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3 Day / Week Novice Barbell Training Plan

CAPT Mike Prevost, USN

Its easy to be hard, but its hard to be smart.

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Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Do not copy or redistribute without permission of the
Photo by Sgt. Bobby Yarbrough, www.usmc.mil
Disclaimer: The advice and information contained in this document may not be appropriate for all
individuals. Therefore, the author, employees, company, affiliates, or any other parties involved in the
creation or promotion of our products are not responsible for any injuries or health conditions that
may result from advice, opinions, and programs represented in this program or any of our training
programs or other products. The information on this website and in the training program are the
opinions of the author and are not a replacement for medical advice. You should consult a physician
before starting any diet or exercise program. If you choose to follow the program without consulting
your physician, you are doing so at your own risk. We claim no responsibility for any injuries you
might sustain. The opinions and assertions contained herein are the private opinions of the author
and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Department of Defense.

The basic 3 day per week barbell training workout has been popular since the 60s for good reason. It works! It is a time
tested, simple (but not easy) way to get brutally strong without spending hours in the gym each workout. There are many
versions of this workout, but all of them follow the same fundamental principles. Dont let the simplicity of this workout fool
you. Simple does not mean easy. If you are lifting heavy and challenging yourself with these basic movements, it is plenty.
Quite frankly, if you find these workouts are not challenging enough, you are either not loading heavy enough, or are not
doing the exercises properly. This training plan is about quality, not quantity. This is a higher frequency program, which
precludes the use of high volume and multiple sets to momentary muscular failure. It is the type of program favored by
those who work with athletes, especially strength athletes. Also remember that the purpose of strength training workouts is
not to make you tired, give you a great "pump," or to make you sore. The purpose is to make you stronger. You could do a
lot more volume, but it would be less effective. This simple plan has been delivering results for more than 4 decades. Keep
a log to monitor progress and judge for yourself.
This basic workout includes the 6 fundamental human movement patterns: upper body vertical push, upper body horizontal
push, upper body pull, squat, hip hinge, and an additional movement that is not really a single movement, integration
work/core/conditioning. By focusing on the fundamental human movements, we ensure that there are no weak links in the
chain. Pick one exercise for each of the 6 movements and perform 3-5 sets of 5 repetitions for each exercise with 2-4
minutes rest between sets. Beginners should start with 2 sets of 5 and eventually work their way to 5 sets. Consider
performing fewer sets and perhaps also using an easier loading scheme on at least one day per week. This will be
necessary when you get stronger because bigger weights stress your recovery reserves. Workouts are done on any 3 non
consecutive days. The pushing and pulling movements can be done as a superset (i.e., bench press and pull ups, done
back to back for the required sets). What about exercise order? Do squats before hip hinge exercises so that your back
does not become a weak link during squats. I like to do the squats and hip hinge work first while I am still fresh. The order
of the other exercises does not matter. Save the integration/core/conditioning work for last.
What about bicep curls and calves? This is not a bodybuilding workout. This is a strength training workout. We are
concerned with building strength in the basic movements. If that results in bigger biceps, great. But that is not our concern.
As you get stronger, you will likely get bigger everywhere because these basic movement patterns require all of the muscles
in your body and stronger is bigger/bigger is stronger. However, if you must, you can add a couple of sets of curls in there
once per week. Just don't overdo it.
There are 3 options for loading:
1. Ascending: Increase weight each set until you reach a max set of 5 (i.e., 135X5, 145X5, 155X5, 165X5). Try to get as
close to failure as possible on the last set. It is OK if you only get 4 reps on the last set. Move up in weight when you get 5
2. Sets across: Use the same weight for all work sets (i.e., 155X5X5). Once you can complete 5 repetitions for all of the
required sets, increase the weight. For exercises where even small weight increases would likely reduce the repetitions
performed below the target 5 repetitions, wait until you can complete 7 repetitions for at least 3 of the 5 sets (and at least 5
for the remaining) before increasing weight.
3. Descending: Perform a max set of 5, then decrease weight each set (i.e., 165X5, 155X5, 145X5, 135X5)
Descending is the most difficult because each set is going to be performed at or near failure. Reduce the load each set as
much as you have to in order to get 5 repetitions. This will take some trial and error. This loading scheme is not used as
frequently for strength training programs. It is more appropriate for pure hypertrophy training where low volume, high
intensity workouts are done at a lower frequency (i.e., HITT training).
Ascending is the easiest because only the last set is performed to failure. The safe bet is to use sets across as your
predominant mode of loading and use the others to modulate intensity as needed. If you find that you are not recovering
adequately, you might switch one day to an ascending loading scheme to reduce fatigue. Novice lifters are generally best
served by using sets across. Intermediate lifters will need to de-load a bit on one or two days per week because they are
now strong enough to seriously tax their recovery reserves. Two intermediate examples are shown below. The second is a
modification of the "Texas Method," a popular powerlifting program. Intermediate level programming is enough for most
athletes. Only athletes competing in strength sports (i.e., weight lifting, powerlifting) need more advanced programming.

