10 Rules for Guaranteed Strength and Size

How to Get Bigger & Stronger

10 Rules for Guaranteed Strength and Size

Follow these rules and you just can’t fail at adding muscle and strength. So why don’t we see more people using this approach? Because people love shiny new things and have the attention spans of wasps.

At some point, you must make a decision. What matters most to you when it comes to training? Progressing or having fun? Because often, the latter can hurt the former.

Here are your 10 rules of guaranteed progress:

1. Train One-Day On, One-Day Off

This is the best way to optimize the quality of your workouts. Each day off allows you to maximize recovery and growth from the previous day’s workout and helps you perform optimally on the next one. This schedule allows you to work brutally hard while greatly minimizing the chances of burning out. Complete details here: The Most Efficient Way to Train and Gain

2. Use a Lift-Specific Program

Use a four-workout rotation with each focusing on one big basic barbell lift (bench press, squat, overhead press, deadlift, etc.). After the big lift, perform one major assistance exercise and 1-2 isolation movements to strengthen the main lift. Also, do one rowing or pulling movement per workout. More info at the bottom.

3. Use the Triple Progression Model

Start with reps of 4-6 or 6-8 (a range of 3 reps). Do 4 work sets with the same weight. When you can do all of your sets with the same weight and hit the top of the range, add 5-10 pounds on your next session. You have to hit 6-6-6-6 or 8-8-8-8 before you can add weight.

If you get something like 6-6-5-4, stick with the same weight. We’ll get into the details below.

4. For Isolation Work, Focus On The Burn and Muscle Fatigue

Weight doesn’t matter. Just make sure you hit failure or close to it while getting as much localized burn/pump as possible.

5. Take Long Rest Periods Between Sets on the Main Lift

Rest 3-4 minutes between sets on compound movements using the triple progression model to maximize your performance.

6. Take Short Rest Periods Between Sets of Isolation Work

This will help you get more secondary growth mechanisms activated, like lactate and local growth factors. It’ll also allow you to get a good hypertrophy response without doing more heavy work and taxing the nervous system unnecessarily.

7. Eat a 300-500 Calorie Surplus Per Day

If your weight isn’t going up, you won’t be building any significant amount of muscle. You need a surplus to fuel the muscle-growth process. You’ll optimize recovery from the previous workout and perform as well as possible. If your weight isn’t going up weekly (or at least bi-weekly), you’re NOT consuming a caloric surplus.

8. Eat a Gram of Protein Per Pound and Increase Carbs

Carbs are almost as important as protein to build muscle. They’re protein-sparing (anti-catabolic), and they promote the release of anabolic IGF-1 and insulin. They also activate mTOR (which promotes protein synthesis).

Carbs are also the best fuel for intense workouts, and they speed up recovery. A significant portion of those carbs should come around the workout. I recommend Plazma™ or Surge® Workout Fuel for that purpose.

9. Drink a Lot of Water

Drink at least 4-5 liters of water (around 1.5 gallons) per day. Water facilitates nutrient transport, stores carbs as glycogen, and is involved in too many key metabolic processes to name! Water is truly a secret weapon for strength and size gains.

10. Get at Least 8 Hours of Sleep Per Night, as Many as Possible Before Midnight

Sleep is key for recovery, nervous system optimization, hormone optimization, and muscle building. If you can get a few of these hours prior to midnight, it’s even better.

Why? It’s a circadian rhythm thing. As the daylight decreases, a signal is sent to the pineal gland, leading to an adjustment in how cells function.


Further Details

The Lift-Specific Split

This is one of the easiest ways to program, and it works well for performance, strength, and size. It’s an ideal “power building” split because it’s designed to build a lot of mass and strength. (It doesn’t work optimally for pure competitive bodybuilders who need to overdevelop every muscle.)

