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Key Takeaways

  1. Strength training is a type of weightlifting that emphasizes heavy weights, relatively low reps, and getting as strong as possible on compound exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, and military press.
  2. All of the best strength training programs for men must include progressive overload, the right amount of volume for all of your major muscle groups, the right workout frequency, enough rest between sets, and should be fun.
  3. Keep reading to learn what the best 5 strength training programs are for men and exactly how to follow them.

When you’re new to weightlifting, picking a program is overwhelming. 

Between magazines, the Internet, and random guys giving away advice at the gym, you can find thousands of different strength training programs for men.

And of course, each purveyor of a particular program claims theirs is the best, usually pointing to some half-baked justification, such as . . . 

“This program is the best for cutting because the high reps really burn away the fat.”

“This program is the best for building muscle because it has supersets, which blast your muscles with different exercises.”

“This program is best because it only has you lifting weights twice per week, which maximizes recovery.”

Here’s the truth: 

Eighty percent of the workout programs you hear and read about are utter garbage and don’t work as advertised. Sure, they’re better than nothing, but they aren’t much better than simply showing up to the gym and doing whatever you feel like a few times per week.

Perhaps another 10 percent of workout programs have some merit, but also include a lot of unnecessary elements to help them stand out from the pack. 

And that leaves maybe 10 percent of workout programs that are worth trying. 

What makes these workout programs better than the rest? 

Well, they all abide by a shared set of principles that most other programs neglect.

Once you understand these principles, choosing a workout program becomes much, much easier. 

And what makes one program better for men than women? 

This mostly boils down to men and women’s differing goals when it comes to lifting weights. 

Men generally want bigger arms, chest, and shoulders, whereas women typically want a bigger butt and stronger, more defined arms, shoulders, and legs.

I’ll go over the best strength training programs for women in a future article, but for now, let’s look at what men should be focused on.

Let’s get started.

What Is Strength Training?

Strength training involves lifting weights with the goal of increasing your whole-body strength as much as possible.

The terms “weightlifting,” “resistance training,” and “strength training” are often used interchangeably, but there are a few key features that make strength training unique.

In the lifting world, strength is usually measured in terms of a one-rep max (1RM), and the most efficient way to increase your 1RM is to train with heavy weights (relatively close to your 1RM).

For these reasons, strength training emphasizes heavy loads with sets of lower reps (1 to 6) over sets of lighter loads and higher reps (6 to 15+). This is because lower rep ranges allow you to move the most weight, which is the fastest and most effective way to gain strength. (And a set is a series of reps that are completed one after the other before a brief break).

This is also why strength training programs prioritize lifting heavier weights over doing more sets and reps. Eventually, you’ll need to do more volume (sets, reps, exercises) to keep the needle moving as you become more advanced, but the focus should always be on pushing, pulling, and squatting more weight over time.

Strength training also typically revolves around a handful of compound exercises. This is because compound exercises lend themselves best to moving heavy weights for low reps.

A compound exercise is one that involves moving multiple joints and muscle groups through a full range of motion, and some of the best examples include the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and chin-up/pull-up.

Strength training programs also generally include relatively long rest periods between each set.

While this might seem odd if you’re used to circuit-style-training like P90X, research shows resting longer between sets allows you to lift significantly heavier weights for more reps and sets, which is the best way to get bigger and stronger. 

Longer rest periods also allow you to maintain better form during your workouts, which reduces your risk of injury and improves your performance when using heavy weights.

Summary: Strength training is a type of weightlifting that emphasizes lifting heavy weights for relatively low reps with long rest periods between each set, typically with a focus on compound exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, and military press.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

What Makes the Best Strength Training Program for Men?

strength training benefits

This question has sparked endless debates, discussions, and disputes, but there are a few things most everyone can agree on.

If you want to get as strong as possible—and this is true whether you’re a man or a woman—your program needs to abide by the following principles.

It needs to include progressive overload.

Progressive overload refers to forcing your muscles to work ever harder over time, and this is primarily accomplished by using heavier weights and doing more volume.

