strengthtemplate

How to Get Big, Strong, and Powerful, Fast

Looking to get big, strong, and powerful quick?  Here’s the strength training template you’ve been waiting for.  All you have to do now is add dedication and hard work.

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As you might guess, the one thing I’m asked for more than anything else is the magic, “how to get big quick”, “how to get strong quick” workout template.

And yeah, I can provide that.  But first, 2 disclaimers:

  1. Workout “templates” are things I’m generally allergic to  

Severely so. 

Why?  Because trainees tend to use them as a crutch.  Forgetting that principles always trump programs, clients will ride the template long beyond it’s expiration date.

Whippin’ the dead horse, as we say in the south.   Like a soft cast on a badly sprained ankle; it might help in the here and now, but it’s a detriment if relied upon for too long.  And yet…

…and yet, there is still value in them if used correctly.

  1. The best program followed with half-ass efforts produce worse results than a shitty program followed with the heart of a lion

When the going gets tough, either mentally or physically, the weak will program hop.

That’s just the way it is.

Most lurch for the new, shiny coin.  Forgetting the dull gold they already hold in their hand.

I already know that 95% of those who begin this template won’t follow it for a full 6 weeks.  And that’s cool by me.  Those dedicated to the craft are few and far between, and we like it that way.  Being jacked is a calling card that, unlike the sweet ride, or new McMansion, cannot be bought.

You gotta earn it by grind, sweat, and callouses.

If that’s you, read on.

 

Your Complete Guide to Getting Big, Strong, and Powerful — Fast

 

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How to use the Theory to Practice (TTP) strength training template

  • learn the underlying principles behind why the template works.  Again, principles > programs
  • understanding the point above ensures modifications to the base template are done at the appropriate time, and for the right reason, thereby affecting a better outcome.
  • your circumstance is unique. That is, your available time, the equipment you have access to, your technical ability in the lifts, your psychological and genetic physiological makeup are one-of-a-kind.  You’ll need a Five Ts of Fitness-like approach to leverage the principles contained within the template vis-a-vis YOUR circumstance

That said, what follows is the basic workout template that I use personally.  It’s also what I recommend for my clients if they’re going to be away from Efficient Exercise for an extended period of time.

Note: the Efficient Exercise modality is a HIIRT / specialty subcategory of training that will be explained below.

It’s simple, yet highly effective.  And it’s and easy to modify according to your Five Ts.

Who is this workout template for?

In general, any iron samurai who knows his way around a weight room.  You don’t need to be a master, but you at least need to have a good grasp of proper form in the basic lifts.

I find this template excellent for the busy entrepreneur or professional who wants to buckle down for a period.  And the same pressed-for-time individual would do well to stay on this program (and its proper modifications) perpetually.  Daily exercise is hands-down, bar none, the best thing you can do for your overall health and vitality.

And muscular hypertrophy (aka, SWOLE) doesn’t just happen by itself.  You need to add hard work and solid dedication to a smart plan.

I’ve also used this protocol, with just a few tweaks, for high school and collegiate football players and volleyballers.  And, as I said, I use this base template myself, currently.  I’ve tweaked it for ARXFit work (I’ll discuss that below), and my own personal Five Ts.  But if you were to dig deep into my workouts, you’d find, at the foundation, this very template.

The TTP Workout Training Template

The foundation of this template consists of:

If you’ve been in the iron game for a while, you’ll notice a convergence here of the tried-and-true 5 x 5 program (hat-tip to old schooler, Bill Starr), and the concept of autoregulation.

We’re going to start by selecting an ‘A’ and ‘B’ group of 3 multi-joint movements.  What do I mean by “multi-joint movements”?  Things like deadlifts, squats, chins, overhead presses and the like.  Variations of these basic movements are fine, but resist the urge to get too fancy.  Remember, your mind thrives on novelty; your body knows only movement, speed, volume and load.

If you have a partner who can spot and/or check your form, even better; feel free to shoot a little more aggressive in your loading and exercise choices.  Just be smart enough to not wind up pinned in the squat rack, or stapled to the bench.

The basic TTP template consists of 3 days of iron + 3 days of long, slow, steady-state (LSSS) aerobic (cardio) work.

