We know you’re anxious to get in there and move those big weights. That’s why you skimp on mobility work and stretching—or skip it entirely: so you can get to the fun part of your workout. After all, the “rule” in training programs is to put the most explosive and heaviest lifts at the front of the session because they require the most energy, right?

But what happens then? You pull a muscle, strain a joint, or miss a rep as a result.

Instead, by moving the hardest, riskiest lifts to the last part of your workout, after you’ve prepared your body with easier exercises, you can build muscle and strength more safely.

Try this six-week program and we guarantee you’ll never bench-press first again. Trust us, your joints will thank you for it.

HOW IT WORKS

After years of putting together training routines—and using ourselves as guinea pigs—we eventually came to a surprising realization: Squats felt better if they were done after a hamstring exercise.

Even better, we learned that we could cut back on warmup time if we moved them back even further, so instead of spending 10 minutes stretching our hip flexors just to be able to squat deeply with good form, we could simply do an exercise like split squats beforehand and simultaneously stretch the hips while training the quads.

Now, that’s what we call a win-win.

The same principle applies to heavy barbell pressing. If you start your routine with dumbbell presses and medicine ball throws instead of all that big weight, your shoulders and elbows will be better prepared to bench a heavier load.

You may be wondering if you’ll still have the energy to do barbell lifts if they come last in the workout—and, to be honest, you may have to use 10–20% less weight, maybe less. But you’ll still get stronger over time.

And getting strong while staying safe is the only way to make long-term progress. 

DIRECTIONS

Perform each workout (Day I, II, III, and IV) once per week, resting a day between each session. Exercises marked “A” and “B” are alternated, so you’ll do one set of A, rest, then B, rest again, and repeat until all sets are complete for the pair. 

DAY I

1. Inverted Row

Sets: 3
Reps: 8
Rest: 60 sec.

Set a barbell in a rack at hip level and grasp it with hands outside shoulder width. Hang from the bar and extend your legs in front of you so your body looks like it’s in position to perform a pushup upside down. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your body up to meet the bar.

2. Medicine Ball Slam

Sets: 3
Reps: 6
Rest: 60 sec.

Hold an eight- to 12-pound medicine ball with both hands and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and reach overhead until you feel a stretch in your abs. Explosively throw the ball into the floor and catch it on the rebound.

3. One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Sets: 3
Reps: 5-6, 5-6, 7-9
Rest: 45 sec.

Hold a dumbbell in one hand and rest the opposite arm and knee on a bench. Pull the weight up to the outside of your hip and lower it until you feel a stretch in your lat.

4A. Neutral-Grip Ring Chinup or Close-Grip Pulldown

Sets: 3
Reps: 6, 8, 10
Rest: 60 sec.

Hang from gymnastics rings or a suspension trainer so your palms can face each other and your wrists can move independently. (A pullup bar that offers handles so your palms can face each other is OK too.) Pull your body up until your chin is above your hands. Add weight if necessary for the sets of six and eight reps. If that’s too hard, perform lat pulldowns with a close (palms-facing) grip.

4B. Modified Front Lever

Sets: 4
Reps: 10 sec.
Rest: 60 sec.

Hang from rings, a suspension trainer, or pullup bar and contract your lats as you roll your upper body backward and tuck your knees to your chest. Hold the position 10 seconds.

5. Deadlift

Sets: 2
Reps: 5-7
Rest: 2 min.

Stand with your feet at hip width. Bend your hips back and reach down and grasp the bar, hands just outside your knees. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, drive your heels into the floor and pull the bar up along your shins until you’re standing with your hips fully extended and the bar is in front of your thighs. Pause momentarily at the top and repeat. That is one rep.

DAY II

1. 45-Degree Incline DB Press

Sets: 3
Reps: 8
Rest: 90 sec.

Set an adjustable bench to a 45-degree angle and lie back against it with a dumbbell in each hand. Press the dumbbells straight overhead. Perform the incline press for the first set; do the flat dumbbell press for the last two.

2. Plyo Pushup

Sets: 3
Reps: 6
Rest: 60 sec.

Place your hands on the floor at shoulder width and extend your legs behind you. Lower your body until your chest is an inch above the floor. Press back up explosively so your body rises into the air. Catch yourself and immediately lower into the next rep.

3A. 10- to 20-Degree Incline Bench Press

Sets: 2
Reps: 5–6, 7–9
Rest: 60 sec.

Place a plate under the head of a bench. Lie back and grasp the bar with hands just outside shoulder width. Arch your back and tighten your glutes and abs. Pull the bar out of the rack and lower it to your sternum. Push your feet into the floor as you press the bar back up.

3B. Frog Stand or Handstand Hold

Sets: 4
Reps: 10 sec.
Rest: 60 sec.

