The WeighTrainer

Beginners: Practical Starting Routines for The Drug-Free Trainee

by Casey Butt, Ph.D.

Though the following program is written from a "beginners" perspective, it can also be used by any trainee - beginner, intermediate or advanced. It is particularly useful for trainees who've trained on elaborate, split routines for long periods of time and have plateaued. If you are an experienced trainee and have either never trained on full-body routines before, or not in a very long time, the following warning is in order: DO NOT attempt to train your body with free-weight exercises, at full intensity, three times per week. Full-body training is a different experience than split training and requires a different mindset in order to be productive. Forget about loads of isolation exercises. Forget about training to failure on every set. Read this article, follow it as it is written, even if you are advanced, and give your body time to adapt and respond to this type of training. As the weeks go by your body will adjust to the new training method and you'll start gaining. The light break-in period is necessary for everyone who've never trained this way before, or who haven't trained this way in a long time.

Now that we've laid the ground work in The Rules of Productive Weight Training for The Drug-Free Trainee, we're going to build on that and start fleshing out some sensible training routines that will help beginners progress as quickly as possible. So, let's get right into it and give you something to do in the gym.

Program #1 - Your First 2 Weeks Of Weight Training

This is what I want you to do. Each time you go to the gym do the following routine:

    The Basic Routine
  1. Squats 2 x 10
  2. Bench Presses 2 x 10
  3. Bent-Over Rows 2 x 10
  4. Overhead Barbell Presses 2 x 10
  5. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts 2 x 10
  6. Barbell Curls 2 x 10
  7. Donkey Calf Raises 2 x 10
  8. Reverse Crunches 2 x 10


Perform this routine 3 times per week on non-consecutive days. That could work out to be Monday/Wednesday/Friday, it could be Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday or it could be Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. It really doesn't matter which schedule you follow so pick the one that's the most convenient for you. If you normally stay up late Friday night, and therefore get little sleep, then it wouldn't be a good idea to work out on Saturday. Likewise, if you have lots to do during the week, then it may be more practical for you to train once on the weekend and twice during the week - the Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule may not be an ideal option for you. This may help free up some time.

"2 x 10" means two sets of ten reps each. Do all of these sets very lightly for the first two weeks, and use the same weight on both sets of each exercise. I know that it says in all the muscle magazines that you have to train to failure and "no pain, no gain" and all that, but, for now, that's completely unnecessary. When you first learn a new movement your body goes through a period when your nervous system "learns" to do everything the best it can - kind of like learning to ride a bike. During this period you don't need to push too hard; it won't get you anywhere any faster. Did peddling as hard as you could help you learn to ride a bike faster? No. Several studies have shown that in the early stages of weight training the vast majority of strength gains are due to this nervous system learning and not muscle growth, anyway - this is just the way the body adapts at first. In addition, training to failure isn't necessary for anyone to stimulate growth and, as a beginner, your body will grow in respond to this relatively easy work just as quickly as it would if you strained yourself pushing, pulling and squatting. That's a scientific fact. So it's not the time to go overboard trying to grow big muscles by pushing and straining. What we're after in the first two weeks is to help the nervous system along by doing two, relatively easy, sets of 10 reps for each movement, three times per week - with the best form possible.

If you're an experienced trainee, the initial two weeks of the program can be thought of as a period of delayed transformation (in Eastern Bloc Olympic Weightlifting lingo). Typically, such phases last 2 to 4 weeks, so we're within the guidelines. Over the course of this entire 12-week program we're going to increase the training load slowly (in accordance with Rule #14, i.e. progressive resistance) in a manner your body can tolerate and respond to. If you've been training hard for a long time your body will need this form of gradual progression. I discovered this, personally, when I was forced to train on this type of program due to time constraints during a vacation - what was meant to be a light few weeks of training just to keep me from getting fat during vacation turned into a surprising period of foundation for longer-term gains. In fact, in it's entirety this program is, essentially, a classic 12-week periodized program similar in spirit to Hypertrophy Specific Training, though more gently and less rigidly ramping up over a longer training cycle. If you're a beginner, ignore everything I just said.