A couple of things before you lose your lids over LSSS cardio:

  • This work is intended to build the aerobic base that *everyone* needs.  Office worker to high-level athlete.
  • I’ve found this work to be the most potent form of recovery you can engage in.  Not ice baths, not massage, nor days being completely idle. Slow cardio work oxygenates and moves blood and lymph in ways that nothing else can. In short, if you’re looking for a regenerative “hack”, this is it.  Your evolutionary ancestors averaged miles upon miles of daily walking (which included the act of gathering, carrying, etc.); like it or not, your body evolved to require this kind of daily movement.
  • I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating, here: we evolved as obligate movers, and opportunistic eaters.  If you remember nothing else as it pertains to our place vis-a-vis, our environmental surroundings, remember that.
  • The Hi/Lo thumb rule for conditioning applies.  80% low level “cardio” work, 20% balls-to-the-wall.  We want to avoid the dreaded “muddle” (middle) zone.

I’ve got a much more detailed post in the works related to LSSS cardio that I’ll backlink to here once it’s complete.

And we’ll get into some tweaks and nuances in a bit.  But for now, here the base template:

The base TTP template

Monday – Heavy day: 5 sets of 5 (ish) for each exercise, ramping (see below) the weight in each set such that the last 2 sets are as heavy as possible while still maintaining good form.  And I say “ish” because you’re shooting for as many reps as possible (with good form!) with as close to possible of your 5 rep max load for the day. 2 minutes rest between sets until you hit set #3.  Then take up to 5 minutes between sets to fully recover.  But don’t rest so long that you get “cold”.

Wednesday – light day: same 3 exercises, again 5 sets of 5 reps, this time using approximately 70-75% of the top end weight you recorded Monday.  Yeah, the weight is going to feel really light.  Keep the reps crisp and the form tight.  60 to 90 seconds rest between sets.

Friday – Medium day: same 3 exercises, again 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise, this time using approximately 80-85% of the top end weight from Monday.  2 minutes rest between sets.

LSSS cardio — on the non-iron days.  And yes, you can do this such that you’re “working out” 7 days a week.  I do.  And quite often I’ll “workout” every day for weeks on end.  But only two of those days per week falls into the “high intensity” category.

Because — and again, to emphasize — LSSS is used to build a base aerobic platform and to facilitate recovery.  But don’t stress about being completely idle every now and again.  You need that as well.

In fact, the goal of this entire process (aside from getting fit and jacked), is to learn your own body.  To know when to push, and when to back off.  When to eat (and what to eat!), and when to fast.  That knowledge won’t come overnight, but it will come, in time, to those who strive for it.

For the iron work, we’re then going to shift groups every week.  In other words, group A on the odd weeks (1, 3, 5…), group B on the even weeks (2, 4, 6…).

And I want you to think “push, pull, drive” when selecting exercises for each group.  We want well-rounded groups, with each category covered.

Here’s an example:

Group A

  • Pull ups (pull)
  • Barbell overhead press (push)
  • Deadlifts (drive)

Group B

  • Squats (drive)
  • Dips (push)
  • Barbell bent over row (pull)

You get the idea.  And again, no reason to get fancy, or over complicate things here.  Keep the exercises tried, true, and basic.  Remember:

“The mind thrives on novelty, the body thrives on bang-for-the-buck movements…”

Example “push” exercises

  • all manner of bench pressing (flat, incline, decline)
  • dips
  • all manner of barbell overhead pressing (front, behind the neck, push-presses, strict / military)

Example “pull” exercises

  • all manner of pull ups and chin ups
  • All manner of rowing (barbell bent over rows, landmine rows, horizontal rows, Yates rows, upright rows)
  • cleans, if you choose to include them

Example “drive” exercises

  • all manner of squats (front, back, box, etc.)
  • All manner of deadlifts (trap bar, Oly bar)

The heavy day — a protocol for ramping to a strong 5 rep max

Here’s where we’ll utilize the concept of autoregulation.  In short, we have to get away from the idea that the body is some kind of industrial age product, a machine whose day-to-day work output and tolerance to stress can be accurately predicted.

Caveat: performance can be accurately predicted in high-level athletes (professional and collegiate) with clear measurables.  For example, sprinters, weightlifters and powerlifters.  And they train as such.  They are considered “specialists” in the world of competitive athletics vs the “generalists” — team sport players such as basketball players and footballers.  Why?  Because the competitive variables are better known much more tightly controlled for than in team sports.  And that includes life outside of the formal training environment.  Live like a machine, perform like a machine.

That said, autoregulation — and the following protocol — is our way to figure out what your body is capable of today, under whatever set of circumstances have come your way.

