Looking for the best lifting programs for size and strength? You’ve come to the right place.
These 4 lifting programs are tried and true for packing on mass and adding weight to the bar.
If you like this article, check out my high-level training programs where hundreds of people, men and women, are killing it every day.
Oh, and there are affiliate links in this article. I never link anything that I don’t use and know is a good product.
What Makes a Great Size and Strength Program?
When you’re looking for a solid program, there are some important variables to consider before hopping in.
In particular, you should never do a program just because someone else says it’s what they do.
Social Media influencers today are selling a ton of BS.
They’re heavily geared up (on steroids), and promote stuff that looks good, but is NOT optimal.
A good program should be flexible. It should allow you to modify it to your own needs where necessary.
It should absolutely focus on big, compound lifts and on getting stronger on those lifts.
The Principle of Progressive Overload
Good size and strength programs should have progressive overload built in.
This is VERY important. The only way to consistent gains is to gradually increase the training stimulus.
Progressive overload means adding weight to the bar or adding reps or ideally, both, over a period of time.
There is no substitute for this, period. It is a fundamental and absolute principle of training.
You can get away with ignoring this in the short term as a beginner. But, in the long-run, you will plateau and miss out on a ton of potential gains in both size and strength by ignoring this principle.
A LOT of programs out there are simply a random collection of exercises, or are just cut-and-paste programs with no rhyme or reason behind what they’re doing.
4 Programs That Maximize Size and Strength
Without further ado, here are 4 programs I’ve done over the past couple of decades that were particularly effective and met all the criteria of a great program for size and strength.
I’ll do my best to link to each one for a deeper description, and will try to give you the meat and potatoes of each.
This is an old gem that few have heard about.
Clusters are an incredibly powerful training tool when performed properly.
I first came across this program around 2012, and used it to great effect to put on a solid 15lbs or so over a 12 week training cycle.
My numbers on every lift also increased, so the gains were very balanced.
HCT-12 is short for “Hypertrophy Cluster Training-12.”
“12” refers to the number of reps you hit on the last set of each exercise. A 6-rep max, followed by 3 sets of 2 cluster reps, 20-30 seconds apart.
The original link to this training program doesn’t work anymore, so I’ll do my best to describe the program in enough detail to perform it, should you choose to.
How to perform the hct-12 program
In HCT-12, you will use mostly big, compound movements (i.e., bench press, row, squat, etc.).
This is a common theme among effective programs.. there is very little “fluff.”
You start light and work your way up to the heaviest set of 6 reps you can get for the day.
After you hit that last set of 6, you rest 20-30 seconds, and hit 2 more reps.
You repeat this 3 times, resting 20-30 seconds and hitting 2 additional reps.
This will mean you hit a heavy 6, plus 6 additional “cluster” reps, hence the name “HCT-12.”
Exercise selection and split
Movements are broken down this way: You pick one movement for each movement type.
Movement Type: Examples: Vertical Pressing Overhead Press,
Seated DB Press
Horizontal Pressing Bench Press
Vertical Pulling Pulldown
Horizontal Pulling Rows Quad Dominant Squat
Hip Dominant Deadlift
RDL, Power Clean
Biceps Curls Triceps Extensions Calfs Calf raises Abs Sit ups/Ab wheel
You have some freedom in how to split things up.
This depends on your desired workout frequency (how many days/week you’ll train).
I highly recommend 3-4 days, so that you can push very hard and fully recover (i.e., grow).
This is a high intensity training style, so recovery is of the highest importance.
See my article on How Many Sets and Reps to Maximize Hypertrophy for more on this topic.
MON (A) WED (B) FRI (A) Vertical Push Quad Dom Vertical Push Horizontal Pull Horizontal push Horiz. Pull Hip Dominant Vertical Pull Hip Dom Biceps Triceps Biceps Calves Abs Calves
The following week, you would hit B-A-B. Then the week after back to A-B-A.
