There are about ~1.8 billion articles online that prescribe cookie-cutter exercise programs. I do everything I can to not add to that total.
There are three problems inherent to many articles with cookie cutter programs:
- They don’t have a target audience. As in, I probably would train differently than a 35-year-old, untrained, overweight male.
- They don’t explain how to progress, which is essential to any muscle-building program.
- They haven’t stated a specific goal.
And the four problems found with most people reading/using cookie cutter programs:
- They don’t stick with them for more than 2 weeks
- They change the exercises/rep schemes
- They expect them to work after the first day
- They chase the “sore”
In order to GROW, you need to EAT like a champ and you need to LIFT like one.
Below, I am going to address what six exercises 90% of people need to incorporate into their programs if their goal is to generally look like sweeter versions of themselves.
The Weightlifting Exercises You Need To Get Swole
- Horizontal press (think bench)
- Vertical Press (think overhead press)
- Vertical Pull (think pull-ups)
- Horizontal Pull (think rows).
These are the Sexy Six. (I’ve never called them that ’till now, so no judgment).
I hate making sweeping generalizations, but any sensible exercise program needs to use some variation of these basic exercises/movements because they are the six movements our body naturally moves through.
The good news: For a beginner—someone who cannot barbell squat 1.5x bodyweight, bench 1x their body weight, or deadlift 2x bodyweight—just about any rep scheme works. This has been repeatedly proven in countless research studies.
So, don’t get hung up on the reps, focus on the PROGRESSION.
What I prescribe for almost 80% of my clients, given they have no injuries I need to work around or mobility issues that simple stretching cannot fix (don’t underestimate the power of stretching), is a variation of the following:
The Workout Routine You Need To Follow
- Squat 5,5,5+
- Bench 5,5,5+
- Row 5,5,5+
- Seated Calf Raises 4 x 20+ (Optional for those who are calf-challenged like myself)
- Deadlift 5+
- Overhead Press 5,5,5+
- Chinup F, F, F
- Medial Deltoid Raises 20+, 20+, 20+, 20+ (Optional but makes a WORLD of difference in the appearance of your arms and total physique to have well-rounded delts)
This is generally done following a Mon/Wed/Fri day split or Tues/Thurs/Sat split. Do whichever works best with your schedule.
Each number is the number of reps done in each set.
Do not go to failure, except when performing chin-ups, delt raises, and calf raises. Always stop with one rep left in the tank.
The “+” stands for as many more as you can WITH 80% form.
I don’t pretend like we can find perfect form all the time, but keep it pretty clean.
If your back looks like a bent bow when you’re pulling weight off the ground, wrap up the set.
How To Start And Progress
Start with an empty bar, give 5 reps, add 10 lbs and continue to do so until you feel like the weight is challenging you to do a set of 5. Call that your first set, then do two more sets at that weight. That is your first workout for each exercise.
The next time you come in, add 2.5lb plates to each side, and try to get all 3 sets again pushing for more on the last, but not to complete failure (harder to recover from). Add 5bs instead of 2.5 to each side of your deadlift.
Note 1: Even 12 weeks at this for someone who started only benching the bar would have them adding 45lbs to their bench.
Note 2: Don’t skip ahead. If it feels easy it means you are getting stronger – this is a GOOD THING.
Note 3: If you cannot do chins, do 3 sets of 30s holds at the top, then slowly lower yourself. Keep increasing the time and the amount of lowers until you can do a full one, then work up from there.
YOU NEED TO WRITE DOWN YOUR WORKOUT numbers.
You should follow this for three to six months, slowly progressing over time. These small increments quickly add up.
WHEN YOU FAIL: There will be a day—hopefully later rather than sooner—when you will not be able to hit all the prescribed reps.
Upper body stuff generally fails first.
Drop the weight by 10% then continue as before. You will note that on your last “+” set once you deload, you will be able to do WAY MORE than what you did the first time, which will further promote hypertrophy (muscle building) and show you how much your strength has increased.
You can continue to progress like this for a long time given you are eating sufficient calories.
If you are someone who is in need of more variation, you can add more exercises, but this should be the basis for all your workouts until you hit those beginner strength goals.
Once you hit them, if the program is still working, KEEP GOING.
The worst mistake you can make is to stop doing a program that is delivering week-in week-out gains in strength.
This looks barebones, but believe me, this is a challenging workout and staying consistent is the key to progress.
Follow for six months, and I promise you’ll be filling out your shirt and jeans better.