The reason this is a crucial element to every strength training program, is progressive overload is the single most powerful stimulus for muscle growth and strength gains.

The simplest way to implement progressive overload is to have a system in place for deciding when and how much you’re going to add weight to your key exercises over time. 

This could be as simple as trying to add weight every time you go to the gym, adding weight only once you’ve been able to do a certain number of reps with your current weight (double progression), or adding weight based on a percentage of your 1RM.

The important thing is that you’re adding weight over time, though. 

This doesn’t mean you need to add weight every workout on all of your exercises, but your average strength three months from now should be higher than your strength now.

At bottom, if your strength training program doesn’t include progressive overload, it’s not really a strength training program. It’s just a bunch of workouts.

What’s more, if a program doesn’t include instructions on how you’re supposed to get stronger over time—throw it away as if it were a bottle of Mexican tap water.  

One of the best ways to ensure you get stronger over time is to only follow programs that have a clear plan for how you’re supposed to add weight over time. 

It needs to have the right amount of volume (for all major muscle groups).

If you just want to move as much weight as possible, all you have to do is get as strong as possible on the lifts you’re best at.

For example, if you’re great at bench press, get as strong as possible on bench press and let your other lifts fall to the wayside.

You probably won’t like the results, though.

While you will get much stronger on this one exercise (or two or three), you’ll also develop muscle imbalances that will make your physique look lopsided (and could increase the risk of injury).

An issue with many popular strength training programs (including those designed for women) is that they include far more volume for the lower body, and not as much for the upper body

That’s fine if your legs are a top priority, but that’s not the case for most guys.

In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what most guys want. 

I should know, considering that after a few years of focusing on powerlifting style workouts with a heavy emphasis on squats and deadlifts, I looked more like a centaur than a superhero. 

I changed my ways, though, and started following strength training plans with more pushing and pulling, and while I still don’t look like a superhero, I at least look more like a normal guy who lifts weights instead of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

So, one of the key aspects for strength training for men is including enough volume for your chest, back, biceps, triceps, and shoulders to grow your upper body, with enough lower body volume for your legs to keep up so you look proportional.

The bottom line:

If your goal is to gain strength and build a well-rounded physique, you need to include enough volume to grow all of the major muscle groups in your body, and place extra emphasis on any lagging body parts, or muscle groups you want to grow more quickly. 

For men, the most stubborn muscle groups tend to be the shoulders, biceps, and chest, which is why these often deserve additional upper body volume.

It needs to include the right workout frequency.

You’ll often hear that full-body workouts are best.

Or body-part routines.

Or upper/lower routines.

Or push pull legs.

Or maybe you should train some muscle groups every day because . . . muh arms.

The truth is that almost any workout “split” can work as long as you’re sticking to the other two principles on this list.

That is, as long as you’re adding weight over time and doing enough total volume, you can divide that volume however you want throughout the week. 

You could do a body-part split, an upper/lower split, push pull legs, full body workouts, or some custom combination of exercises.

That said, the more volume you do and the more difficult your workouts, the more beneficial it becomes to split up your volume into multiple workouts throughout the week.

That is, instead of hammering your biceps with 6 sets on Monday, you might make better progress by doing 3 sets of biceps on Monday and 3 sets on Thursday.

Research backs this up, too, showing that training each muscle group at least twice per week generally produces better results than training it just once per week. Although it’s not clear if training more often than this is even better, it almost certainly would be if you were doing a lot of volume. 

Why is this? 

Well, one potential explanation is that training a muscle group more times per week simply creates more opportunities to increase muscle protein synthesis and thus muscle building. 

Another reason is spreading your volume throughout the week instead of concentrating it in just one day may make for more productive workouts. 

If you’re using relatively heavy weights, chances are good you’ll start feeling fatigued after a few sets. For example, if you’ve already done 3 heavy sets of bench press, how productive is doing another 3 sets really going to be? 

If you were to only do 3 sets of bench press in one workout and then do another 3 sets later in the week, after several days rest, your chances of adding weight, getting stronger, and thus making progress are higher.

