best strength programs

5 Best Strength Programs (With Spreadsheets): Beginner to Advanced

July 30, 2021

If your primary goal in fitness is to get stronger, then you need to get on a well-planned, tried-and-true strength program...but you probably already know this. The issue is, there are so many strength training programs out there that it can be overwhelming to decide on which is best for you. This is where we come in.

Below we have 5 classic strength programs that range from beginner to intermediate/advance. These strength programs are proven to work as literally millions of people have done or are doing these plans to great effect. Not only will the 5 strength programs that we lay out for you in this post work to increase strength, but they also build muscle and improve athleticism. 

Note: We will provide a spreadsheet for each of the 5 strength training programs, so when you choose a program, download the accompanying spreadsheet as it will allow you to plug in your own personal numbers and keep track of everything throughout the plan. 

strength training programs

WHAT IS STRENGTH TRAINING?

Strength training is physical activity performed for the purpose of satisfying a long-term performance goal of increasing the ability to produce muscular force against an external resistance. Muscular force, which is strength, is measured by how much weight a trainee can move from point A to B, typically using a barbell.

Unlike the general term “exercising”, which is all about producing a stress that satisfies an immediate need of the trainee (i.e. burning calories, working up a sweat, getting a pump, or even stretching), strength training is about a process that generates results at a point in time removed from each workout. It’s about defining a performance objective and working towards it. In order to achieve goals efficiently and effectively, the process must be planned carefully, which is why strength programs exist.

A well designed strength training program will follow a logical progression from a basis of the trainee’s current state to efficiently create strength over time.

We all know that to get stronger, you must progressively increase the resistance of your lifts so that adaption of your muscles, bones and nervous system can occur. In the most basic sense, this is what strength training is all about. You lift heavy weights (relative to your current strength level), for lower reps (comparing to hypertrophy training), in order to build strength...and the bonus is, naturally, with an increase in strength comes an increase in physical size. 

What are the 5 principles of strength training? 

There are 5 principles every strength program will follow:

  • Specificity: Training toward a specific goal or goals. i.e. improving technical prowess of certain lifts (usually for beginners), increasing muscle mass and strength (absolute strength) or increasing strength without increasing muscle mass (relative strength).
  • Individualization: Adjusting your training based on YOU. i.e. gender, experience, limiting factors, and so on.
  • Overload: The manipulation of reps, sets, tempo and weight load to overload (adequately stress) your neuromuscular system and force adaption.
  • Progression: Gradually increasing the stimulus you place on your neuromuscular system so that overload and adaption can continue to occur. i.e. a 5% increase in weight load each week over the course of your training program. This is progressive overload
  • Rest & Recovery: It’s critical to have an appropriate amount of rest time between workout sessions and to have good eating and hydration practices. Rest and recovery is just as important as the workouts themselves.

While strength programs are very well designed for you to follow, you need to consider all of the above yourself as well.

What are the 5 basic strength exercises? 

Strength training is based on 5 basic movement patterns:

  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Core

Squats are exactly as they sound, but they can be bodyweight squats or different variations of loaded squats (i.e. back squats, sumo squats, front squats) as well as lunges. However, when it comes to strength programs, back squats will always be the go-to.

Hinges are movements that involve a hip hinge. These can be done from a vertical position (i.e. deadlifts) and a horizontal position (i.e. glute bridges).

Pushes are movements that involve your upper body pushing muscles. These can be done from a vertical position (i.e. overhead presses) and a horizontal position (i.e. bench press or push ups).

Pulls are movements that involve your upper body pulling muscles. These can be done from a vertical position (i.e. pull ups) and a horizontal position (i.e. bent over rows).

Core exercises involve movements through all three planes of motion that target your abs, obliques, low back, and all the small muscles in-between. The best core exercises for strength programs are hanging leg raises, planks, side planks, and rotational/anti-rotational exercises like woodchoppers and pallof presses. 

A good strength program will hit all 5 movement patterns.

Typically, the most important exercises within each movement pattern are as follows: 

  • Squats: Back Squat
  • Hinge (Vertical): Deadlift
  • Hinge (Horizontal): Glute Bridge/Hip Thrusts
  • Push (Vertical): Overhead Press
  • Push (Horizontal): Bench Press/Push Up
  • Pull (Vertical): Pull Ups/Weighted Pull Ups
  • Pull (Horizontal): Bent Over Rows

These exercises will be the primary focus of most strength programs. In fact, many programs only focus on a few main lifts, typically back squat, deadlifts, overhead press, bench press, bent over rows. 

While hypertrophy programs will involve the same exercises, strength programs are designed to increase strength so these movements are typically done with heavy loaded barbells. 

Related: Strength Training vs Hypertrophy Training

TYPES OF STRENGTH 

There are 4 main types of strengths:

  • Absolute Strength: The total amount of weight your body can lift (One Rep Max).
  • Relative Strength: How strong you are based on your size, reflecting your ability to control or move your body through space (it is calculated as absolute strength / bodyweight = relative strength).
  • Power or Explosive Strength: Ability to exert maximum force in minimum time.
  • Strength Endurance: Ability to endure loads for longer periods of time.

The main focus of strength programs is to improve absolute strength and relative strength. However, some programs will also include aspects of explosive and endurance strength training as well. 

Note: Strength is also broken down into concentric, eccentric and static strength. Concentric strength is based on concentric contraction, which is when your muscle is shortening (i.e. when coming up from a squat). Eccentric strength is based on eccentric contraction, which is when your muscle in lengthening (lower down into a squat). Static strength is your ability to hold a single, non-moving position against resistance. All three are important for overall strength, which is why you will see focus for each in strength programs. 

strength programming

KNOW YOUR ONE REP MAX

It’s important to establish your 1RM (one rep max) for the big lifts (squats, deadlifts, overhead press, bench press) as strength training programs will often indicate what the weight load should be based on it. The load on the barbell will be a percentage of your 1RM or 5RM for a given number of reps. 

