Whether you’re a student whose summer vacation derailed your discipline or a family man with more important things to focus on than your bench press, various circumstances are always conspiring to keep you from your workouts. If you’re ready to head back into the gym, we’ll meet you halfway with this program, which will help you add muscle and strength fast while focusing only on the most essential exercises.

Directions

Why it works: We’re not going to overwhelm you with a complicated program when you’re just getting back into the swing of things. Instead, we want you to focus on just four lifts—the deadlift, front squat, chinup, and overhead press—and get good at them. These exercises will be all you need to see muscle and strength gains for a long time to come. You’ll manipulate the intensity of each lift within each session. For example, one day you’ll train the deadlift heavy, the front squat with moderate weight, and the press and chinup light. The next workout, the front squat will be heavy, the deadlift light, and so on. This will help you avoid getting too tired your first time back in the gym, and will allow you to prioritize one lift at a time to master good technique.

Frequency: Perform the workout 3 times per week, resting at least a day between each session.

How to do it: Each exercise has a specific percentage of your one-rep max (the heaviest load you can use for one perfect rep) assigned to it. Workout I is 85%, Workout II is 75%, and Workout III is 65%.

So, if your best deadlift is 350 pounds, and 85% is called for, you’ll use 300 pounds for each set (round the number up or down as needed). The percentages change each time you repeat the workout, so pay attention to when you’re lifting heavy, moderate, or light.

Note that the sets and reps remain constant—5 sets of 5. Complete all the sets of one exercise before moving to the next. For the chinup, estimate how much additional weight you can add (with a weighted belt or a dumbbell between your feet) that will allow you a one-rep max and base your percentages on that.