DeFranco's Training Rules for Washed-up Meatheads

Dear Washed-up Meathead,

Look, I've got nothing but respect for you. You gave me Playboy, bourbon whiskey, and barbells. You taught me how to pick up girls, when to flip the burgers, and why I should always wash my hands immediately after using Icy Hot. (Worst ball scratching experience ever.)

You took me to the gym, handed me a program, and told me to bust my ass. And it worked. Over the years, I've gotten bigger, stronger, and more confident.

But then I noticed something. I noticed you're still doing the very program you handed me years ago. Well, let me tell you, sir, it's gone stale. You've gone stale.

You may be a washed-up meathead, but that doesn't mean you should be doing a program that doesn't hold water.

So I've decided to pay you back. I want you to be in the best shape of your life. I want you to grow some bigger muscles, shed some fat, and start performing like the badass you once were.

That's why I contacted self-proclaimed washed-up meathead Joe DeFranco to help whip you into shape. He's got five rules for writing your own badass program and even included a sample program at the end of the article. You can thank me later.

A Young Punk

PS – What's up with the flamboyant Christian Audigier shirts and True Religion jeans you've been wearing? That's just weird, man.

A quick note from DeFranco

"I've received a lot of hate mail over the past few years from the 30 and older meathead crowd. 'Your programs are just for athletes,' they say. 'I don't have time to do all that stuff.'


And I know how they feel. You get older and take on more responsibilities. You have a career. Your joints hurt. The days of college, eating shit foot, getting hammered, sleeping for a few hours, and waking up refreshed are over. You don't want to train six days per week.

The guys who email me or show up to my gym have been lifting weights their whole lives. It's nothing new to them. And that's the main problem. Without variety, you won't gain muscle. But really, what good is gaining muscle if your joints hurt all the time or you can't even wipe your own ass?

What these washed-up meatheads need is functional muscle. No, I'm not talking about any bullshit Bosu balls. I'm talking about benching heavy weight without your shoulder hurting. I'm talking about coaching your son's football team and running a few pass patterns to show the little suckers how it's done. I'm talking slabs of muscle, no fat, with lungs of steel.

I've got five rules for these guys. And if they follow them, I have no doubt they'll be built like a badass."

DeFranco's 5 Rules

1. Train Three Days Per Week

"Recovery is the key to strength and looking good," says DeFranco. "You can't come into the gym sore because you won't have the strength or endurance you need for the workout."

But is three days really enough?

"If you're busting your ass and doing the right things, it is. Even if I had a guy who won the lottery and told me he could train as much as I wanted him to, I'd still keep him on the three-day schedule."

Here's how DeFranco sets up his training week:

  • Monday – Upper Body
  • Wednesday – Lower Body
  • Friday – Upper Body

Why only one lower-body day?

"You'll get enough muscle stimulation from that one day to carry you through to next week," says DeFranco. "Besides, I've got some fun "finishers" that'll hit your legs, too."

2. Use the Max-Effort Method (With a Few Slight Twists.)

Yeah, you probably know the old-school Westside max-effort method. Well, DeFranco has made a few alterations.

"First off, squat and deadlifts are interchangeable. We're not gonna force-feed these guys."

According to DeFranco, both of these exercises will accomplish the same thing, more or less. "All we need is a main lower body exercise that you can go heavy on. Some people are built to squat because they have the right leverages. Some guys like to pull heavy stuff off the ground. Doesn't matter to me."

And it's not like you're replacing squats with leg extensions.

"We're definitely not letting them cop out," says DeFranco. "But I want to give them something to look forward to. My favorite moment is watching my guys come in to look over the logbook with the day's training. They're nervous and excited, like 'Oh, shit, what do we have to do today?' That's how it should be."

Next, of course, is the bench press.

"What washed-up meathead program would be complete without it?" asks DeFranco. "Guys like to see how much they can bench. They like to brag about it. And, hell, they're gonna do it anyway even if I don't recommend it. We might as well program it effectively."

Fair enough.