If you’re ready to blow the carbon out of the old 454, we’ll find out in short order, and train appropriately.  If today works out to be more of a “punch the clock” kinda day, we’ll find that out, too.

The key is, to push the body according to what it can handle, and no more.

Here we go:

“Feel-out” sets as described below.  Then:

Set 1. 70% of predicted 5RM

Set 2. 80% of predicted 5RM

Set 3. 90%  of predicted 5RM

Set 4. Reps to failure with predicted 5RM

Set 5. Reps to failure with adjusted weight

Actual set #4 rep performance : approximate load adjustment for set #5

0-2 reps: reduce load 5 to 15%

3-4 reps: no change to 5% reduction

5-7 reps:  no change to 5% increase

8+ reps:  5 to 10% increase

*Note: the predicted load is determined from past notes on the particular lift.  It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate, but it should be a very intelligent estimate.

Note, too, that there is quite a bit of art involved in the 5th (or last) set adjustment.  And, in the number (and loading) of lead-in sets, for that matter.  For example, a trainee may well have popped-off 8 reps at a previous 5 RM load, but totally annihilated himself in the process.  Obviously throwing another 5 or 10% on the bar is not going to happen.  Use good judgment here.   Don’t get greedy, take the higher rep PR,  and from this guesstimate a new 5 RM.  All this fine-tuning will eventually work itself out.  Remember: we’re in this for the long haul.

And try to keep the rest between the early sets to about 2 minutes or less.  Allow for up to 5 minutes rest between the last 3 sets to allow for full recovery and a more accurate 5 RM.

Example: heavy day, trap bar deadlift

While writing this piece, I decided to choose an exercise I hadn’t done in a while, and perform it during “unconventional” circumstances.  I chose a low grip trap bar deadlift, and on a day where I had already racked up quite a few commuting miles on the ol’ fixed speed.

Low grip TBDL – predicted 5 RM = 400 lbs

135 x 5 – feel out set

200 x 5 – feel out set

250 x 5 – feel out set

Set 1 – 300 x 5 – 70-ish %

Set 2- 320 x 5 – 80%

Set 3 – 360 x 5 – 90% (3 minute recovery)

Set 4 – 400 x 5 reps (struggled to get 5 with good form).  Hold weight the same; shoot for 5 on last set.  5 minute of recovery.

Set 5 – 400 x 5 reps

Notes:

  • The last feel out set at 250 felt really light.  Therefore, I went 300 for the first “real” set vs the prescribed 280 (70% of 400)
  • 2 minutes recovery between sets.  Except for between sets 4 and 5, where I took an additional minute.
  • It’d been quite a while since I’d done TBDLs at all, much less with the low grip.  But since I keep a stellar set of notes (in a Google doc file), I just did a “CTRL- F” search and found my last 5 RM for this exercise, which was 420.  Also, I had a good bit of fixie saddle time under my belt prior to the lift.  This is not to make excuses, but to let you know the kinds of things that need to be accounted for in predicting the correct weight for an exercise you might not have done for a while.  In the end, I simply made a best guess judgement call to go with 400 lbs.  It wound up to be a spot-on call.
  • Although I nailed my prediction in this instance, it would have been no big deal if I’d misjudged.  That’s the beauty of autoregulation.  It serves as the fail-safe the guardrails to keep you out of the ditch.

Benefits of the base TTP workout template

  • it’s immediately scaleable.  Both between individuals (bros and betties, beginner to advanced) as well — owing to the beauty of  autoregulation — as within the same individual.   For more on the limitations of linear progression, see this post.
  • it removes your novelty-seeking mind from the equation.  Follow the template as it’s laid out.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Profit.
  • the fastest progression possible is baked into the mix.  Autoregulation, together with a time-tested rep scheme  These are tried-and-true iron principles.

Why 25 reps per exercise?  

The old standby 5×5 works for such a large cross-section of lifters because the range of 21 to 28 total reps is, for whatever reason, a volume that our bodies respond best to.  It’s a range that provides for the best mix of hypertrophy and strength.  But with what weight?  The trick, of course, is to find the proper load.  And that works out to be about 85% of your 5 rep max.

Which is why we autoregulate the heavy day.  That 5 rep max is, especially for newer lifters, a constantly moving target.  Even long-in-the-tooth lifters benefit from an autoregulated heavy day because, well… life happens.  You miss a week, you get sick, you tweak an elbow, the wife, the kids, the fucking job.  You get the idea.

