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. Click these to see your options and video→1. 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
Exercise Sets x Reps %1RM 1st Set RPE
Squat Variant 2 4×3–5 82.5–87.5 8
Deadlift Variant 3 4×3–5 82.5–87.5 8
Single Leg Variant 4 3×8–12 NA 8
Leg Curl  3×6–8 NA 8
Standing Calf Raises 5 5×6–8 NA 8
Day 2 – Upper Body
Exercise Sets x Reps %1RM 1st Set RPE
Horizontal Push 6 4×3–5 82.5–87.5 8
Horizontal Pull 7 4×4–6 NA 8
Vertical Push 8 3×5–7 77.5–82.5 8
Vertical Pull 9  3×6–8 NA 8
Triceps 3×8–12 NA 8
Biceps  3×8–12 NA 8
Day 3 – Lower Body
Exercise Sets x Reps %1RM 1st Set RPE
Hip Hinge Variant 10 3×6–8 NA 8
Leg Press Variant 11 3×6–8 NA 8
Leg Extension 3×8–12 NA 8
Leg Curl 3×8–12 NA 8
Seated Calf Raises 12 5×12–15 NA 8
Day 4 – Push
Exercise Sets x Reps %1RM 1st Set RPE
Vertical Push 13 3×6–8 NA  8
Horizontal Push 14 3×6–8 NA 8
Dips 3×8–12 NA 8
Flys 3×12–15 NA 8
Day 5 – Pull
Exercise Sets x Reps %1RM 1st Set RPE
Horizontal Pull 3×6–8 NA 8
Vertical Pull 3×6–8 NA 8
Weighted Back Extensions 3×8–12 NA 8
Face Pull 2×12–15 NA 8

Rest ~2–3 minutes between sets.

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

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

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

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  1. Good job!

  2. Back Squats (either low or high bar position), Front Squats, or Safety-bar Barbell Squats.

  3. Conventional, Sumo, Romanian Deadlift.

  4. Bulgarian Split Squats, Lunges, or Single-leg Squats with a Kettlebell or Dumbbell (also known as Pistol Squats).

  5. Smith machine, Leg Press.

  6. Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Incline Bench Press

  7. Seated Cable Row, DB Rows, Barbell Rows.

  8. Overhead Press, Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  9.  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 Down.

  10. Barbell Hip Thrusts, Barbell Glute Bridges, Cable Pull Throughs.

  11. Seated Leg Press, 45° Leg Press, Hack Squat.

  12. Smith machine, Leg Press.

  13. Overhead Barbell Press, Dumbbell Press, Landmine Press.

  14. Bench Press, Dumbbell Press.

About the Author

Eric Helms, Andy Morgan and Andrea Valdez

Eric is a coach, athlete, author, educator, and researcher. Andrea is a lifelong athlete, experienced coach, and content creator. Andy is an online training and nutrition coach. Together they are the authors of The Muscle and Strength Pyramid books. RippedBody.com is Andy's website, his sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire him to coach them, which he has been doing full-time, online, for the last seven years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one coaching to help you crush your physique goals, find out more here.

219 Comments

  1. Anton Golikov says:

    So this program is for 5-days in the row training, with rest only during weekend?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Inserting a day of rest so that you have no more than three sessions back to back would likely help with recovery and thus work a little better.

  2. João Pedro says:

    Hey Andy. Are the side delts stimulated enough in this routine without the need for isolations?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      We’ll have an article on that soon. But basically, yes. 🙂

  3. Ryan says:

    The book mentions that the sample programs are available for purchase in the gravitus app but I see no way to do this from the app or anywhere else. Also what would be recommended substitutes for face pulls and flys? Thanks.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Bent over DB reverse flyes would work.

      No idea on the app. Ryan, haven’t used it. This is Eric’s baby. (I personally like a pen and paper and then transfer it to a spreadsheet at the end of my training week cause I spend too much bloody time on my phone already. I can understand the appeal though.)

      Here’s the support email address: info@gravitus.com

      1. Ryan says:

        Bent over reverse flys would replace both face pulls and flys?

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          Ah, sorry for missing that. The flys don’t have any obvious replacement I can think of, but you can use dumbbells or cables which every gym should have.

  4. Arturo Murcia says:

    Hello Andy,

    Great job. I’ve read completely both books .Inspiring 🙂

    I have a doubt analyzing the intermediate routine.

    1- I’ve been training for 10 years, with great visual results ( big and shredded), but low strength. No evolution in the 2-3 last years . I’m used to more series ( more than 20 per muscle) and less intensitity ( 10 -12 )- I’m totally conviced to vary the intensity as you state in your book, however, Should I stick to intermediate or to upgrade to advanced ( in sets per muscle)?

    2 – Getting into detail, your routine has a lot of middle shoulder work, but mostly secondary . Would it be usefull to add lateral raises?

    Many thanks . Willing to change my mindset and achieve new objectives 🙂

    BR from Spain 🙂

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Arturo,
      1. Have a read of this: How to Break Training Plateaus.
      2. For the vast majority of people it’s not necessary.

  5. Julian says:

    Hi,

    For the triceps I always did tricep dips instead of an isolation excersice on the previous routine. I’m planning to do the same on this routine. Would this reduce the progression rate of other muscle groups?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      It could go one of three ways: work better, work the same, work less well.

      The purpose of our training is to give the body enough stimulus to grow and recover. If we do too much, we can fail to recover; if the volume isn’t sufficient, we won’t progress as well as we otherwise could (or at all). With the dips you have overlap to consider with the shoulders and chest. The only way to know is to try and see.

  6. Ryan says:

    Love the books. Bought them a few years ago and rereading them now after the updates. Do you have excel templates we can use to track our progress?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Ryan, thank you. We don’t.

  7. Jeff says:

    Hi Andy,

    I’ve been doing this program for 7 weeks with 1 week of deload (4th week) and the results were great. How long do you recommend I continue doing program? or Should I change the exercises and keep the same sets/reps/RPE?

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      For as long as things keep working! 🙂

  8. mohd says:

    hello andy 🙂 first i wanna thank for this site , learned a lot from it 🙂 anyway my question as an intermediate do you think this split (upper,lower,ppl) is the best option ? cause i was thinking abt a days split kind similar to this its like this : upper , lower . chest&back, legs , shoulder and arms . in your opinion can this one work or the one you recommnds is better ?
    many thanks in advance 🙂
    P.S sorry for bad English

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Mohd,
      This split is just one of many options. The start of our How to Build Training Programs guide covers other options and considerations at the start.

      1. mohd says:

        thnx man really appreciate your answer 🙂 but just to make it clear, in your opinion is there any advantages / disadvantages to do upper,lower,ppl OR upper,lower , chest&back , legs , arms and shoulders ?
        many many thanks in advance and sorry if im repeating myself here

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          They’re quite similar, but I probably wouldn’t dedicate a day to arms and shoulders.

  9. gustavo says:

    Hello! I have a herniated disc of the lumbar spine l3. Can I do squatting and deadlift?

    I am waiting for the translation of the books into the Portuguese language.
    Thank you Andy!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Gustavo,
      This is something you need to ask a medical professional about.

  10. Mario Pasquarelli says:

    Hi Andy! Is there a way you’d recommend I split it if I we’re trying to make this a four day split?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      You’d need to take the same volume/exercises, and split them across four days.

      You’ll see on the Quick Start Guide to Programming, page 206 that with four days per week your options when rearranging things are: 1) Upper, Lower, Full Body, Full Body, 2) Lower, Upper, Lower, Upper, 3) Full Body, Full Body, Full Body, Full Body.

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