Strong In 8 Weeks! Lift With A Plan To Maximize Results

Pop quiz: Where do you want to be in 8 weeks, and what's your plan to get there? If you can't answer that, you need a refresher course in strength training programming.

There's no doubt that getting fit and strong requires a lot of hard work, but work is only part of the equation. A goal without a plan, as one famous writer put it, is just a wish. To put this in gym terms, if you just throw some weights around and copy what you see other people doing, you won't get results.

The movements you choose in the weight room become your biggest fitness investment, after your gym fees. Think of them as exactly that: an investment. Each movement represents a value in time you spend in the gym—and not doing something else—make sure your time is spent on something worthwhile.

Much of the reason that strength training can be intimidating is that there is so much information. Some of it is straight-up misinformation; a lot is OK information that is geared toward someone with different goals and priorities than you. Where should you begin? What should and shouldn't you be doing? No matter what results you have in mind, you need to find your answers to these questions.

To maximize your training, you need a program—and no, your body-part split isn't a program. A program is a structured plan that will strategically and purposefully help you reach your goals, leaving you on a different level than when you started. Even experienced lifters can benefit from having a better program. Programming is a must for relative novices looking to get serious and experience their first strength breakthroughs.

Is this news to you? If so, get ready for a course in the fundamentals of strength training programming. I'm going to break down the major components of a lifting program and explain how they correlate with specific goals, so you can choose the program that works for you—not for someone else.

I offer a simple yet effective 8-week program that helps you to build a foundation of muscular strength that can help you get closer to your strength and fitness goals, no matter what they are. Try it if your gym time has been haphazard up to this point, or if you feel like you've gotten away from the fundamentals and need a whole-body refresher course.

Meet Your Movements

As a general rule there are three categories that all lifts will fit into: primary, assistance, and auxiliary. Where certain exercises fit in these categories differs based what type of activity you train for, but the principles behind them are fairly universal.

Primary exercises are always multijoint, compound lifts, and they are usually done with a barbell. These are the classic lifts many people use as a measure of strength, and are the focus of many competitive events. These are so important because they recruit the maximum number of muscle fibers and allow you to lift the most weight possible. Those are major requirements if your goal is to build strength and muscle.

Assistance exercises are usually still compound movements, often involving dumbbells, bodyweight, or other variations on the classic lifts. Assistance exercises help build muscle and have functional importance in sports, but they're titled "assistance" because they also contribute gains in strength on the primary lifts. You can go heavy on these exercises, but chances are you won't out-lift the weight you lift for a primary counterpart.

Auxiliary exercises are isolation movements that are best for getting a pump and bringing weaker body parts up to speed. These movements are fun to do, but probably won't compromise your results if you can't fit them into your schedule. Check out the chart below for a list of examples of each category of movement.

CATEGORIES OF MOVEMENT

Primary Assistance Auxilliary
Back Lunges Curls
Deadlift 1-legged squats Biceps isolation
Bench press Bulgarian split squat Triceps extension
Incline bench press Leg press Triceps isolation
Overhead press Romanian deadlift Lateral raises
Pull-ups Stiff-legged deadlift Leg curls
Chin-ups Dumbbell bench press Leg extensions
Power/hang cleans DB overhead press Shrugs
Push-ups Dips Flyes
Snatch Rows Calf raise

Know the difference between the movement categories. This is vital. Exercises you choose to do, when you do them, and what kind of rep/set scheme you use are critical factors in your success or failure.

If all you do in the weight room is auxiliary movements, you probably won't get much stronger, even if you have a few of impressive-looking muscles to show for your time. Instead, if you only do four exercises today, I recommend a workout breakdown like this:

  • First Exercise—Primary
  • Second Exercise—Assistance
  • Third Exercise—Assistance
  • Fourth Exercise—Auxiliary

Primary movements deserve priority. This should always be the case. Assistance movements will probably take up the most time, but their purpose is to build the strength to feed the primary move.

Assistance movements will probably take up the most time, but their purpose is to build the strength to feed the primary move.
Assistance movements will probably take up the most time, but their purpose is to build the strength to feed the primary move.

For example, if your primary movement is the bench press, your assistance work should target your chest, shoulders, and back, all of which will help you to be a stronger, healthier bencher.

Choose The Right Rep Range

Once you understand the logic behind exercise selection, you can tackle the next important element of a successful program: picking the appropriate amount of reps. How you set your rep range is crucial to the type of training result you will get; using the wrong rep range will lead to poor results. The most popular rep range in most gyms is 8-12 reps. This range is perfectly acceptable to use, but it's not right for every goal, and certainly not a permanent choice.