A well-designed strength training program not only emphasizes progressive overload for each major muscle group; it gives your muscles enough time to rest, repair, and recoup their strength before taking another beating.

There’s no hard and fast rule on how much time you should leave between your workouts, though as you learned a moment ago, a good rule of thumb is to train each muscle group at least twice a week, and include at least one day of rest between training each muscle group.

All of the strength training programs I outline later in this article more or less fall within those guidelines.

It needs to include enough rest between sets.

There are many reasons to use short rest periods.

  • You can finish workouts faster.
  • You feel like you’re working harder.
  • Your muscles “burn,” which must be doing something good(?!).

You know what’s missing from that list?

Oh, yeah, progressive overload, which should be your first, second, and third priority.

In fact, cutting your rest periods too short forces you to use lighter weights or do fewer total sets (less volume), which stunts progress over time. This is why studies show that people who rest longer between sets are able to gain more strength and muscle than those that rest less.

How long should you rest?

One answer comes from a review paper published in 2014 by Menno Henselmans, who’s a researcher, bodybuilding coach, and member of Legion’s Scientific Advisory Board.

After combing through all of the research on how rest periods affect strength and muscle gain, the results confirmed what many experienced lifters have done for years:

You should rest as long as you need to feel fully prepared for the next set. This usually works out to around three minutes between your heaviest sets and two minutes between your lighter sets or less important exercises, although on some days you may need even longer than this.

The bottom line is that if you want to gain muscle and strength, you want to lift heavy weights. And if you want to lift heavy weights, you need to rest long enough between sets to handle heavier and heavier weights.

It’s that simple.

It needs to be fun.

Let’s say you’ve narrowed down your choice of programs to two options, but you aren’t sure which one to pick.

Here’s how to choose:

Look at each program, and ask yourself:

“Will this workout plan make me excited to go to the gym?”

Whichever one gets a stronger “yes,” is your new strength training program (at least for a while).

Remember, when you pick a program you aren’t signing away your soul to Mephistopheles. Once you’ve given one strength training program a fair shot, you can always try something different.

I do recommend you stick with whatever plan you pick for at least three months. That’s enough time to see results from any good program.

Summary: A good strength training program emphasizes progressive overload, includes the right amount of volume for each major muscle group, trains each major muscle group at least twice per week, includes two to three minutes rest between sets, and is enjoyable. 

The 5 Best Strength Training Programs for Men

strength training exercises

You know the five principles that make a good strength training program. 

Now it’s time to look at the programs that best live up to these criteria. 

Although there are good programs I’m forced to leave off this list due to brevity, the best strength training programs for men are: 

  1. Bigger Leaner Stronger
  2. Starting Strength
  3. Push Pull Legs
  4. Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine
  5. The Upper Lower Training Program

Bigger Leaner Stronger

The Bigger Leaner Stronger Training Program is a push pull legs (PPL) routine that’s modified to include more volume for the chest, arms, and shoulders.

It’s designed for men who are completely new to strength training or have never followed a structured strength training program before. It can also work well if you’re an intermediate lifter who’s been following a more minimalist training program, because the added volume should help you build muscle faster.

The program is based on seven key principles:

  1. Train 2 to 3 muscle groups per workout.
  2. Do sets of 4 to 6 or 8 to 10 reps per hard set for nearly all exercises.
  3. Do 9 to 15 hard sets per workout.
  4. Rest 2 to 4 minutes in between sets.
  5. Train most major muscle groups once every 3 to 5 days.
  6. Take 1 to 2 days off per week.
  7. Dial it back every 8 to 10 weeks with a deload.

Each workout is built around 2 or 3 heavy compound exercises, followed by several isolation exercises to add volume to muscle groups that tend to need more attention.

For your heavy compound exercises, you’ll do sets with 80% of your 1RM, which works out to 4 to 6 reps per set.

For some of your accessory exercises, you’ll do sets with 70% of your 1RM, or 8 to 10 reps per set.

An accessory exercise is an exercise that’s meant to help train muscles that aren’t adequately targeted by your heavy compound lifts. For example, although squats do train your hamstrings some, they don’t activate them enough for optimal results. That’s why this program includes Romanian deadlifts as a hamstring accessory exercise after squats.

