Muscle for life

How to Create the Ultimate Muscle Building Workout

How to Create the Ultimate Muscle Building Workout

If you want to know how to build muscle fast without spending hours in the gym every day doing workouts you hate, then you want to read this article.


“What are the best exercises for building muscle?”

“Should I use heavy or lighter weights?”

“What’s the best rep range?”

“What type of workout split is most effective?”

“How many days per week should I train?”

These are just a few of the questions many people have about building muscle.

Chances are you’re wondering some of the same things.

I’d also be willing to bet that this isn’t the first article you’ve read looking for answers, and that you’re at least slightly baffled and frustrated by the amount of contradictory advice and opinions on the subject.

It makes one wonder if there even is a universal “best” way to build muscle or if it all comes down to genetics, trial and error, and luck.

Well, I have good news for you:

There is a simple science of building muscle.

At bottom, there are diet and training principles that, when applied, work invariably. Some people see faster results than others, but everyone sees results.

And in this article, I want to focus on the training side of that equation. (Go here to learn about the dietary principles.)

By the end of this article, you’re going to know what makes a good muscle building workout and what doesn’t, and how to get the most muscle gain out of your time in the gym.

I have to warn you, though–the truth isn’t sexy.

  • It’s simple. Much simpler than you’ve been led to believe.
  • It’s devoid of shortcuts. The price must be paid and the process followed.
  • It’s hard work. And no matter how much progress you make, it never gets easier.

If you can accept that, then you’re ready to break free of all the nonsense and learn, once and for all, what it really takes to build the body you want.

Let’s get to it.

How Heavy Should You Train to Build Muscle?

free muscle building workout plans

One of the first questions I had when I started lifting was how heavy I should be training.

That is, which rep range is best, and why?

Is the 10 to 12 range espoused by most fitness magazine workouts the way to go? Higher? Lower?

Well, I quickly learned that getting a simple answer to this question is far from simple.

The amount of dissent among experts leaves you scratching your head, wondering whom to believe.

That was years ago, though, and I’ve done a lot of studying since and have worked with a few thousand people, and I feel I have an answer worth sharing.

And the good news is you’ll be able to quickly verify my advice. Put it into use and within 4 to 6 weeks you will know whether it’s working for or not.

To unravel this mystery, let’s begin with a quick review of the physiology of muscle growth.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

How to Stimulate Muscle Growth

ultimate muscle building workout

There are three primary ways to stimulate muscle growth:

1. Progressive tension overload

This refers to progressively increasing tension levels in the muscle fibers.

The most effective way to do this is to progressively increase the amount of weight you’re lifting over time.

2. Muscle damage

This refers to the small tears in muscle fibers that are caused by high levels of tension.

This damage necessitates repair, and if the body is provided with proper nutrition and rest, the muscle fibers will adapt to better deal with similar stimuli in the future (i.e., grow stronger and bigger).

3. Cellular fatigue

This refers to pushing muscle fibers to their metabolic limits through the repetition of actions to muscular failure.

You can think of these three factors as separate muscle growth “pathways,” and they can be emphasized differently in your training.

For example, low-volume, high-weight training emphasizes progressive overload and muscle damage, and high-rep, “pump” training emphasizes cellular fatigue.

Now, out of each of these pathways, progressive tension overload is the most important for building muscle and strength.

This is why your primary goal as a natural weightlifter is to get stronger, and especially on key compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench and overhead press.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb:

The more weight you can push, pull, and squat, the more muscular you’re going to be.

I learned this lesson several years ago.

For my first seven years of weightlifting, I more or less trained exclusively in the 10 to 12 rep range (70 to 75% of one-rep max) and did a lot of traditional (isolation) “bodybuilding” exercises.

I also spent about 10 hours per week in the gym.

Here’s what it got me:

bodybuilding workout

As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled. I didn’t look horrible but that’s not exactly what you’d expect for seven years of consistent weightlifting.

Soon after that picture was taken, I dramatically changed my training regimen.

I started focusing on the 4 to 6 rep range (80 to 85% of 1RM) and centered my training around progressing on the big, compound movements.

