T Nation

Upper/Lower Experiment

For a bit of background - I’ve been lifting for about 6 years on and off. I’ve made OK progress in terms of my larger goals (fat loss/strength/general fitness), but I have been flaky and inconsistent with a few significant and nagging injuries both in and out of the gym and some major life changes to mix shit up as well.

I’ve made it my mission that 2013 is going to be the year of undeterred progress and consistency, in the gym, in the kitchen, in life as a whole.

I’ve come to a lot of conclusions regarding my own weight lifting, the biggest is that two very typical sort of beginner/intermediate splits do not work for me - the basic 5x5 3 times a week template leads me way too quickly to over all burn out, and once a week body building type splits tend to exacerbate existing injuries to shoulders, elbows, knees and low back. For the past 8 weeks I’ve been working with a variety of upper/lower and push/pull layouts, and I think I’ve finally hit on a winner for my own personal goals and needs.

Goals: For the sake of keeping goals specific and measurable, my goal at the moment is to follow this program, accurately recording every workout for a minimum of 16 weeks. I’ve programmed in a few “shifts” in terms of exercise selection and set/rep schemes to try to head off stagnation, but the basic template will be the law. That’s it. If I make progress, great, I’ve got a proven winner - if I don’t well, at least I’ve proven that I’m on the way to making this a year of consistency.

The set up: This is an upper/lower split, with two upper days and two lower days a week. I’ll be doing LSS or HIIT type cardio on off days (depending on energy levels), as well as after upper body workouts if I’ve still got gas in the tank. Each workout is designed to provide balance between pushing/pulling or anterior/posterior muscle groups. On the whole I’m putting more emphasis on the posterior muscles because a) that’s where I need the most work and b) if I don’t I wind up with busted shoulders and knees.

The Details: Each workout will revolve around two “big money” lifts, one done for 5x5 and one done for 3x8. On Upper days the 5x5 lift will be followed by an all in drop set of the same exercise. One upper day will lead with a “push” exercise, the other will lead with a “pull”. The two lower days will essentially be identical, but I will rotate the strength emphasis with each workout. I’ll be using a variety of pre hab and accessory lifts to keep things focused on my specific weak spots and injury prone areas.

I will swap out accessory lifts as needed depending on equipment availability/how I’m feeling/stagnation, and I will rotate main lifts at around 4-6 weeks. I’m not programming any direct arm work - but I hit arms on pretty much every “off” day depending on how my shoulders and elbows feel. I may decide to record these mini workouts, but I will continue to do them instinctively and not pre program.

Stats: These are from the first week of this program, I’ll follow up at week 8 and will try to include some pictures as well.

Height 5’10
Weight 204 lbs
L. Bicep 14.5"
R. Bicep 14.5"
L. Quad 22.5"
R. Quad 23"
Naval 35"
Shoulders 51.5"

Week 1 (5/27/2013 - 6/02/2013)

Tuesday - Upper 1
Incline Pushup 3xAMRAP - 15/15/10
Reverse Row 3xAMRAP - 10/10/10
(these are done as 3 rounds of a super set from a Smith bar set at about thigh height using a different hand position on each round)

Machine Fly 3xAMRAP - 35lb x 30 / 40lb x 32 / 45lb x 35
(using various grips and squeezing until I can really feel my chest doing the work)

Flat Bench - Wide grip, elbows out 5x5 - 95lb / 105lb / 110lb / 115lb / 115lb
Flat Bench drop set - 100lb x 12

Straight Arm Pull Down 3xAMRAP - 12.5lb x 25 / 17.5lb x 25 / 20lb x 20
(straight bar, from high pulley station with body at 45 degree bend for a good squeeze in the lats)

V Grip Pull Down 3x8 - 55lb / 70lb / 75lb

Bent Over Cable Row 3x8 - 40lb / 55lb / 70lb
(low pulley station, straight bar, pull to waist)

