A 3 day/wk, 10+ week, full body weight training program designed to introduce basic barbell focused exercises and movement patterns to novice lifters while improving strength and hypertrophy.
Updated July 2019
Current Version – 15
The Beginner 3[1.1] program is an introductory weight training routine designed to familiarize those that have little to no previous exercise experience with a few basic movement patterns and the barbell. If you’re interested in incorporating a more serious weight training program into your routine but don’t know where or how to begin, this is the place to start. This program is ideally meant to serve as a temporary (2-6 month) learning period that allows new lifters to transition onto more intense and higher frequency routines.
This program is also great for those that have been out of the gym for an extended period of time. If you’re coming back after a year or more off, start here.
Overall program structure is really simple – Beginner 3[1.1] contains a learning phase and an optional periodized program with some basic progressive overloading.
The first phase emphasizes motor learning and strength and is listed below under the section, Movement Patterns & Equipment Learning. Each set contains 6 reps and should be performed with a challenging weight but not something heavy enough cause failure (leave 1-2 reps in reserve). Aim to add a moderate amount of weight (5-10 lbs) to your lifts weekly. This 5 week (weeks A-E) program is meant to be repeated indefinitely until you reach a strength plateau with all of the suggested barbell exercises – see the Exercise Modifications & Progressions section. Because there’s no exact duration for this learning phase, it’s crucial to closely monitor your weekly progress to determine when you’ve reached an intermediate experience level. Typically, this point is defined by a strength plateau. When you stop improving from the same basic workouts featured in Phase 1, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. Some may reach this point after two months while others might continue progressing up to six. Listen to your body, do what’s best for you, and move on when you’re ready, but don’t rush things. An extra month spent solidifying your foundation with the possibility of minimal returns is much better than moving on 30 days too soon. All new lifters need to spend at least 2-3 months in Phase 1.
To read more about the learning phase of resistance training and the why behind this incredibly important starting point, check out the Strength and Hypertrophy guide.
Phase 2 – Advanced Beginner is a continuation of the 3 day/wk, full body routine and is designed to target strength and hypertrophy with the barbell as well as a few other pieces of equipment. If you’ve taken an appropriate amount of time to learn the basics in Phase 1, this will be an easy transition. This 10 week program includes some simple progressive overloading schemes and can be repeated multiple times for both intermediate and advanced lifters. If you’ve grown accustomed to the Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule and want to keep that up for a while longer, the Advanced Beginner is a great place to hang out for a while longer. However, if you’re ready to move on to something more intense after your time spent in Phase 1, feel free to skip Phase 2 entirely. Because you took the time to learn things correctly from the start, your healthy foundation of strength and solid grasp on basic movement patterns will allow you to effortlessly transition into more advanced programs and take full advantage of their benefits.
Like all other programs, there are no deload weeks. Focus on other aspects of fitness during your off weeks or just take the time to rest. If you’d like to shorten the rest week to 4-5 days, that’s fine – start the new cycle on Friday instead of Monday.
Work hard, but don’t punish yourself. We don’t build massive guns or double our squat max in any single session – we smash our goals by accumulating small, incremental daily victories over long periods of time. Because of this, keep one rep between yourself and failure for all sets that aren’t marked with a plus(+) sign. AMRAP(+) sets can go to failure. Maintain an intensity level that leaves you feeling accomplished after a session, but not so beat up that you can’t return the next day.
Walking, running, and sprinting are the recommended cardiovascular exercises for 90+% of your cardio time. Depending on your conditioning level, walk/jog for aerobic work and run/sprint for anaerobic. If you don’t have any injury limitations, work to become a good runner – it’s an amazing form of exercise and an incredibly rewarding physical activity that everyone should experience.
Under the full program, you’ll find some basic information regarding core/ab exercises, weight loads, cardio programming, a key of terms/symbols, and some basic movement cues for major lifts.
This program is designed for healthy individuals without injuries. Some of the exercises and intensities included won’t be appropriate for lifters with certain movement limitations. If you have any questions about this program, require any modifications, or need some help getting started, let me know. I’d love to help.
Program Structure & Layout
All programs follow the same daily structure and format. Each day’s warm up routine is listed first in black, resistance training exercises are next in white, core/ab work is light gray, followed by dark gray cardiovascular conditioning, and then back to black for the cool down. To make sure you’re beginning and ending each session correctly, I strongly recommend that you check out the Warm Up and Cool Down guides – the other guides are also very helpful, but they’re not essential to start this program.
