by Robert Maxwell
When my dad, Steve, asked me to write him a barbell strength training program several months ago, I knew the job would include certain challenges. The first and biggest was time. Dad’s an extremely busy guy, and could only devote 30 to 40 minutes 4 times a week to training, at the very most. He also didn’t want any fluff. He needed a program that would deliver the very best bang for his fitness buck, in the absolute least amount of time possible. Besides being efficient and effective, I knew the program had to be dead simple. Dad isn’t the type who has the time or interest to plug numbers into a calculator every week, working from obscure percentages of his one rep max or learning bizarre new exercises. My own knowledge and experience dictated that whatever else his program contained, it had to include the four main barbell lifts: squat, deadlift, overhead press and bench press. I knew to make serious progress, Dad would have to perform these lifts every week, slowly adding more weight as he was able to. Additional exercises had to be carefully selected to balance and compliment the main 4, without taking too much time. There was also the fact that Dad hadn’t done any serious weight training for nearly 3 decades, and although he’s always been pretty strong naturally, his flexibility was bound to be a little rusty. That meant some sort of short but effective pre-workout stretching and warmup routine had to be part of the 40 minutes. These challenges are what led me the create the program you’re about to see.
My first decision was how many workout days to assign Dad each week. Since I wanted to include the 4 main lifts, I opted for 4 weekly training days, each structured around one of these movements. Next I needed to decide how many and which extra or “assistance” exercises to include. I wasn’t just shooting in the dark – I had a few solid principles to help me decide. One is that for every pushing exercise Dad did, he should do a corresponding pulling exercise. This isn’t an ironclad rule, but it’s a good general principle for weight training, the goal of which is preventing muscular imbalances and injury. I decided on two assistance movements per workout, so each session would include 3 exercises total. Few enough that Dad wouldn’t be in the gym longer than 40 minutes while still getting an effective full body workout over the course of a week. Finally, I needed a way to keep the workouts interesting. Although Dad appreciates the simple and straightforward, I knew he wasn’t above getting bored if his routine became too monotonous. I struggled for a while with how to make his sessions both simple and continuously interesting. My solution was to keep exercises the same but switch weights and rep ranges weekly. I decided the first week, I’d have Dad do 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise. The next week it would be 3 sets of 8 with a bit more weight, then 3 sets of 5 after that. Then back to 3 sets of 10, hopefully with at least 5 more pounds than last time, and so on. This way things wouldn’t get boring, because there’d always be a different weight and rep range around the corner. Weighing all these thoughts and decisions carefully, here’s the program I came up with. If you’re new to training, short on time, and want to get the very best results possible, this program can help you, too.
DAY 1 - SQUAT DAY
Exercise 1: High Bar Barbell Back Squats x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
Exercise 2: Leg Curls x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
Exercise 3: Bicep Curls x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
DAY 2 - BENCH PRESS DAY
Exercise 1: Bench Press x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
Exercise 2: Seated Cable Rows x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
Exercise 3: Tricep Rope Pushdowns x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
DAY 3 - DEADLIFT DAY
Exercise 1: Conventional Deadlift x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
Exercise 2: Leg Extensions x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
Exercise 3: Weighted Glute Bridge x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
DAY 4 - OVERHEAD PRESS DAY
Exercise 1: Strict Standing Overhead Press x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
Exercise 2: Cable Pulldowns x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
Exercise 3: Weighted Sit-Ups x 3 sets of 10, 8, or 5 reps
In my dad’s case, the key to success with this program was consistent effort. Some days he felt energetic, others lethargic. He trained regardless. Some weeks he was able to add 10 pounds to his previous record, other days he used the same weight 2 or 3 weeks in a row, but he never missed a workout. For some exercises, this slow, steady approach allowed him to increase weight lifted by as much as 100 pounds in 3 months.
Robert Maxwell is an online strength and fitness coach and founder of The Man Factory. Are you a man 50 or older? Become your best self at www.manfactorytraining.com/strength-north-of-50