Unless you're terribly out of shape to start, there's no reason that you shouldn't be able to complete this workout in well under an hour. There are some cases, where people have done little physical activity in years, that it may seem impossible to complete this routine in 60 minutes. I was in that group when I first started. If that's you, then just do what you can, don't kill yourself rushing and pushing too hard, and in time you'll wonder how you couldn't do the routine in an hour when you first started. As you get in better shape you'll naturally go from one set and exercise to the next and a workout like this will zip by. Give your body time and it will get in shape. It's a good idea to get a stop-watch or watch the clock and time your breaks between sets. Try to get your breaks down to two minutes between sets for most exercises, and three minutes between sets for Squats and Stiff-Legged Deadlifts and one minute for Reverse Crunches. Between exercises take only as long as it takes you to set up the weights for the next exercise. If you follow these guidelines you'll get the workout done easily within an hour. Any more than that and you're just being lazy.

As the weeks pass, and you go through the next series of programs, you'll find that the workouts start taking a bit longer, but even in the last program of this series (program #6) you should be able to get your work done in about an hour. It simply doesn't take that long to stimulate optimum muscle growth. Think of it this way, the longer your workout is the more energy you burn up - energy your body could be using to fuel the growth process. So we want to train long enough to stimulate growth in all the major muscles, but we don't want to train so long that we hamper our growth (more is NOT always better). The programs presented here have that balance taken into account.

I suggest that you get someone who knows what they're doing to teach you how to do these exercises correctly. You may also want to get a good book or video on exercise form - or search the internet for such things. If you learn improper form now you'll have one hell of a time correcting it later. Remember, I said that your nervous system is learning the exercises now, so DON'T start out on the wrong foot. If you do you'll have a MUCH HARDER time building muscle when your nervous system does get up to speed. Learn them right to begin with.

As a beginner, you'll probably be very sore after your first few workouts. This is because even when taking it easy on these exercises your untrained muscles will still be subjected to a lot of what's called "micro-trauma". If you push it too hard at first you'll be so sore you won't even be able to walk upright for several days. Then you'll miss your workouts and that's not good. So relax, "slow and steady wins the race." As for the soreness, it's always MUCH worse after your first few workouts. Within a week or two your workouts might not even make you sore at all. (Don't worry about that either - soreness is due largely to calcium permeability changes in the cell membrane and isn't necessary for muscle growth anyway).

Program #2 - The Next 2 Weeks Of Weight Training

So, now that we've got those initial two weeks taken care of let's move into the next two weeks' training. We're going to stick to the same routine but now you can start pushing the last set of the two a little bit harder - not all out, but just a little tougher. So for your second set add a little bit of weight to the bar. You should still stop all of your sets with several perfect-form reps left in you, though. Think of it as shifting into second gear. NOT a big shift, but just a nudge. During the first two weeks your muscles learned to cooperate with each other (like finding your balance), now the individual fibers within your muscles are starting to work together more efficiently. That means your individual muscles are actually learning to contract "better". So, at this stage the nervous system is still the major producer of the strength gains you make, but now it's happening inside each muscle moreso than between groups of them.

This period is still one of learning for your nervous system, so strive to do every rep of every exercise with the best possible form. If you learn to do them the right way now, you will be rewarded later. And don't forget, if your "form" is bad you'll eventually injure yourself anyway. Again, keep the rests between sets to three minutes for Squats and Stiff-Legged Deadlifts, one minute for Reverse Crunches, and two minutes for everything else - you'll follow this pattern for the entire 12-week program.

For experienced trainees I'd like to address the mental block you might be having regarding not training to failure. Within muscle fibers themselves, maximum tension and work occur not at the failure point but one to three reps before. While the merits and demerits of training to failure have been debated ad nauseum, one thing's for certain, from both physiology and experience: Training to failure is not necesary to stimulate muscle growth. Stick to the program, as written, and DON'T train to failure at this point. I'm not saying that training to failure is categorically "wrong", but I am saying that on this program it's not appropriate. And if you're an advanced trainee it will most likely quickly bring on a plateau at this point.

