• Alex Parry

The 3 Best Strength Training Programmes

So you've decided that you want to get strong(er), lift heavier weights and maybe even build some muscle mass whilst you're at it. Ace. The only problem is, whether you're a beginner, intermediate or advanced lifter, the choice of strength training programmes out there is overwhelming. 5x5, Starting Strength, Greyskull, 5/3/1, The Texas Method, Smolov, Madcow, GZCL, Westside. And that's just off the top of my head. As a strength athlete, you don't need (or even want) 10 options that MIGHT work, you want 1 option that WILL work. No guessing, no-nonsense, just a programme that you can follow to get you stronger. In this article, we're going to do 4 things... 1) We're going to start by looking at what strength training is (and what it isn't) 2) We're going to use that information to set some fundamental strength training principles that programmes need to follow. 3) After that, we'll look at how to decide which programme is right for you 4) We'll jump into the 3 best strength training programmes, looking at who they're for, the pros, the cons and the essential FAQ's. So stick around, and I can promise that you'll go away knowing exactly which strength training programme is best for you, as well as WHY it's the best.


What is Strength Training?

Strength training does exactly what it says on the tin, it makes you stronger, as in it allows you to exert a larger amount of force for maximal efforts. Typically, training involves heavy, compound exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, pull-ups and barbell rows performed for multiple sets of lower reps.

Through strength training you will likely gain muscle mass, however, if your primary goal is to get as big as possible, then following a more bodybuilding oriented programme with higher reps per set would be a quicker and simpler way to accomplish that.

Improved strength is a combination of increased muscle size, motor learning and neural factors (things like how many muscle fibres fire, the type of muscle fibres present etc) and so good strength programmes must account for this.


What Makes a Good Strength Training Programme?

Fundamentally, the success of a strength training programme is judged by one thing - 'has it made you stronger?' As in, 'can you lift more weight now than you could before? If the answer is no, then your programme isn't working for you. To create the best possible chance of this happening, all strength programmes need to follow certain rules or principles...

1) Specificity. The programme must use exercises, sets and reps that are specific to the goal of gaining strength. The programme must also schedule these frequently enough so that the athlete can get technical practice in for each movement. 2) Progressive Overload. The programme must get harder over time, usually by adding weight, but occasionally also by adding volume. 3) Individualisation. The programme must match the individual needs of the athlete, which in this case is you (We'll talk about this in detail just below)

4) Variation. The programme must have enough variation to prevent your training becoming stale or plateauing. For beginners, slight weight increases are often enough variation, whereas for advanced athletes a programme may need to vary exercises, sets and rep schemes.

5) Fatigue Management. The programme must provide enough recovery opportunities to manage athlete fatigue and allow room for adaptation to occur. Every programme that I'll talk about below does a fantastic job of managing these principles.


How to Decide Which Strength Training Programme is Right For You

Alright, so when we talked about principle 3 above, 'individualisation,' we said that the programme you follow must match the needs of the individual athlete. As a coach, when designing a programme for a new athlete I make sure that I have information on things like...

  • Height

  • Weight

  • Age

  • Training History

  • Previous Strength Programmes

  • Strength lift PR's

  • Time availability

  • Injury History


And then based on my experience as a coach, I craft a programme that works for them. > If they're underweight we might focus on adding muscle mass > If they're dealing with an injury we might go through a rehab protocol. You get the idea. The problem with implementing this yourself is that you don't have that experience to draw on, so you need a quick and simple way of deciding which programme is right for you. For you, the BIGGEST thing to think about is your training level; are you a beginner, an intermediate or an advanced strength athlete? Some people try to judge this by how much you lift or by how long you've been lifting, but a much more accurate and relevant way to decide is based on how fast you adapt to training.

  • If you can squat 3x5 on Monday, and then squat 3x5 slightly heavier (2.5-5kg) on Wednesday, you're a beginner. (This is a good thing because you progress the fastest!)


  • If you can squat 3x5 on Monday, but then you need a week before you can squat 3x5 slightly heavier, you're an intermediate.


  • And if you squat 3x5 on Monday, but need multiple weeks of training before you can squat 3x5 slightly heavier, you're an advanced lifter.


More than any other factor, you need to choose a programme that matches your training level.



The Best Strength Training Programme Number 1: Starting Strength

Who's It For? Beginners.


What's Good About The Programme? (The Pros)

In my opinion, this is the best programme for beginner strength lifters bar none. Here's why...

  • It provided just enough stress to create adaptation and make you stronger. There's no extra fluff or wasted time.


  • The Linear progression model is the FASTEST you will ever gain strength. It also has 3 phases with slight differences to keep the progress coming as you get stronger.


  • The programme has been extensively tried and tested on hundreds of thousands of people. Men, women, people in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, they've all had success with the programme.


  • There are some incredibly useful accompanying books, as well as an active forum and Facebook group for troubleshooting any issues you might encounter.



What's Bad About the Programme (The Cons)

Honestly, there's not a whole lot to complain about here, but there are some things to consider.

  • If you're interested in learning other skills like olympic weightlifting alongside it, you may have to make a few little adjustments (nothing major though)

  • After a few weeks, the programme will start to test your recovery. So you better make sure you schedule plenty of time for sleep, as well as eating plenty of food.

  • Some of the general lifestyle and nutrition advice surrounding the programme is quite outdated. For example, lifters are encouraged to drink a Gallon of Milk A Day (GOMAD) but more often than not it just leads to digestive issues and gaining a bunch of extra fat. Sports nutrition has come a long way, so maybe check out some of the leading voices specialising in that, such as Renaissance Periodisation.


