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How to Set Up Program for a Life of Lifting?

Hi Coach Thibaudeau! Big fan, I’ve just been watching some of your YouTube vids on THIBARMY and I’m hooked haha.

I’m a relative beginner to lifting, been messing around for a few months but nothing serious, so I decided to get things in order and start a proper program and nutrition plan. I know, you’ve probably heard this story before. 5’8", 180lbs, ~20% body fat, so obviously I have a loooong way to go.

But anyway - I came across your “Best Damn Workout Plan for Natural Lifters” and I was about to start it, but then I saw this video of yours

(Most Important Things for Beginner Lifters). So I realised that I was a bit of an idiot for thinking that I should do a program like that,

I get now that I need to focus on the big basics - squat, bench, OHP, deadlift, rows, and chins - but I don’t know how I’m meant to fit those into a program. I’m probably going to get laughed at for having a bad program, but I started doing something like this, Mon/Wed/Fri -

Squat 4x5
Bench 3x5
Rows 3x5
OHP 3x5
Chins 3xAMRAP
Deadlift 3x5
(Plus a few sets for arms)

  • but I don’t know if that’s a good way to go about it. My goals are to add muscle mass (and strength), and set a foundation for a successful lifting ‘career’ so that I can maximise my genetic potential, but I just don’t know where to start! I don’t have a lot of knowledge about training, but I very much want to learn more. So my question is, how can I improve on my current workout to achieve those goals? Thanks a lot Coach!

I don’t know if coach has ever published a beginner program, but this article details how to structure a whole body workout

And, it mentions for the beginner that you should emphasises the following two

Maximum Hypertrophy Emphasis

Day 1: Functional hypertrophy zone (6-8 reps range)
DAY 2: Total hypertrophy zone (8-12 reps range)
DAY 3: (If using a whole body approach): Strength-endurance zone (12-15 reps range)

Strength-Endurance Emphasis

Day 1: Total hypertrophy zone (8-12 reps range)
DAY 2: Strength-endurance zone (12-15 reps range)
DAY 3: (If using a whole body approach): Endurance-strength zone (15-20 reps range)

And this article will outline how many sets are appropriate

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I see, thanks. So I should include some variety in rep ranges too. I’m just wondering though, will it be too much to have all those compound exercises in one session, even if I am using a M-W-F split? I’ve heard that having all the compounds in one day like this is bad but I’m not sure if that’s true, because people say that beginners should focus on the big basics.

If you put some mind to your exercise selection you’ll be fine.

For instance, when we read https://www.t-nation.com/training/training-strategy-handbook we have that it starts with

  • One basic quad dominant exercise (a form of squat, leg press, etc.)
  • One basic hip dominant exercise (Romanian deadlift, good morning, stiff-leg deadlift, sumo deadift, reverse hyper, etc.)

then, on days you squat you might want to do the Romanian deadlift or reverse hypers, and when you do leg presses that might be a good day to do a more intense deadlift variation.

You can, of course, “outsource” the entire exercise of programming to people that know their stuff. For beginners I’ve seen Coach recommend 5/3/1.

The suggested plan here could also work, search for “Monday: 4x10 (4 sets of 10 reps)” to find the start

You could add two sets of 10-12 of


  • Barbell Curl
  • Pushdown


  • Standing Calf Raise
  • Sit-Up


  • Hammer Curl
  • French Press

for instance to get some beach work in.

Ok, I get that. So if I’m doing, say, heavy squats, I’d want to slightly ‘tone down’ my deadlift by picking an assistance variation.

“You can, of course, “outsource” the entire exercise of programming to people who know their stuff…” I think you might have a point there, Jim Wendler and such probably know a little bit more than me about training huh…

I did some more research on that possibility, looking at some different programs. 5/3/1 looks really interesting, but I also like the simplicity of something like Starting Strength (which, at least according to the keyboard trainers, is more suited for beginners). It seems to get a lot of criticism but I suppose I could add “beach work” like you’ve described for overall development.

I do wonder though whether alternating the lifts like that - bench one workout, press the next - is too low a frequency to make gains?

Perhaps I simply need to stop overthinking, run a program like Starting Strength with some “beach work”/assistance work for a few weeks, and then see where I end up…

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Everything is criticised to varying degrees. Personally, I think it’s important to find something that engages you and is aligned with your goals. As long as it is not entirely moronic, hard work and motivation will make up for any minor flaws.

