Look Powerful. Be Powerful.
I want to make you jacked while also turning you into a high performance machine. And that’s what this plan is all about – getting you bigger, stronger, more powerful, and better conditioned than you’ve been in a long time.
I’m all about high-performance muscle: Any increase in size must come with at least as much improvement in performance. Even if your goal is just to build an awesome looking body, you should maintain this high performance mentality.
Grow in every way possible so that you can actually BE as powerful as you look. This program will help you get there, but first let’s revisit its predecessor, Built For Bad.
Built For Bad Recap
In 2013 I came out with a program which led to my best physique ever: Built for Bad. The core concepts were:
- Lift heavy
- Lift often
- Focus on 5 lifts
- Do them 5 days a week
It’s simple yet effective. It can transform your physique at a frightening pace. The only problem? Not everybody could handle the maximal lifting five days a week. Those who could handle the loading made astounding progress. Those who couldn’t crashed after 3-4 weeks (but still made gains beforehand).
Also, Built for Bad didn’t include any work to fix weaknesses. If you were balanced that wasn’t an issue. But not everybody has perfect structural muscle balance.
These are the two issues that I fixed with the Built for Battle program. I also included more exercise choices so that you can better tailor the program to your needs.
Built for Battle – Overview
Because this program works for lifters at different levels of experience with different primary goals, you’ll need to customize it. So here’s what you’ll do, step by step:
- Choose your conditioning level. This will determine how long you rest between exercises in the circuits.
- Choose your main goal: getting the power look, building explosiveness and performance, or size gains. This will determine which group of exercises you choose.
- You’ll train 5 days per week with Thursday and Sunday off. On two of those training days, you’ll add in an assistance exercise circuit.
- One of those training days will be simple. You’ll just ramp up to your 3RM (3-rep max) for each exercise. You’ll then use that 3RM to choose the weights for the other workouts in the week, which will use the proven 5-4-3-2-1 scheme.
- Lastly, you’ll review the options and periodization info at the end.
This takes a little work and thought on your part. That’s good. It means this isn’t some cookie-cutter plan!
Step 1: Choose Your Conditioning Level
There are three levels to choose from depending on your level of conditioning and how fast you normally train. The goal is to eventually build up to the first level. But your progression should be fairly slow, maybe trying to move up a level every third week.
Use this if your conditioning is poor or you’re used to a very slow workout pace. You’ll take 2:00 to 2:30 minutes between exercises.
Use this if your conditioning is about average. Take about 1:30 to 2:00 minutes between exercises.
Use this if your conditioning is good or you’re used to a fast training pace. Take about 1:00 to 1:30 minutes between exercises.
Don’t go up a level if it makes your performance suffer. Keep in mind, it’s not a superset. The main goal is NOT to go as fast as possible, although you do want a fairly rapid pace to get some conditioning effects.
Step 2: Choose Your Goal and Group of Exercises
Each workout includes five exercises covering the whole body. You’ll repeat these on the five training days, but the intensity will vary. Do the movements as a circuit: Do one set of the first drill, one set of the second, one set of the third, etc. You’ll go through the circuit five times total.
There are three main groups of exercises to choose from. Pick the group that best fits your goal or technical capacity.
Group One – For Developing the Power Look
The power look is characterized by thick traps, upper back, and shoulders. The exercise selections reflect this and will really jack your “yoke” up. If you like big powerful traps, this is the group for you!
- Continuous Clean & Press or Muscle Snatch (From Blocks, Hang, or Floor)
- Zercher Squat
- Snatch-Grip High Pull From Blocks
- Bench Press or Incline Bench Press
- Seated Row or Pendlay Row
Group Two – For Developing Explosiveness and Performance
This is mostly for athletes wanting to improve explosiveness while getting stronger and building muscle. Now, even though the plan will build some muscle, it’s the least effective of the three groups to get you looking jacked. But the trade-off is that you’ll gain a lot of explosiveness and improve your capacity to absorb force.