Experienced lifters will easily be able to gauge their 1RM or 3RM or 5RM. However, beginners will need time to do so. Don’t stress it too much if you are a beginner, but try your best to gauge your numbers from the start so you can use an appropriate weight load. This will be the basis of where you progress from.

BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING

Training for strength will not only make you stronger, but it also will help you build muscle and definition, increase bone density, optimize joint flexibility and mobility, and improve stability, coordination and injury resilience.

Overall, strength training will help you to move better, feel better, and look better. As such, don't think of it as a way of training just for powerlifters. Strength training is great for everyone.

WHAT MAKES A STRENGTH PROGRAM GOOD?

A good strength program will allow you to get stronger in a simple and sustainable manner. Moreover, it will do so in a way that keeps you away from injury and hungry for more. 

The framework of a strength program should include 4 primary elements:

  1. Exercise Selection
  2. Volume
  3. Frequency
  4. Intensity

Let’s have a quick look at each.

Exercise Selection: The selection of exercises should be suitable for the trainees level of skill and progress. 

Volume: This relates to the repetitions and sets that need to be completed in a given period of time. Volume should be adequate for overloading the muscles, yet appropriate for the recovery time given between workout sessions.

Frequency: This is the number of individual workouts over a period of time, typically per week. Frequency should be aligned with the need of the trainee for recovery based on the workouts to avoid overtraining yet also optimize progression.

Intensity: For strength training, this mainly relates to the weight on the bar assigned for the lifts in a workout, but it can also regard tempo and range of motion. 

All in all, programming can become a complex matter, but the fundamental elements are actually quite simple. To develop strength over a long period of time, each individual must be honest with their genetic potential, level of physical advancement, ability to recover, abidance to consistency, and skill of specific lifts. By understanding this, you can take theoretical strength program models and manipulate variables based on your needs and demands, thus driving progress effectively. 

Be that as it may, not every strength program will be right for you. You also need to choose a model (aka strength program) that best suits your level of fitness in the first place. 

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAM FOR YOU?

When choosing a program, you need to take into consideration your (or your clients) level of advancement. Then, over the course of your development, apply ever increasing stress in order to consistently disrupt homeostasis and enable the development of strength.

Lifters can simply be categorized into three groups, which essentially relates to the stress and technique required to disrupt their homeostasis.

The categories are Novice (aka Beginner), Intermediate, and Advanced.

By honestly placing yourself in one of these categories, you can appropriately select one of the strength programs below or create a program that provides the stress and recovery you need. It will also help to know when it’s time to advance.

Novice: A novice is usually someone who has been training for less than six months. A good strength program for a beginner will be very basic, which is why essentially all novices can start with the same program. Typically, once you reach a point of performance plateau, meaning you can no longer progress by simply adding weight to the bar each session, stress must be increased in a different manner in order to facilitate adaption. When that happens, you should shift to an intermediate program.

Intermediate: An intermediate lifter usually has been strength training for six months up to around two years (but this depends on their progress). Intermediate lifters should be handling loads close to their physical potential, and therefore must apply different strategies to disrupt homeostasis. The main difference between a novice and intermediate is the distribution of increased workload. It should allow for enough stress to be applied in a pattern that enables recovery and adaption. Training loads must be varied over longer periods of time. With that, programs are usually a little more complex and intermediate trainees can try different things to see what they respond best to. Goals and schedules will be more specific to each individual.

Advanced: An advanced trainee has likely been strength training for more than two years. They work very close to their absolute physical potential. Moreover, they have a relatively high tolerance for stress and greater ability to recover from training. With that, training volume and intensity needed to disrupt homeostasis and force adaptation requires longer periods of time to produce stress and recover. This makes advanced programs even more complex and highly specific. By the time you are at an advanced level, you will need to really personalize your routine, so no single program is perfect for an advanced trainee like it can be for novices. As an elite lifter, you will know what you need to do and you will understand the tricks of the trade to enable the best response to your training.

Note: Most “advanced” programs will work for intermediate lifters and most advanced programs will need to be tailored in some way for advanced lifters. As an advanced lifter, you should know what needs to be done.  

We recommend that you be true to your level and select a program that is appropriate. Just because you’ve been training for years does not mean you are advanced. The vast majority of people will fall into the novice/intermediate category. It should also be noted that even “novice” strength programs will be effective for those who are at an intermediate level. At some point you will do well to switch things up to continue advancing, but if in doubt, start basic, especially if you are new to training for strength. 

Note: Some programs themselves fall in-between two categories of levels, so just use your best judgement. Anyway, all of the programs we have in store for you can be effective if applied correctly.

WHAT IS THE BEST STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAM? 

The best strength training program is the one that suits your level of fitness, movement skill, and schedule.

When going through the “best strength programs” below, all of which are proven models, take your level, skill and schedule into consideration. If you are a novice, you obviously want something basic. If you only have 3 days a week that you know you can commit to, then choose a 3 day per week plan. 

On the whole, the best strength training program is the one that suits you best and that you can stay consistent with.

strength training programs for beginners

5 BEST STRENGTH PROGRAMS 

Here are 5 tried and true strength training programs in order from beginner to advanced.

1. Starting Strength (Beginner)
2. Strong Lifts 5x5 (Beginner)
3. Texas Method (Intermediate)
4. Wendler 5/3/1 (Intermediate)
5. Madcow 5x5 (Intermediate Version & Advanced Version)

We will go through each one in detail, which includes the benefits, routine, and progressions. At the end of each program, we have a spreadsheet that you can use. 

1. STARTING STRENGTH

Starting Strength was was introduced to the world of fitness by former powerlifter Mark Rippetoe in 2005. Since then, it has become one of the most popular strength training programs in the game. 

Starting Strength is effective at what it does. It is a minimalist-style strength program that focuses on the big basic compound exercises for the purpose of building general strength. Its simple yet effective approach makes it great for beginners who want to learn the basics and get stronger.