Now here's the interesting part: DeFranco includes the chin-up in his max-effort work.

"It's key. Not only is the chin-up a great upper back exercise to counteract the bench press, it's the relative strength exercise that will make you clean up your diet."

What's that mean?

"Well, if your bench and squat are going up it doesn't mean much other than you're getting stronger. That's cool, but you could still be a fat-ass, you know? But if your chin-up strength is still the same or going down, it means you need to get some conditioning in and keep your freakin' hands off the Haagen Dazs because you're getting too fat to pull yourself up."

One last point about the max-effort work: DeFranco is a huge proponent of using percentages of your one-rep max. "I'm all about steady progress," he says.

That means you actually have to test all three of your lifts. Testing your bench press and squat or deadlift is straightforward–just load a bar with 60 percent of your "perceived" 1RM and build up from there.

To test your chin-up, grab onto the bar with an underhand grip and do as many as you can with perfect form for one set. That's your max. You'll see how DeFranco programs it in a bit.

Your training week should now look like this:

  • Monday – Bench Press
  • Wednesday – Squat or Deadlift
  • Friday – Chin-up

The purpose of the max-effort work, explains DeFranco, is to ramp up the nervous system.

"After the first exercise you should be fired up and ready to train," he says. "That's because it's either going to be a heavy movement or a jump (on lower-body days), which will excite the nervous system."

The stimulatory effect is nice, but the key point DeFranco makes is that by exciting the nervous system, you'll be able to recruit more muscle fibers in the exercises that follow.

Which brings us to our next rule.

3. Use Bodybuilding Methods

If the first exercise is neural, the second one is "muscular."

"I like to get into some high-volume work for the guys so they can build some muscle."

While he usually recommends between six and twelve reps, he sometimes gets into the very high-rep sets. "I like to bump it up to 20 or 25 reps every now and then," he says.

Hello, lactic acid. But what's the point?

"I don't feel there's too much correlation between getting a pump and gaining muscle, but let's be honest, it's fun as hell," he says. "Why not get a pump while your nervous system is jacked up? The more blood that floods into your muscles, the more nutrients you get. It's a great environment for growth."

DeFranco likes to divide his bodybuilding methods into movement planes that correspond with the max-effort exercise for that day. So if you did the bench press, you'd do other horizontal plane work like dumbbell presses and rows. If you did chins, you'd do some overhead pressing and lat pull-downs. If you did legs, you'd do, well, more legs.

One thing DeFranco is adamant about is not doing forced reps or going to complete failure.

"Always leave a little something in the tank. No one wants to pull a bar off you."

4. Use "Finishers"

This is both "show" and "go."

"Too many guys avoid any type of cardio, but it's usually the finishing touch that can really burn some calories and strip the extra fat."

Another reason, naturally, is to increase your athleticism. And since DeFranco is best known for his work with college and pro athletes, he knows a thing or two about conditioning.

"Look, every guy should be doing barbell complexes, push-up and squat ladders, jump rope, or at least be able to run a mile. They act like it'll kill them or they'll lose all their muscle mass. Bullshit."

5. Warm-Up, But do it Quickly

Yeah, he saved this rule for last since he knew most of you would skip right over it if it were at the top.

DeFranco has a simple warm-up routine dubbed The Agile Eight. "It's helped powerlifters, washed-up meatheads, and other anti-mobility dudes really feel better," he says.

The Agile 8 will make you sweat, prepare your joints, stretch your muscles, and best of all, it'll only take ten minutes.

"Hell, I even do it on the days I don't train," says DeFranco.

