The Best Science-Based Training Programs For Strength and Muscle Gains

By Nader Qudimat
Last Updated October 14, 2019
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You’ve made it.

You’ve made the commitment to train.

But it’s confusing.

The gym is a jungle, full of noise and intimidating sights.

Along with training comes theory.

From forums, to sites and blogs, where do you go for info?

All kinds of experts, bloggers, pro bodybuilding consistently recommend the next "big" program. 

If it has the best exercises, up to date research and proven results, it has to be good.

This would look pretty intimidating for anyone just starting out at the gym. 

Right?

The only problem is...

Your body is smarter than to follow the same program without adapting.

It boils down to your training history and preferences.

You might already be following a program, and it’s working well for you.

Why change something if it’s already working?

Jumping to the next shiny object will be the worst thing you can do.

There are all kinds of programs, some focus on strength, some focus on hypertrophy and others for power.

But all of them have a few things in common that will forever remain foundational principles for all kinds of programs.

Which one you will choose on a number of things that you should ask yourself:

  • How long have you been training consistently?
  • What do you want to improve?
  • What keeps you excited in the gym?
  • Is your current program working for you?

The last one is especially important to consider because if you’re already on a program and you’re making progress, then it doesn’t make sense to jump to a completely different program.

We’ll get in-depth in this guide.

We’ll start with the basics of building muscle.

​How To Build Muscle

​The most common belief among trainee’s is that to build muscle, you must isolate muscle groups into different training sessions.

Hence why a lot of programs have days dedicated to each muscle group, training one muscle per workout.

This is completely wrong and ineffective.

Especially for someone who is still new and hasn’t trained for more than a few years.

Sadly, this mistake will always be common as most of these types of routines are pushed by pro bodybuilders who most likely use drugs to build what they have.

What they don’t tell you is that most of bodybuilders have built their size from compound exercises.

No matter what program you choose, these are the principles you need to.

This is what will work:

Compound exercises.

Bicep curls alone will not make your arms bigger.

Exercises that involve several muscles at the same time will give you the best results in the quickest time.

Bench press, squats, deadlifts, overhead squats.

Progressive overload.

The lifts that you perform shouldn’t just be heavy they should be challenging.

Your muscles adapt quickly and they only progress if you’re progressively overloading them either by increasing reps, sets, or weight.

Periodize.

You might be thinking that you need to max out reps / sets / weight for each workout, every workout, but that will lead to overtraining fairly quickly.

What you should do is try to improve one thing, whether its increased intensity, weight, sets or reps but there needs to be a balance.

Strength train.

Legendary bodybuilders have impressive numbers for their compound lifts.

The stronger they were, the bigger they got as they knew it.

Once you can deadlift twice your bodyweight, bench press and squat 1.5x your bodyweight, you’ll find yourself getting much bigger as strength always equals size.

Supplements like Laxogenin, when it's pure and high quality, can be a potent way to increase strength without effecting hormone levels. 

Eat more.

If you have trouble gaining weight, and you think you eat more than you should, you probably don’t.

Your muscles will not grow if you don’t eat enough food.

You need at least 3000 calories to build muscle.

Eat more whole foods and leave the junk food out. 

​Best Strength Training For Gains

​Your body needs strength training in order to grow.

But that can’t be done without the right training.

Many people fail here because they follow someone who workouts 5 times a week, one muscle group per workout.

How do you build a solid foundation?

First you need size.

To get big, you need to increase your overall muscle mass with compound exercises that work multiple muscles.

That can’t be done with isolation exercises.

Get stronger.

High reps with small exercises will get you nothing but wasted time.

You need to lift as heavy as you can with compound lifts while keeping your reps low (below 6 reps).

Use proper form.

You can’t get big and strong while rounding your back like a crawled up ball during deadlifts.

Your muscles need to be worked with proper form and that needs to be practiced so it becomes second nature to you.

Use the mirrors to analyze your form and ensure you’re executing with correct form.

Skip isolation exercises.

Part of the reason why many people fail to make progress from the gym is because they think they need a chest day to grow their chest or an arm day to get bigger arms.

While those kinds of days are fun and tempting, that will not help you make any progress.

Stick to a program.

It might be fun to find another program and use it for a few weeks then jump to another.

But the problem with that is that if you’re already making progress, you might lose it by changing your program completely.