Key Points of the Starting Strength program:

  • Revolves around 6 Compound Exercises (Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead Barbell Press, Bench Press, Chin Ups)
  • 2 Different Workouts (Workout A and Workout B)
  • 3 Full Body Workouts Per Week (i.e. Week 1: Workout A, Workout B, Workout A; Week 2: Workout B, Workout A, Workout B; repeat)
  • 3 Compound Exercises Per Workout
  • 3 sets x 5 reps (except Deadlifts/Power Cleans, which are 1 set x 5 reps)
  • 3 Phases of the Program
  • Progression is based on increasing weight load each session

Goal of Starting Strength Program:

The goal of Starting Strength is to maximize your strength in 5 compound lifts, which are universally considered the most important exercises in fitness. Starting Strength uses a very clear linear progression. You add a little weight each workout and over time this adds up. As a beginner, you get what is called Newbie Gains (super easy to make progress), so this linear progression is perfect and its fast. Of course, eventually you will hit a plateau with this kind of progression, but it will take you far, and once you do reach a plateau, it’s time to change programs. 

Benefits of the Starting Strength program:

  • Super Simple Programming
  • Only 3 Workouts Per Week
  • Workouts Usually Don’t Take More Than 45 Minutes
  • Muscle groups worked multiple times per week
  • Effective at Increasing Strength, Building Muscle, and Improving Athleticism, especially for novices

Downside:

  • Twice the amount of volume for lower body than upper body, which may not be ideal if your upper body is lagging.
  • Not so much volume, which is needed as you advance your fitness level. 

All in all, if you are new to barbell strength training, Starting Strength is the way to go. This is a program that will work for any healthy novice. Give this program a go for 3-6 months and then you can move on to a different plan. 

Now, let us breakdown the routine...

STARTING STRENGTH ROUTINE

Here is the plan laid out for you... 

Schedule: 

You have 3 Workouts Per Week. Most people workout Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, as this gives the weekends off, which is nice for work-life balance. However, you can choose different days, such as Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, or Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. 

Essentially, you need to take a rest day in-between the first workout and second workout, and a rest day in-between the second workout and the third workout, and two rest days after the third workout, each week. This rest pattern is a must. 

Workout A & Workout B:

Workout A & Workout B will change slightly with each of the 4 phases, but before we get into that, just to be clear, you will be alternating Workout A and Workout B each session. 

So, it’ll look like this...

Week 1: Workout A, Workout B, Workout A

Week 2: Workout B, Workout A, Workout B 

Then week 3 starts over from week 1.

3 Phases:

As Starting Strength is aimed at novices, the first phase begins with just 4 exercises. With each phase, you will be adding a new exercise, and slightly altering the workouts. You’ll see as we will break down each phase. 

Don’t rush through the phases. Stay at each phase for as long as you are recovering well and getting stronger. Don’t think about finishing the entire program so you reach intermediate level. The goal is to maximize your strength, and the longer you can keep progressing on a workout-by-workout basis, the better the results will be.

Phase 1 

Workout A:

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Overhead Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Deadlift: 1 set x 5 reps

Workout B:

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Deadlift: 1 set x 5 reps 

Weight Load:

Starting Strength doesn’t calculate 1RM. To find your working set of 5 (or 1 for deadlift), most beginners start from the bar and perform warm up sets and keep adding weight until the bar/movement speed slows or form starts to break down (this is your first working set weight). The goal is to find the weight that brings you to near failure for 5 reps. Sometimes you may not actually be able to get 5 reps, and that's ok, because by the next session you should be able to, and that is progression. 

Keep track each session of what weight load you lifted so you can increase the next session.

Notes:

  • Perform a few warm up sets for each exercise, working up to your working weight.
  • Rest 3-5 minutes between sets
  • Increase the weight load each workout (the first couple workouts may be 5-10 pound increases, but you’ll need to make smaller jumps, likely from 0.5-2 pounds). If you couldn't get all 5 reps for a certain exercise for all 3 sets, then keep the weight load the same and get all 5 reps before increasing the following workout. 

When to move on to Phase 2? 

This phase usually lasts 2-4 weeks. You’ll know your ready for Phase 2 when your deadlift becomes well ahead of your squat.

Phase 2

Workout A:

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Overhead Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Deadlift: 1 set x 5 reps

Workout B:

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Power Clean: 1 set x 5 reps

Weight Load:

Continue where you left off in phase 1 weight load wise. For Power Clean, use the same method to establish your working weight and increase from there each workout.

Notes:

  • Perform warm up sets to work up to your working weight for each exercise.
  • 3-5 minutes rest between sets
  • Increase the weight load each workout (increments will likely be small at this point, i.e. 1-2 pounds, but the Power Clean may increase a greater number for the first two weeks of Phase 2).

When to move on to Phase 3? 

Phase 2 can last anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. It really depends on how you are progressing and how you feel. Average is around 3-6 weeks. 

Phase 3

Workout A:

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Deadlift: 1 set x 5 reps

Workout B:

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Power Clean: 1 set x 5 reps
  4. Chin Up: 3 sets x 5-10 reps

Weight Load:

Continue where you left off in phase 2 weight wise. For chin ups, once you reach 10 reps, start doing weighted chin ups. Add some weight to keep your reps between 5-7 reps, and continue adding weight as needed to stay in that range. 

Notes:

  • Perform warm up sets to work up to your working weight for each exercise. Chin ups (pull ups vs chin ups?) you can just jump right into it.
  • 3-5 minutes rest between sets
  • Continue increasing weight load, but you’ll likely be taking quite small increments. Micro plates will come in handy in phase 3 especially.

When does phase 3 and the program finish?

Phase 3 can last for months. Continue with the program until you have clearly plateaued. But don’t mistake plateaus for bad training days. Not every day is going to be easy to increase weight. In fact, some days you might not be able to or you may even not get all your reps. But, generally, if you notice progression is not possible workout by workout or even each week, it’s time to change up programs and look for something intermediate.

Warm Up Example: 

Just to make things clear on warm up sets, such as how many sets and reps, here is an example of how a warm up will look for squats...

