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The Average F'n Program: A Simple And Efficient Training Template


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#1 AdamW

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 08:24 AM

A few weeks ago, idle and I got to talking about what we thought were the important aspects of a good novice program. After hammering it out for a while, we came up with a template that I think would have really appealed to me when I started lifting, while still satisfying all of the important criteria that a quality program demands.

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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.

Common Questions

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.
Alternatively, if you have access to a lat pull down machine, you can perform pull downs for sets of 5 to 10, gradually increasing the weight each time you use the machine until you are strong enough to do a proper Chinup.

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.
In the case of the second scenario, the first thing to try is still to repeat that same weight again next time. Once you get stuck at the same weight for 3 workouts in a row, it's time to take a couple steps back and work back up. Reduce the weight for your next workout down to about 90% of the weight you missed and work back up from there. Once this approach stops working and you are getting stuck at the same weight over and over again, you need to move onto an intermediate approach that adds weight to the bar in cycles instead of every workout.


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.
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#2 Art

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 08:31 AM

I like the looks of this. I may switch off my current program and try it. In fact, I think I will, and include PCs for DL warmup as suggested, as I would like to PC as well, even if I suck lol
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#3 idle

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 08:47 AM

I actually kind of like that program name...

It should be noted this would also work with a 5x5 set/rep scheme as well, if you are wanting to get more volume in. The session should still be doable in around an hour, including warm-up. The additional volume may be useful for a beginner to get accustomed to the movements, and allow for more growth (since, as Derick mentioned in the chat, each press is only done once a week).
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#4 Guest_ExperimentB76z_*

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 09:12 AM

It looks like it would work very well for people interested in maximal strength training who are trying to bridge the gap between novice and intermediate programs (perhaps more so than a beginner program for complete novice lifters) and who are stalling on some lifts, like the press and bench, which normally go before squat and deadlift. If you introduced wave progression for those lifts - well any where progress could no longer be made, all of them if people wanted to, because some people like the familiarity of the program they started out on - that would enable the program to bridge the gap and take lifters gains further than the traditional templates.

Maybe that is more of a stage two to your program. However, people always seem to fixate on linear progression or jumping to intermediate programs, when they could keep linear progression going on those lifts that are capable of continuing with LP, whilst cycling those that are not on wave progression and continuing to make progress there without cutting short their progress on squat, etc.

If there was a gap in programming for novice lifters, that's where I would say it is.
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#5 FSM

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 09:15 AM

I've thought about this quite a lot and I ended up with something similar. I definitely agree with not doing Squats and Deadlifts on the same day, but I'm tempted to suggest doing 2 x 5 or maybe even 3 x 5 deadlifts if there aren't any squats on the same day.

Starting Weight - I don't think everyone needs just the bar, but starting light is still important.

I don't know what people's thought are on OHP and chinups on the same day and rows and bench together. Might be a problem with either doing bench twice as often or doing rows and deadlifts on the same day though.

It should be noted that many people advocate against doing chinups to failure and I think they were an afterthought on many programs anyway so are we suggesting failure -2reps or similar?

I think that this program will offer just as much progression as the other main ones out there.

Will it remain the " Average F'n Program" or "IronStrong 3 x 5"?

One final thought. Should we have a gradual fade out into weekly progression for the intermediate stage?
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#6 Guest_ExperimentB76z_*

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 09:25 AM

I've thought about this quite a lot and I ended up with something similar. I definitely agree with not doing Squats and Deadlifts on the same day, but I'm tempted to suggest doing 2 x 5 or maybe even 3 x 5 deadlifts if there aren't any squats on the same day.


3x3! Still a decent amount of volume and you can take it further.
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#7 AdamW

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 02:02 PM

It looks like it would work very well for people interested in maximal strength training who are trying to bridge the gap between novice and intermediate programs (perhaps more so than a beginner program for complete novice lifters) and who are stalling on some lifts, like the press and bench, which normally go before squat and deadlift. If you introduced wave progression for those lifts - well any where progress could no longer be made, all of them if people wanted to, because some people like the familiarity of the program they started out on - that would enable the program to bridge the gap and take lifters gains further than the traditional templates.

Maybe that is more of a stage two to your program. However, people always seem to fixate on linear progression or jumping to intermediate programs, when they could keep linear progression going on those lifts that are capable of continuing with LP, whilst cycling those that are not on wave progression and continuing to make progress there without cutting short their progress on squat, etc.

If there was a gap in programming for novice lifters, that's where I would say it is.


I definitely plan to include a write-up on how to use this same split but with an intermediate twist. You can take just about any program and manipulate the sets/reps over a two week period to allow gains to continue without hopping to a completely new program so that is definitely something worth writing about.
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#8 AdamW

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 02:20 PM

I've thought about this quite a lot and I ended up with something similar. I definitely agree with not doing Squats and Deadlifts on the same day, but I'm tempted to suggest doing 2 x 5 or maybe even 3 x 5 deadlifts if there aren't any squats on the same day.


I thought about this as well but don't have enough experience doing deadlifts for sets across to be able to recommend it. Pulling only one heavy set of 3 per week was the best thing I ever did for my deadlift actually, but I don't think that would be enough for someone who isn't moving pretty heavy weights already. 3x3 does sound interesting though. More than anything this just a template for someone who needs a basic and simple program where they want to be in and out of the gym, there's lots of way you could change the rep scheme without abandoning the core principles of the template.

Starting Weight - I don't think everyone needs just the bar, but starting light is still important.


Agree, will add a section about choosing a starting weight. I personally like Rip's approach to choosing a starting weight for a novice (work up until the bar speed slows down and start there), but maybe there's a better way to explain it to someone who's brand new. I'm thinking something "add weight until it starts to feel like you are putting a little work in, somewhere where you feel like you could probably get around 8 reps." You definitely want to make sure they give themselves room to run.

I don't know what people's thought are on OHP and chinups on the same day and rows and bench together. Might be a problem with either doing bench twice as often or doing rows and deadlifts on the same day though.


You could set something up like this but I don't think it fits this program, it would really be a drastic change. I personally believe that chins are a more valuable exercise than the rows anyways, so it's a bonus that they are super fast to do and can be done twice a week.


*stupid forum won't let me include more quote tags, but these are answers to the rest of the post*

About the Chinups 3xF, if you read the sets/reps section in the first post I recommend the same thing, leaving a few reps in the tank on the first 2 sets. If anyone can think of a clean way to convey that in the actual program outline I will change it for sure.

With regards to the name, I'm definitely interested in hearing different suggestions, I don't like the current one but the thread needed a title. I would be happy to attach the IronStrong name to the program with Mike's blessing.

I'll do a separate write up on transitioning to intermediate programming on the same template, I've got a few ideas.
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#9 Wanderlei

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 02:21 PM

Looks good, although I like rowing the same time I bench for some reason. Definately a good template for beginners, kind of a mix between madcow and rippetoes 3x5. I definately think dropping squats on deadlift day is a very good idea, as I find my deadlift never really took off on rippetoe's, and only started to take off on madcow once I wasnt squatting heavy on dedlift day.

I agree more sets of deadlifts may be needed early on to cement form, but once the deadlifts start to get heavy, from personal experience ramping up to 1 heavy set of 5 did wonders for me on madcow.

name suggestion? Iron Strongs beginner routine? :P If people actually started doing it, it may get the site more exposure. This is how SL got a lot of its hits.
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#10 Neptune

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 06:32 PM

Looks good adam.

I'm also not a fan of 1x5 deadlifts. I got stuck at a working weight of about 270 doing 1x5, but 3x3 took it all the way to 330 without a gain in bodyweight. Plus, it's more volume.

And agree about the chins. You always seem to get more volume if you try and go for even reps across each set. If I put 90% effort and get 10 reps on set 1, and rest for 2-3 minutes between each set, I think it's plausible to get 10,10 on the last two sets.
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#11 idle

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 06:51 PM

Now that it's been mentioned, I think replacing 1x5 deads with 3x3 is a fantastic idea.

On starting weight, I have a friend that's started this. What we did was worked up to heavy singles, and once form started to break down we stopped. The starting weights for the progression are 70% of the top, cleanly performed singles. Lots of room to run, but still a bit of a challenge on some lifts. The only drawback with this method, is the trainee would need someone who can coach the lifts reasonably well to introduce them.

I think there should be a bit of self-discovery when finding the starting point, even if it's not heavy(-ish) singles.
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#12 AdamW

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 08:49 PM

I think 3x3 is a good idea as well, officially changed. I mean ultimately anything will work, but I do love triples on the deadlift and 3 sets of triples isn't some ungodly amount of deadlift volume, it's still pretty damn reasonable. Plus since there's no squatting that day you should have a bit of extra energy to devote to the deadlifting as well, I like it.
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#13 AdamW

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 09:28 PM

Added some stuff to the end of the original post.
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#14 klimmilksq

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 11:08 PM

Excellent.

You and Idle are drug free lifters right? Because I don't know if anyone would follow this program if you didn't put that information down there. I also need to see you both in a tuxedo in a poorly photoshopped picture. I would also like to know how long you both have been training and how long you have been drug free, and you are both the founders of this program.

I would also like life help from you guys.

kthxbye.

/trolling

Looks excellent.
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#15 silverback

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 11:56 PM

Looks pretty good but I don't see any ab work. How Rip of you...

Also, like K, I think some motivational homilies, of the "girl who stole your lunch money in second grade and you vowed never to be weak again" type would be nice.

/troll

Looks solid.

what about the abs?
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#16 klimmilksq

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 11:58 PM

Or how you were beat in arm wrestling by the aforementioned lunch money stealing girl.

/troll

Will you overtrain on this program?
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#17 silverback

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 12:08 AM

You could also offer Unobtanium memberships with super exclusive goodies like weekly Skype sessions where you and Idle play good cop/bad cop while the trainee lifts...

