A Beginning Workout Program
The second part of this series will present a solid program for anyone just getting started. In addition to the workout, I will also explain the exercises in detail, which will help you as you make the transfer to the other programs in the series. I also encourage anyone who has never given either strength and power training or full-body workouts a try to use this program before using any of the others. Even if you have trained for a few years using some serious strength and power workouts, it might be a good idea to use this program as a means of preparing you for the harder programs that are still to come.
This program incorporates all of the elements from Part One, and does it without introducing too much workload to the beginner athlete. After you use this regimen for eight to twelve weeks, you will be bigger and stronger than you thought was possible—even if you’ve been training for years using more “conventional” workouts.
This program is a three-days-a-week routine. The most common days to train for most lifters are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, though any three non-consecutive days will work.
Begin the first workout with the granddaddy of all exercises: the squat. The squat has been responsible for putting more muscle mass on more lifters than any other exercise. For squats on this day, we’re going to do 6 sets of 5 reps. The first three sets will be warm-up sets while the last three sets will be performed with the same weight, something that makes you work hard to get all reps, but a weight in which you only come close to reaching failure (or reach failure) on the final set. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. You might start out with 135 pounds for 5 reps, followed by 175 for 5 reps, and then 225 for 5 reps. Those three sets will be considered warm-ups. Now it’s time for your “work” sets. You pick 285 pounds. The first set is tough, but you manage to get all 5 reps. The second set is a little harder than the first one, but you still manage (just barely) to crank out the last repetition. The third set is very tough. You get the first 4 reps (and it takes everything you’ve got), but, as you are coming up with the 5th rep, you reach failure.
To perform the squat correctly, start out by getting in the power rack, and setting the pins so that—if you do reach failure—you can sit down and set the weight on the pins. Set the collars for racking the weight at just under shoulder height. As you get under the bar, it should be just below your trapezius muscles, in line with your rear deltoid (shoulder) muscles. Unrack the weight, and take a couple of steps backward. Use a stance that is a little wider than shoulder width. For most lifters, this will be your optimal stance (as a beginner at least), though some will like a slightly narrower stance, and some will prefer one a little wider. Squat down on each repetition—the negative, or eccentric, portion of the movement should take about three seconds—until your hips are below your knees. Look ahead the entire time, and keep your back as upright as possible (although most lifters will have a natural tendency to bend over at the waist slightly at the bottom of the movement). Once your hips are below your knees, explode back to lockout. At least, try to explode. Obviously, on the last three sets, you will not be moving very fast. But as long as you are attempting to explode, you will be on your way to building the power you need to lift big weights.
Rest two to three minutes between each set. Once you get all 5 reps on all 3 “work” sets, increase the weight used at the next workout.
The second exercise is going to be the deadlift. Deadlifts are great for building hamstring, lower back, abdominal, lat, and trap strength and development. If the squat is the granddaddy of all exercises, then the deadlift is the daddy of them all.
You will find a lot of lifters that prefer to wait until later in the workout, once they feel as if they have recovered from the squats, before commencing with the deadlifting. I think this is a mistake, especially for beginning lifters. You need to do the deadlifts while your lower back is still warm, and the muscles full of enough blood to prevent injuries.
For this exercise, you are going to use 6 sets of 3 reps, instead of sets of 5 reps. This is a good time to use 3s because of, once again, how well warmed-up your lower back is. The first 3 sets will all be progressively heavier, while the last 3 will all be performed with the same weight. Thus, the technique for the sets and reps doesn’t differ any from the squats.
There are two completely different forms for deadlifting. You can do either traditional (sometimes called “conventional”) deadlifts or you can do sumo deadlifts. I prefer for beginners to stick with the former instead of the latter. Once you are moving massive weights, then you can decide if you would like to make the switch to the sumo deads.
Step up to the bar and stand with your feet a little closer than shoulder width apart. Your shins should be only a few inches from touching the bar. Bend at the knees and grasp the bar. Use a grip with your hands just outside the smooth part of the Olympic bar. Look straight ahead. Keep your back arched—not rounded—and pull the weight off the floor until you are standing straight up, and your knees are locked out. At no point throughout the movement should your elbows bend; keep them completely straight.
As per the squats, keep your rest time between sets to around two to three minutes. Whenever you manage all 3 reps on all 3 “working” sets, add weight at the next Day One session.
Your next exercise is going to be the flat barbell bench press. Use the same 6x5 system you used with the squats.
To perform this exercise correctly, take a grip with your pinky finger on the “power rings” of the Olympic bar. Keep your butt on the bench and your feet on the floor throughout the movement. Un-rack the weight and lower the bar until it touches just below your nipples. Pause for a count of one second and “explode” back to lockout. Rest about two minutes between sets.
Your fourth exercise of the day is going to be close-grip chins. It is preferable that you do these on a straight chinning bar with your palms facing you and your hands about three to four inches apart. This exercise will not only work the lat muscles of your back, but it will also provide a good biceps workout.
Use the same 6x5 system you used on the squats and bench presses, adding weight via a dip belt. I realize that some trainees will have to just use their bodyweight on all 6 sets. That’s fine.