You can modify this to a 4 day split as well, simply doing A-B-A-B.
This could be done Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday.
On each of these, you would choose your poison.
If you chose Bench Press for horizontal push, you’d work to a heavy 6, rest 20-30 seconds, and hit 2 reps.
Repeated 3 times, that’s 12 total reps at that 6-rep max weight.
If you successfully get all 12 reps at that weight, you will add 5lbs next time. THAT’S IT.
This program is both simple and measurable. It ensures progressive overload, and ensures high-quality reps using clusters.
This is a powerful program that should be used by intermediate level lifters or above.
2.) Dante Trudel’s DoggCrapp Training.
One of my favorite training programs of all time is Dante Trudel’s DoggCrapp Training.
This program has shaped how I program for many people and how I train myself as well.
This is a High Intensity Training program (HIT).
That means that it’s relatively low volume, but very high intensity.
Almost everything is taken to failure, and you MUST have fortitude to perform this properly.
How to make your split with doggcrapp training
DoggCrapp training is typically performed on a 3-day split.
For those who don’t believe 3 days is enough, I urge you to reconsider.
Many people train 5-6 days/week, not because it is optimal, but because they are obsessive about training and want to be in the gym.
They sacrifice quality for frequency.
If you’re truly pushing yourself to failure and beyond, most cannot train 5-6 days per week consistently with that level of intensity, and actually recover and grow..
For Doggcrapp, you will have an A and a B day with 2 different workouts for each.
Here’s an example of how I’ve broken this down in the past: (Read on to see how to properly perform each set).
A1 B1 A2 Incline Press
3 x max reps
3 x max
DB Bench Press
3 x max
3 x max reps
4 x 8-8-8-20
Seated DB Press
3 x max
Triceps: 3 x max
Incline Db Curls
3 x max
DB Triceps Ext.
3 x max
Pulldowns: 3 x max
2-3 x 12
3 x max
T-Bar Row: 3 x max
Or, Deadlift 2 x 8
Abs Cable Rows
3 x max
B2 A1 B1 Romanian
3 x 12
3 x max
3 x max
Incline DB Hammers
2 x max
This pattern repeats:
Week 3 would be A2-B2-A1, etc.
In between lifting days, you should perform 30-60 minutes of low to moderate intensity cardio.
how to perform doggcrapp training
For each exercise, you perform your sets to absolute failure.
*This does NOT include squats and deadlifts, as that would be dangerous and counterproductive.
You then take 15 deep breaths, and repeat.
This is basically like doing one long extended rest/pause set for each exercise.
After all 3 sets to failure are done, add up the total reps across 3 sets.
Your goal next time is to either hit more reps, or add weight.
Generally, you should have a rep goal.
If you beat that goal, you EARN the right to add weight to that movement next time.
Trudel uses a rep goal of 11-16 reps, but I tend to go a little higher, 16-24 total reps before I add weight.
After 6-8 weeks, I will drop that rep target down to his 11-16, allowing me to continue adding weight to the bar.
There are other elements to DoggCrapp that I won’t get into, such as loaded stretching. These are advanced methods not appropriate or necessary for beginner or usually even intermediate lifters.
why i love this size and strength program so much
The reason I like DoggCrapp training so much, is because it is focused around intensity and progression.
There is a constant emphasis on progressive overload.. every time a session comes up you know exactly what you have to beat.
I also really like measuring rest periods in breaths. This creates a very focused training session.
There is no “fluff” in this training style. Everything you do is meaningful, big work.
This is a great long term program for size and strength.
If you want to read more on DoggCrapp, here’s a good link.
3.) Swole Town – Hybrid Bodybuilding
I’m partial to Swole Town because I created it years ago.
My goal was to build a team of people who were serious about training and looking to improve themselves.
We’ve accomplished that, and I urge you to check out a free week through the TrainHeroic App.
What is Swole Town?
Swole Town is a program built around size, strength and performance.
