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Review My Routine


I just want to check in and have a few eyes look over what I'm doing.

I'm currently doing a routine from John McCallum's Complete Keys to Progress. I was doing it by the book originally but have modified it based on my experience with it.

Back Squats 1x20 breathing-style (3+ deep breaths between reps)
Light Pullovers 1x20
Weighted Dips 3x8-12
Behind-the-Neck Press 3x8-12
Kneeling Straight-Arm Pulldowns 3x12-15
Low Cable Row 3x8-12
Barbell Curls 3x8-12

Progression is pretty straightforward; hit the top of the set-rep range, increase the weight.

Frequency is between every other day and every two days. 48-72 hours rest. So, 2-3x a week.

Goal is to add mass all over, as quickly as possible.

- I substituted straight-arm pulldowns for machine pullovers
- I added low cable rows because I didn't think my back was getting enough work.
- I rearranged the exercise order. It was originally: dips, machine pullovers, squats, curls, btn press. Doing back work before squats was hurting my squat. Doing curls before presses was hurting the clean for the press. So, I put the squats first, put the presses before the curls, and moved back work toward the end.

Is there anything that's particularly stupid about the routine [besides the obvious "don't do BTN work"]? Is there anything that can be improved?

EDIT: moved the curls after back, based on suggestion below.


Nope, there's nothing stupid about the program. BTN work is absolutely fine if you have the mobility. I personally don't do it anymore since my shoulders are already in a vulnerable position squatting/bench/pull up and chin up variations.

I recommend using a wide grip, and only going as far down as you are comfortable with. You would probably want to do the curls after the back work to prevent them from being a limiting factor before your back has a sufficient amount of fatigue.


Similar but better...



Good call on the curls. Thanks.

For the BTN presses, I've been using a wider grip, ring fingers on the rings, and bringing the bar to just below the middle of my head.

I can go all the way down to my traps, but I feel like stopping there works better at maintaining the tension. My shoulder mobility has actually improved since I started doing these.

The fearmongering about shoulder impingement has me a bit scared though. I did actually have some shoulder problems (upper biceps tendon) and actually had to cut out dips and curls for almost two weeks there. Annoying, but it's better now. Meanwhile, I kept the BTN press, so it's good to know it wasn't the press causing the issues.


After rereading the original articles in the book a few times, this does seem to be a pretty good program.

Later this year I may give it a try for 4-6 weeks. But right now I can't do a 6-day-a-week program; just doing too much stuff on the weekends.

If you have the book, what I'm doing is "The Super Bulk and Power Thing", towards the end. Just, obviously, with the tweaks I mentioned above.


I've never done a really high volume routine, so I'm not sure of its effects, but 2x/week? Are you making progress at a rate that you want/expect?


This tells me you should work on your clean form. Cleans aren't a bicep exercise.


Frequency hit 2x a week for a couple weeks due to life-stuff, travel, work. But 3x a week the rest of the time.

In 8 weeks my bodyweight has increased 11 lbs (from 136.5 to 147.5), and I'm bigger and actually slightly leaner.

I think that's a decent rate of progress. Is it? Could I be doing better than that?


WEDYEY? (If this becomes a new meme, I take full credit. Ha.)

It was getting as much work as everything else. Just saying, I know what you mean but you could make the case that your chest or shoulders or legs could use another exercise.

I took a quick look at your log. Aren't you doing some other stuff not listed here? Chains on the BTN press, concentration curls, partial ROM lateral raises, barbell holds after the squats, etc. If you're winging a homemade routine, own it. If you're doing McCallum's thing, trust it, stick to it, and save the other stuff for down the line.

Also, tough love in 3, 2, 1... ... ... dude, pretty much all this month, I keep seeing things in your log like "didn't eat at all today"; "Worked late, cut training short"; "Did a few exercises, might do the rest tomorrow (end up not doing them)"; "Cut workout short, had other plans"; "Made a few changes to the routine ... (a few days later) ... made a few changes to the routine." Knock it off.

Like I just said a second ago, you're doing your own routine that's loosely inspired by McCallum's stuff. That's fine, sort of, but understand that this kind of inconsistency in training is a huge stumbling block. The inconsistency in eating, even moreso. I get that you might have some real life stuff going on outside of the gym, so sort out what you need to and prioritize what you can. But you're not going to start seeing seriously kickass results until you eat right seven days a week and lift right a few days a week, week after week after week after week.

