Over the past year or so, I’ve been swamped with requests from readers who want a program that focuses solely on maximal-strength development. What I’m referring to is a maximal-strength focused program that doesn’t induce bodyweight from hypetrophy.

Due to the diverse population of readers that T-Nation caters to, I guess I’m not too surprised. Many boxers, grapplers, wrestlers, powerlifters and other athletes can’t afford to gain excess bodyweight, whether it’s from adding pure functional muscle or not.

Therefore, I’ve designed an ass-kickin’ routine that will make you super strong, without unwanted bodyweight increases. This program is for all of you who want your strength performances to make the jaw of onlookers drop to the floor quicker than a politician’s pants in a cheap hotel!

But if you ARE seeking hypetrophy, don’t discount this article. As I’ve stated numerous times, trainees need to focus on maximal strength increases if they’re looking for hypertrophy adaptations. Even though this program won’t induce immediate hypertrophy increases, it serves a very important function. Once you finish this program and start a hypertrophy-based program, your new levels of maximal strength will allow you to train with significantly higher loads, thus leading to increased hypertrophy.

It’s time for a few quick lessons, so get out your “Hello Kitty” notepad and Pamela Anderson shaped writing utensil!

Lesson 1: Volume

Volume can be defined as the amount of set, reps and load performed in any given microcycle, mesocycle or macrocycle. Some trainers favor intensity over volume, but I’m on the other side of the fence. With enough volume, I can induce incredible strength gains without pushing the intensity envelope over the edge of Grand Teton. Intensity, on the other hand, can be a sumbitch when tangoing with the negative effects of overtraining.

Lesson 2: Intensity

As I just mentioned, intensity can be tricky. It’s kinda like having a girlfriend who’s a smokin’ lassie that memorized the Kama Sutra from cover-to-cover. Unfortunately, this same dame would immediately put any top psychiatrist out of business. In other words, it can be beneficial at certain “needy” times, but it’ll drain your brain if it’s around too long.

Lesson 3: Frequency

Frequency, frequency, frequency. I’ve been on my soap-box preaching about increased training frequency since day one. My graduate studies in neuroscience taught me the importance of high training frequencies for maximal strength development. If you want to gain strength at alarming rates, then you better start training more often. But without the proper parameters, you’ll burn out in no time. Therefore, you must follow this mesocycle’s parameters as strictly as if you were working on the original Manhattan Project.

Lesson 4: Exercise Selection

I’ve never been a huge proponent of isolation exercises, but they definitely have their place in certain programs. This ain’t one of them, city-boy! The SFM consists of exercises that include hundreds of muscles for every single movement; no direct calf, biceps or abdominal training whatsoever (although they’ll get a massive wake-up call). This is probably the most important aspect of the program, so don’t send me a list of exercises you’d “rather perform.” If you don’t have the proper equipment, use some ingenuity and make it happen!

Lesson 5: Proper Cardiovascular Exercise Selection

Most of my hypertrophy-based programs consist of very generic cardiovascular conditioning guidelines. That’s because it really doesn’t matter what type of cardio training you prefer on some programs. Once again, this ain’t one of those programs.

An integral aspect of my success with maximal strength training programs relates to proper cardiovascular-based exercise selection. You’ll only perform two cardio exercises on this program: jump rope and jumping jacks. Why? Because those two exercises require the nervous system to fire muscle groups very quickly. If I recommended a slow jog or walk on this program, your results would suffer since the nervous system would be very confused. If your nervous system could talk, it would ask you, “Do you want me to fire the muscles super fast, or slow and steady?” Obviously, for maximal strength, you must train fast, all the time!

Preface

You probably noticed that this program is referred to as a mesocycle, not a “program” or some other type of “training” that can be executed continuously. I specifically chose that title to remind you that this is a short program (four weeks), not a training cycle you perform all year long. Quit what you’re doing (if you’re not receiving any results) and undergo the SFM immediately!

One more thing before we move on, I’m not going to prescribe a tempo for each day. You must lift with a tempo that is as fast as humanly possible for every rep of every set.

Don’t neglect this important point!