It is periodized, meaning we cycle through training blocks with different themes and goals throughout the year.
The reason I love this programming is because it uses a mix of bodybuilding, strongman and powerlifting into one comprehensive, badass training program.
Movements like Zercher Squats, Farmer Carries and deadlifts are no stranger to the town.
In essence, if you want to look huge AND be able to back it up, this is where you want to be.
Here’s a sample week for reference: (within the app, you would see videos and further detail, a message board, leaderboard, etc.).
4.) Strength Circuits by Christian Thibadeau
I’ve followed Coach Thib for a long time, and highly recommend you do the same.
Strength circuits are one of the most original, unique styles of training that I’ve come across.
The idea is simple:
- Choose 5 big movements covering all major body parts.
- Perform them in a circuit, starting with 5 reps of each one
- Start over and perform 4 reps of each. Then 3, then 2, then a final set of 1.
- Perform the SAME workout each day, 4-5 days/week.
This set-up will immediately raise some eyebrows, I’m sure.
But, it is deceptively brilliant. In his own words:
Performing strength circuits using a 5/4/3/2/1 rep scheme — each round decreasing the reps and increasing the weights on all exercises — provides the perfect mix of load, density, and volume for maximizing strength and hypertrophy, as well as shredding up.” -Christian Thibaudeau
why it works so well for size and strength
Strength circuits work well for a few reasons.:
One, the consistent repetition of big movements improves neuromuscular efficiency.… meaning you get better at those movements.
This, of course, means you get stronger on those movements.
Two, you’re hitting enough high-quality volume each day to stimulate growth, without crushing yourself beyond recoverability.
Three, you have the flexibility to scale back a bit where necessary on some days.
This is definitely not a beginner program and can be difficult to set up in a commercial gym, as you’re bouncing between 5 different movements.
To see the full program in detail, check it out here.
Final Thoughts on Size and Strength Programs
There are many good options for solid size and strength programs out there.
You’ve got to decide which would be best for you and commit fully to it for a training cycle or two.
We didn’t even talk about nutrition in this article, but obviously, if you’re trying to get bigger and stronger, you need to have your diet in order..
While I’m partial to Swole Town, since I created it after years of trial and error, these other programs are also tried and true and can pay off bigtime.
Whatever you choose, do it with all your might.
I wish you the best on your training journey, and hope this article helped you somehow reach your best-self.
12/3/30 cardio is a very simple and effective treadmill workout, where you set the incline to 12, the speed to 3.0, and walk for 30 minutes.
If you like this article, check out my high-level training programs for both men and women.
Is 12/3/30 a Good Cardio Option?
12/3/30 is an excellent cardio option for a few reasons:
It’s Low Impact
Uphill walking and jogging are typically low impact on your joints.
Walking or jogging uphill require mostly concentric muscle contractions.
That is, it takes away a large portion of the eccentric portion (having to slow down, as in lowering a biceps curl down slowly).
The eccentric portion of a movement is much harder on the joints and muscle tissues.
For this reason, uphill walking or jogging is much friendlier to the joints and connective tissues than running on flat ground.
Studies, like this one, show that uphill walking can strengthen the knee joint while also subjecting it to less stress.
It Burns More Calories
A lot of energy is expended walking up an incline vs. flat ground.
For every 1% increase in incline grade, you’ll burn about 10 additional calories (roughly) per mile walked.
So, for 12/3/30 cardio, you’ll be at a 12-degree incline, burning about 120 more calories per mile.
Variations of 12/3/30 Cardio
People love slapping labels on things.
12/3/30 is just one mix of settings you can employ for your cardio sessions.
You can just as easily set the incline to 5, 8, 10, etc. and set the speed to whatever is comfortable.
You can also go for shorter or longer time periods, depending on your level and what your goals are.
Is 12/3/30 Enough to Lose Weight?
12/3/30 is a great method to use for cardio days, but you should definitely be lifting weights as well if you want to optimize your physique goals.