Regarding the potentially confusing title numbers, Beginner 3[1.1] means that the program follows a [1 day on/1 day off] pattern that’s repeated 3 times per week.
To run this program, these are the only tools you’ll need. All Fitstra programs are designed to use a minimal list of equipment, but many exercises can be performed with a variety of different toys. Feel free to incorporate other pieces of equipment into the mix where appropriate.
- Barbell + Plates
- Lifting Rack
- Pull Up Bar
- Lat Pulldown
- Heart Rate Monitor + Watch
- Strength Bands
- Foam Roller
- Ab Mat
- Parallel Dip Bars
- Suspension Trainer
Exercise Modifications & Progressions
Because the goal of the learning phase is to become more comfortable with basic movement patterns and limited pieces of equipment, the general exercise labels listed above have specific barbell exercises that we want to work towards (Vertical Press = Barbell Overhead Press, Squat = Barbell Squat, etc). You’ll feel more comfortable with this piece of equipment every time you use it, so start with the barbell from day one or introduce it as soon as possible as you build up strength/coordination/confidence. In any fitness setting, learning to use the tool is just as important as learning to move the weight.
Some studies indicate that external cuing is more beneficial than an internal focus for beginners – as you’re learning the movements, visualize the bar path instead of trying to squeeze a muscle. As movements become more familiar/less awkward, focus on contracting and activating the muscles being worked in each exercise.
The table listed above contains exercise modifications for those that are unable to perform the target exercises (listed in purple). For example, if you don’t feel comfortable squatting with a barbell at first, you can begin with a kettlebell goblet squat or just use your own bodyweight. Exercises are listed in order of difficulty and allow newer lifters to start with easy modifications as they progress to the standard movement. It’s important to note that the exercises listed in white are not equal substitutes for the purple barbell exercises – they are only stepping stones that assist in the progression of our movement learning.
Before moving on from the learning phase, make sure that you understand how to perform all of the exercises listed in purple. If you need help of any kind with these progressions, please let me know.
Phase 2 - Advanced Beginner
Despite the name of this phase, this 10 week program is not limited to beginners. If you’re an intermediate to advanced lifter who’s looking for a 3 day/wk full body routine that contains some simple progressive overloading, this might be perfect for your schedule. The rep/load scheme and exercises selected allow for significant gains/progress to be made regardless of exercise experience.
Click on the program image below to view the summarized, full resolution version – includes the Phase 1, Exercise Modifications, Ab/Core Exercise Options, and Supplemental Fat Loss Cardio sections.
Terms, Abbreviations, & Symbols
Asterisks group two or more exercises together into a circuit or super/compound set. All exercises meant to be performed as a circuit are stacked on top of each other. Asterisks are used in the warm up (alternating dynamic stretching and plyometric exercises) and in the core (abs) sections.
Carets signify that the listed exercise should be performed unilaterally – either in isolation or alternating – and the R/L letters dictate the starting side for all sets that day. Some exercises can only be performed alternating while others can be approached in isolation. For example, a walking lunge needs to be performed in a unilateral alternating pattern, but dumbbell bench press can be alternated (L/R/L/etc) or isolated (L/L/L then R/R/R) unilaterally. Inter-set rest times for unilateral isolation should be taken after both sides have been hit in succession, not between sides.
Plus signs indicate that a set should contain at least the listed number of reps, but more are allowed if the load moves easier than expected. Sets with a plus sign are AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets. For example, a single set of 2+ reps calls for heavy weight at or close to 95% of an estimated 1RM, but if you can complete both reps in the set and still have energy for a third or fourth rep, do them. Use these sets to test your strength limits and flirt with failure.
Sets and reps for an exercise. 3×10 is read as three sets of ten reps.
Sets and rep duration for an exercise. 3×60 sec is three rounds of exercise where each set is performed continuously for one minute. Unilateral exercises like a farmer’s carries and side planks should be performed for one minute each side, doubling the set time. The clock time does not stop if you reach failure – take a second, catch your breath, and then keep going. Work to slowly increase your stamina over time.