Here’s a shot of me about 2.5 years later:

bodybuilding workouts

I learned how to diet as well, but as you can see, every aspect of my physique markedly improved.

My strength went through the roof, too. In those 2.5 years, I added close to 100 pounds to my bench and overhead presses and doubled my squat and deadlift.

And better still, I did it in just 4 to 6 hours in the gym each week.

Now, I was baffled by my results because I had thought, like most people, that heavy weightlifting is good for building strength but not muscle.

Well, as you can see, there’s more to that story…

What Is the Best Rep Range for Building Muscle?

muscle building weight lifting routines

This is one of the most important training questions you can ask.

Get it right and you can build the body you want faster than you think.

Get it wrong and you’ll get partway there, plateau, and tread water.

It’s really that simple.

Unfortunately, this is also one of the most controversial training questions you can ask, too.

There are many theories and many opinions, but the progression of scientific and anecdotal evidence is pointing in a clear direction:

If you want to maximize muscle growth, you want to train with heavy loads and a moderate volume.

That is, you want to emphasize heavy weights (80%+ of 1RM) and you want to do a moderate number of reps per major muscle group each week.

For example, one well-designed study published earlier this year separated 33 physically active, resistance-trained men into two groups:

  1. A high-volume, moderate-intensity group that did 4 workouts per week consisting of 4 sets per exercise in the 10 to 12 rep range (70% of 1RM).
  2. A moderate-volume, high-intensity group that did 4 workouts per week consisting of 4 sets per exercise in the 3 to 5 rep range (90% of 1RM).

Both groups did the same exercises (which included the bench press, back squat, deadlift, and seated shoulder press), and both were instructed to maintain their normal eating habits (which was monitored with food diaries).

And the result?

After 8 weeks of training, scientists found that the high-intensity group gained significantly more muscle and strength than the high-volume group.

It’s no surprise that the high-intensity group gained more strength, but many people wouldn’t have expected them to gain more muscle as well.

Researchers cite two main reasons for why the heavier training beat out the lighter:

1. Higher amounts of mechanical stress imposed on the muscles.

The high-volume training, on the other hand, caused higher amounts of metabolic stress.

2. Greater activation of muscle fibers.

And this, in turn, results in a greater adaptation across a larger percentage of the muscle tissue.

So, what can we learn from this study (and from others like it)?

1. We should focus on lifting heavy weights for fewer reps.

This is more important than maximizing cellular fatigue through high-rep sets, drop sets, giant sets, and so forth.

2. We should focus on progressive overload.

In the study outlined above, subjects increased weight after hitting their prescribed reps for two workouts.

The key here was an emphasis on increasing weight on the bar, not on increasing the number of reps performed.

3. We should focus on multiple-joint compound exercises.

coughBigger Leaner Strongercough

Now, that isn’t to say that higher rep training and isolation exercises have no place in a weightlifting program.

They just shouldn’t be the focus.

You can read more about this here.

What Is the Best Training Frequency For Building Muscle?

bodybuilding workout routines

Many people think that frequency alone is the key to maximizing gains.

To them, it’s black and white: if you’re not training major muscle groups 2 to 3 times per week, you’re not going to get very far.

This makes for good one-liners in YouTube videos, but misses the forest for the trees.

How frequently you can and should train each muscle group depends on the intensity and volume of your individual workouts.

There are many viable ways to lay out workout programs, but there’s also an overarching, non-negotiable rule that ultimately governs results:

The higher the volume and intensity of individual workouts, the less frequently you can do them.

That is, you can only do so much every week before running into issues related to overtraining.

So sure, you can squat or bench press three times per week…but you can’t do 10 heavy sets per workout.

This is why popular powerlifting programs look so austere compared to the nonsense you find in most bodybuilding magazines.

This brings us to the next point:

A well-designed workout program not only emphasizes heavy, compound weightlifting for each major muscle group; it puts you in a “sweet spot” in terms of total weekly volume as well.

How you reach that volume in terms of number of workouts–one, two, three, etc.–is of secondary importance.

What is that sweet spot, though?








Well, there aren’t any studies that give a definitive, one-size-fits-all answer as to how hard and how much you can train to maximize your results, and there many never be.