Let’s say your working set is 225. Then your warm ups sets will be:

  • 45lb (empty barbell): 2 sets x 5 reps
  • 95lb: 2 sets x 5 reps
  • 135lb: 1 set x 3 reps
  • 185lb: 1 set x 2 reps
  • Then working sets start 

You can minimize rest time for warm up sets. 

Do warm up sets for every exercise (excluding chin ups).

Tips for Starting Strength:

  • Make sure you take your rest time between sets. Most people take 5 minutes between sets. Remember, your working set will be 5 reps at a weight that almost brings you to failure on those 5 reps. So, you need all the rest you can get.
  • Increase by small increments. Any increase is a successful progression. After the first couple of workouts, you will not be able to increase by a significant weight if you are doing things right. Each set should be a grind.
  • Eat plenty of food. Make sure you are eating in a calorie surplus, but eat healthy foods to get there every day (including rest days). 

SPREADSHEET FOR STARTING STRENGTH

2. STRONG LIFTS 5x5 

Strong Lifts 5x5 is another cornerstone beginner strength program. It is as popular and effective as Starting Strength. In fact, is somewhat similar, but definitely different as you are going to see. 

Strong Lifts program is based on Bill Starr’s old school 5x5 program, which is a program that changed strength training forever. Strong Lifts 5x5 program is a simplified, beginner version of Bill Starr’s 5x5 program.

When it comes to novices looking to increase strength, learn movement skill, build muscle, and lose fat, it doesn’t get better than Strong Lifts 5x5. This is a quintessential staple program that athletes around the world use.

Key Points of Strong Lifts 5x5 Program:

  • Revolves around 5 compound exercises (Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Barbell Row, Overhead Press)
  • 2 Different Workouts (Workout A and Workout B)
  • 3 Full Body Workouts Per Week (i.e. Week 1: Workout A, Workout B, Workout A; Week 2: Workout B, Workout A, Workout B; Week 3 repeats from Week 1).
  • 3 Compound Exercises Per Workout
  • Squats each workout session
  • 5 sets x 5 reps (except Deadlifts, which are 1 set of 5 reps)
  • Progression is based on increasing weight load 

Goal of Strong Lifts 5x5 program:

The goal of Strong Lifts 5x5 program is to increase overall strength, build muscle, and improve athleticism. Progression is straight forward. You simply add more weight each workout. The goal is to maximize your newbie gains and get the best results possible before moving on to another program.

The 5x5 method is so effective that most strength trainees stick with it even as they advance to intermediate. They simply alter to a different version of the 5x5. For now, just focus on getting stronger with linear workout-by-workout progression using the Strong Lifts 5x5 and the side effect will be looking better and feeling better too! 

Note: Set your own goals for how much you want to improve in all 5 lifts. For example, you may want to reach 225lb on squat after 1 month. Work towards your goal and every month or so you can attempt a 1RM. 

Benefits of the Strong Lifts 5x5 program:

  • Super Simple Programming
  • Focuses on the most important compound exercises
  • Training Each Muscle Group 2-3 times per week (which is good for strength and hypertrophy for beginners)
  • Only 3 Workouts Per Week
  • The 5x5 rep format promotes more volume, heavier loads, better progress and better form. 

Downside:

  • Twice the amount of volume for lower body than upper body.
  • Workouts can be time consuming as you will need a lot of rest between sets since you are using heavy weight, and you are doing 5 sets for each exercise (except deadlifts). 

All in all, if you are new to barbell strength training and you are highly committed to getting stronger and producing great physical results, Strong Lifts 5x5 is a great program and often said to be a little better than Starting Strength (but this is subjective, as both have years and years of proven results). This is a program that you can stick with for as long as a year. 

Now, let us breakdown the routine...

STRONG LIFTS 5X5 ROUTINE

The plan is simple, it looks like this... 

Schedule: 

You have two workouts, Workout A and Workout B, that you will be alternating with a 3 workout days per week schedule. 

You can train Monday, Wednesday, and Friday OR Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday OR Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday OR Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, etc. Just keep the rest days spread out like this. 

So, if you choose Monday, Wednesday, Friday...

Week 1:

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Wednesday: Workout B
  • Friday: Workout A

Week 2:

  • Monday: Workout B
  • Wednesday: Workout A
  • Friday: Workout B 

Then repeat from week 1. 

Every other day is a rest day, but you can have active rest days where you do some kind of light activity if you’d like, like stretching, walking, hiking, etc. 

Workout A & Workout B:

Workout A:

  1. Squat: 5 sets x 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 5x5
  3. Bent Over Barbell Row: 5x5

Workout B:

  1. Squat: 5x5
  2. Overhead Press: 5x5
  3. Deadlift: 1x5 

Notes:

  • Rest time: 90 seconds if you completed the set easily, 3 mins if you struggled to get 5 reps, and 5 minutes if you failed to get 5 reps on your last set.
  • The order of exercises is not random, so stick with it.
  • Your lifts should keep the bar in full control, but the tempo should not be too slow (of course, it may move slow because it’s heavy, but you are not purposely using a slow tempo).
  • Do several warm up sets before you get into the working weight for each exercise.

Weight Load & Progression: 

The program will start with you using 50 percent of your 5 rep max for each lift. So, if you can do 135lbs on squats for 5 reps (but it’s challenging), then your starting weight for week 1 workout 1, will be half of that. It may seem light, but you will be adding weight 1-10lbs to the bar each workout, so you will be lifting heavy before you know it. 

Increase weight load as you progress through your plan at a reasonable rate. Increments can be as little as 1lb and as much as 10lbs. It really depends on how you feel. Usually the first few weeks you will be adding 5+lbs per workout.

You should only increase the weight when you can perform all 5 sets for 5 reps (which means some days you may not be able to get 5 reps for all your sets, and that’s fine).

Some lifts may increase quicker than others, so increasing weight is based on each exercise, not the workout as a whole (i.e. if you squat 5x5 but your bench you only got 3-4 on your last set, then just your squat will increase the next workout).

