12 Must-Have Strength Training Programs for Big Gains

Strength Training Programs

The Strength Training Programs

If one thing is for sure it’s that everyone should implement some form of strength training into their gym routines. Strength training is not only necessary for building strength but it builds muscle, improves physical performance, staves off chronic disease and illness.

Now, there’s more than one way to increase your strength (We’re giving you 12) and it’s great to mix things up if you want to keep progressing. Gaining strength takes consistency and most importantly a good program.

Sure it can be overwhelming to decide where you should start, which exercises to perform and how often but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. But the point is… you need to get stronger and this means putting some serious weight on the bar!

But first, we need to explain what strength training is and the amazing benefits.

What is Strength Training?

Everyone knows that to get stronger you must progressively increase the resistance so that the muscles, bones and nervous system can adapt.. It’s quite simple and anyone can build strength. The great thing is there are loads of benefits as well including disease management, longevity, and a better-looking physique. (1)(2)

To develop maximum strength, it’s usually recommended to perform multiple sets of low reps (3-6).

Why?

Because a small number of repetitions with heavy resistance causes an adaptation to the heavy stimulus, and your body must push past its previous limits to make those gains.

In contrast to hypertrophy training, you’ll take longer rest periods in order to replenish your ATP so you can get pumping!

One-Rep Max

You must know your one-rep max for all the lifts you’ll be performing because you don’t want to go too heavy or too light. You want to be just right and for most of your strength training sessions, you’ll need to be in the 70-90% range of your 1RM.

Strength Training

Now, don’t be worried if you’re unsure of your one-rep max. Beginners need to be aware without a doubt but the more experienced you get, the more you can gauge your one-rep max. But it’s always a good idea to write down your progress so that you can know which weights are suitable for a certain workout/movement.

There are calculators for learning your one-rep max and you should use one if you’re unsure. It is a very helpful tool which can make the process much easier for you.

Rest and Recovery

Eat good, sleep well, and stay hydrated because you won’t see the results you’re looking for by just training alone. Proper nutrition and hydration are vital to progressing and not burning out which is why you should make it as much of a priority as training.

Get plenty of protein, healthy complex carbs and fats. Most people think they can just show up to the gym, throw around weights and get results. Well, it doesn’t work this way. You also want to make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep (7-8 hours) because that’s when you actually recover and grow. (3)(4)

So which foods are best for getting results?

Getting adequate protein is vital for building lean muscle mass and on average, a gram and a half to two grams per pound of body weight is sufficient. (5)

Be consistent

This is an often overlooked aspect of actually experiencing lasting results but it’s crucial. Consistency is key above all else because it takes effort and dedication to improve and progress regularly. You can’t skip out on several workouts and expect to get stronger by the week.

Strength Programs

Here are 12 proven strength training programs which are excellent for mass and strength gains.

1. Jim Wendlers’ 5/3/1

Created by Jim Wendler, the 5/3/1 training program is used by athletes and anyone looking to get stronger. Now, there are many programs and stages based on experience but the 5/3/1 is one of the most popular and effective programs out there.

The idea is to do 5 sets of a heavy weight, drop the weight and do 3 sets, and then do 1 set with an even lower weight. First set last means after you do your working sets; you’ll then perform 5 sets of 5 reps with your first working set weight.

Here’s the basic 5/3/1 workout designed by Medhi which you can follow:

Monday
Squat – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5×5 @ First Set Last (Or FSL)
Bench – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5×5 @ FSL
Assistance work

Wednesday
Deadlift – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5×5 @ FSL
Press – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5×5 @ FSL
Assistance work

Friday
Bench – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5×5 @ FSL
Squat – 5/3/1 sets/reps, 5×5 @ FSL
Assistance work

For assistance exercises, Mehdi says to perform one of the following to perform on a workout day. Do 50-100 reps and if you cannot complete all reps with one movement, then choose another and complete the required reps.

