I don't care who you are - getting strong is cool.

At IFAST, we have a broad mix of clients. We have your typical meatheads (powerlifters, Olympic lifters, etc.), but we also have a random mix of clients who come in to lose fat and/or improve their body composition.

Once they achieved those goals, then what?

After you're lean and mean, what's left to train for? And the funny thing is, they all figured out on their own that the next logical step was to get stronger. Just one example is a 50-year old female who can deadlift her bodyweight 20 times.

If we can all agree that getting stronger is cool, I think you're really going to enjoy this program.


The Basics

Before I give you the program (or more specifically, the template) we need to cover the basics for any strength-focused program.

1. To get stronger, you need to progressively add weight to the bar.

This should be self-explanatory, but unfortunately, it's not. Your goal over time should be to increase the weight on the bar. There are lots of ways to measure progress, but when it comes to getting stronger, adding more weight to the bar is numero uno.

2. One of the best ways to get stronger is to use lower reps with heavier weights.

I can't tell you how many people I've worked with who have NEVER dropped their reps below 8's and can't figure out why they're not stronger.

You don't have to lift singles week in and week out, but successfully dropping your program down into the realm of 5's, and even 3's, should make a profound difference in your maximal strength levels.

3. Too many of us have training ADD.

Let's be honest – you probably aren't so advanced you need to switch your exercises every month, let alone every week. Muscle confusion may work for bodybuilders, but it's a slow and painful death for strength athletes.

If you want to get stronger, you need to focus on a few basic exercises. You need to give your body time to learn the exercise, so you can actually adapt and GET STRONGER. I know this is basic for many of you, but it needs to be stated time and again.


The Ground Rules

Now that we've given you a primer on strength programs, let's get into some of the details of this specific program.

I'm going to give you a two-month template – this month is an accumulation phase, while the second month will be an intensification phase. One of the first things you'll notice in this program is the use of RPE's, or ratings of perceived exertion. While RPE's have been used for decades, this is a huge step for most intermediate level lifters.

After every set of your main exercise, I want you to subjectively rate how hard that set was. While there are infinite ways to do this, here's the system I use:

An RPE of 8

After completing a set, you have at least TWO more reps in the tank. In other words if you're doing a set of 5, you could have done 7 reps.

An RPE of 9

After completing a set, you have at least ONE more rep in the tank. In other words if you're doing a set of 5, you could have done 6 reps.

An RPE of 10

After completing a set, you could not have completed any more reps. This would be an all-out effort, and hopefully a PR.

Being honest about your RPE's is a huge step. The program below WORKS, but only if you allow it to. If you're constantly over- or under-estimating your target RPE for the day, you aren't going to see optimal progress.

As you'll see, the RPE's will go up over the course of the two programs. The exception is between weeks 1 and 2 of this first phase.

Why the exception, you might ask? If this is your first time using an RPE system, chances are you'll screw it up somehow. It's okay, I did.

The key is to try and figure out what a legitimate 8 feels like on a given day. This will also give you a starting point, weight-wise, going forward.

We also need to discuss the quality of your training. Stop thinking about training failure purely in terms of muscular fatigue. If you're serious about getting stronger, your technique needs to be flawless.

To improve technique, focus on quality training and quality reps. So your RPE of 8 isn't just a reflection of fatigue, but also your technical execution. If technique starts to break down, you're done training that exercise.

The second thing I want to mention is the exercises I've selected. Allow me to be blunt:

Choose one of the exercises I've listed. DO NOT ask me if you can sub this exercise for that exercise. If you start subbing out exercises, you aren't following the program I have written.

If you need to sub an exercise out due to equipment limitations, find a different gym. End of story.

Am I being harsh? Maybe.

But it's for a good reason. With the abundance of information these days, I find too many people who over think their training. Many guys are just smart enough to be dangerous when it comes to training.

I've worked with a lot of people and this program will help you get stronger. Now let's get into the program!


The Program – An Overview

weight-training

This program is a blend of many influences – Mike Tuscherer and his Reactive Training System, Pavel Tsatsouline, the Westside method, etc.

I've taken elements of all of these systems and thrown in my own flair. I'm all for getting stronger, but there are certain things that I won't eliminate from my programs, things like dedicated core/torso training, single-leg work, specific training for the upper back, etc.

Below is a table that depicts what you'll be training on each given day. Below that you'll see how each individual training day is periodized over the course of the month, along with acceptable exercise selections.

Exercise Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
1 Squat Variation Bench Variation Deadlift Variation Lockout Variation
2 Accessory Posterior Chain Row Variation Accessory Posterior Chain Chin-up/Pull-up Variation
3 Knee Flexion Compound Upper Accessory Supplemental Posterior Chain Triceps Isolation
Biceps Isolation
4 Single-Leg – Split-Stance Face Pull Variation Single-Leg – Unsupported Scap Prehab
Cuff Isolation
5 Anti-Extension Anti-Lateral Flexion Hip Flexion w/Neutral Spine Anti-Rotation


Day 1 – Monthly Breakdown

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Squat Variation ?x5 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 8
?x5 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 8
?x5 – RPE 9
?x3 – RPE 9
2x4 – Light
2x2 – Light
Accessory Posterior Chain 3x8 3x8 3x6-8 2x5
Knee Flexion 3x8-10 3x8-10 3x8 2x6-8
Single-Leg Split-Stance 3x8-10 3x8-10 3x8 2x6-8
Anti-Extension 3x8 3x8 3x10 3x10

Day 1 Exercise Selections and Training Thoughts

Squat – Front Squat or Back Squat

Squatting is essential. If you can't squat appropriately, don't start this program – learn to squat correctly first. I would prefer you to back squat, but if you must, a front squat is acceptable.

If your max squat is less than 2x your bodyweight, use sets of 5. If you're squatting 2x your bodyweight or more, use sets of 3.

Note: The question marks simply mean to take as many sets as necessary to work up to a set of 5 (or 3) at the designated RPE. For a weaker trainee, that number of sets may not be very many; for a stronger or more advanced trainee, it could be many more.

Accessory Posterior Chain – RDL or Good Morning variation

Most people's posterior chain is a weak link. RDL's and good mornings will help bring it up to par.

Knee Flexion – Glute-ham raise, ball leg curl, TRX leg curl

Training the knee flexion component of the hamstrings is critical to being strong out of the hole when squatting or initiating your pull off the floor (especially sumo). Glute-hams are the best option, but the others are still better than leg curls on a machine.

Single-Leg, Split-Stance – Lunge or split-squat variation

Single-leg training is critical for improving stability. The more stable you are with a narrow base, or on one leg, the more stable you're going to be on two-legs (like squatting and pulling).

Split-stance variations give the added bonus of lengthening the hip flexors and improving external oblique/gluteal function. More glute and hamstring strength equals bigger squats and deads, period.

Anti-Extension – Ab wheel rollouts, ball rollouts, TRX fallouts, etc.

Much like the posterior chain, the core is often a weak link. Isolative core work will be included after every workout, albeit training a slightly different function. If you want more info on smart core training, or why I train the core in this fashion, go here.


Day 2 – Monthly Breakdown

weight-training-program
Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Bench Variation ?x5 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 8
?x5 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 8
?x5 – RPE 9
?x3 – RPE 9
2x4 – Light
2x2 – Light
Row Variation 5x10 5x8-10 5x8 3x8
Compound Upper Accessory 3x8-10 3x8-10 3x8 2x6-8
Face Pull Variation 3x10-12 3x10-12 3x8-10 2x8
Anti-Lateral Flexion See below See below See below See below

Day 2 Exercise Selections and Training Thoughts

Bench – BB incline, BB bench, SWIS bar (for those with jacked up shoulders)

There's no better way to get a strong upper body than to incorporate big, compound barbell lifts. I would choose one of the above options if at all possible. If you must use dumbbells for injury-specific reasons, that's fine.

If your max bench is less than 1.5x your bodyweight, use sets of 5. If your max bench is more than 1.5x your bodyweight, use sets of 3.

Row – Chest supported row, low cable row, DB row

Your upper body can only display strength if it's stable. Every big bencher knows that beyond just having great technique, you need to have a strong and stable upper back.

Compound Upper Accessory – Dips, close grip bench

A big compound accessory lift will help add some muscle mass to your pressing muscles. We'll transfer this size into strength next month.

Face Pull Variation – Any face pull variation is fine

This is thrown in to balance out the pressing work and, again, to keep your upper back strong and stable. These not only hit the muscles of the upper back, but the 'cuff as well.

