Here's what you need to know...

  • This program is designed to make you at least 15% stronger while adding 7 pounds of muscle on your body – distributed in such a way that it will not only make you look a lot larger, but more powerful.
  • The 915 program uses the three powerlifts (squat, bench press, deadlift) and the snatch-grip high pull or power clean as the foundation lifts.
  • You'll use two assistance exercises for each main lift. These assistance exercises will allow you to correct any weaknesses holding you back on your main lift.

If you want to build muscle at a fast rate, you don't have to include an exercise for every single angle of every single muscle in your body. You don't have to use all the most advanced methods at the same time. Growing is all about working hard on exercises that will deliver results 10 out of 10 times. It's also about finding your personal weakness and hammering it hard.

The system I present below is very simple, but if you apply some elbow grease the results are guaranteed. So stop over thinking! Get on the system, work hard, and you will grow and get stronger. It's as simple as that. And for those who need further assurance, I've been using this system with several clients and they're all progressing faster than I expected; gains of at least 15% on the big lifts in 9 weeks is normal!

Four Core Lifts

This 915 program uses the three powerlifts (squat, bench press, deadlift) and the snatch-grip high pull or power clean as the foundation lifts. If you get 15% stronger on these four lifts, you'll add 5-7 pounds of hard muscle on your body in 9 weeks, and it'll be distributed in such a way that it will not only make your body look a lot larger, but more powerful. No need to worry if you're an exercise addict as each session will also include two assistance movement. Still, the key part of the program is bringing those four lifts up. In fact, the two assistance exercises are there only to fix any weak point you might have in the main lift. It's simple. You'll grow bigger by becoming stronger on the core lifts, and you'll get stronger on the core lifts by hammering your weak points with the assistance exercises.

The four core lifts are periodized. This means that we'll use a precisely planned peaking cycle lasting 9 weeks (three 3-week phases). We'll use percentages, and work up to a point that's 15% above your starting weights. The weird thing is that few of those planned sessions will be excruciating; progress is smooth and not forced. Forced progression can only last so long and never lead to long-term gains, so respect the planned loads and don't try to use more even if the planned weights feel easy some days. (Don't worry, if that happens you'll be able to compensate by going harder on the assistance lifts.)

Two Assistance Exercises Per Core Lift

We'll use two assistance exercises for each main lift for the duration of the program, except for the last week where we'll drop them to peak the main lifts. The main key to the program is the proper selection of the assistance exercises since they will allow you to correct the weaknesses that are holding you back on your main lift. The program has three phases:

WEEKS 1-3: The two assistance exercises are selected to attack your main weakness.

WEEKS 4-6: One assistance exercise is used to continue strengthening your weakness while the other one is to get you accustomed to handling heavier weights.

WEEKS 7-8: One assistance exercise is to get you accustomed to handling heavier weights while the other is used to amplify your strong point.

WEEK 9: We skip the assistance lifts so you can peak on your main lift.

The assistance exercises, unlike the main lifts, do not use pre-planned percentages. Instead, we will use the RM system (repetition maximum) which means doing the work sets with the most weight you can handle with solid form. This is not the same thing as using the most weight you can for one set. For instance, let's say that you are supposed to do 5 sets of 3. If the maximum weight you can use for 3 reps is 300 pounds, then it might be best to use 290 pounds since you have to do it 5 times instead of just once.

Twice Per Week, One Hard and One Fast

While we have four main lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, high pull/power clean), it really is only three exercises, because I see the high pull/power clean as being the explosive version of a deadlift. Each of these "three" lifts is trained twice a week, once for strength – where the focus over the training cycle is to gradually increase the weight – and once for power/speed – where the focus is to perfect technique and explosiveness. While Westside uses 50-60% of 1RM for speed (equipped powerlifting is not the same thing as raw lifting), we'll use 80% for our speed day. This is the percentage where power and strength are developed equally and thus it will have a greater transfer toward maximum strength gains for the raw lifter.

