Whether your goal is to get huge and lean, dominate the athletic field, or simply be a bad ass in the weight room, including a strength program in your annual plan will drastically improve your long-term results.

You don't need a lot of fancy equipment to get super strong. All you need is a rack with weights, dumbbells, a cable column found at nearly any commercial gym, and your own body weight.

That's the basis of this 4-day program with an upper-lower split.

Program Philosophy

Powerlifting coach Louie Simmons of the legendary Westside Barbell Club heavily influenced the foundation of this program.

That's why there are three main methods used here to achieve maximum strength – the Max Effort (ME) method, the Dynamic Effort (DE) method, and the Repetition Effort (RE) method.

In laymen's terms, you're going to lift something heavy, lift something fast, and lift something for reps.

The Max Effort Method

The ME method is intended to improve the strength of the tendons and ligaments and train your nervous system to lift heavy loads.

Coaches stuck in the 80's who are concerned that lifting very heavy loads will make their athletes slow needn't worry – the intent is still to lift the weight as fast as possible, but since the load is extremely heavy, it will appear that it's being lifted slowly.

The ME method will also teach the lifter to strain and grind, thereby helping develop mental strength. Often on the athletic field – and in real life – a person has to deal with adversity. By teaching the lifter to push through sticking points, the ME method also teaches the lifter to persevere.

The ME method is typically done for singles, but any heavy weight for five reps or less will build strength and develop the nervous system. Typically, at least three sets are used at weights above 90% of the lifter's one-rep max.

In the beginning phases of the program, the reps and volume will be slightly lower to help acclimate the lifter to ME work. It's also wise at first to err on the side of caution and leave a little in the tank

The ME lift focuses on specific weak points of each part of the lift:

• Some lifts require a great deal of starting strength – these exercise are typically concentric-only movements such as pin presses or Anderson squats. The lifter must be extremely explosive just to get the weight moving.

• Partial movements are used to train the nervous system to handle heavier loads and build confidence.

• Isometric-emphasis (lifts with pause) movements are used to build strength in the bottom portion of the movement – typically a weak area for lifters not using powerlifting equipment.

• Finally, some movements will simply be harder than normal, such as double overhand deadlifts and front squats. These movements will also teach the lifter to strain, but won't tax the nervous system as much since the weights are lighter.

Mark Bell calls this method underloading. Go heavy enough to strain, but not so heavy that form goes to complete shit. If that happens, take a little weight off the bar and maintain quality form.

The Dynamic Effort (DE) Method

Many falsely assume that since powerlifters lift only one rep in competition that they don't need to be fast. However, the faster a lifter is, the more potential they have to be strong.

Imagine you were trying to break a piece of glass. Do you push really slowly, increasing the force gradually, or do you push as fast as possible? The glass represents a sticking point in any lift. The faster you are – the faster you break through the glass – the greater the chance of completing the lift.

Any barbell lift can become a DE exercise. By performing the squat, bench, and deadlift with submaximal weights you can produce the same amount of force as a max effort single.

Typically, bands and chains are used with this method to decrease the amount of deceleration of the barbell, but straight weights can still be used to improve speed – usually anywhere from 40-70% of the lifter's one-rep max.

It's important that with dynamic work that bar speed be the main indicator of whether the weight is appropriate. You want to put the heaviest weight on that you can move the fastest.

Let's say you have a 500-pound squat and you plan on using 250 pounds (50%). If it feels ridiculously fast, add on another 10 or 20 pounds. If it feels slow, take off 10 or 20 pounds.

A good analogy is throwing a wiffle ball, a baseball, and a shot put. The shot put is too heavy to throw far and fast, and the wiffle ball is too light. The baseball is the optimal weight for throwing fast and long. You need to find the weight that's your "baseball."

The Repetition (RE) Method

The RE method will be used for supplemental and accessory work. There are many ways to implement this method, but typically it's submaximal weights taken to muscular failure.

The accessory work shouldn't interfere with the recovery of the ME and DE and it's a good idea to keep 1-2 reps in the tank to help keep quality form. For the most part, this program will focus on typically weak areas, namely the upper back, lats, posterior chain, and the core, and here's why:

• The upper back is the foundation of the squat, deadlift, and bench press. The upper back enhances the lifter's ability to create a "shelf" on which to put the squat bar as well as keeping good posture during the descent of the squat.

• The lats (along with the upper back) create a stable platform for the lifter to press off from and aid in a powerful start and finish in the deadlift.

• Core training is extremely important for being able to stay stable during all three movements. Core stability helps the athlete resist spinal flexion during squats and deadlifts as well as resist over-extension when finishing these movements.

• Core stability training is also important for producing force throughout the body. If the core is weak, the lifter won't be able to display his true power and strength.

• Neutral spine hip flexion is another important but often overlooked core component. The hip flexors help pull the athlete into the hole in a squat and get them in position at the start of a deadlift.

Other important muscle groups and movements to work with the RE method include single-leg work, arms, shoulders, and the neck.

• Single-leg work is important for correcting asymmetries in the body as well as improving hip mobility. Hip mobility allows the lifter to get in a better position when performing squats and deadlifts and attain a better arch on the bench press.

• Triceps are important for locking out heavy presses, and biceps are important stabilizer muscles in both the bench and the deadlift.

• The neck is an often-overlooked aspect of training, but neck training can help keep the lifter in a better position on the squat and the deadlift.

Suggested Warm-Up and Recovery Methods

Absolute strength training can be extremely taxing, so it's important to discuss proper warm-up and injury prevention.

There are two ways to warm-up. The warm-up can include some mobility and activation drills as well as some soft tissue work, or you can do a more general warm-up and save the specific stuff for another day.

I like to get my mobility work and soft tissue work in at the gym – I simply won't do it at home. Both options will work as long as you're addressing mobility, activation, and soft tissue work throughout the week.

• For mobility, it's important to focus on exercises that open up the hips and thoracic spine. This will help the lifter stay in good position on all three lifts. Certain exercises in the program will also help improve these problem areas.

• For soft tissue work, rolling out the muscles of the quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, and IT bands is extremely important for maintaining good positioning on all three lifts.

I also recommend rolling out the pecs, forearms, rear delts, traps, triceps, and biceps with a lacrosse ball up against a wall. The lacrosse ball also works well for the hamstrings, which are harder to hit with a foam roller.

• Post workout, I suggest finishing with light static stretching for the pecs and hip flexors as well as any other problem areas. You generally need to stretch the things you dislike or don't normally do – that's why it's a problem area!

• The last thing is to ensure you're sufficiently hydrated, eating plenty of good quality food, and getting lots of sleep. Remember if you aren't recovering, you aren't getting stronger or bigger.

Here's a quick sample of a low-level mobility and activation sequence for both upper and lower body days.

Perform 1 set of 6 reps of each exercise after your pre-workout soft tissue work.

Lower Body Warm Up
Bird dogs
Adductor dips
Active straight leg raise
Floor slide series
Squat to stand

Upper Body Warm Up
Scap push-up
Reach, roll and lift
Thoracic extension rotation
Prone shoulder series
Jumping jack series

Post Workout Stretches (After Every Session)
Bench hip flexor stretch
Doorway pec stretch
Spiderman stretch
Levator scap stretch

Program Notes

This program is designed for maximum strength, so don't do any extra workouts in between sessions. Only do recovery work such as light stretching and foam rolling.

Take a light deload week before entering this program so you're fresh and ready to crush it!

Phase 1: Preparing for Max Effort and Dynamic Effort

anderson-squats

The first phase has slightly higher reps and less intense exercise so your body can get accustomed to the more taxing ME and DE workouts to follow.

It also uses the under-loading principles. You'll be using exercises that you can't go as heavy on to put less stress on the nervous system but still work on weak points.

This phase also includes some dynamic body weight movements to help get your nervous system ready for more taxing dynamic workouts to come.

Any time you're doing the main lift of the day, make sure to get full recovery in between sets. Once you move on to the smaller accessory exercises, you can pick up the pace.

As your work capacity increases you can take less time in between sets, but when training for strength and power, rest is key in order to get the most out of all sets.

Note: Videos for some of the more esoteric or technical exercises are included after the program.

Week 1

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Front squats 4 6
B Snatch grip rack pull * 3 5
C1 Split squat 4 6 * *
C2 Supine chin tuck 4 5 * * *
D1 Dead bugs 4 6 * *
D2 Prone bridge 3 30 sec.

* see video
* * per side
* * * 5 sec.

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench press 4 8
B1 Floor JM press * 3 10
B2 Barbell rack row * 4 8
C1 DB shrugs 2 15
C2 Tall kneeling anti-rotation 3 12 * *
C3 One-arm cable reverse fly 3 12

* see video
* * per side

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Jump squats and stick 6 3
B Double-overhand conventional DL 4 6
C Goblet Bulgarian split squat 4 6 *
D1 Cable pull-through 3 10
D2 Side bridge 3 20 sec. *

* per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Power push-ups 5 4
B1 Overhead press 4 8
B2 Flexed-arm hang 4 15 sec.
C1 DB Press with pause 3 12
C2 One-arm DB row 4 10
D1 Face pulls 50 *
D2 Bent-over cable triceps extension 50 *

* total reps

Week 2

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Front squats 3/1 3/5
B Snatch grip rack pull * 4 5
C1 Split squat 3 8 * *
C2 Supine chin tuck 3 5 * * *
D1 Dead bugs 3 6 * *
D2 Prone bridge 3 30 sec.

* see video
* * per side
* * * 5 sec.

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench press 3/1 5/10
B1 Floor JM press * 3 8
B2 Barbell rack row * 5 6
C1 DB shrugs 3 15
C2 Tall kneeling anti-rotation 3 12 * *
C3 One-arm cable reverse fly 3 12

* see video
* * per side

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Jump squats and stick 8 2
B Double-overhand conventional DL 3 5
C Goblet Bulgarian split squat 3 6 *
D1 Cable pull-through 3 15
D2 Side bridge 3 25 sec. *

* per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Power push-ups 5 4
B1 Overhead press 3 6
B2 Flexed-arm hang 4 20 sec.
C1 DB Press with pause 2 15
C2 One-arm DB row 3 12
D1 Face pulls 60 *
D2 Bent-over cable triceps extension 60 *

* total reps

Phase 2: Max Effort and Dynamic Work

body-builder

Max Effort exercises will be rotated every two weeks to ensure continued progress.

• The first week consists of triples to give you an idea of what weight to use for singles the following week.

• The first movement is designed to increase starting strength as well as the top end of the squat and the bench press.

• The second max effort exercise is designed to increase the bottom end strength of each movement.

• When performing dynamic work, start with around 50% of your previous one rep-max for your squat and deadlift. Make sure the bar is moving fast.

• If your knees or elbows start to hurt during dynamic work, increase the weight a bit. I learned this trick from Mark Bell. The heavier weight will force you to move a little slower, thereby putting less stress on the joints.

• Speed squats should be performed on a bench or parallel box (if available) with as wide a stance as possible to really work the hips. Make sure to really sit back and force the knees out.

• For the bench press, take three different grips – close, medium, and wide. This works different muscles and develops speed at different grips.

Week 3

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Anderson front squat * 5 3
B Speed deadlift 8 1
C1 Barbell rollouts 3 10
C2 Single-leg glute bridges 3 8 * *
C3 Quad chin-tuck 3 5 * * *

* see video
* * per side
* * * 5 sec.

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Floor press 5 3
B1 Chin-up 4 5
B2 DB bench press 3 8, 6, 20
C1 DB chest supported row 3 10
C2 Prone DB shrugs 3 12
C3 Seated Zottmann curls 3 12

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Depth jumps off bench 6 3
B Wide bench speed squat 10 2
C Goblet reverse lunge 3 6 * *
D1 Press to overhead sit-up * 3 12
D2 DB suitcase Romanian deadlift 3 8 * *

* see video
* * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A 3-grips speed bench 9 3
B1 One-arm DB push press 3 8
B2 Kroc row 3 8, 6, 20
C1 DB triceps extension 4 15
C2 DB Zottmann curls 3 10
C3 DB rear delt flye 3 15

Week 4

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Anderson front squat * 3 1
B Speed deadlift 6 1
C1 Barbell rollouts 4 10
C2 Single-leg glute bridges 3 8 * *
C3 Quad chin-tuck 3 5 * * *

* see video, >90% 1RM
* * per side
* * * 8 sec.

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Floor press * 3 1
B1 Chin-up 5 5
B2 DB bench press 3 8, 6, 20
C1 DB chest supported row 4 8
C2 Prone DB shrugs 3 12
C3 Seated Zottmann curls 2 15

* >90% 1RM

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Depth jumps off bench 5 5
B Wide bench speed squat 8 2
C Goblet reverse lunge 3 6 * *
D1 Press to overhead sit-up * 3 10
D2 DB suitcase Romanian deadlift 2 8 * *

* see video
* * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A 3-grips speed bench 9 3
B1 One-arm DB push press 3 6
B2 Kroc row 3 8, 6, 20
C1 DB triceps extension 3 20
C2 DB Zottmann curls 3 8
C3 DB rear delt flye 3 8

Week 5

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A 3-count pause squat * 5 1
B Speed deadlift 10 1
C1 Barbell rollouts 3 10
C2 Single-leg glute bridges 4 8 * *
C3 Quad chin-tuck 4 5 * * *

* >90% 1RM
* * per side
* * * 5 sec.

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Low incline press * 5 1
B1 Chin-up 4 6
B2 DB bench press 3 15
C1 DB chest supported row 5 12
C2 Prone DB shrugs 3 12
C3 Seated Zottmann curls 3 12

* >90% 1RM

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Depth jumps off bench 8 3
B Wide bench speed squat 12 2
C Goblet reverse lunge 4 6 * *
D1 Press to overhead sit-up * 3 10
D2 DB suitcase Romanian deadlift 3 8 * *

* see video
* * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A 3-grips speed bench 9 3
B1 One-arm DB push press 3 8
B2 Kroc row 3 15
C1 DB triceps extension 3 15
C2 DB Zottmann curls 3 10
C3 DB rear delt flye 3 15

Week 6

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A 3-count pause squat 2 5
B1 Barbell rollouts 2 10
B2 Single-leg glute bridges 3 8 *
B3 Quad chin-tuck 2 2 * *

* per side
* * 10 sec.

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Low incline press 2 5
B1 Chin-up 3 5
B2 DB bench press 1 20
C1 DB chest supported row 2 15
C2 Prone DB shrugs 3 12
C3 Seated Zottmann curls 2 15

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Wide bench speed squat 6 2
B Goblet reverse lunge 3 6 * *
C1 Press to overhead sit-up * 2 15
C2 DB suitcase Romanian deadlift 2 8 * *

* see video
* * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A1 One-arm DB push press 2 6
A2 Kroc row 1 20
B1 DB triceps extension 2 20
B2 DB Zottmann curls 2 8
B3 DB rear delt flye 3 12

Phase 3: Intense Training and Higher Volume

strong-back

This week you'll continue to perform ME work, but now you'll be sticking with doubles and triples to really teach you how to strain. After the heavy sets, you'll do some back off sets to get more volume in.

• Every other week, on the DE days, you'll work up to a moderately heavy double. This should never be a max set of two, just something heavy to see where you are at and get some extra strength work in.

• For squats, take a stance that you've used to max out with. Same thing with the bench – find a grip that you're strongest with and stick with it. With both, make sure to err on the side of going a little closer to keep stress off the hips and shoulders.

Week 7

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Rack pulls 3/2 3/5
B Sumo speed pulls * 8 1
C Bulgarian split squat 3/1 7/10
D1 DB single-leg RDL 3 12
D2 Barbell rollout w/pause * * 3 10

* 60% of 1RM
* * see video

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Overhead pin press * 3/2 3/5
B1 Alternating DB incline bench 3/1 7/10 * *
B2 Bent over barbell rows 3/1 7/10
C1 Face pull 3 10
C2 Plank to push-up 3 12

* see video
* * per side

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Wide speed squat * 10 2
B Double overhand 3-count pause deadlift 3/2 5/7
C Front squat reverse lunge 3/1 5/7 * *
D1 Single-leg hip thrust 3 6 * *
D2 Anti-rotation to overhead press 2 8 * *

* 50% of 1RM
* * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench press * 10 3
B1 Barbell push press 3/2 5/7
B2 Weighted pull-ups 4 8
C1 DB seesaw rows 3 12
C2 Triangle triceps extensions * * 3 10
D Barbell curls 2 15

* 50% of 1RM
* * see video

Week 8

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Rack pulls 4/2 2/4
B Sumo speed pulls * 8 1
C Bulgarian split squat 3/1 7/10
D1 DB single-leg RDL 3 12
D2 Barbell rollout w/pause * * 3 10

* 65% of 1RM
* * see video

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Overhead pin press * 4/2 2/4
B1 Alternating DB incline bench 3 7 * *
B2 Bent over barbell rows 3/1 7/10
C1 Face pull 3 10
C2 Plank to push-up 3 12

* see video
* * per side

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Wide speed squat * 8/2 2/2
B Double overhand 3-count pause deadlift 2/1 5/7
C Front squat reverse lunge 2/1 5/7 * *
D1 Single-leg hip thrust 4 6 * *
D2 Anti-rotation to overhead press 2 6 * *

* 55% of 1RM, 2x2 are heavy
* * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench press * 6/2 3/2
B1 Barbell push press 3/1 5/7
B2 Weighted pull-ups 4 5
C1 DB seesaw rows 3 12
C2 Triangle triceps extensions * * 3 10
D Barbell curls 2 15

* 55% of 1RM, 2x2 are heavy
* * see video

Week 9

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Close squat 4/2 3/5
B Sumo speed pulls * 10 1
C Bulgarian split squat 2/1 7/10
D1 DB single-leg RDL 3 12
D2 Barbell rollout w/pause * * 3 10

* 70% of 1RM
* * see video

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Close grip bench 4/2 3/5
B1 Alternating DB incline bench 2/1 7/10 *
B2 Bent over barbell rows 2/1 7/10
C1 Face pull 3 10
C2 Plank to push-up 3 12

* per side

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Wide speed squat * 10 2
B Double overhand 3-count pause deadlift 3/2 5/7
C Front squat reverse lunge 3/1 5/7 * *
D1 Single-leg hip thrust 3 6 * *
D2 Anti-rotation to overhead press 2 8 * *

* 60% of 1RM
* * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench press * 10 3
B1 Barbell push press 3/2 5/7
B2 Weighted pull-ups 5/1 5/10
C1 DB seesaw rows 3 12
C2 Triangle triceps extensions * * 3 10
D Barbell curls 2 10

* 60% of 1RM
* * see video

Week 10

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Close squat 2/1 2/4
B Bulgarian split squat 3/1 7/10
C1 DB single-leg RDL 2 12
C2 Barbell rollout w/pause * 2 10

* see video

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Close grip bench 2/1 2/4
B1 Alternating DB incline bench 3/1 7/10 *
B2 Bent over barbell rows 3/1 7/10
C1 Face pull 2 15
C2 Plank to push-up 2 12

* per side

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Wide speed squat * 5/2 3/2
B Double overhand 3-count pause deadlift 2/1 5/7
C Front squat reverse lunge 2/1 5/7 * *
D1 Single-leg hip thrust 2 8 * *
D2 Anti-rotation to overhead press 2 6 * *

* 55% of 1RM, 2x2 are heavy
* * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench press * 5/2 3/2
B1 Barbell push press 2 5
B2 Weighted pull-ups 3 * *
C DB seesaw rows 2 12
D Barbell curls 2 12

* 55% of 1RM, 2x2 are heavy
* * as many as possible

Phase 4: Test Phase

During the last week you'll test out your bench, squat, and deadlift, and even your pull-ups so you can realize all the strength gains you made.

Week 11

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Squat * 6 2
B Sumo or conventional deadlift * 8 1
C1 DB forward lunge 3 8 * *
C2 Elevated side plank 3 30 sec. * *

* 80% of 1RM
* * per side

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench press with pause * 4 1
B1 DB floor press 4 8
B2 DB chest supported row 5 8
C DB hammer curl 3 12

* 90% of 1RM

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Speed squat with pause * 10 2
B Barbell glute bridge with pause 4 5
C1 Suitcase deadlift with hold * * 3 6 * * *
C2 Barbell rollout with pause * * 3 10 sec.

* 50% of 1RM
* * see video
* * * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Speed bench * 10 3
B1 Alternating incline DB press 4 8 * *
B2 Weighted chin-up 3/2 3/5
C1 One-arm barbell row * * * 4 10
C2 Slight incline DB Tate press 3 15

* 50% of 1RM
* * per side
* * * see video

Week 12

Monday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Squat 1RM
B Sumo or conventional deadlift 1RM
C1 DB forward lunge 2 8 *
C2 Elevated side plank 2 30 sec. *

* per side

Wednesday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench press 1RM
B1 DB floor press 3 8
B2 DB chest supported row 4 8
C DB hammer curl 3 12

Friday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Speed squat with pause * 12 2
B Barbell glute bridge with pause 3 5
C1 Suitcase deadlift with hold * * 2 6 * * *
C2 Barbell rollout with pause * * 3 15 sec.

* 55% of 1RM
* * see video
* * * per side

Saturday/Sunday

Exercise Sets Reps
A Speed bench * 10 3
B1 Alternating incline DB press 3 6 * *
B2 Weighted chin-up 1/1 3RM/ * * *
C1 One-arm barbell row**** 3 10
C2 Slight incline DB Tate press 3 15

* 55% of 1RM
* * per side
* * * as many as possible
**** see video

Videos for Uncommon Exercises

Lower Body Movements

Pulling Movements

Bench Press Lockout Emphasis Movements

Core Movements

Wrapping Up

I've played with hundreds of programs over the years, and this is without a doubt one of the best maximal strength programs I've found – zero special equipment required!

That's right, no bands, boards, or chains; just solid programming and heavy compound movements.

Those who hit this program with gusto should see their deadlift, squat, bench, and pull-ups increase drastically, especially if new to Max Effort or Dynamic Effort training.

Better still, upon returning to your traditional hypertrophy or athletic program, your newfound strength will help you take your physique and performance to an even higher level.

Enjoy the new PR's and power gains!

Questions or comments? Post them in the LiveSpill!