The program looks like this:

3 days per week Set #1 Set #2
Squats easy add weight
Bench Presses easy add weight
Bent-Over Rows easy add weight
Overhead Barbell Presses easy add weight
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts easy add weight
Barbell Curls easy add weight
Donkey Calf Raises easy add weight
Reverse Crunches easy   moderately hard  

Add weight to the bar whenever you feel you can, but not if it means that your sets become too difficult or if your exercise "form" starts breaking down. Remember, at this point we're setting the stage for future gains so HAVE PATIENCE!

When you do your Reverse Crunches your first set should be a set of 10, like before, but on your second set try to do a few more reps. Don't work so hard that you see stars or anything, but try to get an extra rep on your second set when you feel comfortable with it. In other words, do a set of ten and then another set of however many reps it takes to get a little fatigued.

Explanation for Beginners

I realize that this nervous system and fiber cooperation stuff probably isn't what you had in mind for the first 4 weeks of your training. You probably figured you'd be built like Arnold Schwarzenegger by then. Well, what can I say? That's just the way the body works. It doesn't like to do things that require a lot of energy (like building and supporting new muscle tissue) when it can get strong in other ways that aren't as metabolically costly (like refining the way the nervous system operates). But here's the good news: In another couple of weeks all that nervous system stuff will largely have sorted itself out and your body will concentrate on building some real muscle. (Though neural adaptations to training never completely cease. That's how Olympic-style Weightlifters get so strong without getting really muscular - they train specifically for neural adaptations.) In the meantime, you're doing everything you can at this stage of your training life to promote the maximum rate of improvement. You will be seeing some growth by now, but the best is yet to come.

In case you're wondering about training "intensity" let me address the matter this way: You really wouldn't build any more muscle by training harder at this point. I know some authors continually preach that you must train to failure in order to progress optimally, but that's simply not true. Muscles grow in reaction to being exposed to sufficient loading (i.e. tension) for a sufficient period of time. At this beginning stage your muscles are very responsive to tension, and training induced adaptations occur with what could be considered minimal loading. At the same time, your nervous system just isn't coordinated enough to deliver additional growth stimulus to the muscles even if you were to push to failure (reseach has confirmed this time and time again with beginning trainees). So, it really isn't necessary to work "all-out" during this period. In fact, to do so wouldn't make any sense at all - it would just be an added, unnecessary burden on your nervous system.

Program #3 - The Next 2 Weeks Of Weight Training

Your first month of full-body training down! Whether you've realized it or not you've been following in the footsteps of some of the biggest and strongest drug-free men who've ever lived. In fact, the template for your routine was taken from the program bodybuilding legend (and first bodybuilder to bench press 500 pounds) Reg Park used to build up. In fact, he used a variation of this routine to train for that 500 pound bench press - along with a 600 pound Squat and 300 pound Behind-Neck Press - all before steroid use entered into bodybuilding (and don't even think about arguing that point with me, I've spent years researching steroid history). I guess it wouldn't hurt to mention that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Reeves, Doug Hepburn, and countless others have used almost identical routines as well.

Now we want to get the muscles' and nervous systems' learning period out of the way and start moving into the growth zone. We're going to do that by adding one more set to all our exercises, bringing our total up to three sets per exercise. This will give your muscles a little more to deal with and also help your nervous system clue up its initial optimizing stage. This extra set should be placed in between your first and second sets - a little heavier than the first, but not as heavy as the second. So now, for each exercise, you do three progressively heavier sets.