2X5 sets across
5X5 sets across
5X5 sets across

2X5 sets across

2X5 sets across

3X5 ascending
3 X 5 across with 10% less wt than

5X5 sets across
4 X 3 ascending

When using this simple plan, you should increase load whenever you are able to achieve the target repetitions. For
example, if today's workout calls for 4 sets of 5 repetitions with 200 pounds, and we are able to complete all of the
repetitions, we need to increase the load for the next workout. This is called simple linear progression. The key to linear
progression is to keep your weight increases small so that progress can continue for a long period of time. If you get too
greedy, you will stall too soon. A challenge with this type of progression scheme is that most gyms do not have weight
plates smaller than 5 pounds, therefore 10 pounds is the smallest weight increase that you can apply. This is probably OK
for squats and deadlifts, but almost certainly too much for most other exercises. You can get around this by purchasing your
own small plates (2.5 pounds and 1 pound), or you can increase repetitions before increasing weight. For example, if you
were just able to complete 4 sets of 5 with 200 pounds, but the last rep was very difficult, it is unlikely that you will be able to
complete 5 reps, even for 1 set with 210 pounds. In this case, if you do not have small weight plates available, you can do 3
sets of 5 repetitions and a final set of 6 repetitions for the next workout. If that goes well, you might aim for 1 set of 5 and 3
sets of 6 repetitions for the following workout. Once you are able to complete 4 sets of 7 with 200 pounds, you are probably
ready to make the 10 pound jump to 210 pounds and go back to 4 sets of 5 repetitions. Both methods work (small weight
increase and repetition increase). The main point is to always strive to increase.
Eventually you will stall and fail to make progress. One or two bad workouts are no concern at all. If you stall for 2 weeks or
more, it is probably time for a reset. To perform a reset, back off on the weight and keep your repetitions the same. Then
begin progressing as before. This is a "one step back, two steps forward" type of approach. If you find yourself stalling
often, it is time to consider adjusting your loading scheme so that 1-2 days per week are loaded less aggressively (i.e.,
ascending, or sets across with 10% less load than normal). By de-loading once or twice per week, you will allow more
recovery. As you get stronger and push heavier weights, you will need greater recovery in order to continue to progress.
Also, as you move from novice to intermediate, you might consider making your loading more wavy. The Texas Method is
one proven method of using wavy loads. Wavy means using different relative loading (relative to your one rep max)
throughout the week. Most novices can stick with this simple plan for a year or more, moving to the Texas Method after
approximately 6 months of training. Patience and consistency are the keys to success with this type of program. Most do
not have the patience to stick with this type of programming and will switch to something more dynamic and exciting before
they really have a chance to make significant strength gains. This is one reason why significant strength gains in the gym
are rare. Stick with it. Be patient. It will pay off in time.
Although designed for 3 days per week, not much effectiveness is lost if you train only 2 days per week. If you choose a 2
day per week option, consider using descending sets for one of the workouts. 2 times per week might be more appropriate
for those who are participating in a sport (especially in season) or those who are training seriously for additional fitness
components (i.e., endurance training).
Because few exercises are used, focusing on basic multijoint exercises makes sense. Unless you are a powerlifter, you
may cycle through different exercises for your workouts as long as you are performing the 6 basic movements. The
exercise table shows some of the more effective exercise choices. Powerlifters should stick with bench press for upper
body horizontal push, deadlifts for hip hinge, and back squats for squats.
This is included as a 5-10 minute conditioning finisher. If you choose the exercises carefully, it provides more than just
conditioning. It is a good time to work on weaknesses or movements/patterns that are particular to your sport, hobby, goals
etc. For example, a football player might focus on sled/prowler work or loaded carries. A combat athlete might focus on
sledge hammer work or cable column chops. A military athlete might focus on loaded carries. The purpose of the finisher is
to work on strength integration, the core and to provide some conditioning. Movements in this category are whole body
moves that involve transferring force from upper body to lower body (or vice versa) through the core. These exercises are