Optimal volume is modified by intensity, as you know, but there are many other factors that come into play as well including diet, training experience, sleep hygiene, genetics, and more.

That said, there is enough clinical and anecdotal evidence available to derive some sensible guidelines.

Let’s first look at a large and extensive review of weightlifting studies conducted by scientists at Goteborg University.

Their research found that, when using weights in the 60 to 85% of 1RM range, optimal volume appears to be in the range of 30 to 60 reps per major muscle group per workout when 2 to 3 workouts were performed each week.

Thus, a total weekly volume of somewhere between 60 and 180 reps per major muscle group.

As you can guess, the heavier the training, the fewer reps you can and should do every week.

If you were training exclusively in the 80 to 85% of 1RM range, like you do on my Bigger Leaner Stronger program, you’d want to be around 60 to 80 total reps per major muscle group per week.

If you were doing a low-weight, high-volume type of program, however, you’d want your weekly volume for each major muscle group to be closer to 180 reps.

And if you were doing something in between, like with my Thinner Leaner Stronger program for women, your total weekly reps would be somewhere in between as well.

These findings also agree with another large review conducted by researchers at Arizona State University.

When lighter weights are used, more sets per week is optimal. As the weights get heavier, however, total sets must come down.

So, the key takeaway is this:

When it comes to building muscle, training frequency isn’t as important as intensity and total weekly volume.

Think of frequency as a tool that you use to reach your target volume, and there are pros and cons to every type of workout split.

You want to chose the one that best fits your circumstances and needs, and you can learn more about this here.

3 Muscle Building Workouts That Really Work

muscle building workout routines

Cogent arguments and copious PubMed links mean nothing if you can’t use the information to get results.

And that’s why I want to leave you with a few workouts to choose from that will allow you to put my “teachings” to the test.

In terms of overall results, the 5-day program is better than the 4-day, which is better than the 3-day.

The 5-Day Workout Routine

Working sets are done with 85% of 1RM (4 to 6 rep range) unless specified otherwise.

Warm-up by doing 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps with 50% of 1RM.

Rest 3 to 4 minutes in between working sets.

Rest 1 minute in between warm-up sets.

Add weight once you hit the top of the working set rep range for one set.



Incline Barbell Bench Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 working sets

Flat Barbell Bench Press – 3 working sets

Face Pull – 3 working sets of 8 to 10 reps per set with 1 to 2 minutes of rest in between these lighter sets

3 ab circuits



Barbell Deadlift – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Barbell Row – 3 working sets

Wide-Grip Pull-Up or Chin-Up – 3 working sets (weighted if possible)

Optional: Close-Grip Lat Pulldown – 3 working sets

Optional: Barbell Shrugs – 2 working sets

Calf Workout A



Seated or Standing Barbell Military Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Side Lateral Raise – 3 working sets

Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise – 3 working sets

3 ab circuits



Barbell Squat – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Leg Press – 3 working sets

Romanian Deadlift – 3 working sets

Calf Workout B



Incline Barbell Bench Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per set with 1 to 2 minutes of rest in between these lighter sets

Barbell Curl – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Close-Grip Bench Press – 3 working sets (no need to warm up after the chest pressing)

Alternating Dumbbell Curl – 3 working sets

Seated Triceps Press – 3 working sets

3 ab circuits


The 4-Day Workout Routine



Incline Barbell Bench Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Flat Barbell Bench Press – 3 working sets

Dip (Chest Variation, weighted if possible) – 3 working sets

Seated Triceps Press – 3 working sets

Calf Workout A



Barbell Deadlift – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Barbell Row – 3 working sets

Wide-Grip Pull-Up or Chin-Up – 3 working sets (weighted if possible)

Barbell Curl – 3 working sets

3 ab circuits



Incline Barbell Bench Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per set with 1 to 2 minutes of rest in between these lighter sets

Seated or Standing Barbell Military Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Side Lateral Raise – 3 working sets

Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise – 3 working sets

Calf Workout B



Barbell Squat – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Leg Press – 3 working sets

Romanian Deadlift – 3 working sets

3 ab circuits


The 3-Day Workout Routine

Rest at least one day in between each workout.