"But what about the amount of weight?" you ask. Let's get clear before we go any further: Your rep range should dictate the amount of weight you lift. In other words, make sure you lift the most weight you can for your chosen rep range while getting good clean reps without assistance. No forced reps—where your training partner helps you with a load you can't handle—are allowed here. If you do sets of 8 reps, you should use more weight than you would on sets of 10.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the important stuff. Your primary goal directly affects what rep range you should use. If building up your maximum strength is the goal, your training should focus on lower reps, typically between 1 and 5. Low-rep sets allow you to use a much heavier weight than higher-rep sets. This leads to increased muscle fiber recruitment and neuromuscular efficiency. It also conditions your muscles, joints and connective tissue to using heavier weights.

Your rep range should dictate the amount of weight you lift.
Your rep range should dictate the amount of weight you lift.

If hypertrophy (muscle growth) is your goal, you have a couple of options. It is widely accepted that there are two kinds of muscle hypertrophy: myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic. Stay with me, I promise this won't turn into a biology lesson.

Myofibrillar muscle growth is also commonly called functional hypertrophy. This is accomplished by using a moderate rep range—i.e., 6-8 reps—and fairly heavy weights. This range still impacts strength, but also leads to the growth of new muscle fibers. More fibers equal a bigger and stronger muscle, hence functional.

Sarcoplasmic growth is accomplished with higher rep ranges, around 8-15 reps, and is primarily caused by an increase in the fluid, known as sarcoplasm, in the muscle. This is more common in bodybuilder-style training than strength-focused training. The two types of hypertrophy don't occur independently of one another, but as a general rule, sarcoplasmic growth is believed to translate less to strength gains.

Depending on your goals, you might want to focus more on one type of rep range than the others, but you should never totally neglect any specific range. In the program I offer below, you will combine hypertrophy and strength protocols so you can be both bigger and stronger at the end of eight weeks.

Calculate Volume

There is an inverse relationship between reps and sets. The fewer reps you do, the more sets of the exercise you will need to do in order to trigger growth within your body.

For maximum strength training, your total exercise volume (rep/set amount) should be no less than 10 reps (unless you're doing a 1RM) but probably not higher than 20. So if you do sets of 3 reps, you should do at least 4-7 sets in order to build muscle.

Volume Calculations

Goal rep range set range total reps
Maximum Strength 1-5 About 3-7 10-20
Functional hypertrophy 6-8 4-5 24-30
Hypertrophy 8-15 2-4 24-40

For hypertrophy, you should shoot for at least 24, and possibly as high as 40 or more. Since you will do more reps per set, you won't need as many sets this way.

Build A Monthly Plan

Now that you have a good understanding of the major variables, you are ready to start building your program. Most lifters—regardless of their levels, but especially novices and intermediate-level-benefit from planning their training a month in advance. This includes fluctuations in both volume and rotations between exercises.

This Foundations Of Strength Program utilizes a tried-and-true method known as linear cycling. This is a method that some of the strongest lifters in history have used, such as Ed Coan, Kirk Karwoski and Bill Kazmaier. Linear cycling is simple: Start off using lighter weights for more reps, and each week or two, add a little weight and do fewer reps. It is an easy-to-follow, effective method for lifters of all levels.

Linear cycling method: Begin using lighter weights for more reps; each week or two, add weight and do fewer reps.
Linear cycling method: Begin using lighter weights for more reps; each week or two, add weight and do fewer reps.

Over the course of 8 weeks, the primary lifts will encounter the greatest change in rep range. Assistance work changes, but not as much. The first four weeks feature a greater volume and a focus on hypertrophy. This is called "accumulation," since you are accumulating volume. The second four weeks bring in heavier weights and focus more on strength. This is called "intensification," since the intensity (percentage of your 1-rep max) you use increases during this time.

This program utilizes all the foundational rules I outlined above. You focus on building proficiency at compound movements, and priority is given to the classic barbell lifts. The primary lifts are programmed in a linear fashion, getting heavier every week and ultimately ending with a test of a 2-rep max.

I chose a 2-rep max rather than the 1-rep max because performing 2 reps will give you a more practical idea of your strength. For most non-competitive gym-goers, a 1-rep max ends up turning into an ugly, bastardized version of the lift it's supposed to be. In addition, testing a 1-rep max is taxing on your body and nervous system. A 2RM is still taxing, but not as heavily.

