Helping Out A Friend

Okay so I just returned an email to a friend who wants to gain muscular size, strength, and improve his conditioning. I briefly laid out a very general strength and conditioning program and nutritional protocol for him as well. I included Mark Rippetoe’s youtube videos for giving him some information of form for the big lifts.

This is not indicative of what a formal consult with me would look like, as in that instance I have a questionnaire that goes with it in addition to multiple emails and phone calls so that I can specifically program for them and their nutrition is dialed in.

However, I thought that some of our readers might benefit from this so I included most of the email below. Does this help??


Okay _______,

So basically what we need to do is decrease the amount of exercises you’re doing, the variation as I will refer to it, and increase the intensity- which is the load or percentage of 1 rep max (1RM).  From my experience most trainees are novices when it comes to lifting, whether they agree or not. This is a good thing, however, as you can make very quick progress because you have so much untapped potential. This is especially true being a young, fit, male lifter with the commitment required to see gains. If I simply told you to do more weight and less reps I would be leaving out some information pertinent to you realizing your desired goals, so I won’t do that. Instead I will give you a program that should last you between 3-6 months if you do it consistently. At the end of this period of time you will likely have added significant size, strength, and be more conditioned. The biggest tip I can give you is that PROGRESS is the name of the game.

In this program you will be making progress linearly, that is every time you repeat an exercise in the cycle you will be adding weight to the bar. You can get away with this because you are a novice and there is much room between your present state and your genetic limitations. As you get closer and closer to your genetic ceiling you will require more complex programming to see gains, kind of like building a race car. If you took a stock car and wanted to go drag racing you could improve the vehicle’s 1/4 mile time by adding good tires, exhaust, cold air, and other small bolt-ons and see major improvements. As the car gets faster and faster more complex things need to be done to it- like a back half chassis, additional suspension work, power adders, etc. So right now you are the stock car and we can focus on simple things first. Without progressive overload (adding weight in this case) results will not come. If you can squat 100 x 10 for instance, repeating this workout does not disrupt your body’s homeostasis enough to spur an adaptation, which in this case is muscular hypertrophy and contractile potential (strength). Similarly, if you overdid it- say squatted 100 x 10 x 10 sets- you would overshoot your body’s ability to recover from the workout and thus not make the type of progress an intelligently structured program allows.

I am also including what I consider to be some of the best free online tutorials of the movements that make up the bread and butter of this program. In addition I would recommend buying Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength 3rd edition to supplement this learning experience. Finally, I will include some baseline nutrition recommendations that will support muscular growth and strength gain in addition to fueling conditioning. If you wish to go more in depth than this at a later date we can do a formal consult. Without further ado….

_____ New Program
Frequency- 3 non-consecutive days  (MWF for instance)
All exercises are written as follows: movement x reps x sets
e.g press x 5 x 3= press for 3 sets of 5 reps
* a “+” denotes a max rep set, usually done as the final set of a movement

Day 1:
1) Alternate A/B
A: Press x 5 x 2, x 5+ x 1
B: Bench Press x 5 x 2, x 5+ x 1
2) Alternate A/B
A: Chin Ups x max reps x 3
B: Barbell Curl x 12 x 3
3) Squat x 5 x 2, 5+ x 1

Day 2
1) Alternate A/B
A: Bench Press x 5 x 2, x 5+ x 1
B: Press x 5 x 2, x 5+ x 1
2) Alternate A/B
A) Barbell Curl x 12 x 3
B) Chin ups x max reps x 3
3) Deadlift x 5+ x 1 (after warming up)

Day 3
1) Alternate A/B
A: Press x 5 x 2, x 5+ x 1
B: Bench Press x 5 x 2, x 5+ x 1
2) Alternate A/B
A: Chin Ups x max reps x 3
B: Barbell Curl x 12 x 3
3) Squat x 5 x 2, 5+ x 1

Saturday: Conditioning

So the A/B split rotates each week. For instance on week one you would “press” Monday and Friday and “bench press” Wednesday- if you were training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. When you press, you will follow them with chin-ups and when you bench press you will follow that with curls. I find that usually at this stage in the game we don’t need to include any additional tricep or shoulder isolation movements because of the high frequency of pressing (3x a week). We alternate the press and bench press because it evenly develops the musculature around the shoulder girdle. Many bench press only people end up with a more anterior (towards the front) dominant posture which can lead to shoulder impingement, pain, dysfunction and just plain old injuries. If you can do 10+ strict chin ups (all the way down and up) then consider adding weight – starting at about 10lbs and making sure that you’re getting at least 6 reps per set in. Once you get back to 10+ reps with weight, bump the weight up on these.

A quick note on progression. What I like to see as far as starting weight on each movement is use a weight you can “own” for 10 solid reps. So in this regard, you would do two sets of five reps with this weight and then do a third set for as many reps as you can- with good form of course. The first two sets almost serve as a neural warm-up for the money set- the third set. You should be resting 2-5 minutes between sets on the big movements, or until you feel fully recovered. This will become very intuitive. Using your first week as an example, when you press on Monday- record your weights and reps in a log book (I recommend a composition book for this purpose). When you revisit the press on Friday you will increase the load by 5lbs total (or 2.5 lbs on each side) and do the same procedure- two sets of five reps followed by a max rep set. This will adequately stress the body so that you can keep progressing this way for quite a long time, given that nutrition and rest is fairly solid. On the squat and deadlift you will add 10lbs each time you revisit these movements. Since they involve a larger amount of muscle mass they can be loaded aggressively for quite a long time as well. This all hinges on the notion that you started with a load below your five rep max (5RM) and so you have lots of room “to grow” as far as intensity is concerned. Progressions on the chin ups and curls come a little slower but you should intuitively known when to add weight (small amounts) and when to simply repeat the previous workout’s weight on these movements. For these smaller movements you can progress by adding an extra rep or two if you’re feeling it or by adding weight, progress is progress!

If for some reason you should fail or miss a rep on a work set- one of your sets of five or max rep sets that doesn’t hit at least five reps- then you are ready for a reset. To properly reset you will subtract 10% off that day’s load and use that for next time. Another idea is to switch the movement for another similar movement at that point. For instance you could swap out the press for a seated dumbbell press (or standing) and the bench press for the incline bench press. The idea is to wring out as much progress as we can make with the basic movements first before adding complex layers to the program such as movement variation, undulating rep schemes, or intensification techniques like drop sets, super sets, rest pause, pre-exhuastion isolation movements etc. If/when you stall for whatever reason just do a reset on the affected movements and then if/when you stall again switch the movements. I have found this works very well.

As far as conditioning is concerned I would like to see one of the days falling on a weight training day and one on Saturday when you’re not in the gym. I like at least one full day of rest and Sunday tends to naturally be the day for this. If you’re doing extensive conditioning (45 min +) I would cap your frequency at 2x per week for this type of conditioning. If you’d like to add more conditioning into the program I would recommend using abbreviated higher intensity conditioning like sprint intervals, repeats, and time trials for certain distances (3K/5K, 2 mile run etc) that are <20 minutes. If you notice you’re not able to progress in the gym it is usually because a lack of recovery which comes from spreading yourself too thin with the added conditioning. Additionally, nutrition and rest is paramount and a crappy diet or hypocaloric state will not support this type of hard training and muscle growth, strength levels, and energy levels will simply drop. It is very important to eat to support your training as I will describe below.

Videos of squat, press, deadlift, and bench press:





Bench Press

This is a very complex subject and is very specific to the individual. With that in mind coupled with the fact that I have not seen you train I will make fairly general recommendations although they are a little more specific since I know you have a fast metabolism and are lean. First off, if you were interested in a macro-nutrient breakdown I would do something like this:

Training days: 300g protein, 300g carbohydrates (from rice, potatoes, oats, fruits, veggies), minimal fats
Non Training days: 300g protein, 100g carbohydrates, 100g fats (from nuts, nut butters, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, etc)

Ultimately I would like to see 3-4 meals a day consisting of a good whack of protein (~50-60g) and a good whack of carbohydrates (50-60g of carbs-like 1/2 C of uncooked white rice) with an additional protein shake or two consisting of 2-3 scoops of whey + 1 C of oats. This would be my training day nutrition recommendation.

On off days I would stick to meat, veggies, fruits, and added healthy fats from coconut/olive oil, avocado, and nuts/nut butters. Same meal frequency.

At this point there is no need to weigh and measure, but putting on lean muscle tissue without gaining fat takes some tweaking. I’d stick with just eyeballing everything for a few weeks and then invest in a food scale and measuring cups to see what’s really going on. Just for reference, 8 eggs contain 48g of protein-similar to 7oz of lean meat or 2 scoops of whey, and a medium sized potato is about 23-25g of carbohydrates-similar to 1/2 of uncooked oats or 1/2 C of cooked white rice. For protein I’d stick to the following sources- lean beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, sirloin, whey, fish, etc. For carbohydrates I’d stick to rice, potatoes, and oats, and the fats I’ve already listed. This can obviously get more complex but this is just a jumping off point.


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About thefitcoach

An aspiring physician, I've been involved in the strength and conditioning world for over 5 years now in a professional sense. I started this blog with some like-minded individuals to share our thoughts on training, nutrition, lifestyle, medicine, health, and everything in between.

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