Training Effectively – Core Principles

Andy MorganTraining, Training Principles449 Comments

Effective Training

Barbell Big Three The best bodies in the world were built with these basics.

There are multiple ways to go about achieving the same shredded look with resistance training. There is already too much training information available on the internet. My goal is not to add to it, but to simplify it. The topic is too vast and varied to cohesively guide on everything without confusing and paralysing people with information. It’s simply not necessary either.

We will focus on a training style with a bias towards progressive strength gains in the main compound movements. I believe this is the fastest way to get strong, fit, and change your physique with the least risk of spinning your wheels (i.e. effort without results).

I don’t want you to waste years of your life, as I did, before finding what really works.

You can achieve amazing change by training just 3 days a week for an hour.

If you are new to training, you’re in luck. This will be the best training year of your life, and is your opportunity to make the most dramatic changes to your body. You will have ‘beginner bonus gains’ as I like to call them. Do not waste this opportunity, and do not suffer fools that try to steer you off the path toward ineffective routines.

If you have been training a while and haven’t seen the progress you thought you would, a renewed focus on the basics will benefit you greatly also. It’s not too late to start now, but it would be a waste to continue something and expect a different result.


Training Principles

[I will expand on this section heavily and plan to make it into it’s own article.]

An effective training routine must follow The Principle of Progressive Overload. This means it must allow for you to consistently add reps, or weight to the bar over time to drive physical adaptation and change.

Barbells exercises are best. They are one of the easiest tools for allowing incremental loading, they are toughest to cheat on, and the easiest to gauge your progress with.

A beginner needs less overall training volume to bring about change than an advanced lifter. Do the minimum you can to keep progressing at a sustainable rate. The pros train 5+ days a week because they have built up the workout tolerance for it, and also because they need it to still make gains. (You’ll also see skinny guys down the gym copying them without knowing any better. Focus on your own training, not others.)

<—- Beginner — Intermediate — Advanced —->

Cutting:   3 days — 3 days — 3-4 days

Bulking:   3 days — 3-4 days — 4-6 days

Do not jump to something more ‘advanced’ as you’ll simply make slower progress. Most trainees are not nearly as ‘advanced’ as they think. Everyone carries less muscle mass than they think. Following a 5/6-day split routine like your favourite bodybuilder you read in a magazine is not going to be optimal for a drug-free individual. Simple training routines focused on barbels do not make for a sexy article in a magazine.

Always use good form.


‘Correct Form’ When Training

If you do not use correct form you will not only sacrifice your gains, but set yourself up for injury somewhere in the not-too-distant future. Good form is critically important, I recommend you to:

  1. Read Mark Rippetoe’s ‘Starting Strength – 3rd Edition‘. He’s considered one of the best. It is the best ‘how-to’ guide to performing barbel exercises I have ever read.
  2. Watch his Youtube video lectures.
  3. Invest in a good personal trainer to check your form. (Not always that easy to tell. Here I’ve written more about choosing a good trainer.)

Making a small investment now will pay big dividends in the future.


Suggested Training Programs

Here are two tried and tested, proven routines:

1. ‘The Big 3′ Routine Whenever anyone mentions ‘The Big 3′ they mean the Squat, Deadlift and Bench-press. Hundreds of thousands have got big, and defined physiques just using these three exercises.

2. ‘Three Day Split Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT)’ For those with training experience. This is recommended by Martin Berkhan of leangains.com, and builds on the principles and minimalistic style recommended by Stuart McRobert in his highly acclaimed, much recommended book, ‘Beyond Brawn’.

How do I choose the ‘right’ training program for me?

If you’re new to serious barbell strength training or haven’t done it in a while then consider ‘The Big 3′. If not then you may need the full 3 day split or somewhere in between the two. Have a read of both the articles as I’ve recently rewritten them to help make the decision easier. Also see How to progress from the Big 3 to Split Routinesas this explains what I mean when I saysomewhere in between the two”.

From the article, ‘The Principle of Progressive Overload‘:

  • The most important thing for the beginner trainee is that you get on a good strength training program then stick to it.
  • The most important thing for the intermediate and advanced trainee becomes not what program you follow (for you must have followed a good one or you wouldn’t be intermediate or advanced), but how you tweak it to follow the principle of progressive overload so that you keep advancing with your training.

Principles | Programs | CardioFAQ

449 Comments on “Training Effectively – Core Principles”

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Drew. Avoid it when cutting for sure.
      Further to my opening sentences at the top of this article, this is from the top of the Training Guides – Home page:

      “The following training advice is not the only way to go about things. Whether you choose to follow this advice or not is really up to you, the diet guides will work independently of the training advice here as long as your training is effective, i.e., it follows The Principle of Progressive Overload.

      Questions are welcomed in the comments on any article, but please keep them on topic. If you find something different elsewhere on the internet that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, better or worse – just different. But avoid the rookie mistake of trying to include parts of everything to create a ‘super routine’. Remember: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

  1. Akshil

    Hi Andy,

    How are you doing? After have trained under you, i have been making gradual progress following the guidelines you gave in our last conversation. As per your suggestion, I switched to the big 3 routine and was making slow and gradual progress adding weight to the bar while remaining around the same weight on the scale for the past 3 months. The past two weeks, I have been failing miserably on squats with being able to manage 175×3 on the first set after reaching a PR of 175x5x5 2 weeks back. My macros are not leaving me hungry and stress is less. I need your guidance on how to continue. I have implemented mobility work as per Tony gentilcore’s articles on my rest days. That helped me get to my PR in the first place .

    Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!!

      1. Akshil

        My sleep was sound the last week due to some Hip pain, I felt better for today’s workout although i trained with 170 lbs. Should i evaluate for another week or two more? I love the fact that my work capacity has increased compared to performing the previous RPT training template, would hate to loose that :)

  2. Matt

    Hi Andy,
    I must have read a ton of articles today! All good stuff. Just a couple of things for you to check:
    In this article:
    …must allow for you to consistently add[ing] reps… (add)
    Though I have stated elsewhere that diet [is] accounts for… (this is at the top of the Training Guides main page)
    Cheers,
    Matt

  3. Paul

    Hi Andy – I’ve had great success with your plan (when I followed it religiously for three months and did no other sport) however, I’ve struggled to integrate the plan into my lifestyle (rock climber) which has me training sport specific for 3-6 hours per week and then climbing outdoors once or twice a week. Can you give any guidance regarding the lean gains plan – training, diet planning and rest days – for the person who has a sport that they also train for? Thanks Paul

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Paul, sure.
      1. Add in some more carbs on those days.
      2. Be aware of the overall impacts of the climbing on your training volume and recovery situation. That’s a lot of back work, so you’re going to need less volume in your strength training routine. You may even consider dropping the number of days you strength train.
      This all depends on your goals at the current time of course.

  4. Seah

    Hi Andy,
    How do you design a well structured AB/AB split for an intermediate trying to bulk? How would I incorporate RPT and sufficient volume to induce hypertrophy? You seem to advocate many low rep schemes but I’ve been reading a lot from Dr Schoenfeld who seems to recommend never going below 6 reps for hypertrophy. What core compound movement should I put on an A day and a B day?

    1. Andy Morgan

      I don’t think it’s prudent to worry about this until people have developed a good base of strength first.
      You’re falling into the program hopping trap Chris. Don’t.

      1. Seah

        Thanks Andy, a little frustrated because although I upped my macros, all that happens seemed to be some weight gain around the waist that obscured my abs but I didn’t experience significant strength increases. Bench press remained the roughly the same, only managed to increase 1 rep after 3 months and the rest of my lifts didn’t rise significantly either. I should be in a surplus because there is some fat gain with my waist measurements rising and me looking less lean on my progress pics. I wasn’t too lean to begin with but the thought of cutting down even further when I only weigh 54kg seems weird. But standing at 11-12%without much visible abs, do u think I shud cut first to 7-8% to improve calorie partitioning?

        1. Andy Morgan

          Chris, I totally get where you’re coming from.
          A little fat gain is going to be inevitable and unavoidable now you are bulking, regardless of how careful you are. I’ve told you that before and it’s especially true in your situation where you need to put on a good amount of muscle to get the abs (the real ones) that you so desire.

          I think the issue here is that you’re letting your focus on your abs get in the way of the bigger picture, which is now that you’ve done the work of getting leaner and setting yourself up better hormonally to bulk with less fat gain, you need to put a little fat back on again to let that happen.

          You’re still a relatively inexperienced lifter. Keep pushing up your strength, and move along the ‘linear progression training continuum‘ and the muscle gains will come. I think if you start worrying about slightly more hypertrophy specific rep ranges, you’ll get lost without clear standards to gauge progression, and risk falling back into the pattern of spinning your wheels and second guessing yourself that we worked so hard to get out from.

          1. Seah

            Hey Andy, so you feel I should stay on a surplus despite being over 10%? Should my rest says still be in a deficit?
            When do I know if its time to cut?

