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Posted in: Articles by ProSource, Training Articles
By Patrick Striet, CSCS | Aug 14, 2013



Bounce Back With This Bare Bones
Program of Four Essential Exercises



I
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n my 19 years of involvement in the iron game as a serious lifter, strength coach, personal trainer, gym owner, student and overall enthusiast/"iron junkie," I like to think I've learned some things about the pursuit of increased strength and muscle. At the top of the list of things I've learned and believe to be true is this: you don't need nearly as much as you think you do.

While I've written numerous articles on this site and others about adding variety to your training, as well as new protocols and exercises to try out, the reality is that picking a few exercises and trying to get REALLY strong on them -- and proficient at them -- over the course of years is what will deliver the results.

I understand the need for variety. I understand the desire many of us have to try out new exercises, splits, and protocols. From both a physiological and psychological perspective, there is a time and place for variety. I get that, and I like it in my own training. However, program hopping, changing your exercises every week, performing certain exercises too infrequently, or performing entirely too many exercises in any given training session is a sure fire way to make very little long-term progress.

Think about your own training. How many different programs have you been on in the last few years? How many different exercises have you tried? How many times did you think you needed something "more advanced?" Now, ask yourself this: are you any better? Do you look any different? Have you built much muscle? Have you gotten much stronger on the big exercises?

If you've made great progress and like your answers to the questions above, great job. Keep doing what you are doing. After all, who am I to tell you to change your approach if you are happy with your progress? However, if you've been training consistently but haven't gotten very far, despite changing your routine a lot and trying out or adding new exercises all the time, maybe it's time to adjust your approach, stop with the training A.D.D, and get really bare bones and basic.

For the next 3 months, I challenge you to only do 4 exercises for the entire body and train them 3 days per week. Yes, you read that right: JUST 4 EXERCISES. Pick ONE exercise from each of the following categories:
  • Upper Body Press: any bench press*
  • Lower Body Hip Dominant Exercise: any deadlift or loaded hip thrust/glute bridge variation
  • Lower Body Knee Dominant Exercise: any squat variation
  • Upper Body Pull: any pull-up/chin-up or row variation
*you could choose an overhead press, but choosing a bench press variation is more efficient and comprehensive, and will ensure you hit both the anterior delts AND the chest

These 4 exercises will thoroughly work all of the major muscular structures of your body. The bench variation hits the chest, anterior delts, and triceps. The squat variation hits all of the large lower body muscles which cross the hip and knee joint while emphasizing the quads. The pull-up/chin-up or row variation hits the lats, upper back and biceps. The deadlift or thrust/bridge variation addresses the posterior chain muscles (low back, glutes and hamstrings).

Again, only do these 4 exercises. No fluff. No raises, curls, extensions, push-ups, etc. Do not add stuff on the end of the workouts or do extra workouts. Trust me, if you work the 4 exercises hard, in the manner I'll outline below, you'll be getting more than enough work. The only thing you are allowed to add on is one core movement each workout for a few sets. That's it. The rationale behind this approach is to become VERY proficient at a few exercises, perform them frequently, and cycle the volume and intensity.

I'd recommend setting up 4 separate workouts, rotating them, training 3 days/week, and prioritizing one of the lifts each workout while performing lower intensity rep work for the others. Use a Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday format, allowing one full day of rest in between. Here are the workouts (let's assume a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule):

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Workout A (Monday)

1. Bench Press Variation

  • Week 1: 5 sets of 4 reps @ 80% of estimated 1RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 50-60% of estimated 1 RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 2: 5 sets of 3 reps @ 85% of estimated 1 RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1 RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 3: 5 sets of 2 reps @ 90% of estimated 1RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 4: 5 sets of 1 rep @ 95% of estimated 1 RM (3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

2. Hip Dominant Variation

4 sets of 6-8 at 60-70% of 1 RM (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

3. Squat Variation

3 sets of 8-10 @ 60-70% (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

4. Upper Body Pull Variation

2 sets of 10-12 @ 60-70% (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

Workout B (Wednesday)

1. Hip Dominant Variation

  • Week 1: 5 sets of 4 reps @ 80% of estimated 1RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1 RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 2: 5 sets of 3 reps @ 85% of estimated 1 RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1 RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 3: 5 sets of 2 reps @ 90% of estimated 1RM (2-3 minutes between sets...do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 4: 5 sets of 1 rep @ 95% of estimated 1 RM (3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

2. Squat Variation

4 sets of 6-8 at 60-70% of 1 RM (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

3. Upper Body Pull Variation

3 sets of 8-10 @ 60-70% (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

4. Bench Press Variation

2 sets of 10-12 @ 60-70% (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

Workout C (Friday)

1. Squat Variation

  • Week 1: 5 sets of 4 reps @ 80% of estimated 1RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1 RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 2: 5 sets of 3 reps @ 85% of estimated 1 RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1 RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 3: 5 sets of 2 reps @ 90% of estimated 1RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 4: 5 sets of 1 rep @ 95% of estimated 1 RM (3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

