Injury-Proof Strength, Size, and Conditioning
If you’re an experienced lifter who’s feeling a little beaten up, this balanced training program is for you. Get the gains without the pains.
Many training programs don’t consider the realities of life. Many trainers write programs for lifters who are starting with a clean slate:
- No injury history
- No busy schedule
- No prior surgeries
- A training age that’s suited for the plan
That last point is the most important. When you’re experienced, it means you’ve spent several years under the iron. But spending years under the iron means:
- You’re probably a bit older.
- You may have accumulated a short list of injuries, uncooperative joints, or chronic pain you’re trying not to irritate.
I’m no stranger to setbacks. I’ve had three surgeries and degenerative issues in my spine that have affected many areas of my body by extension. The aim is to find ways to train hard while respecting your body, mind, and injury history.
There aren’t many “off the internet” programs that do this with intention, but this one does.
Do this program if you’re focused on hypertrophy but also want a touch of heavier “strength” work. It combines moderate strength training (lower rep work and compound movements) and hypertrophy work (isolated split days rather than total-body programming).
Training that includes isolation lifts will make it easier to avoid aggravating key areas like the lower back. (Irritation there can occur when you do heavy compound movements every single lifting day.)
Since I don’t know your injury history, this program is a collection of the safest, smartest options to serve most people best. It’ll promote healthy elbows, shoulders, hips, ankles, and knees while also protecting the lower back.
Why is hypertrophy the main target? Because the older we get, the more our bodies need and benefit from muscle-development work. Since it’s usually full of higher rep ranges and lower absolute loads, there’s more room for progressive overload with fewer risks. And some of these training choices carry over into conditioning benefits that training heavy singles and doubles simply won’t access. You may lose fat and gain muscular endurance as a byproduct of this program.
As a disclaimer, this plan won’t absolutely maximize hypertrophy or get you as strong as humanly possible. At this stage in your life, you shouldn’t really want that. It’s a conscientious plan to enable hard, safe training, maintain a great physique, and expose yourself to heavy lifting in the best possible ways.
Mobility Matters: The Warm Up
You’ll need three things: A skinny-ish resistance band, a foam roller, and floor space:
|A2.||Band Shoulder Dislocate||1||10|
|A3.||Foam Roller T-Spine Extension||1||8|
|A5.||Spiderman Walk||1||8 strides|
You only need one set for each. It’s a five-minute routine to get your load-bearing joints mobilized and ready to do their job. If you want to get some heart rate work into the mix, add three minutes of jumping rope or rowing, but this isn’t mandatory.
Regardless of the scheduled workout, do this entire warm-up every time. Even if certain muscles and joints aren’t being used, it’s still good to do because mobility matters, you old bag.
If you’re not familiar with some of the exercises in the plan, or need a form refresher, here’s a quick video:
Day 1 – Back (Pull) Workout
|A.||Trap Bar Deadlift||3||3||3 min.|
|B.||Weighted Pull-Up||5||6-8||2 min.|
|C.||Stretch Row||4||12/arm||90 sec.|
|D2.||Face Pull||3||12||2 min.|
A. Trap Bar Deadlift (high or low handle based on mobility): Do 6 sets of 3 reps. On alternate weeks, perform 3 sets of 6. In each case, go true to your rep range maxes. Rest 3 minutes between sets.
Yes, I put deadlifts on back day. The reason is simple: First, deadlifts of all kinds are certainly as much a low-back dominant movement as they are anything else, and using a trap bar further brings the lats into play due to the wider carrying frame. Second, there’s no way I’ll make a lifter – even a healthy one – do a big deadlift and a big squat pattern (not to mention accessory movements) on the same leg day.
B. Weighted Pull-Up: Do 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps. Use a weight that allows perfect form for the chosen rep range. If that’s just body weight, check the ego at the door and do the right thing. Rest 2 minutes between sets.
C. Stretch Row: Do 4 sets of 12 per arm. Rest 15 seconds between arms and 90 seconds between rounds.
The single-arm row doesn’t require a bench for leg support for it to be effective, only a hand support. It’s a smarter option for beaten-up lifters. The standard version of a dumbbell row can take you out of a square and balanced pelvic position, inviting discomfort or rotation through the lumbar discs, which isn’t ideal.
Changing to a bilateral stance can be a saving grace, especially for people with a history of back stuff. Moreover, it’s a better stretch to optimize the length-tension relationship.
D1. Inverted Row: Go for max reps.
D2. Face Pull: Do 12 reps per set.
Do these as a superset for 3 rounds, focusing on the pump. The other lifts focus on typical progressive overload protocols, but this one’s a less quantifiable “finisher” that’s also great for shoulder and back health. The added volume for your postural muscles will be welcome for both performance and physique.
Day 2 – Push Workout
Now that the scapular muscles are nice and tight from the pull workout before, you’re ready to press – and that’s the reason program pull days or back days before push days.
|A.||Barbell Pin Press or Floor Press||5||5||2 min.|
|B.||Incline Dumbbell Press||4||8-10||2 min.|
|C.||Weighted Dip||4||6-8||2 min.|
|D1.||TRX or Gymnastic Ring Push-Up with Loaded Pec Stretch||3||10-12|
|D2.||Pec Deck Flye||3||15||2 min.|
A. Barbell Pin Press or Floor Press: Do 5 sets of 5. Rest 2 minutes between sets.
Limiting the range of motion can protect bad shoulders while still exposing the chest and triceps to heavy loads. The good news is, you can make up for those last 4-6 inches of ROM using the next lifts.