You might give up completely and blame it on genetics and you may even be convinced that you need drugs to make progress.

Natural or enhanced; strength training is required to build a solid foundation and that can’t be done without compound lifts.

Supplements like creatine can go a long way with muscle and strength gains. 

​Strength ​Is Size

To get big, you must get strong.

The common belief is that you can only get big by training with split style training, high reps and isolation exercises.

That is ineffective for muscle growth.

You need to lift heavy weights to get big and we’re not talking about heavy bicep curls here.

Simply put, muscles need to be stimulated by lifting heavy weights on a barbell.

How exactly do you make muscles grow?

Three things need to happen to stimulate muscle growth:

  • Progressive ​overload
  • ​Muscle damage
  • ​Metabolic stress

​The last two, muscle damage and metabolic stress follows progressive overload.

Progressive overload refers to the increasing progression of tension levels in muscle fibers, and this is done simply by adding weight to the bar over time.

Muscle damage is when the muscle fibers structure are damaged and this can be done with varying degrees.

When muscle damage occurs, muscles undergo a process which removes the broken parts, and replaces it with new proteins.

You can effectively cause muscle damage by lowering the weight in a controlled manner (the eccentric movement of an exercise) or by causing high tension on the stretched position of a muscle.

Metabolic stress refers to the burn you feel during your sets, basically it’s training for the pump.

What does strength training have to do with these 3 things?

The best exercises to progressively overload are going to be compound exercises, always.

Regardless of the program you choose, if it doesn’t have compound exercises, it’ll be super ineffective for muscle growth.

Think about it.

If you can move heavy weight on a barbell, you will be big.

The best bodybuilders were always as strong as they looked.

Arnold Schwarzenegger could squat 473lbs, bench press 440lbs and deadlift 700+ lbs!

There are bodybuilders that look strong but couldn’t win against Arnold as most of their training were done with weight machines (he said this himself in his book, The Education of a Bodybuilder).

There are many more bodybuilders who understood what Arnold believed in and could lift impressive numbers, here are some of them:

Dr Layne Norton PhD:
  • Squat 617lb
  • ​Bench press 387lb
  • ​Deadlift 700lb
​Reg Park
  • ​Squat 6​00lb
  • ​Bench press ​500lb
  • ​Deadlift 700lb
​Ronnie Coleman
  • ​Squat ​800lb
  • ​Bench press ​500lb (reps!)
  • ​Deadlift 700lb
​Larry Wheels
  • ​Squat​ 900lb
  • ​Deadlift ​
​Kai Greene
  • Squat ​
  • ​Bench press ​500lb
  • ​Deadlift​ 

​Sure these bodybuilders use isolation exercises.

However, their size is built from compound exercises.

Even if they did use drugs (i.e. steroids), they wouldn’t be able to get as big as they got without big exercises like deadlifts, bench press, and squats.

And these bodybuilders have trained for years, sometimes decades.

Imagine how difficult it would be for a natural, drug-free, trainee to try to get big without doing these types of exercises?

To get as strong as possible, you want to have strength training in your workouts.

If you were performing high reps with light weight you would have more cellular fatigue but less mechanical tension and muscle damage.

Yes high reps with light weight will build muscle, but heavier weights will increase strength much more efficiently.

This means if you want to make the most out of your training, go as heavy as you can with proper form on compound lifts while keeping isolation exercises lower priority.

​Which Program Should You ​Choose?

This is where things can get confusing.

A lot of factors come into question when deciding on a program and there are multiple things on what makes a good strength training program.

But some things will never change.

Every solid program has principles that will never be outdated.

If it doesn’t include the following things, then you either need a different program or something needs to be adjusted.

By following these principles, you’ll eventually learn how to make and create your own programs.

​Progressive Overload

​This is the most important principle.

Progressive overload is what will force growth.

Without it, your reps, sets, volume, exercises will not matter.

Here’s the thing:

Your body is smart, it adapts quickly.

If you lift 50lbs for 10 reps for the rest of your life, your body will not grow.

It won’t have any reason to grow.

However, if you increase the weight by 2.5-5lbs every week or two, your body will be forced to grow.

Your body is capable of adapting to its environment.

Without progressive overload, strength and muscle will remain the same.

You simply need to give your body a reason to grow.

By forcing your body to adapt to a tension that’s beyond to what it’s previously experienced, it will have no option but to build new muscle and strength.