2. Upper Body Pull Variation

4 sets of 6-8 at 60-70% of 1 RM (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

3. Bench Press Variation

3 sets of 8-10 @ 60-70% (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

4. Hip Dominant Variation

2 sets of 10-12 @ 60-70% (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

Workout D (the following Monday)

1. Upper Body Pull Variation
  • Week 1: 5 sets of 4 reps @ 80% of estimated 1RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1 RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 2: 5 sets of 3 reps @ 85% of estimated 1 RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1 RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 3: 5 sets of 2 reps @ 90% of estimated 1RM (2-3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

  • Week 4: 5 sets of 1 rep @ 95% of estimated 1 RM (3 minutes between sets…do as many reps as possible on your last set); 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 60% of estimated 1RM (60-90 seconds between sets)

2. Bench Press Variation

4 sets of 6-8 at 60-70% of 1 RM (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

3. Hip Dominant Variation

3 sets of 8-10 @ 60-70% (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

4. Squat Variation

2 sets of 10-12 @ 60-70% (90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets)

As you can see, you'll prioritize one of the lifts each workout and perform it first. This is your "money" exercise and you should sink all of your effort into this exercise. On the last set of the strength oriented work (between 80-95% of 1RM, depending on the week), you should do as many reps as possible on the last set.

After the strength work, hit 3 back off sets of 8-10 reps at about 60% of 1RM to add some volume and take advantage of post-activation potentiation. These back off sets should not be taken to failure.

After the prioritized lift, you'll perform rep work at different volumes (sets X reps) in the 60-70% range for the other 3 lifts in a cyclical fashion to prevent burnout. I've prescribed a range because some lifters -- typically those with a greater training age -- will perform fewer reps with different percentages of 1 RM and will fatigue faster than other lifters. You should seek to manage fatigue on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th exercises after the prioritized lift. You should not be going to failure, doing drop sets, forced reps etc. The goal is to focus in on technique and get some reps in without pulverizing yourself. Remember, you have to come back in 48 hours and do these lifts again so you want play it smart. If you find yourself struggling and fatiguing quickly on these exercises, back the percentages or rep goal down to the lower end of the range.

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There are 17 actual work sets in each workout, and you'll do these as straight sets: do a set, take your rest period, do another set, etc. Do NOT attempt to superset or alternate sets of the exercises. It doesn't work well. Finish all of your sets for one exercise before moving on to another.

You should do as many ramp-up/warm-up sets as necessary until you reach your working weight. You'll obviously need more ramp up sets for the prioritized exercise of the day. You should not need many ramp-ups for the other exercises because the percentages are lower and the rep ranges are higher.

I cannot emphasize the importance of a thorough full body general warm-up enough. Hit your foam rolling/lacrosse ball work, plenty of dynamic stretches, and maybe throw in a little more prep work for the muscles you'll use on the prioritized exercise. Do not skimp on this stuff. A good general warm-up should take about 15 minutes.

Be prepared for a longer workout than you are probably used to. If you factor in a 15 minute warm-up, 17 work sets at about 30-60 seconds apiece, an average of about 2 minutes between sets, and about 3 minutes per exercise for ramp-up/warm-up sets, you are looking at about an hour and fifteen to an hour and twenty minutes all in. This is obviously not the most time efficient program out there, but I think the results will be worth it.

Go through this program 3 times (3 months). For each new cycle, assuming you've hit your set and rep goals each week on the prioritized exercise, adjust your 1 RM up 5-20 pounds (depending on your performance, rate of progress and the specific exercise) and go from there. Again, fight the urge to try something new after one cycle. Give this program its due diligence. Don't tell yourself you are "bored:" if you are making progress, this shouldn't be boring.

So there you have it. Once again, if you've been making great progress on whatever plan you are currently on, then keep at it. Why fix what's not broken? However, if you've been training consistently, yet not making any progress, and the "next best thing" continues to fail you, buckle down, go bare bones, and give this program a shot. What do you have to lose?

What's your workout philosophy? Do believe variety is the spice of life? Or do you like to stick to basics? Let us know in the comments field below.

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LEAVE A COMMENT

ProSource says:

From Patrick: 60-70% is about a 12-15 rep max weight for most people. So, for pullups, this can be tricky, as many readers might only be able to do 6-12 actual chin-ups fresh. So, for this particular exercise, unless you can do 15 or more pullups, you are either going to want band assistance or you can opt for a pulldown. I hope this clarifies things.
8/27/2013 2:10:57 PM Reply

Petr says:

Great article. I'm in. And after first workout I did yesterday I must admit that I'll need all my strength (physical and mental) to finish 3monts program like that. Will I succeed?
8/18/2013 9:45:14 AM Reply

Terry says:

Sorry I meant "What does 60-70% of a pull- up mean?"
8/15/2013 5:05:13 PM Reply

Terry says:

What is 60-70% of a pull up mean?
8/15/2013 5:02:00 PM Reply

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Disclaimer: The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.





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