Taking a Page From One of the Greats

When it comes to splitting the training weeks, I like how Dr. Fred Hatfield plans a powerlifting cycle. You essentially have two types of days: (1) a bench/squat day and (2) a deadlift day. On heavy bench day you also do assistance work for the bench press and when you do your explosive squats you forgo the assistance exercises for the squat. On a heavy squat day, it's the opposite. Here's what a training week might look like:

DAY 1
Bench press, heavy
Bench press assistance exercises
Squat, explosive/work on technique

DAY 2
Deadlift, heavy
Deadlift assistance exercises

DAY 3
OFF

DAY 4
Squat, heavy
Squat assistance exercises
Bench Press, explosive/work on technique

DAY 5
OFF

DAY 6
Power Clean (or High Pull)
Explosive pull assistance exercises

DAY 7
Bonus work. This is were you can do loaded carries, Prowler, sprints, biceps, or abs.

Main Lift Periodization Cycle  The First 8 Weeks

This is the periodization plan for the first 8 weeks of the training cycle (week 9 is the peak weak). The loads are based on your maximum on each lift at the beginning of the cycle. Test your maxes the week prior to starting the program. This doesn't include the assistance work that I'll cover below.

(For the proper training schedule, refer to the previous section.)

IMPORTANT: Only the work sets are included in this plan. Always warm-up properly by doing 2-3 progressively heavier sets before starting the work sets.

WEEK 1
Bench Press and Squat
  On heavy day: 80% x 4 for 5 sets
  On explosive day: 80% x 2 for 5 sets
Deadlift: 80% x 4 for 5 sets
Power Clean (or High Pull): 80% x 2 for 5 sets

WEEK 2
Bench Press and Squat
  On heavy day: 80% x 5 for 5 sets
  On explosive day:: 80% x 2 for 5 sets
Deadlift: 80% x 5 for 5 sets
Power Clean (or High Pull): 80% x 3 for 5 sets

WEEK 3
Bench Press and Squat
  On heavy day: 80% x 6 for 5 sets
  On explosive day: 80% x 2 for 5 sets
Deadlift: 80% x 6 for 5 sets
Power Clean (or High Pull): 80% x 4 for 5 sets

WEEK 4
Bench Press and Squat
  On heavy day: 90% x 2 for 3 sets
  On explosive day: 82% x 2 for 5 sets
Deadlift: 90% x 2 for 3 sets
Power Clean (or High Pull): 80% x 5 for 5 sets

WEEK 5
Bench Press and Squat
  On heavy day: 90% x 3 for 3 sets
  On explosive day: 82% x 2 for 5 sets
Deadlift: 90% x 3 for 3 sets
Power Clean (or High Pull): 90% x 2 for 5 sets

WEEK 6
Bench Press and Squat
  On heavy day: 95% x 3 for 3 sets
  On explosive day: 82% x 2 for 5 sets
Deadlift: 95% x 3 for 3 sets
Power Clean (or High Pull): 90% x 3 for 5 sets

WEEK 7
Bench Press and Squat
  On heavy day: 100% x 2 for 3 sets
  On explosive day: 82% x 2 for 5 sets
Deadlift: 100% x 2 for 3 sets
Power Clean (or High Pull): 95% x 2 for 3 sets

WEEK 8
Bench Press and Squat
  On heavy day: 105% x 2 for 3 sets
  On explosive day: 80% x 2 for 5 sets
Deadlift: 105% x 2 for 3 sets
Power Clean (or High Pull): 95% x 3 for 3 sets

The Peak Week

The purpose of week 9 is to allow you to maximize your performance on the main lifts. It's not unlike what you'd do if you were competing in a powerlifting competition. It's very important to do the peak week and see where your new maxes stand because testing your maxes at the end of the cycle will tell you how good the plan was. If you fail to improve at least 10%, then you might have to review your assistance work selection, your workout nutrition, or your general eating plan. If you gained 15% or more, you know that you found a recipe that works great for you!

