T Nation

Help with Programming


I’m looking for help designing a program, however there are some considerations. Here are the details.

BACKGROUND - I’ve been training for maybe 3 years, but haven’t been happy with the results. I eat about a caloric maintenance every day. Weight - 180lb. Height 6’1". BF% - 15%. 5RM Squat - 205lb. 5RM bench press - 145lb. 5RM deadlift - 215lb. I can manage 7 body weight pull-ups. In general, there’s just a complete lack of progress between sessions. My numbers have been the same forever. Also want to mention, my sleep isn’t great. I probably average 6 hours a night.

GOALS - I’m interested in gaining size and strength equally.


  • I’d like to incorporate incline bench press. I find they’re easier on my joints, and just feel better.
  • I’d like to incorporate front squats. I sit at a desk 8+ hours a day, which results in some back pain/stiffness. My thoracic region feels great for days after front squatting.
  • I can only manage 3 days in the gym a week.
  • I work out with my girlfriend 1 of those 3 days. She prefers a full body workout - legs, upper push, upper pull. I’d like to accommodate her.

CURRENT ROUTINE - essentially upper/lower/full body
Day 1 - lower
deadlift 3x5
front squat 4x8-12
back extension 3x8-12
leg press 3x8-12
abs 3x8-12
Day 2 - upper (super set push/pull work)
incline bench press - 4x6
db row - 4x6
press - 3x6
pull-up 3x6
chest fly machine - 3x8-12
rear delt fly machine - 3x8-12
lateral raises - 3x8-12
bicep curl - 3x8-12
Day 3 - full body
squat - 4x6
flat bench press - 4x6
alternate db row and pull-up - 4x6

I’m really at a loss here. I’d appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!


At your stage, you probably aren’t going to see much in the way of results (and in all honesty, you haven’t) by doing your own programming. Definitely read about programming, but it’s going to take time (and experience/results), for you to understand how to program properly. I think GreySkull LP is a good place to start, as long as you’re conservative on the + sets. It’s fullbody 3x/week.

You won’t see great strength gains and probably won’t see size gains if you’re eating at maintenance. You don’t necessarily need to count calories, it’s as simple as this: not gaining = eat more, gaining too fast = eat less. Look for trends in weight/strength changes over time as they fluctuate day-to-day.

Sleep varies from person to person. I can make gains with 6h sleep a night (and function well on less), but I like 7h which makes me feel really well rested. If you don’t feel well rested, try and sneak more in somewhere if you can.


+1 for Greyskull. Im just doing it and its so fun. My numbers are similar to yours and My lifts went up by 20-30 lbs by the first month. GLSP gets too little attention IMO.


Using the considerations portion of your post, you could try a variation of 531 strongman. The structure is actually very similar to what you’ve laid out. It has a lower day, an upper day, and a full body day with the days looking like:

Lower: deadlift, front squat, back extension…
Upper: press, chin-ups, incline bench, rear delts…
Full: big movements and loaded carries

Now obviously your goals may not be strongman oriented, so you could tinker with the full body day. You’d probably want to keep something explosive on that day like clean & presses along with loaded carries on that day though. Bet you could get away with some intelligently programmed back squats & bench (think 531 or juggernaut or something) on full-body day. I say this b/c in the original program room is made for the yoke walk, log presses, atlas stones, etc. For non-strongmen, the day could look like a power clean, followed by bench, then back squat, and end with carries/hills/prowler/sled.

I’ve never ran GS but have only heard good things.


Waterbury. Full body. Three times a week.

He has 3 or 4 variations


Gentlemen -

Thanks for the responses. I agree Greyskull LP is a solid program. The little progress I have made has come from novice full body programs, and I get that a person in my situation would benefit most from SS, GSLP and the like. One point I should have mentioned is that my training days are Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday. This makes a full body program challenging due to the back to back workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. This is why I’m doing lower/upper/full. It might help if you guys could offer some specific criticism of my current program. Too much volume? Rep ranges too high? I feel like the frequency is about right, hitting major muscles 2x a week. Maybe we could adapt the major themes of something like SS or GSLP to my lower/upper/full framework?

I like structure of the 5/3/1 strongman template. Something like that could definitely work as long as the full day were adapted to my goals.

I think the “just do the program as written” mantra is correct for most people and will lead to the best results. That’s said, I’m willing to accept suboptimal progress as long as the the program will fit into my schedule. Lifting is a hobby for me, which means is has to take a back seat to work and family.


Do a 531 three day per week template. Sub out squat for front squat and bench for incline. I’m not normally a fan of altering any program but I know 531 is fine with front instead of squat and I don’t see how subbing bench for incline would be terrible.


Your routine isn’t terrible. It’s much better than most of the relative beginners who post their routines. It’s a balanced program. It’s mostly based on compound movements. The set and rep ranges listed are generally reasonable for the movements.