Barbell Deadlift – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Barbell Row – 3 working sets

Wide-Grip Pull-Up or Chin-Up – 3 working sets (weighted if possible)

Barbell Curl – 3 working sets

3 ab circuits



Incline Barbell Bench Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Seated or Standing Barbell Military Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Flat Barbell Bench Press – 3 working sets

Side Lateral Raise – 3 working sets

Optional: Close-Grip Bench Press – 3 working sets

Calf Workout A



Barbell Squat – Warm-up sets and then 3 working sets

Leg Press – 3 working sets

Romanian Deadlift – 3 working sets

Calf Workout B

Pick one of those workouts and do it for the next 8 weeks and see how your body responds.

If you like what happens and you want more, then you should check out my books, which give you a 360-degree understanding of building muscle and losing fat as well as a year’s worth of workouts.

What About Supplements?

strong woman is drinking sports nutrition

I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.

You see, supplements don’t build great physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.

Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.

Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.

So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money…the right ones can help.

The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.

As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.

Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.

That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements–the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.

I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.

For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your workouts in general.


Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements–the subject of hundreds of studies–and the consensus is very clear:

Supplementation with creatine helps…

You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.

If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.

In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called RECHARGE.


RECHARGE is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:

  • 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
  • 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid

This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.

Protein Powder

You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)


WHEY+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.

I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.

Pre-Workout Drink

There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.

Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.

Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.

Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,”which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.

Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.

The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.

And that’s why I made my own pre-workout supplement. It’s called PULSE and it contains 6 of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:

And what you won’t find in PULSE is equally special:

  • No artificial sweeteners or flavors..
  • No artificial food dyes.
  • No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.

The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.


Want More Workouts?

The Ultimate Chest Workout

best chest workout

The Ultimate Back Workout


The Ultimate Shoulder Workout


The Ultimate Arms Workout


The Ultimate Abs Workout


The Ultimate Legs Workout

Arnold Schwarzenegger squatting deep.

The Ultimate Calves Workout


The Ultimate Butt Workout


The Ultimate Forearm Workout


The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout

Man doing push-ups on kettlebells.

What’s your take on muscle building workouts? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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If you want a "paint-by-numbers," step-by-step blueprint for building a muscular, lean, strong body...faster than you ever thought possible...then you want to check out my bestselling books.

Here's a little sneak peek of what you'll learn inside...

  • The 7 biggest muscle building myths & mistakes that keep guys small, weak, and frustrated. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
  • The 5 biggest fat loss myths & mistakes that keep women overweight, disappointed, and confused. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • An all-in-one training system that delivers MAXIMUM results for your efforts…spending no more than 3 to 6 hours in the gym every week…doing workouts that energize you, not wipe you out.
  • A no-BS guide to supplements that will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars each year that you would’ve wasted on products that are nothing more than bunk science and marketing hype.
  • And a whole lot more!

The bottom line is you CAN achieve that “Hollywood body" without having your life revolve around it. No long hours in the gym, no starving yourself, and no grueling cardio that turns your stomach.

My book will show you how. Get it today and let’s build a body you can be proud of.

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  • Aikas

    Hey Mike,

    Has the Warm-up system from BLS been updated? Here you state 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps with 50% of 1RM as opposed to the 4 sets of 50-50-70-90% from BLS..

    • Nope I just gave something simple here. Stick to the BLS warm-up routine.

  • Carlo

    I remember listening to a podcast and hearing you say you’ve updated the BLS schedule a little bit — glad to finally see it!

    While the current BLS 5-day routine is working perfectly for me, I like the adjustments and might switch up if ever I’m feeling like a change of pace. I think I’ll end up missing the extra shoulder work on leg day, though hahah. But the 4 day routine looks freakin excellent!!


    BTW, to anyone reading this and skeptical about this style of training — I was where you are. I did PPLPP using rep ranges of 6-8 and 8-10 before because I thought that a higher frequency of training was better, and was very hesitant to use the BLS schedule because it looked like a traditional bro split which is looked down upon everywhere on the Internet.

    After deciding to go all in and put 100% trust in Mike’s system though I just gotta say — damn! My results have skyrocketed. I’ve somehow gained a little bit of size even while on a cut, so I cannot imagine what kind of gains I’ll be making once I get down to 10% body fat and start my bulk.

    Is it perfect? No, I don’t think any program is perfect. There are times I wish I could do more pullups or do more bench pressing than indicated on Mike’s program. But doing them just once a week allows me to put 150% of my effort into my sets because I won’t be able to “correct” them until the week after if ever I fuck around on that day.

    My question to you, Mike, is this: given how effective the 4-6 rep range is, is there any purpose to training at higher rep ranges (i.e. 6-8 or 8-10)?

    For some exercises like lateral raises and tricep extensions I find it hard to move up in weight so I tend to go for higher rep ranges or sometimes even go wider (i.e. 4-8 reps instead of 4-6).

  • Neil

    Mike, you say that it’s better to do 80-85% 1RM, but most charts I’ve seen say that its 5-7 reps that do that, whereas 4-6 reps is usually 90-85%… Any major difference between those two rep schemes?

    • Aikas

      The 4-6 rep range is best for muscle growth, with 5-7 being bettter for women and if you can’t maintain a proper form on some exercises. Otherwise, you’d make great gains on both.

      • Thanks for the comment but I wouldn’t say that.

        Practically speaking you’re not going to see any different working in the 4 to 6 or 5 to 7 rep ranges.

        • Neil

          Hey Mike,

          so if that’s the case, why not simply opt for 5 – 7 reps and get that tiny bit more volume, since intensity isn’t sacrificed that much?

          • I’ve actually tried it and noticed no difference in strength progression or body measurements.

          • Neil

            Ah, gotcha. So 4-6 is recommended just so that people won’t have to work as much for nothing in return?

            Crazy how much of the advice for geared lifters (lots of volume, hit body part twice a week etc.) is the standard recommendation for everyone, instead of stuff like this…

          • I wouldn’t say NOTHING but for much less than they should be getting.

            Yeah it’s unfortunate. 🙁

    • 3 to 4 reps is around 90/85% and 5 and 6 are around 85/80%

      No major differences no.

  • LifeForMuscle

    amazing well written article! this answered so many questions i had 😀

    thank you for the help, keep up the good work mike!

  • Ryan Brain

    Hi Mike! Something I’m not clear on… So let’s say I get 6 reps on my last set, do I increase the weight the next time I do that exercise, even if I’m doing the exercise twice that same week, or repeat the sets with the same weights and up the weight the following week? Thanks!

    • Cj

      If I remember correctly, in his book he says to increase the weight immediately and perform that weight on the next set. If you fail to reach at least 4 reps on that set then go back to your previous weight and try the weight increase again next time.

    • Ryan Brain

      And a follow up question if I may? To quote you: “Incline Barbell Bench Press – Warm-up sets and then 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per set with 1 to 2 minutes of rest in between these lighter sets” – you refer to lighter sets but that’s the first time you’ve mentioned going lighter. How much lighter? Thanks!

      • About 70% of 1RM.

        • Ryan Brain

          thanks again 🙂 I take it I shouldn’t be upping the weight on these sets?

          • Welcome! You can up the weight just the same as with the regular 4-6 rep sets once you hit the top of the rep range.

    • Andres

      From his previous posts and in the book. At any given moment you can do 6 reps of that exercise in any set of that day; you go up on weight the following time you are going to do that exercise. I can’t remember how much though. He does specify it in hes book and other posts. (sorry don’t have my book within reach. I encourage you to get hes book; the information is very well organized and straight forward.

      • I generally recommend you try to increase by 10 pounds but a 5 pound increase is fine as well.

    • I like to go up once I hit 6 reps for ONE set. Some people find that too aggressive though and need to hit 6 for two or even three sets before being able to move up and have it “stick.”

      You can increase in 5 or 10 pound increments. Move people do 10.

      • Ryan Brain

        thank you 🙂

  • Zack_Leman

    If I am currently doing your 5 day lifting plan from BLS will switching to a 3 day a week program like you outline above result in a loss of strength or just a slower rate of gains? I’m considering this due to a new work schedule.

    • Great! Just slightly slower results. You will make gains with it though.

  • Nil

    All well and good for men but what about women? I have never been advised to train in the 4-6 rep range to build lean muscle and don’t know any female competitors who do either. Any advice?

    • If you want to maximize muscle growth you definitely want to include some heavy lifting in your training.

      For example, my Thinner Leaner Stronger program recommends that you work in the 4 to 6 rep range for your big compound movements and in the 8 to 10 rep range for isolation movements.

      I wouldn’t look to competitors for insights and advice. There’s too much drug use to know what’s what…

  • Ask

    I see that the 5 day routine you posted here is different from the one I am following from the BLS book. Is this a newer version and if so should I update my program to this? Have you added adjustments to the BLS book that I can update through kindle?

    • Yeah I’m doing a “mini-update” to BLS soon to reduce the weekly volume a little.

      Shoot me an email and I’ll send you the new bonus report.

  • dakelly65

    Great articles as always Mike. At 49-50 I tried the 4-6 rep range, 5 days a week, with a de-load or recovery week every 4 & then every 3. Made big gains in the 1st 2 months, then dropped due to tendonitis in both shoulders. I do not think at my age I can use this system. Are higher reps, lower weight the best alternative then, as we age? Also, with creatine, any need to cycle or can we use it 7 days a week, 365 days per year? Thanks!

    • Thanks!

      Cool on the routine you were following with the deloads every 3-4 weeks.

      Sorry to hear about the tendonitis. It’s probably a good idea to get it checked out by the doc before you continue training.

      Once you are able to return to training. Let’s work in the 8-10 rep range and see how you do. It’ll be easier on the joints, and you’ll still be able to progressively overload. What do you think?

      Check this out:


      No need to cycle creatine! Take a look at this:


      My pleasure! Talk soon.

  • AnnaD

    Hey Mike, I’m currently doing your 3 day a week TLS program plus I do one boot camp class a week. I’m thinking of changing to either the 4 or 5 day split next year and keeping the class once a week. So there will be some days when I’ll be training back to back. Do you have any recommendations as to when you should insert a rest day in these programs? Or is it just a case of trying and seeing? Thanks heaps 🙂

    • Good idea on the routine change. 🙂

      Whatever day(s) you prefer is fine! I recommend 1-2 rest days a week, and they can be together or separate and where ever in the week you prefer them!

      Happy to help!

  • Piotr Kaminski

    Mike, I’m all for you, got your book and follow your podcasts. But as guy that have both feet in science, I don’t like your example of yourself as “proof” that ~12 rep range doesn’t work – as we both know, anecdotal evidence is nothing – and I bet you done A LOT of mistakes back then – and “wrong” rep range was not a major one.
    As for rep range, please check nice article on strengtheory – http://www.strengtheory.com/the-new-approach-to-training-volume/.

    As we look into studies that compare same _effort_ of sets, difference start to diminish (hypertrophy at ranges ~12 are same as ~6).
    For me best way to achieve most optimal way is periodization, when on some weeks you are pushing “metabolic stress” pathway of hypertrophy with ~12 reps, and other week you are “maximizing micro trauma” with 4-6 reps. Of course I try to keep progressing weight on both types of training.
    I saw like 3 or 4 studies where this approach was better then any of “single kind of rep range” training, but unfortunately there are not many of them (but all showed up statistically significant increase).

    • Thanks Piotr!

      I’ve never said that high rep doesn’t work–I’m just saying that emphasizing heavier weights works better.

      Periodization works great for advanced lifters. I’ve spoken about it.

  • Will

    Hey Mike,

    If you’re looking to hit 6% bodyfat, does your diet basically become keto because you’re removing carbs when you hit weight loss plateaus?

    I’m about 132lbs, 8% bodyfat, and my carbs are 150g, protein 180g, fat 30g, and i’ve cut 25g carbs and have stalled.

    Should i start my bulk now to 15% and my next cut it would be easier to hit 6% because i have more room for carbs or is it expected that 6% or below bodyfat diets have low carbs within their meal plans?

    • Nah it shouldn’t. Carbs will go down as you lower cals to continue weight loss after each stall, but I don’t recommend going below BMR so they won’t get super low. If you find yourself eating at BMR, not at your goal and not losing weight, it’s time to reverse diet:


      If you plan on bulking after the cut to put on more muscle, there’s no need to get any leaner. I would start the reverse diet now and bulk.

      To help continue the weight loss now or in the future, check this out:


      Hope this helps! LMK what you think.

      • Will

        Thanks for the links.

        When I’m reverse dieting into my bulk, should i be going up in weight for my lifts in the gym? Or begin going up in weight once i finish reverse dieting to hit those bulking calories?

        • Welcome!

          You should start noticing some strength increase as you increase cals. If not, for sure by the time you pass TDEE and are in a surplus.

  • Stu

    Hey Mike, just been diagnosed with costochondritis. Think it happened doing weighted ring dips. Got any ideas how to minimize the damage as far as atrophy goes seeing as how I’m going to be out of commission for the next few weeks minimum? It’s pretty disheartening reading about other people’s poor outcomes across the net. I’m thinking I’ll totally lay off this week and then try to walk/train legs and abs as I can after that. Not going near a barbell for probably the next six weeks or so and then tentatively easing back in once I do. Any thoughts?

    • Damn. Sorry to hear that.

      I recommend eating at TDEE to help prevent muscle loss.

      Other than that just don’t do anything that causes pain or discomfort so it can heal up as quickly as possible and continue any training you can that doesn’t get in the way of recovery.

      What do you think?

  • Brian Giffin

    Mike I’ve been doing BBLS for two years now. I tend to screw it up a bit because I never do the power week and like the work week portion. Still making good progress though.

    You recommend sticking to BLS routine
    When cutting though right?

    • Hey man!

      Glad to hear you’re liking it.

      Yeah I prefer BLS when cutting. BBLS is just too much for my body while in a deficit.

      • Olvin

        Hi mike i need help Am been using BBLS routine am doing great !!my question is i own a gym so i have to be there almost all day 6 days a week and i do your routine in the mornings can i still work isolates exercises in the evening i really want to exrcise more !! What do you suggest ?

        • Awesome!

          Honestly I wouldn’t recommend more because the program is quite demanding as it is…

  • Jacob

    !Hi Michael! so what about rest between sets and progressive overload for my case- I want to start INCREASING my rest intervals so I can use more weight and hit more eels over each successive set as opposed to my 30/60 second CURRENT intervals. How do I know I’m progressively overloading if I increase rest between sets and am able to hit more reps on successive sets (obviously) thanks a lot man!

    • I definitely recommend increasing your rest periods. 30-60 seconds isn’t enough if you’re lifting as heavy as you can for 4-6.

      Just increase your rest periods to 2-4 minutes and lift as heavy as you can. If you’re lifting more weight you’re progressively overloading. It’s as simple as that.

      LMK how it goes.

      • Jacob

        Appreciate it man, so today I’m gonna increase my rest periods and I obviously expect more reps/weight to be used across my 5 sets of bench (and every other exercise) so if the previous week at 60sec rest my reps were 10-8-7-6-5 and today i increase it to 120sec and hit 12-10-10-9-9 wouldn’t I be lieing/cheating my way of progressing since I could possibly have only gotten more reps BECAUSE of the longer rest and not true strength gains? Thank you!!!

        • NP. Sounds good!

          I see what you mean. Of course getting more rest helped you increase your reps. There’s no way of knowing how much of the increase was due to the longer rest and how was due to simply being stronger.

          Just stay consistent with your rest times going forward and measure your progress from there.

          Hope this helps! My pleasure!

  • vxsan

    I have followed the 3-day routine mentioned above and have experienced slow but steady improvement (when I am consistent). My current gym schedule (T-W-TH) doesn’t allot for the recommended rest – at least one day between. Am I doing more damage than good? Thank you for all of your consistent advice!