3 days per week Set #1 Set #2 Set #3
Squats easy add weight add more weight
Bench Presses easy add weight add more weight
Bent-Over Rows easy add weight add more weight
Overhead Barbell Presses easy add weight add more weight
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts easy add weight add more weight
Barbell Curls easy add weight add more weight
Donkey Calf Raises easy add weight add more weight
Reverse Crunches easy hard   no third set

Like the previous two weeks, add weight to the bar whenever you feel you can, but not if it means that your sets become too difficult or if your exercise "form" starts breaking down. On your third sets use a weight just heavy enough so that you feel like you're lifting a good weight, but not so much that it becomes an all-out struggle. You should feel as though you could do an extra few reps if you tried. Make no mistake, for a newbie this constitutes fairly hard work, but you shouldn't be turning blue with effort. Remember what I said earlier about training to failure and also that it's long-term progression that determines ultimate muscle growth, not how hard you train on any given day. Keep the first two sets of each exercise light - think of them as warm-up sets. Follow the same rest-between-sets scheme that you used during Programs 1 & 2, but if you want to move more quickly between your first two sets because the first set, especially, is fairly easy then that's quite alright too.

For Stiff-Legged Deadlifts, take it easier on your second weekly training session. Only do two sets, with the weights being the same as you would use on the other days - only you don't do the heavier third set. This will allow your lower back to have a little extra recuperation time in the middle of the week.

For Reverse Crunches do a set of ten, take a 1-minute rest, then do a set of however many reps it takes to get a good "burn" in the abs.

Program #4 - The Next 2 Weeks Of Weight Training

By now you've got six weeks of good, solid weight training under your belt. Your nervous system should be getting pretty "optimized" and you're getting into the serious muscle growth zone. More experienced trainees will be finished with their delayed transformation period and their bodies should be acclimating to training three times per week with gradually increasing loads. To usher a future "growth phase" in we're going to make a few changes. First, I want you to drop your reps down to 8 on all of your upper body exercises (you'll have to add a bit of weight and start working a bit heavier for this) - keep your lower body exercises at 10 reps. Second, I want you to stay on the Basic Routine that I gave you but now, on the second training day of the week, I want you to add some more weight and start pushing pretty hard on your last set of each exercise. Use enough weight so that the set is genuinely difficult. You shouldn't use so much weight that you don't get all 8 or 10 reps (depending on whether it's an upper or lower body exercise), but it should be heavy enough that you definitely wouldn't say it was easy. Still, take it fairly easy on the other two days, though. You should be using about 80% of the weights that you use on your "heavy" day on those days. For experienced trainees this will be necessary to avoid overtraining while gradually ramping up the training load, and for beginners we're taking advantage of the fact that your nervous system is now getting up to speed ...but we don't want to overdo it. It's the balance that's important. You can train abs "hard" at each session.

Remember, only use a difficult weight on your third sets on the second training day of each week. Your routine now looks like this:

    The Basic Routine
  1. Squats 3 x 10
  2. Bench Presses 3 x 8
  3. Bent-Over Rows 3 x 8
  4. Overhead Barbell Presses 3 x 8
  5. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts 3 x 10
  6. Barbell Curls 3 x 8
  7. Donkey Calf Raises 3 x 10
  8. Reverse Crunches 1 x 10, 1 x ~

And as an example of your "heavy" day, let's say you train on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday would be your "heavy" day. This is how it would look.

Wednesday Set #1 Set #2 Set #3
Squats easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Bench Presses easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Bent-Over Rows easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Overhead Barbell Presses easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Barbell Curls easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Donkey Calf Raises easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Reverse Crunches easy hard - incline no third set

The other two days would be the same except on the third set of each exercise you would not use enough weight to make the sets difficult (about 80% of your "heavy" day weights). On your "heavy" days add weight to the bar whenever possible, but make sure that you still get all of the reps that you're supposed to in excellent form.

For Stiff-Legged Deadlifts only use about 70% of your "heavy" day weights on the other two weekly training days - your lower back can't be pounded with heavy weights too often. This is an especially crucial fact for experienced trainees.

For Reverse Crunches do your first set like before, but on the second set lie on a slant board which is on a slight incline. That way the exercise will be harder. Aim at getting 20 reps on your second set. If you reach that goal increase the incline angle. Don't have "light" days for Reverse Crunches - all three weekly training days are "hard".