Wednesday - Lower 1
Cable Hip Extension 3xAMRAP - 2.5lb x 15/20 / 7.5lb x 15/15 / 12.5lb x 10/10
(low pulley w/ ankle strap, straight leg extension from hip)
Unilateral Glute Bridge 3xAMRAP - 25/20 / 15/15 / 15/15

Unilateral Bend and Reach 3xAMRAP - 15/15 / 15/15 / 12/12
(like a single leg deadlift, but no weight and attempting to stretch hands out as far in front as possible at the bottom of the movement)

Romanian Deadlift 5x5 - 95lb / 95lb / 105lb / 115lb / 125lb
(from the top, little to no knee bend, to top of the shin, full lock out at the top)

Unilateral Knee Extension 3xAMRAP - 10lb x 40/35 / 20lb x 30/30 / 30lb x 30/30

Smith Bar Squats 3x8 - 70lb / 90lb / 110lb
(feet out in front narrow stance, to just below parallel, exploding up)

Cossack Squat 3xAMRAP - 13/13 / 15/15 / 18/18
(holding an 8lb medball for balance)

Thursday - “Rest day”
Stationary Bike Sprints - 4 x :30

Superset
Smith seated reverse press
Smith seated close grip press

Superset
EZ bar curl
EZ bar prone pullover/extension

Superset
Cable curl
Cable push down

3 rounds total - 3 reps/5 reps/8 reps

Friday - Upper 2
Incline Pushup 3xAMRAP - 20/23/15
Reverse Row 3xAMRAP - 13/13/13

Seated Dual Cable High Row 3xAMRAP - 12.5lb x 35 / 17.5lb x 35 / 20lb x 35
(not sure how to explain these, seated row station has separate handles - with hips at 90 degree angle pull both handles so that angles at shoulder and elbow are also 90 with forearms parallel to the ground, fists forward - squeeze shoulders down and back hard)

Revere Grip BB Row 5x5 - 75lb/ 75lb/ 90lb / 100lb / 110lb
Reverse Grip BB Row dropset - 85lb x 25
(Fully bent over, knees slightly bent, explosive pull to below sternum)

Low Pulley Cable Y 3xAMRAP - 2.5lb each x 25 / 7.5lb each x 20 / 12.5lb each x 12

Overhead BB Press 3x8 - 65lb / 70lb / 75lb

Incline Reverse DB Fly 3xAMRAP - 5lb each x 30 / 7x ea x 28 / 10lb ea x 24

Saturday - Lower 2
Cable Hip Extension 3xAMRAP - 2.5lb x 20/20 / 7.5lb x 20/20 / 12.5lb x 10/10

Unilateral Glute Bridge 3xAMRAP - 25/25 / 20/20 / 15/15

Unilateral Bend and Reach 3xAMRAP - 10/10 / 12/12 / 10/10

Romanian Deadlift 3x8 - 100lb / 110lb / 120lb

Unilateral knee extension 3xAMRAP - 10lb x 45/42 / 15lb x 40/38 / 20lb x 25/23

Smith Bar Squats 5x5 - 125lb / 135lb / 145lb

Cossack Squat 3xAMRAP - 15/15 / 16/16 / 18/18

Week 2 (6/3/2013 - 6/7/2013)

Monday - “Rest Day”
Stationary Bike Sprints - 6 x :30

Superset
EZ Bar Curl
EZ Bar Pullover Extension

Superset
Cable Curl
Cable Pushdown

Superset
EZ Bar Pronated Curl
EZ Bar Overhead Extension

3 Rounds Total - 20+ Reps / 10 reps / 5 reps

Tuesday - Upper 1
Reverse Row 3xAMRAP - 15/12/12
Incline Pushup 3xAMRAP - 25/16/15

Machine Fly 3xAMRAP - 20lb x 30 / 25lb x 30 / 30lb x 30

Wide Grip Flat Bench 5x5 - 95lb / 95lb / 105lb / 115lb / 130lb
Wide Grip Flat Bench drop set - 100lb x 13

