A Basic Strength Training Program

Anyone can use this Basic Strength Program to get started building strength and muscle mass.  This program is based on the latest research on resistance training for strength and hypertrophy.  

It is designed for use during the first 3-6 months of training for people who either have no experience with strength training at all, or who are unfamiliar with brief, high intensity training.

After the first 3-6 months of training, you will make better progress with a customized program that tailors exercise selection and training volume and frequency to your unique muscle fiber type distribution and recovery ability.  

Minimal Equipment Required

To start implementing all of the exercises I recommend in the Gaining Strength program you will need the following equipment:

  1. A chin up bar (such as the CAP power rack) or other overhead bar or way to hang rings or suspension trainer.
  2. A set of Bodylastics bands or an X3 bar.  
  3. A band training platform, either the one that comes with the X3 bar or my economical DIY homemade platform.
  4. A homemade calf block.
  5. Depending on your current strength level, you may need a set of Serious Steel resistance bands to provide assistance to chin ups.
  6. Optional, a tibialis trainer.
  7. Optional, a set of gymnastic rings or a suspension trainer.
  8. Optional, a set of 50-100 pounds of standard weight plates (1" hole) with dumbbell handles to add load to squats and chin ups.
  9. Optional, a Brute Belt or other quality chin up/dip/hip squat belt, which will allow you use resistance bands or plates to add resistance to chin ups
  10. A notebook in which you will record details about each training session.  I use essay books. 

The Simple Strength Training Program

This Basic Strength Program consists of 2 slightly different full body training routines, alternated thrice weekly:

Routine A 

  1. Tuck split squat  – 1 x 10-15 each side
  2. Bilateral straight leg forward bend – 1 x 10-25 
  3. Unilateral rise on toes – 1 x 15-20 each side
  4. Regular chin ups  – 1 x 8-12
  5. Standing overhead press (X3 bar or Bodylastics bands)– 1 x 10-15
  6. Neck extension – 1 x 12

Routine B

  1. ATG split squat at your level (progress to 3-zone or load with dumbbells or with X3 bar) – 1 x 10-15
  2. Leg curl (use bands or suspension trainer/rings) – 1 x 10
  3. Tibialis trainer or bodyweight toe raise – 1 x 20-30
  4. Inverted rows or fulcrum 90º pull ups  – 1 x 8-12
  5. Push ups (floor, rings, or with bands) – 1 x 10-15
  6. Neck flexion – 1 x 12

You do these thrice weekly with 48-72 hours between.  For example, do routine A on Monday, B on Wednesday, and A on Friday.  The next week do B on Monday, A on Wednesday, and B again on Friday. 

But what about arm work?

Multiple studies have shown that adding direct exercises for biceps and triceps to any routine that includes a multi-joint vertical pull – i.e. chin up or pulldown – and a multi-joint pressing motion (dips, chest press, shoulder press) on average produces no greater strength or size of arm muscles.

If you want big arms, focus on getting really strong in chin ups, dips or chest press, rows and overhead presses.  These exercises provide all the work your arms need to grow.  

However, if you really feel the need to add direct arm work, I suggest adding a set of bicep curls to the end of routine A, and a set of tricep extensions to the end of routine B.

Warm ups

Here is the general warm up I recommend:

  1. Neck extension/flexion x 10-15
  2. Neck lateral flexion x 10-15
  3. Neck rotation x 10-15
  4. Small arm circles forward x 30
  5. Small arm circles backwards x 30
  6. Waist rotation with Liver/Kidney taps x 20
  7. Hip rotation x 10-15 each direction
  8. Bodyweight squats x 20

When using proper exercise execution with submaximal loads permitting at least 6 repetitions, the specific warm up is built into the work set during the first one-third to one-half of the set when you move a bit more slowly than is actually possible at that point, as described in earlier. Moreover, research has shown that on average specific warm ups have practically no benefit when you are training with submaximal loads allowing 6-20 repetitions.

Nevertheless, if after a general warm up you still do not feel mentally and physically prepared for your first work set, include a specific warm up for the first exercise as follows:

  1. Use 50% of the working load for the target number of  repetitions for the work set of the exercise.
  2. If still not warm enough, increase the load to ~75% of the working load and do half the target number of repetitions for the work set of the exercise.
  3. Rest 1-3 minutes during which you increase the load to the the work set level.
  4. Perform the work set.  

After performing the first work set you should be quite warm and probably will have no need to perform further warm ups for that session. 

Effort level: AMRAP

Do as many reps as possible up to the goal number of repetitions on each set.  You stop when you know that you will not be able to  complete the next repetition in good form. While doing this simplified program you want to learn how to train to concentric muscular failure.  Training to muscular failure reduces your time investment.  For example, one study found no significant difference in strength gains between a training time of 7 minutes consisting of several sets to failure per exercise and 25 minutes of sets not to failure, so by training to failure or performing as many reps as possible you can reduce your training time by approximately 70% [study].

Simple Strength Training!

This simple strength training program includes all the best exercises for each major muscle group and is all you need to get started. 

After the first 3-6 months of training, once you have learned how to train hard with a single set per exercise, you will make better progress with a customized program that tailors training volume and frequency to your unique muscle fiber type distribution and recovery ability.  

If you want to get the most you can from high intensity strength training consider enrolling in my very affordable ($50/month) online coaching program which I deliver through the TrueCoach app.  Learn more about the program here

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