Now, you don’t actually have to test your 1RM on any exercises. Instead, you’ll be doing “hard sets,” which are sets taken 1 to 3 reps shy of technical failure (the point at which you can no longer perform a rep with proper form).

The crux of the program, though, is all about how you progress on the exercises. In The Bigger Leaner Stronger Training Program, your goal is to add weight or reps to every exercise every time you train. You keep adding reps until you hit the top end of your prescribed rep range, then you add weight and start at the bottom end of your prescribed rep range, and rinse and repeat. 

This is known as double progression, and this kind of “autoregulated” training is a highly effective, simple, and reliable way to get stronger over time.

You can choose from 3-, 4-, and 5-day routines, depending on how many days a week you can get to the gym. 

Here’s what the 5-day Bigger Leaner Stronger routine looks like:

Day 1: Push

Barbell Bench Press

Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps (~80% of your 1RM)

Incline Barbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Dumbbell  Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Triceps Pushdown

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Day 2: Pull and Calves

Barbell Deadlift

Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Lat Pulldown (Wide-Grip)

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Leg Press Calf Raise

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps

Day 3: Upper Body and Core

Seated Dumbbell Press

Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps

Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise (Seated)

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps

Cable Crunch

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps

Day 4: Legs

Barbell Back Squat

Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Leg Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Lying Leg Curl

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps

Seated Calf Raise

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps

Day 5: Upper Body and Core

Close-Grip Bench Press

Warm-up and 3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Barbell Curl

Warm-up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Seated Triceps Press

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Dumbbell Hammer Curl

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps

Captain’s Chair Leg Raise

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps

And that’s it!

The Bigger Leaner Stronger Workout Routine is one of the best strength training programs for men who are new to structured strength training who want to focus on gaining upper body strength and muscle mass (while giving their legs enough volume to develop some muscle definition).

Summary: Bigger Leaner Stronger is a push pull legs strength training program for men with additional volume for the upper body, such as the chest, arms, and shoulders. You can follow either the 3-, 4-, or 5-day routines.

Starting Strength

Starting Strength is one of the most popular strength training programs out there, and for good reason.

Written by Mark Rippetoe and first published in 2005, and now in its third edition, the eponymous book has become a staple of bodybuilding literature.

If you’re serious about strength training, then you want to read Starting Strength. Even if you don’t plan on following the program.

The reason Starting Strength is so attractive to so many people—and especially to men who are new to weightlifting—is it’s simple, effective, and suited to a wide variety of goals.

  • If you want to get strong . . . Starting Strength can help.
  • If you want to add muscle . . . Starting Strength can do that too.
  • If you want to improve athleticism . . .  Starting Strength will get the job done.

The bottom line is if you’re new to heavy barbell training or strength training in general, you can’t go wrong starting with Starting Strength.

The program revolves around just 6 compound exercises with no accessory exercises and the focus of the program is achieving the biggest possible lifts by the end of it.

You’ll do 3 full-body workouts per week, rotating between 2 different workouts every time you train. Each full-body workout is built around just 3 compound exercises.

For every exercise, you’ll do 3 sets of 5 reps, except for deadlifts, which only get 1 set of 5 reps.

Progression on this routine is simple: You add 5 to 10 pounds every single workout. It’s worth keeping in mind that this program is designed for people who want to get as strong as possible, and who aren’t worried about getting lean. You can still use this program while cutting, but you’ll probably only manage to add 5 pounds every week or every other week instead of every workout.

And if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter, you won’t be able to add 5 pounds every week even while bulking. Simply put, it’s very likely you’ll need more volume to continue progressing. 

Here’s what the Starting Strength workout routine looks like:

Workout A

Squat

Warm-up and 3 sets of 5 reps

Overhead Barbell Press

Warm-up and 3 sets of 5 reps

Deadlift

Warm-up and 1 set of 5 reps

Workout B

Squat

Warm-up and 3 sets of 5 reps

Bench Press

Warm-up and 3 sets of 5 reps

Deadlift

Warm-up and 1 set of 5 reps

In week 1, you’d do Workout A, then B, then A, with rest days in between. In week 2, you’d do Workout B, then A, then B, with rests in between. Rinse and repeat.

