Fitness is complicated these days. There are so many programs, exercises, and implements from which to choose that it’s hard to know what you should really do to make strength and muscle gains. Or maybe you're wondering what you should do after four weeks on one workout plan.

Do yourself a favor: Forget all the other options and focus on the program given here. It’s guaranteed to work for as long as you use it, ensuring a lifetime of steady progress without plateaus.

How it works

You’re going to concentrate on one or two major barbell exercises—the bench press, squat, deadlift, or overhead press—each workout. These lifts work the most muscle mass, and will always challenge your body.

Each lift's intensity will progress over four weeks. The first week you’ll do sets of eight reps using a moderate percentage of the heaviest load you can handle for one rep. The next week you’ll go a little heavier and do five reps. The following week you’ll increase the intensity so you can perform only three reps, and then in Week 4, you’ll lighten things up. This “deload” week will refresh you to start the cycle again in Week 5. One important note: As you increase the intensity, you should also increase the rest between sets, giving your central nervous system time to recover along with your muscles. Add weight to each main lift every month and you’ll see astounding gains within weeks.

The remaining exercises are meant to work the muscles that are prime movers on the main lifts and to prevent muscle imbalances. They’ll also target your arms, abs, and many other body parts you want to enhance. To keep the program working long-term, simply switch up the exercises slightly month-to-month. For instance, swap out the one-arm row for a bentover row next month (you can do this with the main lifts, too, although they won’t require it as frequently).

This workout’s foundation is similar to Jim Wendler’s popular 5/3/1 system, but you’ll note a few significant changes. First, the rep scheme and percentages differ, giving you more volume at the beginning of each cycle, and each of these sets is performed for a fixed number of reps. Next we add variation to your assistance work to make things interesting.

Directions

Frequency: Perform each workout (Days 1, 2, and 3) once per week, resting at least a day between each session.

Time needed: 45–60 min.

How to do it: Perform the exercise pairs (marked A and B) as alternating sets. You’ll complete one set of A, rest, then one set of B, rest again, and repeat until all sets are complete. Perform the remaining exercises as straight sets. The bench press, squat, deadlift, and overhead press must be done with a certain percentage of your max—the heaviest load you can lift for one rep. If you don’t know your maxes, estimate them using the formula in the section below. You can see how the sets, reps, and percentages look over four weeks.

Find the max: You can get a rough estimate of your max if you know how many reps you can perform with a certain weight. The formula to find your max is as follows (note that it’s most accurate in the five- to eight-rep range).

One-rep max = (weight x reps x 0.0333) + weight For example, a guy who can bench-press 225lbs for six reps can probably do one rep with 270lbs, but be conservative.

4-week plan

Week 1:  4 sets of 8 reps @ 65-70%


Week 2:  4 sets of 5 reps @ 75-80%


Week 3:  3 sets of 3 reps @ 85-90%


Week 4:  5 sets of 5 reps @ 60-70%


Note that the workout pages that follow show only the percentages, reps, and sets for the first week (65-70%). You must be sure to change the percentages, reps, and sets each week accordingly.