The BTN press might not have been causing the issue, but it can certainly exacerbate a pre-existing condition. If you're going to stick with them, warm up plenty. I still like a set or two of high rep LYTPs before pressing.

It's progress, but I still believe that someone significantly underweight can see fast(er) short-term results going balls out in the kitchen, especially if we're getting back into a routine after being sick. Hope you're 100% better, by the way.


x2 on what Chris said. -Get on a fixed program and stick to it EXACTLY for a couple of months.

If you're that light I would say get on a 5x5 program like Madcow and make sure you're regularly setting PRs.


Lol, took me a second to figure out what that meant.

1 gallon whole milk (2344 cals, 124g protein)
small bag of potato chips (~200 cals, 2g protein)
16oz fat tire (~200 cals)
1 powerade (~200 cals)
4 slices of pizza (1720 cals, 64g protein)

Total: 4664 calories, 190g protein

Going to say "this wasn't a typical day", but calorie and protein wise, not too far off. However I hadn't had pizza for a couple months; gf went on vacation and she doesn't eat cheese.

Two days ago, this is more typical:
2.5 quarts of the Get Big Drink throughout the day (2500 cals, 116g protein)
1 energy drink (280 cals)
Bob Evans Sunshine Skillet for lunch (557 cals, 25g protein)
2 thighs, 2 legs of chicken adobo for dinner (~600 calories, 32g protein)
1/2 bunch spinach
1 cup cauliflower

Total: 3937 calories, 173g protein

There's probably a few more calories with the sauces and seasonings in the spinach, cauliflower and adobo, but 4000ish is about normal.

Well, more particularly, I noticed my lower traps and rhomboids were getting sore on the squats, keeping me from completing the set. My legs were fine, my back was failing me. So I wanted to add something to build them up a bit.

Yes? No?

I started with the plan as written. I added a few accessory lifts after the main lifts, here and there, nothing really stuck. The core of the program stayed together.

Then, I noticed my back was failing me with the squats. So I first approached that by doing static holds. That didn't work like I hoped. So I added rows, those helped.

Around the same time, my shoulder (biceps tendon) and chest (chostochondritis) started acting up, so I dropped dips and curls there... and got restless for a couple weeks.

So, I did make a real change to the program for 3 or 4 sessions, replacing regular BTN press with BTN with chains. The lesson that taught me about being explosive was worth it, but I came back around to regular BTN press.

I think my back is fine for squats now with the change in exercise order, and the additional rows. My right and left arms are uneven, since I'm doing a bit of favoring my left arm due to elbow pain I've had since I was a kid. The concentration curls there for one session was a "maybe I should try to even this out".. but it didn't stick.

That being said, I see your point.

That's one of the reasons for this thread. The last few weeks I screwed up; the fact that I had to cut out almost half of the routine due to the shoulder pain, plus other factors, kind of threw me for a loop. I added all of a pound over the last two weeks.

I want to quell my doubts about the routine -- since I'm not 100% confident in those changes -- so I can stick with it and get my head back in the game.

Not 100% better, but better.

I'm bumping up the calories though. I know I can sustain 1.5-2.5lbs a week in gains for now.


Why do you have to clean the weight? I'd keep it to every other day and take a couple days off every once in a while when you feel beat up. If you're progressing it's working. Also don't gain more than a lb a week, you won't be able to add muscle faster than that you'll just get fat.


sorry for this being so long

hi, I'm just wondering if i could get someones opinion on this too. i'v only been at the gym for maby over 5 months, but its been all over the place as far as results. i originally started strong lift's 5x5 but i'v stalled at only 80-85kg squats and 100kg deadliest because I'm trying to loose fat, so my diets been cut down to less that 1900cals a day.

because I'm not going to be able to use a power rack I'm afraid i'm going to have to cut out squats. this is way i think I'm going to follow but any advise would help.

mon deadlift 5x5 overhead press 5x5 dips 5x5 chin-ups

wed deadlift 5x5 bench press 5x5 penley row 5x5 pull ups

fri deadlift 5x5 overheadpress 5x5 dips 5x5 chin-ups

mon deadlift 5x5 bench press 5x5 penley row 5x5 pull ups

i want to incorporate static holds and ring work, but I'm not sure if it would work well along side the main lifts.
when i get down to 10-15%bf i want to increase my calories to start putting on muscle, right now i think I'm at 20%bf but can't be sure because i have no calliper. any help on loosing fat would be helpful to if thats ok, thanks


Again, I have to disagree in this particular case. We're talking to a guy who's almost 6 feet tall, under 150 pounds, and lost almost 20 pounds due to being sick a few months ago. Rez is definitely outside the normal bell curve of expected gains.