How exactly do you apply this principle?

You either add 1 more rep, 1 more set or additional weight than what you’ve previously done.

Ultimately, you will want to increase weight as you can only do so many reps and sets before you over do it.

And the same goes for weight.

Of course this means you’ll be putting stress on your body and central nervous system from all of your high exertion and intense training.

You wouldn’t be able to progressively overload for every single workout.

Every 4-12 weeks should have a week or so where you deload and simply maintain what you’ve gained.

Eventually, after some years, you’ll hit your peak strength.

If we could progressively overload forever, there would be more people who can lift over 1000lbs.

The bottom line is that you need to have progressive overload.

People who fail to see progress are missing this and basically have maintained the same physique they’ve started training.

​Volume

​After progressive overload, you need to have volume.

Volume is the amount of weight lifting performed.

The volume can be sets, reps and the exercises you do.

It can be measured by the amount of working being done per week, workout, exercise and per muscle group.

You need to have a balance with volume in your workouts.

This depends on your experience and history with weight training.

If you do too much volume, you increase the risk of overtraining, your body will struggle to repair and recover and you may end up plateauing fairly quickly.

On the contrary, if you don’t have enough volume, your body won’t have any reason to grow or improve.

The amount of volume will depend entirely on the program and the individual.

Let’s assume someone is doing 3 sets of each exercise for 6 reps.

And another person is doing 4 sets of 8 reps.

The first person is doing 18 reps while the other is doing 32.

That’s almost twice the amount of volume.

And volume needs to be evenly distributed throughout all muscle groups.

If you don’t have enough volume for the lower body but yet more volume for the upper body, you may end up with legs being a weak point.

Many people may focus on what they are strongest on, like bench press, but don’t give nearly enough volume for the back muscles.

They end up with a great chest but a weak back, thus causing muscle imbalances, possibly poor posture and shoulder pain.

If one of your muscle groups is overpowering another, it may make sense to have more volume on the weak points.

You can have a balanced physique if you have enough volume for all your major muscle groups.

Exercise Selection

​There are 3 main compound lifts that your program should have:

  • ​Deadlifts
  • ​Bench press
  • ​Squats

These 3 lifts have different variations.

Like for barbell bench press:

  • ​Flat
  • ​Incline
  • ​Decline

Then there’s dips and also dumbbells.

Similarly for deadlifts and squats.

So which variation you do will depend on your physique, like it’s weak points, strengths and what you want to achieve.

At the very least, ideally, all 3 compound lifts should be included in your program.

Frequency

​​Your time is valuable.

You might not have time to workout 5 times a week.

Ideally you want to have at least 3 workouts per week and there should be one day per week where you don’t train at all.

There’s no benefit to training 7 days a week.

Muscles need to grow and it does that during recovery.

There are 2 main frequencies that you need to be concerned about:

  • ​Weight training
  • ​Muscle group

The number of times you train will be your overall weight training frequency.

How many times you workout each major muscle group per week is the frequency you train each muscle.

The number of times you train a body part will depend on the amount of volume.

If you’re going to train a muscle group twice per week, then the volume should spread out evenly so you allow recovery and muscle growth to occur.

​Preferences

​What excites you should matter.

Your program should be something that you look forward to doing.

If you’re not enjoying it then what’s going to keep you going?

This is yet another reason why many people fail to see progress.

They’ll find a program that was recommended for whatever reason, but end up switching to another before even seeing results.

Find a routine that excites you, and stick to it for at least 12 weeks before switching to another.

Jumping between routines too frequently will not allow you to see any progress.

​How ​To ​Make ​Training ​Programs ​More ​Effective

​Before you decide to change to another program, you should make sure you have the following in check.

These are a few of the many things that can make or break your results.

Sleep

If your sleep quality is poor, then it will have an effect on your training. You won’t perform as well as you should.

Make sure you’re getting in good quality sleep.

Set PR’s

You should be able to set personal records at least every week or two.

If not, then make sure your nutrition is up to par and you’re using proper lifting technique.

Plateau

If you hit a wall, try adding more volume.

You might need to deload and recover from your current program to allow for more recovery.

Periodize

Every workout shouldn’t be the exact same.

There should be one or a few variables adjusted, whether it’s reps, sets or exercise selection and it doesn’t necessarily have to be done every week.