The split is based on a rotation of four workouts. You build each on one main barbell lift:

Day 1: Squat Variation
Day 2: Horizontal Press Variation
Day 3: Hip Hinge Variation
Day 4: Vertical Press Variation

Start by picking one main lift for every day, for a total of four basic barbell lifts. These movements will stay the same for as long as possible, so pick those you’re comfortable with, and that fit your body type.

Examples for each category:

Squat: High-bar squat, low-bar squat, front squat, Zercher squat, box squat, etc.

Horizontal Press: Bench press, low-incline bench press, incline bench press, decline bench press, etc.

Hinge: Conventional deadlift, power clean (and variations), power snatch (and variations), Romanian deadlift, sumo deadlift, trap-bar deadlift, high pull, etc.

Vertical Press: Military press, push press, log press, high-incline bench press, seated barbell shoulder press, etc.

Each workout contains 4 or 5 exercises:

Exercise 1: It’s the main lift. It stays in your program for a long time (see the triple progression section).

Exercise 2: Do a multi-joint assistance exercise for the main lift (it can even be a variation of the main lift, e.g., close-grip bench press). You can keep this exercise for a long time in your program, too, using the same progression model as the main lift. However, if you find that it no longer addresses your weakest link (because you fixed it), change it.

Exercise 3: Choose a pull or row. Ideally, pick a different one on each of the four days, including both vertical and horizontal pulls.

Exercises 4 and (possibly) 5: Do isolation exercise(s) for a key muscle in the main lift. Isolation exercises can be changed any time you want.

Using the one-day on, one-day off split, it would look like this:

Day 1. Squat
Day 2. OFF
Day 3. Horizontal press
Day 4. OFF
Day 5. Hinge
Day 6. OFF
Day 7. Vertical press
Day 8. OFF

The Triple Progression Model

It’s essentially “periodized” double progression that’ll help you progress on a lift for as long as possible using progressive overload.

Select a range of 3 reps, like 4 to 6 reps. Start with a weight that’s close to your max for the top of the range (in this example, close to your 6RM). Use that same weight for all of your work sets (4-5 work sets, normally). The goal is to complete all of the work sets with the same weight, getting all your reps in (6 reps).

If you don’t get all of your reps in, keep the same weight at your next session. For example, if you get…

  • Set 1: 6 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 2: 5 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 3: 4 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 4: 4 reps using 200 pounds

…it means at your next workout, you stay with 200 pounds.

If at your second workout, you get…

  • Set 1: 6 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 2: 6 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 3: 5 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 4: 5 reps using 200 pounds

…there’s progression because you were able to get more reps. But the progression is not large enough to justify adding weight, so your sets are not all complete.

If at the next session you get….

  • Set 1: 6 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 2: 6 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 3: 6 reps using 200 pounds
  • Set 4: 6 reps using 200 pounds

…you’re allowed to add 5-10 pounds at the next workout. Start the progression over.

You keep up with this process until you can’t progress at all. This means that for 3 consecutive workouts you can’t add any reps or weight. When that happens, you move down one rep range.

Your three rep ranges are:

First: 6 to 8
Second: 4 to 6
Third: 2 to 4

Let’s say that you start with 6 to 8 reps, and you can progress for 12 workouts, after which you hit a wall for 3 consecutive workouts. You’d move on to the second zone (4 to 6 reps), starting with 10 pounds more than your last workout with the preceding zone.

Now, maybe you can keep progressing in that second zone for 6 more workouts, then have 3 consecutive sessions where you can’t add a rep. You’d move on to the third zone (2 to 4 reps) and start the double progression process with 10 pounds more than your last workout in the preceding zone and keep going until you hit the wall.

After hitting the wall in the third zone, you can either start over with the same movements in the first zone or use different exercises, starting in zone 1. In both cases, take a week off from the big lifts before starting a new cycle.

This is your blue-collar plan for success. It’s brutal, basic work, and it never fails if you train hard and respect the rules. If you’re willing to have a workman attitude in the gym and at the kitchen table, you’ll be rewarded with gains for a long time.

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.