            1. Andy Morgan

              Ideally you’ll want to keep cut and bulk cycles to between 8% and 15%. Lyle McDonald’s recommendation would be 10-15% and has to do with the calorie partitioning we’ve mentioned. That’s just a guideline though, not a rule.

  5. Jeroen

    Hij Andy,

    I’ve been following your site for a while now and I love your guides. I noticed you made the switch from 8-12 to 5×5 in the big 3 routine. For a purely physique orientated trainee (hypertrophy) you would still recommend 5×5?

    Kind regards,

    Jeroen

      1. Jeroen

        Many thanks for the reply Andy! I will be starting with the big 3 routine as soon as I’m done here in south east asia. Cant wait to get back in the game :)

  6. macks

    Hi Andy, wanted your opinion on something. I’m currently on a slow bulk and recently switched from Big 3 to RPT after I’d stalled on Big 3 for about 2 months. Initially my heavy set on RPT stayed at the same weight as the Big 3 loads while my two lighter sets increased steadily in reps and weight from week to week. In the last fortnight every set has dropped in weight and reps across all exercises, even my heavy sets that I brought over from Big 3. I am following the example RPT in your post (3 days a week split routine) and can’t understand why this is happening (especially as my macro intake has increased and I’m no longer in a deficit). Have you seen anything like this before? I don’t push my sets too beyond failure, if anything, I stop just short of it. The only thing that I could suggest is that I have issues with insomnia and sleep apnea that might affect my recovery. Looking forward to any insight you might have, mate.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Macks. Some questions to ask yourself that may help.
      Are you stressed or lacking sleep recently?
      Should you be pushing for maxes every set of still working on form? RPT is very taxing on the CNS.
      Should you be on a full split or would an AB split like the progression example in this article help?

  7. Jason

    Hi! Great site with great info. Two questions:

    1. Rippetoe suggests beginners alternate between overhead press and benchpress, but you seem to suggest sticking strictly with bench. Why?

    2. I’ve read in other places about the benefits of interval sprint training, either after weights or off days. What are your thoughts on that?

    Thanks!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jason.
      1. Initially people benefit from a very narrow focus, especially if they learning on their own and don’t have someone with them to coach them on these lifts. Limiting options to the basics, purposefully, also stops people from getting ideas about further modifications/additions.
      2. For physique goals? Unnecessary, and likely detrimental, regardless of whether you’re chasing a fat loss goal or a muscle/strength acquisition one.

  8. Tim Goodman

    Hey Andy,

    As an intermediate trainee progressing from a cut into my first slow bulk very soon I’d like to increase my training days from 3 to 4.

    Thinking about programming, I’m tempted to go for:

    Mon: Squat & Overhead Press
    Tuesday: Power Clean & Bent Over Row
    Weds: Rest
    Thursday: Bench Press & Weighted Dips
    Friday: Deadlift & Weighted Chins
    Sat & Sunday: Rest

    Which is basically just adding in the PC’s & Rowing to my current routine.

    I’ve chosen to rest Saturday & Sunday as it fits around my current lifestyle (I play cricket on Saturdays).

    Am I in the right ballpark? Is there anything in there you’d advise against?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Looks good Tim. If you aren’t familiar with the power clean and don’t have access to a coach then I would change it for something else as it poses an unnecessary risk I think. That(s up to you though. Some hip hinge movement would be good there, like hip-thrusts perhaps.

      1. Tim Goodman

        Thank you Andy, it’s always good to have a sense check and your time is much appreciated!

        I actually mean Power Clean from the hang position as I find it a lot easier to master but agree it can be quite complex.

        For anybody interested, Mark Rippetoe teaches it brilliantly in the book ‘Starting Strength’ (in my opinion).

        Hip thrusts are a good shout though, I think I’ll potentially alternate with the hang power cleans fortnightly.

        Cut is pretty much finished now so expect a progress report at your inbox soon!

  9. daledykesDale

    Whereas I continue to maintain my barbell deadlift, as a classic ectomorph, I’ve never looked better since transitioning to gymnastics strength skills. I practice them 5-6 days a week for just a few minutes at a time. Acquisition of the skills is gratifying. The way it makes my body look is bonus. :)

    1. Andy Morgan

      Dale, thanks for the comment. What do you think of that Damian Walters gymnast? Looks pretty amazing to me but I don’t have a trained eye in these things.

  10. Chris Seah

    Hi Andy,
    I’m ending my cut in about 2 weeks time, I was wondering how to transition from 3x a week to 4x a week for a lean bulk when carb cycling. You instructed that I would add 50g of carbs to training and 25g of carbs to rest days. If I change my workout schedule to 4x a week how should I adjust my macros?