Deload

There should be a week or two where you don’t try to set any personal records for every 4-12 weeks of hard training.

​How ​Much ​Can ​You ​Gain

​It’s tempting to set goals that are unrealistic and far beyond what you can actually achieve.

However, that can be demotivating.

Realizing what the potential is for natural bodybuilders is not only motivating but will also keep you persistent.

It’s also good to know so you are cautious about who’s program you follow.

Following someone’s program, only because they are the biggest, and most ripped you’ve seen probably won’t help you gain as much as you’d hope.

Your height and bone structure will be the main factors of your muscular potential.

Casey Butt PhD has determined a formula based on the top bodybuilders that existed before steroids were created.

This table was created by Mehdi of Stronglifts.com based on Casey’s formula:

​1 Rep Max: Why it matters.

The last but important thing you should know is your 1 rep max.

It is the maximum weight you can lift with proper form and full range of motion, for a single repetition.

Now it is draining to actually test your 1 rep max as it will tax not only your muscles but your central nervous system as well.

Another issue is that it is difficult to maintain proper form when lifting for your 1 rep max.

It isn’t necessary to actually lift your 1 rep max to find out what it is.

But once you figure out your 1 rep max, it doesn’t mean you can lift that much until you’ve lifted it.

​Exercises

​For any strength program to be efficient, it needs to have “basic” exercises.

Compound lifts like squats, bench press, overheard press, pulls ups, are all exercises that will help increase muscle mass and strength.

These exercises not only activate the large muscles but also many of the smaller ones.

You’ll be able to move heavier weights for more muscle and strength.

If your workouts are mostly squats, deadlifts, bench press, barbell rows, overhead presses then you can’t go wrong.

Each compound lift has a variation like incline bench press or sumo deadlifts, which can be used instead of the traditional form.

We’ve organized the exercises by category below:

Compound Movements

Legs:
  • Squat (quads, glutes)
  • ​Deadlift (hamstrings, glutes)
  • ​Hip thrust (glutes)
​Back:
  • ​Horizontal pull (entire back)
  • ​Vertical pull (lats)
​Chest:
  • ​Horizontal press (bench press)
Shoulders:
  • ​Vertical press (dumbbells for better activation)

​Isolation Exercises

​Rear delts:
  • Reverse pec dec, bent over reverse flies
​Biceps:
  • ​Curls
​Triceps:
  • ​Pressdown
  • ​Extension
​Hamstrings:
  • ​Curl (standing, laying)
​Abs:
  • ​Crunches
  • ​Leg raises
  • ​Anti-rotational planks

​Programs ​How ​To ​Decide ​On ​One

​By now you know what should go into a strength program.

And what shouldn’t go in it.

No program is suited for everyone so deciding on which one will depend on your training history, current program and past progress.

Sleep and Recovery

If you’re not eating or sleeping enough, your training and results will probably be subpar.

Get enough sleep and ensure you’re getting in whole foods to help recover from training.

Personal Records

If you’re not able to set personal records at least once a month, then switch to a different program.

If you’re able to set personal records then it’s a good sign that your program is working.

Progression

If you haven’t been able to progress but your nutrition is fine and you feel good then pick one that has more volume.

It could either be more sets, exercises, reps or a combination of these things.

You may just need to deload and not try to max out your lifts for at least a week.

If you still have questions about which program to go with, let me know in the comments below and I’ll help you pick one.

​Push Pull Legs

Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

Push pull legs isn’t so much of a program as it is a template.

It’s an easy to understand layout that can make program creation a breeze.

And there are a variety of options for them.

The exercises are easily customized and the frequency can be adjusted according to your individual needs.

It trains all the major muscle groups in way that allows for recovery but yet can be used by anyone, new or experienced lifters.

A classic push pull legs routine will split your body parts by function into 3 workouts:

  • ​Push (Chest, shoulders, triceps)
  • ​Pull (Back, biceps)
  • ​Legs (hamstrings, calves)

And it can be performed in a number of ways, depending on your experience and time, from 2 to 6 days.

The exercise selections are completely up to you but each workout should contain compound lifts, depending on the workout:

  • ​Bench Press
  • ​Squats
  • ​Overhead Press
  • Pull Ups
  • ​Deadlifts
  • ​Barbell Rows
  • ​Dips

​Your push workouts will contain exercises that involve the upper body muscles consisting of only the pecs, shoulders and triceps.