This is the cardiovascular conditioning time structure – Number of rounds [aerobic minutes > anaerobic minutes]. In this 1 [2 min > 1 min] example, one round of cardio is performed for a single two minute aerobic bout followed by a one minute high intensity segment, totaling three minutes of work time. 4 [2 min > 1 min] would be read as four rounds of a two minute aerobic bout followed by a one minute high intensity segment, totaling 12 minutes.
Rest times between sets. If no rest time is listed and an asterisk* is present, two or more exercises are meant to be performed as a circuit. If the second exercise in the circuit pair has a rest time listed, rest is to be taken after one round of both exercises is completed. If no rest time is listed on the second exercise, the two exercises are meant to be performed as alternating and unbroken pairs for the total working time – common in the core work for many Fitstra programs.
Barbell. As used in a BB squat.
Core isometric contraction exercise. As used in a plank.
Core lumbar flexion exercise. As used in a sit up.
Core rotational exercise. As used in a banded woodchop or a Russian twist.
Dumbbell. As used in DB bench press.
High intensity interval training. HIIT training focuses entirely on anaerobic conditioning with rest times between rounds instead of periods of easier, aerobic cardio. 2 [0 min > 1 min] (1-3 min) is read as two rounds of one minute intervals with 1-3 minutes of rest between bouts.
Kettlebell. As used in a KB overhead press.
Low intensity/high intensity cardio split. This is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic training. In this style of cardio, the lower intensity aerobic sections serve as active recovery periods between higher intensity rounds.
Low intensity steady state. LISS training focuses entirely on aerobic conditioning by utilizing a single, unbroken period of lower intensity cardio. 1 [ 20 min > 0 min] would be read as one single bout of low intensity cardio (VT) for 20 continuous minutes.
Overhead press. Performed standing with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
Romanian deadlift. Can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
Single Arm. Used in the dumbbell/kettlebell SA Row.
Self-myofascial release. Massage with a tool like a foam roller.
Ab/Core Exercise Options
While some aspects of this routine are quite strict and don’t allow much wiggle room, ab work can be tackled in just about any way you’d like. Core rotation, flexion, and hold work can and should include a variety of different exercises – variety aids in strength/endurance progression and can make the workout simply more enjoyable.
The list below contains quite a few different exercises per movement pattern, but it’s far from comprehensive. If you’ve got a favorite rotation, flexion, or hold style ab exercise that’s not featured above, feel free to mix it in. Use this list to serve as starting point and helpful base to build what’s best for you. Have fun with your core work.
All of the core work in this program is designed to be performed as a continuous circuit. There are no rest times between sets. The entire duration of the core component should take exactly 6 minutes – unilateral exercises will extend this as each side requires its own minute. This condensed style of ab work is included to improve core stability/strength/endurance without taking up a significant amount of time.
New/intermediate lifters will most likely reach a point of fatigue during the 6 minutes of work – that’s totally fine. Pace yourself during each set, rest as needed, but work for as much of the 6 minutes as possible – the clock does not stop if you do.
Aim to slowly increase your total work time as you progress in strength/core endurance. For example, with a Plank/Superman combo, you may only be able to hold 45 seconds of each exercise for each set – this equals 4.5 minutes of total work out of the possible 6 minutes. As your endurance improves, your time will go up until you’re working for all 6 minutes.
Rep Counts & Loads
The loads we use in resistance training are based on one rep max (1RM) numbers – the lower the rep count, the heavier the weight.
A 1RM is the absolute most amount of weight we can lift for one complete repetition for any single exercise. If we want our program to be effective and tailored to our individual needs, we first need to know what our 1RMs are for the exercises in our program. But for a lot of people, maximum loads can be dangerous. To reduce our risk of injury, we can estimate our 1RM by using a multiple rep max of a lighter weight.
By using the chart above, we can calculate an approximate 1RM of any exercise. To find this value, divide the amount of weight successfully lifted by the corresponding load percentage (as a decimal) of reps completed.
For example, let’s say you can bench press 135 lbs for 5 reps. Based on our 1RM values, we know that any weight we can move 5 times is approximately 87% of our one rep max. With this information, we then divide 135 by 85% (135/0.85) to give us an estimated 1RM of roughly 160 lbs. Although we can technically calculate a 1RM from any rep count, it’s best to use either a 4 or 6 rep max.
