Boost Your Total
A “Total” Program For Explosive Power and Raw Strength
What follows is a total strength program geared toward increasing your numbers in the three powerlifts—the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. It's primarily aimed at those whose main interest in training is strength, pure and simple. However, if you're the type that craves muscle before strength, you can't deny the benefits of strength training on the "big three" for adding some serious muscle mass.
Without further ado, let's get to the routine at hand. The following is comprised of two cycles. Perform the first one for at least eight weeks (ten might be even better) before switching to the one that follows it. Ready for it? Here we go.
Cycle one contains three workouts per week. You train each of your major lifts (and the assistance exercises) on a separate day, once per week. The most popular days to train would be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, though it doesn't really matter what you choose. Just make sure that you take at least two days off after your final session of the week.
The first session of the week works the squat and the muscles associated with it. This workout focuses on increasing your strength through heavy neural training (training in the 1 to 5 rep range with 80-95% of your one repetition maximum) and explosive neural work with lighter loads.
Bottom Position Squats- 5 to 6 sets of 2 reps: Here, you're going to start your session off with increasingly heavier doubles until you work up to two all out reps on your last set.
For those of you that aren't familiar with bottom position squats, get in the power rack and set the pins so that you start the squat from the bottom position of the movement. And when I say bottom of the movement, I'm talking ass-to-the-floor. No partial reps here.
Even if you've been going deep on the traditional squat, you're going to be surprised how hard it is to do the lift when beginning from a dead stop at a very deep position. In fact, your two-rep max on this exercise is probably going to be about 50 pounds less than on a free squat. That's okay, because the harder you work, the more gains you'll reap.
Start your first set off with just the empty Olympic bar for two reps. After that, add weight with each set until you reach the maximum you can handle for two reps. Take about two minutes of rest in between each set. Go for a new record at every workout.
Explosive-Rep Squats- 9 sets of 3 reps: After you've recuperated from your heavy double (shouldn't take more that three minutes), perform regular squats with a weight that's approximately 55-60% of your one-rep maximum.
Lower the weight for a count of two seconds and then explode out of the hole as hard as possible. Perform three sets with a medium stance, three sets with a close stance, and three sets with an ultra-wide stance. Rest no more than a minute-and-a-half between each set, less is even better.
Front Squats- 3 sets of 6 reps: After a three-minute rest from the explosive-rep squats, perform 3 sets of 6 in the front squat. Use a heavy weight on these where it's nearly impossible to get 6 reps on the first set. Once you can perform 3 sets of 6 with the same weight, add poundage at the next workout.
Weighted Crunches- 3 sets of 10 reps: If you want a strong squat, then it's of vital importance that you have strong abdominals. Use as much weight as possible so that you reach muscular failure on the 10th rep (with good form).
One day of rest and its time for the second session of the week: bench press and upper-body training.
Flat Bench Press Complex- 3 sets of 2 reps with 90% of one-rep maximum supersetted with 3 sets of 2 reps with 60%: Warm up on the flat bench press with several progressively heavier sets of 2 reps. Once you reach the weight that's approximately 90% of your one-rep maximum, perform one set of two reps. Strip some weight off the bar so that you're down to 60% of your one-rep max and immediately perform another set of 2 reps. Pause for a count of one second on your chest and then explode to lock out.
After the first complex set, rest four to five minutes and repeat. Repeat one more time after that. Shoot for two reps on each 90% set. Once you find the two reps manageable, add weight at the next workout.
Close-Grip Bench Press- 3 sets of 5 reps: After your last explosive bench set, rest approximately four minutes and load some weight on the bar for your next exercise, the close-grip bench.
If you feel warmed-up, then jump directly into your first heavy set. If not, then perform two progressively heavier 5s until you're at your work set weight. On the first set, it should be extremely hard to complete 5 reps, but you should get it. On the next two sets, your reps will probably drop by one on each set. Nothing wrong with that. Stick with the weight at each workout until you can perform 5 reps on all three sets.
Lying Barbell Extensions- 4 sets of 8 reps: Once the close-grips are complete, it's time for some direct triceps work in the form of lying extensions. For most people, the weak link in their bench press is their triceps strength and power. For that reason, we'll be doing them before shoulder work.
Pick a weight that you usually use for about 10 reps and go for 4 sets of 8, taking only 45 seconds to one minute rest after each set.
Narrow-Grip Dips- 4 sets of 8 reps: Rest approximately 3 minutes after your last set of extensions and move over to the dipping bars. 4 sets of 8 with one-minute rest in between each set and your tris should be fried.