Pull workouts are targeting the back muscles and biceps.

And finally the leg workouts are for your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves. 

​How To Schedule Your Push Pull Legs Routine

​The best part about push pull legs routines is that it can work in an number of ways.

If you want to workout 3 times per week, 2 or even 6, it can be done with PPL programs.

This works well if you’ve got a busy lifestyle but find yourself wanting to go to the gym 4-5 times per week but only have time for only 2 workouts for the next week.

No matter which frequency you pick, your workouts should follow the same push pull legs style.

And one day off from all forms of exercise should be in every schedule because training heavy with compound exercises will take a toll on your central nervous system and muscles.

Also the first workout can be started on any day of the week, it is not necessary to always start on Mondays for example.

​The 2 Day Push Pull Legs Routine

Training just twice a week can yield great results if it’s done correctly.

But optimally, you’ll gain muscle and strength faster if you workout at least 3 times per week as a bit more is always better.

Instead of doing one workout for push / pull / legs, you’ll be doing a workout for the upper body and another workout for the lower body.

This is an routine you can do if you can’t workout more than twice a week:

Workout 1
  • Push and Pull
Workout 2
  • ​Legs

​The Classic 3 day Push Pull Legs Routine

​This routine is the optimal frequency for me personally, since I do have a lot of volume in my workouts.

If I did more workouts in the same week I would easily overtrain.

And it allows for optimal recovery as there’s one rest day between workouts and 2 rest days after leg day.

Doing these workouts 3 days in a row wouldn’t allow for recovery and it can actually be worse for muscle and strength.

It’s important to allow your muscles to recover, as they do grow outside the gym:

Workout 1
  • ​Push
Workout ​2
  • ​Pull
Workout 3
  • ​Legs

​The 4 day Push Pull Legs Routine

​​This routine increases frequency and allows you to train much more.

The downside to this is that you can easily have too much volume and overtrain if you’re not planning out your reps and sets.

The upside is if you have a developed physique but have lagging muscle groups like lower or upper body, you can have a program focused on more volume on one part of the body over the other.

For example, if your upper body is lagging behind, you could have 3 workouts for the upper body, and 1 workout for the lower body.

Or if your lower body is your weak part, then you’d have 3 workouts for the lower body and 1 workout for the upper body.

If you do find yourself not feeling good with this frequency, the 3 day push pull legs routine will likely be best suited for you, especially if you’re a natural bodybuilder.

Workouts can be rotated each week so instead of starting with push, you’d start with legs or pull.

Here it is:

Workout ​1
  • ​Push
Workout ​2
  • ​Pull
Workout 3
  • ​Legs
Workout 4
  • Push or pull (with different exercises than the workouts earlier)

​The 5 day push pull legs Routine

​Working out 5 days a week might be optimal for some because it has more than enough frequency while allowing 2 days for recovery.

If you’re just starting out, this will be over doing it for you.

But if you’re past that stage, and consider yourself at least an intermediate lifter, then it might be beneficial.

It can be done in several different ways, depending on a number of variables (volume, sets, weight, intensity, etc), and you can choose where you have your rest days.

If it’s possibly, have a rest day before and after leg day so your lower back has sufficient recovery from squats.

And workouts can be rotated each week so there’s no need to always start with push workouts.

Here is a default routine you can start with:

Workout ​1
  • ​Push
Workout ​2
  • ​Pull
Workout ​3
  • ​Legs
Workout 4
  • ​Push
Workout 5
  • ​Pull

​The 6 Day Push Pull Legs Routines

​This frequency is too much for most people but if you have just enough volume, you might get away with this and still make great gains.

Again, depending on the volume that you do on pull day before or after your leg day, have a day off before leg day.

This frequency is most likely too much for most people, especially if you’re natural.

And beginners should certainly not be using this routine, as it’s frequent and requires a lot of planning to prevent over training.

It’ll also take some experimenting to see which order of workouts you’d want to do.

The 2nd workout for the same muscle group in the same week will likely need to have less volume, and the next week could have different exercises.

If you still want to go with 6 days, here it is:

Workout ​1
  • ​Pu​sh
Workout ​2
  • ​Pull
Workout ​3
  • ​Legs
Workout ​4
  • ​Push
Workout 5
  • ​Legs
Workout ​6
  • ​Pull

​Bottom Line On Push Pull Legs Routines

​This programs bring the basics back to training and it is a timeless program that will forever be a staple in many bodybuilders programs.