Place your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart and squat down. Press into the floor and tilt forward so your knees rest on your elbows and your feet leave the floor. If that’s too hard, get into a pushup position with feet facing a wall and walk backward up the wall until you’re in a supported handstand.

4. 30-Degree Incline Cable Flye

Sets: 1
Reps: 12–15
Rest: 60 sec.

Attach handles to the bottom pulleys of two facing cable stations and place a bench inclined to 30 degrees between them. Lie back on the bench and grasp the handles in each hand with palms facing down and thumbs pointing in. Draw the cables in front of you in a flye motion.

5. Low-Incline Rear-Delt Flye

Sets: 4
Reps: 12–15
Rest: 45 sec.

Set a bench to a 30-to 45-degree incline and lie on it chest down with a light weight in each hand. Pull your shoulder blades together and raise the weights out 90 degrees to your sides.

6. Dumbbell Clean and Press

Sets: 3
Reps: 12, 10, 8
Rest: 90 sec.

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend your hips back and then your knees slightly when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Explosively extend your hips and use the momentum to heave the weights up to shoulder level. From there, press them overhead with palms facing each other.

DAY III

1. One-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Sets: 3
Reps: 5 (each leg)
Rest: 45 sec. (each leg)

Hold two dumbbells in front of your thighs and stand on one leg. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, push your hips back and lower your torso until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Extend your hips to return to the starting position.

2. Box Jump

Sets: 3
Reps: 3
Rest: 45 sec.

Set a box on the floor that’s high enough so it’s somewhat challenging to jump up onto for three reps. Stand behind it with feet hip-width apart and swing your arms back as you dip your hips and knees to gather power. Jump on the box while controlling your landing so that it’s quiet.

3. Suspended Leg Curl or Leg Curl

Sets: 3
Reps: 8–10
Rest: 60 sec.

Extend the handles of a suspension trainer so that they are low to the floor. Lie on your back and place your heels in the handles. Brace your abs, extend your hips so they rise into the air, and perform a leg curl. Begin every rep with hips extended and knees straight.

4. Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat

Sets: 3
Reps: 8
Rest: 45 sec.

Hold two dumbbells and stand lunge length in front of a bench. Rest one foot on the bench behind you. Bend both knees and lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor. Keep your torso upright.

5. Squat

Sets: 3
Reps: 5–6, 5–6, 8–10
Rest: 3 min.

Grasp the bar as far apart as is comfortable while resting it on your traps. Nudge the bar out of the rack and step back with your feet shoulder width and toes turned out. Bend your hips and squat as low as you can without losing the arch in your low back.

6. Farmer's Walk

Sets: 3
Reps: Walk 30 sec.
Rest: 60 sec.

Hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand and walk as quickly as you can. Every two steps equals one rep. Keep your shoulders back and chest out. Use two dumbbells that equal your body weight, or use a trap bar loaded with your weight.

DAY IV

1A. Face-Pull

Sets: 3
Reps: 12–15
Rest: 45 sec.

Attach a rope handle to a pulley and grasp an end in each hand with palms facing you. Stand back to put tension on the cable and pull the handle to your forehead while flaring your elbows out.

1B. Incline Y Raise

Sets: 3
Reps: 8–10
Rest: 45 sec.

Set a bench to a 30- to 45-degree angle and lie chest down with a light dumbbell in each hand. Pull your shoulder blades together as you raise your arms out in a Y shape.

2A. Hammer Curl

Sets: 5
Reps: 12, 10, 6, 4, 4
Rest: 30 sec.

Hold dumbbells in each hand with palms facing in. Keeping your upper arms in place, curl the weights. Start light and try to add a little weight as the reps descend.

2B. Angled-Bar Pushdown

Sets: 5
Reps: 12, 10, 8, 6, 6
Rest: 30 sec.

Attach an angled bar to the top pulley of a cable station and hold with both hands. Extend your elbows, pushing the handle down and away from your body. Start light and try to add a little weight as the reps descend.

3A. 1 1/2-Rep Fat Grip Incline Curl

Sets: 4
Reps: 6–8
Rest: 30 sec.

Attach Fat Gripz to dumbbell handles, or wrap a towel around them to thicken the grip. Set a bench to a 60-degree incline and lie back against it with the dumbbells in hand. Keeping your upper arms in place, curl the weights.

3B. Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension 

Sets: 4
Reps: 7–9
Rest: 30 sec.

Lie back on a bench holding dumbbells in each hand. Press the weights over your chest. Bend your elbows, lowering the dumbbells behind your head and then extend them. Your arms should be angled enough that you feel tension on your triceps at lockout—you shouldn’t feel the weight resting on your elbows.