside of the gym to sustain performance inside the gym.
- You are doing everything correctly to ensure proper recovery but you were just not strong enough to complete the set today.
If anyone has any questions or suggestions, please let me know and I will add them to this post.
I would also really love it if anyone wanted to run the program for a couple of months and give their thoughts, it's nothing revolutionary but it would make me giddy like a school girl to see people enjoying this template and getting some use out if it.
Also open to better names for the program/thread, this one sucks.