If you’ve never touched a barbell before and don’t know where to start or get overwhelmed with other training programs, stop what you’re doing, buy the book, read it, and follow the program for three to six months. You’ll be glad you did. If you’ve been lifting for more than 1 year, though, you’ll make better progress following a different plan.

Summary: Starting Strength is a popular strength training program for beginners due to its simplicity and effectiveness. You alternate between two workouts, three times per week, with only six exercises, and progress by adding weights while doing the same number of reps and sets. 

Push Pull Legs

push-pull-legs (1)

Push pull legs” (PPL) routines have been popular for decades now.

In fact, just about every strength training program on this list more or less fits this mold, and that’s not likely to change.

The primary reasons push pull legs routines have stood the test of time are they train all major muscle groups, allow plenty of time for recovery, and can be tailored to fit different training goals, schedules, and preferences.

They’re easy to understand, too.

At bottom, a push pull legs routine separates your major muscle groups into three different workouts:

  1. Push – Chest, shoulders, and triceps
  2. Pull – Back and biceps (with a bit of hamstrings as well if you’re deadlifting)
  3. Legs

And it has you train anywhere from 3 to 6 times per week, depending on how much abuse you’re willing to take, what you’re looking to achieve with your physique, and how much time you can spend in the gym each week.

In a well-designed PPL program, your push workouts will generally revolve around barbell and dumbbell bench pressing, overhead (military) pressing, dipping, and doing isolation exercises for your triceps and possibly shoulders.

Your pull workouts are really just a “back and biceps” workout and generally revolve around deadlifting, barbell and dumbbell rowing, pulldowns, pullups and chinups, and doing isolation exercises for your biceps.

And last, your leg workouts focus on training your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

These workouts generally revolve around squatting, squat variations, lunging, and doing various isolation exercises for each lower body muscle group noted above.

Within that basic layout you have a lot of room to play around with different exercises, training frequencies, and set and rep ranges.

Thus, push pull legs is more of a general workout template than a set routine.

To make things simple, though, I’m going to share with you a 3-day PPL routine, which happens to be my favorite setup if you can only make it to the gym 3 times per week.

Here’s what it looks like:

Day 1: Push

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Warm-up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Standing Military Press

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Close-Grip Bench Press

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Day 2: Pull

Barbell Deadlift

Warm-up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Barbell Row

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Wide-Grip Pull-Up or Chin-Up (Weighted if Possible)

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Day 3: Legs

Barbell Back Squat

Warmup and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Barbell Front Squat

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Bulgarian Split Squat

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Standing Calf Raise

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

(Optional) Seated Calf Raise

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Although you can organize these workouts however you like throughout the week, it’s best to leave at least one to two days of rest between each workout.

One popular way to do this is to do Day 1 on Monday, Day 2 on Wednesday, and Day 3 on Friday. Or, you could do Day 1 on Tuesday, Day 2 on Thursday, and Day 3 on Saturday. It’s up to you.

Summary: The Push Pull Legs routine is a workout program template that involves doing your chest, shoulder, and triceps exercises on a Push day, your back and biceps on a Pull day, and all of your quad, hamstring, glute, and calf exercises on a Leg day. PPL routines are easy to customize, allow plenty of time for recovery, and are an excellent option for both beginners and intermediate or advanced lifters.

Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine

This program is the brainchild of fitness writer, researcher, and coach Lyle McDonald.

In case you don’t know him, Lyle was one of the first people to start explaining fitness research online in a way that lay people could understand.

Like so many other great things (IIFYM and reaction gifs) his generic bulking routine began on an Internet messaging board and soon developed a following.

As Lyle says, this program isn’t for beginners.

It’s for people who have at least 6 to 12 months of proper training experience, who want to gain muscle and strength.

This program isn’t specifically designed for gaining strength, either, although it includes a good mix of high intensity, low-rep workouts and low intensity, high-rep workouts, which is ideal for people who’ve outgrown Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5, or other minimalist strength training plans and who want to bulk.