Having a program to follow is the best way to hold yourself accountable and ensure progress over time.
For women, I highly recommend the Forged Female program. It’s a community of women building incredible bodies and is scalable to multiple levels.
You get access to a coach, and workouts are planned for you (including cardio) 6 days a week. inal
12/3/30 Cardio is a solid method to burn additional calories and get some quality cardio in.
Done alongside a solid resistance training program, it can be a highly effective, time-efficient and simple way to improve your physique and your health.
To get a little deeper into how to perform cardio properly, check out this article
Thanks for readingm, let me know what you think!
Will skipping cardio kill your gains?
This is an important article and will hopefully be a wakeup call for those who choose to skip out on cardio day.
“Cardio” is a misunderstood term. This article will clear it up, and explain why skipping it can be a fatal mistake, for both your health, and your Gainz, bro.
If you like this article, check out my high level training programs delivered through the TrainHeroic App.
Why Do People Skip Cardio?
Most are afraid to lose their hard-earned gainz due to adaptation interference.
This happens when we present our body with 2 different and conflicting stimuli, which interfere with each other and essentially cancel each other out.
While this can be true when doing too much conditioning alongside your lifting, performing some cardio as described in this article will not interfere with your lifting enough to justify excluding it.
Others are convinced it isn’t that important, or at least not AS important as lifting and nutrition.
This sentiment is echoed by many “influencers” who proclaim that cardio isn’t that important, after all.
Many of these influencers lack the knowledge and experience to understand how huge of a mistake this is for most people.
What Is Cardio?
The term “cardio” has been thrown around pretty loosely and can mean intense conditioning to some, and walking on a treadmill to others.
The truth is, it is neither of those things.
“Cardio” is short for “cardiorespiratory.” Cardio workouts should, then, stimulate cardiorespiratory adaptations.
Walking on a treadmill is definitely healthy, but it is probably not stimulating aerobic adaptations (unless it is performed as explained below).
Performing high intensity intervals is great as well, but alongside a serious lifting routine, can become counterproductive beyond 1 session per week.
I prefer to think of higher intensity training as “conditioning,” and something separate from “cardio.”
The Real Purpose of Cardio
It’s always helpful to know why you’re doing the things that you do.
You bench press to get a bigger chest. You leg press to get bigger Quads.
So why do you do cardio?
If you say to lose weight or burn fat, I’d say that this is a decent reason, but nowhere near as effective as dieting and lifting.
It takes an hour on the treadmill to burn off a donut (that’s an exaggeration but probably not too far off).
It certainly helps, but I’d argue that there are MUCH more compelling reasons to consistently do your cardio, and to do it a specific way.
Cardiac Output refers to the amount of blood being pumped out of the heart in a given time period (usually a minute).
The cardiac output method (aka, “cardio” as I define it), is designed to increase the amount of blood your heart pumps with each beat (aka, Stroke Volume).
To accomplish this, we need to perform cardio in a specific way:
- 30-90 minutes of activity.
- Heart rate of 120-150, roughly, sustained throughout.
The reason for this, is that in this heart-rate range, the heart can completely fill up with blood with each beat.
If you go above this zone, it will only partially fill up (wrong adaptation).
If you go below, the activity is simply not challenging enough to induce any adaptations.
I highly recommend the Polar H-10 (or similar) Heart Rate monitor when performing cardio. It’s the only way to really keep an eye on your heart rate and know you’re training in the proper zone. I’ve used this one for years with no issues.
Resting Heart Rate
A more efficient heart, pumping more blood with each beat, will need to beat less often. This will result in a lower resting heart rate.
This means that all day long, your heart is under less stress and isn’t having to work as hard to supply blood and oxygen to your body and organs.
Again, your cardiovascular system is your foundation of resilience and protects you from disease and stress.
Why Cardio Is So Important
One of the largest studies ever conducted on fitness and mortality (right here) found that cardiorespiratory fitness was directly correlated with lower mortality across all causes of death, with NO upper limit.
Read that again…
A strong cardiovascular system is literally your foundation of resilience.
It wards off heart disease, cancer, and death from, apparently, all causes.
So, as you can see, skipping out on cardio really can kill you!
Cardio Affects Your Gainz, Bro
Having a weak cardiovascular system will eventually negatively impact your lifting.
Your body relies on the aerobic system to recover both between sets, AND between workouts.
The aerobic system restocks ATP (energy) in the muscle between sets.
This is why longer rest periods allow you to get more reps. Your aerobic system has had more time to restock ATP and clear out metabolic byproducts of energy production (lactate, etc).
Between workouts, your aerobic system is working overtime to assist in repairing damaged tissues and restock energy.
Essentially, a weak aerobic engine will be a limiting factor in what you can accomplish in the gym, not to mention the health risks that come along with that.
What Should You Be Doing?
Everyone is different and has different goals.
As long as you’re keeping your heart rate in the target range, you can use a variety of methods.
Here’s an example of something trending these days; 12/3/30 Cardio.
For my athletes in the Swole Town Team Program, we typically do 2 days of lower intensity cardio (ie, cardiac output), and 1 day of intervals or higher intensity conditioning.
This is, of course, alongside 3 intense lifting sessions per week.
If my primary goal was to improve my cardiorespiratory fitness, I’d probably do 3-4 lower intensity days, and 1-2 higher intensity conditioning days per week.
Either way, the point is that you should NOT be skipping out on cardio.
Many of us hit the gym to improve physique, build muscle, get stronger, etc.
But what’s the point of all that if your health slips away and you can’t run up a flight of stairs without gasping for air?
All of that muscle will be useless if you have to use it, but die out after 30 seconds of effort.
Maintaining a high level of aerobic fitness alongside the muscle we put on is the optimal way to live your life.
You’ll live longer, feel better, and probably get better long-term results in the gym.
If you liked this article, check out this one that you might enjoy:
If your goal in the gym is to build muscle, this question is of fundamental importance. How much volume should you be doing to maximize muscle growth?
If you like this article, check out some of my high-level programming available through the TrainHeroic App.
The Limitations of Research
I don’t want to imply that research on resistance training is useless. It is certainly useful and necessary.
However, we often take the conclusions of these studies as truth, without digging into them and really reflecting on them.
Are the subjects untrained? How much does the study actually relate to you as a lifter?
For example, many studies, like this one, have shown a dose-response relationship between training volume and hypertrophy. That is, the more volume you do, the more muscle you’ll build.
However, this “more is better” philosophy is not necessarily true.. and is at best, flawed.
One can look at studies on German Volume Training, which show that 5 sets of 10 reps is just as effective as the 10 sets of 10 prescribed, at building muscle.
Other studies show very similar results between 3 sets and 5 sets per session of an exercise..
So obviously, at some point, more is not only not better, but probably detrimental to your gains, bro.
So maybe the main variable shouldn’t be volume… But rather, effort.
Low Volume Training Can Produce Big Gainz
Lifters like Dorian Yates, Dante Trudel, Mike Mentzer, and many others have used a High Intensity model of training to build massive physiques.
High intensity training often calls for low volume and very high intensity. So why does it work?
It works because the amount of reps taken to (and often beyond) failure are the focus of the training.
In high intensity training, everything you do is meaningful.
It isn’t just how many reps you do that matters.. it is the quality of those reps that drives muscle growth.
I’ll expand more on this below. This is the essence of my point in this article.
What You Do vs. How You Do It
I say this a lot; It isn’t always what you do, but how you do it, that matters the most.
This is often not something that can be measured by a study.
Training volume is not a simple equation of “Sets x Reps.” This is a foolish way of looking at it as it relates to you actually building muscle.
Instead, you should be looking at the reps that actually cause Hypertrophy and challenge the body enough to cause a stimulus and adaptation.
Essentially that means taking sets to failure (or beyond), and counting the reps that slow down due to fatigue.. probably the last 3-5 reps of a set… the ones that are HARD.
People frequently do 3 or 4 sets of 8-10 reps, pyramiding up to a heavy set. Well, the first 3 sets were probably not very useful. and on the last set, only a few reps actually counted.
So, did you do 4 sets of 8? Or did you do 1 set of 3 or 4 meaningful reps?
The primary driver of muscle growth is going to be mechanical tension.
This essentially refers to the amount of force being produced by the target muscle group.
As a muscle contracts more slowly, it produces much higher forces.
Those reps towards the end of a set to failure, as they slow down, produce much higher mechanical tension vs. the first few reps of the set.
As Arnold so eloquently stated, “you only start counting when it starts hurting.”
So, the question has to be asked… not how much volume are you doing.. but how much meaningful volume are you doing?
3 sets of 8 tells me nothing. Could you have gotten 10, 12, 15 reps? Or would you have failed at 8 even with a gun at your head? It matters a whole lot.
So How Many Sets and Reps Should You Be Doing?
The answer to this is of course, it depends…
I would argue that it’s better to focus on how hard you’re pushing each set, vs. how many you’re doing…
Generally, I believe people should not be training more than 3-4 days per week, unless you can justify why those extra days are necessary.
Most lifters are going to do well on 3-4 days of HARD training.
In fact, if you’re actually training very hard, you probably can’t do more than that, without crushing yourself and failing to recover…
Why are People Training So Much, Then?
What happens, in my opinion, is that people become obsessive about their training. They WANT to be in the gym more.
They want to do more sets.
It’s important to realize that has nothing to do with what’s actually optimal for you as far as building muscle.
I’ve trained many people who were previously working out 6 days per week until I brought them back down to 3-4 days and had them actually train to failure on every set.
The results are often that people are shocked at how sore they get, and how much more muscle they build over a period of time when they’re actually pushing themselves properly.
It’s simply too difficult for many people to train with adequate intensity (remember, meaningful reps are what matter) on 5-6 days per week.
You end up sacrificing meaningful training for more time in the gym, weaker sessions, and less recovery time, which is a recipe for suboptimal results.
3 Day Split as a Starting Point
I’m a big believer in starting off with 3 hard training days per week. On three days, you can train very hard and still recover.
You can analyze and assess your results and then determine if you actually need more training volume or a higher frequency.
After a few months of this, if you feel that you need an additional training day to maximize your results, then you’ve taken the time to reach that decision intelligently, and know that you actually need it.
Experimentation is important in the gym to find what works best for you.
You cannot rely on some cut-and-paste program someone else does to work for YOU.
You cannot rely on a study performed on people who aren’t you, to determine what works for YOU.
The main point of this article is not to give you an exact set and rep formula that will be some magical set of numbers.
The purpose of the article was to get you to rethink the question in different terms.
It isn’t always what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it.
Are you truly pushing yourself in the gym? No seriously, are you leaving even an ounce of effort behind on each set?
Are you able to demonstrate progressive overload over a period of time? (meaning you’re getting stronger).
Or, have you become obsessive about training and no longer really have any idea what’s actually optimal?
The solution may be to take a step back, get a solid 3-4 day training split where you focus on really pushing yourself hard and ensuring adequate recovery, and progressive overload.
Then, after a few months, reassess and decide what changes need to be made.
You’re the only one who knows if you’re giving 100% in the gym..
If this article has a higher purpose, it’s to remind you that effort and fortitude (along with adequate recovery) are what will ultimately drive muscle growth, no matter what studies might say…
If you like this article, check out some of my high-level programming available through the TrainHeroic App.
Welcome to GainzGuide.com. This is our first post, January 9th, 2023.
For those looking to improve their strength, physique and overall fitness, and be better all around versions of themselves, this site is for you.
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