Straight Arm Pulldown 3xAMRAP - 12.5lb x 35 / 17.5lb x 35 / 20lb x 28

V Grip Pulldown 3x8 - 65lb / 70lb / 75lb

Bent Over Cable Row 3xAMRAP - 20lb x 25 / 25lb x 25 / 30lb x 28

Stationary Bike Sprints 4 x :30

Wednesday - Lower 1
Unilateral glute bridge 3xAMRAP - 25/25 / 25/25 / 30/30

Swiss ball curls 3xAMRAP - 25 / 30 / 30

Unilateral bend and reach 3xAMRAP - 12/12 / 12/12 / 12/12

Romanian dead lift 5x5 - 105lb / 135lb / 185lb / 205lb / 225lb

Unilateral knee extension 3xAMRAP - 15lb x 45/45 / 20lb x 40/40 / 25lb x 38/38

Smith squat 3x8 to parallel SQUEEZE - 80lb / 120lb / 140lb

Cossack squat 3xAMRAP - 13/13 / 13/13 / 14/14

Gironda Frog Crunches 3x10

Thursday - Upper 2
Reverse Row 3xAMRAP - 13/15/11
Incline Pushup 3xAMRAP - 20/20/16

90* cable row w squeeze 3xAMRAP - 12.5lb x 25 / 17.5lb x 22 / 20lb x 20

Reverse grip BB row 5x5 - 95lb / 125lb / 140lb / 145lb / 150lb
Reverse grip BB row dropset - 115lb x 15

Cable Y 3xAMRAP - 2.5lb ea x 25 / 7.5 ea x 15 / 12.5lb ea x 10

Overhead press 3x8 - 75lb / 85lb / 90lb

Incline reverse fly 3xAMRAP - 5lb ea x 25 / 7lb ea x 20 / 9lb ea x 18

Friday - Lower 2
Unilateral glute bridge 3xAMRAP - 35/35 / 30/30 / 30/30
Ball curl 3xAMRAP - 28 / 25 / 33

Unilateral bend and reach 3xAMRAP - 10/10 / 10/10 / 12/12

Romanian dead lift 3x8 - 145lb / 165lb / 175lb

Unilateral knee extension 3xAMRAP (25/30/35) - 25lb x 40/40 / 30lb x 35/35 / 35lb x 30/30

Smith squat 5x5 - 105lb / 115lb / 130lb / 150lb / 170lb

Cossack squat 3xAMRAP - 14/14 / 17/17 / 18/18

Gironda Frog Crunches 3x12

Week 3 (6/10/13 - 6/16/13)

This week is kind of a weird one. I moved, started a new job and had to find a new gym - still managed to get in 3 out of 4 workouts, and at least two of them were quality. Could have been a better week, but it could have been a lot worse.

Tuesday - Upper 1

This was my first workout at a large, local chain. They have a lot of equipment, but it’s loud, crowded and kind of obnoxious in a lot of ways. Also very expensive. I tried to work out once and actually had to leave and come back later that night to find a slightly less crowded time to get in. Still managed to get a solid workout in.

Reverse Rows 3xAMRAP - 15 / 13 / 10
Incline Pushups 3xAMRAP - 20 / 15 / 10

Machine Fly 3xAMRAP - 20lb x 35 / 25lb x 35 / 30lb x 35

Bench Press 5x5 - 95lb / 105lb / 115lb / 125lb / 135lb
Bench Press drop set - 110lb x 11

Straight Arm Pulldown 3xAMRAP - 20lb x 30 / 30lb x 30 / 40lb x 30

V Grip Pulldown 3x8 - 60lb / 80lb / 100lb

Bent Over Cable Row 3xAMRAP - 20lb x 45 / 30lb x 40 / 40lb x 30

Battle Rope Swings 4 x :15

Wednesday - Lower 1
This was my last workout at the above mentioned large chain. The vibe at this place is terrible - too much attitude, guys talking on cell phones in between sets, leaving towels every where and just generally treating the place like it’s their dorm room. On top of generally not being in to the gym, I was feeling WIPED when I started this workout - second day at work, not much sleep etc. I basically skipped everything and just did my main work sets.

