Overview of men’s training programs

Overview of weight training programs

There are two weight training programs for men on this website:

These two programs are parts of a long-term weight training program for men published in my ebook. The long-term weight training program is called Muscle and Strength. As its name implies, Muscle and Strength is intended for men who want to develop maximum muscle and strength.

Muscle and Strength is summarized in Table 1, along with the other weight training programs for men published in my ebook.

Men's weight training programs, Table 1

As you can see from Table 1, Muscle and Strength actually consists of six smaller programs (mesocycles).

The Men’s Plateau Buster is a stand-alone program that is designed to help you to break through plateaus (a plateau is when you stop making progress, which usually occurs when your body adapts to the training stimulus). Since the program is designed to produce the same results as Muscle and Strength, you can also include it as part of Muscle and Strength and use it after Muscle and Strength 3.

The Minimalistic Program for Busy Men is another stand-alone program. It is designed to provide a quick and effective full-body workout for men who have very little time to spare for the gym.

You can complete the training programs at any gym. In the ebook, I also provide alternatives for cable and machine exercises so that you can complete the training programs at home if you have basic equipment.

All of the programs are explained in detail below.

Muscle and Strength

Muscle and Strength is a comprehensive long-term weight training program that was meticulously designed to:

  • build and maintain major muscle mass and strength
  • strengthen your core, which is important for stability, body-wide strength, power generation, and power transfer
  • strengthen your body’s primal movement patterns, which is important for functional strength, balance, coordination, athleticism, and performance
  • encourage the right strength balances between your opposing muscle groups, which is important for proper posture and movement, and to prevent imbalance-related injuries.

The program does this by using, or adhering to, a combination of:

  • major mass-building compound exercises
  • functional exercises
  • undulating periodization
  • intensity training techniques
  • recommended muscle-strength balance ratios.

In programming terminology, the long-term Muscle and Strength program is a macrocycle (“big cycle”). The six individual programs that make up Muscle and Strength (from the Men’s Beginner Program to Muscle and Strength 3) are known as mesocycles (“middle cycles”). Although not expressed in Table 1, most of the mesocycles are themselves divided into microcycles (“small cycles”). The mesocycles and microcycles incorporate variations in training, which will be explained in the mesocycle overview.

Muscle and Strength lasts for a minimum of one year and 12 weeks if you move from mesocycle to mesocycle and take a deload week after each one. A deload week is a week during which you either rest or train lightly. However, apart from the beginner mesocycle, you do not have to move from one mesocycle straight on to the next one. I balanced the exercises in each mesocycle as best as I could so that you can keep repeating each mesocycle over and over without much of a risk of developing muscular imbalances. As such, you can repeat each mesocycle as many times as you want to before moving on to the next one. This will ensure that you get the most out of each mesocycle and the macrocycle as a whole.

In fact, you don’t have to move on at all. If you enjoy a particular mesocycle, you can stick to it. Provided you keep increasing the amount of weight that you lift, as requested in the instructions of each mesocycle, you should see continual progress for a significant amount of time. Just make sure that you take a deload week before repeating a mesocycle or moving on to the next mesocycle.

Note that the deload weeks are important. Please do not ignore them. They will help you to fully recover and therefore keep making progress. They will also increase your likelihood of not giving up.

Mesocycle overview

Men’s Beginner

Before I provide an overview of each mesocycle (Table 2), I must explain that training in different rep ranges leads to the development of different muscle properties. More specifically, using a weight with which you can perform 13–20 reps in good form is optimal for developing muscular endurance; using a weight with which you can only perform 6–12 reps in good form (i.e. a heavy weight) is optimal for developing muscular size; and using a weight with which you can only perform 2–6 reps in good form (i.e. a very heavy weight) is optimal for developing muscular strength.

Focusing mostly on the 13+ rep range, the 12-week men’s beginner mesocycle is designed to build a strong foundation of muscular endurance upon which muscular size and strength can be built in the more advanced mesocycles. It is intended for beginners, lifters who have less than three months of consistent weight training experience, and experienced lifters who haven’t trained for over three months.

Table 2

Muscle

The 6-week Muscle mesocycle starts to build muscular size, as derived from the 9–11 rep range. It also incorporates an intensity technique known as superset training. You can start from this mesocycle without having to go through the beginner mesocycle only if you have at least three months of consistent weight training experience.