All in all, it’s a great introduction to higher volume bodybuilding training plans.

Here’s the rationale behind the program, in Lyle’s words:

I generically like to see a body part hit about 2X/week with slightly lowered intensity… I recommend about a rep short of failure so that the volume (which is higher per workout than either DC or HST) can be accomplished. I’m trying to strike a balance between the issues of frequency (for gene expression and protein synthesis), recovery (failure training can burn people out) and progression (I want to see the poundages going up consistently over the cycle).

Here’s the gist of the program:

  • You alternate between an upper body and a lower body workout.
  • You train 4 times per week (doing each workout twice).
  • Each workout includes 3 to 4 compound exercises followed by 3 to 4 accessory exercises.
  • You do 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 or 10 to 12 reps for your compound exercises
  • You do 1 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps for your accessory exercises.
  • You take it easy for the first 2 weeks, then add as much weight as possible for the next 4 to 6 weeks.
  • You take a deload every 6 to 8 weeks.

As the name suggests, Lyle recommends this for bulking—not cutting. As a general rule, you won’t be able to handle as much volume while cutting, which means following this program is more likely to lead to burnout. Make sure you’re eating plenty of calories, enough protein, and getting enough sleep if you want to follow this routine.

You’ll do 2 workouts following Lyle’s Generic Bulking Workout Routine:

  1. A lower body workout
  2. An upper body workout

Here’s what they look like:

Lower Body Workout

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Stiff-Leg Deadlift or Leg Curl

3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Leg Press

2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Leg Curl (or a different hamstring accessory exercise)

2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Standing Calf Raise

3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Seated Calf Raise

2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Upper Body Workout

Barbell Bench Press

Warm up and 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Barbell or Dumbbell Row

3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Incline Bench Press or Shoulder Press

2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Pull-Down or Chin-Up

2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Triceps Accessory Exercise

1 to 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Biceps Accessory Exercise

1 to 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps

You can either repeat these exact same workouts again during the week, or you can make a few substitutions.

Here’s what Lyle says about making these changes:

For the Thu/Fri workouts either repeat the first two or make some slight exercise substitutions. Can do deadlift/leg press combo on Thu, switch incline/pulldown to first exercises on upper body day. A lot depends on volume tolerance, if the above is too much, go to 2-3X6-8 [for your compound lifts] and 1-2X10-12 [for your accessory lifts].

How many sets you do for each exercise depends on how you feel.

For example, let’s say you finish 3 sets of squats, and you’ve finished each set feeling like you could still have done 1 to 2 more reps. In that case, you should do another set.

If the first 3 sets left you in a huffing, puffing, sweating mess, then stop after 3 and try again next time.

As you can see, you’ll need to play around with different exercises and numbers of sets to find what you can handle.

When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to start conservatively.

  • If you aren’t sure if you should add 5 pounds or 10, add 5.
  • If you aren’t sure if you should to 2 sets or 3, do 2.
  • If you aren’t sure if you should choose a harder accessory, like Romanian deadlifts, or an easier one, like leg curls, choose the easier one.

You can always add more weight, sets, or harder exercises later if you want to.

To make things as simple as possible, here’s a version of Lyle’s Generic Bulking Routine you can follow that’s set up according to those guidelines:

Lower Body Workout A

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Romanian Deadlift

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Leg Press

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Leg Curl

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Standing Calf Raise

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Seated Calf Raise

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Upper Body Workout A

Barbell Bench Press

Warm up and 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Dumbbell Row

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Incline Bench Press

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Pull-Down

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

DB Triceps Press

1 to 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Barbell Biceps Curl

1 to 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Lower Body Workout B

Barbell Front Squat

Warm up and 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Romanian Deadlift

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Leg Press

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Leg Curl

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Standing Calf Raise

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Seated Calf Raise

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Upper Body Workout B

Incline Bench Press or Shoulder Press

Warm up and 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Pull-Down or Chin-Up

2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Barbell Bench Press

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Barbell or Dumbbell Row

3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Triceps Accessory Exercise

1 to 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Biceps Accessory Exercise

1 to 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps

There are many other variations you can make on this plan, but the above is a good starting place.

