Lesson 14: Gym-Based Workout Programs and How to Adjust When Progress Stalls

Table of Contents


Introduction

In the last lesson we discussed two different home-based workout programs. These incorporated a variety of different exercises with or without additional equipment. We also discussed different progression schemes that are available to adjust resistance training programs over time.

In this lesson we will use these various progression schemes as well as the multitude of different exercises available in commercial gyms to generate several additional workout programs. These are all designed for a commercial gym setting with access to lots of variable equipment. Additionally, I will provide explanations for how to utilize each program and make adjustments to them over time. When following these (or other) programs there will come a point in time when progress stalls; at the bottom of this lesson I will discuss considerations for changing an exercise program when this occurs.

Note: There are several things to keep in mind as you go through these programs:

  1. You do not need to read this entire lesson.
    • Simply glance through the various images for each program and read the corresponding sections if interested. I do reference prior sections for some of the programs further down the page; you can refer to those sections if needed.
  2. Try to include some free weight versions of exercises.
    • With each program I list exercise alternatives if you cannot (or choose not) to perform the stated exercises. For example, if you cannot perform a weighted chin-up you can use an underhand lat pulldown instead.
    • However, as a general rule of thumb, when able I recommend including at least some free weight compound movements. The primary ones are the squat, bench press, and deadlift. These will provide certain benefits (increased bone mineral density, balance training, overall body stability, athleticism, etc) that their machine counterparts will not provide to the same degree.
  3. I provide further guidance for childhood, pregnant, and elderly workout programs in Lesson 15.
    • The programs here can be used to some degree by children, pregnant individuals, and the elderly, but there are additional considerations for these groups. Please refer to Lesson 15 prior to employing these programs as written and make any adjustments as you see fit.
  4. These programs are designed for general health, skeletal muscle hypertrophy, and strength.
    • These are not geared towards maximizing speed, agility, power production, or general athleticism. These topics are beyond the scope of this course.
      • Having said that, these programs will aid all of these attributes. For beginners and most intermediate lifters, getting stronger will improve athleticism.
    • For individuals who want to become better athletes these programs will actually be very effective initially to develop a base of muscle and strength; later on more specialized techniques to promote additional athletic qualities would be beneficial.
  5. You can adjust the programs as you see fit.
    • I do recommend trying to ensure any adjustments meet the evidence-based recommendations discussed previously, at least initially.
    • As you become more experienced you can stray from the prior recommendations and see if this proves beneficial.

Tip: All of these programs employ linear progression initially. In a gym setting linear progression can be limited by the weight plates available. Most gyms will have 2.5 pound plates available. This allows you to increase the weight on a barbell by a minimum of 5 pounds each session. If your gym does not have 2.5 pound plates you can purchase 2.5 pound plates separately and bring them with you.

You have the option of purchasing microplates and bringing them with you when you go to the gym. These can be a bit expensive but by making <5 pound incremental changes in weight you can extend linear progression for a much longer time frame. This set has good reviews on amazon.com. With these you could increase the weight by 0.5 pound increments if desired. Most will not need to progress this slowly but it is nice to have the option. For many individuals progressing in 2.5 pound increments will be beneficial.

Some people will only want additional 1.25 pound plates to make 2.5 pound jumps in weight. If this applies to you, you can spend a bit less money and purchase 1.25 pound plates in isolation. This brand has good reviews.

Lastly, all of the below programs are written assuming you do not have access to microplates. Thus, the progression schemes will say to increase some of the lifts by 5 pounds. If you have microplates you can prolong the steps and adjust in smaller increments.


Simple full body routines

Here I will go over four full body routines done 2 or 3 days a week. A full body routine trains most if not all of the major muscle groups each session. Some basic points for these programs:

  • Three of these four programs only incorporate compound exercises. Isolation exercises are not bad by any means but beginners can go a long way just performing compound movements.
  • The first program is geared towards complete beginners; there is opportunity for sufficient practice of the fundamental lifts (the squat, bench press, and deadlift) to develop good technique prior to progressing to a more complicated program.
    • While the same exercises are done each day, the rep ranges vary in each session. The lack of variety with exercise selection is made up for by the variety of rep ranges.
  • The second program is also geared towards complete beginners, but instead of being spread over 3 days a week it is divided over 2 days a week. To make up for the loss of training volume by not incorporating a 3rd day there are additional exercises each of these 2 days. There is still sufficient opportunity to practice the fundamental lifts regularly.
  • The third program is also viable for complete beginners. It offers fewer opportunities to practice the same exercises but allows for greater exercise variety. You could easily start with one of the first two programs and then move to the third program after progress stalls.
    • Here as there is greater variability in exercise selection the rep ranges are kept the same for each exercise.
  • The fourth routine includes more variety than the first three. While complete beginners can perform this routine, either with or without the optional isolation exercises, I would generally favor one of the first two programs initially to allow more practice with the primary exercises (the squat, bench press, and deadlift).

3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression and Undulating Periodization

Step 1:

  • Each day there are a specified number of sets and a specified number of reps.
  • Start with a light weight such that you can easily complete the sets at the top of the specified rep ranges.
  • Additionally, videotape at least one set of each exercise each day and watch it to help ensure you are using good technique.
  • Each week increase the load by 5 or 10 pounds.
  • Eventually the sets will become difficult; during this time strive to complete the maximum number of reps in the specified rep range, but stop if you feel your technique is faltering. Videotape these more difficult sets to help identify technique issues to fix.
  • When you cannot complete the specified number of reps for each set proceed to Step 2.
    • To be clear, you are only proceeding to Step 2 for that specific exercise on that specific training day. For example, if you are unable to complete the specified reps on Monday for squats but you complete them on Wednesday for squats, then you go to Step 2 for the Monday squat session but stay at Step 1 for the Wednesday squat session.

Step 2:

  • Keep the weight the same for the following week’s session. Continue to videotape one set of each exercise each day (and watch it) to ensure you are maintaining good technique when you push yourself to or close to failure on these sets.
  • If in the following week’s session you perform more total reps than the prior week’s session:
    • Keep the weight the same each successive weekly session while the total completed reps increases.
    • Increase the weight when you complete the maximum specified number of reps for each set.
  • If at any point you are not able to perform more total reps than the prior week’s session then proceed to Step 3.

Step 3:

  • Keep the weight the same each weekly session. When you are able to add reps or increase the weight, then do so.
  • When you get to a point where for 3 of the 4 exercises there are 2 sessions each week that you do not make any improvements in the weight or total reps, there are two options:
    • Option 1: Take 10% of the weight off the stalled exercises but keep the rep counts the same. This is a good option if you feel you are fatigued; the accumulated fatigue may be holding back further progress. Continue to progress like you did previously; the next 1 or 2 sessions should be easy and allow you to fully recover.
      • Then, if you are able to surpass your prior weights, continue progressing as indicated above.
      • On the other hand, if you are not able to surpass your prior weights, then move to option 2.
    • Option 2: At this point it is likely time to progress to a different program.

The 4 chosen exercises involve the major muscle groups and movement patterns: the squat, the hip hinge, upper body pressing, and upper body pulling. However, if necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I have provided some alternatives below:

  • Squats: if you cannot perform squats with a barbell you can do goblet squats. If you cannot perform any squatting movement you can do leg presses.
  • Barbell bench press: if you cannot perform bench presses with a barbell you can do dumbbell bench presses. If this is not an option you can do a machine chest press.
  • Deadlifts: if you cannot perform deadlifts with a barbell you can do dumbbell deadlifts.
  • Underhand leaning lat pulldowns: this exercise is described in the “Tips regarding this program” tab below. if a lat pulldown machine is not available you can do weighed chin-ups, seated rows, or chest-supported rows.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity each session is likely best.
  • You can work up to high-intensity intervals on resistance training days while progressively increasing the speed of moderate-intensity cardio on Tuesday and Thursday.
  1. This is a straightforward program utilizing:
    • Undulating periodization: you vary the rep ranges throughout the week
    • Linear progression: you add weight and/or reps each workout.
  2. I specifically include underhand leaning lat pulldowns to combine the actions of a chin-up and a rowing movement:
    • Take a chin-up grip on the pulldown bar (or use hammer grip handles).
    • Lean back ~30 degrees prior to performing the first rep.
    • Maintain this torso angle throughout the reps.
    • Aim to pull the bar to your lower chest.
    • Thus, you are functionally performing a hybrid between a high row and a chin-up.
  3. To save time you can perform some of the exercises as circuits or supersets. However, you should perform all of the squats prior to all of the deadlifts. Alternatively, you can perform deadlifts prior to squats but doing squats first will likely be easier. For example, you can do the squats supersetted with the pulldowns and the bench press supersetted with the deadlifts. That said, you should not need to rest much more than 120 seconds between sets regardless of the session. If each set takes ~30 seconds then to complete a full workout should take <60 minutes including time for warming up and the aerobic exercise.

2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression and Undulating Periodization

Follow the progression scheme shown in the “3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression and Undulating Periodization” above. The only difference is when to consider the two options listed in Step 3. Consider these options if you have stalled on two of the top 3 exercises (the squat, barbell bench press, and deadlift) for both weekly sessions for 2 weeks in a row.

As there are more exercises in these sessions it will prove more cumbersome to take a video of one set of each. It is most important that you take video of the squats, barbell bench press, and deadlifts. The rest of the exercises you should be able to feel if they are working in the correct areas of the body. However, if you would like to take video of the remaining exercises that is certainly fine to do.

