fbpx

The Intermediate Bodybuilding Program

This is a sample bodybuilding program from our Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid book. The explanation section in the book is fairly detailed, so I have cut it down to give just the overview, relevant notation and exercise selection explanations.

This, the Intermediate Powerlifting Program, and the Detailed Guide to Training Progression articles bring the site up to speed with the level of training programming that I typically find myself using with coaching clients nowadays. I hope you find them useful.


The Intermediate Bodybuilding Sample Program Overview

The Intermediate Bodybuilding Program builds on the novice program by increasing volume globally. Additionally, the progression is changed to be more suitable to an intermediate level lifter and follows a linear-periodized, wave-loading pattern in the same manner as the Intermediate Powerlifting Program.

The framework is similar to that of the Novice Bodybuilding Program in that the week starts off with strength focused training on Day 1 and 2 in a lower and upper body format. However, for the rest of the week, muscle groups are organized in a three-day split.

Lower body, push, and pull are performed in that order, after the upper and lower body training sessions on Day 1 and 2. Thus, this is a five-day program; however the frequency per body part remains at two times per week like the novice program.

The change from four days of training in the novice program to five days in the intermediate program allows for more volume to be performed per muscle group, while also spreading the additional workload over more days in the week to allow for recovery.

Roughly 2/3rds of the volume in the Intermediate Bodybuilding Program is accumulated using moderate loads in the moderate repetition ranges, while the remaining volume is accumulated using heavier loads paired with lower rep ranges and lighter loads paired with higher rep ranges.

The breakdown for the Intermediate Bodybuilding Program is summarized in the table below:

Exercise Selection Guidelines

Exercise preferences, limitations, and equipment availability differs from person to person. Choose an exercise option that you can perform confidently with good form, pain-free, with a full range of motion. If you need further guidance see my guide to exercise selection, here.

Have a look at the program below and then I’ll explain the meaning of the ‘%1RM’ and ‘1st Set RPE’ notation and how to use it.

The Intermediate Bodybuilding Sample Program

Day 1 – Lower Body
ExerciseSets x Reps%1RM1st Set RPE
Squat Variant

variations»Back Squats (either low or high bar position), Front Squats, or Safety-bar Barbell Squatsclose

4×3–582.5–87.58
Deadlift Variant

variations»Conventional, Sumo, Romanian Deadliftclose

4×3–582.5–87.58
Single Leg Variant

variations»Bulgarian Split Squats, Lunges, or Single-leg Squats with a Kettlebell or Dumbbell (also known as Pistol Squats)close

3×8–12NA8
Leg Curl 3×6–8NA8
Standing Calf Raises

variations»Smith machine, Leg Pressclose

5×6–8NA8
Day 2 – Upper Body
ExerciseSets x Reps%1RM1st Set RPE
Horizontal Push

variations»Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Incline Bench Pressclose

4×3–582.5–87.58
Horizontal Pull

variations»Seated Cable Row, DB Rows, Barbell Rowsclose

4×4–6NA8
Vertical Push

variations»Overhead Press, Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Pressclose

3×5–777.5–82.58
Vertical Pull

variations»Chin-ups or Pull-ups (Use bands to assist you if too hard to reach the required number of reps, add weight if they are too easy), Lat-pull Downclose

3×6–8NA8
Triceps3×8–12NA8
Biceps 3×8–12NA8
Day 3 – Lower Body
ExerciseSets x Reps%1RM1st Set RPE
Hip Hinge Variant

variations»Barbell Hip Thrusts, Barbell Glute Bridges, Cable Pull Throughsclose

3×6–8NA8
Leg Press Variant

variations»Seated Leg Press, 45° Leg Press, Hack Squatclose

3×6–8NA8
Leg Extension3×8–12NA8
Leg Curl3×8–12NA8
Seated Calf Raises

variations»Smith machine, Leg Pressclose

5×12–15NA8
Day 4 – Push
ExerciseSets x Reps%1RM1st Set RPE
Vertical Push

variations»Overhead Barbell Press, Dumbbell Press, Landmine Pressclose

3×6–8NA 8
Horizontal Push

variations»Bench Press, Dumbbell Pressclose

3×6–8NA8
Dips3×8–12NA8
Flys3×12–15NA8
Day 5 – Pull
ExerciseSets x Reps%1RM1st Set RPE
Horizontal Pull3×6–8NA8
Vertical Pull3×6–8NA8
Weighted Back Extensions3×8–12NA8
Face Pull2×12–15NA8

Rest ~2–3 minutes between sets.