Rest 2 to 4 minutes between all of your compound exercises, and 1 to 3 minutes between all of your accessory exercises.

Start each workout with a thorough warm-up of your choice. After you warm up for the first exercise, you don’t have to warm up for the rest (as you’ll already be prepared).

For the first 2 weeks of this program you’re going to use lighter weights.

Specifically, you’re going to train with 80 to 95% of your previous working weights to familiarize yourself with the exercises and the greater number of sets and reps than most other plans.

Note, this doesn’t mean you’re using 80 to 95% of your one-rep max. You’re using 80 to 95% of your typical working weights, which is the highest weight you typically use for that exercise in your workouts.

For example, if you’ve benched 225 for your last few workouts, you’d start with 180 pounds (80%) for the first week.

After the first 2 weeks, your goal is to add weight and/or reps to every lift (while staying 1 to 2 reps shy of failure), every workout, for 4 to 6 weeks, or until you plateau.

After 4 to 6 weeks you take a break. If you don’t, you’re asking for injury, overtraining, or burnout.

Together, this 2-week buildup and a 4-to-6 week period of adding weights is one “cycle” of training.

Once you finish one complete cycle of this program, you can change some of the exercises and rep ranges, then rinse and repeat. Don’t change any of the exercises or rep ranges within a 6-to-8 week cycle, though.

If you’ve been following a structured strength training program for at least 6 months, and you’re ready to focus on building muscle (while continuing to get much stronger), Lyle’s Generic Bulking Routine is one of the best programs you can do.

Summary: Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine is designed for lifters who have passed their initial newbie gains and are ready to incorporate a bit more volume. It’s a great choice if you’re bulking and can train 4 days per week.

The Upper Lower Training Program 

upper-lower (1)

The classic upper lower routine is one of the most common, proven, and simple strength training programs you can find.

It’s also one of the first routines people turn to after their newbie gains are gone, and for good reason:

  • It ensures progressive overload on a few compound lifts.
  • It trains each major muscle group twice per week.
  • It’s easily adaptable to different goals, preferences, and schedules.
  • It includes plenty of volume for the upper and lower body.
  • It allows for plenty of recovery between workouts.

The classic upper lower routine divides your training into upper and lower body workouts.

By alternating between these workouts, you can ensure that you almost always have at least 1 to 2 days of rest before training a muscle group again.

The upper body workouts typically include:

Like the classic push pull legs routine, it’s more of a template than a specific plan. You can use a variety of different exercises, frequencies, and sets and reps while staying within the basic framework.

That said, most upper lower training programs stick to the same exercises, rep ranges, and number of sets as the other programs on this list:

  • You’ll start each upper or lower workout with 2 to 3 compound exercises followed by 2 to 3 accessory exercises for supporting muscle groups.
  • You’ll do 2 to 4 sets for your compound exercises.
  • You’ll do 2 to 3 sets for your accessory exercises.
  • You’ll do 4 to 6 reps for your compound exercises.
  • You’ll do 6 to 10 reps for your accessory exercises.

The classic upper lower workout routine involves 4 workouts per week, with two workouts for the upper body and 2 workouts for the lower body.

This is ideal for people who want to get more training volume than a minimalist strength routine without training more than 4 days per week.

Here are the workouts:

Upper 1

Barbell Bench Press

Warm-up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps (~80% of 1RM)

Lat Pulldown or Pull-Up

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Barbell Overhead Press

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

2 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Barbell Curl

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps (~70% of 1RM)

Dumbbell Side Raise

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Upper 2

Barbell Overhead Press

Warm-up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Barbell Row or Seated Cable Row

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Barbell Bench Press

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Chin-Up (Weighted if Possible)

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Dumbbell Triceps Press

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Lower 1

Barbell Back Squat

Warm-up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Barbell Front Squat

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Romanian Deadlift

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Standing Calf Raise

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

(Optional) Weighted Cable Crunches

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps until failure

Lower 2

Barbell Front Squat

Warm-up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Bulgarian Split Squat

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Leg Press

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Seated Calf Raise

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

(Optional) Hanging Leg Raises

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps until failure

Rest 3 minutes between your compound exercises and 2 minutes between your accessory exercises.

