The high-level goal for most weightlifters is usually pretty simple: get bigger, leaner and stronger as fast and as safe as possible. But there’s so much advice out there, and it’s easy to get confused.

Not all of the advice is bad. It’s just that there’s so much of it. Weeding out all the crap and putting the pieces together takes a lot of time and research. You can scour the internet all you want, but the hardest part is figuring out what you should actually do right now to put all of this knowledge into action.

Luckily, there’s a few people out there who have combed through the literature and distilled it down to a few basic principles. One of those people is Mike Matthews. He wrote a book called Bigger Leaner Stronger.

In his book, Mike tells his story of frustration and stagnation at the gym and his journey to figure out the best science-based approach to naturally getting bigger, leaner and stronger. It’s a pretty good book with information on nutrition, supplements, motivation and muscle building.

The best takeaway, however, is the way it simplifies all the weightlifting advice down to a single actionable principle: progressive overload.

Progressive Overload

Technically known as “progressive tension overload,” the concept of progressive overload is simple: In order to get stronger, you must progressively increase the amount of weight you lift over time.

This might seem like a stupidly obvious truth, but many people think about it the other way around — that you have to first get stronger before you can increase the weight. However, muscles get stronger after they have been pushed to their limits. So progressively increasing the tension is key to inducing adaptation and muscle growth.

Progressive overload is not necessarily the “one strength training principle to rule them all” or that “weird trick” that will 10x your gains. There are multiple pathways to building strength and stimulating muscle growth, and which one you target depends on your experience level and your goals. You also need adequate rest and proper nutrition, among other things. So don’t come away from this thinking that this single principle is all you need to follow.

However, when it comes to strength training program design, progressive overload is generally considered to be the most effective pathway to stimulate muscle growth and build strength. Most weightlifters, especially beginners, will likely see the best gains from this approach.

The Bigger Leaner Stronger Routine

Mike lays out a lifting routine in his book, which goes by the same name: the Bigger Leaner Stronger Strength Program. It is centered on this concept of progressive overload. The main goal is to increase the weight on the bar every week so that you are constantly pushing your body forward to build strength and stimulate muscle growth.

The primary variation is a 5-day-a-week routine that you perform for 8-10 weeks. After that, you do a deload week, then repeat the process. Here’s what the routine looks like:

Day 1
Incline Barbell Bench Press 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Flat Barbell Bench Press 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Face Pull 3 Sets of 8-10 reps @ 70% 1RM
Ab Workout (see below) 3 rounds
Day 2
Barbell Deadlift 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Barbell Row 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Pull-up (weighted if possible) 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Calf Workout A (see below) 3 rounds
Day 3
Barbell Military Press 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Side Lateral Raise 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Ab Workout (see below) 3 rounds
Day 4
Barbell Back Squat 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Leg Press 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Romanian Deadlift 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Calf Workout B (see below) 3 rounds
Day 5
Incline Barbell Bench Press 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Barbell Curl 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Close-Grip Bench Press 3 Sets of 4-6 reps @ 80% 1RM
Alternating Dumbbell Curl 3 Sets of 8-10 reps @ 80% 1RM
Seated Triceps Press 3 Sets of 8-10 reps @ 80% 1RM
Ab Workout (see below) 3 rounds

Ab Workout

Mike’s ab workout is structured with 3 rounds of the following with 2-3 minutes of rest between each round.

  1. A weighted ab exercise (like Cable Crunch, Captain’s Chair Leg Raise, or Hanging Leg Raise) for 10-15 reps. If you can do more than 15 reps, add 5 pounds the next time.
  2. Immediately do an unweighted ab exercise to failure.
  3. Immediately do another unweighted ab exercise to failure.

Calf Workout

The program has two calf workout variations.
Workout A

  • Standing Calf Raise – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Seated Calf Raise – 3 sets of 4-6 reps

Rest 2-3 minutes between each set.
Workout B

  • Leg Press Calf Raise – 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Donkey Calf Raise – 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Rest 1-2 minutes between each set.

Progressively Add Weight

The goal of the program is to continually increase the weight used to perform each movement, and the progression is simple. If you couldn’t do at least 4 reps on the previous set, drop the weight by 5 pounds for the next set. If you were able to do 6 or more reps on the previous set, add 5 pounds to the next set. Pretty simple.

Alternatively, you can increase your base 1RM number by 5 pounds every week for each exercise. This will likely result in a more linear progression.

Rest Between Sets

Since you’ll be performing each exercise with relatively heavy weight, you’re going to want get plenty of rest between sets. This gives your muscles a chance to recover and expend maximal effort every time. The recommended rest time between sets is around 3-5 minutes. Subjectively speaking, this simply means getting enough rest that you feel at or near full strength for each set.

Measuring Your Progress

As mentioned above, one of the main keys of this program is the principle of progressive overload — progressively increasing the amount of weight you lift over time. In order to do this effectively, you have to measure what you do for every workout.

Like we always say, if you don’t measure it, you won’t improve it. You can’t increase the weight on the bar if you don’t know exactly what you did last time.

Tracking your progress also helps keep you motivated. Who doesn’t want to login and see this every week?

Wendler_Bench_Press_-_Week_1

That upward trend on your lifts gets you stoked! It helps fuel your drive to keep improving.

Otherwise, you’re just blindly throwing weights on the bar hoping to improve.

So measure your lifts. Every time. This is exactly what Fytt is designed to do — to help you track and improve your strength with precision.

Conclusion

Strength training doesn’t have to be complicated. As long as you’re consistent and you follow a few basic principles, you should be able increase strength and build muscle.

We’ve grown accustomed to marketing messages that promise results in a matter of weeks, but as a rule of thumb, those claims are bogus. Think more in terms of months, or even years. Because if you’re serious about changing your body, and you want to maintain those changes, this is something you’re going to have to commit to for years to come.

If this program seems complicated, don’t worry about it. We’ve built the Bigger Leaner Stronger routine on Fytt so that everything is laid out for you one day at a time. Without having to think about it, you can just login, do the workout for the day and record your results.

You are a unique athlete. Don’t settle for a static, one-size-fits-all training program. Let Fytt’s dynamic training algorithms build a customized routine to optimize your training.
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