It’s entirely possible to make gains on each big compound even if they are only done once per week. However, if that is the right thing for you, it… depends. How much of a beginner are you? If you are stuck at moving the bar, you can do it far more often than that and still progress.

Usually a good idea.

What’s your primary goal, how you look or how much weight you can move?


Looks first strength second. Aim is to gain muscle mass.

Edit: didn’t see your more detailed post sorry. I’m not in terrible shape, starting numbers are low though. About 130x5 squat, 135x3 bench, 85x5 OHP, 225x5 deadlift. I have experience in sport and exercise just not structured weight training. So not a complete beginner I suppose, if that’s what you mean.

There’s tons of path you could take. You could do an A-B-A split for a while, and abandon that once you stop progressing. That’d probably give you the quickest progress on the big four. But, looks first, strength second also means that you don’t have to fret about doing those specific exercises that often either.

Anyway, I’m not comfortable giving out any more advice. My own success is very lackluster and while I have plenty of ideas on how I myself would do it if I got to start over with myself I cannot be certain that I’m helping you so I’ll respectfully bow out.

Maybe someone with street cred will come along and pitch in. This advice I am comfortable in dishing out: start a log, plenty of people will be happy to give you their opinion there.

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Cheers Allberg, I understand - thanks for the advice anyway. Perhaps I will go and start a log, it’ll help me keep track of my progress too. See you around!

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Yes, I won’t make an absolute statement, but I think that your 3 day total body routine might be better off if you do half of the exercises each day, on 3 non-consecutive days, and flip flop every other week, so

Workout A
Squat 4x5
Bench 3x5
Rows 3x5

Workout B
OHP 3x5
Chins 3xAMRAP
Deadlift 3x5

Week 1: A, B, A
Week 2: B, A, B

Then, you can experiment with different rep schemes in each of the 3 A and B workouts of each 2 week training block. For example, you can do 5s on the first A workout, then on the second run do 7s with 5% less weight and on the third run do 3s with 5% heavier weight. My baseline routine is a 2 week block with 3 A and 3 B workouts that hit the total body, and with some variation over the three workouts. Options:
5s, 3s and 2s,

3s, 2s and 1s,

5, 7, 3;

Explosive, Eccentric and Isometric,

Medium, light and heavy (same reps with -5% and +5% load)

3 AMRAP at 20 rep max, 10 rep max, 5 rep max, or doing 40-60, 20-30, 10-15 total reps at those weights in a 10 or 15 minute time frame.

Or you can ramp to a 5, 3 or 2 rep max, then next time do 85% of your top set from workout 1 for 3 sets AMRAP (you can usually get 12 at a 5 rep max, 10 at a 3, and 8 at a 2 for the first set then try to get that many combined in set 2 and 3). Then in workout 3 you can deload, just ramping to 5% lighter than workout 1, or you can do your AMRAP weight and do multiple 5s, 3s and 2s while pushing fast.

My goal is “Variety with Continuity”

The variations are endless, but there is still continuity.

If you want to do arms, you can add biceps on workout A and triceps on Workout B, OR replace one exercise with them for a block. I might also sub in cycle carries or high pulls for deadlifts in some training blocks.

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try this to get your strength up…

then run through different Tnation templates over the course of the year (including more Thib stuff)…

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I’m definitely aware that I need to get my strength up. Had a look at those programs but I can really only really train 3x a week right now, I might give them a go once I have more time to train :frowning: although the “Yearly Strength Plan” looks like something I could work with, but I may still have to get my numbers up a bit first.

Appreciate the help, yes I think you’re right in splitting the exercises. And I love your suggestions for how to change things up. “Variety with Continuity” - genius. Just like Arnold says, shock the muscle! But keep progressing. A few questions if you don’t mind:

  1. What’s the logic behind deadlifting every other workout? I’ve seen this a few times before, but will that still be enough to get size and strength gains? I assume it has something to do with the deadlift being quite taxing, and the heavy rows serving as a sort of substitute?

  2. I was wondering - could I add some “hypertrophy” work too? Obviously you know more than me, so I could be completely wrong, but what do you think of something like this, adding squats on both days like Starting Strength:

Workout A
Squat 4x5 (superset w/ light DB pullover)
Bench 3x5
DB fly 3x12
Rows 3x5
Chins 3xAMRAP
Curls superset w/ skullcrushers 3x12 each

Workout B
Squat 4x5 (superset w/ light DB pullover)
OHP 3x5
Lateral raise 3x12
Chins 3xAMRAP
Deadlift 3x5
Curls superset w/ skullcrushers 3x12 each

That being said… you seem to have kept the plan deliberately minimalistic, am I correct in saying that? So perhaps my ideas are doing more harm than good :thinking: ?