If you fail to get 5x5 with a given weight for three weeks in a row, this calls for a deload, which means you will decrease the weight by 10-20 percent for one workout (not a whole week). After that workout, get back to your previous working weight. If you continue to struggle to increase weight load and the plateau remains, you may want to switch up programs. 

Tips for Strong Lifts:

  • Like any strength program, you want to be eating in a surplus. Eat healthy foods with good macros (you will need plenty of healthy carbs and protein!)
  • Set yourself some realistic specific goals to work towards with a specific deadlines. 

SPREADSHEET FOR STRONG LIFTS 5x5

3. THE TEXAS METHOD 

The Texas Method is very prominent on the strength training map, as you’d expect with the state it’s named after. It’s one of the go-to strength programs for those who have recently moved on from programs like Starting Strength or Strong Lifts. Thus, it is geared towards intermediate lifters (although some advanced trainees even use it, with some personalization of course). 

And while the Texas Method is considered an intermediate program, the creator of it, Mark Rippetoe states “Most people have no business trying the Texas Method because it’s very, very hard”. According to Coach Mark Rippetoe, “The Texas Method balances the stress of increased weight and varied volume with adequate recovery time so that intermediate lifters will progress for an extended period of time.” Essentially, it takes an approach needed to continue progressing when simple linear progression techniques found in programs like Starting Strength and Strong Lifts no longer work. So, if you are looking to break through plateaus hit from your previous novice program, this is a great option.

Note: Mark Rippetoe is the man behind Starting Strength (the first program we went over) so if you liked that program as a novice, the Texas Method is the logical next program.

Key Points of The Texas Method Program:

  • Revolves Around 6 Compound Exercises
  • 3 Full Body Workouts Per Week
  • 3 Compound Exercises Per Workout
  • Number of Reps & Sets Vary From Workout to Workout (Daily Undulating Periodization - High Volume Days, Light Days, High Intensity Days)

Goal of The Texas Method Program:

The Texas Method will allow you to keep setting new PRs after your crazy newbie gains cease. The goal is simple, to continue optimizing the progression of strength and to start to learn some more advanced methodology of strength training like undulating periodization. This program is going to teach you a lot about strength training and how to maintain progression efficiently as an intermediate lifter. 

Unlike the novice program where progression is workout-by-workout, The Texas Method will allow you to make increases in weight load on a weekly basis. 

Pros of the Texas Method:

  • Teaches you an important method of progression, daily undulating periodization.
  • Allows you to keep setting PRs when your newbie gains wear off.
  • It’s more complex than a novice program, yet it is still simple to understand and effective to employ.
  • You will get big and strong.
  • The undulating periodization optimizes recovery and allows you to continue with the program without deloading or taking time off every couple months. You can continue this program for quite some time without overtraining.

Downfall:

  • The progression system is a little meticulous, which is something you are going to have to stay on top of.
  • This is not a program to get ripped, so if you want to keep fat off, it’s not ideal as you will need to eat in a surplus to keep progressing.
  • There’s not much room to customize. 
  • The first workout of the week, which is a Volume day can take a long time to finish. Some people spend 2 hours in the gym on their Volume day, as a lot of rest between sets is needed (heavy lifts for 5 sets of 5 sets require long rest).

All in all, this is a good program for those who have finished a novice program like Starting Strength and want to continue making gains as a recently-turned intermediate lifter. This program will allow you to make weekly gains, whereas once you become even more advanced, you can’t expect to make gains weekly (just like an intermediate lifter can’t expect to make gains each workout like they were with their beginner program).

Now, let’s get into the routine...

THE TEXAS METHOD ROUTINE

The Texas Method involves three workouts per week, with the first workout being Volume Day, the second workout being Light Day, and the third workout being Heavy Day.

Each workout has 3-4 exercises, and the main lifts focus on 5 reps using a % of your 5RM.

We will explain all of this in-detail below.

Schedule: 

You have three workouts per week. Just like the previous programs, you will want to keep a specific rest day pattern.

You can train M, W, F or Tu, Th, Sa or whichever 3 days you want using the same spacing of rest days. 

Volume, Light, Intensity:

Let’s say you choose a M, W, F schedule. Here is how the volume light and intensity days will be placed.

  • Monday: Volume
  • Wednesday: Light
  • Friday: Intensity

Volume, Light, Intensity must be in this order each week.

Volume days focus on sets of 5 reps using a moderately-heavy weight (90% of your 5RM). So, if your 5RM for squats is 300LBs, then you will be using 270LBS on this day.

Light days focus on fewer sets. You’ll be doing 5 reps with a lighter weight (70% of your 5RM).

Intensity days involve 1 set of 5 reps each exercise and your goal is to set a new PR for your 5RM. Yes, every week you will be attempting to improve your 5RM weight load. This is the day where progression is made.

Exercises:

The main lifts in this program are:

And then you have two bodyweight exercises as well, which are hyperextensions and chin ups.

Week A & Week B: 

As you have to alternate certain exercises, you will have a Week A and Week B, which you alternate over the course of your plan. 

WEEK A

Monday (Volume):

  1. Squat: 5 x 5 reps (90% of 5RM)
  2. Bench Press: 5 x 5 reps (90% of 5RM)
  3. Deadlift: 1 x 5 reps (90% of 5RM)

Wednesday (Light):

  1. Squat: 2 x 5 reps (70% of 5RM)
  2. Overhead Press: 3 x 5 reps (70% OF 5RM)
  3. Chin Up: 3 x max reps (bodyweight)
  4. Hyperextension or Glute Ham Raise: 5 x 10 reps (bodyweight) 

Friday (Intensity)

  1. Squat: 1 set x 5 reps (PR for 5RM)
  2. Bench Press: 1 set x 5 reps (PR for 5RM)
  3. Deadlift: 1 set x 5 reps (PR for 5RM)

WEEK B

Monday (Volume):

  1. Squat: 5 x 5 reps (90% of 5RM)
  2. Overhead Press: 5 x 5 reps (90% of 5RM)
  3. Deadlift: 1 x 5 reps (90% of 5RM)

Wednesday (Light):