Strength-Focused Mesocycle

Day 1:

Sets: 3

Reps: 5

Load: 7RM (an amount of weight you could lift for 7 times before failing)

Rest: 90s between alternating exercises

A1: Good Mornings

Note: Keep your lower back tight and arched. Keep your head up. Use a low bar position on your traps. Use a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance.

Rest 90s

A2: Dips or Decline Bench Presses

Note: Use a shoulder-width grip. If you don’t have a decline bench, just prop up the front end (where your feet are), with two 45-lb plates.

Rest 90s

Repeat A1. Continue for three total cycles.

B1: Chin-ups

Note: Use a wider than shoulder width grip with your palms facing up.

Rest 90s

B2: Front Squats

Note: Use a slightly wider than shoulder width stance. Keep your torso as vertical as possible.

Rest 90s

Repeat B1. Continue for three total cycles.

Jumping Rope

Duration: 5 minutes

Note: Many trainees can’t jump rope for five continuous minutes. No problem. Just set a stopwatch and perform alternating jump/rest sessions for five minutes.

Day 2: Rest


Day 3:

Sets: 3

Reps: 8

Load: 10RM

Rest: 120s between alternating exercises

A1: Standing Barbell Military Presses

Note: Use a wide grip with your pinky fingers around the rings.

Rest 120s

A2: Box Squats

Note: Keep your toes pointing forward, push your knees out as you sit back. If you don’t have a box, use a bench that allows you to sit at a level where your hip and knee joints are even.

Rest 120s

Repeat A1. Continue for three total cycles.

B1: Glute-Ham Raises or any Leg Curl variation

Rest 120s

B2: Seated or Chest-supported Rows

Note: Use a pronated (palms down), shoulder-width grip.

Rest 120s

Repeat B1. Continue for three total cycles.

Jumping Jacks

Duration: 5 minutes

Note: Follow the same guidelines as mentioned for jumping rope on Day 1.

Day 4: Rest

Day 5:

Sets: 3

Reps: 3

Load: 5RM

Rest: 90s between alternating exercises

A1: Power cleans

Note: Use a shoulder width grip and don’t let your lower back round forward – keep it tight and arched.

Rest 90s

A2: Pull-ups

Note: Use a semi-supinated (palms facing each other) grip.

Rest 90s

Repeat A1. Continue for three total cycles.

B1: Rack Lockouts or Floor Presses

Note: Set the pins in a power rack so you can only lower the bar 6-8 inches. Maintain a slightly less than shoulder-width grip. Keep your elbows tucked to your sides and lower the bar as if you’re going to touch your upper abdominal region. If you don’t have a power rack, perform the same technique while lying on the floor (this requires a second person to hand you the bar…and take it away after you’re done).

Rest 90s

B2: Step-Ups or Lunges

Note: Step up onto a box or bench at a height that requires your working leg to start at a 60º angle. Alternate legs with each rep for a total of six (three on each side)…or you can perform lunges with the same alternating technique. With lunges, you must keep your torso as vertical as possible. Either exercise will require a barbell on your traps or a dumbbell in each hand for added resistance.

Rest 90s

Repeat B1. Continue for three total cycles.

Jumping Rope

Duration: 5 minutes


Days 6 and 7:
Rest

Day 8: Repeat Cycle with the following progression.

Weeks 2, 3 and 4: Increase the load 2.5% for all lifts with each subsequent week for three consecutive weeks. I advise you to err on the lighter side with your initial load selection and don’t increase the load more than 2.5%, even if you feel like you can. More often than not, trainees who increase the load too quickly end up burning out by the third week.

Conclusion

Don’t be fooled by the extremely brief duration of these workouts. You must keep your nervous system fresh on this program or you won’t reap the benefits.

Whether you’re training for pure maximal strength increases, or you need a jump start to accelerate your future hypertrophy goals, this is an outstanding mesocycle. It’s brutal, but it’s also one of the best damn maximal strength mesocycles in my arsenal. Rest up, because you’re gonna need it for this cycle!

Dr Chad Waterbury is a physical therapist and neurophysiologist. He specializes in helping athletes and non-athletes develop the ideal combination of muscle, power, and mobility. Follow Dr Chad Waterbury on Instagram