Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Two-Barbell "Plus" Program

High-Frequency Training for Muscle and Strength with the Two-Barbell "Plus" Program

Matthew Sloan demonstrates more lean muscle built with HFT

     This is part of my on-going series on how to build muscle and strength fast by using low-rep, multi-set, high-frequency training.  If you haven't read my other, recent posts on the subject, you may want to do so before continuing with this article.  If not, then this article certainly stands on its own two feet.

The Two-Barbell "Plus" Program
     This program begins with its starting point something that I have, in the past, called the "two-barbell rule".  (Others, such as Dan John, have certainly written about it as well.)  The two-barbell "rule" says this: at the start of any workout, begin with two barbell exercises before proceeding to anything else.  I recommend using it in conjunction with my "Big 5" rules.  In summary, even though I have discussed this a lot lately, the Big 5 rules go something like this:
  1. At each workout, squat something heavy.
  2. At each workout, press something heavy overhead.
  3. At each workout, pick up heavy stuff off the ground—barbells, dumbbells, sandbags, kegs, you name it.
  4. At each workout, drag or carry stuff for time or distance.  This generally means farmer's walks, sandbag carries, sled dragging, or the like.
  5. Eat a lot of calorie-laden, nutrient-dense food each and every day.
     If you were to combine the two-barbell rule with the Big 5 rule, a couple of workouts might look something like this:

Workout A: barbell squats, power snatches, dumbbell overhead presses, and sandbag carries

Workout B: power cleans, deadlifts, one-arm dumbbell snatches, farmer's walks

     Of course, a couple of workouts in a row would look the same way even using a "3 to 5" style program as discussed in my previous HFT post.  The key with the "two-barbell workout" is this: at each workout, the beginning two barbell exercises are going to be performed for multiple sets of each exercise.  After they are performed, feel free to stop the workout with these two exercises, or add another one, two, or (at the most) three exercises.  But the third exercise (onward) would all be performed with minimal sets.
     This program is great for those of you who like to spend more time in a workout doing more quality sets per exercise, and those of you who generally like to do one or two exercises in a workout anyway.  I, for instance, personally favor this kind of program.  Especially if I'm trying to focus on getting really strong on just one or two exercises.  (All of you powerlifters out there, or, especially, you push-pull lifters, this would mean you.)  This is also the kind of workout that would generally be favored by Olympic weightlifters, who need a LOT of work on back squats, front squats, and the two Olympic lifts themselves.
     Keep the first two exercises at an average of 8 sets each if you decided to utilize this program.  Take your time in working up in weight to a top set, or a top sequence of sets.
     Here is what I have in mind for an example workout:

1. Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps (adding weight with each subsequent set), followed by 3 sets of 3 reps with a weight slightly heavier than the top 5-rep set.
2. Power Cleans: 5 sets of 3 reps (adding weight with each set), followed by 3 sets of 2 reps, with a weight slightly heavier than the top 3-rep set.

     At this point, you could certainly stop the workout, or feel free to add an exercise or two at the end of it.  Any additional exercises performed would only be done so for a couple sets of each exercise, with rep ranges in the 6 to 8 range.  None of these sets should be taken to failure, but they should be close, within a rep or two of reaching momentary muscular failure.
     Train as many days in a row as you want before taking a day off.  As with most HFT programs, you want to train a minimum of 5 days each week.  If you don't mind being spontaneous in your training, then just take the day off whenever you feel as if you need it, or just whenever "life" gets in the way of things.  If you prefer a more regimented training schedule, then I recommend beginning with a 3-on, 1-off system, and just adjust things from there.  (It could be a 4-on, 1-off is better for some people, whereas others—low-volume lifters, as I refer to them—would benefit more from a 2-on, 1-off schedule, but the 3 day program is a good starting point for most.)
     Here is an example of 3 days of workouts to give you an idea of what a series of workouts should look like:

Day One: 
1. Squats: 8 sets of 5 to 3 reps
2. Power Cleans: 8 sets of 3 to 2 reps
3. Chins: 2 sets taken almost to failure, using bodyweight
4. Dips: 2 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Day Two:
1. Deadlifts: 8 sets of 3 to 2 reps
2. Bench Presses: 8 sets of 5 to 3 reps
3. Farmer's Walks: 2 sets for distance

Day Three:
1. Squats: 8 sets of 5 to 3 reps
2. Push Presses: 8 sets of 5 to 3 reps
3. One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 2 sets of 6 to 8 reps

     Your strength level would depend on just how high you push your first two-barbell exercises in terms of sets.  For those of you who are really strong, you may need 12 or more sets before you are finished.
     Also, advanced lifters may want to eventually do some "back-off" work with this kind of program. If, for instance, you work up to a max triple on an exercise, and that takes you 11 sets, then you might finish off with 5 sets of 5 reps, or 2 sets of 8 reps—something such as this.  But save this for when you have the strength to make it worthwhile.  Otherwise, it will just cut into your recovery ability.

In the next HFT post, we will look at a program that uses multiple exercises (6 or greater) per workout.  Until then, come back to Integral Strength often for other, different articles, and don't forget: train hard first, eat big second, and read a lot of articles here third!


  1. As I was finishing up this post, and heading outside to my garage gym to do the evening's workout, I realized something: I should have written about the fact that it's certainly possible - especially if you are after more muscle than strength - to simply perform "straight" sets with the same weight (for sets of 3 to 5) on the two-barbell exercises. I have often done that in the past as a "break" from all of the uber-heavy lifting.

  2. In the example below eg.3 sets of 3 reps. Are these weights the same or ramped up.

    1. Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps (adding weight with each subsequent set), followed by 3 sets of 3 reps with a weight slightly heavier than the top 5-rep set.
    2. Power Cleans: 5 sets of 3 reps (adding weight with each set), followed by 3 sets of 2 reps, with a weight slightly heavier than the top 3-rep set.


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