Updated: Mar 31, 2021
I am frequently sent exercise programs from people who want to know if the program "is good," or "will work."
The answer is usually "yes," as long as the program does the following:
1) Involves you performing the same movements or types of movements over the course of weeks and months.
2) Has a modality for improvement (usually, adding weight).
3) Is something you'll do.
I have a program that I offer at lower cost than my custom-made programs, but I know times are tough, and I want to help you (yes, you!) get to the gym.
So, here's what I'm doing: I'm giving you a program to do for free. It will take just a little bit of work on your end to set it up, but then it will be fitted to your needs and circumstances, and it can be adjusted for months of progress!
Why am I doing this?
1) I like you.
2) I want you to workout more effectively.
3) I want you to see that the program I help you create following very basic principles is more effective than what you're doing, and I want you to take it as far as you can on your own so that when you're ready for slightly more advanced programming, you'll be more likely to hire me.
What I am not asking for:
1) Money. This is free.
2) Your email address. I have a hard enough time keeping in touch with people who pay me to keep in touch with them; I don't want to email you advertising.
3) Really, anything. There are literally no strings attached to this.
You will need to know a few terms in order to understand what I'm recommending. Here they are:
Rep: how many times you perform a movement in a set.
Set: A series of reps.
So, if you are doing 6 squats before you rest and perform another 6 squats, you have done 2 sets of 6 reps.
AMRAP: As many reps as possible. You will complete as many reps as possible with good form with a given weight. For the purposes of this program, AMRAP will be used for bodyweight movements.
DB: This means "dumbbell." I use the two interchangeably and figure I should just let you know up front. There is no rhyme or reason as to when I use one or the other.
That's actually about it in terms of jargon. If I say something you don't understand, ask me about it in the comments.
Movement categories: You're about to see the program template. There will be things like, "Lower Body - Knee Dominant." These are categories of movements, and I'll explain below how you translate them into stuff for you to do in the gym. Don't stress - just keep reading (or watching)!
Here is the workout template.
And here is the log you'll use to do your workouts.
Lastly, here's an example of what a workout log might look like after a few workouts:
This might look confusing at first blush, but I promise, it will be quite simple once you look through things.
Here's a video of me going through these templates. I will also explain everything in the video below, but I think a lot of readers will benefit from just watching the video and referencing the info below.
In the template (first file), you'll see some movement categories.
They look scary, but they're harmless. Most good program incorporate a movement from each of these categories. This is a good program, so it has you performing them.
Below, you'll find a list of movements you can do to fulfill each movement category in the program. Each movement will link to a video of a demonstration so you know how to do it. Most of these videos are ones I made, but I don't have my own video of a couple just yet, so you might randomly see someone else doing a good demo of the movement.
Choose a movement and write it into your blank workout log (the second file). If the movement you've selected has asterisk next to it with a couple of numbers, it means I recommend using that rep range for that movement instead of the one listed in the template. If there is no asterisk next to it, use the rep recommendation made in the template.
For example, goblet squats will have *8-10 next to them, meaning I recommend you perform sets of 8-10 reps of goblet squats, despite knee-dominant lower body movements being recommended for 4-6 or 6-8 reps in the program outline. If you did back squats, however, you'd use the rep range assigned in that space of the template.
Here are the movement options:
Goblet Squat *8-10
Bulgarian Split Squat *8-10/side
Leg Press *8-10 (Not my video - thanks, RP, for having such a good one out there!)
Lower: Hip Dominant
Staggered Stance Romanian Deadlift *10-12/side
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift *8-10/side (not my video, but a very good one nonetheless)
Dumbbell Walking Lunge *8-10/side
DB Hip Thrust *10-12
Bench Press (an incredibly old video, but still holds up from an information perspective!)
Push Up *AMRAP, bodyweight
Banded Push Up *10-15
Cable Row (not my video - sorry!)
Row to Table *AMRAP, bodyweight (for those working out at home)
Chin Up *AMRAP, bodyweight
Pull Up *AMRAP, bodyweight
Pallof Press (using Jordan Syatt's video again because I don't have one for this and he's great)
Bird Dog *AMRAP, bodyweight (again, not my video)
Ideally, you'll work out three times per week. If you do that, your schedule might look like this:
Monday: Workout A
Wednesday: Workout B
Friday: Workout A
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Monday: Workout B
Wednesday: Workout A
Friday: Workout B
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
You have a rep range for each exercise. Once you can hit the top of that rep range for every set of the movement on a given day, you will add weight the next time you perform that workout.
For example, if you have 4 sets of 4-6 back squats, and you are using 95 lbs and get 6, 6, 6, and 6 reps for your sets, the next time you go to the gym, you'll use 100 (or 105 if it felt super easy) lbs and strive to get 6, 6, 6, and 6 reps.
If you get 6, 6, 5, and 4 reps with your 95 lbs, use 95 lbs again the next time and try to get 6 on all sets.
The lower end of the rep range likely won't be something you trifle with a lot, but it's there as a safeguard. If you nailed your 95 with straight sets of 6 and jumped to 105, but then you only got 5, 4, 3, and 2, but your rep range was 4-6 reps, you may have been to ambitious. I'd recommend moving back to 95, making sure form was solid, and then adding only 5 lbs the week after that.
In terms of starting weights, I highly recommend starting with the lightest weight you can use for a movement (e.g. the empty bar for a barbell or 2 lb dumbbells) and then adding weight slowly and steadily over time. You have your whole life to make progress; don't rush it at the beginning.
That's really about it. Go to it! If you have watched the video and read this whole article, and you still have questions, check the FAQ (directly blow); if I don't answer your question there, shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to help!
How long is this program?
As long as you're progressing. And honestly, you can make slight tweaks to keep progressing once you're stuck. For example, if you stall on goblet squats at 65 lbs, maybe switch them out for back squats and start progressing that movement. Same goes for DB press; try progressing to a barbell bench press.
As a ballpark estimate, you'll likely make progress with very few tweaks for at least 12 weeks, and maybe more if you add weight very slowly and are super strict with your form!
*** Something important to note: The training log provided will last you about 3 weeks of training; as I just said, the workout program can last much longer than that. I recommend printing out another sheet every few weeks so you can continue to log your progress and/or substitute any movements as you see fit! ***
How long should I rest between sets?
Great question!! Not to be a pain in the ass, but "long enough" is the best answer here. You want to feel about 90% recovered from the set you've just done, which for heavy movements, can take 3-5 minutes. When you're just starting out, though, you might be fine in about a minute.
And just to be clear: I am indeed saying you might need more rest as you progress through the program than you do day 1. That's normal. Lifting more weight takes more energy, even if you're stronger. More energy burned in a given time = more rest required to recover.
What should I do with my diet while I train?
This is a complicated question, but you should be able to get most of the information you need from one of my other articles.
If you're just starting to get into fitness, I'd recommend starting here.
I don't want to get bulky; are you sure it's OK for me to work out like this?
I'm using bands - how do I track my progress?
This is a tough one - bands have a few extra variables that DBs don't: chiefly, your distance from the anchor point. I recommend giving each band a number (e.g. 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9) and then maybe setting distances that give decimals (e.g. a 1 with a certain anchor point is a 1, whereas with a further anchor, it's a 1.5). You can also add bands together, so a 1 and a 3 together would be a 4 (which is why I decided to use all odd numbers when adding the bands). I'm not 100% sure how the math works out (does 3+5 actually weigh more than 7? Depends on your bands!), but this at least gives you a reference point when tracking.
Why so little abs (or obliques/biceps/other muscles you likely love to train)?
So, you've been lied to. Working abs will not get you abs (see the article linked under "I don't want to get bulky). If you want bigger biceps/triceps, you might benefit from a bit of supplemental work, but your first priority should be getting strong in pushing and pulling movements. Trust me: get stronger at these basic movements and get your diet in check and that will do more for your physique than literally anything else you could possibly do.
What do I do on my off days?
This is a 3x/week program, which leaves you four days when you're not in the gym. If you'd like to work on your fitness on those days, I recommend the following:
- Mobility work (e.g. yoga, dynamic stretching)
- Fun stuff (e.g. playing a sport, hanging out in a park)
- Light cardio (e.g. any kind of cardio that is not HIIT)
Things not to do:
- Tons of extra "pump" work
- Feel bad about not working out.