Front Plate Raises- 3 sets of 15 reps: Grab a 45-pound plate (or whatever you can handle for the required reps) and grind out 15 reps on 3 sets. These are great for strengthening your front delts, a muscle that must be strong in order to build a powerful bench.
Military Press- 3 sets of 10 reps: Performing these standing, not seated; crank out 3 sets of 10 reps and don't take it easy. You won't have to perform bench work for another week, so there's no reason not to work these hard.
Your third and final session of the week concentrates on strengthening your deadlift, though it also works the muscles associated with the squat. You also get the benefits of heavy lat work, which will help strengthen the bottom portion of your bench press.
Deadlifts- 2 to 6 sets of 1 repetition: For the deadlifts, we'll use a method that's been around for many years (favored by such old-time lifters as Doug Hepburn, J.C. Hise, and Mark Berry) but still highly effective.
At your first deadlifting session, work up over progressively heavier singles until you reach a weight that's approaching between 90-95% of your one-rep maximum. It should be a weight where you can only get 2 singles. At each session, add one single until you're capable of performing 6 singles. At that time, add 5-10% more weight and start the process all over again.
Rounded-Back Good Mornings- 5 sets of 3 reps: In my view (and the view of others like Bill Starr), this is the best lower back exercise there is—if your back is healthy. If not, then perform arched back good mornings. Work this one hard and you can bet that your deadlift and your squat poundages will skyrocket.
Warm-up with 2 progressively heavier sets of 3 followed by 3 sets of 3 with your "work" weight. Remember, if you have back problems and cannot perform these with a rounded back, then go with the arched back or seated versions.
Bent-Over Rows- 5 sets of 5 reps: Use the same set scheme as you did with previous exercise, except perform 5 reps on each set instead of 3.
Weighted Crunches- 3 sets of 10 reps: Same as in workout 1, perform 3 heavy sets so that you reach muscular "failure" at the 10th repetition.
Okay, that's it for the first cycle. Perform this three-day-a-week regimen with utter intensity for the eight to ten weeks and you can expect some big gains. After that, however, the gains aren't over. Now it’s time for cycle number 2.
This cycle will once again last for eight to ten weeks. This one's a four-day-a-week regimen. It also incorporates heavy neural work and explosive work as in the first one, but uses such techniques as varied repetition patterns and plyometrics in order to gain further strength on the three powerlifts.
The first session of this cycle works the bench press through dynamic reps as well as the muscles that assist the movement.
Explosive Rep Bench Press- 6 sets of 3 reps with 60% of 1 rep maximum: Warm-up with a couple of light, but not explosive sets, with the empty Olympic bar and a weight lighter than your 60% work weight. After that, load the bar with 60% and perform 6 sets of 3. Lower the bar fast but under control, pause on your chest for a count of one second and then explode back to lockout.
Do not let the speed of the bar drop as the sets progress. In fact, try to increase the speed as you move up in sets. The sixth set should be equally as fast, if not faster, than your first set. Rest only 30 seconds in between each set.
If you have access to them, then add bands or chains.
Plyometric Decline Push-Ups- 4 sets of 5 reps: With your feet elevated on a bench, perform 4 sets of 5 push-ups. On each rep, explode off the floor as hard as possible. Once again, maintain high speed on every rep of every set.
Close-Grip Lockouts- 5 sets of 5 reps: Get in the power rack and set the pins so that you'll be performing the last few inches of the movement. Two warm-up sets of 5 and then 3 sets of 5 all-out repetitions.
Standing Overhead Press- 5 sets of 5 reps: Same set/rep scheme as above. Even though you're doing these from a standing position, don't make the exercise a push press; let your shoulders take the brunt of the work.
Cuban Press- 3 sets of 10 reps: This exercise, one you've probably not seen before, is great for strengthening your front delts as well as your rotator cuff muscles.
To get the feel of the movement and the technique down, warm-up with just the empty Olympic bar. Start the movement off as if you're doing an upright row. As your hands reach shoulder height, rotate your elbows until the bar is slightly over your head and press to lockout in one motion.
Day two works both the squat and the deadlift with explosive neural work as well as several assistance exercises.
Squats- 8 sets of 3 reps alternated with Deadlifts- 8 sets of 3 reps: Warm-up with progressively heavier squats or deadlifts. Once your muscles feel like they're ready for a thorough thrashing, load the squat bar with a weight you would usually use for 6 to 8 reps. Do the same with a bar for deadlifts.
Perform 8 sets of 3 reps on both exercises, alternating back and forth with about a minute of rest in between each set. For example, do a set of squats, rest one minute and then perform a set of deadlifts. Rest another minute and repeat the process 7 more times.
Concentrate on exploding on every rep of every set. Don't worry about adding weight on a consistent basis, instead concentrate on building more and more explosive power. It's okay if your explosiveness starts to dwindle on the last couple of alternating sets. Just stick with the weight until you can really power up all 16 sets.
Hyperextensions- 3 sets of 20 reps: Here's another good lower back exercise to help strengthen that squat and deadlift. 3 sets of 20 repetitions should be enough.
Weighted Crunches- 3 sets of 10 reps: Perform these the same as in days 1 and 3 of the first cycle.
After a day of rest, it's back to the gym and time for another bench press session- this time a heavy one.
Bottom-Position Bench Press- 2 to 6 sets of 1 repetition: Here, you're going to use the same set/rep scheme that you used on the deadlifts in the first cycle. At your first workout (after warm-ups), load the bar with a weight that you can only perform for 2 singles. At each workout, add 1 to 2 singles until you can perform 6 single rep sets. At the next workout, increase the weight by 5 to 10% and repeat the process once again.
When performing heavy singles on the bench press, it's best to utilize the power rack in order to prevent injury and allow yourself to focus on technique. Make sure that the pins are set as low as possible to your chest on the exercise.
Board Presses- 3 sets of 3 reps: Perform two warm-ups of 3 reps with relatively light loads. After that, put whatever weight you think you can use for 4 to 5 reps on the bar and crank out 3 sets of 3 reps.
Weighted Close-Grip Push-Ups- 3 sets of 5 reps: On this exercise, warm-up with one to two sets of close-grip push-ups with just your bodyweight for a few reps. Rest a few minutes and assume the push-up position. Have your training partner, or someone that you trust to do it correctly, put enough weight (in the form of plates) on your back for you to only perform 5 to 6 reps. 3 sets of 5 reps and then move on to the next exercise.
Barbell Curls- 3 sets of 5 reps: Just for good measure, we'll include 3 heavy sets of barbell curls to finish off the workout. Perform 2 warm-up sets and then crank out 3 heavy sets of 5, taking each set to the point of muscular failure.
It's time for the last workout of the week. This one's a maximum intensity lower back and leg workout that will use different rep ranges to work the squat and deadlift plus some unique assistance exercises to finish the workout off.
Squats- 2 sets of 7, 5, or 3 reps: For this cycle, you're going to use different rep ranges on the squat during different weeks during the cycle. For the first two weeks of the cycle, you'll be using 7 repetitions on your 2 sets. During the third and fourth week of the cycle, you'll use 2 sets of 5 and during the fifth and sixth week of the cycle, you'll be using 2 sets of 3 reps. For the seventh and eighth week of the cycle, go back to 2 sets of 7 but make sure that you're using more weight on your sets than during the first two weeks. If you include a ninth and tenth week to the cycle, do the same with your 5 rep sets.
Since you are only using 2 work sets on the exercise, make sure that you take each set to the point of momentary muscular failure.
Deadlifts- 2 sets of 7, 5, or 3 reps: Use the same set and rep pattern that you used on the squats above. If you would like, alternate one week of doing the squats first in the workout with a week of doing deadlifts first. You could switch back and forth each week for the whole eight to ten weeks and have a very balanced program.
Overhead Squats- 3 sets of 5 reps: This exercise is a good one to compliment both your squat and your deadlift. Since not many have ever used it before, this is how it works. Unrack a bar onto your shoulders as if you were going to perform a typical squat. Squat down with the weight and then press it up overhead on your ascent. With the bar locked out over your head, perform 5 repetitions, squatting as deep as possible while maintaining the bar in the same position.
Perform a couple of warm-up sets. After that, it’s 3 sets of 5 very hard reps.
Seated Good Mornings- 3 sets of 10 reps: Here’s a good lower back exercise, but one that’s not as intense as the three previous exercises in the workout- perfect for a finishing movement. Do them as you would a regular, arched-back good-morning except perform it seated on a bench or box. 3 sets of 10 reps, not counting warm-ups, should do just fine.
Hanging Leg Raises- 3 sets of 10 reps: The last exercise of the workout will be another abdominal one. Don’t ever skip the ab exercises as they are essential for continued progress on your squats and deads.
That’s it for the last cycle and the workout as a whole. Take two days off after day four to allow your body to recuperate for another week of training. For instance, the most popular way to perform cycle 2 would be to train on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and then take the weekend off. Alternately, some people find they do even better if they take two days off after every two days of training. Stick with the first version at the beginning until you see how your body is responding. After that, make adjustments.
Summing It All Up
Well, there you have it: One very complete program that’s geared exclusively toward increasing your strength in the three powerlifts. Stick with it for the 16 to 20 weeks that the program entails and some awesome results can be expected.