The Agile 8

  1. Foam roll your IT band. Start just below your hip and roll up and down to your (outer) mid-thigh ten to fifteen times, focusing on any tight spots. Then perform ten to fifteen "rolls" starting at your (outer) mid-thigh and rolling all the way down to the outside of your knee. Again, focus on the tight areas.
  2. Foam roll your adductors. Start just below the crease of your hip and roll up and down your (inner) mid-thigh ten to fifteen times, focusing on any tight spots. Then perform ten to fifteen "rolls" starting at your (inner) mid-thigh and rolling down to the inside of your knee. Again, focus on the tight areas.
  3. Glute/piriformis myofacsial release with a tennis ball. Take the tennis ball and sit on one your left butt cheek with a slight tilt. Cross your left leg. Roll for 30 seconds or so. Switch cheeks and repeat. Feel free to cry.
  4. Rollovers into "V" sits. Perform ten reps.*
  5. Fire hydrant circles. Perform ten forward circles and ten backward circles with each leg.*
  6. Mountain climbers. 20 total reps.*
  7. Groiners. Perform ten reps. Hold the last rep for ten seconds. Make sure to push your knees out with your upper arms while dropping your butt down.*
  8. Static hip flexor stretch. Perform 3 sets of 10 seconds on each leg. Complete all three sets on one side before moving to the other.

* Numbers 4-7 are shown in the following video.

You've read the rules, but now it's time to see what the program looks like with everything in order.

DeFranco's Sample 3-Day Program

Monday – Upper Body


  • 1. Bench Press: 72.5% of your 1RM x 8, 77.5% x 6, 82.5% x 4 or more


  • 2. Flat Dumbbell Press: 2 x Max Reps using the same weight for both sets. (Choose a weight that you can get around 20-25 reps with on the first set.)
  • 3A. Seated Overhand-Grip Cable Row: 4x15
  • 3B. Cable Triceps Pushdown (straight bar): 4x15
  • 4A. Dumbbell Shrugs(2-second hold at the top): 3x15
  • 4B. Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3x15


  • 5. Barbell Complex (Deadlift, Bent-over Row, Hang Clean, Push Press, Back Squat): Do two sets of 10 reps on each exercise. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Wednesday – Lower Body

Excite the nervous system

  • 1. Dumbbell Squat Jumps, holding 10-pound Dumbbells: 4x6


  • 2. Squat or Deadlift: 72.5% of your 1RM x 8, 77.5% x 6, 82.5% x 4


  • 3A. 45-Degree Back Raise (hold weight plate over chest): 3x15
  • 3B. Seated Medicine Ball Twists (feet off ground): 3x20 each side


  • 4. Timed one-mile run: You can do this on a treadmill or outside on a track. If you're unable to run due to injuries, you can substitute this with two miles on the exercise bike or elliptical. Whatever you choose, make sure you try and complete the distance in the least amount of time. Record your time!

Friday – Upper Body


  • 1. Chin-ups (total reps): Chin-up max + 50%

    Note: If you got 20 reps when you tested your chin-up max, you would take 50 percent of 20 (10 reps) and add that to your total to make it look like this:

    20 reps (max) + 50% (10 reps) = 30 total reps of chin-ups.

    Break it into as many sets as you need but make sure every rep is perfect.


    • 2A. Lat Pull-down (Wide, overhand-grip): 2 x Max Reps using the same weight for both sets. (Choose a weight that you can get around 20-25 reps for your first set.)
    • 2B. Standing Dumbbell Military Press: 2 x Max Reps using the same weight for both sets. (Choose a weight that you can get around 15-20 reps for your first set.)
    • 3A. "Rolling" Triceps Extension: 4x8
    • 3B. Hammer Curl (both arms same time): 4x8
    • 4. Core Circuit: x 2
    • a. 20 Toe Touches
    • b. 30 Bicycles
    • c. Side Plank x 30 seconds each side


    • 5. 100 push-ups as fast as possible. Record the time it took you to complete all 100.


    To DeFranco, the term "washed-up meathead" isn't derogatory. "It just means you've been around the block a few times," he says. "It's a sign of respect. It means you've put in the work, gained some serious muscle, and know your way around the weight room."

    It also means you're probably a little stuck in your ways.

    "The older meathead guys are stubborn," says DeFranco. "I should know because I am one. Still, one of the best things you can do for you body is surprise it. And this is the best way I know how."

    Now get to work, sir.