I read somewhere that
There are four things you need to do in the gym to get stronger: Squats, Deadlifts, Pull-ups, and Dips
so I used those 4 exercises as the foundation of a 7 week strength program.
Here’s what I learned…
If the Pull-ups and/or Dips are too easy, then add some weight. You can purchase a weight belt or simply hold onto a dumbbell or kettlebell with your feet. A weighted backpack can also be used. A little increase in weight goes a long way. Push it hard early on in the workout with multi-joint exercises that use the majority of your body, and then burn out with supplementary lifts.
Remember your protein! You might not take in enough calories that your body needs to maintain weight, so you’re going to be breaking down muscle faster as you lift. Also, remember to eat well. I easily gained 10 pounds and a ton of strength, but I let my nutrition slip as well as my body composition.
Keep the workouts short and intense. Lifting too much past an hour and you’re getting diminishing returns. Once you’ve hit the muscles hard enough to trigger a growth stimulus, you’re done. I usually try and limit myself to 45min-60min in the gym. Sometimes I’ll even do two-a-day workouts just to get a full training day in.
Everyone’s schedule is different so try and get your lifting done sometime during the week. The weekends are supposed to be used for yourself, family and friends, don’t turn lifting into a burden by saving it for the weekend. Keep it in the workweek.
Sample Training Plan
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- Start with a warm-up that will work the major muscles being used. In this case we are doing deadlifts, so get some lightweight deadlifts and a couple box jumps in.
- Low-rep Deadlift work. Progress up to a weight where you struggle to get two or three reps out. Keep the total number of sets low, around 5-6, 2 or 3 of which are max effort sets.
- Higher rep back work with multiple sets of Pull-ups. 6 sets of 8 reps. If the 8 reps are easy, then add some weight. If you don’t have weight, do a few sets then do some heavy Lat Pull-downs.
- Core work.[/gdlr_tab]
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- Low rep Bench Press
- Higher rep Dips
- Higher rep Dumbbell/Barbell rows Rows
- Core work
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- Squats-“Squat Challenge“
- Higher rep Lunges
- Higher rep lower back work. Ex. Good mornings / Stiff-legged or Romanian Deadlifts / weighted Hyperextensions (I started my squat days by doing the “20-Rep Squat Challenge” then I moved on to the accessory lifts)
The 20-Rep Squat Challenge
For the 20-rep Squat Challenge, select a resistance that you would normally use for a tough set of 5-6 repetitions. With that resistance, perform 20 repetitions. Once you achieve 20 repetitions, you’re done with your squats for the week. For the next 20-rep squat workout add at least five pounds to the bar (10 pounds maximum).Your goal again is 20-repetitions.
Use the challenge as a weekly workout by itself, or add in 1-2 supplementary lifts and continue your leg training for the day.
The 20-rep squat routine in review:
- Train the lower body twice per week, once with the 20-rep squat routine and the other with something without squats.
- With the 20-rep squat routine, perform the first workout with a resistance that normally challenges you for 5 repetitions. Get 20 reps.
- For each succeeding 20-rep squat workout add five to 10 pounds on the bar and find a way to accomplish 20 reps.
- Make sure you are completely recovered prior to attempting the 20-rep workout. It will take everything you have to achieve the 20-rep goal.
When you inevitably hit the wall and are unable to achieve 20 reps after weeks of progressive training, at that point you should have made exceptional progress and achieved measurable results.
My ’20-Rep Squat Challenge’
I trained alone and primarily used a plate loaded squat machine. I divided the workout into 7-10 sets of 2-3 reps until I hit 20 total repetitions. I kept rest in between repetitions at a minimum, usually around 1 minute. Every now and then I would attempt 5 reps, but only after an increased rest period.
Wk 1. 3/45# and 1/5# plate per side. Total weight 280#
Wk 2. 3/45# and 1/15# (hurt at 17 reps, took a long break and finished 20)
Total weight 300#
Wk 3. 20 reps mixed between 300# and (mostly) 320#
Wk 4. 3/45# and 1/25# – per side
Total weight 320#
Wk 5. 4/45 per side
Total weight 360#
Wk 6. Same as above
Wk 7. 4/45# and 1/2.5# per side
Total weight 365#
I’m continuing to do the challenge and constantly improving!
Notes: You might notice I did not have any shoulder exercises listed. Shoulder exercises can be performed on Day 1 or Day 3. Do not do train shoulders on Day 2, with heavy bench and dips, there will be shoulder fatigue and a possible risk of injury due to shoulder overuse. I usually liked to spend a complete session (Day 4) working on my shoulders. I usually did a superset of a heavy shoulder pressing movement with the same progression as low-rep work, immediately followed by plate front raises using the high-rep weight progression. Next I would work traps with barbell shrugs and upright rows using the same high/low weight progression. I would usually end training with some sort of cardio session.
If you are doing cardio: do sprints – specifically interval training. Endurance training is still a good idea, as you’ll need it, but high intensity anaerobic work is best for burning fat while maintaining strength. Too much cardio will start to eat into your recovery. Also do your cardio in the evening or after lifting. When strength training, you don’t want to mess with your heavy lifting because you decided to sap your energy doing cardio.
*There were no Total Body movements in this program (e.g. Squat Clean or Power Clean). That will be covered in another program.