Your estimated 1RMs should be implemented as suggested targets for your daily sets that help you determine what loads will be most appropriate for a given rep count. Estimated 1RMs are not strict set loads that must be followed absolutely – work at or as close to the suggested 1RM% as you can. For more information on rep counts and loads, check out the Strength and Hypertrophy guide.
Supplemental Fat Loss Cardio
All programs have cardiovascular conditioning included to complement the resistance work, but the standard volume may not be enough for some weight loss goals. If you are interested in losing weight, begin with the standard 10 minutes per day in this program before moving up to longer periods. You may not need any extra time if your diet is dialed in correctly.
The following cardio work is written to supplement Beginner 3[1.1] and replace the standard, post-lift conditioning times.
Out of the four weeks listed, there are two 90 minute per week versions and two 120 minute per week versions. Both aerobic and anaerobic times are included in the bottom right corner. Two different variations of each weekly volumes are listed to help reduce program boredom and should be alternated (90A/90B/90A/etc). However, if you don’t mind the repetition, feel free to repeat the same week (A or B) over and over. Stick to 90A and/or 90B for at least a few weeks before attempting either 120 minute version. 90 minutes of cardio and a great diet should be an incredibly effective combination for most people – there’s no need to tire yourself out unnecessarily if significant progress can be made with less effort.
Walking and running should be the focus of you cardiovascular exercise, especially the aerobic portions. Many of us spend so much time indoors with work that getting outside is a great change of pace. Along with the potentially therapeutic scenery, propelling yourself forward with a natural movement pattern is preferred over the use of a stationary machine due to the additional physical requirements of the exercise. When we walk/run outside, our bodies must continuously propel themselves forward (greater energy demand than on a treadmill) and use core musculature to remain upright (better posture and balance). There are no rails to lean on or belts to keep you moving as you walk through your neighborhood listening to an audiobook or podcast, you do the work. If you have the ability to get outside, please do it. With that said, using a treadmill is totally fine. The aerobic exercise you choose should be one that you enjoy and are able to repeat consistently. Stick to your target ventilatory threshold (VT) heart rate range and do what’s best for you – aerobic cardio should be performed at approximately 40-50% of your maximum intensity.
Your exercise options for anaerobic work times are quite a bit different and offer more flexibility. Running should still take up the majority of your time, but feel free to work in kettlebells, battleropes, rowers, air bikes, medicine balls, sleds, and anything else you find enjoyable. Stay at or just above your estimated lactate threshold (LT) heart rate for the listed time and work hard – anaerobic cardio should be performed at roughly 70+% of your maximum intensity.
Ideally, your entire workout (weights & cardio) should occur within a single ~75-90 minute session. However, if your schedule is really tight and you need to break up the resistance training and cardio segments into two separate workouts during the day, go for it. (This option does not apply to the standard 10 minute version.) Be sure to space the two modalities apart by 8-10 hours, warm up and cool down before each workout, and be extra conscious of your nutrition/hydration needs to refuel properly between sessions.
Not sure what VT or LT mean? Check out the Fat Loss Programming guide for more information on weight loss exercise and target heart rates for cardiovascular conditioning.
Exercise Key Points & Important Details
The written descriptions listed below do not cover every aspect of form and exercise mechanics. They are not comprehensive directions, only key points of emphasis and my own personal movement preferences – they should not serve as substitutes for proper form education. Please take the time to learn all the exercises in this program correctly and thoroughly. We all move a little different, but every exercise has standard performance guidelines that should be aimed for. Do things the right way – don’t guess.
The accompanying video examples are provided to supplement your learning but the links I have shared should not be your only source of visual instruction. No single educator can teach you everything. Seek out other respected content creators and learn from as many experts as you can.
If you need help with form education, let me know or check out the Finding the Best Personal Trainer guide to starting working with a great local teacher. I’d love to work with you digitally and I’m confident that we can get you moving the right way, but there’s no substitute for live instruction. If you’re set on working with a personal trainer at your local gym, let’s work together to make sure you pick the best one.