For convenience, I made this image to save to your phone:

Follow me on Instagram for more useful graphics like this.

If you’re interested in why this new version of the program differs slightly from that in the first edition of our book in 2015, see the last FAQ item here.


How to Progress with the Intermediate Bodybuilding Program

Now with some weight training experience under your belt, you should be able to tell with reasonable accuracy how many reps you have in the tank prior to failure. So, ‘rate of perceived exertion’ (RPE) based on ‘reps in reserve’ (RIR) will primarily be used to set load. As a reminder…

The %1RM notation stands for percentage of 1-rep maximum. It is an approximate guideline for how much you should load the bar the first time you start the program (only) and we will use this with our main compound barbell competition lifts.

The 1st Set RPE notation is there to tell us the intensity of effort with which we should lift. It is a guideline for how much you should load the bar for the first set, every time you train. I’ll come to this in the next section.

RPE NumberMeaning
10Could not do more reps or load without form failure
9.5Could not do more reps, could do slightly more load
9Could do 1 more rep
8.5Could definitely do 1 more reps, chance at 2
8Could do 2 more reps
7.5Could definitely do 2 more reps, chance at 3
7Could do 3 more reps
5-6Could do 4-6 more reps
1-4Very light to light effort

(If you still need more explanation about the use of ‘%1RM’ and ‘1st Set RPE’, refer to the Novice Bodybuilding Program.)

If you are able to increase the load each week, do that for as long as you can. When you can no longer do that you’ll need to move onto something slightly more complicated, which we call our Intermediate Progression Rules.

Primarily you will be following the intermediate, “Wave Loading Progression” model for all lifts except for the isolation exercises, where you will use the “Double Progression” model and deload it as outlined every fourth week along with the other lifts.

Intensity will go up over the course of a four-week cycle, while volume will come down. Like the novice program, each day of each week is progressed independently, meaning, you will not compare Day 1 to Day 2 or Day 2 to Day 3, but each exercise progression continues from the same day the previous week.

You can read those progression guidelines here.

Why There Are No Shrugs or Direct Abdominal Work in the Bodybuilding Programs

“I’ve seen bodybuilders remove shrugs and direct abdominal work from well-balanced plans that include a lot of compound exercises without any detriment to their traps or abs.”

To be perfectly honest with you, I’ve never actually seen a bodybuilder improve their abs or their upper traps by adding in these exercises to an already well-balanced routine that includes deadlift and squat variants, overhead pressing, rowing, other compound free weight exercises.

I’ve seen bodybuilders who don’t have a well-balanced routine that includes these compounds exercises benefit from performing shrugs and direct ab work, but that is already starting with would be a suboptimal approach in the first place in my opinion.

I’ve also met many bodybuilders who claim that these exercises are critical to the development of their traps and abs, but invariably these bodybuilders are already performing forty-odd exercises, so how would they know what was doing what?

Most convincingly, I’ve seen bodybuilders remove shrugs and direct abdominal work from well-balanced plans that include a lot of compound exercises without any detriment to their traps or abs.

Now, all that said, when I work with bodybuilders who specifically have weak traps or abs, I do prescribe direct ab work and shrugs. That’s just common sense and even if it’s not successful, it’s worth the attempt. So, if you do happen to be someone with weak abdominal muscles (and not just someone who holds fat in their midsection) or upper- trap development, feel free to add a few sets of these exercises per week.

An Important Note On Sample Training Programs

The idea behind presenting multiple sample programs in our book is that instead of readers seeing them as “the be all end all” that they just jump right into, they use them primarily as learning tools. The programs are the synthesis of the entire Training Pyramid, combining the concepts presented throughout the book into usable systems.

By examining the sample programs they are looking at only a few of the possible iterations of the concepts embodied in the text. Trainers will be able to use the sample programs to help them learn how to create customized programs for their clients, and athletes will use the programs to help them design a more individualized plan for themselves.

The Muscle and Strength Pyramid: Training v2.0

If you have found this helpful, you might be pleased to know it is just a small section taken from my Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid book, written with my co-authors Eric Helms and Andrea Valdez. The second edition, along with the Nutrition companion book, was released this January 3rd, 2019.

Join 16,000+ other readers, get your copies here.

Thank you for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments.

– Andy, Eric, and Andrea


Intermediate Bodybuilding Program FAQ

Can I add (exercises/sets) to the program?

Well, you could, but weight of the evidence suggests 10–20 hard sets per muscle/group or movement is an appropriate volume to prescribe when no foreknowledge of individual needs/tolerance/genetics exist.