/troll

srsly teh abz?
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#18 klimmilksq

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 12:13 AM

I was thinking they should offer a Plutonium membership with super exclusive tidbits of information that you could find everywhere else online or in a book and have weekly skype sessions costing of course $1000 while they give life help/advice and lifting help to the lifter on the other end.

I also want them whilst offering this Plutonium membership to continue informing the e-world that they are drug free founders.

/trollololololol
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#19 AdamW

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 01:11 AM

Looks pretty good but I don't see any ab work. How Rip of you...


Trying to keep it simple here sir! ;)

Plus I have done like 5 sets of ab work in the past 12 months and seem to be getting along just fine, haha...
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#20 NeilPorter

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 06:50 AM

The only thing I would add to this, is that (as SB said) no ab work. I appreciate you've done well without it but I am 100% certain if I had been doing HLRs/ GMs since start of SL5x5 my deads and squats would be 15-20kgs further along, no doubt weakness in this areas has cost me and it's only since adding them in that I've got a lot stronger at these lifts than I would just doing the lifts alone.
Sometimes when your weak in an area just repeatedly squatting or deadlifting won't get you past that, so a solid core is the best help of all.
Plan looks really good though...simple is the key indeed.
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#21 Art

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 08:50 AM

Abz? easy peasy, do planks or rollouts (or both on different days) on your off days, along with some walking or other conditioning if you're cutting (or just want to do it)
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#22 KaKTy3

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 10:25 AM

Personally, I'd run deadlift-BW chin/pull ups-rows in the middle. Bench-Dips on Monday, when you are the freshest and then Press-weigthed chin/pull ups on Fri. You then have a day of pushes, a day of pulls and a mixed day.

Good programming, overall. Thanks.
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#23 FerrousMaverick

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 02:09 PM

Good stuff, and LOL at Mr. Abs with the decline AWR and weighted AWR complaining about the lack of abs.

It's something both the lunch stealing girl guy and Mr. make sure your gloves match your purse don't include in their routines. I think that is something that should be included. Planks or something on DL/Bench day would be a good start. Do planks 3xF (aim for 30s and increase to 2m).
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#24 AdamW

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 02:30 PM

Abz? easy peasy, do planks or rollouts (or both on different days) on your off days, along with some walking or other conditioning if you're cutting (or just want to do it)


Yeah agreed, I'm inclined to say if you want to do extra ab work, just do it, no one is going to stop you. But it is not a mandatory part of the program so I'm not going to include it. I am not a big fan of programs that force very specific programming for assistance work, it's only really the main lifts that need to be outlined in detail.

I'll add a section in the "questions" section about how to add extra assistance work if you want to do it.
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#25 FerrousMaverick

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 04:59 PM

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 self assisted until you develop the strength to do them without help. There are several ways to do this:

-Loop a resistance band over the Chinup bar and place your knee or foot in it to help you up
-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.


I have to say, I like Wendler's solution. That's do lat pull downs until you can. I was searching for the T-Nation article that described an approach to using lat pull downs until you could do pullups. Unfortunately I couldn't find it. But I found these instead:They all have approaches that don't use lat pull downs, but worth a read nonetheless.

Of course, T-Nation Is Not Your Best Friend... But every once in a while they have something useful.
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#26 sking

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 05:15 PM

Wow, my confidence in T-Nation has just increased exponentially knowing that Rusi wrote something in his crap rookie journal against it..
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#27 NineOne

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 05:25 PM

I've seen a few people suggest lat pulldowns for pullups, but honestly nothing helped me get my chin over that bar more than using an incline bench to support my legs.

I like the plan, guys. I'd try it if I didn't know that what I'm doing worked so well for me.
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#28 bluestreak

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 05:38 PM

I found the best thing to help me with pullups and chin ups... Was to lose weight. I did my first proper pullup from a dead hang a few days ago. Next day I did two. It's a dream come true. Also GTG was really good. I hate using bands.

I reckon AWRs should be an official assistance exercise for beginner programs. I feel they provided me a lot of benefit, more than planks
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#29 FerrousMaverick

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 06:01 PM

:) Yes, losing weight is one of the most commonly recommended solutions. I love one of Wendler's quotes: "It's not that you are too weak to do pull-ups, you're just too fat." Also suggested by article #3 listed above.
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#30 AdamW

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 07:24 PM

I found the best thing to help me with pullups and chin ups... Was to lose weight. I did my first proper pullup from a dead hang a few days ago. Next day I did two. It's a dream come true. Also GTG was really good. I hate using bands.

Yep losing weight is definitely the biggest one, I agree for sure! I hate using bands as well, I much prefer to do them self-assisted. As long as you are honest with the self assisted chins they are very good. I'll add using a lat pull down as a way to work up to full chins as well, though I think.

I reckon AWRs should be an official assistance exercise for beginner programs. I feel they provided me a lot of benefit, more than planks

Definitely my favourite ab exercise as well. Don't want to add anymore exercises to the program though and I don't think anything in there so far is worth removing to replace with ab work, plus I don't want to include the need for more specialty equipment.
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