Does that 25 reps always have to come in a 5×5 package?

No.  In fact, I’d like to see you mix it up after a good 6 months or so on the old school  5×5.  4 sets of 6 works, as does 8 sets of 3.  After a while in fact, you’ll learn what your sweet spot is.  The more endurance-wired among you will gravitate to the higher reps/set.  The beefaloes out there will dig the lower rep sets.

So is there an ideal way to get to 25 reps?  No.  But what you don’t want to do is fall into a rut of always following the same rep scheme.  Mix it up now and again.  But not too often.  The trick is to change the scheme one workout before you hit an overall plateau across a majority of your A and B group exercises.  You’ll know when it’s time.  Just listen to your body.

Note: whatever rep scheme you settle on, keep it consistent across all exercises and between groupings.  Avoid sending the body mixed messages.  When you change the rep scheme, change it across the board.

Note #2: notice that the Wednesday “light day” falls below the 85% threshold.  That’s by design; it’s essentially a “recovery” day.  As such, you could instead inject another LSSS outing.  I do this quite often.

A word on rep tempo

I’d like to see you shoot for consistency in tempo here.  The concentric (lifting) portion of the rep should be relatively quick and crisp.  The eccentric (lowering) portion should be relatively slow and controlled.

The mantra in my mind when I lift according to this tempo (and there is a time and place for alterations) is “explode” on the concentric (lifting portion), and “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two”, on the eccentric (lowering portion).  Pause for a “beat” both at the top and the bottom of the lift.

Ideally the tempo in set 5 should mirror the crispness of those in set 3.  Realistically, however, the concentric portion of the lift will slow as the load approaches maximum, and fatigue begins to set in.  This is fine… within reason.  We don’t want the concentrics to slow to an agonizing grind, nor do we want the eccentrics to lapse into a free-fall.

Work the movement.  Don’t allow the movement to work you.

 

Pre workout

I could write a novel on the pluses and minuses of various pre workout routines, most of which amount to the superfluous rituals exhibited by golfers and baseball players. Nothing wrong with those rituals, per se — they’re just not going to add much of anything to your performance.  But if you need them to calm your nerves and/or center your mind, then I’m all for it.

There are a few practical things you can do, however, to ensure your workout is a success.  For instance:

  • clear adequate time on your calendar to complete the workout without rush or interruption.  Hang whatever “do not disturb” sign (real and/or virtual) that will ensure this time is impregnable.  Put your phone on airplane mode so it’s not a tug on your attention.  Once you get the routine dialed in, the workout should take no more than an hour and 15 minutes.  And most times, you can get it dialed in to under an hour.
  • workout on an empty stomach.  Even better if you’ve been fasted for a while.  Hunger reduces fear.  In this case, the “fear”, “pain”, or “unknown” of a workout.  It’s true.
  • make sure your workout notes are handy.  This workout scheme requires that you keep good track of your routines and exercise maxes.  I keep mine in a Google drive doc (which is also accessible via my Evernote account).  The point is, find a system and use it.  Of all the preventable intangibles that can wreck a workout, this is tops on the list.

Pre workout supplementation

Here’s what I do myself, and what I recommend for my clientele:

15 minutes prior to my workout, I shotgun an ID Life energy shot.

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Following that, I mix 1 scoop (or 1 packet) of ID Life Pre Workout. I’ll drink half of that mix now, then sip the remainder throughout the workout.  If need be (if the workout is longer than about a half-hour), I’ll mix and drink an additional scoop/packet.

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In addition, for general hydration purposes — and especially so if I’m sweating profusely — I drink ID Life Hydrate throughout the day.  I also add it to my pre workout mix.

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You don’t have to use my stuff, of course.  If you have an equivalent (good luck finding one), feel free.  But please do yourself a favor and ensure the products you use are:

  • pharmaceutical grade (the supplement industry is the new wild, wild west)
  • filler and sugar free
  • contain adequate dose/serving amounts of active ingredients.  “Label painting”, i.e., putting just enough of an active ingredient to get it a mention on the label is a common practice in the industry

And know this: supplements are just that — a supplement to an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle.  You can’t supplement out of a crappy diet or chronic lack of sleep.  And you sure as hell can’t supplement out of poor workout habits.