Program #5 - The Next 2 Weeks Of Weight Training

Now you've been at this for eight weeks. If you've lasted this long that probably means that you're going to stick with it. You've displayed patience, dedication and perseverance - the three most important qualities necessary for drug-free training success. Beginners will also be at the point where their nervous systems aren't the big factor anymore and are now in position to concentrate solely on muscle growth. I want you to now perform two "heavy" days per week. So, instead of performing one "heavy" and two "light" days per week, like you did for the previous two weeks, now you're going to do the opposite - perform two "heavy" days and one "light". The "light" day goes in between the two "heavy" days. So, if you work out on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, Monday and Friday would be your "heavy" days and Wednesday your "light" day.

Monday and Friday Set #1 Set #2 Set #3
Squats easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Bench Presses easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Bent-Over Rows easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Overhead Barbell Presses easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Barbell Curls easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Donkey Calf Raises easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult
Incline Reverse Crunches easy hard no third set

Once again, add weight whenever you can on your "heavy" days - but don't work so heavy that you can't get the reps that you planned to, and in excellent form. On your "light" day use about 80% of the weights that you use on your "heavy" days. For Stiff-Legged Deadlifts only perform a "heavy" day on the first training day of the week - on the other two days have "light" days for Stiff-Legged Deadlifts (again, using about 70% of your "heavy" day weights).

For Incline Reverse Crunches follow the same procedure as before, but now you can start doing your first set (10 reps) on an incline also. Aim for 20 reps on the second set and increase the incline angle if and when you get there. Once again, there are no "light" days for abs. Eventually, you'll have increased the angle on these Incline Reverse Crunches so much that they really become Hanging Knee-Raises. That probably won't be for awhile yet though, I'm just giving you an insight into where this is going. Stay patient.

As incredible as it may seem for some experienced trainees who've been brainwashed by the mainstream, commercial bodybuilding bullshit, training with one "hard" set per body part twice per week can be quite effective for genetically typical trainees. I'm not saying that it's necessarily the "best" way to train long-term, but for now, and for what we're trying to accomplish, it's quite appropriate. In two weeks, we'll step it up another notch.

Program #6

The 10 week mark - some more changes are in order. We're going to take our three weekly training days and bump them into two. What I mean by this is that now we're going to do 4 sets per exercise on training Days 1 and 3 and do something a little different on Day 2. Now, instead of doing two progressively heavier warm-up sets and then one "heavy" set on our "heavy" days (Days 1 & 3), we're going to do two progressively heavier warm-up sets and then two "heavy" sets (both with the same weight). Both of these days are "heavy" days - don't hold back, go for it on both days. As you've been doing for the past several weeks, perform 8 reps per set of Bench Presses, Bent-Over Rows, Overhead Barbell Presses and Barbell Curls, and 10 reps per set of everything else. Days 1 and 3 (Monday and Friday) will now look like this:

Monday and Friday Set #1 Set #2 Set #3 Set #4
Squats easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult same weight
Bench Presses easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult same weight
Bent-Over Rows easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult same weight
Overhead Barbell Presses easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult same weight
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult same weight
Barbell Curls easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult same weight
Donkey Calf Raises easy add weight - still easy add weight - difficult same weight
Incline Reverse Crunches mod hard - incline hard - incline no third set no fourth set

Remember, add weight on your heavy sets whenever you can, but always get your reps and always maintain proper exercise form. In addition, now is a good time to start timing your rests between sets. At this point you're doing 30 hard sets per session (not counting warm-ups) and if you sit around all day between sets your workouts will be too long. Two minutes break between heavy sets is a good guideline, with rests between warm-up sets more like one minute or just long enough to add more weight to the bar. Get a watch and keep track of your rest times and try to keep your workout times down to an hour or so (it may take awhile for some of you to build up to that pace though).