However, there are some things that I don’t think are necessarily appropriate for your level. I think that you might focus too much on variants at your level. Pick one variant of each compound (it doesn’t have to be back squatting or flat benching) and focus on learning it really well and getting strong at it. You don’t have any progression mechanism or deloads/resets written into it. Also, considering that you aren’t eating all that much and you aren’t sleeping all that much, I think that if you are really busting ass in the gym, you may not be recovering properly, and a smaller, but more efficient, workload would suit you better (I’m looking at you, upper day isolation exercises), as well as more cals.

I think an upper/lower type of scheme would fit really well. You certainly COULD adapt a standard novice program to fit it in an intelligent way, but really, I think using a 531 template would actually be reasonable here as well as one of the simplest ways to do it.


Thanks for the feedback.

I’m a little concerned about moving to a 5/3/1 variant because I feel like I still have some untapped novice gains I could capture more quickly with a linear periodization style program. Based on my numbers, is this a valid concern? I did find “5/3/1 for Beginner” - any thoughts on that?

I’m going to try to change up my schedule so I can work out on non-consecutive days. That way I can do 3 full body workouts per week.

Apoklyps - fair point about specializing in one compound per “movement type”. My only concern about dropping back squat and flat bench is that I can load those up heavier than front squat and incline bench and don’t want to miss out on any strength gains. I guess another way to put it - if I only do front squats, will my back squat still progress at a reasonable rate? Before reading your response, I had come up with this, but based on your feedback, maybe it’s too much variation.

Day 1
pull-up or row
bench press

Day 2
front squat
pull-up or row
incline bench press

Day 3
back squat
pull-up or row

I’d use Greyskull parameters for set/reps and progression I’d alternate pull-ups and rows. I’d probably go lighter on the pull-ups/rows on deadlift days (3x10 instead of 3x5+). I might add an accessory movement or 2 at the end in the 3x10 range.


“Untapped novice gains”? You’ve been at it for 3 years. That’s what is concerning. I doubt your lack of progress has anything to do with programming. I think you should go to the gym and find big, strong guys to train with instead of trying to find an optimal program.


There are so many concerning things in this post.

Become stronger at everything. Dont worry about beginner gainz or any of that bullshit.

Chose a program and get better than you were yesterday.

That is the absolute key to success, none of this crap about beginner vs advanced, front vs back squat, incline vs flat.


What have your previous 3 years of training looked like and where did you start out?

Have you been consistent over those 3 years?


There was a definite lack of consistency up until about a year ago. Before then, I’d average maybe 2 trips to they gym per week, some weeks not going at all. Programing was pretty much nonexistent. I don’t have logs from back then, but I remember being able to squat 135 for a few reps and bench 115 for maybe 5 reps. On a positive note, I’ve naturally gravitated toward the big compound lifts. I like the skill component of those lifts. You don’t find that with machines or isolation movements. Most of my gains have come relatively recently from full-body style routines.

I’ve been looking at 5/3/1, but I want more volume. I can only make the gym 3 days a week, meaning I’ll be hitting each major lift less than once a week. I know myself, and that’s going to be a huge de-motivator.

Since starting this thread, I’ve been doing something like GreySkull LP 3 days a week. I really like the AMRAP set at the end. I have a hard time telling when I “have a rep or two left in the tank”. The GreySkull rep scheme takes that guesswork out of the equation. There are going to be times when I have to go to the gym on back to back days, but what can you do…


Okay, I can now see why you think you have some newbie gains in you. How’s your sleep and nutrition these days? If it’s not good, fix it. If other priorities don’t allow for the time being, you might want to do a legs, push, pull split.

No matter how good my sleep and nutrition is, I’ve never been able to do back to back total body days unless one of them was more conditioning and isolation work just to hit things I didn’t have time or energy for on the main days. So if you recover like me, that’s basically just 2 meaningful total body days.

So if you’re like me, that would be a choice between a lower/upper split if you’re recovery is on par, or a legs, push, pull if your recovery isn’t quite where it needs to be. The legs, push, pull can still work great for any lifter of any level who that their form dialed in, but you might need more practice with the big lifts.

If I were you, I’d do the the legs/push/pull if my form was adequate and consistent and just take 90% of your max for a training max, do a 3x5 at 80% of the training max and add 5lb to your lifts every week until you can’t get all the reps. Then just take 90% of that weight and start again. The whole take 2 steps forward, one step back kind of thing. This is very basic progression and I"d be surprised if you needed anything more advance at the moment.

At your level, I’m not so certain that the wave loading of 5/3/1 is necessary and the 5-10lb a month may be a bit slow. At first I was thinking you might be a serious hard gainer, but after what you said it just sounds like your only recently actually ‘training’ vs ‘working out’. I had about 2 years of ‘working out’ before I actually trained.

The most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter how hard you work in the gym or what template you use if you’re recovery isn’t on par with your training.


Fletch - Thanks for the response. My sleep is garbage. My issue is I don’t feel tired at bedtime. I wake up at 5:30am. It’s 10pm the night before, and I’m wide awake. I either go to bed anyway, and it takes me forever to fall asleep and the sleep I do get is poor quality. Or I wait until I’m tired, which happens around midnight, and I don’t get enough. If I could fix one thing, this would be it.