Muscle 2

The 8-week Muscle 2 mesocycle is composed of microcycles that alternate between the 9–11 and 6–8 rep ranges. While both rep ranges are for developing muscular size, the 6–8 rep range helps to develop more strength. This mesocycle includes an intensity technique known as training to failure. You can start from this mesocycle only if you have at least six months of consistent training experience.

Muscle and Strength

The 12-week Muscle and Strength mesocycle consists of microcycles that alternate between the 9–11, 6–8, and 3–5 rep ranges. The first two rep ranges are for building muscle; the last rep range is for developing muscular strength. The mesocycle also includes an intensity technique called dropset training. You can start from this mesocycle only if you have at least nine months of consistent weight training experience.

Muscle and Strength 2

Like the Muscle and Strength mesocycle, the 9-week Muscle and Strength 2 mesocycle consists of microcycles that alternate between the 9–11, 6–8, and 3–5 rep ranges for developing both muscular size and strength. It includes an intensity training technique known as rest–pause training. You can start from this mesocycle only if you have at least 12 months of consistent training experience.

Muscle and Strength 3

Although the 12-week Muscle and Strength 3 mesocycle also comprises microcycles that alternate between the 9–11, 6–8, and 3–5 rep ranges, it is different from the other mesocycles in that all of the exercises are arranged into supersets. As such, the workouts are more intense and quicker to complete. You can start from this mesocycle only if you have at least 12 months of consistent weight training experience.

Why alternate between rep ranges?

Most weight training programs that you have come across have probably followed either no progression or a linear progression through rep ranges, beginning with 13–20 (for muscular endurance), moving on to 6–12 (for muscular size), and maybe ending with 2–6 (for muscular strength). This arrangement is known as linear periodization. The problem with linear periodization is that when you move from one rep range to another, you start to lose the properties that you developed in the previous rep range! My programs are based on an arrangement called undulating periodization, wherein the rep ranges are maintained as you progress and alternated in microcycles. This ensures that as you progress, the properties that you developed in previous mesocycles (endurance, size, or strength) are not only maintained but also continually developed while you also develop new properties. Note that only the size and strength rep ranges are maintained, not the endurance rep range.

Overview of the other training programs for men

Men’s Plateau Buster

The 9-week Men’s Plateau Buster is your weapon for breaking out of plateaus, should they ever occur. You can also use it as if it’s the seventh Muscle and Strength mesocycle, and repeat it as many times as you want to.

As with the advanced Muscle and Strength mesocycles, the Men’s Plateau Buster consists of microcycles that alternate between the 9–11, 6–8, and 3–5 rep ranges (Table 3). The difference is that most of the exercises are arranged in accordance with an advanced intensity protocol known as pre-exhaustion training, which will ensure that you partially exhaust prime mover muscles using isolation exercises before you move on to the main compound exercises. Pre-exhaustion of prime movers makes them work much harder during the compound exercises, thus amplifying the stimulus for development and increasing your chances of kick-starting stunted progress.

If you’re new to weight training and follow the Muscle and Strength program, you will almost certainly not need this program as a plateau buster for at least a couple of years. However, if you ever do need it, it should ensure that you never stop making progress.

Table 3

Minimalistic Program for Busy Men

The 12-week Minimalistic Program for Busy Men is for you if you don’t have much time for workouts. Alternating between the 9–11 and 6–8 rep ranges, the workouts include the bare minimum of exercises and sets necessary to get an effective full-body workout. What’s more, the exercises are arranged into supersets, which means that you can fly through them very rapidly.

You can repeat the minimalistic program as many times as you want to. If a beginner, ideally, before you start the program, you should have completed at least microcycles 1 through 3 of the Muscle and Strength beginner mesocycle. As with the minimalistic workouts, the workouts of microcycles 1 through 3 of the beginner mesocycle are short, and they will help you to develop a small foundation of muscular endurance upon which the minimalistic program can build.

How the programs were designed

Exercise selection

The purpose of all of the training programs for men is to build and maintain muscle mass and strength, strengthen the core, strengthen the body’s primal movement patterns, and encourage the right strength balances between opposing muscle groups. Most of the exercises were selected to fulfil those objectives. However, some exercises were included to serve other purposes, such as to prepare you in one mesocycle to move on to more advanced exercises in the following mesocycle, or simply to add variation to the workouts to keep you engaged.

Exercises for maximum muscle and strength

To maximize gains in muscle and strength, I ensured that the programs are dominated by major compound exercises (for example, the barbell squat). Compound exercises simultaneously target multiple muscles and involve the movement of two or more joints (or pairs of joints). They are different from isolation exercises (for example, the dumbbell curl), which target fewer muscles (sometimes only one) and involve the movement of only one joint (or one pair of joints). Focusing on major compound exercises ensures that you:

  • stimulate simultaneous growth in the maximum number of muscles
  • flood your body with testosterone and human growth hormone, which will boost the development of muscle and strength throughout your entire body
  • strengthen your base and core, which will help you to lift even more weight and thus feed the cycle of growth.

All of this will ensure that you pack on the most amount of muscle and strength, and get maximum results in the least amount of time.

Another benefit of compound exercises is that their movements are more natural than the movements of isolation exercises, which means that they are much better at improving your functional strength, balance, coordination, athleticism, and performance. What’s more, compound exercises provide a better cardiovascular workout.

Exercises to strengthen primal movement patterns

Functional strength is the kind of strength that is useful outside of the gym, in everyday activities. You develop functional strength by strengthening the ways in which your body is designed to move.

The ways in which your body is designed to move can be broken down into seven “primal” movement patterns:

  1. Squatting
  2. Lunging (forward, sideways, or backward)
  3. Flexing/Extending the hips
  4. Pushing (horizontally or vertically)
  5. Pulling (horizontally or vertically)
  6. Twisting (or resisting twisting forces)
  7. Walking/Running (gait)

You use these primal movement patterns in various combinations every day of your life. By strengthening them, you not only develop a functionally strong body but also:

  • enhance your motor control, coordination, balance, and flexibility
  • become more equipped for everyday activities
  • improve your overall fitness, athleticism, and performance.

Unfortunately, most training programs that you encounter do not cover these movement patterns. Instead, they focus on training muscles, often in isolation, which is not how the body is designed to work. Rest assured that the weight training programs on this website and in my ebook, together with the FCT cardio program, incorporate effective functional training and give you the benefits outlined above.

Exercises to strengthen your core

An important element of having a functionally strong body is to have a strong core. Your core isn’t just your rectus abdominis and lower back; it’s your entire torso, especially all of the deep muscles that attach to your spinal column and pelvis. Your core muscles help to:

  • stabilize your body when you lift
  • transfer weight from one side of your body to the other
  • transfer weight from your lower body to your upper body.

Your core is also where you generate much of your power. As such, it acts as your power base, power transfer center, and stabilization facility. Having a strong core is therefore of major importance for progress and overall fitness and athleticism.

Proper core training involves performing a range of major compound and functional exercises designed to strengthen both the deep and superficial muscles of the core, ideally, both dynamically and isometrically. All of the weight training programs on this website and in my ebook incorporate effective dynamic core training, while some also include isometric core training.

Exercise balance

When training, it’s important to develop a balanced musculature. Ideally, the strengths of opposing muscle groups, the strength of the right side of your body compared with the left side, and the strength of your upper body compared with your lower body should adhere to recommended muscle strength balance ratios. The reason is that if opposing regions of your body or opposing muscle groups develop significant differences in strength, performance can be jeopardized, and the risk of sustaining injuries and developing problems related to muscle tightness, joint instability, posture, and gait can be increased.

Athletes prevent or fix imbalances by approaching a personal trainer, who identifies the strength ratios of their muscles using one-repetition maximum testing and then prescribes a training program to fix any imbalances or ensure that imbalances are not developed. The least you can do as a gym-goer and fitness enthusiast who cares about his physique is follow weight training programs that are balanced and therefore reduce your likelihood of developing imbalances. In order to reduce your likelihood of developing imbalances while using my programs, I designed the programs in accordance with the muscle strength balance ratios recommended by the International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA; Table 4).