also great for some metabolic conditioning work. You can do up to 10 minutes but for many people, quality will suffer with
longer sessions. 5 minutes is plenty for most. Focus on good posture and graceful movement, and intensity.
Most Effective Exercises for Each Movement: This is a list of some very good choices for each of the 6 fundamental
movements. Exercises marked with an * are generally accepted as the most important in each category. You should do
them often. Notice that there are no machine exercises. We want whole body strength with no weak links in the chain so
most exercises are done standing up with a barbell in our hands.
Upper Body Vertical Press:
*Standing Barbell Military Press (officially called the
Overhead dumbbell or kettlebell press
Handstand pushup
Push press
Horizontal Press:
*Bench press
Dumbbell press
*Pushups (loaded if necessary)
one arm dumbbell bench press
Upper Body Pull:
Dumbbell or barbell rows
Body rows
Standing cable column rows

*Back squat
Front squat
Split squat
Box step up (loaded if necessary)
Overhead squat
Zercher squat
Goblet squat
Hip Hinge:
*Deadlift (sumo and regular)
Stiff legged deadlift
Romanian deadlift
Heavy kettlebell swing
Glute Ham
Good mornings
Power clean
Integration/Core/Conditioning: (5-10 min)
*Loaded carries (i.e. Suitcase carry, farmer's walk)
*Sled or prowler
Windmill (kettlebell or dumbbell)
Ab wheel roll out
Dead bug or hollow rock
Hanging leg raise
Sledgehammer work
Tire flips
Bear crawls

Sample Training Plan: This is just one sample plan that follows the basic principles. There are many other possible
combinations. In this example, Wednesday is a less intense day with reduced volume and an easier loading scheme. Many
people will find that going a bit easier one day per week is helpful.

Front Squat 5 X 5

Deadlift 3 X 5

Kettlebell Swing 3-5 X 5


Romanian Deadlift 5 X 5

Split Squat 3 X 5

Walking Lunges 5 X 5 steps

Bench Press 5 X 5

Incline Press 3 X 5
each leg

Pull Ups (weighted) 5 X 5

D-bell Row 3 X 5

Dips 5 X 5

Overhead Press3- 5 X 5

D-bell overhead press 3 X 5

Pull Ups (different grip from

Plank 2 x 2 min

Bear crawl 4 X 1 min with

workout 1, weighted) 5 X 5
Loading: sets across
20 sec rest

Push Press 5 X 5
Loading: ascending

Suitcase carry 7 X 30 sec

Loading: sets across

About the Author

Mike Prevost earned a PhD in exercise physiology from Louisiana State University in 1995.
He specialized in muscle physiology and metabolism. Throughout his college years (10
years total) he worked as a personal trainer in various gyms and fitness centers. He has
trained athletes for many different sports including triathlon, ultra running, surfing, power
lifting, bodybuilding, mixed martial arts, football, basketball and more. After finishing his PhD,
he took a commission in the U. S. Navy as an Aerospace Physiologist in the Navy Medical
Service Corps. While serving in the Navy he developed human performance training
material for the U. S. Special Operations Command. He developed new fitness standards for
Navy rescue swimmers. He served as a consultant to the USMC in evaluating the safety of
the USMC Combat Fitness Test. He also served on a Navy committee tasked with proposing
alternatives to the Navy physical fitness test. He trained thousands of aviators and aircrew
on survival techniques, physiology, and human performance. He also served as the Director
of the Human Performance Laboratory at the U. S. Naval Academy, where he performed
physiological testing of athletes to improve performance, developed the Principles of
Strength and Conditioning Course for all Midshipmen, and served as the director of remedial
fitness training programs. He has over 25 years of experience in working with athletes.