    Thanks, my 12 weeks with you was great, hope you can provide more advice!
    Chris

    1. Andy Morgan

      Just adjust the intake as I said, but work out on four days Chris. The difference will be small, and we’ll still be under maintenance at that first transition anyway as you’re building things back up.

  11. Ioannis

    Hi Andy,

    great revision of a classic article. It doesn’t get any clearer.

    What are your thoughts on training less than 3 times a week on a cut for someone older and/or with a stressful schedule? Stuart Mc Robert seems to be a proponent of this.

    As you may recall I have been facing some fatigue issues with the program and I am thinking to add more rest days around the more stressful periods.

    Cheers
    Ioannis

    1. Andy Morgan

      There is definitely a place for it, however it’s is prudent to assume that it’s not necessary then adjusting all variables one by one until you determine this works best.

  12. Ray Riverol

    Hi Andy,

    Previously i was doing an isolation type workout routine every day at lunch for and hour and class (P90x, or nike fitness club or xfit (for a 2nd hour in the evening). This seemed to plateau (as expected) and i was basically doing same amount of weights week in and week out.

    I came across leangains.com and your website and completely revamped my approach.

    Now i have been doing a Monday (bench/squat), Wednesday (overhead press/weighted pullup), Friday (pendeley row/deadlift) routine for 5 or 6 sets of RPT and note down improvements week upon week.

    From doing this, ive had same or even better results from amount i can lift and muscle definition, so basically becoming more efficient with my training and reducing stress to nervous system.

    Im doing 45 day cycles of bulking and cutting. Now being in my cutting phase.

    A couple things i have not been able to improve much on are calves and love handles.

    For calves: I have small calves genetically to begin with, so they have been a sore point to me. Would you suggest on Tue, Thurs or Saturday to do specific exercises for calves to help them grow or add farmers carries as an extra compound body movement? Is there enough stress on calves from just squats and deadlifts?

    For love handle area, would you suggest to add low intensity steady state cardio (keeping my heart rate low) and if so how much should be done? Add to tue, thur, sat “rest” days?

    I guess this may also depend on cutting or bulking phase if would be too much stress on nervous system?

    Thanks in advance,
    Ray

    1. Andy Morgan

      Ray, thanks for the comment. Glad you’re finding the guides useful.

      “Im doing 45 day cycles of bulking and cutting. Now being in my cutting phase.”
      I do not advise setting things in an arbitrary way like this. This is the p90x mentality breaking through still.

      1. If you wish to add in some calf work, as long as it doesn’t hinder the main lift progression by being too sore to balance/produce the required force then that’s fine.

      2. I wouldn’t.

  13. Darren

    Hi Andy,

    Over the past couple of years, I have experimented with your approach at one time getting very good results. However, I did not get the results I wanted due to not completely committing to all of the principles you specified (no cardio, not tracking. etc). I have restarted the program and have started following it to the letter. My question for you if you have ever had the experience where a person has permanently screwed up their metabolism by doing long duration (60 mins.) moderate intensity (75% HR) cardio six times a week? For about eight years, this has been part of my flawed weight loss strategy. I at no time got as lean as I wanted to, I was always hungry, and never as strong as I should be. I am 43 now and I am worried that I may have done permanent damage. Thanks for putting this site together.

    Darren

    1. Andy Morgan

      Spend the last five minutes trying to find where I quoted Alan Aragon on this recently, it was something like the following:
      “I know of no evidence one can permanently damage the metabolism by extended calorie restriction.” I would imagine that extends to the energy input side of the equation through cardio.

      1. Darren

        Thanks for your reply. Would there be anything special I would need to do in order to repair my metabolism other than dropping the cardio and concentrating on strength training?

  14. Jon

    Hi Andy,

    Great site and very interesting. I have always done cardio workout like Instanity or just go jog 2-3 miles on the weekend. I’ve never done weight training before so I watched videos you suggested for Mark. I notice for the Press videos, they are pressing the weights standing up. Is there a big difference if I was to press standing up or bench press? Which is a better recommendation?

    Thank you.

  15. Scott

    Any thoughts on Bryan Haycock’s HST (Hypertrophy Specific Training)? Better or worse than pure strength training on Leangains?

  16. Kierran Clarke

    Hi Andy,

    I have a friend who i am helping out. Do you have a recommendation for a work-out that can be done at home with no/minimal equipment, or an article you can point me too?

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