True Muscle Trainer: Phase 2 Overview

Who says training to get stronger has to be slow and controlled? You'll alternate classic strength-builders with explosive jumps and med-ball work in Phase 2, rediscovering the beauty of full-body training along the way!

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Welcome to the strength and power phase of the True Muscle nine-week training plan. Don't get the wrong impression from the title, though. You won't be training like a powerlifter or an Olympic athlete here. This is about looking the part, but also being powerful to the core.

The goal of this phase is to increase force development. That means lifting heavy weights, but also doing some more explosive exercises. Those explosive movements are the biggest change you'll notice from Phase 1. Why train weights and explosive movements in the same workout? Both demand you to recruit more muscle tissue and maximize the strength potential of your nervous system—your software, to continue the computer metaphor from the Phase 1 overview. I want you to learn to tie together your body into a powerful coil that can lift more weight, build more muscle, and dominate any task.

True Muscle Phase 2 overview
Watch the video - 9:16

Strength and explosive power are also similar in how you program them, not just what they force your body to do. For both heavy lifting and explosive lifting, the number of sets is going to be higher than what you were doing in the bodybuilding phase, and the number of reps is going to go down, usually to around 4-6 reps.

You're going to get a lot stronger, but you're still going to add muscle. The way we build muscle comes in two forms. We could use higher volume, like we did in Phase 1. But now that you're adapted to that, we're going to delve into the other method, which is more tension, from lifting higher loads. Both feed into the same goal, which is adding muscle and increasing strength.

Ready? Let's dive in.

Phase 2 The Plan

In this phase, you'll follow a simple A/B/C rotation of full-body workouts, each lasting around an hour or slightly less. How long it takes for you will depend on your fitness level and familiarity with the exercises. As you get fitter over the course of the nine weeks, the workouts may get a little shorter.

If you're accustomed to a split that has you working five or more days a week, this three-day setup might take some getting used to. I've designed the workouts so that each one is going to be more challenging to you than the equivalent workout was in Phase 1, and for that reason, I'd like you to perform them on nonconsecutive days.

Each one will place more demands on your nervous system than in Phase 1, and will be a lot more physically tiring because you're using every muscle in your body. Because of that, we need to make sure you're getting enough rest.

If you're accustomed to a split that has you working five or more days a week, this three-day setup might take some getting used to.

Here's perhaps the easiest way to arrange this phase:

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Workout B
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Workout C
  • Saturday and Sunday: Rest

You could also do a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday setup, Monday/Wednesday/Saturday, or whatever else works for you and keeps you from doing workouts on consecutive days.

So what are you going to do with your four rest days? I insist that at least one of them can is a full rest day. The others can be so-called "active rest" days with activities such as:

  • Low-impact cardio
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Yoga

None of that is mandatory, though. Some people are going to fight me on that and say "I need to be working out four days a week." My response is simple: No, what you need to do is follow the program as I've designed it.

Start the program the way it is, follow it that way, see how well that benefits you, and then, when you've finished the entire nine-week program, if you want to use this template and turn it into a four-day-a-week program because you feel like that's better for you, that's fine.

As I mentioned in Phase 1, if you feel you absolutely must work out a fourth day, just make it a light "bro day." Do some arms, some abs, a little cardio, and go home.

No matter what your week ends up looking like, keep one thing in mind: Even though the primary goal is building muscle, it's not the only goal. That's what separates the True Muscle program from a pure bodybuilding program. You're placing some new demands on your body, so it might benefit from having a little extra recover time.

Day 22: Full-Body Workout

Day 22: Full-Body Workout

See if you can handle the Strength and Power phase of True Muscle with this tough full-body workout that nearly floors NFL player Steve Weatherford!

Power Time to Take Your Medicine

Each of your workouts in Phase 2 will follow this basic model:

  1. Dynamic warm-up (use the one from the Phase 2 workout video)
  2. Power/explosive movements
  3. Strength movements
  4. Conditioning

Your power training will encompass a few different takes on jumping and throwing, but will always include some medicine ball work. Why? I love medicine balls!

On the walls of my gym at Performance University, I have a very cool vintage picture of "Piney," President Herbert Hoover's schnauzer puppy, sitting on the president's medicine balls. It was taken around 1929 at the White House, after Hoover and his colleagues invented a game called "Hoover Ball," which he claimed "required less skill than tennis, was faster and more vigorous, and therefore gave more exercise in a short time." Look it up online sometime, and you'll see a truly demanding—and fun-looking!—game that requires full-body power in three dimensions.

The president's quote also shows why, rather than program the Olympic lifts and their variations like jump shrugs and high pulls to train for explosive power, I prefer medicine balls for most athletes. Medicine balls allow you to get a similar training effect to explosive barbell lifts, but without the same level of technical demands.

Here are the three med-ball movements you'll see in this phase:


Medicine-ball reverse scoop toss: This is like a very fast, maximal deadlift action—in fact, I sometimes call it the "deadlift toss." The assignment is simple: Try to throw the ball as far as you can behind you. Drop it down between your legs, kind of like a sumo deadlift, and then launch it over your back, using your hips to generate the power.

If throwing the ball isn't not an option in your gym, you can perform kettlebell swings, which are another great explosive take on the deadlift movement pattern.

Medicine-ball side scoop: This type of scoop toss starts with you standing perpendicular to a wall a few feet away.

Medicine-ball side scoop

Grab the ball, turn and load onto the opposite side hip, and unload into the wall. Stay tall and keep a long spine throughout the movement. Hunching over can put your back at risk here.

Punch throw: Whereas scoop tosses are more of a pulling action, the punch throw is a push. This is a great exercise to teach you how to tie together your hips, core, and shoulders to express full-body power. Start by squeezing the ball between your hands in front of your chest.

Medicine-ball Punch throw

Drive it hard into the wall, with your hip and shoulder moving at the same time. Then pick it up and do it again. You can see me show Steve Weatherford how to perform it in the Phase 2 workout video.

Strength Chase Progress, Not Numbers

The heavy movements in this phase are all tried-and-true exercises that have helped build plenty of strong athletes throughout history. I'm talking about front squats, deadlifts (although I prefer a particular variety of deadlift for this plan; watch the video to learn about the "hybrid deadlift"), chin-ups, dumbbell presses, and rack pulls. For each of them, your focus will be on ripping the weight off the ground (or out of the hole, or off of the stack) forcefully, which will maximize motor-unit recruitment and actually make you stronger. You can see this in action in the Phase 2 workout video.

If you're accustomed to following a body-part split rather than training for strength, you might be tempted to crank up the weights you're pushing. My advice: Don't rush, and make sure you hit your reps. The focus is not on chasing numbers or matching what you see Steve Weatherford or the biggest guy in your gym lifting. You want to chase progress. What sounds more like progress: Feeling like you have one or two reps left in the tank, or being so gassed that your performance suffers for the rest of the workout? I think you know what my answer is.

So rather than thinking in terms of "two plates" or "double bodyweight" or any other traditional markers, think of it this way: Try to get a little stronger each week, and perform better each week than you did the previous week. If you keep that approach consistent throughout the entire True Muscle trainer, you'll do great.

Conditioning Go Old School

Just like in Phase 1, your workouts will end with a short but intense conditioning movement. I like to keep these simple, so you don't have to be trying to remember complex form cues while you're sucking wind. One day, you'll do the type of crawls you see in the Phase 1 workout video, another day you'll be jumping rope, and on the third day, you'll do a combination of bodyweight squats, isometric holds, burpees, and squat jumps.

Just like in Phase 1, your workouts will end with a short but intense conditioning movement.

The way I perform burpees is a bit different than you'll see it in most gyms, though. As I explained in my article, "7 Creative Hacks to Improve Classic Exercises," I prefer your knees go outside of your arms, more like a sumo deadlift than a squat. This makes the exercise both safer and more metabolically demanding. Lucky you!

Phase 2 Nutrition and Supplementation

I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about nutrition and supplementation, because the nutrition program doesn't change from Phase 1, and it's not going to change in Phase 3. Why? Because it doesn't need to change—unless you've been having trouble keep it consistent.

In my opinion, your nutrition doesn't need to change any more than you need to change the fuel in your car based on whether you're driving slow for a long distance or fast for a lot of shorter ones. It's still the same type of fuel for the same engine.

We're talking about a lifestyle here, and a lifestyle has to be sustainable. It's unrealistic for it to change every month or every three weeks within your training. So if you need a refresher on nutrition, check back to the program overview's section on nutrition. If you've been having trouble staying consistent, just make the changes that make the most sense to you to keep your approach realistic. If you have to, write the word "realistic" in permanent marker on the outside of your fridge.

When it comes to supplementation, we're not going to reinvent the wheel. Keep using your protein for recovery, creatine to boost your performance in the gym, and perhaps BCAAs to help make sure your body is getting every chance to build muscle and recover fully between these intense workouts.

As I explained in the program overview, the third foundation of my supplemental trinity is caffeine—and particularly in a strength-and-power phase. If you're a coffee drinker, it's not as crucial to take it as a supplement. But as a supplement, caffeine like you'll find in a pre-workout is incredibly well-researched and has a number of benefits that can pay off in this phase—everything from blunting pain to helping you increase endurance to boosting your mental focus. All of those are extremely important when you're lifting big loads and performing the type of athletic movements in this phase.

You've Read It, Now Watch It

Before you go any further, I recommend you watch the Phase 2 workout video I filmed with Steve Weatherford. See how I coached him, the level of intensity he brought, and the mistakes he made, so you can see what's in store for you. You'll get plenty of form guidance, but also some more general coaching that can make all the difference in a program like this one.

I don't want you to just hit the ground running—I want you to hit the ground running in the right direction.

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