B. Incline Dumbbell Press: Do 4 sets of 8-10 reps. Rest 2 minutes between sets.
Dumbbells allow for more play at the elbow and wrist. You’ll need this to optimize shoulder positioning, which is something you can’t do with a barbell.
C. Weighted Dip: Do 4 sets of 6-8 reps. Rest 2 minutes between sets.
Same principles from the weighted pull-ups apply here. At this point, your chest and triceps will likely be fatigued, so body weight alone may be sufficient.
Pro tip: Try using Fat Gripz on the dip handles. They’ll make the elbows and shoulders feel even better.
D1. TRX or Gymnastic Ring Push-Up with Loaded Pec Stretch: Do 3 rounds of 10-12 reps supersetting it with the pec deck flye.
D2. Pec Deck Flye: Do 3 rounds of 15 as the second part of the superset. Rest 2 minutes between rounds.
Day 3 – Leg Workout
The squat pattern is the biggest hindrance for most people who struggle with lower body work. It’s important, but too many people put themselves in a box with the exercise variations available. This can perpetuate problems or frustrations. So, I’m creating some options. We’re looking for a comfortable, knee-dominant pattern you can train with progressive overload.
|B.||Dumbbell Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat||4||8-10||2 min.|
|C1.||Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift||3||10|
|C2.||Kettlebell Ski Swing||3||15||90 sec.|
|D.||Hip Thrust||3||12-15||as needed|
A. Knee-Dominant Pattern: Choose any ONE of the following and perform for the recommended sets and reps, using progressive overload principles as usual. Rest as long as needed between sets.
- Hip Belt Squat: Do 4 sets of 8-10 reps.
- Paused Squat (front or back): Do 4 sets of 3 reps.
- Safety Bar Box Squat (to parallel): Do 4 sets of 3-5 reps.
- Safety Bar Hatfield Squat: Do 4 sets of 8 reps.
B. Dumbbell Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat: Do 4 sets of 8-10. Rest 15 seconds between legs and 2 minutes between rounds.
C1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: Do 10 reps.
C2. Kettlebell Ski Swing: Do 15 reps. Perform as a superset for 3 rounds. Rest 90 seconds between rounds.
D. Hip Thrust: Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
This should be lightly loaded. Use an actual hip thrust machine if you can. Rest as long as needed between sets.
Day 4 – Shoulders
|A.||Seated Barbell Military Press||5||5-8||2 min.|
|B.||Snatch-Grip High Pull||4||3||2 min.|
|C1.||Kettlebell Single-Arm Z Press||4||10|
|C2.||Standing Lateral Raise||4||12||2 min.|
|D.||Face Pull||3||15||as needed|
A. Seated Barbell Military Press: Do 5 sets of 5-8 reps.
Rest 2 minutes between sets. Be sure to slide forward in your seat with your back still against the backrest. That will change your torso angle to accommodate your shoulders’ comfortable range of motion.
B. Snatch-Grip High Pull: Do 4 sets of 3 reps. Rest two minutes between sets.
C1. Kettlebell Single-Arm Z Press: Do 4 rounds of 10 reps as a superset with C2.
C2. Standing Lateral Raise: Do 4 rounds of 12 reps as a superset with C1.
I believe in using tools to repair shoulder mobility, and the Z-press can do that. Keep the movement unilateral and keep your trunk upright and stable.
D. Face Pull: Do 3 sets of 15. Rest as long as needed between sets.
Day 5 – Locomotion and Accessory
Conditioning is a major sign of being in shape, not just strength. This workout does the trick. If you don’t have access to all of this stuff, use this as a guideline and design something equivalent to it.
|A.||Farmer’s Walk||5||50m||90 sec.|
|B.||Sled Push||5||50m||90 sec.|
|C1.||Hanging Leg Raise||3||10|
|C2.||Sled Thrusts||3||25m||90 sec.|
A. Farmer’s Walk: Bodyweight equivalent minimum. Do 5 sets of 50 meters. Rest 90 seconds between sets.
B. Sled Push: Bodyweight equivalent minimum. Do 5 sets of 50 meters. Rest 90 seconds between sets.
C1. Hanging Leg Raise: Do 10 reps.
C2. Sled Thrusts: Go 25 meters. Perform as a superset for 3 rounds. Rest 90 seconds between rounds.
D. Rowing Machine: Do 500-meter sprints and repeat 6 more times. On alternate weeks, time a straight 3000-meter row and pace yourself. Aim to comfortably improve times in both week to week.
Post-workout: Incline walk or low-intensity steady state cardio of choice for 20 minutes.
Wise Up and Gear Up
If you’re over 35 or you’ve rehabbed a handful of injuries before, get off the “raw training or die” bandwagon. It’s cool to be a purist, but it’s even cooler to respect your body and give it the support it needs to meet the demands of what you’re throwing at it.
If you’ve got a bad back and love to deadlift and squat big weight, it’s time to wear a belt. There’s no more room for error, and your joints aren’t getting any younger. Likewise, if wrist straps, elbow, or knee sleeves help you perform pain-free or reduce joint stiffness after your workout, take advantage of them.
You don’t need to wear gear for every exercise or even for every set of a bigger lift. And you’ll still have plenty of ramping sets and other exercises to experience raw lifting. Save the gear for the more testy sets and exercises.
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