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I have provided some alternatives below:

  • Squats: choose any squatting movement (ie, front squats, goblet squats) and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press.
  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Lunges: choose step-ups, single leg standing leg press, or hack squats.
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Underhand leaning lat pulldowns: if a lat pulldown machine is not available you can do weighed chin-ups where you lean back, a machine high row, seated rows, or chest-supported rows.
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any non-flat pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Seated rows: choose barbell rows or dumbbell rows.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity each session is likely best.
  • Over time you can work up to incorporating high-intensity intervals; I would consider doing these on Tuesday and Friday while performing moderate-intensity continuous training on Wednesday.
  • However, if your legs are too sore from the resistance training sessions then doing higher-intensity intervals on Wednesday and continuous training on Tuesday and Friday may be a better option.
  • Regardless, as the resistance training workouts are separated from the aerobic training workouts you should not need to worry too much about the interference effect.
  1. This is a straightforward program utilizing several different compound exercises split over two days weekly. Squats, barbell bench presses, and deadlifts are done both days to allow ample opportunity to practice these lifts and develop good technique.
  2. To save time you can perform some of the exercises as circuits or supersets. However, I would complete all of the squats prior to doing deadlifts, lunges, or Bulgarian split squats. I would also complete all of the barbell bench presses before doing standing shoulder presses or incline dumbbell bench presses.
  3. I described how to perform the underhand leaning lat pulldowns in the ‘Tips regarding this program’ section of the “3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression and Undulating Periodization” above.
  4. Since this program is only 2 days a week, when progress stalls you can consider a new program with more training volume (either more sets each day or moving to a 3 day per week option).

3 Day Full Body Program with Alternating Sessions and Linear Progression

Alternate Workout A and Workout B on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday such that:

  • odd-numbered weeks (ie, weeks 1 and 3) you perform Workout A twice
  • even-numbered weeks (ie, weeks 2 and 4) you perform Workout B twice

Follow the progression scheme shown in the “3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression and Undulating Periodization” above. The only difference is when to consider the two options listed in Step 3. Consider these options if you have stalled on 4 or more exercises for 2 weeks in a row for both Workout A and Workout B.

As there are more exercises in these sessions it will prove more cumbersome to take a video of one set of each. It is most important that you take video of the squats, barbell bench press, and deadlifts. The next most important is Romanian deadlifts. The rest of the exercises you should be able to feel if they are working in the correct areas of the body. However, if you would like to take video of the remaining exercises that is certainly fine to do.

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I have provided some alternatives below:

  • Squats: choose any squatting movement (ie, front squats, goblet squats) and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in both sessions.
  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Lat pulldowns: choose weighted pull-ups or a machine high row.
  • Romanian deadlifts: choose stiff-legged deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Seated rows: choose barbell rows or dumbbell rows.
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Machine chest press: choose flat dumbbell bench press, decline bench press, or dips.
  • Chest-supported rows: choose barbell rows or dumbbell rows.
  • Leg press: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any non-flat pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Hip thrusts: choose hyperextensions (focusing on hip flexion/extension while keeping the back straight), Romanian deadlifts, or cable pull throughs.
  • Underhand leaning lat pulldowns: if a lat pulldown machine is not available you can do weighed chin-ups where you lean back, a machine high row, seated rows, or chest-supported rows.
  • Lunges: choose step-ups, single leg standing leg press, or hack squats.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity is likely best.
  • You can work up to high-intensity intervals on resistance training days while progressively increasing the speed of moderate-intensity cardio on Tuesday and Thursday.
  1. This is a straightforward program utilizing:
    • Alternating exercise sessions: this allows greater variety in exercise selection and allows you to perform several different movement patterns to aid muscular development in various ways.
    • Linear progression: you add weight and/or reps each workout.
  2. To save time you can perform some of the exercises as circuits or supersets. For example:
    • squats -> barbell bench press -> lat pulldowns
    • romanian deadlifts -> standing shoulder press -> seated rows
    • deadlifts -> machine chest press -> chest-supported rows
    • leg press -> incline dumbbell bench press -> underhand leaning lat pulldowns
  3. I described how to perform the underhand leaning lat pulldowns in the ‘Tips regarding this program’ section of the “3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression and Undulating Periodization” above.

3 Day Full Body Program with Optional Isolation Exercises and Linear Progression

Here all of the exercises listed above the “Optional” row are compound exercises. I comment on the optional exercises in the next tab.

Follow the progression scheme shown in the “3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression and Undulating Periodization” above. An exception is with push-ups; here you should perform as many as possible while stopping 1 rep shy of failure each time. Otherwise, the only difference is when to consider the two options listed in Step 3:

  • Group the exercises into upper body pushing, upper body pulling, and lower body.
    • Upper body pushing: barbell bench press, incline dumbbell bench press, push-ups, machine chest press, standing shoulder press
    • Upper body pulling: lat pulldowns, seated rows, neutral grip pulldowns, chest-supported rows, underhand leaning lat pulldowns
    • Lower body: squats, Romanian deadlifts, leg press, deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats
  • Consider the options in Step 3 if you have stalled on 3 of the exercises in each of the above groups for 2 weeks in a row.

As there are more exercises in these sessions it will prove more cumbersome to take a video of one set of each. It is most important that you take video of squats, barbell bench press, and deadlifts. The next most important is Romanian deadlifts. The rest of the exercises you should be able to feel if they are working in the correct areas of the body. However, if you would like to take video of the remaining exercises that is certainly fine to do.

All of the exercises listed underneath the “Optional” row are isolation exercises. I comment on how to choose whether to perform these in the ‘Tips regarding this program’ tab below. These are done in alternating fashion:

  • Odd weeks (ie, week 1, week 3, etc): “Isolation A” exercises are done on Monday and Friday and “Isolation B” exercises are done on Wednesday.
  • Even weeks (ie, week 2, week 4, etc): “Isolation B” exercises are done on Monday and Friday and “Isolation A” exercises are done on Wednesday.

Pick a weight where you can perform somewhere between 10-12 reps in each set. The weight can change each set. For an exercise where you cannot pick a weight for this rep range, go with a lighter weight and higher reps. For example, with cable lateral raises:

  • Perhaps you can do 6 reps with 10 pounds and 14 reps with 5 pounds, with there being no option to perform 7.5 pounds.
  • In this case, use 5 pounds each workout and continue to try to increase the total reps you perform.
  • When you become stronger and can perform more reps, periodically attempt the heavier weight to see if you can perform 10 reps.
    • Perhaps when you can do 18 reps with 5 pounds you can then try to get 10 reps with 10 pounds.

If at any point you are not able to increase the rep count with the lighter weight but you still cannot do 10 reps with the heavier weight, there are three primary options:

  • Option 1: adjust the exercise in some way to make it harder. Suggestions:
    • Slow down the tempo of the individual reps.
    • Pause at the point of peak contraction.
      • this is not well-suited for kneeling cable crunches or standing cable twists
      • this can work for lying triceps extensions if you are extending your hands behind your head so the triceps are actively supporting the weight at the completion of the range of motion
      • this can work for incline hammer curls if you make sure not to bring your elbow too far forward at the completion of the rep (doing so will make your forearm perpendicular to the ground; this will take the weight off the biceps and onto the forearm bones and anterior shoulder)
    • If you make the reps more difficult then eventually you will be able to add additional reps when you perform them in an easier fashion again. Consider alternating the more difficult version and the easier version each session.
  • Option 2: use the heavier weight for fewer than 10 reps and then do a drop set where you immediately use a lighter weight to do further reps (so the total reps is at least 10).
  • Option 3: switch the isolation exercise that has stalled for a different one. Suggestions:
    • cable lateral raises: dumbbell lateral raises
    • incline hammer curls: spider curls
    • rear delt cable flys: bent over dumbbell lateral raises
    • lying triceps extensions: triceps pushdowns
    • face pulls: keep these but start pausing for a full second at the point of full contraction
    • standing cable twists: Russian twists
    • leg extensions: keep these but start pausing for a full second at the point of full contraction
    • leg curls: Nordic leg curls
    • hip abduction: pick a different version (ie, if you are doing them with a machine, start doing them standing with your ankle attached to a low pulley)
    • hip adduction: pick a different version (ie, if you are doing them with a machine, start doing them standing with your ankle attached to a low pulley)
    • cable Y raises: keep these but start pausing for a full second at the point of full contraction
    • kneeling cable crunches: hanging leg raises or weighed sit-ups

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I listed some suggestions for the isolation exercises in the prior tab. I have provided some compound exercise alternatives below:

  • Squats: choose any squatting movement (ie, front squats, goblet squats) and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in both sessions.
  • Romanian deadlifts: choose stiff-legged deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Lat pulldowns: choose weighted pull-ups or a machine high row.
  • Seated rows: choose barbell rows or dumbbell rows.
  • Leg press: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any non-flat pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Push-ups: choose flat dumbbell bench press.
  • Neutral grip pulldowns: choose underhand pulldowns or a machine high row.
  • Chest-supported rows: choose barbell rows or dumbbell rows.
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Machine chest press: choose flat dumbbell bench press, decline bench press, or dips.
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Underhand leaning lat pulldowns: if a lat pulldown machine is not available you can do weighed chin-ups where you lean back, a machine high row, seated rows, or chest-supported rows.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity is likely best.
  • You can work up to high-intensity intervals on resistance training days while progressively increasing the speed of moderate-intensity cardio on Tuesday and Thursday.
  1. Without the optional isolation exercises this is a straightforward resistance training program incorporating a large variety of exercises and linear progression.
  2. You can choose to perform the optional isolation exercises if you would like. I recommend that you do not do this if you are new to resistance training, or at least not initially. Give yourself time to get acclimated to the compound exercises. Once you are at a point where you have to push yourself pretty hard on the compound exercises you can gauge if you are recovering well prior to the subsequent session. If so, then you are in a good position to incorporate the optional isolation exercises, though this is still not necessary. Alternatively, if you feel comfortable with the compound exercises from prior training experience you can begin the isolation exercises at any point in time.
  3. You can perform the compound and isolation exercises in separate supersets or circuits to save time.
  4. I described how to perform the underhand leaning lat pulldowns in the ‘Tips regarding this program’ section of the “3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression and Undulating Periodization” above.
  5. Since you perform each exercise only once per week there is not a lot of frequency to practice the exercises. If there are certain exercises that you feel you need to perform twice a week to ensure you maintain good technique you can do ≥1 warm-up set(s) for those exercises on the training days that do not include them. This will likely only be needed at most for the squats, barbell bench press, and deadlifts.