IMPORTANT: No assistance work at all during this week.

DAY 1
Squat: 95% x 1 for 2 sets
Bench Press: 95% x 1 for 2 sets
Deadlift: 95% x 1 for 2 sets
Power Clean: 95% x 1 for 2 sets

DAY 2
OFF

DAY 3
OFF

DAY 4
Squat: 105% x 1, 110% x 1, 115% x 1

DAY 5
Bench Press: 105% x 1, 110% x 1, 115% x 1

DAY 6
OFF

DAY 7
Deadlift: 105% x 1, 110% x 1, 115% x 1
Power Clean: 100% x 1, 105% x 1, 110% x 1

Assistance Work Selection

The success of this system will in large part be due to proper selection of the assistance exercises. As explained, an assistance exercise might either be used to:

  1. Strengthen a weak point.
  2. Get the body used to handling heavier loads.
  3. Amplify your strength to maximize performance.
Squat-prep

Phase 1 – Hammering Weak Points (Weeks 1-3)

We'll use two assistance exercises for each main lift. On the day where you have two main lifts (squat and bench), you only do assistance work for the lift being trained for strength. The two assistance exercises will be selected to solve a weak point. The first movement will be a variation of the main lift to strengthen the weak portion of the lift. This is done for 5 sets of 5 repetitions. The second movement is an exercise targeting your weakest muscle involved in the main movement and is done for 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions.

Picking the First Assistance Exercise

IMPORTANT: The purpose of the assistance exercises is to fix a weak link. As such, doing each lift with perfect form is key. Never let your body compensate by going out of position to use other muscles to "complete the lift." Yes, focus on getting stronger, but on getting stronger with perfect positioning.

For squat workouts:

  1. If you lose position (bending forward) at the start of the lift, do paused squats (pausing for 2 seconds in the bottom position) or 1.5 squats (going all the way down, going back up halfway, going back down and then completing the lift). In both cases, focus on maintaining a stable torso.
  2. If you lose position at the midway point, do front squats or paused squats (pausing for 2 seconds at 90 degrees on the way up) while again focusing on keeping a stable torso.
  3. If you lose balance at the end of the movement (weight shifting forward), do slow squats (going down and up very slowly, about 4 seconds) or squat good mornings (do a good morning and when the torso is bent over, squat down into a full squat with the same back angle, then stand back up extending the legs and back until you're standing straight up).

For deadlift workouts:

  1. If you're weak off the floor, do deficit deadlifts (deadlift while standing on a 2" block), floating deadlifts (stand on a 2" block, but don't let the bar touch the floor; the bar "floats" 2" above the floor while you hold the position for 2 seconds before each rep), or Sumo deadlifts.
  2. If you're weak just below knees, do snatch-grip deadlifts from below the knees (in power rack or weights on blocks) or Romanian deadlifts.
  3. If you're weak above the knees, do deadlift with chains (or reverse bands) or snatch-grip deadlifts starting above the knees.

For bench press workouts:

  1. If you're weak off the chest, do paused wide-grip bench presses (pausing 2 seconds just above chest on every rep) or dumbbell presses (using the fullest range of motion possible).
  2. If you're weak in the mid-range (arms about 90 degrees), do push presses or incline bench presses.
  3. If you're weak in the last portion of the lift, do decline bench presses with a close-grip or 4-board presses.

For power clean workouts:

I'd really need to see a video to correctly assess your form, but from my experience, most people lack explosiveness during the last phase of the pull. During a proper clean, the first pull (from floor to mid-thigh) is done under control. From there, you should accelerate violently. Most people accelerate too early, trying to clean the barbell from the floor. For that reason, almost everybody should start off doing power cleans from the hang or from blocks above the knees as their first assistance exercise.