- Power Clean (From Blocks, Hang, or Floor)
- Push Press
- Back Squat
- Neutral Grip Pull-Up
- Bench Press
Group Three – For Developing Size and Strength
This is your big basic plan. It’ll build the most overall strength.
- Military Press
- Front Squat
- Seated Row
- Bench Press
Note: I selected the front squat instead of the back squat because the front squat is less taxing on the lower back when you also have a deadlift in the plan.
And yes, you can swap some comparable exercises. Let’s say you pick the Group 1 lifts, but you really want to do a power clean which is in Group 2. You can swap the snatch-grip high pull for the power clean. But don’t swap exercises that target different patterns (like swapping the Zercher squat for a military press).
Step 3: Know the Loading Schemes (Sets & Reps)
Day 1 is where you ramp up to your 3RM and use that 3RM to calibrate the loads for the other workouts. On top of being a powerful growth and strength gain stimulus, this day allows us to properly select the weights for the rest of the week and also give us an idea of progression.
Work up to a 3RM in every lift. These are performed in a circuit format. Yes, it’s quite possible that you reach your 3RM on one lift before the others, especially the first week. When that happens, drop that lift from the circuit while you’re reaching your 3RM on the other ones. But after one Monday workout it’ll be pretty easy to hit your 3RM at the same time on all lifts because you’ll have a good idea of what you can lift.
Important: Shoot for a technically solid 3RM. A 3RM where that last rep takes 5 seconds – with form breaking down and using compensatory mechanisms – won’t work because it will overestimate how much weight you need to use during the week. The goal is to perform all perfect reps, so the weights need to be based on a near perfect performance.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday
The main scheme will be a 5-4-3-2-1 countdown, meaning your first set will be 5 reps, your second set 4 reps, your third set 3 reps, and so on.
There are several reasons why I love the 5-4-3-2-1 scheme:
- Every set feels easier, even though it’s harder. You think, “So what if I’m adding weight, I have fewer reps to do.” That perception allows you to push harder, which is really important on the heavy days.
- By gradually working toward the heavier sets, you prepare your body and nervous system for the all-out effort. This makes it easier psychologically, neurologically, and physically.
- While it’s a strength-building scheme, it’ll also build muscle mass with the sets of 4 and 5 reps, especially in intermediate and advanced lifters, and especially considering that you’ll hit everything five times a week. So even if the amount of protein synthesis triggered in a workout may be lower than it would in a more traditional workout, at the end of the week it’s likely greater.
When you do the 5-4-3-2-1 workouts do 2-4 warm-up rounds. Do 2 warm-up rounds when it’s an easy workout, 3 when it’s moderate, and 4 on the hardest session. On those warm-up rounds, gradually add weight from round to round. If your goal is maximum size, warm-up with sets of 5. If you’re focusing more on strength and performance, warm-up with sets of 3 to avoid excessive fatigue.
Step 3: Know the Intensity Level (Weights Used)
The original Built for Bad program was a blitz plan. Every workout was a limit workout. Five days in a row of all-out lifting was too much for many people, especially those with more traditional jobs and more stress in their lives. The schedule for the Built for Battle plan takes that into consideration and two modifications are included:
- The five training days aren’t all consecutive. You can get a break sooner in the week.
- The intensity waves up and down during the week. Only two sessions are all-out, one is moderate intensity, and two are lower in intensity but include assistance work.
Ramp up to a 3RM with good form. Do it in 5-6 sets after you’ve done 2-3 warm-up sets.