A low bar position is recommended but both high and low can be fine. Be aware that low bar will allow for greater strength gains and posterior chain development. Fitstra programs provide enough assistance exercises to accommodate either style, so work with the variation that you’re most comfortable with. Hand grip should be narrow and upper back/lats kept tight to increase shelf stability/size. Keep tension in your glutes at the bottom of the lift by stopping just below parallel. Save ‘ass to grass’ depth for front squats. Stance width and outward toe angle will vary from person to person, but placing your feet roughly under your shoulders and having your toes angled slightly outward (15-30 degrees from straight ahead) should be great for most people. Keep your knees out and roughly in line with your toes. Maintain a neutral cervical spine. Do not pause in the hole – the transition from descend to ascend should be seamless and without any crazy bouncing. Maintain a vertical bar path during movement. Do not fully extend your hips and knees at the top of each rep – keep a small amount of flexion in each. There are plenty of glute targeting exercises in Fitstra programs, don’t try to squeeze them at the top here – full hip extension/forward movement under load can result in injury. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
This is a conventional deadlift, not a sumo deadlift (sumo is great, just not used here). A double overhand grip is strongly recommended and lifting straps should be used for heavier pronated grip pulls instead of a mixed grip – please refrain from using a mixed grip. Feet should be at roughly hip width and toes should be pointing straight ahead. The bar should be close (~1 inch) to your shins at the start and directly over your midfoot. Maintain a neutral cervical spine. Practice a controlled ‘touch and go’ style of movement for moderate to lighter weight (6-12 reps) and a pull/reset/pull for heavier loads (1-6 reps). Control the weight down to the floor every rep, don’t drop from the top – we want eccentric loading. Focus on feeling the load throughout your entire posterior chain. Be sure to reach the top of every pull without overextending your hips/lumbar spine – reach a strong and stable vertical position, don’t lean backwards. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
Big butts mean big squats. This hip thrust exercise uses a barbell and a bench/box to elevate your upper back – it’s not performed with your back on the ground. The use of a thick pad here is highly recommended to eliminate hip discomfort. Focus on a controlled full range of motion, not bouncing reps. You should be able to pause at the peak of the movement for 0.5-1 second and hold the contraction for 90+% of your reps. Your hips should almost touch the ground at the bottom of the movement, while your knee/hip/shoulder alignment should be a straight line at the top. Make your butt do the work – emphasize the glute squeeze. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
This is a high bar position lunge that’s performed in one place by kicking back each leg in an alternating fashion and then returning the kicked leg back to its starting position. Because we aren’t traveling with the barbell (unlike the walking lunge), the reverse lunge requires very little space. Focus on loading the front leg (glutes/hamstrings/quads) with as much of the weight as possible – the back leg should aid in balance, not significant force production. If loading is done correctly, you should be able to lightly drag your back leg back into position as you stand up. Aim to form a right angle in the knee of your forward leg at the bottom of the lunge – knee should be over mid-foot at the bottom of the movement. Keep your heels down – don’t let the weight shift into your toes. Slight forward lean is expected. By alternating L/R/L/R/etc through a set, we get most of the isolation benefits of more traditional unilateral work while saving a ton of time. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
Barbell RDLs should be performed with a double pronated grip and straps are recommended for heavier loads. RDLs can be approached unilaterally with dumbbells or kettlebells, but that should be reserved for more advanced lifters and used sparingly – do bilateral RDLs with for most of your DB/KB sets. Hamstring flexibility can limit range of motion and cause compensatory changes in body position (lumbar flexion) – be aware of this as you begin. Start light with this exercise and work on hamstring flexibility and hip hinge mechanics as you progressively increase load. The RDL should be a controlled movement throughout the entire range of motion – no bouncing or jerking. Maintain a neutral cervical spine. Stop the movement just below the knees. Keep your shoulders packed. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The traditional clean grip of the bar is the preferred front rack position. Focus on keeping your chest, eyes, and elbows up. 2-3 fingers on the bar is an acceptable range of motion for the barbell front rack. Most people should be able to reach the barbell front rack position on day one or shortly after. If you can’t achieve that wrist/elbow/shoulder position, switch to a double front rack kettlebell front squat to continue training the movement. Work on wrist/elbow/shoulder flexibility while training with kettlebells so that you can begin using the barbell as soon as possible. Lower squat depth here is fine – as long as you can maintain tension in your glutes, quads, and core (no major butt wink/lumbar flexion), feel free to explore deeper squats. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The walking lunge is another alternating lunge variation. This version works each leg unilaterally and should be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or your own bodyweight. When using dumbbells/kettlebells, the weights should be held at your side and mimic the loading of a deadlift during the movement. This lunge variation requires a long run of open space (30-50 ft) due to the forward movement of the exercise. Walking lunges should be felt slightly more in your quads than the reverse lunge, but still shoot for a right angle in the knee – don’t let your knees shoot out well over and beyond your toes. Allow your feet to come together between each rep. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