For Stiff-Legged Deadlifts stick to the heavy and light approach. That is, perform one "heavy" day and one "light" day each week. On your "light" day use about 70% of the weights that you used on the "heavy" day.

Incline Reverse Crunches are to be done as before, but now you can start pushing the first set harder. Aim at two sets of 20 reps. Increase the incline if you need to.

This portion of the routine is a classic variation of the "hard gainer" style of training promoted by Stuart McRobert and the various authors of Hardgainer magazine (of which I was one). Before that, original Iron Man magazine publisher, Perry Rader, frequently prescribed this sort of training, as does IronMind's helmsman, Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D. From another perspective, it's essentially the same routine that Reg Park and Arnold Schwarzenegger used to build up, but in this version training twice per week instead of three times because most trainees overtrain quickly when attempting three hard workouts per week (even members of the U.S. Olympic Weightlifting team noticed this and changed their routines so as not to overtrain). It's a classic for achieving muscle and strength gains in genetically typical drug-free trainees.

On Wednesday we're going to mix things up and try some new exercises. This serves a dual purpose. For beginners it allows you to learn some new, and very worthwhile exercises. For more advanced trainees it injects some variety into the routine - something they'll likely be needing about now - and also hits the muscles from different angles and leverages. The variety will do all levels of trainees good - it will help spur further gains. Your new "light" day will look like this...

Wednesday (light) Set #1 Set #2
Front Squats easy add weight
Incline Presses easy add weight
Pull-Ups/Pulldowns (wide grip) easy add weight
Dumbbell Upright Rows easy add weight
Decline Triceps Extensions easy add weight
Seated Wrist Curls easy add weight
Reverse Wrist Curls easy add weight
Seated Calf Raises easy add weight
Crunches easy   moderately hard  

NOTE: It's unlikely that beginners (or even many more advanced trainees) will have the strength to do proper Pull-Ups at this stage. In that case, and it likely is the situation for most of you, substitute Pulldowns on a high cable machine. If you don't have access to a Pulldown machine try doing Pull-Ups standing on a chair and using your legs to assist. Do them with a grip wider than shoulder width, but not super wide.

On this day do 10 reps of everything, just as you did in Program #1. Above all, don't push Front Squats, Incline Presses, Pull-Ups/Pulldowns, Dumbbell Upright Rows and Decline Triceps Extensions hard. Remember, this is still your light day - you're to start these exercises right from the beginning again as you did back in Program #1 when you first started this program. As you learned back then, beginners don't need overly heavy training to promote the fastest possible gains, and more advanced trainees typically cannot tolerate all-out heavy training three days per week anyway (unless they're very genetically gifted). Using different exercises on the middle training day of the week presents a different load to the joints and nervous system than simply repeating the same exercises again would. Plus, even if you're advanced, you haven't done any of these exercises at least since you started this program tens weeks ago, and that has given your body 2 1/2 months to "detrain" on these movements - to an extent you'll be like a "beginner" again on these exercises regardless if you're a true beginner or not. Start lightly, concentrate on perfect exercise form and build up slowly just as you did before. But always keep in mind that this is your "light" day. If you push too hard on this day you won't be fully recovered in time for your heavy day on Friday and you'll quickly burn out.

Beginners, remember these words from Program #1 when it comes to your second training day of the week (Wednesday): "...It's not the time to go overboard trying to grow big muscles by pushing and straining. What we're after in the first two weeks is to help the nervous system along by doing two, relatively easy, sets of 10 reps for each movement - with the best form possible." More advanced trainees, remember it's easier for you to overtrain - don't try to move mountains on this day, particularly on the first five exercises of the routine, or you'll hit a wall in no time.

The last four exercises of this light-day routine, Seated Wrist Curls, Reverse Wrist Curls, Seated Calf Raises and Crunches involve muscles that recover fairly quickly (the forearms, calves and abs). You can push these a little harder if you wish. Don't go crazy with them just yet, but you can push these sets until you get a moderate burn in the muscles right from the beginning without fear of causing overtraining.

So What's Next?