Each workout uses similar muscle groups to help develop a balanced physique.

Whether you’re new to the gym, or an advanced lifter, anyone can use this classic program.

Pros

Easily customizable and can fit most peoples schedules without requiring any special frequency as you can follow either 5, 4 or 3 day plans.

The routines contain more upper body volumes than most strength training programs while having enough volume for legs.

Progression and exercise selection is fairly easy to understand and anyone can make their own program with these routines.

It allows for a mix of strength training and bodybuilding training that will suit most trainee’s preferences.

Cons

Lower body doesn’t get as much volume as the upper body.

If your legs are lagging and slower to develop than your upper body, include more leg exercises.

Pressing may cause issues for people with shoulder issues as it contains pressing for shoulders and chest with incline and overhead exercises.

You can switch out these exercises for either leg exercises or any other exercise that you feel comfortable with or simply lower the weight and perform more reps.

With so many variations of push pull legs routines it may get confusing for someone who likes to have everything planned out for them and doesn’t know which one to go with.

In this case, start off with a PPL program you like and customize it from there to your liking.

​Upper and Lower Routines

​Like Push Pull Legs programs, this type of training is customizable.

There are a lot of variations that can be applied and since each person is different, there isn’t a one size fits all program.

But if there’s one thing that all lifters can agree with is that there are principles that should be followed to maximize results.

Upper and lower body routines are based on strength and bodybuilding principles that every level trainee can use.

This training split can be used anytime and there isn’t a better way to get back to the basics than this.

To break it down:

​You have two workouts, one for the upper body and the other for the lower body.

The first workout is your upper body muscles, back, chest and arms.

The second workout is your lower body muscles, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

How many times you perform these workouts per week depends on your volume and level.

If you’re going to max out your lifts for reps then you won’t be able to push as hard for the second workout.

​The Traditional Upper Lower Split Program

​Since this only requires to split your workouts by upper or lower body exercises, you can perform this program with either a frequency of 2 times per week.

Optimally you want to go for 3-4 times per week to maximize results.

Having a day between workouts will help with recovery but if you really need the weekends to be free of workouts, then you’ll probably opt for 3 to 4 times per week with only one day off between 2 days of workouts.

These are the workouts but you can change out the exercises if you can’t perform one for another.

Compound exercises should have 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps while smaller exercises should have between 2-3 sets with 8-12 reps.

Before we get to scheduling, here’s how the workouts should look:

Workout 1
  • ​Squats
  • ​Lungs
  • ​Leg Extensions
  • ​Leg Curls
  • ​Calf Raises
Workout ​2
  • ​Bench Press
  • ​Bent Over Row
  • Overhead Press
  • Side Raises
  • Bench Dips
Workout ​3
  • ​Deadlifts
  • Overhead Press
  • Reverse Flyers
  • Side Raises
  • Bench Dips
Workout ​4
  • ​Incline Bench Press
  • Wide Grip Pulldown
  • Seat Cable Rows
  • Push Ups
  • Dumbbell Bicep Curls
  • ​Incline Bicep Curls

​Scheduling your workouts:

For most natural trainee’s will do well with 3 workouts per week.

However if you find that isn’t enough, you can go up to 4 workouts per week and it can be done in a couple of different ways.

You can rotate through each workout (1,2,3,4) either every workout or every week, depending on your preferences.

Here’s one schedule you can go with:

Day 1: Workout 1
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Workout 2
Day ​4: Rest
Day ​5: Workout 3
Day 6+7: Rest
Day 8: Workout 4:
Day 9: Rest
Day 10: Start back at workout 1

Or you can go 4 times per week, with one of these two options:

Day 1: Workout 1
Day 2: Workout 2
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Workout 3
Day 5: Workout 4
Day 6+7: Rest

Or….

Day 1: Workout 1
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Workout 2
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Workout 3
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Workout 4

Pros

Splits workouts evenly by either upper or lower body work.

Volume is fairly balanced for the entire body.

Easy to understand and follow, making it suitable for beginners and all levels.

​Cons

​This program can easily cause over training if there’s not enough rest and too much intensity.

Very little focus on smaller muscles like biceps and triceps.