Picking the Second Assistance Exercise

You have more leeway with the second exercise. Simply assess which one of the muscles involved in the main lift is holding you back and pick the movement that best stimulates that muscle. It could be an isolation exercise or a movement like a hack squat or chin-up, whatever works for the muscle you need to improve. Here are the muscle groups to choose from in the four main lifts:

  • Squat: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower back
  • Deadlift: Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower back, Upper back
  • Bench Press: Pectorals, Triceps, Deltoids
  • Power Clean: Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower back, Traps, Quadriceps

As you can see, some muscle groups are involved in several movements. The smart thing to do is to pick different muscles on each day, unless you have a major weakness that would require more frequent training.

Phase 2 – Integration (Weeks 4-6)

During this phase we want to continue to work on improving your weaknesses but we also want to prepare the body to handle bigger weights than it's used to. I've seen many training cycles fail because this wasn't done. Yes, you can get the muscles strong enough to lift weights that are above your previous maximum, but if you never handled the big weights and know what they feel like, it's often hard to reach the maximum benefit, performance-wise, from your training cycle.

Picking the First Assistance Exercise

So for our first assistance movement we will once again work on our weak point. Pick from the same list of assistance movements above, but I recommend using another option than the one you used during the previous phase. For instance, if you used deficit deadlifts during the first three weeks, use Sumo deadlifts for this phase. For this phase, perform 5 sets of 3 repetitions for that first assistance exercise.

Picking the Second Assistance Exercise

The second movement will be an overload exercise where you'll use a weight greater than what you could do in the full lift. You'll do this either by using partial movements or chains/bands to overload the top end of the exercise. This second movement is done for 3 sets of 3 repetitions. Here are your choices:

  • Squat: Half squats (not from pins, just a regular squat where you go down halfway), squats with added chains (I prefer to have a lot of chain weight instead of more bar weight if possible), or reverse-band squats.
  • Deadlift: Pin pulls from just below knees, deadlifts with chains, or reverse-band deadlifts.
  • Bench Press: Half bench presses (lowering to about a 90-degree arm angle), 4-board presses, bench presses with chains, reverse-band bench presses, or decline bench presses.
  • Power Clean: Clean low pulls from the hang or from blocks

Phase 3 – Optimization (Weeks 7-8)

This phase is all about fine-tuning. You want to maximize your own strengths. We spent the first 6 weeks trying to fix your weaknesses so they won't hold you back, but if you want to perform at the highest level you're capable of, you need to take full advantage of the assets you have.

Picking the First Assistance Exercise

The first assistance movement will be a variation of the main lifts that targets your strong area. These are the same exercises as those used to correct a weakness. However, this time you pick the zone where you are strongest instead of picking the zone that's holding you back. Do 3 work sets of 3 reps.

Picking the Second Assistance Exercise

The second assistance exercise continues to develop your capacity to handle heavy weights, so use the same overload movements as for the previous phase. However, try to pick a different option than the one you used for the previous 3 weeks. Do 3 work sets of 2 reps.

Phase 4 – Peaking (Week 9)

I can't overstate the importance of not doing any assistance or bonus/vanity work during the peaking phase. The goal is to make sure that the body, and especially the nervous system, is in the best possible shape to allow you to showcase the results you worked so hard to achieve. This may actually be the hardest week for somebody who is really motivated because you will be doing VERY little work, but you need to be disciplined if you want the program to give you maximum results!

What's Next?

Due to its periodic nature, you can do the 915 Program several times in a row (ideally with a one week de-load after the peak week), so there's nothing wrong with starting a new cycle with your new maxes as the starting point. However, I found that doing 3-4 weeks of slightly less demanding work will allow for better long term progression. I've had people get great results doing a more typical bodybuilding routine (a Meadows program) for 3 weeks between strength cycles. You'll actually grow faster from the bodybuilding program when you do it after a 9-week strength cycle as the body will be more responsive to the different type of stimulus.