The novice programs on this site provide a number of sets per movement/muscle group towards the low end of 10–20, this intermediate program towards the middle, and the advanced programs (in the book) towards the upper end.

This may or may not be less volume than what you are already doing, what you like to do, what ‘feels’ right or compared to other popular programs or what your favorite athlete or influencer does or suggests. But, unless you are an experienced lifter who knows from well-recorded observations over years what your specific volume needs are, I’d advise at least trying to progress using similar volumes to what we recommend first, before deciding it’s too low.

If you don’t make progress just do more volume. But in my experience as a coach, it’s just as likely (if not more likely) that you could progress just as well, if not faster, with a lower volume.

In short: Do enough to progress, not as much as possible. Increase training volume when plateaued if you are recovering well. More on this in my guide on breaking training plateaus.

Read Next:

279
Comments

Please keep questions on topic, write clearly, concisely, and don't post diet calculations.

avatar
700

Privacy policy.

newest oldest
Marco
Marco

Hi Andy,

I have a question regarding Day 4.
Which exercise can I take to replace dips?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Any horizontal pressing movement.

Marco
Marco

Hi Andy,

I just bought your books . I started with the training book. It’s amazing and eye opening. Thanks for that.
I have another short question.

Can I do this training sample plan on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and rest over the weekend ? Or should I have a rest day between the training days ?

Best regards,
Marco

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Marco, thanks for getting the books, glad you like them. It’s likely marginally better to have a rest day, if possible.

Marco
Marco

Hi Andy,

Thanks for your quick reply.
If I want to do this sample Programm on a four day routine with lower/upper/lower/upper where should I put the exercises stated at 5. Day? Just put them half/half on both upper days? Oh should I delete some of them?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Exactly. Remember, this program is just an example of how the training principles in the book could produce a 5-day bodybuilding focussed program. You’ll be able to create your own using the quick-start guide to building training programs. (This is in the book also.)

Joshua Da Costa
Joshua Da Costa

If I can only go to the gym 3 times per week, how should I tweak this routine efficiently?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Joshua, there’s no simple tweak that’ll make this a three-day routine, but have a look at this article on building programs as you’ll see your options for three days if that’s all you have.

Karl
Karl

What are your thoughts on adding an isolation bicep exercise on the pull day and isolation triceps exercise on the push day? thanks

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Karl. See the FAQ item at the end of the article.

Julian Shenouda
Julian Shenouda

Hi,

I have a number of injuries, so I wondered if it would be possible to replace the exercises with 6-8 repetitions with 8-12 or 10-12 repetitions. Would this change the overall progression?

In addition, I can do the single-leg variant so heavy that I can’t hold the dumbbells anymore. Do you have any tips for this?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Julian,

Fine to use lighter loads with higher rep ranges. The progression rules change slightly for the intermediate progression but the broad principles remain the same.

Use straps to aid your grip.

Alan
Alan

Hi Andy:
I’ve been following the novice bodybuilding program sample a few months now and Im confident with my form in the main compound lifts. I’m still progressing under linear progression but feel I can easily handle more volume as I’m recovering well and want to add a 5th day of training. I’ve already added extra sets to the program, i.e. 5×5’d the main lifts & a 3rd set to other movements that call for 2 sets. Im higher bf% than I desire so I’m currently dieting to cut. From your coaching experience, would it be a beginner error to move to the intermediate program at this point knowing linear progression is still working well? Im seeing results, just not sure if this is impatience.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

If you’re seeing results don’t change things.

Michal
Michal

Hi Andy I have been using this program for 3 weeks now and i feel that the lower body days are great. I can really feel that my legs are being worked but the upper body days not so much. According to progress I am about to deload next week but I don’t feel fatigued at all but I will do it since I’m not the expert. I guess I should stick with the volume even when I’m Bulking

Also what activity level would you set his program to? Thanks

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Michal,

1. I’d shift away from what you’re ‘feeling’ as a gauge of progress for now and focus on whether the loads you’re lifting are going up. This way you turn something subjective into a quantifiable thing and you’re able to troubleshoot it where necessary. (You’ll see guides for that also in the training menu page.)

2. For the TDEE estimation? I’d use a 1.4 multiplier, or thereabouts.

Wilson Wong
Wilson Wong

How can we modify this 5 day program into a 4 day program? I only have time for 4 days to lift due to my lifestyle.

Thanks,

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Wilson, see my response to Lawrence.

Jun An
Jun An

Hi Andy,

I have been doing powerlifting for been a year, was wondering is it beneficial to do this novice bodybuilding program off season as to fix my weakness.

1. Is it possible that I use Good Morning for the hip hinge movement?

2. My gym does not have cables machine to perform face pull is it okay that I substitute it with rear delts flyes machine ?

3. Just wondering do you have any recommendations for substituting leg extension as my gym does not have the machine.

4. Just to check for the linear progression so the 1st week recommended %1RM and each session continue add 2.5kg – 5kg for the main lift?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Jun,
1. Yes.
2. Yes.
3. Any reverse lunge, step up, or Bulgarian split squat variation.
4. Yes. Check out the progression guide.

Michael
Michael

HI Andy can you recommend substitutes for fly and dip? I cannot do these exercises due to shoulder tendonitis. I replaced dips with close grip bench but I cannot find anything for the fly and is gr bench ok instead of dip?

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Michael,

Fly: try all angles and try DB and cable versions. If no joy, I don’t have any recommendations as a direct swap for that and consider adding that volume to another chest exercise.
Dip: any horizontal pressing exercise.

Chris Verginis
Chris Verginis

Hi Andy,
I recently had a left knee ACL reconstruction so I can’t really do leg stuff, I just do physio stuff every time I go to the gym. Do you see any way I can make a 4-day upper body program out of this one ? Maybe add more sets/exercises and split the upper body day in two (like days 4, 5)?

Ty
Chris

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Chris, you have one functioning leg, train that (with single leg movements) and you’ll benefit from a crossover effect.

Chris Verginis
Chris Verginis

Thanks a lot, I ll try it!
Best,
Chris

Laurence
Laurence

Hi Andy, how would you recommend modifying this to a 4-day training week? My work and personal life prohibits me from doing any more than 4 days. I’m going to assume some sort of merge of day 4 and 5?

Many thanks

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Laurence,

Exactly! Your options are to split things: “Lower, Upper, Lower, Upper” (which is the simplest to tweak and what you asked) / “Lower, Upper, Full Body, Full Body” / “Full Body * 4” and then just shuffle the exercises around.

You’ll see this explained in the ‘Hypertrophy Frequency Matrix for Choosing Splits’ table in the How to Build Training Programs.

Michael
Michael

Hi Andy im trying to learn how to count the sets for muscle groups and cannot see what exercises that are used to get 13 sets for pecs. I can see 4 Horizontal Push sets on upper day and 3 Horizontal Push on push day

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Michael, you forgot the 3 sets of dips and flys.

Michael
Michael

yes I forgot to mention the flys but I did not think that the dips would count towards chest. I guess they should then be done as chest dips? Thank you

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Dips will primarily hit the chest, anterior delts, and triceps.

I’m not quite sure what you mean by “chest” dips, perhaps a wider or narrower grip to try to emphasize on the triceps or chest more (like with narrow-grip or wide-grip bench presses)? I think with this exercise especially, it’s worth doing them only with form that has the least risk of injury. That is:

Make sure to find parallel bars that are roughly shoulder width so that you can stack your joints. At the bottom, your shoulders should be roughly over your hands.

At the top of the dip, at full extension, your shoulders should be more or less over your elbows, and your elbows more or less over your hands.

You’ll find more exercise tutorials in The Lifting Library, which is an excellent exercise video tutorial product my co-authors have for sale.

Michael
Michael

Thanks for the reply.

Maybe you can clarify this :” Bob is an intermediate trainee of average height. He can gain approximately 0.7 kg of muscle per month which means he will target 1.4 kg of weight gain per month.
Step 4. Calculate Appropriate Calorie Intake For Your Goals
Suggested calorie intake = TDEE + muscle gain target per month (kg) * 440 kcal”

if I calculate 0,7×440 that is 308cal I multiply that with 30( a month) and get 9240cal that I should add to my TDEE per month.

1 pound of fat is 3500 cal so I divide 9240 with 3500 and get a 2.64 kg weight increase instead of the 1.4 kg that you mention

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Michael, please put this on the appropriate article and I’ll answer there. I want to keep the comments sections on topic so that they serve other readers also.

Trevor
Trevor

Andy,
Great work as always. I own 4 of your books and love them; however, I can’t seem to find details on the following:
– how to set up diet using carb cycling on a 5 day split Int. BB program
– is there a fomula that you have touched on or do I need to stick to 3 day split for cutting?
Perhaps I’ve missed something but any direction would be appreciated.
Thanks again for all you put out there.
T

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Trevor, there’s a spreadsheet you can use on this page, but to save you the hassle, here’s the formula:

Average daily carb intake = (5*t-day intake + 2*r-day intake)/7

So,

r-day intake = (7*Average daily carb intake – 5*t-day intake) /2

Add 10%, 15%, 20% to the 5-day intake and see how the numbers work out in those three cases. There isn’t a single answer and there’s scope for personal preference, so play around with the numbers a little and see what looks doable.