I suggest that you stay on Program #6 for as long as your strength continues to increase - and as time goes on gradually add weight to your light day (Day 2 - Wednesday) exercises until you're doing one challanging set of each exercise. If that goes well then, over time, add a second "work" set to each exercise just as you do on your heavy days. Always use your strength progess to judge whether you're doing too much. If your strength plateaus then you've outpaced yourself and you must back off on your light days again. If doing that doesn't get progress moving, and assuming you've got the other important factors such as nutrition and rest covered (remember the "Rules"!!), then the program has probably run it's course and it's time for something else. At that point you'll have hit your first plateau and beginners can now consider themselves intermediate trainees. For beginners this period of progress may last for several months. Experienced trainees, however, will find that biological "accomodation" and stagnation will happen within weeks to months on this program - depending on many factors such as training history, nutrition, rest and how gradually they attempt weight increases. At that point they will often want to add an extra "work" set to each exercise, bringing the total up to three "hard" sets each. Three "work" sets per exercise is a very sound number for several reasons, but the additional set will rarely get a staled program working again. Usually the additional workload will just drive the trainee into over-reaching/over-training. Higher volume training must be progressed into methodically, not added to an already dying training cycle. My suggestion at that point would be to re-start a cycle right from the beginning again with light weights, but this time eventually building up to three work sets per exercise instead of two and ramping up a little faster than you did the first time through (though that's a personal choice) - that's the proper way to transition into higher training volumes.

One thing is almost certain: If you regularly train to failure on Program #6 you will plateau sooner than if you increase the resistance gradually. If possible, find some small 1-pound weights and try to creep the weights up by only a pound or two at each session or weekly. Try to ride out the period of strength gains for as long as possible. Train hard, but don't push to failure at every session. If you do fail to get all your reps sometimes (i.e. hit failure), which is bound to happen if you're training hard, then back off a little at the next session and let your body recover for your next training day.

When you eventually do hit a plateau, your strength truly stagnates, and for beginners in particular, I recommend starting the program over again but this time swapping the heavy and light day exercises. In other words, using the exercises from your light day as your new heavy day exercises and your heavy day exercises as your new light day (when you get to that stage). So, during the first 10 weeks of your new routine you'd be performing Front Squats, Incline Presses, Pull-Ups/Pulldowns, etc, as your training routine and then introducing Squats, Bench Presses, Bent-Over Rows, etc, back in as your light day when you get to "Program #6" again. This is an excellent way to give your body a break from the first battery of exercises you focused on while you build up your strength and muscle mass with a new set. The 10-week break from training certain exercises allows your body to detrain on those movements so that it's primed to respond when you take them back up again - this a simple but very effective form of strategic planning in weight training. If you have more than at least 6 consecutive months of training experience you also might want to try moving up to three work sets of each exercise instead of two - build up to it progressively using the principles and procedures covered here.

If you've got at least that 6 months of training experience, and would like to focus a little more on absolute strength, you might also want to try doing sets of 5 reps instead of sets of 8 or 10. A classic strength and size routine is to do 3 working sets of 5 reps with the same weight. In that case, start a new training cycle with light weights and build up gradually, as you did before (and include 2 warm-up sets for each exercise as well, making the total 5 x 5). DON'T, however, just jump into performing 3 "heavy" sets of 5 - you'll plateau in no time. If pure total body muscle mass and weight gain is your goal, you could start a routine centered around the time-honoured 20-rep Squat. And you can do all of this in the basic frameworks provided by the above Programs. Many very advanced trainees have trained, and continue to train, that way.

At this stage, advanced trainees may want to lean out a little and/or add some isolation exercises back into their routines. That's fine. In fact, now may be a perfect time. Just remember that isolation exercises should never overshadow basic, free-weight work ("Rule #5"). Add some in if you want but put most of your effort into the basic, compound execises. Remember, that's how Reg Park became the biggest, strongest drug-free bodybuilder of the pre-drug era and probably of all-time.