- 1 x 5 @ 80% of 3RM
- 1 x 4 @ 85% of 3RM
- 1 x 3 @ 90% of 3RM
- 1 x 2 @ 95% of 3RM
- 1 x 1 @ 3RM
- 1 x 5 @ 72.5% of 3RM
- 1 x 4 @ 77.5% of 3RM
- 1 x 3 @ 82.5% of 3RM
- 1 x 2 @ 87.5% of 3RM
- 1 x 1 @ 92.5% of 3RM, plus assistance circuit number 1
- 1 x 5 @ 90% of 3RM
- 1 x 4 @ 95% of 3RM
- 1 x 3 @ 3RM
- 1 x 2 @ 105% of 3RM
- 1 x 1 @ 110% (attempt) of 3RM
- 1 x 5 @ 70% of 3RM
- 1 x 4 @ 75% of 3RM
- 1 x 3 @ 80% of 3RM
- 1 x 2 @ 85% of 3RM
- 1 x 1 @ 90% of 3RM, plus assistance circuit number 2
Note: Only the work sets are outlined above.
Step 4: Add in the Assistance Circuits
Regardless of the group you selected for your main exercises, all your muscles will be covered to some extent, but for maximum muscle growth you need to include some work with higher reps. That’s the role of the assistance circuits, which you’ll perform twice a week on the lighter training days.
Note that exercise selection here is much less important as the main lifts. You can swap them for exercises you find more effective, or even use the circuits to work on your weaknesses. Keep in mind that on Wednesday you’ll be using intermediate exercises with medium reps, and on Saturday you’ll be focusing more on isolation work or other low-stress exercises and do them for higher reps.
- Incline Dumbbell Press Rest 45-60 Seconds
- Bent Over Dumbbell Row Rest 45-60 Seconds
- Bulgarian Split Squat, Weaker Leg Rest 45-60 Seconds
- Bulgarian Split Squat, Stronger Leg Rest 45-60 Seconds
- Romanian Deadlift Rest 2-3 Minutes
Do 2 warm-up rounds, then three work-set rounds. Use a weight that’s challenging, but that’ll still allow you to get all your reps in (not hitting failure, but getting close).
- First round: 10 reps
- Second round: 8 reps
- Third round: 6 reps
- Barbell Curl Rest 30-45 Seconds
- Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension Rest 30-45 Seconds
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise Rest 30-45 Seconds
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl Rest 1-2 Minutes
Do 2 warm-up rounds and 3 work-set rounds. On these exercises you should reach muscle failure on the work sets, which is why I gave you a range. Try to hit failure within that range.
- First round: 12-15 reps
- Second round: 10-12 reps
- Third round: 8-10 reps
Questions and Answers
Why Does Built for Battle Work So Well?
This program is unconventional and unlike most of what you see in gyms. So you might be wondering how it can work. It’s supposed to rapidly increase strength and size while also improving conditioning and helping you lose fat. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, here’s the breakdown…
The strength gains come from the rapid improvement in neurological efficiency. The more often you do a certain lift, the better your nervous system becomes at doing it in the most effective way possible.
And when it comes to neural efficiency, frequency of practice (not quantity) is king. The more often you practice a movement (with good form) the faster your improvements. A very high frequency practice like this will give you rapid gains in performance within 3-4 weeks for that reason.
Training a lift more often will improve intra and intermuscular coordination and make the nervous system more efficient at executing that specific motor program.
The 5-4-3-2-1 scheme uses a low volume per lift, and the circuit format allows you plenty of rest between sets of the same exercise so that you minimize movement-specific fatigue and gain optimal motor learning.
There are many ways to trigger muscle growth:
- Creating muscle damage, best done with a moderate volume with fairly heavy weight using movements where the main muscle will reach a certain stretch.
- Accumulating local growth factors, best done with a longer set duration – the muscles being under load for 45-70 seconds.
- Producing lactate, which has recently been shown to have a direct impact on muscle growth. This also requires sets of a longer duration, 30-60 seconds.
- Maximizing mTOR activation, which is best done when you emphasize the eccentric or negative.
- Fatiguing as many muscle fibers as possible. This normally requires a higher volume of work either in the form of higher reps or more sets.
Except for the first trigger, none of these really apply to what we’re doing during the strength circuits. Yet the growth is there. This is because of the frequency of training. While each session might not trigger as much protein synthesis (muscle growth) as a more traditional workout, the fact that you’re training the same lifts five days a week more than compensates for that.