Unilateral Glute Bridge 3xAMRAP - 30/30 / 30/30 / 30/30

Romanian Deadlift 5x5 - 125lb / 135lb / 155lb / 185lb / 205lb
Even though I felt like crap, these felt strong. I finished with 225 the week before, and I think I easily could have gone to 235 this week but decided to back off a bit and just not push my already crappy attitude/exhaustion level

Hack Squat Machine 3x8 - Machine 20lb / 30lb / 40lb
I couldn’t find a free smith machine anywhere, and I have no idea what this thing weighs - it felt comparable to what I’ve been doing on the smith, but that could also just be because I felt like crap. Over all I like the smith squats better and can hopefully get back to those.

That’s it. ugh.

Thursday - Upper 2
I found a new gym for Thursday’s workout. This place is a little outside of town, but it is AWESOME. Wall to wall free weights and old school hammer strength, monolift, every bar imaginable, chains, chalk etc. etc. etc. Lots of big, strong, friendly folks - no attitude, totally different vibe.

Reverse Row 3xAMRAP - 15 / 15 / 10
Incline Pushup 3xAMRAP - 15 / 15 / 10

Seated High Row with Rope 3xAMRAP - 30lb x 30 / 40lb x 25 / 50lb x 20
no unilateral cable row at this place, but this came close to the same effect - sort of a hybrid between a face pull and a high pulley row, lots of squeeze in the upper back

Reverse Grip BB Row 5x5 - 95lb / 125lb / 135lb / 185lb / 190lb (only got 3 reps)
I would call 190 a pr, but it was with pretty crappy form and I only hit 3 reps. I really jumped up way too fast from last week, but there weren’t many little plates and I was feeling tough…soooo, yeah, I think I’ll stick to 185 next week, but that’s still heavier than I’ve been rowing.
BB Row Dropset - 115lb x 15

DB Ys 3xAMRAP - 10lb x 20 / 10lb x 20 / 10lb x 15
No free cable crossover station, so I did my standing Ys with 10lb dumb bells instead. Was ok, but I like the cable Ys better.

Overhead Press 3x8 - 75lb / 80lb / 85lb

Incline Reverse DB Fly 3xAMRAP - 5lb x 20 / 5lb x 20 / 10lb x 15

I don’t think I’m going to get my second leg workout in this week - I think I need the weekend to wind down and rest a bit after a hectic and fairly stressful week. Next week I should be back in the swing of it.

Week 4 (6/17/2013 - 6/23/2013)

This week was a wipe - two workouts in total. Work, anniversary, lots of inter state travel. The next two weeks will probably be pretty pissy as well - officially moving July 3rd, so I’m just not going to sweat it until after then.

Monday - Lower

Not sure what I did with my log page for this night, but I know I did the following exercises

Unilateral Glute Bridge
Ball Leg Curl
Unilateral Bend and Reach

Romanian Deadlift

Unilateral Knee Extension

Smith Bar Squat

I wiped out on my first set of cossack squats and called it a night.

I’ll fill in numbers when I find my page, but I know I hit good numbers on the RDLs and the Smith.

Wednesday - Upper
Went to hang out with an old friend at the Planet Fitness that he works out at. I had to pay for a membership to visit for a night - cheaper than their day pass. This place is a joke on so many levels. Dumb bells to 60 and three smith machines. I got him to follow my chest and back routine, modified for the environment. I didn’t bother writing down numbers because a) nothing will really apply to the next time I hit this workout, and b) dumb bells to 60.

Machine Fly 3xAMRAP - set on a low weight and cranked out until chest felt pumped
Dumb Bell Bench Press - repped out the 55s for 5 sets

Stiff Arm Lat Pulldown
Close Grip Lat Pulldown
Bent Over Cable Row to Waist

  • I do like the 4 pulley towers that PF has, we set these 3 up as a block set and ran through them like 4 times in just a couple minutes

Still had plenty of gas in the tank, so we threw in an arm workout

3 way bicep warm up with dumb bells
supinated curl
pronated curl
hammer curl
3x15

Superset
EZ Bar Curl
Machine Tricep Extension
3x12