Stronglifts 5X5

​Stronglifts 5x5 is one of the popular strength programs you can find.

Although 5x5 training has been used for decades, Stronglift’s isn’t the original creator of it.

In fact, this type of training was first created by Reg Park, and was popularized by Bill Starr in the 70’s.

This version is a modified version by a guy named Mehdi, the founder of Stronglifts.com.

It works because it uses progression by increasing weight slowly, adding weight for each workout, leading to more size and strength.

The program looks simple but it is more difficult than it looks..

It calls for squatting twice a week as well as deadlifts.

The exercises are close to what Starting Strength has, but with Stronglifts, you replace deadlifts in Workout A with barbell rows.

​Warm Up

​Mehdi recommends that you start with 2 sets of 5 reps with the empty bar on squats, bench and overhead press.

Then add 25 to 45lb (10-20kg) and perform 2-3 reps.

Keep adding 20 to 45lbs of weight until you reach your working weight for your 5x5 sets.

Don’t rest between sets until you reach your 5x5 weight, otherwise you’ll take more time for your workout.

Since you’re already warmed up before your barbell rows and deadlifts, you don’t need to warm up and you can start heavier.

You should never perform your 5x5 weight until you do your warm up sets.

Cardio won’t be enough before your workout.

Your muscles, and central nervous system, needs to be “activated”, or you’ll risk injury and your working weight will feel much heavier.

Once you start your heavy 5 rep sets, take 2 to 5 minutes between each set, like in Starting Strength.

If you can’t complete 5 reps for any set, deload for a week and don’t lift heavy.

The Routine:

The Stronglifts 5x5 consists of two workouts:

Workout A:  (5 sets, 5 reps)
Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row

Workout B: (1 set of 5 for deadlifts, 5x5 for everything else)
Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift

The progression is straightforward: add 5 pounds to each exercise, for every workout.

If you’re new to lifting, this will work for you.

Adding 15lbs to your compound lifts is possible.

However if you’re an experienced lifter, slapping 15lbs to your current working weight for every workout would be impossible.

Scheduling:

Stronglifts is a 3 day per week strength training plan but it is flexible to when you perform them.

The popular way is training one day on, and one day off, with 2 consecutive days off.

That means you can train with one of these ways:

Stronglifts is a 3 day per week strength training plan but it is flexible to when you perform them.

The popular way is training one day on, and one day off, with 2 consecutive days off.

That means you can train with one of these ways:

  • ​Monday, Wednesday, Friday
  • ​Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
  • ​Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday

​The final option isn’t optimal for recovery because you’re training two days in a row and you won’t be able to train as hard on Sunday.

On what day you perform these workouts doesn’t matter, so long as you have it to 3 times per week, with 2 consecutive days off.

Each week, the workouts rotate so it would look like this:

​Week 1: 
Workout A, B, A

Week 2:
Workout B, A, B

Week 3:
Workout A, B, A

Week 4:
Workout B, A, B

Pros

It has straight forward progression with simple exercises.

The workouts are easy to understand and can be understood by any level of trainee.

It doesn’t require much time, only about 45 to 60 minutes to finish the routines.

It has high volume and is well suited for beginners, though there is an advanced version of this program.

​Cons

​The volume for leg work is doubled to what there is for upper body.

If you have issues with joints, this will increase risk of injury as it requires heavy lifting with the same exercises.

You’ll want to change up the exercises to prevent this after a year or so.

There’s not much exercises for arms and shoulders, which can lead to imbalances especially if those muscles are lagging for you.

The workouts can feel boring as the exercises, reps and sets are the same for every workout.

The Bottom line

For beginners, the 5x5 program is perfect to start with and it’ll accelerate muscle and strength gains fairly quickly.

There is an advanced version of this program but the progression is slowed down a bit.

You can’t go wrong if you’re just starting out and haven’t found any strength training programs that work for you.

However if your upper body is lagging then you may want to either adjust the volume to balance out the exercises or choose another program that doesn’t have doubled the volume for leg work.

​The ​Bottom ​Line On ​The ​Best ​Strength ​Building ​Programs

If there’s one thing you can takeaway from this, it’s that compound exercises are key to muscle and strength gains.

Isolation exercises alone are not enough.

All in all, if your program isn't something you look forward to, you'll unlikely perform with as much effort as you should be. 


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