Don’t forget that every time you train hard you increase protein synthesis in the trained muscles (this speeds up muscle repair and building). This increase in local protein synthesis lasts around 24 hours. If you train a muscle once a week you might stimulate a large increase in protein synthesis, but it doesn’t last long. When you’re training a muscle five days a week your protein synthesis stays elevated pretty much all week. These strength circuits are keeping your body anabolic all the time.
Furthermore, the more often you train a muscle, the better you become at contracting it and recruiting its higher threshold fibers. When that happens it becomes easier to make it grow. By training everything five days a week you improve your capacity to recruit all the big muscles which is an investment in future gains.
This program is first and foremost a nasty strength and size plan, but it can also have a positive impact on fat loss.
First, the circuit nature of the workout allows you to have a high work-to-rest ratio, especially once you get to Level 3 where you’re taking shorter rests between exercises. This keeps you in sympathetic mode and keeps your energy expenditure high.
The use of big lifts also helps both from a hormonal perspective (growth hormone release) and caloric expenditure standpoint – bigger lifts use more muscle, which means more fuel burned.
The nature of the program (especially groups 1 and 2) have a huge impact on insulin sensitivity, which will improve nutrient partitioning – sending more nutrients to the muscles, less to the fat cells. It’s not the primary goal of the program, but it’s a nice perk.
The circuit structure and the whole-body nature of the workouts will have a positive effect on anaerobic power and capacity, two important energy systems for sports. And since your heart rate will stay elevated during the whole 45-60 minutes, it’ll also have a positive impact on heart contractile strength which will improve aerobic capacities a bit.
Of course, we’re doing low reps, so I won’t claim that this program will be the most effective way to improve your conditioning, but it will have a positive effect.
Can You Periodize the Groups?
You might ask if you can combine groups. Yes and no. During a phase (lasting 3-4 weeks) you need to stick to one group only. The whole system is built on maximizing neurological efficiency to have a very rapid gain in strength on a select few exercises. So you can’t do group 1 on Monday, group 2 on Tuesday, etc. With the way the loading schemes are organized, that wouldn’t work anyway.
However, what you can do is to periodize all three groups into a 9-12 week training cycle. In which case I’d recommend doing it in this order:
- Weeks 1-3: Group 3
- Weeks 4-6: Group 1
- Weeks 7-9: Group 2
You can even extend each phase to 4 weeks if you like to stick to the same movements for longer. This will get you super jacked, strong, and powerful.
The original Built for Bad program couldn’t have been done for 9-12 weeks. Few people could sustain it longer than 3-4 weeks. But because of the “intensity waving” in this plan, it won’t be a problem.
Can You Add Loaded Carries?
If you’re wanting to add farmer walks, Prowler pushing, or sprints to this program, you can. And that addition would make this a very complete program for total body performance. However, you can’t simply toss them into the plan, it would be too much to recover from.
But what you CAN do is replace one or both of the assistance circuits (Wednesday or Saturday) with loaded carries or sprints. Depending on what you want to emphasize, here are some options:
- A. Farmer’s walk: Work up to the heaviest weight you can carry for 30 meters. Take 3 minutes of rest.
- B. Heavy Prowler Pushing: 5 x 30 meters. Take 3 minutes of rest.
- A1. Barbell Curl: 3 x 8-10 reps. Take 15-30 seconds of rest.
- A2. Tire Flip: (as much as you can do in 30 seconds) or Zercher carry (30 meters). Do 3 work sets.
- B1. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row: for 8-10 reps. Take 15-30 seconds of rest.
- B2. Farmer’s Walk: (30 meters). Do 3 work sets.
- A1. Prowler Sprint: (light weight for 30 meters). Rest 15 seconds.
- A2. Prowler Slow Push: (same weight for 30 meters). Rest 2 minutes. Do 5 sets.
- B. Farmer’s Walk: max distance in 60 seconds (wear straps)
Do 5 sets. Rest 1 minute between them.
What Supplements Do You Recommend?
For maximum results, I suggest…