Welcome to Phase 2 of the Simple Strength program!

In Phase 1, we achieved several goals:

• Got you accustomed to using Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE's) on your main lift.
• Developed structural balance by emphasizing the backside of the body.
• Developed connective tissue strength with higher rep work on the accessory lifts.
• Brought up weak areas such as single-leg stability, posterior chain, and core strength.

It's time to take that improved foundation and parlay it into stronger lifts!

In Phase 2, you'll notice a couple of common themes:

• Increased intensity! The goal here is to get strong, so we're going to drop the repetitions across the board, especially on the main lifts.

• Fewer overall exercises, and an even greater focus on lifting big, heavy, and basic.

• Getting quality reps in with more weight. The goal isn't pumping or toning, but rather to train the nervous system to be more efficient. Therefore, you're going to be doing more volume on the primary lifts.


Using RPE's

While I hope no one blindly jumps into this phase without first doing Phase 1, here's a quick recap on RPE's.

An RPE of 8

After completing a set, you have at least two more reps in the tank. In other words, if you complete a set of 3, you could've done 5 reps.

An RPE of 9

After completing a set, you have at least one more rep in the tank. So if you complete a set of 3, you could've done 4 reps.

An RPE of 10

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


Programming Preliminaries

Choose one of the exercises listed. Do not ask if you can sub this exercise for that exercise. If you start subbing out exercises you aren't following the program.

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

How many sets should I do?

This is a question I knew I'd get asked last time, but chose not to answer it. Now is a more appropriate time.

Several years ago, Dan John wrote an article about all the various approaches to 5x5. To paraphrase, you could do 5 sets across (all sets at one weight), you could work up to one heavy set of five, you could do two warm-up sets and then 3x5 at one weight, etc.

Basically, there wasn't a right or wrong way to do it. You chose the method that you liked best and stuck with it. This program is kind of like that. There isn't a right or wrong way to do it, although I want you to get more volume on the primary lifts than last month.

Here's what I want you to do. We'll use squat day with triples as an example and I'll offer two options.

Option #1 – Work up to your triple, let's say 400 pounds for example. If you hit your triple and it was harder than expected (a 9 or really close to a 9), drop the weight 5% and hit as many sets of triples as you can.

In the 400-pound example, you'd drop the weight to 380 and hit as many sets as you can. When your RPE is a solid 8 (and hopefully before you hit a 9), you stop the sets.

Option #2 – Work up to your triple. If you hit the triple and it was an 8 on the RPE scale, yet you think you've got more in the tank but don't necessarily want to bump the weight up, stay at that weight and hit as many sets of triples as possible.

Again, when your RPE is a definite 8 (and hopefully before you hit a 9), you stop the sets. I hope this makes sense. Don't over think it, but be honest with yourself and willing to push on the days you feel good, and back off on the days you don't.

Now let's get into Phase 2!

The Program – An Overview

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 Compound Upper Accessory
4 Anti-Extension Anti-Lateral Flexion Hip Flexion w/Neutral Spine Anti-Rotation

Note: For virtually every exercise you'll be using the same exercise variation as you did in the previous month. In other words, if you chose to back squat on Day 1, you'll back squat again this month.

There are a few chances to sub-out new exercises, but I'll let you know exactly which areas of the template have some wiggle room.


Day 1 – Monthly Breakdown

ab-wheel-rollout
Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Squat Variation ?x3 – RPE 8
?x1 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 9
?x1 – RPE 9
?x3 – RPE 10
?x1 – RPE 10
2x4 – Light
2x2 – Light
Accessory Posterior Chain 2x6 2x5-6 2x5 2x5
Knee Flexion 3x6-8 3x6-8 3x6 2x6
Anti-Extension 3x8 3x6-8 3x6 2x8

Note: Again, 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.

Day 1 Exercise Selections and Training Thoughts

Squat – Front Squat or Back Squat

It's time to start pushing that squat up! If you're used to squatting 8 or 10-rep sets, singles or triples are going to be a whole new ball game!

I'm invariably going to be asked the following question – should I belt up/wear knee wraps/put on a squat suit, etc.?

It depends on your level of gear usage:

Gear Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
"I only wear a belt" No Belt Belt Belt
"I wear a belt and knee wraps" No Belt Belt Belt & Knee Wraps
"I'm a total gear whore" Belt, Wraps, Suit Bottoms Belt, Wraps, Suit Up Belt, Wraps, Suit, Ammonia, Chalk, Slayer

Obviously Week 4 is no gear and meant to help you recover.

If your max squat is less than 2x your bodyweight, perform triples. If you're squatting 2x your bodyweight or more, perform singles.

Accessory Posterior Chain – Romanian deadlift or good morning variation

These shouldn't be ball-busters, but there should definitely be more weight on the bar than last month. The goal is to continue building a bigger engine, i.e., your posterior chain.

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

Again, crank up the intensity a bit on this. If you're doing glute-hams, move the toe plate in or hold a plate across your chest. If you're doing ball leg curls, move to a single-leg option, etc.

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

Noticing a theme yet? It's make it harder!

Throw a chain or X-vest on to increase the load. Lower the TRX/blast straps, etc.

Whatever you can do to make this more challenging, the better!


Day 2 – Monthly Breakdown

barbell-incline
Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Bench Variation ?x3 – RPE 8
?x1 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 9
?x1 – RPE 9
?x3 – RPE 10
?x1 – RPE 10
2x4 – Light
2x2 – Light
Row Variation 4x6 4x6 4x5 3x6
Compound Upper Accessory 3x6 3x6 3x5 2x6-8
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)

Time to get strong! Not sure what else needs to be said here, but be smart about your RPE's as most guys tend to overshoot initially, especially on upper body.