And in fact, even before adding in pre and post workout supplementation, I’d highly suggest (in conjunction with transitioning to a Paleo diet), getting your nutritional basics covered.  This is extremely important.  For in-depth coverage on that topic, see my post The Importance of Nutrient Density.

The first step in getting those nutritional basics dialed in is to take my free health assessment, here.

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The warm up

If you can get your hands on some KBs, it wouldn’t hurt to do 3 or 4 rounds of 20 swings to kick things off.  Rowing (C2 rower, for example) is great, too.  The key here is to get the heart rate elevated, the musculature warm, and the CNS ready to rock & roll, NOT to knock your dick in the dirt.

And, too, this should not take more than about 10 minutes.  Two of the biggest mistakes I see regarding warming up are:

  1. spending an inordinate amount of time in the process, and
  2. not doing any warm up at all

Both of which are a recipe for disaster.

And remember: this is a general warm up.  You’ll have exercise specific “feel out” sets (described below) leading into the meat of the working sets.

Feel out sets

I like to lead in with a couple of “feel out” sets before diving into the meat of the 5 x 5.  For instance, following the warm up mentioned above, I might go through a handful of the target movement at body weight (or with an empty bar), then a few sets at 50%, and 60% or so before diving into the meat of the 5×5.

This is yet another area where you’ll have to learn to listen to your own body, and use your best judgment.  The goal is to be in a place to rock the 5 working sets; that’s it.

Whatever it takes to get you to that point is what you need to do.

Do too little and the opening sets will feel like the weight of the world.  Do too much and you’ll crater midway through the workout.

And yes, the feel out sets are done prior to the autoregulated ramp up to the 5 rep max as well.

Post workout

Get in some active recovery following the workout.  A half hour or so of walking is great.  For me, I usually wind up riding my bike home from the gym, then taking a plunge in the pool.  The key is movement of some kind.  For more on that subject, see this post.

Eat as soon as you’re hungry, following supplementation as described below.  If not supplementing, then just eat as soon as you’re hungry and able to do so.  Any real food / Paleo variant is fair game.  Don’t lose your gourd over this; just eat real food, to satiation.  We can dial-in the diet details later.

The key here is to get one big life change under your belt prior to taking on another.  If you choose to start with the diet, then come back to the iron, that’s cool too.  But I’d recommend starting here.  It’s been my experience that getting the training aspect dialed-in first produces the best and more lasting results.  A solid training foundation can make transitioning to a new diet much, much easier.  Both physically, and psychologically.

Post workout supplementation

ID Life post, within about 1 hour of completing the workout, and a good 30 minutes prior to the post-workout meal.  Why?  Because it supports muscle repair and growth, right out of the gate.

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Post buffers post workout inflammation, soreness and fatigue; that means a quicker recovery turn-around so you can get back to work (and you feel like getting back in the game) much sooner.

And, too, it’s easily tolerated on a post-workout stomach that can sometimes be rather meh at even the thought of eating.  Which is generally how I roll.  I usually don’t eat anything solid for 2 to 3 hours following a workout.  But I can take in 1 to 2 servings of Post, no problem.

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When to shift exercises

The short answer is, when you hit a plateau in a particular exercise.  In other words, once that 5 rep max has stalled.

Generally what happens is that one of the exercises is your 3 exercise grouping will plateau.  No problem; just rotate in another like movement and roll on.

For instance, you could shift out landmine rows for chins.  Or, you could keep the same exercise, and simply alter the grip.  Pull ups in lieu of chins; underhand grip bent over rows in lieu of the traditional overhand grip.  Bench press for dips.  You get the idea.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

When to alter the base template

One other thing to consider: once you’ve reached a certain training age (or if you’re wired more for strength or power output), 3 exercises per workout, in a  5 x 5 scheme can, for some, amount to too much volume at a redline intensity.  That is, the heavy day can be just too blistering.  Recovery suffers, and progress stalls.

And, too, the intra-workout fatigue can be such that performance on the 2nd, and for sure the 3rd exercise, will take a significant hit.

Below I’ll recommend a couple of template variants to counter that.

But it should be noted that there is no perfect workout scheme.  For every great aspect of a given template, there is always a flipside.  Some particular drawback that makes another workout template look more appealing.  As with women (or with guys, I suppose), so with workout protocols.  And so it goes.

The adept trainee realizes this, does his best to mitigate the negatives within a given workout, chops wood, carries water, and prospers.  The novice dashes off to another “better” workout scheme.  Only to encounter a drawback with that routine.  Scrawny prevails, “jacked” never arrives, and the novice wonders why.  And so that goes.

