Everybody wants simplicity deep down, don’t they? Whether it be the simplest travel route, the simplest instructions or in this case – the simplest workout.
The simplest workout for gaining muscle and strength is one I’ve cobbled together from reading Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1. It is also a version of the workout recommended in my very own book – The Bulking Blueprint.
This workout is so simple it should be criminal.
All the fat idiots in the gym who think you need to focus on all the little micro elements of lifts in the gym will be having mini strokes in their knee straps and lifting shoes.
Leave them to focus on practicing the upper third portion of their snatch and continue to get nowhere because they aren’t juiced up Olympians.
You should focus on the simple stuff.
That’s what’ll get you big and strong.
Why do I want the simplest workout?
Because it’s the only way to go if you’re serious about lifting.
We’ve all heard of paralysis by analysis.
If there is too much choice you end up making a bad one. Even if you make a good choice, you’ll always be thinking you could have made a better one.
When it comes to workouts, this is especially true.
Because there are so many new and sparkly workouts with all the most cutting edge, science-backed, wonder techniques, we want to try them all, like a kid in a sweet shop.
We hop from one program to the next in the hopes that it’ll get us big overnight. In reality, it never does, so we pick up our new copy of Men’s Health and we try this month’s workout, then next month’s, then we hop on the internet and try a new workout each bloody day!
Simplicity takes away all this noise.
It sticks to the basic principle that governs strength training – progressive overload.
You don’t need to shock your body with new exercises all the time, it needs to be shocked by new stimulus. By exposing it to heavier loads instead of new stupid exercises, you break down the muscle and force it to adapt and to grow.
By sticking to the simplest workout you possibly can, you limit yourself to the fundamental exercises. If you progress on these, without distraction, you will get to where you want to be.
Your goal should be the fabled 1 plate press, 2 plate bench press, 3 plate squat and 4 plate deadlift. Once you reach these numbers, you’re all but guaranteed to be in fantastic shape, especially if you’ve been consistent, you’ve been hitting those assistance lifts and you’ve been smashing your diet.
What’s so simple about it?
It revolves around 4 simple lifts – the bench, the squat, the press and the deadlift. You start every workout with one, then use another as an accessory lift. It is almost too simple.
You’ll only be doing 3 exercises per workout (6 on some days if you want to add in the optionals, but whatever) and you’ll see tremendous results from doing so.
You will almost feel guilty about how simple this plan is, giving the fact that every man and his dog seems to be doing a million sets of this, that and the other during their insta-workouts that they love to show off, even if they have no results to show for it in real life.
Okay, so what’s the plan?
The basic premise of this workout is simple enough:
- There are 4 workouts per week – preferably done on Mon, Tue, Thu & Fri.
- Each starts with one of the big 4 lifts – Bench, Squat, Press & Deadlift.
- For each of these exercises, you will do either 3 sets of 5 (week 1), 3 sets of 3 (week 2) or 1 set of 5, then 1 of 3 then 1 of 1 (week 3). You will then take a de-load week.
- You will then follow the main exercise up with 5 sets of 10 reps on one of the other big 4 at 50% of your 1 rep max. For instance, with deadlifts, you’d follow them up with squats. With the press, you’d follow that up with 5 sets of 10 on bench.
- On your upper body days, you’ll then follow that up with 5 sets of 10 on either a horizontal or vertical pull exercise. For instance a pull up or a row.
- After that you can add in some optional arm and shoulder work.
- On lower body days (squats and deads), you’ll follow this up with 5 sets of 20 on an ab exercise like the reverse crunch or cable crunch.
- After you’ve done 4 weeks, you will up the weight of your main exercises by the prescribed amount (5-10lbs) and add 5lbs on to the 5 x 10 exercises too.
- Download this spreadsheet if you want to save having to calculate anything. By putting in your stats, this spreadsheet will work everything out for you for the next year. Adjust accordingly if you stall, etc.
- Eat a lot of protein (1g per lb of bodyweight), load up on as many veggies as you can and make sure you’re in a slight caloric surplus (more calories in than you burn). If you do this, your strength should consistently increase – as should your muscle mass.
- Refer to Jim’s post for a better understanding.
Here is my current workout;
Monday – Upper Body
Bench press (3 sets of 5, 3 or 5/3/1)
Press (5 sets of 10)
Lat Pulldown (5 sets of 10)
Skull crushers (3 sets of 10)
Barbell Curl (3 sets of 10)
Face pulls (3 sets of 10)
Tuesday – Lower Body
Squat (3 sets of 5, 3 or 5/3/1)
Deadlift (5 sets of 10)
Reverse crunch (5 sets of 20)
Thursday – Upper Body
Press (3 sets of 5, 3 or 5/3/1)
Bench press (5 sets of 10)
T-bar row (5 sets of 10)
Incline dumbbell curl (3 sets of 10)
Rope pushdown (3 sets of 10)
Lateral raises (3 sets of 10)
Friday – Lower Body
Deadlift (3 sets of 5, 3 or 5/3/1)
Squat (5 sets of 10)
Cable crunch (5 sets of 20)
Devilishly simple I know.
There are only 14 exercises used during the entire duration of this plan – even less if you leave out the optional exercises.
I would probably opt to include the optional stuff though as it’s always good to add a a little additional arm and shoulder work isn’t it.
And be sure not to skimp on the ab work as a strong core is key to progressing on these big lifts. A weak core will create instability and stop you from reaching your full working capacity, thus limiting those sweet, sweet gains.
Track every session and make sure you’re making progress over time. I have created a printout for you which covers 6 full cycles. Print it out, share it with your mum, whatever it takes.
There are so many benefits to keeping your workout simple. Here’s a quick list of the sort of things you can come to expect from this program.
You aren’t distracting yourself from the important exercises with pointless fluff like tricep kickbacks and 5 different bicep supersets.
These distractions can feel good to do in the moment if you’re chasing the pump because they’re easy and give you a nice sensation in your arms, but they aren’t what’s going to get you big and strong.
Squat, deadlift, bench press, (overhead) press, rows and pull ups/downs should be the main players in your workout with just a few accessory lifts in there for your arms, abs and delts.
Anything else is just fluff really. The more time you invest in doing these main movements, the quicker you’ll get stronger and more proficient at them, thus getting swole as sin in the process.
Everything is done for you (sort of)
You have the print out and the spreadsheet that tells you exactly what exercises to do, what weights to hit and for how many reps every single session.
The whole program is laid out for you – for free!
Now all you have to do is follow it to a T and you will get bigger and stronger. I guarantee it.
The Wendler 5/3/1 system is without doubt, the greatest way for beginners, intermediates and maybe even advanced lifters to add serious weight to every single one of their lifts.
Your strength is going to skyrocket, especially if you’re new to lifting.
This will keep you motivated, keep you on track and best of all, keep you big and strong.
You will probably experience a whole host of other related benefits when you hop on the world’s simplest workout. I’m too lazy to write fat paragraphs for each, so here’s a list of what you can expect:
- Increased testosterone
- Bulletproof confidence
- Better form on lifts (thanks to doing them twice a week and in different rep ranges)
- Less time needed in gym
- More motivation to work out
- Increased energy
There are so many more benefits to this workout and keeping things simple in general, but you get the general gist – simplicity is good.
Okay, now you know what you’ve got to do, here are some tips to supercharge your results. Forgive me, as the first 2 are very very boring, but rather important.
Jim Wendler is a very smart man.
He is also a very big and strong man.
Surprise surprise, he also likes to keep things simple…
Read his book on the 5/3/1 method to understand why it’s so effective and why adding more doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make more progress.
By reading his book, you’ll have a much better overview on the inner workings behind the program which may help you stick with it longer and also to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.
They’re boring, but form videos on Youtube are a great way to learn the basic movements correctly from the off. I spent years doing exercises wrong and then forgetting about them because they hurt.
But the reason they hurt was because my form was awful, which got me injured and hindered my gains.
Take it from someone who’s been there – learn correct form.
There is no excuse nowadays with so much ridiculously informative content on Youtube and Google for free. Just do it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the sauna is man’s best friend.
Sauna’s are great for increasing cardiovascular capacity, strengthening the heart and boosting the immune system.
It’s also great for improving skin and boosting cognitive performance but they’re not particularly useful for the gym lol.
Foam rolling and stretching
You simply can’t beat a good bit of foam rolling and stretching.
It’s a great way to boost muscle recovery and keep you injury free. Read my guide on exercise recovery if you want to learn more about the dos and don’ts of stretchin’ and rollin’.
Wim Hof Method
I have recommended the Wim Hof Method to just about anyone that’ll listen.
This breathing/meditation/yoga combo will transform your life – guaranteed.
But how can it be applied to making gains in the gym?
Well, the WHM teaches you how to breathe deeply and properly – two things that us modern peeps have completely forgotten how to do.
This is so important when it comes to bracing for big lifts, especially the squat or deadlift. It will help you to stay calm whilst performing with super heavy weights and aid in hitting those PR’s with ease.
I honestly can’t recommend this step enough.
If you do the Wim Hof Method you’ll already be doing these but even if you opt out of the breathing exercises, do some cold water therapy boi.
Not only does the cold water make you feel unbelievable, you’ll get some good recovery bonuses too with lowered inflammation.
How simple was that?
Anyway, the simplest workout is often the best. It stops you becoming obsessed with minutiae and fluff that holds you back from making the big strength gains you need in order to get strong and therefore (if you’re eating well), big.
Try doing 6 cycles of this workout using the linked spreadsheet and my printout log and watch how much progress you make.
And don’t forget: simplicity is key.