If you aren’t capable of completing all 5 reps, even on the first set, but are able to do 2 or 3 reps, that’s also fine. Just stick with the exercise until you can perform all 6 sets of 5 reps using just your bodyweight. At this point, you can start adding weight.
I also realize that some beginners won’t even be able to perform one repetition. If this is your case, stick with lat pulldowns on a machine until you build enough strength for the chins.
Rest two minutes between each set.
This is all you are going to do for Day One. Go home, eat a big meal, and get a good night’s sleep, so you will be ready for the next session a couple of days later.
The first exercise for this day is, once again, the almighty squat. However, I realize that you are still going to be sore from Day One. Therefore, you are going to work up to a weight that’s around 80% of the weight used for your final 3 sets of the first squatting session. For most lifters starting out, the 3rd set used on Day One’s workout will equate to about 80%.
Here, you will do 5 sets of 5 reps, instead of 6x5. If you did squats on Day One for 135lbsx5, 175lbsx5, 225lbsx5, and 285lbsx3x5, then you will do 135lbsx5, 175lbsx5, and 225lbsx3x5 at this workout.
Use the same form and the same rep tempo that you used on the first workout. However, feel free to reduce rest time between sets. This will help to get you in even better shape, especially if you get to where you are only allowing one minute’s rest in between each set.
The second exercise for this day is going to be the good morning. This is an exercise you read about often (if you read powerlifting magazines, at least) but you hardly ever see anyone use it in the gym. That’s a pity since it can work wonders for bringing up the numbers on both your squat and your deadlift, not to mention the fact that it can give you a well-developed set of abdominals and an impressive pair of erector muscles.
For the good morning, you will be using a scheme of 4 sets of 8 reps. Work up over 4 progressively heavier sets of 8 repetitions. The last set should be the only one that approaches reaching muscular failure, and that only on the 8th repetition.
Here’s how to use proper form on the exercise. Un-rack the weight as if you were going to perform a squat, using the same bar placement across your shoulders and back and the same foot placement. Arch your back and bend over at the waist, keeping your legs relatively straight (though there should be a slight bend to your knees to prevent injury). Bend over until your upper body is parallel to the floor, then rise up.
Your third exercise is going to be the bottom-position close-grip bench press. You will need to do this exercise in the power rack. Set the pins so that the bar touches your chest at the start of the movement. You will quickly discover this is much harder than standard close-grip benches where you don’t start at the bottom.
Use the 6x5 set/rep cadence on these, the same as the squats and the flat barbell bench presses from Day One. Make sure you lock the weight out completely at the top of the movement, and then lower the bar with control. Pause on the pins for one or two seconds, relaxing your muscles as you do so, then explode back to lockout again.
Your final exercise for this day is going to be the barbell curl, preferably using an Olympic bar. Once again, use the 6x5 system of sets and repetitions. Take a medium grip on the bar, with your hands a couple of inches outside of the smooth. Don’t use any body momentum. Keep your upper arms locked against your body and bring the weight up without any “swing” of your upper body.
That’s it for the Day Two workout. Get plenty of rest and food over the next day so you’ll be ready for the Day Three session.
Your final workout of the week begins, again, with squats. This time, however, you are going to use a 6 sets of 2 reps regimen, working up to a weight that’s heavier than what you used from Day One—this system of lower reps and heavier weight will prepare you for the next Day One squatting session.
Here’s what a hypothetical session would look like for our lifter who squatted 285lbsx3x5 in the Day One workout. Start out with 135x2, followed by 175x2, then 225x2, 285x2, and, finally, 295 for 2 sets of 2 reps. Your goal on the final set should be to use a weight that you will use on next week’s Day One for your final 3 sets of 5 reps. Even though the weights being lifted are heavier here than in Day One, this workout is not as hard, and is easier to recover from than the first one, while working your squat muscles a little more than on Day Two.
For your back, you are going to do deadlifts in the rack, with the pins set around knee level. You should be able to use more weight on this exercise than you did on Day One. You won’t be taxing your muscles as much, however, because of the fact this is a partial movement, and partial movements simply don’t make you as sore or take as long to recover from as full-range movements.
Start this exercise with your legs flush against the bar. You should use the same form as on the regular deadlifts. For this exercise, use the same 6 sets of 3 reps system that you used for Day One.
Your major upper body movement for this day is going to be incline barbell bench presses, using the same 6x5 system as flat bench presses on Day One. Attempt to work up to a weight that is around 90% of what you used on the flat benches.
For form, use a medium-wide grip and bring the bar high on your chest, the closer to your neck the better. Lower the bar for a count of three seconds, pause briefly, then “explode” to lockout as hard as possible. Rest two to three minutes between sets.
Your final exercise of the day (and the program) is going to be bench press lockouts. Set the pins in the power rack so that you are moving the bench press through the last four to five inches of the exercise. Work up over 6 progressively heavier sets of 2 reps. Only the last set should approach failure on the 2nd repetition.
That’s it for this beginning workout program. Here’s an outline of the entire regimen:
Bottom-position Close-grip Bench Presses—6x5
Incline Bench Presses—6x5
Bench Press Lockouts—6x2