Pick a pony, saddle up, and ride.  Give it a good 6 week run before shifting course.

Because you have to know what a true downside feels like before you can know when to anticipate a downside in the future.

That said, here are a couple of template options I’ve employed with great results.

The 2 exercise per day split

One good modification to the base template is shifting to a 4 days per week lifting schedule, and splitting the body into upper and lower halves.

For example, we could alter the base template as follows:

Monday — heavy upper body.  Autoregulated.

  • Chins
  • Dips

Tuesday — heavy lower body.  Autoregulated.

  • Squats
  • Romanian deadlifts

Wednesday — LSSS

Thursday — moderate upper body.  85% of Monday’s 5 rep max

Friday — moderate lower body.  85% of Tuesday’s 5 rep max

Saturday — LSSS

Sunday — off (or another LSSS)

We’re still using the same 5×5 (or derivative) set/rep scheme.  And although we’ll need to add one exercise to each group, we’ll keep the same A/B grouping split.  And we’re still alternating the A and B groups week to week.  Keep it simple.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Profit.

Notice that we had to scrap the “light day” in this scenario.  If you’re of the bodybuilding mindset, and just love the iron, you could turn this into a 6 day per week routine by inserting the light days back in.  I’ve done it before, with great results.  Again, I equate the light days to LSSS, only with iron.  Personally, I’d rather be outside doing something, so I’m ok with letting the light days go.  But that’s just me.

Again, I equate the light days to LSSS, only with iron.  Personally, I’d rather be outside doing something, so I’m ok with letting the light days go.  But that’s just me.

And there’s nothing that says you can’t add in those light iron workouts when going outside isn’t an option (cold weather, for example).

So this is just another twist on the base TTP template.  Once the foundation is set, you’ll begin to venture out and try new modes and modalities.  And I encourage you to do just that.  In fact, self-discovery is part of what this iron journey is all about!

The good thing is, the foundation TTP template is always there if you need to reorient yourself.  Consider it your training Northstar.

 

The rolling 5 RM plan

Quite simply, we’re just splitting up the 5 rep max day across the week.  One exercise, one 5 RM run-up per workout.

Remember Group A, from the base template?

Group A

  • Pull ups (pull)
  • Barbell overhead press (push)
  • Deadlifts (drive)

We’ll use that as an example.  Pay close attention to the loading of each particular exercise over the week.

Monday –

  • Heavy day / 5 RM – chins
  • Light day – barbell overhead press
  • Medium day – deadlifts

Wednesday –

  • Heavy day / 5 RM – deadlifts
  • Light day – chins
  • Medium day – barbell overhead press

Friday –

  • Heavy day / 5 RM – barbell overhead press
  • Light day – deadlifts
  • Medium day – chins

Not nearly as complicated as it might seem on first blush.  The only thing you need to be mindful of is the loading rotation.  That is, the light day for a particular exercise always follows the heavy day.  The medium day always follows the light day.

And again, same A/B exercise grouping split.  We’re still shifting our exercise groups week-to-week, and rotating exercises out of the group for a similar (push, pull or drive exercise pattern) replacement once we’ve milked all the progress we can out of them.

No power cleans?

I realize that Bill Starr’s original 5×5 routine included power cleans.  And I’m totally cool if you do as well.  So long as you can perform them properly.  And you understand why they are done.

I think power cleans are a beautiful exercise for athletes who have to both produce and absorb power and at the flip of a switch.  Think football players, hockey and rugby athletes.

But there are better ways to train for pure power production: namely, jumps (both weighted and bodyweight only), and work with bands.

So I consider power cleans to be a “specialty” exercise.  And you need to know, to, that Starr’s book, The Strong Shall Survive (the original source of the 5×5 training scheme), was written specifically for football players.

And yet, I still incorporate power cleans from time to time in my own training routine.  But I do so:

  1. with the ability to perform them correctly, and
  2. with the understanding of both their advantages and disadvantages

No dumbbells?

There’s a time and a place for every tool in the weight room.  But for our purposes here, we’re going to steer clear of dumbbells.  Why?  Because the crux of what this template is based on is a 5 rep maximal effort.  The entire loading scheme across the board is based on that.  And although dumbbells are a great alternative for assistance work, they’re a poor tool for maximum effort work.