Is your constraint time-related or a days of the week thing? You seem to want longer workouts over fewer days, which is certainly a fine route, but if it’s time within the day you can also work out more frequently for shorter trips.

FWIW, I don’t think that program is ideal for people that haven’t accrued some experience. They don’t know how to adequately push themselves to get enough out of it. As written in the article itself,

The best program performed 80% effort will give you less results than a basic program done at 100%. This is the most important thing you need to remember. So to get amazing results, you need to apply the proper level of intensity.

Look, given all the constraints you have articulated, I’ll share a program that I myself wish I had ran when I was a beginner.

Estep’s Three Days a Week Beginner Program

Day 1:
A. Abdominal Work: Leg Raise– 50 / Crunch– 50 / Jackknife– 50
B. Squat– Two warmup sets (15 reps and 8 reps). Work sets: 3 x 8, then add weight and do 2 x 5
C. Bench Press– Two warmup sets (15 reps and 8 reps). Work sets: 3 x 8, then add weight and do 2 x 5
D. Seated DB Curl– 3 x 8
E. Incline Tricep Extension– 3 x 8

You can superset the last two if you want

Day B
A. Deadlift– Two warmup sets (15 reps and 8 reps). Work sets: 3 x 8, then add weight and do 2 x 5
B. DB Row– 3 x 8
C. Behind the Neck Press– 3 x 8
D. Shrugs– 4 x 6
E. Calf Raise– 3 x 12

This is not ideal with regards to “looks first, strength second” but given your writings I think you’ll have a hard time getting properly invested in something that’s not oriented around the big four.

On that note, I’ll happily add it’s possible to pursue your goal

without back squats, overhead presses, flat barbell bench presses and deadlifts.

Since an article with some more advanced methodologies was linked, I think it is important to point out to you @tinkertailortanker that the advanced methods that you’ll find in a lot of articles aren’t necessary for a beginner, or necessarily an intermediate either.

Why? The advanced trainee (which you are not, and not very many of us are — I’m not) has become adapted to the physical training to such an extent that it is necessary to employ these methods to provide their body with enough added stress to stimulate an adaptation. At your level, adding reps, weight, and even volume (in the form of an additional work set at the end of say a four week block) is perfectly adequate.

There are four hypertrophy triggers.

If you take some of your work-sets to failure, or close to failure, that will give you muscle fiber fatigue. You don’t need rest-pause or myo-reps yet. You can just go straight to failure. After a while, you might go to failure, drop weight, and go to failure again. This can also be a time-saver at times.

Muscle damage, go heavy-ish. 5-8 reps is fine. Again, the article covers this.

Include some tempo work, and you got mTor covered.

And then finally there is Local Growth Factors & Lactate Release which is not something you’d find in Starting Strength for instance. You get this by doing a slow tempo and keeping constant tension on the muscle.

Different people will respond differently to these triggers depending on their genetic makeup. Meaning, some people can build a lot of size through muscle damage alone but those would be people adept at healing (high level of natural testosterone, good immune system). I’ve probably confused you even further at this point but here’s the main take-away:

There’s a lot of stuff to learn, and things can be optimized in perpetuity. That’s not necessary for you though. Deal with those cross-roads when you get there.

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Thib program would be fine to spread out over two weeks actually, might even work better for a lot of guys. Otherwise look up some Dan John or waterbury templates for regular 3 day stuff

RE Yearly strength plan my point was basically go back and forth between say 8 week block bodybuilding/bro split then switch over to powerbuilding/performance based style favoured by most TNation coaches, and so on. Will keep steady progress coming over the long term

Unfortunately it’s a days of the week problem, longer workouts over fewer days is currently the best option for me. But I like training like that, so win-win situation.

Yeah… I think you’ve got me there. Hard to get hyped up for a set of RDLs, I’d honestly get bored. I’d rather work with the big four and add some fluff to make it work for hypertrophy tbh. The program you suggested is similar to the sort of thing I want. I’m going to look at all the options and finalise something for myself by the end of this week.

I completely get what you’re saying about advanced techniques… I’m looking forward to that sort of thing, but all in good time. As you say, I need to get the basics down first.

You’re right, no need to confuse myself. I’m going to get my stuff in order, go shopping for some supplies, and then get down to business and train. Hopefully you’ll see me in the training log section soon.

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Training log has been started!