The Foundations Of Strength Program

WEEK 1

Day 1
1

Barbell Squat

3 sets of 8 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

2

Romanian Deadlift

3 sets of 10 reps
Romanian Deadlift Romanian Deadlift

3

One Leg Barbell Squat

3 sets of 15 reps
One Leg Barbell Squat One Leg Barbell Squat

4

Barbell Ab Rollout

3 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Ab Rollout Barbell Ab Rollout

Day 2
1
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

2

Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3
Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press

4

Underhand Cable Pulldowns

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Underhand Cable Pulldowns Underhand Cable Pulldowns

Day 3
1

Barbell Deadlift

3 sets of 8 reps
Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

2

Dumbbell Lunges

3 sets of 15 reps
Dumbbell Lunges Dumbbell Lunges

3

Seated Leg Curl

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

4

Leg Extensions

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Leg Extensions Leg Extensions

Day 4
1

Standing Military Press

3 sets of 8 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

2

Weighted Pull Ups

3 sets of 8 reps
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

3

Incline Dumbbell Press

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press Incline Dumbbell Press

4

Seated Cable Rows

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows

WEEK 2

Day 1
1

Barbell Squat

4 sets of 8 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

2

Romanian Deadlift

4 sets of 10 reps
Romanian Deadlift Romanian Deadlift

3

One Leg Barbell Squat

4 sets of 15 reps
One Leg Barbell Squat One Leg Barbell Squat

4

Barbell Ab Rollout

4 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Ab Rollout Barbell Ab Rollout

Day 2
1
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

2

Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

4 sets of 10-12 reps
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3
Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press

4

Underhand Cable Pulldowns

4 sets of 10-12 reps
Underhand Cable Pulldowns Underhand Cable Pulldowns

Day 3
1

Barbell Deadlift

4 sets of 8 reps
Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

2

Dumbbell Lunges

4 sets of 15 reps
Dumbbell Lunges Dumbbell Lunges

3

Seated Leg Curl

4 sets of 10-12 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

4

Leg Extensions

4 sets of 10-12 reps
Leg Extensions Leg Extensions

Day 4
1

Standing Military Press

4 sets of 8 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

2

Weighted Pull Ups

4 sets of 8 reps
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

3

Incline Dumbbell Press

4 sets of 10-12 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press Incline Dumbbell Press

4

Seated Cable Rows

4 sets of 10-12 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows

WEEK 3

Day 1
1

Barbell Squat

3 sets of 6 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

2

Romanian Deadlift

3 sets of 8 reps
Romanian Deadlift Romanian Deadlift

3

One Leg Barbell Squat

3 sets of 12 reps
One Leg Barbell Squat One Leg Barbell Squat

4

Barbell Ab Rollout

3 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Ab Rollout Barbell Ab Rollout

Day 2
1
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

2

Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3
Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press

4

Underhand Cable Pulldowns

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Underhand Cable Pulldowns Underhand Cable Pulldowns

Day 3
1

Barbell Deadlift

3 sets of 6 reps
Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

2

Dumbbell Lunges

3 sets of 15 reps
Dumbbell Lunges Dumbbell Lunges

3

Seated Leg Curl

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

4

Leg Extensions

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Leg Extensions Leg Extensions

Day 4
1

Standing Military Press

3 sets of 6 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

2

Weighted Pull Ups

3 sets of 6 reps
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

3

Incline Dumbbell Press

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press Incline Dumbbell Press

4

Seated Cable Rows

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows

WEEK 4

Day 1
1

Barbell Squat

4 sets of 6 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

2

Romanian Deadlift

4 sets of 8 reps
Romanian Deadlift Romanian Deadlift

3

One Leg Barbell Squat

4 sets of 15 reps
One Leg Barbell Squat One Leg Barbell Squat

4

Barbell Ab Rollout

3 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Ab Rollout Barbell Ab Rollout

Day 2
1
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

2

Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

4 sets of 8-10 reps
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3
Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press

4

Underhand Cable Pulldowns

4 sets of 8-10 reps
Underhand Cable Pulldowns Underhand Cable Pulldowns

Day 3
1

Barbell Deadlift

3 sets of 8 reps
Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

2

Dumbbell Lunges

3 sets of 15 reps
Dumbbell Lunges Dumbbell Lunges

3

Seated Leg Curl

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

4

Leg Extensions

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Leg Extensions Leg Extensions

Day 4
1

Standing Military Press

4 sets of 6 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

2

Weighted Pull Ups

4 sets of 6 reps
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

3

Incline Dumbbell Press

4 sets of 8-10 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press Incline Dumbbell Press