  1. Squat: 2 x 5 reps (70% of 5RM)
  2. Bench Press: 3 x 5 reps (70% OF 5RM)
  3. Chin Up: 3 x max reps (bodyweight)
  4. Hyperextension or Glute Ham Raise: 5 x 10 reps (bodyweight)

Friday (Intensity)

  1. Squat: 1 set x 5 reps (PR for 5RM)
  2. Overhead Press: 1 set x 5 reps (PR for 5RM)
  3. Deadlift: 1 set x 5 reps (PR for 5RM) 

Notes:

  • You will be alternating overhead press and bench press each week so you can make PRs for both bi-weekly.
  • Use the same warm up technique as Starting Strength. Essentially, you need to do warm up sets to work up to your working weight.
  • Some people use power cleans or power snatches rather deadlifts on intensity days. If you prefer to do this, your Intensity day will alternate between power cleans and power snatches each week. For power cleans you will do 5 sets of 3 reps, and for power snatches you will do 6 sets of 2 reps. Again, this is done only on Intensity day, everything else remains the same.
  • Rest time: The Texas Method suggests that you rest for as long as you need between sets. The goal is to recovery fully between sets so you can hit your final rep each set. This could mean 5 minutes of rest or even as much as 15 minutes. Remember, this program is about lifting heavy, not building muscle. 

When to add weight?

Unlike the novice programs Starting Strength and Strong Lifts, progression is not workout-to-workout, it is weekly. 

Essentially, progression happens on Intensity Days.

Ideally, you should be able to add 5 pounds to your lifts on intensity days for your single set of 5 reps.

This means you will be setting new 5-rep max PRs every week on Intensity day. And this new 5RM PR will affect your calculations for the next week’s Volume and Light days. As such, weight will increase on those days a well.

Tip for The Texas Method Program:

  • You need to eat as hard as you train. Most people take in around 5,000 calories per day when on the Texas Method.
  • You also need to sleep well so you can optimize recovery.

Overall, this program is for those who have a solid foundation of strength. You need to be strong already to see good results with the Texas Method program. It should also be noted that this is not the program for those who are worried about having a 6 pack. You need to eat a lot on this program to keep up the strength. The good news is, you will build muscle with this surplus of calories. Lastly, you need to be committed. Yes, it’s only 3 days per week, but some of the workouts like Volume day take a long time. You may find yourself in the gym for over 2 hours on that days, including warm up, warm up sets, and everything. BUT, if you want to keep progression of strength as rapid as possible as an intermediate, this is a fantastic program to do.

SPREADSHEET FOR THE TEXAS METHOD

4. WENDLER’S 5/3/1 

The 5/3/1 strength program was created by Jim Wendler, a world-class powerlifter and strength coach. This program is now used by millions of athletes and lifters around the world.

Wendler’s 5/3/1 is not for beginners, but it’s great for nearly everyone else. It is generally considered one of the best intermediate strength training programs (and a lot of advanced lifters use it, or a version of it, because much of the workouts can be personalized and the monthly deload week optimizes recovery and thus gains).

The program revolves around the Big 4 Lifts and promises slow and steady gains with the goal of turning you into the strongest version of yourself.

Key Points to Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program:

  • Revolves around 4 lifts (Squat, Bench, Deadlift, Overhead Press)
  • Four Workouts Per Week
  • Each workout focuses on just 1 of the 4 lifts, but 2 accessory/assistance lifts are done after (as such, there is room to customize and tailor the plan to areas you want to improve)
  • Broken Down Into Monthly Training Cycles (increasing intensity each week and then a deload week on Week 4)
  • Week 1 is 3 sets x 5 reps, Week 2 is 3 sets x 3 reps, Week 3 is 3 sets x 5/3/1 reps, Week 4 is a deload week. Then, repeat.
  • Weight Load will Be Based on your 1RM (so you will need to know this).

Goal of Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program:

The 5/3/1 program was designed for serious lifters who want to take their PR’s to the next level. This program is about increasing your one rep max, overall strength, and packing on muscle mass. 

Benefits fo Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program:

  • This program is renowned for the significant length of time a lifter can continually progress. This is due to its monthly block periodization and weekly undulating periodization.
  • Builds relative and absolute strength very effectively as the program is based on the Big 4 Lifts in Powerlifting.
  • Higher peak of intensity than other intermediate programs.
  • Higher volume than a lot of other programs, which is good if you also want to build muscle
  • Customizable thanks to assistance lifts, so lifters can also work on their own individual areas of weakness or specific exercises they like to do beyond the Big 4.
  • Not boring because of your ability to add variety to your workouts with assistance lifts (can also do supersets for assistance lifts and other protocols!)
  • Logical, predictable, and effective way to build strength
  • Workouts are usually under an hour, including warm up. 

Downfall:

  • Requires more commitment as you will workout 4 days per week.
  • Can be more taxing on your body as you will be doing two workout days in a row (but the monthly deload week should make up for this).
  • Only hit your major muscle groups once a week, which is not ideal for beginners and maybe those who just advanced to an intermediate level.
  • It is slightly more advanced than other intermediate programs, so may not be the best for someone who is in-between novice and intermediate. You need to know how to select an appropriate weight load based on your 1RM and each set will differ for what % of your 1RM you will use.

5/3/1 ROUTINE 

Here is how the routine looks...

Schedule:

You’ll be doing 4 workouts per week. Don’t do more than two workout days in a row. 

Most people do Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. So, two days on, one day off, two days on, two days off. Repeat.

Also, upper body days are followed by lower body days, or vice versa. Your four core lifts are Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift and Standing Overhead Press, so you should no do Squat day and Deadlift day back to back. 

Your week should look like this...

  • Monday: Squat + 2 lower body assistance lifts
  • Tuesday: Bench Press + 2 upper body assistance lifts
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Deadlift + 2 assistance lifts
  • Friday: Standing Overhead Press + 2 upper body assistance lifts
  • Sat & Sun: Rest

With that, you will have plenty rest between muscles groups that are involved in the same lifts (i.e. the shoulders are involved in bench press so it’s good to have a couple days of rest between those sessions).

As for core exercises, you can do a couple per week. They can either be one of your assistance lifts or just add an additional core exercise to the end of a workout at your discretion.

Training Cycle: 

The 5/3/1 program is broken down into monthly training cycles. It looks like this: 

  • Week 1: 3 x 5 reps
  • Week 2: 3 x 3 reps
  • Week 3: 3 x 5/3/1 reps
  • Week 4: Deload

This related to your main lifts, not your assistance lifts.

1RM: You must know your one rep max as you will be selecting a weight load based on your 1RM. 

Week 1:

  • Set 1 = 65% 1RM x 5 reps
  • Set 2 = 75% 1RM x 5 reps
  • Set 3 = 85% 1RM x 5+ reps 

Week 2:

  • Set 1 = 70% 1RM x 3 reps
  • Set 2 = 80% 1RM x 3 reps
  • Set 3 = 90% 1RM x 3+ reps

Week 3:

  • Set 1 = 75% 1RM x 5 reps
  • Set 2 = 85% 1RM x 3 reps
  • Set 3 = 95% 1RM x 1+ reps 

Week 4:

  • Set 1 = 40% 1RM x 5 reps
  • Set 2 = 50% 1RM x 5 reps
  • Set 3 = 60% 1RM x 5 reps 

This deload week allows you to recover so you can really do this program without any rest weeks for an entire year.

Note: The “+” that you see means you can attempt to do as many reps as you can (but be safe). There are huge benefits in pushing yourself this way. You may only get 1 or 2 reps extra, but by doing this, your PRs will explode. Nevertheless, the extra reps are optional. 

Assistance Lifts:

After your working sets for the main lift (which each workout will focus on just one main lift), you should do 2 assistance lifts. 

We recommend that you do compound exercises for your assistance lifts (we will give you a sample 5/3/1 workout routine below so you see how assistance lifts fit in and which assistance lifts we like to use). 

The assistance lifts should complement your main lift (i.e. on a Squat day, do lunges, front squats, or leg presses for your assistance lifts) 

Assistance lifts should be done in the 10-15 rep range.

If you have lagging areas (such as your arms) feel free to perform some assistance exercises that target your weak areas.

Workouts: 

Workout 1 (Standing Overhead Press):

  1. Standing Overhead Press:  Follow the weekly progression (i.e. week 1 is 3 sets x 5 reps using 65/75/85 %, week 2 is 3 sets x 3 reps using 70/80/90 % 1RM, and so on)
  2. Dip: 5 sets x 15 reps
  3. Chin Ups or Pull Ups: 5 sets x Max Reps

Workout 2 (Deadlift):

  1. Deadlift: Follow the weekly progression (i.e. week 1 is 3 sets x 5 reps using 65/75/85 %, week 2 is 3 sets x 3 reps using 70/80/90 % 1RM, and so on)
  2. Hip Thrusts: 5 sets x 10 reps
  3. Hanging Leg Raise: 5 sets x 10-15 reps

Workout 3 (Bench Press):

  1. Bench Press: Follow the weekly progression (i.e. week 1 is 3 sets x 5 reps using 65/75/85 %, week 2 is 3 sets x 3 reps using 70/80/90 % 1RM, and so on)
  2. Dumbbell Incline Press: 5 sets x 15 reps
  3. Dumbbell or Seated Cable Row: 5 sets x 12 reps

Workout 4 (Squat):

  1. Squats: Follow the weekly progression (i.e. week 1 is 3 sets x 5 reps using 65/75/85 %, week 2 is 3 sets x 3 reps using 70/80/90 % 1RM, and so on)
  2. Leg Press: 5 sets x 15 reps
  3. Leg Curl: 5 sets x 12 reps 

We like to do squats at the end of the week because we find them to be the most taxing and having two days off after is nice. 

Assistance lift sets and reps stay the same each week, even on deload weeks. Use a weight load that is challenging in the 10-15 rep range. Feel free to change up assistance lifts every cycle or two.

Progression:

After each training cycle, add 10lbs to your lower body exercises 1RM and 5lb to your upper body exercises 1RM.

For example...

If training cycle 1 had your 1RM for squats at 300lbs, then week 1 set 1 you would have done 65% of that, which is 195lb.

So, on cycle 2, your 1RM for squats would be 310lbs, then week 1 set 1 on cycle 2 will be 65% of that, which is 201.5lbs (although you can round up to 202 or down to 200 depending on the plates you have available, but you get the point).

Tips for Wendler 5/3/1 Program:

  • It’s actually recommend to consider your 1RM as 90% of your actual 1RM when starting out. So, if your 1RM is 300LB on deadlifts, then you should consider your 1RM to be 270LB, and then calculate percentages for set based on that 1RM.
  • Make sure you work on perfecting your form and range of motion. This will help with progression.
  • Do at least 5 cycles for this program, then monitor your progress. This is a training program that you can do for a long time. If you find that you are stalling, jump back to weights used in previous cycles and continue working up from there. If you like the program, stick with it. Eat more and stay consistent and you will break through plateaus. This is normal. You can also try another variation of 5/3/1.

SPREADSHEET FOR WENDLER 5/3/1

Related: The Ultimate Guide To The 5/3/1 Workout Program

5. MADCOW 5X5 

The Madcow 5x5 is a more advanced spinoff of the novice Strong Lifts 5x5 program. For those who no longer can make progress on Strong Lifts 5x5, the Madcow is a good program to start. Madcow 5x5 is aimed at intermediate lifters, but there is an advanced version as well. The program is designed by an elite powerlifter, so any intermediate or advanced trainee can get on board without pause. 

And while the Madcow 5x5 is a more advanced take on the Strong Lifts 5x5 so there are similarities, it is quite different and obviously more complex, as you are about to see.