Top 3 Starting Strength Programme FAQ's

Q) What should I lift for Warm-up sets? A) Just make 4 evenly spaced jumps up to your working weight. So if you're working weight is 100kg, warm up with the 20kg bar, then 40kg, then 60kg, then 80kg Q) What Should I Do If I Stall/Miss a Weight? A) If you miss a lift two sessions in a row, deload by 8-10% and then progress back up from there. Q) Can I add extra exercises? A) Can you? Yes. Should you? Probably not. As a beginner you'll get almost all your progress from the main 6 lifts, don't overcomplicate it for no reason.



The Best Strength Training Programme Number 2: The Texas Method


Who's It For?


Intermediates. As in, you've already gotten all you can out of starting strength. You cannot progress every session anymore, even with multiple deloads.



What's Good About The Programme? (The Pros)

In my mind, the Texas Method is the simplest and most logical intermediate strength training programme around...

  • It essentially fits a full mesocycle of training (load - deload - supercompensate) into a single week by using the volume day - light day - intensity day format.


  • The programme is incredibly easy to adapt and fit around other training. I've successfully used it with weightlifters, powerlifters, judo players and even long-distance runners.


  • Just like starting strength, the texas method strength programme has been extensively tried and tested. Thousands of people have used it and made great progress.


  • There are some incredibly useful accompanying books such as Justin Lascek's 'The Texas Method' ebook, which breaks down everything you need to know about the programme, including how to run it for as long as possible.



What's Bad About the Programme (The Cons)

There's really not a whole lot to complain about, the programme is pretty solid. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of...

  • The volume day can be pretty gruelling, so make sure you've had plenty of food and a good-sized coffee beforehand.

  • The main programme as written doesn't allow much work on weak points, which you may need to address as an intermediate lifter. With that said, ways to adjust the template have been discussed online.

  • Whilst some people LOVE hitting a new PR at the end of each week, others can find it fairly stressful knowing that they have to hit 5 rep maxes every week.


Top 3 Texas Method Programme FAQ's

Q) Do I have to Do the Power Cleans? A) If you play a sport that requires explosiveness and athleticism, then ideally yes. On the other hand, if you're just wanting to get as strong as possible, then no. You can swap them out for 2-3 moderate sets of deadlifts on day 1. Q) What Should I Do If I Stall/Miss a PR on Intensity Day A) If you don't achieve a new PR for two intensity sessions in a row, I recommend taking a deload week to allow for full recovery before going again. If this still doesn't allow you to hit a new PR, then you can switch to hitting a 3rm on intensity day. Q) Can I add do a 4 day Texas Method Programme A) Absolutely. There are loads of ways to structure this. Personally, I've had success with the powerlifters I coach using Monday for lower body volume, Tuesday for upper body volume, Thursday for lower body intensity and Friday for upper body intensity.



The Best Strength Training Programme Number 3: The Juggernaut Method



What's Good About The Programme? (The Pros)

At this point in your training career the best option is usually to look into coaching of some sort, rather than a template programme. With that said, if you have to go for a template, Juggernaut is a solid, well-designed programme based on principles of strength training...

  • The programme introduces specific 'phases' which build upon one another, allowing you to peak 2 or 3 times per year in order to set major PR's (usually in competition)


  • Specific blocks focused on hypertrophy allow you to build muscle mass and fill out your weight class.


  • Just like starting strength and the texas method, the juggernaut method has been well tried and tested in the strength community. Moreover, being written by Chad Wesley Smith, you know it's going to be well thought out and planned.


  • The use of '+ sets' in each phase provide regular opportunities to hit rep PR's and test progress, even when far from 1rm territory.



What's Bad About the Programme (The Cons)

Overall, there's very little to complain about with the programme, but there are a couple of things to think about...

  • If you're a competitive powerlifter you may need more regular exposure to heavier lifts to maximise proficiency in them. With that said, there are variations of the base programme discussed in the ebook which increase the frequency of each lift, and the frequency of heavier exposures.

  • Since this is a 16-week programme you'll be doing a lot of work before hitting a 1, 2 or 3 rep PR. it will likely be a BIG PR, but for some people, this can be difficult in terms of motivation.

Top 3 Juggernaut Method Programme FAQ's

Q) Do I Calculate Everything From my 1rm? A) You actually calculate each phase using your 'working' 1rm, typically 10% lower than your peaked or absolute 1rm. Q) What Are the 'AMRAP' sets all about? A) The 'as many reps as possible' sets are used as a way to autoregulate and adjust your weight selection. So if you get a huge AMRAP score at the end of a training phase, the programme will adjust your weights up for the next phase. Pretty clever stuff. Q) Can I Do The Inverted Juggernaut Method Instead? A) Absolutely. Chad writes about the alternative programme version right here, and I've effectively used a similar approach with numerous athletes.


Summary - The Best Strength Training Programme

And that pretty wraps up the article. If you read all the way through you should now have a pretty good idea about which strength programme to pick and why. There are other programmes out there, some of which are pretty decent, but based on my experience as a coach and an athlete, as well as hundreds of hours of research, these 3 will give you best bang for your buck. Whichever programme you pick, though, make sure to sleep plenty, eat lots of quality food, and be ready to put in the work. And as always, if you want to chat with me about your training, or discuss coaching, you can book a time to chat with me right here. 'Til Next Time Alex

MSc Strength & Conditioning British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator

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