Push: dips, push-ups, DB bench/incline/press, triceps extensions/pushdowns

Pull: chin-ups/pull-ups, inverted rows, rows (DB/machine/BB), face pulls, band pull-aparts, lat pulldown, curls

Single Leg/Core: any abdominal work, back raises, reverse hyperextensions, lunges, step-ups, Bulgarian one-leg squats, KB snatches, swings

Additional workouts you should perform according to Mehdi:

  • Perform Defranco’s Agile 8 prior to each workout and should be done every single day.
  • Perform 10-15 total box jumps or med ball throws PRIOR to lifting.
  • Tues/Thurs/Sat/Sun some kind of running or conditioning should be done. This will largely be based on your own goals, your current fitness level and what you have access to. DO NOT run yourself into the ground with conditioning; follow the “5/3/1 50% Rule” when conditioning.

Here’s the Defranco Agile 8 routine from Joe DeFranco:

  1. Foam roll your IT band. Start just below your hip and roll up and down to your outer mid-thigh ten to fifteen times, focusing on any tight spots. Then perform ten to fifteen rolls starting at your outer mid-thigh and rolling all the way down to the outside of your knee
  2. Foam roll your adductors. Start just below the crease of your hip and roll up and down your inner mid-thigh ten to fifteen times, focusing on any tight spots. Then perform ten to fifteen rolls starting at your inner mid-thigh and rolling down to the inside of your knee. Again, focus on the tight areas
  3. Glute/piriformis myofacsial release with a tennis ball. Take the tennis ball and sit on one your left butt cheek with a slight tilt. Cross your left leg. Roll for 30 seconds or so. Switch cheeks and repeat. Feel free to cry
  4. Rollovers into “V” sits: Perform ten reps.
  5. Fire hydrant circles: Perform ten forward circles and ten backward circles with each leg.
  6. Mountain climbers: 20 total reps.
  7. Groiners: Perform ten reps. Hold the last rep for ten seconds. Make sure to push your knees out with your upper arms while dropping your butt down.
  8. Static hip flexor stretch: Perform 3 sets of 10 seconds on each leg. Complete all three sets on one side before moving to the other.

2.  Bigger Leaner Stronger Training Program

The BLS training program is awesome and not only does it focus on building strength but there’s a lot of truth and less bro-science. Low reps and few sets with the basics is all you need to do to get results from this program.

Here’s a squat routine by Mike Matthews:

He recommends warming up by doing the following before jumping into heavy squats.

  • 12 reps with 50% of your 4-6 rep heavy weight, rest for 1 min;
  • 10 reps with the same weight as above but a little faster, 1 min rest;
  • 4 reps with 70% weight at a moderate pace, 1 min rest;
  • 1 rep with 90% of your heavy weight, rest 2-3 minutes.

The squat workout:

You’ll do three heavy sets of squats for 4-6 reps with 3-4 minutes of rest in between sets. Then you’ll do the same with the following exercises until the workout is finished.

  • Barbell Squat 3 x 4-6
  • Romanian Deadlift 3 x 4-6
  • Leg Press / Machine Squat Press 3 x 4-6
  • Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise 3 x 4-6
  • Seated Calf Raise 3 x 4-6

Go heavy and keep the intensity high. Try to refrain from lightening up the weights unless you cannot get 4-6 reps per set.

3.  Sheiko

Boris Sheiko is a legendary Russian powerlifting coach and has had much success with his teachings. He led many athletes to medals and championships but how did he do this?

High volume!

In fact, here’s the novice program Boris Sheiko’s created so you can see for yourself:

Sheiko Six Week Routine

There’s nothing easy about Sheiko as it’s one of the most intense programs but learning from a famous coach who’s achieved great success is invaluable. By week six of this novice, program volume is at its highest and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Mondays and Friday are dedicated to bench and squat while Wednesdays focus on deadlift movements and you can see how the sets and reps are different many strength programs. The most important thing is that it works.

If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to skip Sheiko but intermediate to advanced lifters should give it a try.

4. Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength

Mark Rippetoe calls this program strength engineering because it’s based on biology and arithmetic. Starting Strength focuses on five multi-joint barbell exercises (The basics) to develop maximum strength, mass, and range of motion.