Key Points of Madcow 5x5 Program:

  • Same exercises as the Strong Lifts 5x5 (Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Barbell Row, Overhead Press) and will still be doing squats 3x per week.
  • Pyramid-style training, so you’ll ramp up weight each set (unlike Strong Lifts which uses the same weight across all 5 sets). This is actually easier on the body, so it optimizes recovery, which is important when lifting heavy weights.
  • Progression happens each week (rather than every session like Strong Lifts). You’ll add 5lbs to your lifts on a weekly basis.
  • Squats 3x per week, but you won’t squat heavy every session. The middle of the week workout is a light Squat day (you will only ramp up to 70% of your 5RM)
  • You will be deadlifting 4 sets rather than just 1 like with Strong Lifts (and just once a week).
  • The last workout of the week involves a light 6 set at 70% of your 5RM.
  • The last workout of the week’s 5th set is 3 reps, not 5.
  • Advanced version involve a deload period each month, but we will get into that after we go through the intermediate version.

Goal of Madcow 5x5 Program:

The goal of Madcow is for those who have stalled at Strong Lifts or other novice programs that involve workout-to-workout progression to be able to continue progressing in strength. The progression is still linear, it’s just a weekly thing, which makes it far more sustainable for intermediate lifters. This program is made to help you continue building strength. It’s perfectly suited for traditional strength training goals. That said, it can work to build muscle and improve aesthetics too depending on your diet. 

We are going to outline the program for intermediate lifters. The intermediate version will not be suitable for advanced lifters because it progresses too quickly. Conversely, novices shouldn’t do this program as it’ll advance too slowly.

For advanced lifters, after we run through the Madcow intermediate version, we will explain how the advanced version is different and then provide you with a spreadsheet for it. 

Benefits of Madcow 5x5 Program:

  • Plenty of volume so it works well for both hypertrophy and strength.
  • Hits muscle groups multiple times per week, which studies show is best for hypertrophy and strength.
  • Not every set is at 80+% of your 5RM so it is sustainable and ideal for recovery of intermediate and advanced lifters.
  • Only 3 days of training per week, which is good if you have a busy schedule. It’s super effective for just 3 days a week. Many intermediate and advanced programs require 4 days for the same effect.
  • Only 3 exercises per workout, no fluff.
  • Rest time isn’t going to be that time consuming as you are ramping up to your heaviest set. The first two sets of the 5 sets won’t require too much rest time. By the last couple sets, you may need extra rest time, but it still should make for more efficient workouts than other programs.
  • Plenty of upper body volume. A lot of programs are heavily weighted towards lower body and pushing. This one is pretty even, including push and pull exercises.
  • The program is still simple when it’s all said and done. It involves linear periodization and progresses on a weekly basis. This makes it effective and perfectly straightforward. 

Downfall:

  • It may get boring since you are doing just 5 exercises for the length of the program (which runs about 12 week before you switch it up or deload and run it again).
  • There’s nothing too complex about it, so if you are looking to learn new tactics, you may be disappointed in that. The advance version does involve more complexity though.

Now, let’s get into the routine and all of this will make more sense...

MADCOW 5X5 ROUTINE

Here’s everything you need to know about the Madcow 5x5 program.

Schedule:

3 workout per week. You will be using the same rest day pattern as the others 3 day workout per week strength programs.

i.e...

M, W, F...or...Tu, Th, Sa...or...F, Su, Tu...

The choice is your, just keep the workout spaced like this so the last day has 2 rest days before the start of the next week. 

Exercises:

You will be doing 5 exercises only. They are:

  • Squat
  • Bench
  • Bent Over Row
  • Standing Overhead Press
  • Deadlift

Obviously, all are barbell lifts. 

Workouts:

Using a M, W, F schedule, here are your workouts. 

Monday:

  1. Squat: 5 x 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 5 x 5 reps
  3. Bent Over Row: 5 x 5 reps

Wednesday:

  1. Squat: 4 x 5 reps (light)
  2. Overhead Press: 4 x 5 reps
  3. Deadlift: 4 x 5 reps

Friday:

  1. Squat: 6 x 5/5/5/5/3/8 reps
  2. Bench Press: 6 x 5/5/5/5/3/8 reps
  3. Bent Over Row: 6 x 5/5/5/5/3/8 reps 

Weight Load & Progression:

We are going to breakdown the weight load needed for each workout, exercise, and set. 

Weight load is based on % of 5RM (including Fridays) and in order of the working set (1-5 for Monday, 1-4 for Wednesday, and 1-6 for Fridays).

We will bold the heaviest set you are ramping up to.

  • Monday: 50%, 60%, 70%, 85%, 95% 
  • Wednesday: 60%, 70%, 85%, 95% (Squats are 50%, 60%, 70%, 70%) 
  • Friday: 50%, 60%, 70%, 85%, 95%, 70% 

You should be adding about 5lbs to your heaviest set each week (the set in bold). By doing this, your ramp up sets will increase by 5lbs as well. 

Note: You may only be able to increase the weight every two week, and that is fine. 

Over the course of 12 weeks, most trainees can see around a 25-30 pound increase in their 5RM PR.

SPREADSHEET FOR MADCOW 5X5 INTERMEDIATE

ADVANCED VERSION OF MADCOW 5x5

The program is similar, but there are some notable differences, which are:

  • There are no more squats on Wednesdays after Week 4, which means you will only be squatting 2 days per week from then on, not 3.
  • There are two main blocks, one high volume, one low volume and high intensity.
  • New 5RM after Week 4 (+5lb)
  • Adds a deload week on Week 5.

If this sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. This is a spreadsheet for the Madcow 5x5 Advanced Program (note: it’s called Strong Lifts 5x5 Advanced, but it’s the same thing). This spreadsheet will allow you to plug in your 1RM, 3RM, or 5RM and everything will be calculated to your stats.

strength programs for powerlifting

FINAL THOUGHTS

The above programs are all classic, tried and true strength programs. Choose the program based on your individual preference. It will work if you stay consistent and you rest and recovery properly, which includes eating and sleeping well. Work hard and jack up the weight at your own pace and with increments that work for you. Small incremental increases will lead to big jumps in weight in the long run. There’s no need to rush, that will only lead to injury. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Other Strength Programs:



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