4

Seated Cable Rows

4 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows

WEEK 5

Day 1
1

Barbell Squat

5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

2

Dumbbell Rear Lunge

3 sets of 10 reps
Dumbbell Rear Lunge Dumbbell Rear Lunge

3

Seated Leg Curl

3 sets of 10 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

4

Plank

3 sets max time
Plank Plank

Day 2
1
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

2
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3
Push Press - Behind the Neck Push Press - Behind the Neck

4

Chin-Up

3 sets of failure
Chin-Up Chin-Up

Day 3
1

Barbell Deadlift

Work to 5RM
Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

2

Barbell Step Ups

3 sets of 15 reps
Barbell Step Ups Barbell Step Ups

3

Floor Glute-Ham Raise

3 sets of 10 reps
Floor Glute-Ham Raise Floor Glute-Ham Raise

4

Barbell Side Bend

3 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Side Bend Barbell Side Bend

Day 4
1

Standing Military Press

5 sets of 5 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

2

Weighted Pull Ups

5 sets of 5 reps
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

3

Dumbbell Bench Press

3 sets of 10 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Bench Press

4

Seated Cable Rows

3 sets of 10 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows

WEEK 6

Day 1
1

Barbell Squat

5 sets of 3 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

2

Dumbbell Rear Lunge

4 sets of 10 reps
Dumbbell Rear Lunge Dumbbell Rear Lunge

3

Seated Leg Curl

4 sets of 10 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

4

Plank

4 sets max time
Plank Plank

Day 2
1
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

2

Bent Over Barbell Row

4 sets of 10 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row Bent Over Barbell Row

3
Push Press - Behind the Neck Push Press - Behind the Neck

4

Chin-Up

4 sets of failure
Chin-Up Chin-Up

Day 3
1

Barbell Deadlift

3 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

2

Barbell Step Ups

4 sets of 15 reps
Barbell Step Ups Barbell Step Ups

3

Floor Glute-Ham Raise

4 sets of 10 reps
Floor Glute-Ham Raise Floor Glute-Ham Raise

4

Barbell Side Bend

4 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Side Bend Barbell Side Bend

Day 4
1

Standing Military Press

5 sets of 3 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

2

Weighted Pull Ups

5 sets of 3 reps
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

3

Dumbbell Bench Press

4 sets of 10 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Bench Press

4

Seated Cable Rows

4 sets of 10 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows

WEEK 7

Day 1
1

Barbell Squat

6 sets of 3 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

2

Dumbbell Rear Lunge

3 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell Rear Lunge Dumbbell Rear Lunge

3

Seated Leg Curl

3 sets of 8 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

4

Plank

3 sets max time
Plank Plank

Day 2
1
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

2

Bent Over Barbell Row

3 sets of 8 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row Bent Over Barbell Row

3
Push Press - Behind the Neck Push Press - Behind the Neck

4

Chin-Up

3 sets of failure
Chin-Up Chin-Up

Day 3
1

Barbell Deadlift

6 sets of 3 reps
Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

2

Barbell Step Ups

3 sets of 15 reps
Barbell Step Ups Barbell Step Ups

3

Floor Glute-Ham Raise

3 sets of 10 reps
Floor Glute-Ham Raise Floor Glute-Ham Raise

4

Barbell Side Bend

3 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Side Bend Barbell Side Bend

Day 4
1

Standing Military Press

6 sets of 3 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

2

Weighted Pull Ups

6 sets of 3 reps
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

3

Dumbbell Bench Press

3 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Bench Press

4

Seated Cable Rows

3 sets of 8 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows

WEEK 8

Day 1
1

Barbell Squat

Work to 2RM
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

2

Dumbbell Rear Lunge

2 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell Rear Lunge Dumbbell Rear Lunge

3

Seated Leg Curl

2 sets of 8 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

4

Plank

3 sets max time
Plank Plank

Day 2
1
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

2

Bent Over Barbell Row

2 sets of 8 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row Bent Over Barbell Row

3
Push Press - Behind the Neck Push Press - Behind the Neck

4

Chin-Up

2 sets of failure
Chin-Up Chin-Up

Day 3
1

Barbell Deadlift

Work to 2RM
Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

2

Barbell Step Ups

2 sets of 15 reps
Barbell Step Ups Barbell Step Ups

3

Floor Glute-Ham Raise

2 sets of 10 reps
Floor Glute-Ham Raise Floor Glute-Ham Raise

4

Barbell Side Bend

2 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Side Bend Barbell Side Bend

Day 4
1
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

2

Weighted Pull Ups

2 sets to failure
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

3

Dumbbell Bench Press

2 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Bench Press

4

Seated Cable Rows

2 sets of 8 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows