The Core Principles of Effective Strength Training

There are multiple ways to go about achieving the same shredded look with resistance training. This is why there may appear to be too much conflicting training information available on the internet. My goal is not to add to it, but to simplify it in the guides on the site.

There are fundamental principles that training programs must follow if they are going to be effective. I don’t want you to waste years of your life, as I did, before finding out what really works. This article covers those principles and explains the reasons behind the training recommendations made on this site.

In short, we will focus on a training style with a bias towards progressive strength gains in the main compound movements. I believe this is the fastest way to get stronger, bigger, and change your physique, with the least risk of spinning your wheels (i.e. putting in effort without results).

If you are new to training then this will be the best training year of your life as your potential for growth is the greatest. Do not waste this opportunity, and do not suffer fools that try to steer you off the path toward ineffective routines.

If you have been training a while and haven’t seen the progress you thought you would, a renewed focus on the basics will probably benefit you greatly. It’s not too late to start now, but it would be silly to continue doing what you are doing and expect a different result.

Training Principles

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

1. Progressive Overload Must Occur

An effective training routine must follow The Principle of Progressive Overload. This means that it must plan for and allow us to consistently add reps, or weight to the bar over time to drive physical adaptations and change.

There are many ways that we can achieve this but I feel that barbell exercises are best – they are one of the easiest tools for allowing incremental loading, they are toughest to cheat on (and cheat ourselves out of a good training effect on), and the easiest to gauge our progress with.

Simple barbell training routines do not make for a new or sexy article in a magazine, which is why you don’t generally see them in there. This is not because they aren’t effective, the best bodies in the world have been built with these basics.

2. We Must Always Strive To Use Good Form

Training with good form is critically important. If we do not do so, then we not only reduce the training effect but set ourselves up for an injury somewhere in the future.

Furthermore, using the same good form for all reps, through a full range of motion at all times, is the only way we’re able to objectively gauge our progress and thus assess if we need to make changes.

Work Done = Force x Distance

A common mistake you see people making is adding weight but shortening the range of motion. You’ve probably seen this also – a guy will bench a weight they can’t handle but do very short reps. If they do that, they have no way to know whether they truly progressed or whether the bar just traveled a shorter distance (thus making the exercise easier). The same is true of many exercises.

Making a small investment in getting your form right will pay big dividends in the future. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Hire a coach, if you can.
    • Getting a coach to check your form is a great idea in theory, but easier said than done in practice. Unfortunately 90%+ of staff in commercial gyms will not know how to teach the barbell moves properly, though they’ll think they can, which means you won’t know whether you’re being taught correctly or not.
    • If you can get to a proper powerlifting gym (a serious gym), do that, as the people there will be able to show you how to lift.
    • If you can’t get to a serious gym then self-teaching may be the only viable option. Many people are self-taught, myself included. Here are the resources you need:
  2. Take the time to read these articles:
  3. Alternatively, consider getting this book:
  4. Check your form against these videos:
    • Mark Rippetoe’s Youtube video lectures.
    • Type any exercise you’re looking for into Youtube along with any of the following names and you can be sure it’ll be good: Eric Cressey / Tony Gentilcore / Bret Contreras / Jordan Syatt
    • Film yourself from the same angle and then check your form by comparing.

Form is something that you will work on for months and even years. So don’t get an ego about it, stay humble, have the mindset of practice, and you can’t help but get stronger and grow.

Ring Chinups

3. Rep Ranges & Exercise Selection

You will see in the sample routines covered on this site that there are a low number of exercises included. When you use the big compound movements you hit multiple muscle groups at once, which is why it’s possible to create an effective routine out of so few exercises.

You’ll also see that the primary set-rep pattern used is 5×5 – meaning five sets of five reps. This is not because 5×5 is a magic set-rep pattern (there isn’t one) it’s just a convenient way to initially set up our training to allow us to focus on progressive overload in our key exercises.

It is touted that higher rep ranges (8-12) are better for hypertrophy, and lower rep ranges (1-5) are better for strength. While this is true at the extremes, it misses the bigger picture entirely.

By far the most important thing is that we have an objective base from which to judge the efficacy of our training. – Are we stronger, or not?

If we were to artificially compare a 3×8-10 routine with a 5×5 routine using the same exercises, given that total training volume is roughly equal, they are going to produce very similar results in terms of hypertrophy with the latter giving more strength adaptations.

If executed well of course.

But that’s the problem – when people go with higher-rep routines they usually come along with a greater variety of exercise selection. Which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, if it weren’t for the fact that people tend to lose sight of the principle of progressive overload when they are given many isolation exercises instead of a few compound movements that hit all the same muscle groups anyway.

For this reason, I am in favor of the 5×5 style for the compound movements for novice trainees as it provides a very easy and tangible way of measuring progress, as well as a simple base from which to start adding training volume when it becomes necessary. You might consider the guides on this site then to have a strength focus, which is a fair comment, but a very positive thing whether you wish to be jacked or strong as you’ll achieve both.

4. Strength vs Size Is A False Dichotomy

A good friend and colleague of mine, Greg Nuckols, explains this one well:

“Gaining size (muscle mass) versus gaining strength is really a false dichotomy for most people; they’re two sides to the same coin.

Now, if you’re brand new to lifting, you’ll probably gain strength (weight on the bar) much faster than you gain muscle mass initially. That’s a simple matter of your nervous system learning the movement and figuring out how to effectively use the muscle you currently have (plus a little extra you build) to move the load.

Once you’ve learned a movement, though, there’s only one way to keep those strength numbers ticking up: Those muscles have to grow.

On the other hand, if you’re training primarily to gain mass, those muscle gains will be slow in coming unless you apply progressive overload (increasing training volume, intensity, or both). And, by doing so, you’ll get stronger. Then, with that increased strength, you can load the muscles even heavier, create more tension, and grow bigger yet.

To get stronger (unless you’re a complete beginner), you need to get bigger, and to get bigger you need to get stronger. Training for one without the other doesn’t really make sense for most people.

In some fringe cases, it may be possible and necessary. For instance, if you’re an elite powerlifter weighing very close to the top of your weight class, then you may need to train in a manner to eek the last possible neural improvements out of the movements without gaining muscle mass that would push you into the next weight class. If you’re a bodybuilder with a long injury history and not much more room for growth in the first place, then avoiding the heavier training that drives strength gains in favor of lighter, more voluminous training may be prudent.

For everyone else, get stronger to get bigger and get bigger to get stronger.”

Source: 5 Things People Need To Stop Overthinking

The Principle of Progressive Overload

5. Volume and Frequency Need to be Appropriate for Your Training Level and Goal

We can achieve a great amount by training just 3 days a week for an hour. But that doesn’t mean this is all you will need, forever.

  • A novice needs less overall training volume to bring about change than an advanced lifter.
  • Less training volume is required to maintain muscle mass than what is required to force adaptations and growth when seeking to gain muscle mass. This is especially relevant when dieting.

I suggest that you do the minimum you can to keep progressing at a sustainable rate. This way it’s easier to add in volume later when it becomes necessary.

The pros train 5+ days a week because they need to do so to be able to get the amount of volume in that is required to still make gains. The theory on this is covered in a later section, but for now, just don’t make the mistake of being that skinny guy down the gym, copying the advanced guys, without realizing that it simply isn’t appropriate for you right now.

A rough guide:

→ Recovering fine but failing to make progressions with strength? – Increase your training volume (by adding in more reps or sets). Add in a training day if necessary to achieve this.
→ Struggling to recover? – Decrease training volume, or split your workouts up further.

<—- Beginner — Intermediate — Advanced —->

Cutting:   3 days — 3 days — 3-4 days

Bulking:   3 days — 3-4 days — 4-6 days

6. Adequate Recovery Is As Important As The Training Itself

Training provides the stimulus and stress telling your body to adapt. Recovery allows the adaptations to take place. Thus, in order to make the most of your training efforts:

  1. Eat well.
  2. Sleep well.
  3. Do your best to minimize stress in your life.

Don’t neglect any of these areas or it will hold you back.

7. Learn How To Program Your Own Training

The most important thing for the novice trainee is that you get on a good strength training program then stick to it. There’s not really any point in you arguing the minor differences between good, tried and proven strength routines. Nor do you really have a base from which to judge them independently. Just start something.

Read this next: Which Training Program Is For Me? →

The most important thing for the intermediate and advanced trainee becomes not what program you follow (for you must have followed a good one or you wouldn’t be intermediate or advanced), but how you tweak it so that you keep advancing with your training. This is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle and where people get stuck.

You’ve been spending 4-8 hours a week going to the gym for years, it’s worth investing a few hours to make sure that you’re getting the most out of it, right?

Do either of these next:  Watch the Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid video series by my co-author Eric or if you prefer a written version we have a book available. →

The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid Video Series


Thanks for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments as always. – Andy.

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

510 Comments on “The Core Principles of Effective Strength Training”

  1. Joel says:


    Absolutely the best damn website on the internet. Over the past two or three weeks I’ve read most everything that I can find on your site, and am continually impressed by your thoroughness and clarity. Two questions, if you’ve got the time:

    I’m a part time CrossFit coach, and have clients that ask me about nutrition on a semi-regular basis… Any reason your principles wouldn’t work with CrossFit clients? I haven’t seen many CF comments on the pages here, and I’m just starting to apply them myself. I’d love to point them your direction.

    My second question is specifically about IF – I’ve read and understand (and have bookmarked) the nutritional hierarchy of importance, and I’ve got pyramid items 1-3 (cals, macros, micros) pretty dialed in, to within 5-10 grams of macros each day, from whole food sources including meats, fruit, veg, grains, but I am NOT currently practicing IF, as it would be disruptive to my family (breakfast is quality family time with two young kids and a third on its way in less than a month). Is it possible to get shredded without IF, or is getting that shredded one of those things that I’ll need to give up in order to put my family in front of my abs?

    Thanks for your incredible work and your time.


    1. Hi Joel, thanks for the questions.

      1. I want to be in control of the programming.
      2. Yes, absolutely possible.

      PS: Sorry for the delay in replying. I had been unable to do so while the website went through a big update over August.

  2. Frank says:

    Hi Andy,

    Firstly, I love your site and all the information available. There are so many awesome results on here. My question is about the specific requirements of strength training.

    I play soccer and train 4 nights a week specifically for soccer. Each morning I use bodyweight exercises (majority being chin/pull ups, inverted rows and push ups), a 20kg dumbbell set and various resistance bands to do some basic resistance work.

    My goal isn’t to gain muscle, rather maintain what I have and achieve a leaner physique as I still have some fat on me, especially in those stubburn areas.

    Would your type of nutritional program work with the soccer and resistance training I’ve mentioned above? Or would it be essential for me to join a gym in order to do strength training you typically prescribe?

    Any help would be appreciated mate, thanks!

    1. Hi Frank,

      Consider the nutrition and training independently. See my complete nutrition set up guide for that.

      Now, as to whether the body weight work will be enough to sustain your training adaptations while you diet? Well, yes, they probably will as that is what has taken you to where you are currently. However, to progress from here you need to provide progressive overload which is a lot more difficult to do effectively with bodyweight work.

  3. […] Kyoko’s weight training routine was 15 minutes twice a week. Less than ideal, but better than nothing. I got her doing 3 sets of kettlebell swings followed by push-ups and that was it. She didn’t even have a kettlebell so I gave her one of by dumbbells to use which she had to put in a suitcase with wheels and take on the subway because it was too heavy to carry home. Needless to say, her results would have been much better if she had been able to do the barbell training I recommend. […]

  4. Ryan Blair says:

    Hi Andy,
    Your website is phenomenal! I just found it and am trying to soak it all up. I just started IF, I’m doing the early morning lifting 3x a week and eating 12-7 or so. I have 2 questions. I have shoulder and tricep atrophy due to nerve damage, so I have to be very careful and use light weights on pushing stuff. I also have a SI joint that I’m trying to rehab so I’m unable to squat much at the moment(70-100 lb goblet squats), I can do moderate weight deadlifts. I can do all my back stuff. So I have been doing higher reps normally 12-15 would this still be effective? I also do heavy 70lb KB swings and TGU’s.
    Second question, on off days would it be acceptable to row a few fasted 500’s in the morning?

    1. Hi Blair, thanks for the questions. Yes, and yes (cause it is short duration, minimal impact on muscle protein).

  5. tim says:

    Hi Andy. Which program is best for IF . The 5×5, piramid or 4day split modifined program from Mario Tomic. I switch from calisthenic 3 months on lifting weights second week on modifined program 4 day split . And can i do 5-10 min cardio on IF after training. Thank you very much for the answer.

    1. Hi Tim, check out my guide to training program selection. Note that IF is irrelevant to the question here and I’m unfamiliar with Mario’s program. Just saw this comment, sorry for not getting back to you sooner.

  6. tariq says:


    I have done your 5 x 5 as well as SL5 x 5 only to end up with injury or failure at around 300 lbs squat. Failure meaning not being to lift that specific even after a reduction of weight for a period of time. In an attempt to beat this I increased my protein intake. Took more time to stretch out and still for some reason or another can expect to stall at 300 lbs no matter what I do. I do not know if changing to a higher rep would help this time around like 3 x 8 or not. BTW, I am 45 and am almost a life long biker. I only recently got into squatting after an accident. How should I approach this?

    1. Hi Tariq, thanks for the question.
      It’s time to change up the training. This article has you covered:
      What To Do When You’re Done With Your Linear Progression Strength Training Program
      Also, I’d point out that if you tell yourself that 300lbs is the point where you’ll stop progressing or get injured, that is exactly what will happen, so get that shit out of your head. Seriously, it’ll become self-fulfilling.

  7. Nate Britt says:

    What do you think of Chris Duffin and his Kabuki Movement System?

    1. Never heard of it Nate.
      I only know Kabuki as a style of traditional Japanese theatre.

  8. Chat says:

    Hi Andy, I’m currently serving as a soldier. How do you reccomend I train for bodybuilding purposes when the physical training here is slightly random and unpredicatable, and running is also a valued aspect of fitness?

    1. You do what you can, when you can, with what you have available.
      A Letter From Two Soldiers In Afghanistan

  9. Adam says:

    Evening Andy,

    Hope your doing well and thanks for info so far, your guides have been of great help so far!!
    I’m now looking to go from gaining to cutting and I am unsure about training volume.
    I currently do 5×5’s – is it wise to reduce sets/reps or both or neither in order to maintain as much muscle mass & strength as possible?

    Any tips would be great and thanks in advance!


    1. Hi Adam.

      “I’m now looking to go from gaining to cutting and I am unsure about training volume.”
      – Keep it at whatever you were doing until that becomes too tough, then gradually reduce volume but preferably keep intensity.

  10. […] The Core Principles of Effective Training […]

  11. Dan says:

    Hi Andy, I have been reading all of your advice and information over the last couple of weeks gearing myself to change my diet and training but I note you really promote barbell training. I read the FAQ’s about home training but what I wanted to know was whether you think I could manage the Big 3 using dumb bells on the 5×5 principle? My dumbbell set is a selecta-set and as such each dumbbell is 5Kg up to 32.5KG with 2.5KG increments. Obviously I want to stick as close to your recommended approach as possible but currently lack the equipment to do so.



    1. Hi Dan. Yes, it’s possible but there are a few issues.
      1. The incremental loading space is doubled, which makes sticking to the principle of progressive overload a little harder.
      2. How much you can keep hold of in your hands will become the limiting factor when you try to squat.
      3. The start position for the deadlift will be much lower due, and you’ll force yourself into a touch ROM.

      For the first one, you can get around this to an extent by increasing the number of reps performed for the same weight (when you can’t make that next 2.5/side jump in load) until you can then make the next increase.

      You can get 5×5 for 30kg/side, but you can’t get 5×5 for 32.5kg/side. So you start increasing the number of total reps you do each time with 30kg, until you build up to being able to do 32.5kg. So you might do 6,6,5,5,5 one session. Then, 6,6,5,5,5 the next session, then 6,6,6,6,5 the following, and maybe even, 7,6,6,6,6 the next. By which point you’ll probably be able to do 5×5 for 32.5kg.

      In essence, given the last two issues above I think you should look to do a different routine than just copying the big three then. All the rest of the principles on the site remain the same. Hold on, I’ll pull up something from our Japanese site…

        1. Dan says:

          Hi Andy, thanks for the prompt response. My Japanese is non-existent. I do like Sashimi tho…

          1. Well if you like Sashimi, you must be fluent! I’ll leave you to it then. 🙂

            Example Dumbbell Routine – A/B Split

            Workout A
            1. Dumbbell/Kettlebell Swings 10-20*3
            2. Stiff-legged Deadlifts 8-12*3
            3. Chin-ups (See here for my guide to chin-up progressions.)
            4. Dumbbell Overhead Press 8-12*3

            Workout B
            1. Dumbbell Goblet Squats 10-12*3
            2. Dumbbell Bench Press / Floor Press 8-12*3
            3. Dumbbell One Hand (Bench) Rows 8-12*3
            4. Curls for the girls 10-12*3
            5. French Press / Skull-crushers (for the boys) 10-12*3

            1. Dan says:

              Great, thanks very much. I’ll give this a whirl 🙂

            2. Welcome Dan. Also, made this addition of this link to this guide just this morning. Fantastic guide, well worth a read:
              The Complete Strength Training Guide

  12. Hi Andy, hope all is well.

    Since you helped me get into strength training and nutrition in the first place, I wanted to get your take on my next endeavor. I’ve decided to put dedicated barbell training to the side for a few months and focus on training for an olympic triathlon. Obviously this will require much more cardio and endurance work, and though I will still keep a moderate strength-maintaining lifting schedule, I cannot expect to make any gains there. I realize you aren’t a triathlon or endurance trainer, but I’d still like to hear your opinion on the potential efficacy of intermittent fasting and carb cycling incorporated into training style that is more endurance and cardio focussed. Thanks!


    1. Hi Alec, thanks for the question. I pretty much have you covered here in a section on athletes:
      How To Set Up Your Diet: #4 Nutrient Timing & Meal Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling
      If that leaves anything needing clarification just hit me up in the comments there.

  13. […] 1. Physique Goal Setting → 2. How To Set Up Your Diet – (Calories, Macros, Timing etc.) → 3. Training Effectively – Core Principles → […]

  14. Igorek says:

    This Is awesome, a goldmine :D!! Thanks Andy!!

    1. Welcome. Thanks Igorek!

  15. […] Training Effectively – Core Principles […]

  16. Enrique says:

    Hi Andy, sort of an awkward question. Is it true that heavy squatting and deadlifting can cause hemorrhoids? I’ve never experienced them myself, but I’ve heard about a lot of people that got them from lifting heavy things. If it is true, what can we do to prevent them when training? Some people say you should do the Valsalva Maneuver while others say that the pressure build up in the abdomen from doing it can cause more problems. I found it weird that there is not much information on this topic especially since a lot of powerlifters suffer from hemorrhoids.

    1. Hi Enrique. I can recall hearing of this once. I’m not aware of any connection, not to say there isn’t one (my powerlifting friends are Japanese, and they wouldn’t discuss this sort of thing), but that I haven’t looked into it. I would assume that it’s rare given that I haven’t heard of it even through all the people I’ve trained and interacted with online. Your doctor might be your best bet. Greg Nuckols might know more. ( If you find out let me know.

      1. Enrique says:

        Hi Andy, I just read a bit more about it and asked a friend of mine who is a doctor. Apparently the lack of information is because people don’t like too talk about it. 50% of people get them before they turn 50. The epidiemology is huge. In the end probably the biggest factor is your genetics and wether your veins in that area are weak or strong. The thing is that anything can put you at risk. Endurance training, weighlifting, sitting too much, being too weak. So I guess there’s no point worrying about them. I know endurance athletes who have had them and I know couch potatos who have had them. General guidelines should be don’t put pressure on your anus when you lift, don’t turn the toilet into your office and don’t overdo the wiping. I guess that it is reassuring that you have never heard it from any of your clients.

        Thanks for the reply

  17. Chiranjeev Sharma says:

    Hey Andy! Hope you’re doing well. I just started training 3x week.I like to hit everybody part 3 times weekly mostly compound movements like shoulder press, incline bench press, deadlift, squats, chin-up and sometimes pull-ups but it feels like as if I’m not doing much in the gym. How important are the accessory exercises for someone who wants to compete. Thanks in advance andy.

    1. Hi Chiranjeev. The more advanced people get, the more that symmetry and balance gets important. But for those that don’t have a good base to start with, too much focus on accessories is akin to chiselling a pebble.

      Thus, the only way to answer your question is: Increasingly important the more advanced one gets, but exceptionally unimportant for the beginner and intermediate. My approach remember is to have strength as the focus and driver of gains. (That is not the only approach of course, but you don’t want to follow that approach then I am not the appropriate person to ask.) More on my thoughts on accessories covered in the FAQ.

  18. Nikos says:

    Hi Andy,
    Nick here.. 🙂
    If I want to -clean- bulk, how many times should i workout a week? I mean is the 3 day split (monday deads/chin , wednesday bench/push ups , friday squat/overhead press) enough? Btw thank you for all the great stuff and work you do!

    1. Hi Nick, covered in this article:
      Which Routine Is For Me?

      1. Nikos says:

        Thank you so much for reply..
        One more question if I am not bothering you.
        Forgot to mention : 34 years old , almost 5 years training and only the half last one on leangains diet style…185 lb, around 12-13% body fat (estimated, visible abs but not deep cut) 220lb squat and 300lb deadlift..
        Question is ; Recomb or bulk? I think that at my age i cannot get bigger but thicker/more solid maybe? (maintenance calories about 2,700) feel like i lost the way..
        Thank you so much!!
        Nikos , Greece 🙂

        1. Bulk. A recomp isn’t likely to work with an experienced lifter like yourself.
          This is covered more thoroughly in this article series:
          Physique Goal Setting – The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt.1of3)

          1. Nikos says:

            Thank you sooooo much Andy!!!Best to you!!

  19. daniel says:

    So, im starting to do a body-recomp with a weekly deficit of ~2500 cal, training 4 days a week (I did the macro calculator of your page), starting to implement “the big 3” even though I’ve 3 years of lifting (im 20, 18&BF) very curious about this one because it throws away all the “normal” gym routines. Actually this is not a kind of question, just wanted to check it with you and if you have some opions? Thanks Andy

    1. Hi Daniel, at first I was stumped as to what opinion you wanted given, but I think I get it now, “As a lifter of three years, is this appropriate?”
      There is a world of difference between three years of proper lifting, and three years of screwing around thinking you were lifting but actually achieving little. This is exceptionally hard to admit. You’ll see in the goal setting series that I fell firmly into the latter category for… around 5 years.

      Which you are or whether you fall into some grey area between the two I can’t tell you. However, given your age and the comment that suggests that normal routines to you ignore the compound barbell movements, then there is a very high chance you fall into this latter category also.

      Still, you try it, you see how you recover and progress, and then you adjust accordingly. – All the guides you need to know how to do that are here on the site. Good luck!

  20. Nicolas says:

    Hi Andy,

    I just discovered your website and it’s great! I may change my routine these next days.
    I have a question for you, on top of this article there is a bulking/cutting that I’m not sure to understand…

    So a good cycle for a beginner would be 3 days bulking then 3 days cutting, when you’re in 3 day split routine how do you organize those 3 days? Do you plan you’re bulking days when training or have they to be consecutive?

    1. Hi Nicolas. Sorry for the confusion. Cutting means to be in a diet phase – an overall calorie deficit for the week. Bulking the opposite.

  21. Steve says:

    Hey Andy,

    I wondered if you had any advice, or could recommend a good article on dealing with plateaus. I’ve adopted the RPT structure and IF eating pattern. Although I don’t count macros I do pay close attention to the foods recommended on your site.

    My top set on bench has been stuck for months at 105kg for 6. I’m wondering if the solution would be to pay closer attention to macros, or whether there’s usually some other simple solution for people like me relatively new to RPT/IF ?

    Thanks as always for the amazing site.

    1. Hi Steve. Are you cutting/dieting?

      1. steve says:

        Hi Andy,

        Thanks for the reply.

        I’m not cutting or dieting, but I’ve found that adopting the 1pm – 8pm IF feeding window and concentrating on the recommend foods means I’m losing weight. I started this approach to eating a little over a month ago and I’ve lost a few kilos over that time – I weigh over 100kg so it’s not a big proportional drop.

        However, my bench was stuck well before I started my recent more rigorous adherence to the IF approach.

        1. Right, so you’re in a calorie deficit overall. Given that your bench is pretty good already, and the extra distance that the bar has to travel as you get leaner, the lack of increases in strength isn’t surprising and is probably something you just have to accept for the duration of the cut, assuming that fat loss is your goal.

          1. steve says:

            Thanks Andy,

            Just to check so I’m not misunderstanding the IF feeding window approach.

            Is that something you should only do as part of a cut? If you’re looking to either bulk or maintain should you abandon the 1pm – 8pm approach? Or does it not matter as long as you are getting the required calories for a bulk/maintenance?


            1. Definitely fine for a cut. Might help to space your meals more when bulking. Covered here.

            2. steve says:

              Thanks man that’s great. Cheers!

  22. Tiago says:

    Hello again.

    Thanks for the reply.

    I’l follow your advice and see if i can make it.

    About lifting experience, when i did weight training, the last 2 years my trainings were basically 5×5 with compound exercises (deadlifts, squats, bench press, and chin ups, barbell shoulder press). So i feel pretty comfortable performing the exercises.

    The diet is the tricky part for me, counting all the stuff, but i maybe i can do it.

    About training, do you think following Three Day Split RPT (so 3 days a week) can make achieve what i want?

    Thank you!

    1. Following the articles on the site you can achieve what you want. Whether RPT set-rep patterning is specifically suited to you right now is something you need to decide based on the information in the RPT guide and the information in my, Which routine is for me? article.

      1. Tiago says:

        Thanks a lot.

        I’ve read it and i’ll be doing the RPT one.

        Appreciate your help!

  23. Tiago says:

    Hello Mr. Andy Morgan.

    First of all, thank you for writing all you’ve been writing about Intermittent Fasting, it was from you that i started to read about it and become very interested. So thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.

    I want to lose some fat but i was never good counting calories, macros etc and that’s why i’d like you to be my coach, to help me achieve my goals.