I like the progression scheme you described. I think part of my problem is that I train too close to my training max. For example, if I’m aiming for 3x5, I might be able to grind out 5, 4, 3, and I’ll keep pushing that weight workout after workout without making progress. In other words, I have a hard time taking that one step back. Feels too much like failure I guess.

Regarding your point about form. I still need practice on some of the lifts. My squat and press are solid, but I think I need greater frequency to nail down my deadlift and bench press form. I feel discomfort and soreness in my lower back way more than I think I should with my deadlift. And the bar path on my flat bench press is all over the place. I don’t have that problem with incline bench press, which is why I mentioned wanting to include inclines earlier in the thread.


There isn’t anything wrong with incline. It’s a big compound upper body push. Front squats are good too. So are deadlifts. Unless your a powerlifter, there isn’t any reason to put the squat, bench, and deadlift on a pedestal.

Having said that, whatever you pick just be consistent with it for many months so you can measure progress and acquire skill.

I like TX_iron’s split. I just now noticed it. You’d have a lot of time before your next training session after the whole body day so I like that.

You could do the main 3x5 for front squat on the leg day and a rep scheme for practice on deadlift. Like 8x4 at around 60% more or less for your Pull. You could focus on decreasing rest between sets while still keeping good form for progress. I find doing that helps my strength and muscle growth and work capacity while not killing recovery.

Then do the pull for the 3x5 on the whole body day and use more of a BB rep scheme for front squat since your more comfortable with it and it’s a lot easier to recover from than deadlifts. Repeat incline presses for higher volume on that day too so you really nail down form on just a few core lifts.

So do the 3x5 one a week for each main lift, but get in practice for each main lift 2x week with one of those times being either work with form or a BB rep scheme.

I’d mainly just focus on the main lifts and keep volume on assistance lifts low and/or use bodyweight and/or isolation exercises since it doesn’t sound like recovery is all that good.

You mentioned posture issues. Nothing has helped me more than face pulls! You could do them at home too with a mini band.

Have you tried ZMA or Z12? I’ve tried Z12 and it actually work pretty well for me. That could help your sleep.


I like your idea bout doing 8x4 deadlifts with light weight. I just assumed I should be doing all my major lifts with a similar rep/set scheme, but I guess it really doesn’t matter. The extra practice is more valuable.

So, big picture question. How many reps and/or sets per weeks should I be aiming for per lift? Are 6-8 sets enough?

Regarding posture, I’ve been doing the rear delt machine once or twice a week. I’m not opposed to replacing those with face-pulls if they’re better. My only issue is every time I read about facepulls, I get a slightly different variation. Do I keep thumbs facing me or away? Do I retract shoulder blades before initiating the pull? How high do I bring up the pully? Lost in the details I guess.

I’ve tried ZMA before, but didn’t see an improvement. I was taking them right before bed. Maybe I wasn’t timing them correctly.


Try something like the Waterbury Method. Its a good program i done a long time ago. The only things i would change is the 10x3 loading and rest intervals - take longer breaks. Instead of doing 10 sets at the same load i would start my worksets at say %70-75 1RM and start adding 5 lbs every 1-2 sets and go from there ala auto-regulation.

For example. you might hit a really hard triple in 5 sets - don’t max out or miss a lift - and then backoff 5-10 lbs and do the final 5 sets of 3.

You really need to get stronger IMO.

Edit: I would also drop the chinups - waterbury just trying to be different i suspect - on day 5 for deadlifts and take 60 seconds between each excercise for the pairings IE B1, 60sec, B2, 60sec, B1, 60sec, B2, 60sec etc


Sets or reps per main lift… really I was just thinking of having a light and a heavy day. That’s something you might need to tinker around with. It’ll in part depend on how hard you push those sets and whether you many sets with few reps or vice versa. You can check out that Waterbury article to give you ideas on some good rep schemes. Personally, the percentages he gives for those rep schemes are way too aggressive for me, even when I was a beginner but I bet it would work for a lot of folk.

Check out this article on face pulls:

It can do way more justice on an explanation than I can. With the rear delt machine, your in an artificially fixed plain and the only thing your scapulae does is retract.

And just to let you know, some of those percentages and set/rep schemes I gave you were pretty conservative. If you decide to do more, I’d slowly increase the difficulty. Almost like titrating with a new medicine. You start with a small dose and work up to the dose that works for you. But keep in mind that with the 5lb/week progression, that might add up sooner than you think. So it’ll start way easy, but in a couple or so months, it might get pretty hard and then when you can’t complete the sets anymore, it’ll autoregulate where it needs to be when you take 90% of that and start again.


I’m a 40 year old male who just got back into the Canadian Armed Forces. I retired for about a year and a half at which time I was away from the gym. I am currently deployed and am hitting the gym hard again but my workouts feel lost. I’ve never really had a planned workout. I’ve never had someone help me design a plan. My goal is to put on as much muscle mass as I can in the time I have overseas so that I can then continue when I get back to my home base. Can you help me with a program that would benefit me as best as possible? Thank you in advance, Adam.