Table 4

The strategy that I used was to:

  • make note of the target and synergistic muscles of each exercise, as revealed on ExRx.net
  • ensure that the number of exercises and sets for opposing muscles and opposing movement patterns generally agree with the above ratios.

For example, since you should be able to lift the same amount of weight with your elbow flexors as with your elbow extensors, I have tried to make sure that the number of exercises and sets that hit those muscles is approximately equal.

Note that balancing the beginner program wasn’t as important as balancing the other programs because the beginner program isn’t intended to be repeated over and over again and is designed to prepare you for the subsequent programs. Even so, it is still relatively balanced.

Summary of programming rules and objectives

When designing the training programs for men, I tried to follow or satisfy the following rules and objectives:

  • Train all muscle groups at least twice a week
  • Strengthen all primal movement patterns using compound and functional exercises
  • Prescribe exercises and sets for opposing muscles and movement patterns in accordance with recommended muscle strength balance ratios
  • Undulate rep ranges to simultaneously develop multiple muscle properties and maintain properties developed in previous mesocycles
  • Strengthen the core using compound, functional, and unilateral exercises
  • Train the core dynamically and isometrically
  • Only include exercises the equipment for which should be available in any gym
  • Incorporate exercise variation to maintain engagement
  • Avoid exercises that have a high risk-to-benefit ratio, such as the close-grip upright row and behind-the-neck pulls and presses
  • Generally favor free-weight exercises over machine exercises
  • Avoid overworking of the supraspinatus muscle, which is a common problem
  • Train large muscle groups before small muscle groups
  • Prescribe more sets for large muscle groups than for small muscle groups
  • If a muscle has multiple heads, include exercises that emphasize each head
  • Train large heads of individual muscles before small heads
  • Keep workouts to approximately 18 sets (the more advanced workouts include up to 21 sets)
  • Force gradual but definite progress from mesocycle to mesocycle
  • Ensure adequate rest by enforcing regular deload weeks

Alternative exercises

If you get bored of an exercise, or if you can’t perform one of the exercises for some reason, I have provided suitable alternatives below that maintain a similar balance. Note that once you read the Target Muscle Guide in the ebook, you will have a better understanding of muscle targeting, after which you will be able to identify alternative exercises by yourself!

Legs and glutes

  • Hyperextension – Straight-leg deadlift
  • Romanian deadlift – Cable pull-through
  • Squat – Front squat – Hack squat – Sumo squat – Zercher squat – Jefferson squat
  • Forward/Rear/Side lunge – Step-up – Split squat –Bulgarian split squat
  • Lying leg curl – Seated leg curl – Inverse leg curl
  • Machine standing calf raise – Standing one-leg dumbbell calf raise – Leg-press calf press (not seated calf raise)
  • Barbell hip thrust – Barbell glute bridge

Back

  • Lat pull-down – Pull-up (medium grip is best)
  • Close neutral grip lat pull-down – Underhand lat pull-down – Chin-up
  • Bent-over dumbbell row – Barbell row – T-bar row – Inverted row – Straight-back seated cable row (not seated cable row)

Chest

  • Bench press – Push-up – Cable/Machine chest press
  • Incline reverse-grip bench press – Incline bench press – Incline push-up – Pike push-up
  • Low cable cross-over – Incline dumbbell fly

Shoulders

  • Overhead press – Arnold press
  • Cable face pull – Dumbbell face pull – Cuban rotation
  • Lying dumbbell external shoulder rotation – Cable external shoulder rotation

Arms

  • Triceps rope push-down – Dumbbell/Cable kickback – Triceps overhead extension – Lying triceps extension (French press) – Skull crusher
  • Triceps dip – Bench dip – Diamond push-up – Close-grip bench press/push-up
  • Dumbbell/Barbell curl – EZ bar curl (bar must have minimal camber)
  • Preacher curl – Concentration curl
  • Hammer curl – Reverse curl

Core

  • Front plank – Wheel rollout
  • Cable wood chop – Weighted Russian twist – Weighted lying oblique twist
  • Lying leg raise – Hanging leg raise – Captain’s chair leg raise
  • Lying straight leg raise – Hanging straight leg raise – Captain’s chair straight leg raise
  • Lying leg and hip raise – Hanging leg and hip raise – Captain’s chair leg and hip raise

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