Begin the bench press with your eyes directly under the racked bar. Wrap your thumb over the bar – do not use a thumbless grip. Grip width will vary from person to person, but aim to use a width that allows you to form a right angle in your elbow at the bottom of the movement. Bar placement in your hand should transfer all of the force down and into the bones of your forearm – don’t let the bar roll back into your palms towards your fingers, causing major wrist extension. Keep your core braced, shoulders packed, butt and head on the bench, and feet on the floor. Utilize leg drive. Don’t bounce the bar off your chest – control the bar/chest contact. Be mindful of your elbow position and avoid flaring them out. Bar path should move in a slight arc as it travels from the top/starting position to roughly right above your xiphoid process. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The barbell overhead press should be performed standing and use a grip that places your thumbs even with or just outside of your shoulders. Like bench press, bar placement in your hand should transfer all of the force down and into the bones of your forearm – don’t let the bar roll back into your palms towards your fingers, causing major wrist extension. Wrap your thumb over the bar – do not use a thumbless grip. The bar’s starting position should be under your chin and ~1 inch above your chest. Forearms should be vertical under the bar at the bottom of the lift. The top of the movement should align your feet, knees, hips, shoulders, and hands into a straight line. Shrug up at the top. Ideally, the OHP should be a strict press with your knees locked out, glutes and core tight. However, that may not work or feel comfortable for some people. Instead, you can use a strict press/push press hybrid by generating a very slight amount of upward movement through the knees (as fatigue sets in during a set) to start the press, then finish with strict OHP form. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The dumbbell incline press should be performed on a 45 degree angle bench. To start this press, rest the dumbbells on your knees while seated on the bench. Pop one of your knees up and use the momentum generated to bring one of the weights into position. Repeat the same toe kick/knee pop motion to bring the other weight up. Both dumbbells should now be in the ‘down’ position, resting on your chest. Extend both arms up to begin. Bar placement in your hand should transfer all of the force down and into the bones of your forearm – don’t let the bar roll back into your palms towards your fingers, causing major wrist extension. Wrap your thumb over the bar – do not use a thumbless grip. Keep your core braced, shoulders packed, butt and head on the bench, and feet on the floor. Utilize leg drive. Don’t bounce the weights off your chest. Be mindful of your elbow position and avoid flaring them out. Keep your wrists pronated throughout the entire movement. Unilateral work can be performed by alternating with two weights with the resting arm left in the up position, or by using only one weight and performing all reps on one side before moving to the other. When your last set is done, perform the knee pop maneuver in reverse to bring the weights back down. Do not drop the dumbbells. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
To start this press, rest the dumbbells on your knees while seated on the bench. Pop both of your knees up and use the momentum generated to bring both of the weights into position as you fall back onto the bench, in one controlled motion. Both dumbbells should now be in the ‘down’ position, resting on your chest. Extend both arms up to begin. Bar placement in your hand should transfer all of the force down and into the bones of your forearm – don’t let the bar roll back into your palms towards your fingers, causing major wrist extension. Wrap your thumb over the bar – do not use a suicide grip. Keep your core braced, shoulders packed, butt and head on the bench, and feet on the floor. Utilize leg drive. Don’t bounce the weights off your chest. Be mindful of your elbow position and avoid flaring them out. Keep your wrists pronated throughout the entire movement. Unilateral work can be performed by alternating with two weights with the resting arm left in the up position, or by using only one weight and performing all reps on one side before moving to the other. When your last rep is done and your arms are both extended, raise both knees into the air and allow the weights to fall forward onto your thighs, pushing you back up into a seated position by using the right angle of your hips as the fulcrum in a lever. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The dumbbell/kettlebell overhead press should be performed standing in unilateral isolation – all set 1 reps on the right/all set 1 reps on the left/all set 2 reps on the right/all set 2 reps on the left/etc. Weight placement in your hand should transfer all of the force down and into the bones of your forearm – don’t let the bar roll back into your palms towards your fingers, causing major wrist extension. Wrap your thumb over the bar/horn – do not use a thumbless grip. The starting/bottom position for dumbbells and kettlebells should place your wrists into a neutral/slightly supinated position hovering just above and in front of your shoulders (standard KB/DB front rack position) with vertical forearms and both should end with a pronated wrist position that aligns your feet, knees, hips, shoulders, and hands into a straight line. Shrug up at the top. Ideally, the DB/KB OHP should be a strict press with your knees locked out, glutes and core tight. However, that may not work or feel comfortable for some people. Instead, use a strict press/push press hybrid by generating a very slight amount of upward movement through the knees to start the press, then finish with strict OHP form. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
Dips should be performed on parallel bars or rings while maintaining a neutral wrist position and only attempted by those with healthy shoulders. If you currently have or have had shoulder issues in the past, please take things very slow here or consider skipping dips entirely. For newer lifters, start with an easy level of resistance by using a band or use your feet on the ground as assistance and limit range of motion – stop when your humerus is parallel to the floor. As you develop strength and shoulder extension flexibility, extend range of motion so that your shoulders reach a depth that is just below your elbows. Focus on scapular depression at the top/peak the movement and scapular retraction at the bottom. Proper form should result in a slight forward lean, neutral cervical spine, and a full lockout at the top with an emphasis on pec tension during the entire dip. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The pec fly should be performed seated/supine with dumbbells, standing with a crossover cable set up, or with a suspension trainer/rings. The labels Flat and Incline direct the angle of pull – Flat works perpendicular to the spine and Incline works in an upwards direction at a 45 degree angle from hips to chin. Regardless of the method/tools used, focus on keeping your shoulders packed and chest up during the movement. Focus on scapular retraction and eliminate shoulder rounding at the top. Don’t exceed the depth of your shoulders at the bottom/open part of the fly. Keep tension on the pecs during the entire range of motion. Maintain a slight constant elbow flexion throughout the full range of motion. If possible, split your time evenly between dumbbell and cable flys – each exercise variation loads the pec differently and should be used together. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The chin up, under ideal strength conditions, should be performed with bodyweight or added resistance (dip belt or foot grip on dumbbells/medicine ball) with a stable bar that is even with or just taller than the maximum reach of the participant. If bodyweight cannot be achieved, use strength bands to reduce the resistance of the pull and decrease the band size as you progress in strength until you’re working with bodyweight. Grip width should be even with or just inside the shoulders. The top priority for all chin up variations is scapular depression – feel the activation of your lats and keep your shoulders down. We do not want to work exclusively within the shoulder during pulling exercises. The chin up should be started from a dead hang position and this is the only time our shoulders should be up (scapular elevation). Scapular depression from the dead hang starts the movement, is held throughout the pull, and should help to keep your chest up (thoracic extension) and minimize upper back rounding. Feel the tension in your back, not your arms, imagine pulling your elbows down/into the sides of your ribs, and aim to get your chin well over the bar every rep – try to touch your sternum to the bar. Minimize any swinging/kipping motion. To reduce callus build up and tears, bar placement should be more in your fingers than in your palm – put the bar on the first/most proximal segment of your fingers and wrap around from there. All chin up reps should be performed with a supinated grip (or neutral grip if necessary). Keep your thumb wrapped around your hand. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern, and work with weight you can control. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The barbell row is a bilateral row variation that is performed with the spine parallel to the floor with either a double pronated or supinated grip – pronated is recommended. The barbell row should mimic the body position of the Pendlay row, but the reps of the bent row are to be unbroken most of the time. For example, lighter weighted (6+ reps) reps should be performed consecutively without the plates resting on the floor until fatigue sets in. Heavier weight (1-6 reps) can be approached like the Pendlay row with a brief pause between reps as the bar rests on the floor. Focus on controlling the weight throughout the rep concentrically and eccentrically. The plates should flirt with the floor at the bottom and touch your upper abs/xiphoid process at the top – bar path and elbow position should mimic the bench press. At the bottom of the row, keep the bar close to your shins. Focus on keeping your shoulders packed and pull from the muscles in your back, not your arms. Some explosive/powerful movement will be required to combat fatigue and move heavy loads, but it should be minimal – don’t turn the barbell row into a modified RDL/rack pull. To reduce callus build up and tears, bar placement should be more in your fingers than in your palm – put the bar on the first/most proximal segment of your fingers and wrap around from there. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