Alister Hill
Alister Hill

Hi Andy,
I recently “read” (am still digesting) your new training pyramid. Definitely the best purchase of my training life.

However, I am wondering what your thoughts would be on utilising myoreps for the accesories on this (and other similar) routines? They seem to be very popular vs straight sets.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Alister, thank you for getting the book.

We have this covered in the book. Have a read of the “Drop Sets and Rest-Pause Sets” section of the “Rest Periods” chapter. (Myo-reps is kind of a brand name, rest-pause training is the generic, commonly used name.)

Gavin
Gavin

Hello!
I have a 1 week holiday planned in a couple weeks and I was wondering whether it would be worth ramping up intensity/volume the week before I go on holiday. Or should I just train as normal, take the week off, and jump back on the program with a 1/2 week lag and continue?
Many thanks!

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Just train as normal prior, if you have access to a gym while away, do what you can, then just pick things up when coming back. No need to adjust things.

Stephen
Stephen

Hi Andy. In relation to warming up or stretching before any of your workouts. Should I stretch any muscle before working out? Or should I just do some light warm up reps of an exercise I am doing. Appreciate your help. Thanks alot

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Stephen,
I have a guide to warming up here: How to Warm Up for Strength Training.

Lukas
Lukas

Hi Andy,

first of all, thank you for the free content you‘re sharing with us! Really appreciate that!

I‘ve got two questions:

1. I wonder why I should do „wt back extensions“ on day 5? Isn‘t it enough volume for lower back (and hammies) if I do a DL variant and a HH variant (let‘s say GHR or hip thrusts) on lower body days? Could I replace the wt back extensions with close grip cable rows (maybe bent and extend the upper body to some degree to engage the lower back)?

2. What’s your opinion on replacing the LP variant with BB squats (in this case I would do them first, prior to the HH variant) and leg extensions with LP on day 3? Given that I can recover from that. I‘m not a big fan of leg extensions tbh.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi Lukas,
1. Sure, could be. This is just a recommended start point from which to adjust, after all, depending on your individual response and needs.
I’d stick with the back extensions as the moment arm position is going to make incremental loading much harder if you attempt to do it with a cable row.

2. Feel free to swap things around in any way you wish as long as you have reason to do so and can recover and progress.

Brian Phillips
Brian Phillips

I just thought I would let you know your post says for SL variant day 1 3×8-12, but the book and your phone chart both say SL variant day 1 3×6-8. Which is it? Also, thanks for the recommendations on rear lunges. That helped resolve my knee pain. Had patellar tendonitis before, and the lunges are really hard to keep from controlling the front toe position going forward. But backward, it is fixed. Closed chain exercises FTW!

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

The book is correct. Thank you for pointing that out, Brian. I’ve fixed the article now.

Also, glad to hear!

MD
MD

Hi Andy,

I’ve just read the book. First of all, a huge thank you for the amazing job! Has really helped me. I do have some questions though, that I hope you will answer.

1: I’m coming from Starting Strength, I’m considering starting on the Intermediate BB sample program – just as a start. Do you think this would be a fine place to start, or should I go with the novice program instead?

2: You mention in the book, that if it’s an aggressive cut, you recommend to switch it program to a level down. Do you consider a 500 deficit an aggressive cut?

3: Is it fine to do the same exercise two times a week, or would it be better to maybe switch it up?

4: Would it be better to use another exercise (personal preference would be to use the Back Extension)?

Even though I have personal preferences for some of the things, I would be willing to sacrifice that, if the alternative is better.

Thanks.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Hi MD,

Thanks for the questions and for getting the book.

1. Depends how advanced you are after coming off of Starting Strength. If unsure, consider starting with the Novice Bodybuilding Program and moving to this intermediate one.

2. You’ll see that this is at the lower end of the fat-loss rate guidelines and isn’t considered aggressive.

3. Fine and actually advisable if you’re getting used to the form as you’ll likely progress better with fewer exercises. (Related: A Guide to Exercise Selection When You Don’t Have Access to a Coach.)

4. Either way is fine.

You’ll see I modified your questions. You broke the brevity rule, so instead of deleting your comment (like I commonly do), I shortened your questions for other readers and answered this one time.

If you have further questions about book-specific content (outside the context of the sample articles), please hit us up on the book’s support page so that other people reading will find the answers relevant. Thank you.

Scroll to Top