Simple Strength – Phase 1

A Complete Multi-Month Program

Categorized under TrainingWorkouts

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
2×4 – Light
2×2 – Light
Accessory Posterior Chain 3×8 3×8 3×6-8 2×5
Knee Flexion 3×8-10 3×8-10 3×8 2×6-8
Single-Leg Split-Stance 3×8-10 3×8-10 3×8 2×6-8
Anti-Extension 3×8 3×8 3×10 3×10

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
2×4 – Light
2×2 – Light
Row Variation 5×10 5×8-10 5×8 3×8
Compound Upper Accessory 3×8-10 3×8-10 3×8 2×6-8
Face Pull Variation 3×10-12 3×10-12 3×8-10 2×8
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 – 3×5 for all workouts
Offset Waiters Walks or Farmers Carries – 3×50 feet each
hand
Suitcase Deads – 3×6-8

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
2×4 – Light
2×2 – Light
Accessory Posterior Chain 3×8 3×8 3×6-8 2×5
Supplemental Posterior Chain 3×8-10 3×8-10 3×8 2×6-8
Single-Leg Unsupported 3×8-10 3×8-10 3×8 2×6-8
Hip Flexion with Neutral Spine 3×8 3×8 3×10 3×10

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
2×4 – Light
2×2 – Light
Chin-up/Pull-up Variation 4×8 4×8 4×6-8 3×6
Triceps Isolation 3×8-10 3×8-10 3×8 2×6-8
Biceps Isolation 3×8-10 3×8-10 3×8 2×6-8
Scap Prehab 2×8 2×8 2×10 2×10
Cuff Isolation 2×8 2×8 2×10 2×10
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!