However, if you choose to incorporate them in your warm-up or cool-down, feel free.  Doing some extra assistance work?  Sure, they’re a good go-to.

As always, we’re simply looking to choose the right tool for the job.

 

Note taking

You absolutely must keep a meticulous set of notes.  This will help you to quickly dial-in your weights for various exercises.

As well, you’ll be rotating in and out of exercises quite frequently.  Being able to see where you ended up on an exercise will help you better approximate where to dive in for the next run.

You’ll want to keep track of your 5 rep maxes for various exercises, but also the background conditions in which you hit those numbers.

For example, if I hit a 5 rep max of 70 lbs on weighted dips, but I did so under conditions of working double shifts and getting little sleep during that week, then I can reasonably expect to increase that weight during a week of relatively little outside stress.

Your LSSS and “off” days count, too.  In fact, it’s a good idea to roll your lifting notes into your daily journal.  And use the Five Ts for Fitness as a backdrop.  It’s a good idea to print off (or electronically attach/link) a copy of the Five Ts to the front matter of your journal.  A few things come of this practice:

  • you’ll realize the extent to which outside conditions really do affect your ability to perform physically
  • you’ll be able to more subjectively track your nutrition and supplementation program
  • you’ll be able to more quickly identify when it’s time to rotate exercises, or to tweak the template

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

I consider all forms of “high-intensity training” — whether HIT, HIIT, or HIIRT — as a special subcategory of iron work.  A perfectly legitimate form of strength training, but one that I wouldn’t try to shoehorn into the TTP workout template.

For more on this unique type of training, see this article.

Opinions on the various forms of high-intensity training run the gamut.  My personal opinion is that I would shy away from this branch of the training tree unless you happen to have access to ARXFit equipment, and are fluent in an Efficient Exercise-like training philosophy.  Quite simply, ARXFit equipment is the backbone of the Efficient Exercise model.   Not having access to ARXFit equipment then renders the model ineffective.

So, yes, ARXFit equipment is that potent and effective a training modality that I consider it a distinct and separate subcategory of training.

For more on the ARXFit / Efficient Exercise training philosophy, see:

CrossFit-like training

Another subcategory of HIIT.  And like HIT, HIIT and HIIRT, beyond the scope of this article.

And I get it.  I like to add some variation and spice to my training, too.  Just be smart about it, know what and how much you can handle, and don’t push yourself in a technical lift beyond the point losing form.  That’s a recipe for injury.

Remember, there are no bad exercises, or modalities.  But there are certainly inappropriate applications of both.

The community aspect of CrossFit is phenomenal, and a large part of their success and longevity.  Nothing can replace that team / tribe environment for creating results.

And the “push” that comes from team and tribe helps propel us beyond what we thought we were capable of.

Just be mindful of the flipside: peer pressure.  Push hard, use community as the beautiful motivator it is, but don’t be blindly coaxed into stepping over the line of potential injury, or an overtraining scenario.

My general thoughts on HIIRT (generally) and CrossFit (specifically) are:

  • CrossFit is a fantastic sport, but a risky training modality
  • as such, training for a sport is (or ought to be) a completely different animal than the sport itself
  • too much high-intensity work, too often, leads to injury and overtraining
  • if smartly programmed and coached, however, CrossFit / HIIRT can be a fantastic training modality
  • if you want to perform this type of training now and again, and roll it into the TTP template, simply:
    • substitute the CrossFit (or any HIIRT variant) workout for the heavy or medium day.  But not both in the same week
    • Make sure you note the substitution so that you can pick up where you left off in your normal A/B routine

CrossFit / HIIRT workouts will affect your 5 RM work.  Generally causing progress here to slow or stall.  Not necessarily a bad thing, just something to be mindful of.

But if your main goal is to increase strength and hypertrophy, stick with the TTP template.

If you’re cool with your current strength and hypertrophy, and you want to add a little spice to your weekly training, then feel free to weave in some CrossFit / HIIRT training.

This is another opportunity to consult the Five Ts for Fitness and see where you stand.  I’ve had to do this many times over my long fitness career.  This article documents just one recent such instance.