    The thing is, and before filling the questionnaire, i’d like to know if what i want can be achieved with cardio and no weights? I know that you say it’s really important to do weight training to have the best results. I dont weight train but i did it for some years until i quit Oct 2012. From that to now, i just do running. Surprisingly, i thought i’d lose all i gained in the gym by this time, but the fact is that i still mantain some muscle mass. I’m not fat, i can see my abs but my lower abdomen bother me and i’d like to get ripped, like many of your clients, and you obviously.

    So if you really think that the best results to achieve what i want is through weight training, than i’m willing to do it, for sure.

    Thanks a lot for your time and sorry for the big text.

    Keep the awesome job.

    1. Hi Tiago. Counting is part of the process. I can help you with that for sure, but there is no getting around it. You can see here for my guide to counting macros and start practicing now. – With practice it becomes fairly simple, but I won’t pretend that it is for everyone.

      Exercise is essential to muscle preservation when in a calorie deficit. Resistance training is the best way to ensure that all areas of the body are hit, and the loading variables for that are appropriate. If you diet but your only exercise is running, you will lose both fat and a degree of muscle mass from your upper body. If you are already fairly lean and are trying to get the last little fat off your lower abdomen, then this effect will be exacerbated. I couldn’t recommend that, and I wouldn’t take you on as a client in those circumstances.

      1. Tiago says:

        Hi, thanks a lot for your reply, really appreciate.

        I understand, i guess i’ll stop running and back to weight training again to lose this abdomen fat i still have without losing the muscle mass i still have (i also hate running!).
        When i said that about counting it’s because i dont know how many calories i’ll burn and how many i’ll need to have that deficit.

        If i had the pleasure to be your client, could you give me a little help with that?

        Thanks a lot!

        1. We could, when you’ve got the required lifting experience. But honestly it just sounds to me like you need to have a little practice with the diet site of things first and don’t need to hire me, or anyone else for that matter right now.
          Here are the fundamentals:
          1. Make a calculation.
          2. Stick to it.
          3. Track changes over 3 weeks.
          4. Then adjust upwards or downwards based on how your weight changes vs what you were targeting.

          All the guides for that are on the site.

  24. Drew says:

    What are your thoughts on German Body Composition Training?

    1. Hi Drew. Avoid it when cutting for sure.
      Further to my opening sentences at the top of this article, this is from the top of the Training Guides – Home page:

      “The following training advice is not the only way to go about things. Whether you choose to follow this advice or not is really up to you, the diet guides will work independently of the training advice here as long as your training is effective, i.e., it follows The Principle of Progressive Overload.

      Questions are welcomed in the comments on any article, but please keep them on topic. If you find something different elsewhere on the internet that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, better or worse – just different. But avoid the rookie mistake of trying to include parts of everything to create a ‘super routine’. Remember: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

  25. Akshil says:

    Hi Andy,

    How are you doing? After have trained under you, i have been making gradual progress following the guidelines you gave in our last conversation. As per your suggestion, I switched to the big 3 routine and was making slow and gradual progress adding weight to the bar while remaining around the same weight on the scale for the past 3 months. The past two weeks, I have been failing miserably on squats with being able to manage 175×3 on the first set after reaching a PR of 175x5x5 2 weeks back. My macros are not leaving me hungry and stress is less. I need your guidance on how to continue. I have implemented mobility work as per Tony gentilcore’s articles on my rest days. That helped me get to my PR in the first place .

    Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Akshil. Any change in the amount of stress you are under currently? Sleep patterns changed at all? Time for a change of routine to allow for greater recovery between exercises?

      1. Akshil says:

        My sleep was sound the last week due to some Hip pain, I felt better for today’s workout although i trained with 170 lbs. Should i evaluate for another week or two more? I love the fact that my work capacity has increased compared to performing the previous RPT training template, would hate to loose that 🙂

        1. Yes I think that would be prudent.

  26. Matt says:

    Hi Andy,
    I must have read a ton of articles today! All good stuff. Just a couple of things for you to check:
    In this article:
    …must allow for you to consistently add[ing] reps… (add)
    Though I have stated elsewhere that diet [is] accounts for… (this is at the top of the Training Guides main page)

  27. Paul says:

    Hi Andy – I’ve had great success with your plan (when I followed it religiously for three months and did no other sport) however, I’ve struggled to integrate the plan into my lifestyle (rock climber) which has me training sport specific for 3-6 hours per week and then climbing outdoors once or twice a week. Can you give any guidance regarding the lean gains plan – training, diet planning and rest days – for the person who has a sport that they also train for? Thanks Paul

    1. Hi Paul, sure.
      1. Add in some more carbs on those days.
      2. Be aware of the overall impacts of the climbing on your training volume and recovery situation. That’s a lot of back work, so you’re going to need less volume in your strength training routine. You may even consider dropping the number of days you strength train.
      This all depends on your goals at the current time of course.

  28. Steve says:

    When bulking, do you go to failure on all the RPT sets or just the first set?

    1. Hi Steve. Short of form failure always, and one short of form failure on the back-off sets should be fine. Does that make sense?

  29. Seah says:

    Hi Andy,
    How do you design a well structured AB/AB split for an intermediate trying to bulk? How would I incorporate RPT and sufficient volume to induce hypertrophy? You seem to advocate many low rep schemes but I’ve been reading a lot from Dr Schoenfeld who seems to recommend never going below 6 reps for hypertrophy. What core compound movement should I put on an A day and a B day?

    1. I don’t think it’s prudent to worry about this until people have developed a good base of strength first.
      You’re falling into the program hopping trap Chris. Don’t.

      1. Seah says:

        Thanks Andy, a little frustrated because although I upped my macros, all that happens seemed to be some weight gain around the waist that obscured my abs but I didn’t experience significant strength increases. Bench press remained the roughly the same, only managed to increase 1 rep after 3 months and the rest of my lifts didn’t rise significantly either. I should be in a surplus because there is some fat gain with my waist measurements rising and me looking less lean on my progress pics. I wasn’t too lean to begin with but the thought of cutting down even further when I only weigh 54kg seems weird. But standing at 11-12%without much visible abs, do u think I shud cut first to 7-8% to improve calorie partitioning?

        1. Chris, I totally get where you’re coming from.
          A little fat gain is going to be inevitable and unavoidable now you are bulking, regardless of how careful you are. I’ve told you that before and it’s especially true in your situation where you need to put on a good amount of muscle to get the abs (the real ones) that you so desire.

          I think the issue here is that you’re letting your focus on your abs get in the way of the bigger picture, which is now that you’ve done the work of getting leaner and setting yourself up better hormonally to bulk with less fat gain, you need to put a little fat back on again to let that happen.

          You’re still a relatively inexperienced lifter. Keep pushing up your strength, and move along the ‘linear progression training continuum‘ and the muscle gains will come. I think if you start worrying about slightly more hypertrophy specific rep ranges, you’ll get lost without clear standards to gauge progression, and risk falling back into the pattern of spinning your wheels and second guessing yourself that we worked so hard to get out from.

          1. Seah says:

            Hey Andy, so you feel I should stay on a surplus despite being over 10%? Should my rest says still be in a deficit?
            When do I know if its time to cut?

            1. Ideally you’ll want to keep cut and bulk cycles to between 8% and 15%. Lyle McDonald’s recommendation would be 10-15% and has to do with the calorie partitioning we’ve mentioned. That’s just a guideline though, not a rule.

  30. Jeroen says:

    Hij Andy,

    I’ve been following your site for a while now and I love your guides. I noticed you made the switch from 8-12 to 5×5 in the big 3 routine. For a purely physique orientated trainee (hypertrophy) you would still recommend 5×5?

    Kind regards,


    1. Hi Jeroen, thanks for the question. The routine is for beginners. For a beginner 5×5 is fine.

      1. Jeroen says:

        Many thanks for the reply Andy! I will be starting with the big 3 routine as soon as I’m done here in south east asia. Cant wait to get back in the game 🙂

  31. macks says:

    Hi Andy, wanted your opinion on something. I’m currently on a slow bulk and recently switched from Big 3 to RPT after I’d stalled on Big 3 for about 2 months. Initially my heavy set on RPT stayed at the same weight as the Big 3 loads while my two lighter sets increased steadily in reps and weight from week to week. In the last fortnight every set has dropped in weight and reps across all exercises, even my heavy sets that I brought over from Big 3. I am following the example RPT in your post (3 days a week split routine) and can’t understand why this is happening (especially as my macro intake has increased and I’m no longer in a deficit). Have you seen anything like this before? I don’t push my sets too beyond failure, if anything, I stop just short of it. The only thing that I could suggest is that I have issues with insomnia and sleep apnea that might affect my recovery. Looking forward to any insight you might have, mate.

    1. Hi Macks. Some questions to ask yourself that may help.
      Are you stressed or lacking sleep recently?
      Should you be pushing for maxes every set of still working on form? RPT is very taxing on the CNS.
      Should you be on a full split or would an AB split like the progression example in this article help?

  32. Jason says:

    Hi! Great site with great info. Two questions:

    1. Rippetoe suggests beginners alternate between overhead press and benchpress, but you seem to suggest sticking strictly with bench. Why?

    2. I’ve read in other places about the benefits of interval sprint training, either after weights or off days. What are your thoughts on that?


    1. Hi Jason.
      1. Initially people benefit from a very narrow focus, especially if they learning on their own and don’t have someone with them to coach them on these lifts. Limiting options to the basics, purposefully, also stops people from getting ideas about further modifications/additions.
      2. For physique goals? Unnecessary, and likely detrimental, regardless of whether you’re chasing a fat loss goal or a muscle/strength acquisition one.

  33. Tim Goodman says:

    Hey Andy,

    As an intermediate trainee progressing from a cut into my first slow bulk very soon I’d like to increase my training days from 3 to 4.

    Thinking about programming, I’m tempted to go for:

    Mon: Squat & Overhead Press
    Tuesday: Power Clean & Bent Over Row
    Weds: Rest
    Thursday: Bench Press & Weighted Dips
    Friday: Deadlift & Weighted Chins
    Sat & Sunday: Rest

    Which is basically just adding in the PC’s & Rowing to my current routine.

    I’ve chosen to rest Saturday & Sunday as it fits around my current lifestyle (I play cricket on Saturdays).

    Am I in the right ballpark? Is there anything in there you’d advise against?

    1. Looks good Tim. If you aren’t familiar with the power clean and don’t have access to a coach then I would change it for something else as it poses an unnecessary risk I think. That(s up to you though. Some hip hinge movement would be good there, like hip-thrusts perhaps.

      1. Tim Goodman says:

        Thank you Andy, it’s always good to have a sense check and your time is much appreciated!

        I actually mean Power Clean from the hang position as I find it a lot easier to master but agree it can be quite complex.

        For anybody interested, Mark Rippetoe teaches it brilliantly in the book ‘Starting Strength’ (in my opinion).

        Hip thrusts are a good shout though, I think I’ll potentially alternate with the hang power cleans fortnightly.

        Cut is pretty much finished now so expect a progress report at your inbox soon!

  34. Whereas I continue to maintain my barbell deadlift, as a classic ectomorph, I’ve never looked better since transitioning to gymnastics strength skills. I practice them 5-6 days a week for just a few minutes at a time. Acquisition of the skills is gratifying. The way it makes my body look is bonus. 🙂

    1. Dale, thanks for the comment. What do you think of that Damian Walters gymnast? Looks pretty amazing to me but I don’t have a trained eye in these things.

  35. Chris Seah says:

    Hi Andy,
    I’m ending my cut in about 2 weeks time, I was wondering how to transition from 3x a week to 4x a week for a lean bulk when carb cycling. You instructed that I would add 50g of carbs to training and 25g of carbs to rest days. If I change my workout schedule to 4x a week how should I adjust my macros?

    Thanks, my 12 weeks with you was great, hope you can provide more advice!

    1. Just adjust the intake as I said, but work out on four days Chris. The difference will be small, and we’ll still be under maintenance at that first transition anyway as you’re building things back up.

  36. Ioannis says:

    Hi Andy,

    great revision of a classic article. It doesn’t get any clearer.

    What are your thoughts on training less than 3 times a week on a cut for someone older and/or with a stressful schedule? Stuart Mc Robert seems to be a proponent of this.

    As you may recall I have been facing some fatigue issues with the program and I am thinking to add more rest days around the more stressful periods.


    1. There is definitely a place for it, however it’s is prudent to assume that it’s not necessary then adjusting all variables one by one until you determine this works best.

  37. Ray Riverol says:

    Hi Andy,

    Previously i was doing an isolation type workout routine every day at lunch for and hour and class (P90x, or nike fitness club or xfit (for a 2nd hour in the evening). This seemed to plateau (as expected) and i was basically doing same amount of weights week in and week out.

    I came across and your website and completely revamped my approach.

    Now i have been doing a Monday (bench/squat), Wednesday (overhead press/weighted pullup), Friday (pendeley row/deadlift) routine for 5 or 6 sets of RPT and note down improvements week upon week.

    From doing this, ive had same or even better results from amount i can lift and muscle definition, so basically becoming more efficient with my training and reducing stress to nervous system.

    Im doing 45 day cycles of bulking and cutting. Now being in my cutting phase.

    A couple things i have not been able to improve much on are calves and love handles.

    For calves: I have small calves genetically to begin with, so they have been a sore point to me. Would you suggest on Tue, Thurs or Saturday to do specific exercises for calves to help them grow or add farmers carries as an extra compound body movement? Is there enough stress on calves from just squats and deadlifts?

    For love handle area, would you suggest to add low intensity steady state cardio (keeping my heart rate low) and if so how much should be done? Add to tue, thur, sat “rest” days?

    I guess this may also depend on cutting or bulking phase if would be too much stress on nervous system?

    Thanks in advance,

    1. Ray, thanks for the comment. Glad you’re finding the guides useful.

      “Im doing 45 day cycles of bulking and cutting. Now being in my cutting phase.”
      I do not advise setting things in an arbitrary way like this. This is the p90x mentality breaking through still.

      1. If you wish to add in some calf work, as long as it doesn’t hinder the main lift progression by being too sore to balance/produce the required force then that’s fine.

      2. I wouldn’t.

  38. Darren says:

    Hi Andy,

    Over the past couple of years, I have experimented with your approach at one time getting very good results. However, I did not get the results I wanted due to not completely committing to all of the principles you specified (no cardio, not tracking. etc). I have restarted the program and have started following it to the letter. My question for you if you have ever had the experience where a person has permanently screwed up their metabolism by doing long duration (60 mins.) moderate intensity (75% HR) cardio six times a week? For about eight years, this has been part of my flawed weight loss strategy. I at no time got as lean as I wanted to, I was always hungry, and never as strong as I should be. I am 43 now and I am worried that I may have done permanent damage. Thanks for putting this site together.


    1. Spend the last five minutes trying to find where I quoted Alan Aragon on this recently, it was something like the following:
      “I know of no evidence one can permanently damage the metabolism by extended calorie restriction.” I would imagine that extends to the energy input side of the equation through cardio.

      1. Darren says:

        Thanks for your reply. Would there be anything special I would need to do in order to repair my metabolism other than dropping the cardio and concentrating on strength training?

        1. Eat more. But ‘repair’ is the wrong word here. Have a good read of this article, it should help.

          1. Darren says:

            Thanks. This article helps a lot.

  39. Jon says:

    Hi Andy,

    Great site and very interesting. I have always done cardio workout like Instanity or just go jog 2-3 miles on the weekend. I’ve never done weight training before so I watched videos you suggested for Mark. I notice for the Press videos, they are pressing the weights standing up. Is there a big difference if I was to press standing up or bench press? Which is a better recommendation?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Jon. One or the other, bench in general though.

  40. Scott says:

    Any thoughts on Bryan Haycock’s HST (Hypertrophy Specific Training)? Better or worse than pure strength training on Leangains?

    1. This series of articles by Lyle McDonald will probably have you covered Scott.

  41. Kierran Clarke says:

    Hi Andy,

    I have a friend who i am helping out. Do you have a recommendation for a work-out that can be done at home with no/minimal equipment, or an article you can point me too?

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