This row variation should be performed unilaterally, with a dumbbell or kettlebell, and use a bench or elevated platform of some kind to support the resting side of our body and allow for a horizontal spine. The bent row is a great horizontal pulling exercise, but because the entire posterior chain is loaded and required to stay active during the lift, fatigue can set in and be a limiting factor for larger loads/volumes. By resting our non-active hand and knee on a bench during the single arm row, our lower back/hamstrings/glutes are no longer potential points of failure – we can theoretically do more work per side in a single arm row than in the bent row. 90+% of your body weight should be contralaterally distributed between your resting side arm on the bench and active side leg on the floor. Your resting side knee should feel minimally loaded. Load your active side hamstrings/glutes like an RDL and brace properly. Like the bent row, focus on keeping your shoulders packed and pull from the muscles in your back, not your arms. Pull the weight into a neutral wrist position at the top of the lift and extend down to a pronated position at the bottom. Control the weight – don’t jerk it around. Weight path should be similar to the bent row but elbow tuck should be more exaggerated with your hands still finishing even with your upper abs/xiphoid process at the top. Complete all of the reps on one side before moving to the other. To reduce callus build up and tears, bar placement should be more in your fingers than in your palm – put the bar on the first/most proximal segment of your fingers and wrap around from there. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The lat pulldown exercise can be performed bilaterally with a double pronated grip and unilaterally with a dynamic wrist position. Grip width should be just outside the shoulders for bilateral pulls. Wrist position for unilateral pulls should start pronated at the top and end neutral/slightly supinated at the bottom. For all variations, be sure to move through a full range of motion by bringing the bar well below your chin and extending your arms completely at the top. Like the chin up, scapular elevation should occur at the top of every rep and scapular depression should begin each rep. To help with bracing and thoracic extension, focus on flexing your quads into the thigh pad and driving your feet into the floor as if you were trying to lift the seat/machine off the ground – do this for both bilateral and unilateral versions. Keep your eyes forward and chest up. Feel the tension in your back, not your arms, and imagine pulling your elbows down/into the sides of your ribs. Minimize any swinging in the seat. To reduce callus build up and tears, bar placement should be more in your fingers than in your palm – put the bar on the first/most proximal segment of your fingers and wrap around from there. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The face pull should be performed with a rope attachment on a chin-level cable pulley or with a suspension trainer. This is not an exercise to chase maximal strength or power – keep reps at or above 8 and start light. The face pull should be performed in a standing position with a neutral grip on the rope attachment with it turned upside down (your thumbs are pointed up but the rope makes a U shape). With your arms extended and shoulders held down (scapular depression), pull the rope back to your face so that you end up in a double front bicep pose – hands even with or just above your ears, thumbs pointed back, and elbows level with your shoulders. Feel the tension in your middle traps/rhomboids and rear delts, not your upper traps. Stay controlled with your movement – no jerking. When using a suspension trainer, adjust the handle to allow for a neutral grip and angle your body to provide minimal resistance – adjust body angle as needed. Work slower on the suspension trainer – don’t bounce yourself up from the bottom. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
The straight arm pulldown should be performed standing with a traditional wide lat pulldown attachment, using a pronated grip. Grip width should be just outside of your hips. Focus on scapular depression and lat activation during the entire range of motion for each rep – shoulders should not roll forward at the bottom. Arms should reach ear level at the top and touch your hips at the bottom. Slight forward lean should occur as your arms move upwards to allow for a greater vertical stretch. Keep your chest up at the bottom by returning to a normal upright stance. Don’t bounce or jerk the weight. Maintain slight knee and hip flexion during the exercise. Stay braced, maintain a proper breathing pattern (hold/brace during the full rep and exhale/inhale between reps), and work with weight you can control.
Thanks for Saying Thanks
Creating content destined to be locked behind a paywall limits client/trainer interactions and decreases the total reach of Fitstra as a fitness platform – charging for every little thing doesn’t help anyone. That’s why all of the educational material and exercise programs on Fitstra will always be free. No premium content. No annoying ads. No pay to win.
If this program has been helpful and you want to show your appreciation, consider becoming a Fitstra Supporter.