If you wear a bench shirt at any point, go ahead and wear it all three weeks.

If your max bench is less than 1.5x your bodyweight, perform triples. If your max bench is more than 1.5x your bodyweight, perform singles.

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

Most have a tendency to totally drop upper back work right when they're getting ready to hit a PR. What do you think happens?

They lose all that stability they just spent the past 2-3 months developing!

Up the intensity, and we'll do our best to keep your shoulders in one piece while you're pressing those heavy weights!

Compound Upper Accessory – Weakness Training

Okay champ, time to see how smart you really are!

The exercise you use to address your weakness can take on a lot of different forms – typically, though, it addresses one of three things:

• Vertical pulling strength
• Horizontal pulling strength
• Lockout strength

I think most of us intuitively know where we're weak, or what holds us back from hitting a new PR.

And in case you don't, I'm going to make it brutally easy for you!

If you miss in the bottom half of a bench press. You're going to choose an upper back exercise, either a vertical or horizontal pull. Lat pulldowns, dumbbell rows, chest supported rows, low cable rows, or any sort of pull that you haven't performed in the last month is fair game. It must be an upper back exercise, though – no exceptions, and definitely no pumping/fluff work! You can go back to that next month.

If you miss in the top half of a bench press. You need a compound press/upper body exercise. Acceptable options are dips, close grip benches, close grip incline presses, floor presses, etc.

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

Since I'm nice, you can choose a different exercise this month. You can thank me later.

Here are the options:

KB windmills – 3x5 for all workouts
Offset waiters walks or farmers carries – 3x50 feet each hand
Suitcase deadlifts – 3x6-8


Day 3 – Monthly Breakdown

good-morning-exercise
Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Deadlift Variation ?x3 – RPE 8
?x1 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 9
?x1 – RPE 9
?x3 – RPE 10
?x1 – RPE 10
2x4 – Light
2x2 – Light
Accessory Posterior Chain 2x6 2x5-6 2x5 2x5
Supplemental Posterior Chain 3x6-8 3x6-8 3x6 2x6
Hip Flexion with Neutral Spine 3x8 3x6-8 3x6 2x8

Day 3 Exercise Selections and Training Thoughts

Deadlift – Sumo or Conventional

Time to crank up the heavy deads! If you typically wear a belt, I'd suggest wearing it all three weeks during this phase.

If your max deadlift is less than 2x your bodyweight, perform triples. If your max deadlift is 2x your bodyweight or more, use singles.

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 curl

I'd stick with the same exercise here as the previous month. If you chose the correct exercise in Phase 1, you can continue to glean some benefits from it here in Phase 2.

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

Chances are many of you chose the physioball options in Phase 1. If that's the case, great! But it's time to man up.

Get a band, tie it to the rack, and do some band-resisted variations. These will absolutely smoke your core and give you the necessary stability to squat and deadlift more weight.


Day 4 – Monthly Breakdown

chin-ups
Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Lockout Variation ?x3 – RPE 8
?x1 – RPE 8
?x3 – RPE 9
?x1 – RPE 9
?x3 – RPE 10
?x1 – RPE 10
2x4 – Light
2x2 – Light
Chin-up/Pull-up Variation 4x6 4x6 4x5 3x6
Compound Upper Accessory 3x6 3x6 3x5 2x6-8
Anti-Rotation – 5 second Bursts 3x3 3x4 3x5 2x4

Day 4 Exercise Selections and Training Thoughts

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

"Yo Mike, can I overhead press?"

No – and it's not that I have anything against the overhead press, just not in this program. Save it for another month.

Same rules apply here as on your primary bench day. If your max bench is less than 1.5x your bodyweight, perform triples. If your max bench is more than 1.5x your bodyweight, perform singles.

Chin-up/Pull-up Variations

This month the reps go down, so the weight needs to go up. If bodyweight is easy, strap on some extra plates – just make sure the chest touches the bar on every rep!

Compound Upper Accessory – Weakness Training

This is another swing exercise. The same three areas should be focused on, just like Day 2:

• Vertical pulling strength
• Horizontal pulling strength
• Lockout strength

If your upper back/stability were the weak link, I'd make the program look like this:

Day 2 – Vertical Pull

Day 4 – Horizontal Pull

If your lockout is the weak link, simply pick a different exercise than you used on Day 2, i.e. if you did dips on Day 2, perform close-grips on Day 4.

Anti-Rotation – Pallof press variations

Use the same Pallof press variation as before, but now do it in 5-second bursts. On Week 1, you'd perform 3 sets of 3 reps, with each rep being a 5-second hold.


Coming off the Program

Congrats! You made it through the program – now what?

It's rare that people discuss what to do after a program, but I think this will help you out.

• Use the deload week! I'm sure you'll be feeling great, but I wouldn't finish up Week 3 and then go straight into another program. Make sure to deload!

• Since you're pushing things quite a bit, I'd go back to a higher volume/accumulation program for a month.

• This program is very focused on big and basic. For your next program, I'd add all the little accessory stuff back in (more upper back, single-leg work, scapular retactor/ rotator cuff pre-hab, etc.).


Summary

How's that for a sweet deal? Two months of solid programming that can make you stronger than ever before.

I've introduced a number of new concepts, but if you can apply the lessons you've learned over the past two months, you'll be well on your way to better understanding your body and taking your strength to a whole new level.