In terms of progressing and adding weight, you can use the same double progression method described in the Bigger Leaner Stronger program.

The classic Upper Lower Training Program is one of the best strength training programs for people who have at least 1 year of strength training experience and who want to build muscle and strength as fast as possible, without training more than 4 times per week. 

Summary: The Upper Lower training program is ideal for weightlifters who’ve been training for at least a year. It usually involves four workouts per week, alternating between upper and lower body workouts.

How to Decide When to Change Your Strength Training Program

strength training examples

There is no “one true program” that’s best for everyone. 

In many ways, the best program for you is one you can stick to long-term and that you enjoy. 

No matter what program you follow, getting significantly bigger and stronger is going to take months and years of hard work. You’ll also get bored, burnt out, and demotivated at times, which is why picking a program you want to follow is much more important than doing the “right” number of sets or reps or using the “best” exercises.

In other words, if you enjoy your program, it’s going to be a lot easier to stick to over the long haul, and you’ll be less tempted to quit or let other things get in the way of your training.

Even the most optimal strength training program with just the right volume and intensity won’t be very effective if you quit after your first month or two.

In this way, picking a program that keeps you in the gym is better than a perfectly optimized routine that isn’t fun or that doesn’t fit your schedule.

There’s no clear-cut way to decide what program is best for you or when to change the routine you’re following, but you can make a good guess by following these pointers from powerlifter, writer, and coach Greg Nuckols:

  1. If you’re still setting PRs (personal records) at least once every 1 to 2 weeks, don’t change anything. Keep following your current strength training program until you haven’t set a PR in at least a month.
  2. If you haven’t made any noticeable progress on any lift in over a month, pick a new program. Choose one that has slightly more volume than your current plan, if possible. This could be in the form of more days in the gym per week, more sets, more exercises, or some combination of all of those variables.
  3. If you constantly feel weak, worn down, and unmotivated to train, make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep. If you aren’t getting enough sleep you won’t make much progress regardless of what program you follow.
  4. If you’re getting enough sleep, you feel good, and you’ve still been plateaued for more than a month, pick a new program. Choose one that has slightly more volume than your current plan. This could be in the form of more days in the gym per week, more sets, more exercises, or some combination of all of those variables.
  5. If you’re getting enough sleep but you feel weak, worn down, and unmotivated to train, then pick a new program. Choose one that has slightly less volume than your current plan. This could be in the form of fewer days in the gym per week, fewer sets, fewer exercises, or some combination of all of those variables.

If you have any questions about which strength training program to choose, let me know in the comments and I’ll help you decide.

Summary: The best strength training program for you is one that you can stick to over the long term and that you enjoy doing. If you stop making progress, make an adjustment or pick a new plan to follow. 

The Bottom Line on the Best Strength Training Program For Men

Strength training is a type of weightlifting that emphasizes lifting heavy weights on compound exercises with the goal of increasing whole-body strength.

The best strength training programs for men all abide by five principles: 

  • They need to include progressive overload
  • They need to have the right amount of volume (for all major muscle groups)
  • They need to include the right workout frequency
  • They need to include enough rest between sets
  • They need to be fun

There are many strength training programs for men that follow these principles, but the following five programs have proven to be particularly effective and reliable:

  1. Bigger Leaner Stronger
  2. Starting Strength
  3. Push Pull Legs
  4. Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine
  5. The Upper Lower Training Program

If you aren’t sure which program you should use, try them all. There’s nothing wrong with switching weightlifting programs every now and then.

As a rule of thumb, though, if you’re still setting PRs at least every 2 or so weeks on at least some of your compound exercises, don’t make any changes. Ride that wave of progress as long as it lasts until you hit a genuine weightlifting plateau, then change your program.

If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to hang out online! 🙂

What’s your take on the best strength training programs for men? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below! 

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