Here's what you need to know...
- Pick one exercise from five categories: a press, a pull, a hinge movement, a squat, and a loaded carry.
- The first 10 workouts involve doing these same movements every day, but with varying set and rep schemes.
- The important thing is to never miss a rep, and when the weights feel light, add more weight.
- After the first 2 weeks, you can either repeat the first 10 workouts 3 additional times, or you can make small changes to the movements every 2 weeks until you reach 40 workouts.
Pavel Tsatsouline once summed up strength training in three sentences:
- Train as heavy as possible.
- Train as often as possible.
- Train as fresh as possible.
How do you do that exactly? Pavel suggests this:
"For the next forty workouts, pick five lifts. Do them every workout. Never miss a rep. In fact, never even get close to struggling. Go as light as you need to go and don't go over ten reps for any of the movements in a workout. It's going to seem easy. When the weights feel light, simply add more weight."
Pavel called the program "Easy Strength."
I tried it. I picked five exercises I needed to do and did them. Old PR's fell, and yes, it seemed "easy." Here's my version of the program.
The 40-Workout Strength Challenge
You need to pick five exercises. All five will be performed on each training day, five days per week. Pick one from each of the following categories:
- Press Movement: Flat bench press, incline bench press, or military press.
- Pull Movement: Thick bar deadlift, snatch-grip deadlift, clean-grip deadlift, orthodox deadlift, Jefferson lift, or hack squat.
- Hinge Movement: You can combine the pull movement and the hinge movement – as most of deadlift exercise are also hinge movements – or do an exclusively hinge movement like kettlebell swings in the 75-100 range.
- Squat Movement: Front squat, back squat, overhead squat, zercher squat, or safety squat.
- Loaded Carry: Farmer's walk, waiter's walk, etc. Vary the distance and load every time.
The Plan: Two-Week Block
Train each of the five exercises each day using these set and rep schemes:
- Monday (Day 1) 2 x 5
- Tuesday (Day 2) 2 x 5
- Wednesday (Day 3) 5/3/2
- Friday (Day 4) 2 x 5
- Saturday (Day 5) 2 x 5
- Monday (Day 6) 2 x 5
- Tuesday (Day 7) 6 singles
- Wednesday (Day 8) 1 x 10
- Friday (Day 9) 2 x 5
- Saturday (Day 10) 5/3/2
Sample Plan: Two-Week Block
Monday (Day 1) – 2 x 5
- A. Incline Bench Press (Press Movement): 165 for 5 reps x 2 sets, assuming a 300-pound max single.
- B. Thick Bar Deadlift (Hinge Movement): 185 for 5 reps x 2 sets, assuming a 265-pound max single. This counts as a pull and a hinge movement.
- C. Front Squat (Squat Movement): 185 x 5 reps for 2 sets, assuming a 405-pound max single.
- D. Farmer's Walk (Loaded Carry Movement): 105 pounds in each hand, 100 meters out and back with three stops.
- E. Ab Wheel (Optional Add-On): 5 reps x 2 sets.
Again, you'll repeat each of these movements every training day.
Tuesday (Day 2) – 2 x 5
This can be heavier or lighter depending on mood and feel. The important thing is to show up and get the movements in.
If one day is too hard and compromises the next day's workout, that's fine as long as you lighten the load and continue getting the reps in without compromising speed.
Wednesday (Day 3) – 5/3/2
Begin with the 5-rep number from the usual 2 x 5 workout. Then add some weight for three reps, and finally add some weight for two reps. Be sure to get the double.
Most people on this program find that this workout is the test for how things are progressing. The weights should begin to fly up on the double. That's good, but stop there.
Remember, this is a long-term approach to getting strong. Don't keep testing yourself.
Friday and Saturday (Days 4 and 5) – 2 x 5
These are potentially the most confusing days in that the load on the bar depends on how you feel. If the effort feels easy and light, "nudge" the load up. Here's the secret (again): The goal of this program is to gently raise your efforts (load) on the easy days so that the bar feels light.
If you start out lifting a weight, say 205 at one effort level, and in a few weeks you're lifting 245 at the same perceived effort and speed, you're definitely stronger.
Monday (Day 6) – 2 x 5
After a day of rest, day 6 is going to feel easy and that's how it should be. Get the reps in.
Tuesday (Day 7) – 6 x 1
Day 7 has a simple rule: You'll do six singles, adding weight each rep. It can be 5 pounds or 50, depending on how each single feels. It's not a max effort on the last set; it's just the sixth single. If the loads feel heavy, just add five pounds. If the bar is flying, add more.
For people who come from the tradition of "smashing your face on the wall," day 7 is confusing. Your goal is to determine the load based on how the weight feels. If it pops right up and feels light, toss on the plates.
If it doesn't, respect today and realize that you're going to have plenty of opportunities to get stronger in the future.
Wednesday (Day 8) – 1 x 10
Day 8 is a "tonic" day. Go really light and just enjoy ten reps. It can be as light as 40% of max. Just use the movement to unwind after the previous day's heavy attempts.
Friday (Day 9) – 2 x 5
Day 9 is often the day when people start to understand the reasoning behind the program. This is the day where the weights seem to often be "far too easy." That's the sign of progress in this program.
Saturday (Day 10) – 5/3/2
This is often the day where people test themselves a little. This is fine as long as you feel like going after it. Again, don't miss.
Week 3 and Beyond, Option #1
The original program required that you repeat Weeks 1 and 2 three additional times. It works well.
By week 5, I was a machine on the lifts and broke lifetime personal records, smashing my incline bench press record by 15 pounds and crushing my old thick bar deadlift record by 50 pounds. That represented a staggering improvement.
So Option #1 is to simply keep on keeping on.
Week 3 and Beyond, Option #2
This is the best method for most athletes. You make small changes to the movements, switching from bench press to incline bench press, thick-bar deadlift to snatch-grip deadlift and front squat to back squat.
This is Pavel's "same, but different" approach. That small change seems to keep enthusiasm high for the entire 8 weeks.
After 40 workouts, you'll be stronger than ever before, guaranteed.