Disclaimer: Oliver is not a certified strength coach. He is just a 20-something-year-old who’s spent too much time learning about how to train.
Training should be efficient. There’s a reason why big, multi-joint compound exercises are so popular. They provide a high return on investment. It’s the 80/20 principle. Exercises like the squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press give you the most
bang gains for your buck time invested. So, to gain size and strength, progression in the main compound movements is key.
First, some recommended resources.
These links go over some fundamental strength training principles. The gains soon to follow are well worth the read.
Takeaways from GZCL:
- Three tiers of exercises. T1 is your main movement of the day. T2 exercises build your T1 movement. T3 exercises are higher volume, bodybuilding to build the muscles used in T1 and T2 exercises.
- Train back multiple times a week through super-sets. So, a horizontal push with a horizontal pull. A vertical push with a vertical pull.
- 1:2:3 volume ratio for the three tiers. In practice, something like 3-5 sets of 1-5 reps for T1, 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps for T2, and 3-4 sets of 8-12 for T3.
Takeaways from Brian Alsruhe:
- Giant sets. Which are essentially big super-sets.
- Training antagonistic muscle groups. Usually in the same plane of movement. Not only is this time efficient, it helps with performance.
- Main, secondary, and assistance giant sets. Equivalent to GZCL’s T1-T3.
Takeaways from 5/3/1:
- Train sub-maximally for steady long-term progress.
- Sets, reps, and percentages based on your 1 rep max. Working in the ~75-90% intensity ranges allows for adequate stimulation for size and strength.
- Depending on how many reps you hit in your AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible Set), you increase your TM (Training Max) accordingly. This is great because you have a goal for each workout.
The training template is based on principles illustrated in the GZCL method and Brian Alsruhe’s YouTube video. The main lifts incorporate 5/3/1.
5/3/1 was originally created as a powerlifting protocol. We’re not using it for pure powerlifting. So you’ll do 5/3/1 just for the main movement of the day. Traditionally, this is the squat, bench, deadlift, overhead press. While the original 5/3/1 protocol planned for monthly progression, this is modified to progress weekly. This is helpful because while many advanced lifters can’t progress in a linear fashion, beginners and intermediates usually can.
The original spreadsheet (created by Reddit user nSuns) was meant for powerlifting, so there are many sets. Don’t worry about that – I greyed out all the irrelevant stuff. Just do the 3 sets, 5, 3, and 1+. The 1+ set is as many reps as possible (leaving 1 rep in the tank). Then, depending on how you’re feeling, you can do 1-2 more sets using the weight you used in the first set. They should feel challenging, but doable.
So How Does This Work?
The core structure of the protocol is centered around:
- Giant sets
- Antagonistic training
- 5/3/1 progression for the main movement
- Main giant set (T1)
- Secondary giant set (T2)
- Assistance giant set (T3)
To get started, work up to a “max” set (don’t go to complete failure) of 3-5 reps in the various main exercises: squat, bench, deadlift, incline bench, etc. Then, calculate your ~1 rep maxes. Plug these into the spreadsheet, and you’re good to go. You’ll now have your weights for your first training session, and start working up from there.
Additionally, it’s important to have a strong posterior chain: back, glutes, hamstrings, etc. For the upper body, like Joe DeFranco put it, it’s good to have a “powerlifter’s bench, bodybuilder’s back” approach. What this means is training pulling movements with a higher volume than pressing movements; a 2:1 ratio is a good rule of thumb. So, rowing variations and upper back exercises like facepulls and band pull-aparts will be done throughout the week. As for the lower body, it’s good to incorporate unilateral work: Bulgarian split squats, lunge variations, pistol squats, single leg RDLs, hip thrusts and glute bridges, etc.
An example Bench Press workout:
An example Deadlift workout:
You should always warm up. Here’s a warm-up routine if you need one. Especially on lower body days, you should get your blood flowing before you start to train.
As for exercise selection – you can modify the exercises as needed. The main movement can be any compound barbell or dumbbell movement. For example, I prefer the trap bar deadlift over the conventional deadlift. Some people might substitute out overhead pressing with the incline bench. Figure out what works for you.
Always remember the most important principle in strength training: progressive overload. Which simply means to do more over time.
You are going to make progress, and it’s going to feel good. At some point, however, your progress will begin to slow down. Don’t lose faith. This is when the real gains start. Up to this point, your body was simply to the lifts and becoming more efficient in the movement. When you start to plateau, and then you make progress, that is when you are really getting bigger and stronger. So stay optimistic. We all have the potential to get better.
Keeping a training journal is highly recommended. I personally use a Moleskine. There’s something special about visually seeing your progress. Big key to making gains.
Good luck with your training. Get big. Get strong. Enjoy the process!
Further reading you might find valuable: