Most lifters won't take this claim seriously: You can build PR-worthy strength with only two training days per week. You can roll your eyes all you want and return to curling five days per week, but this isn't a virtual girlfriend story. It's reality.
This claim does require a preface, however. When I talk about hitting two workouts per week, I'm not talking about unmotivated, haphazard training sessions that involve more yak-yak than heavy lifting. No, these two days per week must be a focused and driven attack on the iron.
Even with intense focus, I'll admit that achieving measurable strength gains on only two sessions per week seems unlikely. But I've done it. I've seen my clients do it, too. I coach, attend grad school, and work a full-time job, so I don't have much spare time.
For someone like me, two-day training is perfect. The key is to focus volume and intensity toward specific goals and lifts.
Okay, here are the principles. Simplicity is paramount.
Most training cycles I pen include a deload between weeks four and six, but this one doesn't. Training two days per week won't accumulate enough stress to require a deload. A "down" week would just be wasted time. You can apply the template below for 12 solid weeks without any deload weeks.
Progress is dependent on focus, and exercise variation must be limited for progress when training twice per week. If you throw several exercises at your body in a short timeframe, limited adaptation results. Strength gains require exposing your body to constant stimulus, especially in a limited training window. There's no need to get fancy.
You're going to pick two lifts and get good at them. Really good. You'll do them every time you train, after all. With only two training days, I know it seems logical to use as much variation as possible, but variety doesn't promote progression. Building skill does. Getting good at lifts allows us to train harder and get stronger.
The two lifts you choose will be done with speed and vigor. They're included at the end of your warm-up preceding your main lifts, which are the same lifts loaded more intensely.
Forget About Body Parts
To get strong, we train lifts, not muscles. If you're a body-part-split aficionado, you must remove your bias and open your mind to try this template.
All lifts, except for your warm-up lifts at the beginning of each workout, are going to be heavy. We're talking about high intensity. There's no time for fluff and unnecessary volume. We have to use intensity to get strong.
The main lifts are loaded using heavy sets of 2-3 reps. Assistance work will stay between 5-8 reps per set.
Training Days Devoted to One Lift
By now, you know that you have to choose two lifts and train them with a chip on your shoulder. It's not rocket science. One training day will be devoted to the first lift you choose, and the subsequent day is devoted to the other lift. All assistance work on each day is devoted to develop the main lift.
A Few More Guidelines
Exercise Pairings: Pair a lower-body exercise like the squat or deadlift with an upper-body exercise, like the overhead press or bench. This combo creates training efficiency and helps the body adapt to the new loading parameter.
Intensity Ratings: Below you'll find nomenclature describing training intensity based on Mike Tuscherer's rated perceived exertion (RPE) system. Here's a quick rundown:
- 6 = Bar moves quickly without much effort
- 7 = Bar moves quickly with maximal effort
- 8 = Could've done 2-3 more reps
- 9 = Could've done one more rep
- 10 = Absolute max, couldn't do one more rep
Below are twosample days aimed to build a stronger deadlift and bench press. The first day is the deadlift day. Notice that all the assistance work is deadlift-specific. This is a template example, so feel free to set up your own programming. Choose assistance exercises based on your individual weaknesses.
Throughout 12 weeks, "wave" the volume based on your individual ability to recover and adapt. Some people need more intensity, while others need more volume. When you determine your needs, try to keep volume fluctuations around 10 percent.
If you find that your body responds best to increases and decreases in intensity, work up to a "9" intensity level on your main lifts 2-3 times during the 12-week cycle, but keep 3-4 weeks between the high-intensity sessions.
Test yourself on week 13. Complete a low-volume, low-intensity version of your current plan at the beginning of the week and focus mostly on technique with your two chosen lifts. Cut the assistance work if necessary. A few days later, test your one-rep max on your two chosen lifts.
You can make excuses or you can make progress—you can't do both. For the lifter hell bent on getting stronger, limited time is no excuse. Two hours per week is enough time to become a monster.