Summary of the simple full body routines

These are straightforward programs designed for technique development while also generating initial neuromuscular adaptations in a variety of rep ranges and/or movement patterns. By the end of these programs:

  • You should be considerably stronger than when you started.
  • You should feel comfortable that you have good technique with these lifts. Additionally, you should be able to push yourself hard in a set close to failure with enough self-awareness to realize when your form is breaking down.
    • Videotaping the harder sets and watching how your technique changes throughout these sets is key for this purpose.

More complex full body routines

In this section I will go over 3 example full body routines that follow more complex progression strategies. These routines would be good options after progress stalls with the routines listed above. Some basic points for these programs:

  • There are 2, 3, and 4 days a week options.
  • Each program follows a similar model though higher training frequency allows greater variety. Compound exercises are treated distinctly from isolation exercises; there are no isolation exercises in the 2 days a week option.
  • Compound exercises:
    • You will need to look at the “Progression with compound exercises” tabs below for a full description. However, the basic components include:
      • All of these start off as simple linear progression with weight added each session.
        • Remember, the program will say to increase the weight by 5 pounds but if you have microplates you can use smaller increments.
      • Subsequently, they incorporate RIR-based autoregulation when linear progression is no longer possible. Additionally, this phase incorporates “technical failure” sets for each compound exercise when needed to ensure that you are using autoregulation correctly.
      • Lastly, when progress stalls some of them incorporate linear periodization for greater variety and to work towards maximal strength increases.
    • These programs thus accomplish several goals with the compound exercises:
      • They allow sufficient practice with lighter weights to develop good technique.
      • Additionally, rapid gains in strength occur due to neuromuscular adaptations in the linear progression phase.
        • This is true even if you did the above programs as here you will train in lower rep ranges at times.
      • Subsequently, the autoregulation component provides several opportunities to refine your ability to accurately estimate your RIR. This makes autoregulation as a whole a more useful tool.
      • Finally, the linear periodization component includes variable rep ranges and allows you to build maximal strength. This may also re-sensitize your muscles to higher rep ranges if you decide to restart the program from the beginning when you are done.
    • If periodization is not appealing you can alternatively choose to simply do the programs as written in the images. In this case you should take each compound exercise set to a RIR = 1-2. Then, increase the weight when you get to the top of a rep range with RIR ≥2. This will eliminate the linear periodization component but these will still prove to be effective programs.
  • Isolation exercises:
    • I have written the programs such that 1 set of each isolation exercise is performed with myo-reps. Myo-reps were discussed in the last lesson but I provide an explanation  in the ‘Progression with isolation exercises’ tab below.
      • I note these as “1*12-15 +2M” to imply you will want to pick a weight where you can get at least 12-15 reps in the first set and then perform at least 2 mini-sets. It is ok to pick a weight where you can do 15-20 reps in the first set as this is more in line with the original description of myo-reps.
    • Alternatively, you can perform 2 sets of each isolation exercise with 10-15 reps and take these sets to a RIR = 1. Then, increase the weight when you get to the top of the rep range with a RIR = ≥1.

2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization

an example 2 day per week full body gym routine using linear progression and linear periodization

Step 1:

  • Follow the above program as written starting with light weights.
  • In the first session the weights should be light enough that you can complete the top of the rep range for all sets with a RIR >2.
  • Add 5 or 10 pounds to each exercise each session.
  • When you can no longer complete the top of the rep range with a RIR >2, move to Step 2 for that specific exercise.

Step 2:

  • Continue performing the maximum number of reps (within the specified rep range) for each set while taking all sets to a RIR ≥2.
  • If you have to do the lower portion of the rep range to keep the sets at RIR ≥2 that is fine. For example:
    • the first set of squats you may do 8 reps to a RIR = 3
    • the second set you may do 8 reps to a RIR = 2
    • the final set you may do 7 reps to a RIR = 2
  • Add 5 pounds each session.
  • When you can no longer stay within the rep range with a RIR ≥2, move to Step 3 for that specific exercise.

Step 3:

  • Keep the weight the same for the following session but this time take the final set to technical failure and videotape this set.
  • Say out loud your estimated RIR after each rep once you start to approach failure.
  • Ensure you have a spotter or appropriate set-up as necessary for safety purposes.
  • The purpose of this set is to help you assess the accuracy of your RIR prediction:
    • If you realize that your RIR prediction was inaccurate and what you thought was RIR = 1 was actually higher, go back to Step 2.
      • For example, the rep range for squats initially is 6-8. If on the last set you did 5 reps and thought you were at a RIR = 1 last workout, but this time you do 7 reps for the technical failure set to a RIR = 0, then you are actually at RIR = 2 when you perform 5 reps.
      • Therefore, assuming you did not get stronger from last session to this session, you underestimated your RIR by 1.
        • It is possible you did indeed get stronger since the last session, in which case in this example you previously estimated your RIR correctly and you can do 1 more rep now because you are stronger. Since you have gotten stronger, go back to Step 2.
    • Alternatively, if you realize that your RIR prediction was accurate and you really are at RIR = 1 (or RIR = 0), proceed to Step 4.

Step 4:

  • If the exercise initially called for 3*6-8, now transition to 4*4-6.
  • If the exercise initially called for 2*10-12, now transition to 2*8-10.
  • Keep the weight the same, which means the first workout with these lower rep ranges should be fairly easy and sets may again go to a RIR ≥2.
  • Continue the progression as you did from Step 1 (including the technical failure sets) except at this point only increase by 5 pounds each session on each exercise.
  • When you again can no longer stay within the rep range with a RIR ≥2, proceed to Step 5.

Step 5:

  • If you were performing 4*4-6, transition to 5*2-4.
  • If you were performing 2*8-10, transition to 3*6-8.
  • Continue the progression as you did from Step 1 (including the technical failure sets) except only increase by 5 pounds each session on each exercise.
  • When you again can no longer stay within the rep range with a RIR ≥2, proceed to Step 6.

Step 6:

  • At this point you can choose to follow a different program, or you can choose to run this program again. The following assumes you want to run this program again.
  • Restart the program with the initial set-up (3*6-8 and 2*10-12).
  • Look at the final weights you were using with these set & rep ranges initially, take 5-10% off of this, and use these as the beginning weights. This should allow the first week to be easy and aid recovery from the heavier lifting done at the end of the prior iteration of this program.
  • Continue the progression as you did from Step 1 (including the technical failure sets).
  • When you can no longer stay within the rep range with a RIR ≥2, compare your current weights with the weights you used for the same set/rep ranges the prior time you ran this program:
    • If the weights are higher then you are making progress and you can continue with this program.
    • If the weights are not higher there are two primary options:
      • Continue the program but start taking sets to a RIR ≥1 instead of ≥2.
      • Change to a different program.
        • At the end of this lesson I discuss considerations for changing a program when progress stalls.

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I have provided some alternatives below:

  • Squats: choose any squatting movement and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in both sessions.
  • Romanian deadlifts: choose stiff-legged deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Lat pulldowns: choose weighted pull-ups or a machine high row.
  • Seated rows: choose chest-supported rows or barbell rows.
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Leg presses: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • Dips: choose decline bench press or any non-dumbbell flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, weighted push-ups).
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any incline pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Weighted chin-ups: choose neutral grip or underhand grip lat pulldowns with your hands closer together.
  • Dumbbell rows: choose one-armed seated rows or one-armed pulldowns where you lean back during the set.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity each session is likely best.
  • Over time you can work up to incorporating high-intensity intervals; I would consider doing these on Tuesday and Friday while performing moderate-intensity continuous training on Wednesday.
  • However, if your legs are too sore from the resistance training sessions then doing higher-intensity intervals on Wednesday and continuous training on Tuesday and Friday may be a better option.
  • Regardless, as the resistance training workouts are separated from the aerobic training workouts you should not need to worry too much about the interference effect.
  1. Each exercise can progress at its own independent rate. For example, you can move to 4*4-6 for squats while still using 3*6-8 for barbell bench presses.
  2. When performing the maximal number of sets for each exercise this may include a total of 24 sets in a single session. For the lowest rep ranges you will probably want to rest at least 2 minutes between each set. For the higher rep ranges you may be able to rest only 60-90 seconds. If each heavier set itself takes 30 seconds to perform, then not including warm-up sets and transition time between exercises these workouts can still take ~1 hour. Including warm up sets and transitioning between exercises these workouts may take close to 90 minutes when doing 24 sets. Thus, you may want to perform these exercises in a circuit if possible in a gym setting. For example:
    • Squats -> barbell bench press -> lat pulldowns, then Romanian deadlifts -> standing shoulder press -> seated rows
    • Deadlifts -> dips -> weighted chin-ups, then leg press -> incline dumbbell bench press -> dumbbell rows
  3. Since you perform each exercise only once per week there is not a lot of frequency to practice the exercises. If there are certain exercises that you feel you need to perform twice a week to ensure you maintain good technique you can do ≥1 warm-up set(s) for those exercises on the training day that does not include them. This will likely only be needed at most for the squats, barbell bench press, and deadlifts.

3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization

This applies to the first four exercises of each session. Follow the progression as written for the “2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation and Linear Periodization” above. There is only one alteration; in this program more rep ranges are used. Thus, when you are ready to alter the set and rep scheme the transitions should include:

  • 3*6-8 -> 4*4-6 -> 5*2-4
  • 2*10-12 -> 2*8-10 -> 3*6-8
  • 2*12-15 -> 2*10-12 -> 2*8-10

The following applies to the last two exercises of each session (these are all isolation exercises). This is a myo-reps approach, described in Lesson 13.

Step 1:

  • Initially choose a weight where you can perform 15 reps with a RIR ≥2.
  • Perform 15 reps for this activation set.
  • Take 5 deep breaths.
  • Immediately perform a mini-set aiming for 5 reps, but stop at <5 reps if you reach a RIR = 1 at an earlier point in the mini-set.
  • Take 5 deep breaths.
  • Immediately perform a second mini-set aiming for 5 reps but stop at <5 reps if you reach a RIR = 0 at an earlier point in the mini-set.
    • If this second mini-set is done to the same number of reps as the first, then continue in this fashion until you either complete 5 mini-sets with the same number of reps or you perform fewer reps on a mini-set than on the first mini-set (if this occurs then you should not perform further mini-sets).
    • If you get fewer reps with this second mini-set than the first then you should not perform any further mini-sets.
  • Until you are able to perform 5 reps in each of 5 mini-sets you should keep the weight the same for the following session.
  • When you are able to perform 5 reps in each of 5 mini-sets then move to Step 2.

Step 2:

  • Increase the weight by the smallest possible increment in the next session. This may be 5 or 10 pounds for most of the listed exercises.
  • Repeat step 1 but this time you may not be able to complete 15 reps with a RIR ≥2 in the first set. If this is the case then perform as many reps as you can until you reach a RIR = 1.
    • If you cannot perform 12 reps then this weight is too heavy and you should go back to the lighter weight. Then start again from Step 1 but keep the lighter weight until you can perform 20 reps with the activation set prior to 5 mini-sets with 5 reps.
  • Perform the mini-sets similar to Step 1.
  • Keep the weight the same each session until you can perform 15 reps in the first set and 5 reps in each of the mini-sets.
  • Then repeat from the beginning of Step 2.
  • If you have two workouts in a row where you do not increase either the weight or the reps, move to Step 3.

Step 3:

  • You have two primary options now, and you can choose the same for each exercise or vary based on your preferences:
    • Option 1: adjust the exercise in some way and continue with step 2. Suggestions:
      • Slow down the eccentric phase of the reps.
      • Pause at the point of peak contraction.
        • this is particularly well-suited for face pulls, leg extension, leg curls, and lateral raises
        • this can work for lying tricep extensions if you are extending your hands behind your head so the triceps are actively supporting the weight at the completion of the range of motion
        • this can work for incline hammer curls if you make sure not to bring your elbow too far forward at the completion of the rep (doing so will make your forearm perpendicular to the ground; this will take the weight off the biceps and onto the forearm bones and anterior shoulder)
      • If you make the reps more difficult then eventually you will be able to add additional reps when you perform them in an easier fashion again. Consider alternating the more difficult version and the easier version each session.
    • Option 2: switch the isolation exercises and continue with Step 2. Suggestions:
      • leg curls: Nordic leg curls
      • lying triceps extensions: triceps pushdowns
      • incline hammer curls: spider curls
      • lateral raises: leaning cable lateral raises
      • leg extensions: other than sissy squats there will not be a great replacement for leg extensions so you may want to continue doing leg extensions and alter them in some way as described in Option 1
      • face pulls: cable Y raises

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I listed some suggestions for the isolation exercises in the prior tab. Suggestions for the compound exercises include:

  • Squats: choose any squatting movement and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in two sessions.
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: choose Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any non-flat pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Lat pulldowns: choose weighted pull-ups or a machine high row.
  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Seated rows: choose chest-supported rows or barbell rows.
  • Hip thrusts: choose hyperextensions (focusing on hip flexion/extension while keeping the back straight), Romanian deadlifts, or cable pull throughs.
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Weighted chin-ups: choose neutral grip or underhand grip lat pulldowns with your hands closer together.
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Leg press: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity each session is likely best.
  • The three resistance training days now include 10 minutes of aerobic exercise. This is likely not long enough to elicit a significant interference effect.
  • However, you may find that certain types of cardio (ie, rowing with high resistance) are significantly more difficult when fatigued than when fresh. You can choose different aerobic training modalities each session based on how sore or fatigued you are if desired.
  • Additionally, with only 10 minutes of aerobic training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it makes sense to incorporate higher intensity cardiovascular activity during this time. This can include 10 minutes at a constant, relatively high-intensity pace or several intervals (ie, 1 minute at high-intensity, 30 seconds at low-intensity, and repeat for 10 minutes).
  • Be careful if you have not performed high-intensity aerobic training recently; in this case it makes more sense to start with low-intensity cardio and gradually increase the intensity each session as tolerated.
  • The tips for the “2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above apply here as well. However, the workouts will not be as long and thus performing exercises as a circuit will not save as much time.
  • As indicated above, if you prefer to perform 2 sets of isolation exercises (similar to the “3 Day Full Body Program with Optional Isolation Exercises and Linear Progression” above) instead of myo-reps that is fine.

4 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization

This applies to the first four exercises of the Monday and Thursday sessions. Follow the progression as written for the “2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above. There is only one alteration; in this program more rep ranges are used. When you are ready to alter the set and rep scheme the transitions should include:

  • 3*6-8 -> 4*4-6 -> 5*2-4
  • 2*8-10 -> 3*6-8 -> 4*4-6
  • 2*10-12 -> 2*8-10 -> 3*6-8
  • 2*12-15 -> 2*10-12 -> 2*8-10

The following applies to the first four exercises on the Tuesday and Friday sessions.

Step 1:

  • Take both sets to a RIR = 2. Attempt to pick a weight where you will finish each set somewhere in the specified rep range (with RIR = 2); you can change the weight for the second set if needed.
  • If you perform more reps than the top of the rep range you should increase the weight for the next session.
  • Alternatively, if you perform fewer reps than the bottom of the rep range you should decrease the weight for the next session.
  • On the other hand, if your rep count is within the rep range then keep the weight the same the following session.
  • After the first couple of sessions of trial and error the weight and/or reps of the first set should increase each session.
    • There is one big, important exception here:
      • Since you are training similar muscle groups the day prior, you may not progress with reps or weight if you are fatigued from the prior session.
      • If this is the case you should be able to feel while warming up that you are more fatigued/sore as the warm-up sets will not be as easy as they typically are and/or you will feel significant soreness while warming up.
        • If you seem to be fatigued without significant soreness you should still take the sets to the specified RIR, even if this falls below the specified rep range, and you should keep the weight the same for the following session.
        • However, if you seem to be fatigued with significant soreness (not just mild soreness), then you should skip the exercise(s) involving the significantly sore muscle groups on Tuesday and Friday. This applies to compound and isolation exercises. As you continue to gain training experience (and remain consistent) soreness will diminish and this will become less of a problem as time goes on.
  • When you reach a session where the weight or reps do not go up on the 1st set of the exercise (relative to the prior session), and you do not believe this is due to fatigue from the prior day’s session (as evidenced by the warm-up sets feeling good and a lack of significant soreness), proceed to step 2.

Step 2:

  • Take the 2nd set of the exercise to technical failure using the same weight as you used in the last session for the second set. When doing this:
    • Videotape this set.
    • Say out loud your estimated RIR after each rep once you start to approach failure.
    • Ensure you have a spotter or appropriate set-up as necessary for safety purposes.
  • The purpose of this set is to help you assess the accuracy of your RIR prediction:
    • If you realize that your RIR prediction was inaccurate and what you thought was RIR = 2 was actually higher, then go back to Step 1.
    • If you realize that your RIR prediction was accurate and you really are at RIR = 2 (or RIR = 0 or 1), then proceed to Step 3.
      • It is possible you will find that your RIR prediction was accurate but this session you are actually stronger than the last session with the second set but not the first. For example:
        • Perhaps last session and this session you did 10 reps on the first set of seated rows with 100 pounds to a RIR = 2.
        • Last time on the second set you used 90 pounds and did 10 reps to a RIR = 2.
        • This session you do 90 pounds for the technical failure set and you do 13 reps to a RIR = 0.
          • This means you have gotten 1 rep stronger on the second set (since this set would have been to a RIR = 3 if you stopped at 10 reps).
        • If this occurs you should still proceed to Step 3 since progress has slowed considerably at this point.

Step 3:

  • Restart with Step 1 but take all sets to a RIR = 1 instead of a RIR = 2.
  • Continue until you once again stall with any progression for 2 sessions in a row and the technical failure set shows that you are not underestimating your RIR. Proceed to Step 4.

Step 4:

  • Take the goal rep range of each set down by 3 reps:
    • 2*12-15 becomes 2*9-12
    • 2*10-12 becomes 2*7-9
    • 2*8-10 becomes 2*5-7
  • Take each set to a RIR = 2.
  • Then repeat this entire progression from Step 1 with these new rep ranges, including the technical failure sets and taking the RIR from 2 to 1 when progress stalls initially.
  • When you again stagnate for 2 sessions in a row with RIR = 1 and the technical failure set shows you are not underestimating your RIR, proceed to Step 5.

Step 5:

  • You can now go back to the initial set and rep ranges (2*12-15 or 2*10-12 or 2*8-10).
  • Additionally, if desired, you can change the exercises to variations of similar movements (see the ‘Exercise alternatives’ tab below).

The last 4 exercises on the Monday and Thursday sessions and the last 7 exercises on the Tuesday and Friday sessions are isolation exercises. Follow the progression as written for isolation exercises in the “3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodizaiton” above.

For Step 3, there are additional considerations since there are new isolation exercises in this 4 day program:

  • Pausing at the point of peak contraction:
    • this is particularly well-suited for cable lateral raises, face pulls, hip abduction, hip adduction, leg extensions, leg curls, and standing calf raises
    • this is not well-suited for kneeling cable crunches or Russian twists
    • this can work for lying triceps extensions if you are extending your hands behind your head so the triceps are actively supporting the weight at the completion of the range of motion
    • this can work for incline hammer curls if you make sure not to bring your elbow too far forward at the completion of the rep (doing so will make your forearm perpendicular to the ground; this will take the weight off the biceps and onto the forearm bones and anterior shoulder)
  • Switching the isolation exercises:
    • cable lateral raises: dumbbell lateral raises
    • face pulls: cable Y raises
    • hip adduction: choose a different variation (ie, seated in a machine vs standing with a low pulley attached to your ankle)
    • hip abduction: choose a different variation (ie, seated in a machine vs standing with a low pulley attached to your ankle)
    • incline hammer curls: spider curls
    • lying triceps extensions: triceps pushdowns
    • lateral raises: leaning cable lateral raises
    • leg extensions: other than sissy squats there will not be a great replacement for leg extensions so you may want to continue doing leg extensions while altering them in some way (ie, with a pause at the point of peak contraction)
    • leg curls: Nordic leg curls
    • kneeling cable crunches: weighted sit-ups
    • Russian twists: standing cable twists
    • Standing calf raises: choose a different calf raise variant if there is another option available, otherwise continue this exercise

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I listed some suggestions for the isolation exercises in the prior tab. Suggestions for the compound exercises include:

  • Squats: choose any squatting movement and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in two sessions.
  • Weighted chin-ups: choose neutral grip or underhand grip lat pulldowns with your hands closer together.
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: choose Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Dips: choose decline bench press or any non-dumbbell flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, weighted push-ups).
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Seated rows: choose chest-supported rows or barbell rows.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any incline pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Hyperextensions: choose the back extension machine or good mornings (with weight or a band).
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Leg press: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • Lat pulldowns: choose weighted pull-ups or a machine high row.
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Chest-supported rows: choose dumbbell rows or barbell rows.
  • Step-ups: choose lunges or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Hip thrusts: choose hyperextensions (focusing on hip flexion/extension while keeping the back straight), Romanian deadlifts, or cable pull throughs.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity each session is likely best.
  • The four resistance training days include 15 minutes of aerobic exercise. This is likely not long enough to elicit a significant interference effect.
  • However, you may find that certain types of cardio (ie, rowing with high resistance) are significantly more difficult when fatigued than when fresh. You can choose different aerobic training modalities each session based on how sore or fatigued you are if desired.
  • Additionally, keep in mind there are resistance workouts on two days in a row (Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday). Thus, it makes sense to go a bit easier on the Monday/Thursday cardio sessions if you feel that pushing the intensity higher will interfere with recovery. Start with lower intensity and if you are recovering well then gradually increase the intensity as tolerated.
  • Consider working up towards higher-intensity cardiovascular activity on the resistance training days as they include only 15 minutes of aerobic training. This can include 15 minutes at a constant, relatively high-intensity pace or several intervals (ie, 1 minute at high-intensity, 30 seconds at low-intensity, and repeat for 15 minutes).
  • Be careful if you have not performed high-intensity aerobic training recently; in this case it makes more sense to start with low-intensity cardio and gradually increase the intensity each session as tolerated.
  1. The tips for the “2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above apply here as well.
  2. A big difference here is that there are resistance training sessions on consecutive days that work similar muscle groups and movement patterns. I have purposefully included enough variety in the exercises that this will be ok. Additionally, the progression scheme for the Tuesday and Friday sessions is separate from the Monday and Thursday sessions (for the compounds exercises) to help account for this. You may feel some soreness in your muscles while working them out on the second consecutive day but as long as there is no significant soreness this is not detrimental. However, it is important to start with light weights initially to help acclimate your body to training on consecutive days prior to progressing to heavier rep ranges.
    • As indicated in the progression scheme for the Tuesday and Friday compound exercises, if there actually is significant soreness then you should skip the specific exercises involving the sore muscle groups on Tuesday and Friday. This includes both compound and isolation exercises.
  3. If you are willing to workout on the weekends then you have a couple of options if the idea of training muscles on consecutive days is not appealing:
    • You can add a rest day. Perform the sessions in the same order but on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Shift the aerobic exercise sessions accordingly. Now you will workout on consecutive days only once.
    • You can instead shift this to an 8 day cycle, instead of a weekly cycle. Thus, you will initially perform the sessions on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Then you will rest the next Monday and perform the sessions on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and the following Monday. Then rest Tuesday and start again on Wednesday.

Summary of the more complex full body routines

These routines provide viable options for beginners and non-beginners to train the full body every workout session. For individuals who may miss a gym session every now and then a full body routine is a good option; this helps ensure you do not go unnecessarily long between training sessions for the same muscle groups. Additionally, full body routines provide significant variety and plenty of opportunities to make alterations if desired.

There can be some downsides to full body routines as well:

  • Fatigue from one session may impact a subsequent session.
  • You may find yourself spending excessive time warming up for the large variety of exercises in each session.
  • It is more difficult to spend significant time focusing or specializing on specific muscle groups or movement patterns. This becomes problematic if you wish to incorporate training for specific goals (ie, performing a pull-up for the first time).
  • As you become more advanced and need (or would like) to incorporate greater training volume, it is harder to do this with full body routines without them taking too long.

A way around this is to split up full body training into distinct sessions throughout the week. In the next section I will provide examples of different split routines to illustrate this.


Split routines

In this section I will go over various split routines. Some basic points for these programs:

  • There are 4 different split routines included here as general examples:
    • An upper/lower split where the upper body and lower body muscle groups are trained on separate days. This includes 4 total training days weekly.
    • An anterior/posterior split where the “anterior” muscle groups (chest, anterior/lateral shoulders, triceps, abdominals, quadriceps, anterior lower leg) and the “posterior” muscle groups (back, rear shoulders, biceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves) are trained on separate days. This includes 4 total training days weekly.
      • Technically the biceps are on the front of the body and the triceps are on the back of the body but training the biceps with the back and training the triceps with the chest and anterior shoulders is more logical.
    • A push/pull/lower/upper/lower split where the upper body pushing, upper body pulling, lower body, full upper body, and lower body muscle groups are trained on separate days. This includes 5 total training days weekly.
    • A push/pull/lower split where the upper body pushing, upper body pulling, and lower body muscle groups are trained on separate days. This includes 6 total training days weekly.
  • To be clear, most individuals can make great progress with <5 resistance training sessions each week. I am including the last two routines as examples.
    • Additionally, when you have more training days and less time for rest systemic fatigue, soreness, and minor injuries can accumulate. When training frequently it is important to listen to your body carefully. If soreness, pain, or fatigue seems to build excessively then training less days weekly may be more beneficial.
      • As one example, the elbow joint can receive stress with the lower body day (if doing low bar squats), with the pushing day (if doing dips and triceps isolation exercises), and with the pulling day (if doing pull-ups). Some people will have no issue with this but others will develop elbow pain when stressing the joint 6 days a week.
  • All of these programs include compound and isolation exercises.
  • The compound exercises largely follow a similar structure to the full body programs in some of these examples. In the final 2 examples there are some compound exercises that follow a volume ramping protocol; this adds a new element for greater variety.
    • It is not necessary to utilize this volume ramping component; see the ‘Tips regarding this program’ section for alternatives when it is used.
  • The isolation exercises here are written as regular sets without myo-reps. However, myo-reps could be included if desired.

4 Day Upper/Lower Split with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization

an example of a 4 day upper/lower split with linear progression, autoregulation, and linear periodization

This applies to the first 4 exercises of each session. Follow the progression as written for the “2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above. There is only one alteration; in this program more rep ranges are used. When you are ready to alter the set and rep scheme the transitions should include:

  • 3*6-8 -> 4*4-6 -> 5*2-4
  • 2*8-10 -> 3*6-8 -> 4*4-6
  • 2*10-12 -> 2*8-10 -> 3*6-8
  • 2*12-15 -> 2*10-12 -> 2*8-10

All of the isolation exercises in this program are written as 2 sets of 10-12 reps. You can instead choose to do the myo-reps variation shown in the “3 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above, but if you wish to proceed with 2 sets of 10-12 reps then do so as follows:

Step 1:

  • Pick a light weight initially where you can perform 12 reps with a RIR >2 on both sets.
  • The purpose of this is to help you establish good technique and minimize soreness when starting new exercise movements.
  • If you feel your technique is good, increase the weight by the smallest increment possible (generally 5-10 pounds) for the next session.
  • Continue performing 2 sets of 10-12 reps to a RIR ≥1 and increase the weight by the smallest increment possible until you are unable to achieve 10 reps in one of the sets with a RIR ≥1. Then proceed to Step 2.

Step 2:

  • At this point the weight is too heavy to stay in the specified rep range of 10-12 while taking sets to a RIR ≥1. This can easily happen with isolation exercises that use smaller muscle groups; even a small increment in weight can make a big difference in the number of reps one can perform.
  • Thus, go back to the lighter weight where you were able to perform 10-12 reps to a RIR ≥1 and stay at this weight for multiple sessions in a row, aiming to increase the rep count further beyond 12.
  • Continue keeping the weight the same until you are able to perform 16 reps in a set to a RIR ≥1. Proceed to Step 3.

Step 3:

  • Increase the weight by the smallest increment possible and attempt to perform 10 reps.
    • If you are able to do so:
      • Increase the rep range goal from 10-16. Continue keeping the weight the same each session until you perform 16 reps on the first set to a RIR ≥1. At this point you should increase the weight again and aim for ≥10 reps.
    • If you are not able to do so:
      • If you can perform ≥6 reps then increase the rep range goal from 6-16. Continue keeping the weight the same each session until you can perform ≥16 reps on the first set to a RIR ≥ 1. At this point you should increase the weight again and aim for ≥ 6 reps.
      • If you cannot perform ≥6 reps then increase the rep range goal to 6-20 reps. Go back to the lighter weight you used previously. Then, keep the weight the same each session until you can perform ≥20 reps to a RIR ≥1. At this point you should increase the weight again and aim for ≥6 reps.
        • It is very unlikely you will be able to perform 20 reps with a RIR ≥1 and not be able to perform ≥6 reps when you increase the weight by the smallest increment possible. If this does occur, then change the rep goal to 6-25 and proceed as above.
  • Whenever your progress stagnates for 2 sessions in a row where you do not increase the weight or the reps, proceed to Step 4.

Step 4:

  • You have several options now, and you can choose the same for each exercise or vary based on your preferences:
    • Option 1: adjust the exercise in some way to add difficulty to the reps. Suggestions:
      • Slow down the eccentric phase of the reps.
      • Pause at the point of peak contraction.
        • this is particularly well-suited for cable lateral raises, low pulley curls, face pulls, leg extensions, leg curls, hip abduction and hip adduction
        • this is not well-suited for kneeling cable crunches or Russian twists
        • this can work for lying triceps extensions if you are extending your hands behind your head so the triceps are actively supporting the weight at the completion of the range of motion
      • If you make the reps more difficult then eventually you will be able to add additional reps when you perform them in an easier fashion again. Consider alternating the more difficult version and the easier version each session.
    • Option 2: switch the isolation exercises and go back to Step 1. Suggestions include:
      • cable lateral raises: dumbbell lateral raises
      • low pulley curls: incline hammer curls
      • face pulls: cable Y raises
      • lying triceps extensions: triceps pushdowns
      • leg extensions: other than sissy squats there will not be a great replacement for leg extensions so you may want to continue doing leg extensions and alter them in some way as described in Option 1
      • leg curls: Nordic leg curls
      • hip abduction: choose a different variation (ie, seated in a machine vs standing with a low pulley attached to your ankle)
      • hip adduction: choose a different variation (ie, seated in a machine vs standing with a low pulley attached to your ankle)
      • kneeling cable crunches: weighted sit-ups
      • Russian twists: standing cable twists

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I listed some suggestions for the isolation exercises in the prior tab. Suggestions for the compound exercises include:

  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Weighted chin-ups: choose neutral grip or underhand grip lat pulldowns with your hands closer together.
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Seated rows: choose chest-supported rows or barbell rows.
  • Dips: choose decline bench press or any non-dumbbell flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, weighted push-ups).
  • Lat pulldowns: choose weighted pull-ups or a machine high row.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any incline pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Dumbbell rows: choose one-armed seated rows or one-armed pulldowns where you lean back during the set.
  • Squats: choose any squatting movement and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in both sessions.
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: choose Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Lunges: choose step-ups, single leg standing leg press, or hack squats.
  • Hyperextensions: choose the back extension machine or good mornings (with weight or a band).
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Leg press: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • Hip thrusts: choose hyperextensions (focusing on hip flexion/extension while keeping the back straight), Romanian deadlifts, or cable pull throughs.
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • The same considerations in the “4 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above apply here.
  • You may find it easier to push yourself harder on interval training on Monday and Thursday when the upper body is trained as opposed to Tuesday and Friday after the lower body is trained.
  • You can purposefully do high-intensity intervals on Monday and Thursday and moderate-to-high intensity continuous training on Tuesday and Friday with slower moderate-intensity continuous training on Wednesday.
  1. Each exercise can progress at its own independent rate. For example, you can move to 4*4-6 for squats while still using 3*6-8 for barbell bench presses.
  2. With the upper and lower body split into separate sessions these workouts will likely be quicker than full body workouts as you will not need to warm-up as much for each exercise.
  3. You can choose to superset the upper body pressing and pulling exercises to save time.
  4. Performing the isolation exercises in a circuit will save considerable time.

4 Day Anterior/Posterior Split with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization

This applies to the first 4 exercises of each session on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and the first 5 exercises on Friday. Follow the progression as written for the “2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above. There is only one alteration; in this program more rep ranges are used. When you are ready to alter the set and rep scheme the transitions should include:

  • 3*6-8 -> 4*4-6 -> 5*2-4
  • 2*8-10 -> 3*6-8 -> 4*4-6
  • 2*10-12 -> 2*8-10 -> 3*6-8
  • 2*12-15 -> 2*10-12 -> 2*8-10

Follow the progression scheme shown in the “4 Day Upper/Lower Split with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above. There are only two exceptions:

  • Hanging leg raises: these can be fairly difficult to do well even with just body weight so attempt to do at least 6 reps. If you cannot perform at least 6 reps then choose a different exercise such as weighted sit-ups.
  • Nordic leg curls: the difficulty of these varies based on the amount of support you provide yourself with your arms. This exercise is better suited to a lower rep range as it is inherently difficult. If you cannot perform at least 4 reps with good form even with assistance then do regular leg curls instead.

Otherwise, suggested alternative for the isolation exercises include:

  • Cable lateral raises and dumbbell lateral raises: choose upright rows, do the cable laterals while leaning, or focus on the top portion of the dumbbell lateral raises.
  • Lying triceps extensions and triceps pushdowns: choose overhead triceps extensions or triceps kickbacks.
  • Reverse calf raises: choose a resisted dorisflexion movement.
  • Kneeling cable crunches, hanging leg raises, standing cable twists, Russian twists: choose other core exercise variations listed previously in Lesson 12.
  • Leg curls: choose a different variation (ie, seated vs lying vs standing).
  • Incline hammer curls and spider curls: choose EZ bar curls or low pulley curls.
  • Standing calf raises: choose seated calf raises if possible and alternate these with the standing version.
  • Cable rear delt flys: choose bent over lateral raises.
  • Leg extensions, face pulls, and cable Y raises: it is likely best to keep these specific exercises and alter them in some way (ie, pause at the point of peak contraction).

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I listed some suggestions for the isolation exercises in the prior tab. Suggestions for the compound exercises include:

  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Front squats: choose hack squats or goblet squats.
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Leg press: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Weighted chin-ups: choose neutral grip or underhand grip lat pulldowns with your hands closer together.
  • Seated rows: choose chest-supported rows or barbell rows.
  • Hyperextensions: choose the back extension machine or good mornings (with weight or a band).
  • Back squats: choose any squatting movement and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in both sessions.
  • Dips: choose decline bench press or any non-dumbbell flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, weighted push-ups).
  • Lunges: choose step-ups, single leg standing leg press, or hack squats.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any non-flat pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: choose Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Chest-supported rows: choose dumbbell rows or barbell rows.
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Lat pulldowns: choose weighted pull-ups or a machine high row.
  • Hip thrusts: choose hyperextensions (focusing on hip flexion/extension while keeping the back straight), Romanian deadlifts, or cable pull throughs.
  • The same considerations in the “4 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above apply here.
  1. Each exercise can progress at its own independent rate. For example, you can move to 4*4-6 for back squats while still using 3*6-8 for barbell bench presses.
  2. You can choose to superset the upper body and lower body exercises within each session to save time.
  3. Performing the isolation exercises in a circuit will save considerable time.
  4. You can add in hip abduction and hip adduction to the posterior sessions if you would like.
  5. Perform the Bulgarian split squats with your front leg far in front of you and while leaning forward to emphasize the glutes/hamstrings instead of the quadriceps.
  6. There should be at least 2 days of rest between the Monday and Thursday sessions as well as between the Tuesday and Friday sessions, but otherwise you can move these around throughout the week as you see fit. For example, if you find yourself particularly fatigued going into Tuesday’s session from Monday’s workout you can split up the workouts to Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.

5 Day Push/Pull/Lower/Upper/Lower Split with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, Volume Ramping, and Linear Periodization

an example 5 day push, pull, lower, upper, lower split with linear progression, autoregulation, volume ramping, and linear periodization

Squats, barbell bench press, deadlifts, weighted chin-ups:

Follow the progression as written for the “2 Day Full Body Program with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above.

Push-ups and inverted rows:

Simply perform as many reps as you can each set. If you are able to do >25-30 reps then make the exercise harder in some way (ie, put your hands on handles and elevate your feet to get a greater range of motion with push-ups, pause at the point of peak contraction with the inverted rows, wear a backpack or other contraption to add weight, etc).

The remaining compound exercises (the rest of the exercises listed from the top of the program down to and including hip thrusts):

Here you will employ a volume ramping approach.

Step 1:

  • Initially pick a light enough weight such that you can complete all of the sets at the top of each rep range with a RIR ≥3.
  • Each session add 5 or 10 pounds and continue taking sets to a RIR ≥2 within the specified rep range. For example, you may do 1 set of standing shoulder presses with 80 pounds for 10 reps to a RIR = 2 and a second set with 80 pounds for 8 reps to a RIR = 2.
  • When you reach a point where you cannot complete reps in the specified rep range with a RIR ≥2, keep the weight the same for the following session and proceed to Step 2.

Step 2:

  • Keep the sets to a RIR ≥2. Continue to perform as many reps as possible within the rep range for each set to a RIR ≥2; it is ok to perform fewer reps than the lowest portion of the rep range if needed to keep the RIR ≥2.
    • If you are able to perform more total cumulative reps than the prior session when considering all but the final set, this implies you have gotten stronger. Perform the final set to a RIR = 2.
      • If the total reps in this final set is under the specified rep range, then keep the weight the same the following session and begin at the start of Step 2.
      • However, if the total reps in this final set is within the specified rep range, increase the weight by 5 pounds and start again with Step 1.
    • If you are not able to perform more total cumulative reps than the prior session when considering all but the final set, take the final set to technical failure to ensure you are estimating your RIR correctly (similar to programs described above, videotape this set, say out loud how many more reps you think you can do after each rep you perform when it becomes difficult, and then watch it to see how accurate you were).
      • Then, if you find you were underestimating your RIR go back to Step 1.
      • Additionally, if you were estimating your RIR correctly and you performed at least 2 more reps than the lowest portion of the rep range for the final set (implying you would have been able to stop when you reached the lowest portion of the rep range with a RIR ≥2), add 5 pounds and go back to Step 1.
      • On the other hand, if you only performed at most 1 rep greater than the lowest portion of the rep range with the technical failure set, proceed to Step 3.

Step 3:

  • Keep the weight the same for the following session but add 1 additional set.
  • This time aim for the lowest number of reps in the specified rep range for all sets. It is possible the first set will be to a RIR ≥3 while the last set may be to a RIR of 1-2; this is expected as fatigue accumulates with each set. You should stop sets early (before the goal number of reps) if needed to keep the RIR = 1.
  • Each successive session add 1 rep to each set while you stay within the specified rep range. This becomes your new goal number of reps for each set. Keep the sets to a RIR ≥1.
  • When the goal number of reps for each set reaches the top of the specified rep range proceed to Step 4.

Step 4:

  • At this point you are performing 1 more set than initially stated and you are aiming for the top of the specified rep range with each set while keeping the sets to a RIR ≥1.
    • If you are able to successfully complete the maximum number of reps in each set while keeping the RIR ≥1, then add 5 pounds and start again with Step 3 (without adding an additional set; keep the number of sets the same as this is working well).
    • If you are not able to successfully complete the maximum number of reps in each set while keeping the RIR ≥1, proceed to Step 5.

Step 5:

  • Keep the weight the same the following session, continue aiming for the maximum number of reps, and take each set to a RIR ≥1. If you perform more reps each session then continue doing this until progress stalls or until you reach the maximum number of reps for each set.
    • Then, if you reach the maximum number of reps for each set, add 5 pounds and start again at Step 3 but do not add an additional set.
    • On the other hand, if you are unable to reach the maximum number of reps for each set when progress stalls, there are three main options:
      • Option 1: start again at Step 3 while adding another set. This is a good option if your sessions are not taking too long and your strength is not dropping off significantly by the final set.
        • For example, if you are now doing 3 sets of standing shoulder presses (as you have already added 1 set) and the first set you do 80 pounds for 10 reps to a RIR = 2, the second set you do 80 pounds for 10 reps to a RIR = 1, and the last set you do 80 pounds for 9 reps to a RIR = 1, then your strength has not fallen off significantly (just 1 total rep each set) and you can likely add an additional set effectively.
        • On the other hand, if you go from 10 reps to a RIR = 2 to 10 reps with a RIR = 1 to 7 reps with a RIR = 1, then you dropped off 1 rep between sets 1 and 2 and 3 reps between sets 2 and 3. This is a more significant drop off and adding another set will likely be counterproductive.
        • In general, if your drop off in rep count between the penultimate set and the final set is greater than your drop off between the prior sets then I would opt to not add an additional set.
      • Option 2: start again at Step 3 without adding another set but increase the weight by 5 pounds. Since you will be aiming for the lower portion of the rep range you should be able to add 5 pounds and keep the sets to a RIR ≥1 without too much difficulty.
      • Option 3: if you feel you have built up fatigue at this point (a sign will be warm-up sets feeling heavier than they should) you can take 10% off the weight and start again at Step 1 with the original number of specified sets.
      • Option 4: If none of the above is appealing you can switch out these exercises for variations (listed below in ‘Exercise alternatives’) if desired.

Follow the progression scheme shown in the “4 Day Upper/Lower Split with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, and Linear Periodization” above.

Suggested alternatives include:

  • Cable lateral raises and dumbbell lateral raises: choose upright rows, do the cable laterals while leaning, or focus on the top portion of the dumbbell laterals.
  • Overhead triceps extensions and triceps pushdowns: choose lying triceps extensions or triceps kickbacks.
  • Cable flys: choose the pec deck machine if available.
  • Incline hammer curls and spider curls: choose EZ bar curls or low pulley curls (facing away from the pulley).
  • Cable rear delt flys: choose bent over lateral raises.
  • Leg curls: choose Nordic leg curls (it is ok to use a lower rep range with these) or a different version of leg curls.
  • Hip abduction and hip adduction: choose a different version (ie, seated with a machine or standing with a cable attached to your ankle).
  • Standing calf raises: choose seated calf raises if possible.
  • Kneeling cable crunches and standing cable twists: choose other variations listed previously in Lesson 12.
  • Leg extensions, face pulls, and cable Y raises: it is likely best to keep these specific exercises and alter them in some way (ie, by pausing at the point of peak contraction).

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I listed some suggestions for the isolation exercises in the prior tab. Suggestions for the compound exercises include:

  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Push-ups: choose machine chest press or dumbbell bench press and choose a rep range of 10-12.
  • Weighted chin-ups: choose neutral grip or underhand grip lat pulldowns with your hands closer together.
  • Seated rows (neutral grip): choose chest-supported rows or barbell rows.
  • Inverted rows (wider grip): choose barbell rows or dumbbell rows and choose a rep range of 10-12.
  • Squats: choose any squatting movement and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in both sessions.
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: choose Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Hyperextensions: choose the back extension machine or good mornings (with weight or a band).
  • Dips: choose decline bench press or any non-dumbbell flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, weighted push-ups).
  • Lat pulldowns: choose weighted pull-ups or a machine high row.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any incline pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Chest-supported rows: choose dumbbell rows or barbell rows.
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Leg press: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • Lunges: choose step-ups, single leg standing leg press, or hack squats.
  • Hip thrusts: choose hyperextensions (focusing on hip flexion/extension while keeping the back straight), Romanian deadlifts, or cable pull throughs.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity each session is likely best.
  • Here with 5 days of lifting each week there is less of a need for aerobic exercise as your heart rate will elevate to some degree during all of the resistance training sessions. Thus, I have included only 15 minutes of aerobic exercise on each training day. This is likely not long enough to cause a significant interference effect.
    • This could be condensed to three 25 minute sessions on the non-lower body days.
  • You may find that certain types of cardio (ie, rowing with high resistance) are significantly more difficult when fatigued than when fresh. If so, you can choose different aerobic training modalities each session based on how sore or fatigued you are.
  • You can perform all sessions at a continuous pace or you can include intervals.
    • If opting for intervals I would start 2 days a week on Tuesday and Thursday to separate the other continuous training sessions. Additionally, as the lower body is trained Wednesday and Friday you will be less fatigued when starting the intervals by doing them on non-lower body days.
  • Be careful if you have not performed high-intensity aerobic training recently; in this case it makes more sense to start with low-intensity cardio and gradually increase the intensity each session as tolerated.
  1. The barbell bench press, weighted chin-ups, squats, and deadlifts can progress at their own independent rates. For example, you can move to 4*4-6 for back squats while still using 3*6-8 for barbell bench presses.
  2. While this program uses volume ramping for some of the compound exercises, this is not necessary. If you do not like the idea of volume ramping, you can simply perform these supplemental compound exercises as written and take each set to a RIR = 1-2. When you get to the top of the rep range on the first set with a RIR ≥ 2, you can increase the weight.
  3. Performing the isolation exercises in a circuit will save considerable time.

6 Day Push/Pull/Lower Split with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, Volume Ramping, and Linear Periodization

an example 6 day per week push/pull/lower/push/pull/lower routine using linear progression, autoregulation, volume ramping, and linear periodization

This follows the same exact progression as the “5 Day Push/Pull/Lower/Upper/Lower Split with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, Volume Ramping, and Linear Periodization” above.

This follows the exact same progression as the “5 Day Push/Pull/Lower/Upper/Lower Split with Linear Progression, Autoregulation, Volume Ramping, and Linear Periodization” above.

Suggested alternatives include:

  • Cable lateral raises and dumbbell lateral raises: choose upright rows, do the cable laterals while leaning, or focus on the top portion of the dumbbell laterals.
  • Overhead triceps extensions and triceps pushdowns: choose lying triceps extensions or triceps kickbacks.
  • Cable flys: choose the pec deck machine if available.
  • Incline hammer curls and spider curls: choose EZ bar curls or low pulley curls (facing away from the pulley).
  • Cable rear delt flys: choose bent over lateral raises.
  • Leg curls: choose Nordic leg curls (it is ok to use a lower rep range with these) or a different version of leg curls.
  • Hip abduction and hip adduction: choose a different version (ie, seated with a machine or standing with a cable attached to your ankle).
  • Standing calf raises: choose seated calf raises if possible.
  • Kneeling cable crunches and standing cable twists: choose other variations listed previously in Lesson 12.
  • Leg extensions, face pulls, and cable Y raises: it is likely best to keep these specific exercises and alter them in some way (ie, by pausing at the point of peak contraction).

If necessary, or if desired, you can change the listed exercises. I listed some suggestions for the isolation exercises in the prior tab. Suggestions for the compound exercises include:

  • Barbell bench press: choose any flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, dumbbell bench press, weighted push-ups).
  • Standing shoulder press: choose a seated version or machine shoulder press.
  • Push-ups: choose machine chest press or dumbbell bench press and choose a rep range of 10-12.
  • Weighted chin-ups: choose neutral grip or underhand grip lat pulldowns with your hands closer together.
  • Seated rows (neutral grip): choose chest-supported rows or barbell rows.
  • Inverted rows (wider grip): choose barbell rows or dumbbell rows and choose a rep range of 10-12.
  • Squats: choose any squatting movement and if no squatting movement is feasible you can use a leg press in both sessions.
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: choose Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts, or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Bulgarian split squats: choose lunges, step-ups, or a separate single-legged movement.
  • Hyperextensions: choose the back extension machine or good mornings (with weight or a band).
  • Dips: choose any non-dumbbell flat pressing movement (ie, machine chest press, weighted push-ups).
  • Machine chest press: choose dumbbell chest press or close grip bench press.
  • Incline dumbbell bench press: choose any incline pressing movement (ie, incline barbell bench press, incline machine chest press, seated shoulder presses where you lean back slightly).
  • Lat pulldowns (vertical torso): choose weighted pull-ups or one-armed lat pulldowns.
  • Chest-supported rows: choose dumbbell rows or barbell rows.
  • Lat pulldowns (leaning back): choose a machine high row or barbell row.
  • Deadlifts: choose dumbbell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts.
  • Leg press: choose front squats, hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, belt squats, or lunges.
  • Lunges: choose step-ups, single leg standing leg press, or hack squats.
  • Hip thrusts: choose hyperextensions (focusing on hip flexion/extension while keeping the back straight), Romanian deadlifts, or cable pull throughs.
  • You can perform any cardiovascular activity for the aerobic exercise component. This can include continuous training or intervals.
  • Alternatively, if you were previously out of shape, simple walking with a slow progression in intensity each session is likely best.
  • Here with 6 days of lifting each week there is less of a need for aerobic exercise as your heart rate will elevate to some degree during all of the resistance training sessions. Thus, I have included only 15 minutes of aerobic exercise on each training day. This is likely not long enough to cause a significant interference effect.
    • This could be condensed to four 20 minute sessions on the non-lower body days.
  • You may find that certain types of cardio (ie, rowing with high resistance) are significantly more difficult when fatigued than when fresh. If so, you can choose different aerobic training modalities each session based on how sore or fatigued you are.
  • You can perform all sessions at a continuous pace or you can include intervals.
    • If opting for intervals I would start 2 days a week on Monday and Friday so you will not be fatigued from the lower body sessions prior to starting the intervals.
  • Be careful if you have not performed high-intensity aerobic training recently; in this case it makes more sense to start with low-intensity cardio and gradually increase the intensity each session as tolerated.
  1. The barbell bench press, weighted chin-ups, squats, and deadlifts can progress at their own independent rates. For example, you can move to 4*4-6 for back squats while still using 3*6-8 for barbell bench presses.
  2. While this program uses volume ramping for some of the compound exercises, this is not necessary. If you do not like the idea of volume ramping, you can simply perform these supplemental compound exercises as written and take each set to a RIR = 1-2. When you get to the top of the rep range on the first set with a RIR ≥ 2, you can increase the weight.
  3. Performing the isolation exercises in a circuit will save considerable time.

Summary of the split routines

Here we have gone over several different templates of various split routines. These can be done over 4-6 days a week and will allow you to train each major muscle group at least twice weekly. I have included aspects of linear progression, autoregulation, linear periodization, and volume ramping in at least some of these routines. However, this does not mean these are perfect or that you need to incorporate any of these components. Some people will never even need to train ≥4 days a week. Rather, you should view these as examples of how you can structure a routine for general muscular hypertrophy and strength development.

Additionally, you can choose to follow any of these programs as shown in the images without incorporating linear periodization or volume ramping. Of note, after the initial neuromuscular adaptations take place linear progression itself is typically very slow. Thus, incorporating the autoregulation aspects where you take sets to a specific RIR is beneficial when progress begins to stall. The technical failure sets sprinkled throughout the programs are key to help ensure you are using autoregulation correctly to aid continued progress over time.

Alternatively, you can follow the full programs exactly as they are written. After you run through a program a full time you will have a much better understanding of how your body responds to different styles of training and be in a better position to choose (or create) a next program.


How to change your workout program when progress stalls

In the last lesson and the above sections we went over several example workout programs. It is theoretically possible to continue any of these indefinitely. However, eventually there will be a time when progress stalls. I will describe basic considerations for steps to take when progress stalls and then summarize how to pull this together.

Tip: I want to make sure it’s clear that it is perfectly fine and should be expected for a time to come where progress slows dramatically. For example, if your first 6 months of training you add 5 pounds to your squat sets every week, then you may put 125 pounds on your squat. This would be very fast progress. There is no way this will continue indefinitely; if it did then after 10 years you would squat >2,500 pounds, which is impossible.

Thus, when you become more advanced (which may take several months or several years depending on your starting point and how consistent you are) you need to accept the fact that you will not be able to easily continue adding weight to your lifts every session. Some sessions you may not make any progress at all. When this happens once in awhile that is fine. However, if this happens consistently then it is likely time to make a change of some sort, unless:

  • you’re already at an advanced stage of fitness training
  • you’re cutting body weight, in which case for non-beginners maintaining strength will be a more realistic goal than gaining strength

If you are a beginner

If you were recently a beginner and made significant progress prior to reaching a plateau, this may simply reflect that the initial period of rapid neuromuscular adaptations has come to an end. At this point it is no longer possible to perform rapid linear progression with the same routine. Now it is time to either change your workout routine or at least change your progression strategy. Viable options include: Change the structure of your routine.
  • For example, go from doing a full body routine twice a week to a full body routine three times a week.
  • Alternatively, stay at twice per week but increase the number of sets for each exercise.
  • A third option is to alter the rep ranges you have been training with.
  • All of these options can allow you to increase the training volume and overall variability of your routine, both of which may help stimulate further progress.
Take ~10% off your current lifts and attempt to continue linear progression.
  • When linear progression initially stalls it is possible that you have entered a state of functional overreaching.
  • By decreasing the weight but keeping the sets and reps the same you will initially give your body a chance to fully recover and this may allow you to continue to make steady progress for some time longer.
Progress to an autoregulated approach using RPE or RIR.
  • At this point you may no longer benefit from a simple linear progression beginner program.
  • The benefit of an autoregulated approach is that it becomes obvious when your body is able to perform more reps or is ready to increase the weight.
    • At this stage you may not be able to perform more reps or more weight each successive session, but potentially you will notice that the same weight for the same number of reps becomes easier.
    • After a few good sessions you will likely be able to do an additional rep or increase the weight by a small amount. Progress can become slow but it should still be steady in the long run.
  • On any given day due to poor sleep/nutrition/stress or other factors you may not perform as well as you expect; an autoregulated approach will account for this and you will still make gradual progress over time.
    • You can think of this like the stock market; any given day it may perform worse than the prior day but over time it steadily improves.

If you are beyond the beginner stage

At this point you are likely already using an approach that incorporates autoregulation. In this setting there are several considerations to make further progress:
  • Consider taking a deload week. If you feel you have accumulated significant fatigue you may have entered a state of functional overreaching where the fatigue is holding you back. In this case either significantly decreasing the volume or mildly decreasing the intensity for a few days or a full week may be helpful. If so you should be stronger after the deload than you were prior to it; it may take one workout to “get back into it” before you are noticeably stronger. If you are not stronger then you were likely not in a state of functional overreaching.
  • Consider your nutrition. If you are not eating sufficient calories and protein it can be hard to fully recover and make progress. This is discussed in detail in the nutrition and weight management course on this website. Individuals who are more advanced may get to a point where they simply have to gain weight to make significant additional progress.
  • Consider your sleeping habits. Obtaining sufficient restorative sleep is helpful for many aspects of life including recovery from workouts and training progression over time.

Tip: A lot of people underestimate the benefit of good sleep. There are several options you can take to try to ensure better sleep:

  • Purchase and utilize blackout curtains to eliminate light.
  • Keep the temperature cool.
  • Purchase fans or use other objects to generate background noise.
  • Stop looking at bright light and screens for ~1 hour before going to sleep.
  • Consider altering the time of your last meal; some people do better eating right before going to sleep while some do better eating several hours prior.

Another big factor to consider is your breathing. Many people have obstructive sleep apnea to some degree without realizing it. If you have a partner who can comment on whether you are snoring and/or gasping for breath at night this becomes more obvious. Getting treatment for sleep apnea can make a huge difference for one’s quality of life.

Some people tend to sleep with their mouth open and breathe through their mouth; this can lead to long list of issues and disrupt sleep quality significantly. If you notice you drool at night or your mouth is dry when you wake up you are likely breathing through your mouth. Consider treatment for nasal allergies if this is a concern, and otherwise consider a sleep tape of some sort to keep your mouth shut at night. I personally use this brand and it works very well for me.

Also consider if you may benefit from a bite guard. You can purchase cheap ones over the counter but if you think this will prove really beneficial you may need to ask your dentist to mold one specifically for your mouth.

Bottom line: It is almost always worth the effort to optimize your sleep. Do not underestimate the benefit this can have on your quality of life.

  • Increase training volume. While progress can be made with relatively lower or higher amounts of volume, in general higher volume is found to be slightly better beyond the beginner stage. Once you are beyond the beginner stages a low volume approach (ie, <10 sets per major muscle group weekly if not taking sets to failure) may no longer prove very beneficial. Thus, beginning a program with higher training volume can prove worthwhile. Eventually there will come a point where increasing volume may impede recovery and detract from overall progress; until you get to that point this is a viable strategy.
  • Rotate your exercise selection. Increased variety can be a very effective tool to continue to stimulate more progress; if a specific exercise stalls then rotate this for a different exercise that trains similar muscle groups or movement patterns.
    • If you are following a program that is going well for several movement patterns, body parts, or muscle groups, but one exercise in particular has stagnated, this is an ideal time to rotate out that exercise.
  • Change the rep scheme. If most of your sets have been going to say 8-12 reps, consider switching to predominantly lower or higher rep sets. This can help train different aspects of overall fitness that you were not training previously and may help bring up any weaknesses in these areas to allow additional progress.
  • Change the proximity to failure. If you typically train to a RIR of 2-3, perhaps push closer to failure or all the way to failure for a few workouts (for exercises where this can be done safely). You may find you were not pushing yourself quite as hard as you thought you were previously. Even if you were, this can present a sufficiently novel stimulus to allow further progress. Just be weary of doing this for too long as you may end up overreaching and developing recovery issues. If progress begins to slow with this approach then you should probably stop taking all the sets very close to failure.
  • Vary your ratio of compound exercises and isolation exercises. If you have been primarily using compound exercises then changing focus to mainly performing isolation exercises for ≥ 4 weeks can train your muscles in new ways and allow increased progress. If you do this consider incorporating the compound exercises occasionally so you do not lose your ability to maintain the technique and the neuromuscular efficiency you have already developed with those movements.

Summary of how to change your workout program when progress stalls

At the end of the day, all people are built differently and may respond to different types of training stimuli. As discussed earlier in this course, when groups of individuals follow the same training routine there tends to be wide variability in the progress made. It is very possible you will pick a routine, follow it, and realize that it did not work well for you. That does not mean all routines will work poorly; rather that is part of the learning process to help determine the best possible programming strategy for yourself.

First concentrate on fixing the things that may affect how you perform (ie, sleep and nutrition). After you do this then consider what training variables to adjust for the next program. This may include training volume, frequency, rep ranges, proximity to failure, exercise variety, rest periods between sets, etc. Track all of your workouts and over time you will be able to see what strategies are beneficial. Then incorporate the positive aspects in future programs.


Conclusion

In this lesson we went over several gym-based routines that incorporate different programming variables and progression schemes. This included simple beginner full body routines, more complex full body routines that are still applicable for beginners and non-beginners, and split routines. We also discussed many considerations when progress stalls as well as the importance of trying different programs, tracking progress, and then making adjustments based on what seems to work better for you as an individual.

At this point we have covered all of the necessary components to generate and follow an effective exercise program. In the next lesson, we will discuss miscellaneous topics that did not fit in well elsewhere in this course.

Click here to proceed to Lesson 15

Scroll to Top