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Basic Strength and Muscle Weight Training Program


Updated May 27, 2014

Frequency of Workout

This program is designed for 3 workout sessions each week for 6 weeks. If you consider that 3 workouts is too much because of time or fitness constraints, try to do at least 2 sessions per week, Monday to Sunday. In either case, the sequence of progression is as follows:

This program is based around 18 sessions comprised of either 6 weeks of 3 sessions or 9 weeks of 2 sessions for 9 exercises.

Here’s how it works (sets X repetitions, seconds break, for each exercise):

  • Session 1 – 1 X 12, 60 seconds
  • Session 2 – 1 X 12, 60 seconds
  • Session 3 – 1 X 12, 60 seconds
  • Session 4 – 2 X 12, 60 seconds
  • Session 5 – 2 X 12, 60 seconds
  • Session 6 – 2 X 12, 60 seconds
  • Session 7 – 2 X 12, 60 seconds
  • Sessions 8-18 – 3 X 12, 60 seconds

After session 12, consider whether you need to increase the weight for any particular exercise. If you can comfortably do more than the RM of 12 exercises, increase the weight by a modest amount, say two pounds or a kilogram for isolation exercise muscles such as triceps and biceps, and 5 pounds or 2.5.kilograms for compound and large muscle group exercises like squats and deadlifts. When using dumbbells, this would apply to each one. Don’t increase the number of sets beyond 3 at this time.

Note the flexibility here. If you're an experienced casual lifter starting an organized program, you may be able to kick off with 3 X 12 from the beginning. If you are new to weights and have some fitness issues, you should start with one set and progress slowly. Doing only 1 set of 9 exercises will not take too long, perhaps only 30 minutes with warmup included. Doing an extra 20 minutes or more of cardio before or after weights would be time well spent at this stage. Once you reach full stretch in the program, aerobic training may be better done before weights or at a separate session.

Order of Exercises

The exercise order should be maintained as above, busy gyms notwithstanding. This order has been designed with large muscle group, compound exercises first, the smaller muscle isolation exercises following and with alternating ‘push’ and ‘pull’ to achieve a session that alternates muscle groups and modes of action as much as possible to enable maximum rest and recovery of the various muscle groups. Some compromises were required. Don’t get too hung-up if you can’t achieve this sequence. It’s not always possible to access equipment when you want it in gyms. In the scheme of things it’s not fatal!

Here are some examples of compound, isolation and push and pull exercises.

  • Squat - compound - push
  • Seated cable row – compound - pull
  • Triceps pushdown – isolation - push
  • Lat pulldown – compound - pull
  • Overhead press – compound - push
  • Biceps curl – isolation – pull

How to Survive and Progress

Overload Management. The basis of strength and conditioning is progressive overload. It takes some skill to judge the point at which overload -- increasingly heavier weight -- is building capacity yet not making you too sore, ill or fatigued to continue. That’s why it’s very important to start slowly and build. When in doubt, take a rest, miss a session but don’t alter the program detail, the reps and sets, if you can help it. The squat and deadlift can be very taxing, so be careful not to lift too heavy for a start.

Pre and Post. Second, don’t skip the warmup and cool down. Yes, these are important for your continued health and progress. If you feel pain in any movement, don't do it. See a doctor or therapist as soon as possible if it persists.

Diet and Nutrition. Third, eat well and keep the fluid intake appropriate for the exercise and conditions. See the Weight Trainers’s Bodybuilding Diet.

That’s it for Basic Strength and Muscle. Novices and casual exercisers can expect a 20-40 percent increase in strength and some muscle size and muscle endurance enhancement. You could continue with this program beyond the 18 weeks by increasing the weight load as strength and capability improves. However, further progress may depend on alterations in exercise variety, frequency and timing. The next phase should be an intermediate program designed to enhance the progress you’ve already made.


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