Before you begin any new routine, however, go back and look at The Rules of Productive Weight Training for The Drug-Free Trainee. Break any one of the "rules" and you'll lessen your chances of weight training success. Oftentimes getting your progress going again is as simple as making sure that you're following those rules.

I will give you one further piece of advice also: If you're a small-boned person (with your wrist circumference less than about 10.5% of your height), then it would probably be a wise idea for you to train each bodypart at least twice a week ...and three times is often better for people with this type of build (at least for periods of time). Because of your small structure, however, it's very unlikely that your joints can handle heavy training on the same exercises three times per week. (Such people are also usually somewhat "weak" on free-weight, compound movements such as Bench Presses, Overhead Presses and Squats, but "normal" or even "strong" on exercises such as Dumbbell Flyes and Lateral Raises.) I suggest that people like you still train their full bodies three times per week most of the time, but use different exercises on each day ...and try to select exercises that are significantly different from each other so that the joints aren't constantly stressed in the same manner. For instance, for chest you might do Incline Presses on Monday, Dumbbell Pullovers on Wednesday, and V-Bar Dips on Friday. I'll cover this approach in more detail in other articles. Size and strength training for the subgroup known as 'hard gainers' will be dealt with as well.

If you are a big-boned, heavy-set person, you might enjoy training in this fashion as well, but you also might have the option of splitting your bodyparts and training them on different days. For instance, you might train Chest, Shoulders and Triceps on Mondays and Thursdays, and Legs, Back and Biceps on Tuesdays and Fridays. That way you can do two exercises for each bodypart at each session instead of just one. (I wouldn't recommend more than this, though ...and four days per week training is generally only optimal for genetically gifted or drug-using bodybuilders or for less gifted bodybuilders for limited cycles only).

It might also be a good time in your weight training career to look into some of the more "advanced" aspects of the art and science of weight training. What about training to failure (until you can't budge the weight), isolation exercises, pre-exhaustion, negatives, etc, etc, etc? My best advice to you would be to read the articles here on the WeighTrainer and bring up your questions on The Strength And Size Forum. If you digest all that stuff you'll have plenty of ammo in your arsenal for building the body and/or strength that you want.

Final Comments

Before I finish this article I'd like to say a few words to those of you who've trained for a while but feel like giving up. Perhaps it's too much hard work. Perhaps you're discouraged because everyone else in the gym seems to progress faster than you. Perhaps it's because you're confused by all the conflicting advice that you may have heard. Or perhaps it's simply because you're not gaining as fast as you had hoped you would. Let me repeat, if you are genetically average, there are three things above all others that it takes to be successful at weight training: Patience, dedication and perseverance. And one or two without the others is useless. You have to be willing to hit the weights day in, day out - month in, month out - year in, year out - to get the results you want. You have to want it that bad. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will you be. So, unless you are a very genetically gifted individual, you're going to have to pay your dues. Of course, if you only want to firm up a bit then your task is going to be considerably easier, but if you've got your heart set on being big and strong then it's going to take some time. That's just the reality of healthy, drug-free training. Whatever you do, don't go off on a tangent searching for the perfect training routine - it simply doesn't exist. The routines I've given you are as close to an ideal building-up program for drug-free individuals as you're going to get - that I promise you.

So make up your mind now. Anyone can build a strong, muscular body - you may never be Mr. Olympia, World Powerlifting champion or World Olympic-style Weightlifting champion, but you can look and be impressive. Maybe, in time, you will rise to the top of the drug-free Bodybuilding, Powerlifting or Weightlifting world. Who knows? Maybe you wouldn't want that. Perhaps you just want to have a strong, healthy, attractive body. Well, now you have the knowledge to get going on the right foot and the rest has to come from within you. The weight training world is full of success stories, and you can be another one. I don't care how skinny, fat or how old you are - I've seen them all fail and I've seen them all succeed. Patience, dedication and perseverance were at the root of all those successes and missing in all the failures. Follow the "rules" and you will succeed. Remember the tortoise and the hare.

"The Rules"

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