Anti-Lateral Flexion – KB windmills, offset waiters walks, offset farmers carries, suitcase deadlifts

Depending on what type of exercise you choose, your set/rep scheme will change. Here are some ideas:

KB Windmills – 3x5 for all workouts
Offset Waiters Walks or Farmers Carries – 3x50 feet each hand
Suitcase Deads – 3x6-8


Day 3 – Monthly Breakdown

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Deadlift Variation ?x5 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 8
?x5 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 8
?x5 – RPE 9
?x3 – RPE 9
2x4 – Light
2x2 – Light
Accessory Posterior Chain 3x8 3x8 3x6-8 2x5
Supplemental Posterior Chain 3x8-10 3x8-10 3x8 2x6-8
Single-Leg Unsupported 3x8-10 3x8-10 3x8 2x6-8
Hip Flexion with Neutral Spine 3x8 3x8 3x10 3x10

Day 3 Exercise Selections and Training Thoughts

Deadlift – Sumo or Conventional

Much like the squat, the deadlift is a staple lower body exercise. You have two options – sumo or conventional.

If your max deadlift is less than 2x your bodyweight, use sets of 5. If your max deadlift is 2x your bodyweight or more, use sets of 3.

Accessory Posterior Chain – RDL's or good morning variation (whatever you didn't do on Day 1)

More posterior chain work. If you chose RDL's for Day 1, perform a good morning variation on Day 2.

Supplemental Posterior Chain – KB swings, pull-throughs, glute-ham raise, ball leg curl, TRX leg curls

I'll leave some wiggle room here. While you're training hip extension with the RDL's and good mornings, some of you need more glute-specific hip extension work. This could be addressed via kettlebell swings, pull-throughs, etc.

If the knee flexion component is weak, it's never a bad idea to include more glute-hams in your workout.

Single-Leg Unsupported – Step-up or single-leg squat variations

These are exercises where, at some point in time, only one leg is on the ground. These maximize stability demands. Again, the more stable you are on one leg, the more stable (and strong!) you'll be on two.

Hip Flexion with Neutral Spine – Prone jackknifes on physioball, band-resisted jackknifes, alternating band resisted jackknifes

These are the most challenging core training exercises. Make sure you're keeping the spine in neutral and only moving through your hips!


Day 4 – Monthly Breakdown

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Lockout Variation ?x5 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 8
?x5 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 8
?x5 – RPE 9
?x3 – RPE 9
2x4 – Light
2x2 – Light
Chin-up/Pull-up Variation 4x8 4x8 4x6-8 3x6
Triceps Isolation 3x8-10 3x8-10 3x8 2x6-8
Biceps Isolation 3x8-10 3x8-10 3x8 2x6-8
Scap Prehab 2x8 2x8 2x10 2x10
Cuff Isolation 2x8 2x8 2x10 2x10
Anti-Rotation 3x15s. 3x15s. 3x20s. 3x20s.

Day 4 Exercise Selections and Training Thoughts

Lockout Variation – Reverse band bench, board press or pin presses

These will not only get you accustomed to handling heavier weights, but they'll improve your stability as well. Time to get strong!

Same rules apply here as on your primary bench day: If your max bench is less than 1.5x your bodyweight, use sets of 5. If your max bench is more than 1.5x your bodyweight, use sets of 3.

Chin-up/Pull-up variations

While many know the importance of horizontal pulls (rowing), some people still don't understand how critical vertical pulls are. Make sure to go through a full ROM and make your chest touch the bar to get full scapular depression. This will improve upper back stability, and thus, your bench press numbers.

Triceps Isolation – Pushdown or skullcrusher variation

Chances are you're going to throw in some dedicated arm-work if I don't, so here you are. Hopefully this will add a little mass to your upper arms.

Biceps Isolation – Barbell/dumbbell Curls

Ditto on this one. Plus, if Jim Wendler says to do barbell curls, who am I to question him?

Scap Prehab – Prone I's, prone T's, prone Y's, scaptions

While there's plenty of compound upper back work in the program, I like to sprinkle in a little extra to make sure you're offsetting all the pressing.

Cuff Isolative – Any kind of external rotation work

Just like you can't have enough work around the upper back, your 'cuff typically can't be strong enough either. Two sets isn't a lot to ask.

One other note: I'll typically do these last four exercise groups (triceps, biceps, scap prehab and 'cuff work) in a giant set. This will not only break the monotony, but get you in and out of the gym faster.

Anti-Rotation – Pallof press variations

Pick a Pallof press variation of your choosing. This will get you some anti-rotation strength and probably leave you sore (especially if you've never done them before!).


Summary

bodybuilder-torso

That's it, one month of solid training. To make this a bit more actionable, I want you to write out your training program RIGHT NOW. Think about your weaknesses and choose your assistance exercises accordingly.

Write it all down so there's no guesswork when you get to the gym – just high-quality, focused training.

I'll meet you back here next month with an intensification program that's going to help you hit some serious PR's!