Tweaks and nuances

  • low intensity/high volume “bodybuilding” training can suffice for low level cardio.  This is where you can do bis, tris, core, calves, etc.  15 to 20 reps each set.  It’s not a preferred substitution, but I get it: some people just love the iron that much.  And sometimes the weather is shitty for days on end.
  • deadlifts, squats and overhead presses might not be sexy.  But remember, the mind thrives on novelty, the body thrives on bang-for-the-buck movements.  I’ve been doing the same movements for 40+ years for one reason: they work.
  • remember: small changes in hand position — for instance, the width of your bench press grip — add up to HUGE changes as you progress.  In fact, altering the hand/grip position in an experienced lifter is akin to altering the entire exercise itself.
  • as mentioned above, the target total rep range per exercise for strength and hypertrophy should be between 21 and 28 reps.
  • chains, bands, jumps, specialty exercises and the like?  Absolutely, if you know how to use them, incorporate them.  A couple things to keep in mind, though:
    • don’t make the mistake of “majoring in minors”.  These tools — though highly effective in skilled hands — are polishing tools.  You can’t frame a brick house with a finishing hammer.  Build the proper foundation before deciding if “polish” is what you need for further improvement.
    • The ideal rep range skews more toward the effective Olympic lift sets/reps range (Prilepin’s Table) with use of bands. Beyond the scope of this article, and requires expert tweaking of the base TTP template.

In conclusion

Why does the TTP strength training template work?  Because it’s simple, and it relies upon the basic principles of iron work.

I used the phrase “chop wood, carry water” above.  It’s a Buddhist ethos of sorts, and it answers the question of “what does one do after enlightenment?”  Enlightenment being the pinnacle of  Buddhist practice.

And the answer, of course, is to carry on with the mundane chores of life.  Only now with a new outlook.

There are no secrets to getting big; there are no secrets to getting strong.  Even those using performance enhancing drugs still have to do the work.  Perhaps even moreso.  Because why do PEDs work?  Precisely because they allow for quicker, more complete recovery, which allows more training to take place.  And more training, done correctly, leads to better results.

Make no mistake about it: masters of their craft still do the basics.  They just do them with an intensity, attention and devotion that is unimaginable to the newbie.

And yet, the masters were once newbies themselves.

Bruce Lee, my favorite philosopher-athlete once said:

“Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”

Want to know more?  

Join the TTP tribe for ongoing discussion at our Facebook page.  Ask me questions, and learn from others.  It’s a positive and supportive community.

Train well, and stay strong, my friends.

Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –

Keith

7 COMMENTS

  1. Looks like a great program; I see lots of bits of advice that I’ve seen before in the ‘classic’ literature on training. You put it together nicely, sufficient detail without getting too wordy.

    Now what about those who are starting to qualify as OLD (> 60). Would you make any modifications? Or does the light day give enough respite that lifting three days a week is OK for the creaky set? (I know you aren’t there yet, but some day you will be…….)

    • Not there yet, my friend. But I’m closing in FAST! 🙂

      I think this is simply a matter of balancing volume, intensity/inroad, and frequency, Craig. I have a post on this topic that’s in queue. I guess I should bump it up a few rungs.

      I’ll give you the punchline, though: higher frequency — at lower volumes and intensity — is always superior to any other arrangement. The problem is that most people don’t have the time, tools, access, or “want to” to pull off a high-frequency scheme. And what might seem as counter-intuitive, this is *exactly* what older people need, as (obviously) lower intensity/inroad and volume lessens the potentiality for injury.

  2. Hi Keith – huge fan of yours. I hope you actually see this post..since it goes back a year!

    I’m really like the 2-way split. In fact, what I do is always do 2-3 compounds (more like 3) and perform them in strength circuit fashion.

    Making sure to rest enough to get optimal performance (not so much “endurance) but heavy work, great antagonist work and CNS fresh.

    I’m curious if you would give a stamp of approval for a higher frequency 2-main lift per day split:
    Day 1: Bench and snatch grip deadlift + assistance*
    Day 2: Front squat & OHP + assistance*
    Day 3: Off or go into another cycle
    Day 4: repeat day 1
    etc.

    Generally for those who don’t want to take a day out of the gym. Can we get “movement novlety” by mixing and matching a different compound lift?

    So it’s basically whole body every day (rather than upper/lower) but focused only on two movements. Then assitance can be done in myoreps/rest pause style with dumbells and cables etc.

    What do you think sir..manageable for 6 days/week split??

    • In theory, I dig it. But you’ll need to run it through the “test of time” to see how YOU progress.

      One thing I would suggest you try to roll-in in some explosive speed work. Jumps and such work well. Banded lifts if you have the set up (and know how) to do them.

      And thanks for the kind words, my friend!

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