Sometimes, the answer is simply that you need to get stronger.

Being stronger in the basic barbell lifts makes everything else you do in the gym easier. It makes it easier to get bigger, build endurance, and perform conditioning work. It's even easier to cut up when you're stronger as you can handle a higher load and perform more work in the gym.

Unfortunately, this simple fact – that strength is paramount – has been forgotten in many modern-day programs. Instead, misguided trainees chase a pump or a burn, or do endless high-rep circuits to the point of projectile vomiting. While there's nothing wrong with some ass-whupping hard work or getting your swole on, these are all of secondary importance to increasing the load.

Just visit any commercial gym to see for yourself. Lots of people lifting, but how many are constantly trying to push more weight? And how many are making noticeable progress?

That's the purpose of this program – to make you noticeably stronger than you are today in 8 weeks. In turn this will make whatever your long-term goal is (build muscle, lose fat, perform better) easier to accomplish. It really is a no-brainer, provided you do your part.

What I need from you is a simple commitment. You're required to train hard with weights, three days a week for 90 minutes each day. That's it. If that's too big of a commitment for you, then you might want to head off to another site. Craigslist has a fitness forum. Feel free to get your wisdom there in between the ads for concert tickets and escort services.

The routine is as follows:

Day 1: Chest and Back
Day 2: Legs and Lower Back
Day 3: Shoulders and Arms

A Monday, Wednesday, Friday setup works great with this routine but it's flexible, so pick three days that fit into your schedule. If you just have to be in the gym more frequently, then you can add in some off-day core work, conditioning, foam rolling, stretching, etc., but you should always be fresh and ready for the main lifting day when it comes. If you're not, reduce the outside work.

Every week is laid out for you. The exercises are presented in the order that they're to be performed. Only work sets are listed. Warm-up as much as required; a few sets before the first work set of the first exercise is usually sufficient.

Do what's listed here, no more, no less. If you fail on a main lift on the first week of the program it means you've no idea what your 1RM is and you way overestimated it. Only in weeks 3 & 4 and 7 & 8 should you have any chance of failing, and if you set up things properly from the get go you shouldn't fail in a main lift for the entire two months.

However, that doesn't mean you won't work hard, it just means you won't fail. There's a difference. Blasting out reps to failure is a helpful way to test strength, not necessarily develop it. The plan here is to reign in the ball busting sets for 8 weeks in exchange for intelligent progressive loading.

But don't worry, you'll get a chance to bust ass at week 9, when you show off all the new strength you developed. How much strength? It's common for an intermediate level lifter to put 10-25 lbs. on their bench and 20-50 lbs. on their squat and deadlift with a routine like this. Think those plates on the bar won't be noticeable in the mirror? Think again.

Chest and Back

3-board-press


Weeks 1-4

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Bench Press 5 x 8 @ 60%
1 x 3 @ 75%
4 x 8 @ 65%
1 x 3 @ 80%
3 x 8 @ 70%
1 x 3 @ 85%
2 x 8 @ 75%
1 x 3 @ 90%
Incline Press 5 x 8 4 x 8 3 x 8 2 x 8
3-Board Press 5 x 5 4 x 5 3 x 5 2 x 5
Pull-Up 32 reps
Minimum 4 sets
32 reps
Minimum 3 sets
32 reps
Minimum 2 sets
32 reps
Minimum 2 sets
45° Bent-Over Row 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8
Dead-Stop Dumbbell Row 3 x 12 3 x 12 3 x 10 3 x 10

Weeks 5-8

Exercise Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Bench Press 5 x 5 @ 65%
1 x 1 @ 80%
4 x 5 @ 70%
1 x 1 @ 85%
3 x 5 @ 75%
1 x 1 @ 90%
2 x 5 @ 80%
1 x 1 @ 95%
Incline Press 5 x 5 4 x 5 3 x 5 2 x 5
3-Board Press 5 x 3 4 x 3 3 x 3 2 x 3
Pull-Up 40 reps
Minimum 4 sets
40 reps
Minimum 3 sets
40 reps
Minimum 2 sets
40 reps
Minimum 2 sets
45° Bent-Over Row 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8
Dead-Stop Dumbbell Row 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 6 3 x 6

Legs and Lower Back

squats


Weeks 1-4

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Squat 5 x 8 @ 60%
1 x 3 @ 75%
4 x 8 @ 65%
1 x 3 @ 80%
3 x 8 @ 70%
1 x 3 @ 85%
2 x 8 @ 75%
1 x 3 @ 90%
Deadlift 3 x 8 @ 65% 2 x 8 @ 65%
1 x 8 @ 70%
1 x 8 @ 65%
1 x 8 @ 75%
1 x 8 @ 70%
1 x 8 @ 80%
Leg Press 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8
Front Squat 5 x 8 4 x 8 3 x 8 2 x 8
Glute Ham Raise 10 reps 12 reps 14 reps 16 reps

Weeks 5-8

Exercise Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Squat 5 x 5 @ 65%
1 x 1 @ 80%
4 x 5 @ 70%
1 x 1 @ 85%
3 x 5 @ 75%
1 x 1 @ 90%
2 x 5 @ 80%
1 x 1 @ 95%
Deadlift 3 x 5 @ 75% 2 x 5 @ 75%
1 x 5 @ 80%
1 x 5 @ 75%
1 x 8 @ 85%
1 x 5 @ 80%
1 x 5 @ 90%
Leg Press 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8
Front Squat 5 x 5 4 x 5 3 x 5 2 x 5
Glute Ham Raise 18 reps 20 reps 22 reps 24 reps


Shoulders and Arms

ez-bar-bicep-curls

Weeks 1-4

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Military Press 5 x 8 4 x 8 3 x 8 2 x 8
Power Lateral Raise 2 x 12 3 x 12 4 x 12 5 x 12
Power Rear Deltoid Raise 2 x 12 3 x 12 4 x 12 5 x 12
Close Grip Bench 5 x 8 4 x 8 3 x 8 2 x 8
Pullover Skullcrusher 1x12, 1x10, 1x8 1x12, 1x10, 1x8 1x12, 1x10, 1x8 1x12, 1x10, 1x8
V-Grip Triceps Pushdown 3 x 12 3 x 12 3 x 12 3 x 12
EZ Biceps Curl 1x10, 1x8, 1x6 1x10, 1x8, 1x6 1x10, 1x8, 1x6 1x10, 1x8, 1x6
Tim's Curl 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8

Weeks 5-8

Exercise Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Military Press 5 x 5 4 x 5 3 x 5 2 x 5
Power Lateral Raise 2 x 8 3 x 8 4 x 8 5 x 8
Power Rear Deltoid Raise 2 x 8 3 x 8 4 x 8 5 x 8
Close Grip Bench 5 x 5 4 x 5 3 x 5 2 x 5
Pullover Skullcrusher 1x12, 1x10, 1x8 1x12, 1x10, 1x8 1x12, 1x10, 1x8 1x12, 1x10, 1x8
V-Grip Triceps Pushdown 3 x 12 3 x 12 3 x 12 3 x 12
EZ Biceps Curl 1x10, 1x8, 1x6 1x10, 1x8, 1x6 1x10, 1x8, 1x6 1x10, 1x8, 1x6
Tim's Curl 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8


The Exercises

Bench Press. You know this one. Touch the chest and press back up. If you're a powerlifter, you can pause all reps on weeks 5-8 to build strength at the bottom.

Incline Bench Press. Touch your upper chest, just below the clavicle. These are straight sets (no change in weight each set). Each week try to add 5-10 lbs. Training weights for incline pressing are usually about 80% of bench press loads so use that as a gauge.

3-Board Press. Briefly pause the bar on the boards. Straight sets, increasing the weight about 5% each week. (So start light.)

45° Bent-Over Row. Ascending sets (weight increases each set), about 10% increase each set. Each week the weight should go up 5-10 lbs. per set so it might look like this:

Week 1: 165x8, 185x8, 205x8
Week 2: 175x8, 195x8, 215x8
Etc.

It's important to start light so you can make continual progress. Straps are okay, so is a little leg kick. I prefer a supinated grip here but overhand is acceptable.

See the video below for a demonstration of form:

Dead-Stop Dumbbell Row. This is similar to a standard one-arm DB row except for each rep the weight is paused on the floor for one full second. This eliminates momentum and provides a nice stretch for the lats. Go a little lighter than normal as the pause increases the difficulty. These are straight sets; do the same weight for two weeks in a row. When the program calls to drop the reps simply increase the weight by 5-10 lbs.

Leg Press. These are ascending sets; increase by about 10% each set. Every week go up 5-10 lbs. per set – most males can handle a 10-pound increase per week for the full 8 weeks if they push themselves.

Front Squat. Straight sets, each week increase the weight by about 5%. Front squat strength can vary – if this exercise is new to you don't be afraid to start light. Ultimately, most lifters front squat about 75% of their back squat but don't rush into that weight until you're ready.

Glute Ham Raise. The number given is the total reps to perform; take as many sets as necessary to get there. These are the "knees on the pad" version to hit the hamstrings more. As your strength increases, try to use less total sets to get the number of reps prescribed.

Military Press. This is done standing with a barbell, although if necessary you can substitute the seated dumbbell military press if your shoulders doth protest too much. Perform straight sets, increase the weight each week by 5-10 lbs. Most lifters can military press about 60-70% of their bench press as a rough guideline.

Power Raise. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and maintain that angle throughout the exercises. These are easier than strict lateral or rear delt raises, so go 5-15 lbs. heavier than normal. Perform straight sets, and use the same weight for each month – increase the volume by adding one set a week to build adaptation.

See the video below for a demonstration:

Close-Grip Bench Press. Take a grip that's 10-14" wide from index finger to index finger. (Two fingers on the grip and two fingers on the smooth also works well.) Perform straight sets, increase the weight each week by about 5-15 lbs. Most lifters usually close grip 80-90% of their bench press as a rough guideline.

Pullover Skullcrusher. I love these. Combine a pullover motion with a traditional triceps skullcrusher to increase the recruitment of the long head. Use an EZ bar and increase the weight each set by about 10%. Be sure to start light, and go up by 2.5-5 lbs. per set each week. These are easier than regular skull crushers once you master the form.

See the video below for a demonstration:

V-Grip Triceps Pushdown. Perform straight sets and go up in weight as you feel you can.

EZ Biceps Curl. Perform ascending sets and increase the weight by about 10% each set. Shoot for an increase of about 2.5-5 lbs. per set each week. A little swing is okay but in the final position your back should not be excessively arched.

Tim's Curl. Perform straight sets and go up 5 lbs. every other week. This is a compound set using dumbbells. Start with a set of supinated curls (perform the twist by at least the halfway point), and then after 30 seconds rest, do a hammer curl for the same number of reps. Rest 90 seconds and repeat for a total of three sets each. The goal is to do the same weight on the hammer curls as the supinated curls, but you can use 5-10 lbs. less if you have to.

Stronger = Better

legpress

There are infinite ways to make a program more complicated, but when it comes to getting results, complicated does not equal better. If what you see in the mirror isn't matching the effort you're investing, I suggest taking a step back and focusing on the basics. Getting stronger in the old school barbell lifts is never, ever a step backwards. Start this program now and you're 8 weeks away from real progress.

What's stopping you?