Good work on actually/honestly writing it down. What I see is no breakfast, small lunch, smallish dinner, and a weight gain shake through the day. Adding calories should be relatively-easy to do.

I might've missed something in the log, but it looked like you followed the plan just about two weeks before tweaking things. I guess I just would've tried sticking to it as-is for a while longer.

I hear ya. It's all going to be about building that momentum and consistency. Once you can string together a few months of uninterrupted work (food and lifting), I think you'll be happy with what happens.


I feel like you and I are the only people who give madcow the respect it deserves lol


wedyey.... love it.

edit : w,e,dyey




Another question.

My lower back/spinal erectors are getting sore and weak. Not talking DOMS or regular muscle soreness, but a somewhat strained soreness where it feels like its going to give out on me. Not pain though.

Two reasons I think:
1. With the BTN press, I was arching too much. I've deloaded these until I can keep myself from doing that.
2. With the kneeling straight-arm pulldowns, there's a fair amount of work by my lower back to counterbalance things. Since these are in a higher-rep range, and toward the end of the workout, it's calling on a lot of strength endurance which my low back just doesn't seem to have.

What should I do about it?

I was thinking...
- Give it some time and just maintain weights until there's no noticeable soreness.
- Take a week or three, drop the BTN press and SA pulldowns, and focus on some low-back specialization work. Something with heavy swings, SLDL, good mornings, and/or prone hyperextensions. (Keep the squats, dips, curls.)
- Add one of the above exercises to the existing workout, but otherwise keep doing what I'm doing.
- Find an alternative to straight-arm pulldowns to mimic the "machine pullover" movement pattern, but without the lower-back strain.

Should I do one of those... or something else?


haha. yep why get results when you can just pick an obscure program and mess it up to make it even less effective!


Well... I realize you weren't actually wanting an answer, but I'll try to explain.

Programs like Starting Strength, StrongLifts and Madcow seem to be great for those wanting to head down the strength path with goals to just generally become stronger and better all around. Even for certain athletic purposes, they seem to even be an ok fit.

But for physique-based training, they get a bad rap. From what I've seen, a very small number of lifters look noticeably better after those programs, despite very significant strength increases. A couple trips into the BB subforum will quickly push anyone away from those programs and toward a more traditional BB split, training between once a week to twice with a push/pull/legs split.

I like the higher frequency, simplified bang-for-your-buck exercise selection, and straightforward progression of those programs, but I wanted something more bodybuilding/physique oriented.

So... a lot of research later, I decided to give a 20-rep squat program a try. While there's clearly nothing easy about it, most everything I've heard about them is positive. The consensus is that they work and they work well, despite how much they suck.

FWIW, I did StrongLifts 5x5 for awhile [not long enough] and 20-rep squats in the past.

Anyway, sometime later I actually got McCallum's book, with the proper instructions for the squats, and all of the official programs of his.

The reason I'm doing what I'm doing is:
- I've had previous success with 20-rep squats
- it seems to be relatively balanced for physique goals; chest, shoulders, arms and back-width are all addressed, in bodybuilding rep ranges
- it's based around well established movements (squat, dip, press, BB curls)
- the number of exercises is small, making it easy to track progression, and, frankly, to remember exactly what I'm doing in the gym; much easier when I'm doing the same thing every day, just with more reps and weight
- it's based on linear progression, and 3x a week frequency

The only other program I know of that comes close to these goals is 5/3/1 with bodybuilding template[s]... but it progresses slower than I like, and the exercise selection is larger than I like. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but just not for me, not yet.

I'm open to considering other suggestions, but this is the best I've found so far (well, along with a few other of McCallum's programs).