Moving up in weight as quickly as possible with proper technique is very important as there is no exercise variation (Not necessary). Rippetoe believes we need to be able to push our limits against environmental factors and this is key to progressing in moving more weight.

This is why the SS program utilizes incremental increases on the barbell consistently to force the body and muscles to adapt, therefore making you a lot stronger!

Before you start lifting heavy you need a proper warmup like this one from Mark Rippetoe:

Set Type Weight Reps Sets
Warm-Up 45 5 2
Warm-Up 95 5 2
Warm-Up 135 3 1
Warm-Up 185 2 1
Working 225 5 3

Then you’ll jump into your working sets and here’s an example…

Workout A: Squats military press and deadlift

Workout B: Squat, bench press and power clean

Perform 3 sets of 5 per each except for the deadlift (1×5) and power clean (5×3).

Workout A

Squats 3 x 5

Military press 3 x 5

Deadlift 1 x 5

Workout B

Squat 3 x 5

Bench press 3 x 5

Power clean 5 x 3

That’s the basics of the program. Every week you can increase the weights incrementally. Squats you can do 5 lbs, deadlift 10 lbs and power clean 2.5 lbs.

5.  Jarred Moon’s One Man One Barbell

The method behind the madness is actually what it sounds like. The creator of the program (Jerred Moon) is a real fitness minimalist and believes you only need a few pieces of equipment to build a strong and muscular physique (Like the caveman days)!

It only takes a few hours to become the best physical version of yourself and Jerred Moon stands by this. His program starts with lots of volume in ¼ the time of your standard strength training program because more volume and less rest means better metabolic conditioning and increased work capacity.

Anyone who decides to use this program will be happy to know that training with just a barbell is proven to be very effective. In fact, OMOB was tested on 10 subjects and all gained significant strength during the program (23.6 lbs per lift to be exact).

What Does the Program Look Like?

Make sure you have a barbell with weights (Nothing else) and some space to move around before starting. This is not really a beginner’s routine but if you have the technique down, then feel free to join in.

You must learn how to power clean before you can implement a full body workout routine because learning how to overhead press is essential. Running is also a big part of “One Man, One Barbell” and it’s included in the workout plan as well.

Here’s a four-week plan you can follow which was developed by Jerred Moon:

This first plan involves mainly deadlifts, power cleans and running…

For weeks 3-4 you’ll do front squats and the strict press

6.  Reg Park’s 5 x 5

Reg Park deserves credit for this routine because he really implemented it. Medhi from StrongLifts 5×5 made it popular but he didn’t create it.

Here’s the phase 1 routine for strength:

  • 45-degree back extension (3×10)
  • Back squat (5×5)
  • Bench press (5×5)
  • Deadlift (5×5)

Train three days per week for three months.

Rest 3-5 minutes between the last 3 sets of each exercise.

Don’t train to failure. It’s that simple!

Just make sure to warm up with decent weights with 2 sets before lifting heavier weight.

7.   Jim Stoppani’s 5-Week 3×3 Rest Rundown

Another amazing strength routine from the master Jim Stoppani. His creations are guaranteed to give results and you should consider his unique approach for impressive gains. The 3×3 program is spread out over a 4-day split and each muscle group is worked per each workout day.

The benefits of 3×3 are great since more stabilization is required, greater force is required and the nervous system will be heavily stimulated. This is good for adapting to heavier loads and conditioning the body for more resistance.

This is what you’re workout structure will look like.

Workout 1: Chest, Triceps, Abs

Workout 2: Back, Biceps, Forearms

Workout 3: Shoulders, Traps

Workout 4: Legs, Calves

Here’s a sample routine for strength only

3×3 Strength Only Program.

Day Workout Intensity Exercises Weight
Monday High Barbell clean and press
Dumbbell rows
Rack pulls
90% of 3 RM
Wednesday Medium Dumbbell clean and press
Weighted Pull-Up
Barbell Deadlift
80% of 3 RM
Friday Light Dumbbell clean and press
Barbell Rows
Barbell stiff-legged Deadlift
70% of 3 RM

Do these until you progress in weight and take shorter rest periods in between sets (No more than 2 minutes).

8.  Texas Method

The Texas method utilizes only compound movements and you’ll do three workouts per week. It’s best for intermediate to advanced lifters who have been training for at least a year and a half to two years (Recommended by Mark Rippetoe).

The Texas Method is similar to StrongLifts 5×5 (#11 on the list) but it’s not exactly the same. Each workout will work involve full-body training with squats and bench press every other day.

Here’s a routine Mark Rippetoe recommends:

Monday – Volume Day

  • Squat 5×5 at 90% of 5 rep max
  • Bench Press or OHP 5×5 at 90% of 5 rep max
  • Deadlift 1×5 at 90% of 5 rep max

 Wednesday – Light/Recovery Day

  • Squat 2×5 at 80% of Mondays weight
  • OHP (if you benched on Monday) 3×5 at a slightly lighter load than previous 5×5. Bench Press (if you OHP on Monday) 3×5 at 90% of previous 5×5 weight.
  • Chin-Ups 3x bodyweight
  • Back Extensions or glute-ham raises 5×10

 Friday – Intensity Day

  • Squats warm-up, then work up in singles or doubles to one single, new 5RM
  • Bench Press (if you bench pressed Monday) or overhead press (if OHP on Monday), warm-up, then work up in singles or doubles to one single, new 5RM
  • Power Cleans  5 x 3 reps

9.  Jim Stoppani’s 6 Weeks Shortcut to Strength

For those unfamiliar with Jim Stoppani, he’s a leading authority in the fitness industry and if he makes a workout program, you know it’s going to be effective.

The 6 weeks shortcut to strength program focuses on getting a bigger squat, bench press and deadlift but it’s important to know that the program is better suited toward advanced lifters. Over six weeks and four workouts per week, you will not only get much stronger but you’ll also experience more muscle growth and power as well.

Each workout is 60 minutes in length and the four workouts per week will be split into three strength phases (Bench press, squat, and deadlift) and then a day dedicated to training for power.

Here’s an example workout schedule:

Week 1

Day 1: Squats/strength-focused

Day 2: Bench press/strength-focused

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Deadlift/strength-focused

Day 5: Rest

Day 6: Power-focused

Day 7: Rest

Now, each of the three phases will focus on the big three lifts but a typical workout will involve additional exercises for all-around functionality, strength and size gains.

Here’s an example of how a squat focused day will look:

  • Squats: 5 sets x 8 reps
  • Leg press: 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Bodyweight walking lunges: 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Leg extensions: 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Romanian deadlift: 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Lying leg curls: 3 sets x reps
  • Standing calf raises: 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Seated calf raises: 3 sets x 8 reps

10.   Basic Strength and Muscle Weight Training Program

Simple and basic is oftentimes better than more complex programs because gaining strength and size is not a difficult thing to do.

Here it is:

  1. Warmup
  2. Squat (or leg press)
  3. Bench press (or chest press)
  4. Deadlift
  5. Crunch
  6. Seated cable row
  7. Triceps pushdown
  8. Lat Pulldown
  9. Overhead press
  10. Biceps curl
  11. Cool down, stretch

Do 10 minutes of cardio. Then warm up with 60% of your normal workout weight.

The workout…

Sets, Repetitions, and Starting Weight

11.  Stronglifts 5 x 5

StrongLifts 5×5 is used by many people around the world and for good reason… it works! SL 5X5 was made popular by a man named Mehdi in Belgium and the main focus is on compound movements and eating good, clean foods. It’s simple and it builds strength like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, it’s so simple that 5×5 consists of only two workouts…

  • Workout A: Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row
  • Workout B: Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift

Here are the basics of 5×5…

  • You’ll only workout three days per week.
  • Never workout two days in a row.
  • Never do both workouts in the same day.

You want to alternate workout A and B every time you hit the gym. You can do Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Make sure to eat properly (Plenty of protein, good slow-digesting carbs, and healthy fats) and get plenty of rest because the training is hard and heavy.

Here’s a two-week sample routine from Mehdi’s schedule with the lifts and sets/reps.

Week 1

Monday – workout A Wednesday – workout B Friday – workout A
Squat 5×5 Squat 5×5 Squat 5×5
Bench Press 5×5 Overhead Press 5×5 Bench Press 5×5
Barbell Row 5×5 Deadlift 1×5 Barbell Row 5×5

Week 2

Monday Wednesday Friday
Squat 5×5 Squat 5×5 Squat 5×5
Overhead Press 5×5 Bench Press 5×5 Overhead Press 5×5
Deadlift 1×5 Barbell Row 5×5 Deadlift 1×5

This is a great place to start and then you can increase resistance slowly until you’re stronger. It’s really simple and you want to make sure you warm up properly before doing any heavy lifts. Don’t make it complicated just start light and practice doing the set and rep scheme with the provided exercises.

12. Push-Pull Leg Routine

Push-Pull Leg routines or PPL are extremely effective and popular at the same time (A winning recipe for results). The great thing is they are simple to understand and execute since the routines are exactly how they sound.

The workout will look like the following:

Day 1 – Chest, triceps, and shoulders.

Day 2 – back, traps, and biceps.

Day 3 – Leg day!

You’ll do PPL anywhere from 3-4 days per week and even 5-6 if you’re more experienced. Generally, the rep ranges will be low to moderate as with any effective strength training routine.

Here’s an example of a PPL routine:

High volume workouts are essential for conditioning your body to perform at a higher capacity with a larger workload. You can do this routine every other day and try to keep the resistance high.

An example is Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Monday – pushing

Bench press 4 x 5-6

Incline dumbbell press 4 x 8-10

Pushups 3 x AMRAP

Dips 2 x AMRAP

Wednesday – Pulling

Barbell rows 4 x 5-6

Pulldowns 4 x 8-10

Pull-Ups 3 x AMRAP

Rows 3 x 8-10

Friday – Legs 

Barbell squats 4 x 5-6

Stiff-legged deadlifts 4 x 8-10

Walking lunges 4 x AMRAP

Calf raises 4 x 8-10

The possibilities are endless and feel free to incorporate your creativity based on your experience levels. PPL is perfect because it allows you to work a group of muscles so that you can preserve energy for opposing muscle groups.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a program is based on individual preference but anyone can try these programs if you have a good strength base and proper technique. These programs will work as long as you stick with one and be open-minded. If a weight becomes too light, increase it accordingly but don’t always go with full intensity. It’s ok to work with 70-80% of your 1-rep max before going heavier.

But it’s very important to keep the resistance high and if you become too strong for your own good, jack the weight up by a few pounds. Incremental increases are great but large jumps in weight will only cause unnecessary injury.

Remember gaining strength and size is a marathon, not a sprint. So have fun in your journey to building massive strength and size!

References

  1. Peterson, Mark D.; Pistilli, Emidio; Haff, G. Gregory; Hoffman, Eric P.; Gordon, Paul M. (2011-6). “Progression of volume load and muscular adaptation during resistance exercise”. European journal of applied physiology. 111 (6): 1063–1071. doi:10.1007/s00421-010-1735-9. ISSN 1439-6319. PMC PMCPMC4215195 PMID 21113614.
  2. What you need to know about exercise and chronic disease. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2019-03-25.
  3. Stark, Matthew; Lukaszuk, Judith; Prawitz, Aimee; Salacinski, Amanda (2012-12-14). “Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training”. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 9: 54. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-54. ISSN 1550-2783. PMC PMCPMC3529694. PMID 23241341.
  4. 26 Foods That Help You Build Lean Muscle. Healthline. 2018-01-21. Retrieved 2019-03-25.
  5. Phillips, Stuart M.; Van Loon, Luc J. C. (2011). “Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation”. Journal of Sports Sciences. 29 Suppl 1: S29–38. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.619204. ISSN 1466-447X. PMID 22150425.

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