  • Alex M

    Hey Mike, I remember reading in the comments of one of your articles that you were going to update the BLS routine to include abs 3x a week and make other changes. Is this the update? Is there going to be an “official” BLS update/announcement or anything? What are the benefits of this routine over the old one?

    • Yup that update went live yesterday! If you have the digital version of the book, you get it for free (Google how to update Kindle content).

      I’m not announcing anything as it’s more of a tweak than anything else. It’s not an overhaul by any means.

      I just reduced the weekly volume a bit and added some content to address some questions and suggestions people have made.

      • Alex M

        Oh gotcha, cool! I updated it on my iPhone and look forward to checking it out.

        I noticed that the warmup on the update is the same as before (12, 10, 4, 1) though the warmup in this article is 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps at 50% 1RM. Which one is preferable?

        • Cool! Lemme know what you think.

          Stick to the book. I just wanted to keep it simple in the article.

  • P Mort

    How are you supposed to get the dumbbell up behind you without a training partner for the seated tricep press? I think I strained my neck on that this morning.

    • Sorry to hear about the neck. 🙁 You definitely need to be careful.

      Most people get it to their chest or shoulder and then press it up with both hands from there.

  • Sandor Denesi

    Hey Mike,
    Lot of interesting information in this article, thanks. However, I am a bit confused. For now, I would point out a single sentence from your article:
    “In terms of overall results, the 5-day program is better than the 4-day, which is better than the 3-day.”
    I am following other sites and blog posts too, and read a few books related to weight training, and some of those point to studies that advocate otherwise.
    Maybe you are familiar with Doug McGuff or Drew Baye, HIT advocates, according to them a full body, high intensity workout once a week, involving a single set per exercise to muscular failure is the most efficient way of strength training from every point of view (gains, time, safety etc.).
    What are your thoughts related to that?

    • Welcome!

      I talk about this here:


      Also, take a look at this:


      LMK what you think!

      • Sandor Denesi

        Hey Mike,

        Thank you for your fast reply, I have read once more the articles you’ve linked, and indeed those answered some of my concerns.

        I agree that full body workouts are a great for newbies, and indeed, more advanced splitting is required for advanced trainees.

        I will paste here a few links from one of the blogs I am following, related to some things that you also write about, I am really curious what are your thoughts related to those.

        You state in the first article:
        “Low-volume, high-intensity training is generally good for building strength but not ideal for maximizing hypertrophy.”

        According to this article I am linking here, you can’t really separate the two, the ratio of how big vs how strong you get is determined by genes, not by volume or intensity.

        Back to volume again:
        You write that a pretty ideal volume is around 30 to 60 repetitions split to 3-4 sets per workout.
        It seems that there are studies out there that suggest that much less than that can yield pretty much the same results, if the intensity is high enough. Even one set of 6-10 reps.
        So if the same results could be achieved with 1 set, which is more time efficient, why do more than that?

        Just a ps,
        I am not trying to promote anybody else, so feel free to moderate my comment and remove the links if external links are not allowed on your site.
        I am just a guy who is always excited to learn, trying to avoid being biased, and searching for the truth 🙂

        I hope my comments and our discussions will be constructive for everybody, and I am impatiently looking forward to your reply.


  • Matthew

    Hey Mike,
    Great read! Would doing some cardio (either LISS, MISS, or HIIT) be too much on the rest days? You say for the 3-day per week to leave 1 day of rest between workouts. Could I do some cardio for fat loss on these off days?

  • Marshall

    Hey Mike! I’m a huge fan of your stuff and Greg over at Kinobody, honestly the best two fitness blogs on the web right now and the only two I typically frequent at all. Slightly different philosophies perhaps, but really amazing content from both.

    My end goal is a hollywood style physique that Greg preaches. I won’t lie, I’m mirin what you have accomplished and how you look, but that’s not my end goal to be that big/shredded. So I’m curious how you would possibly alter the BLS 3 day routine to accomplish this as he mostly emphasizes back/upper chest/shoulders in his Greek God routine while keeping leg work somewhat minimalistic, just enough to keep them in proportion to your upper body.

    • Thanks Marshall!

      Honestly I wouldn’t change anything. I would recommend you just stick to BLS as-is until you’ve reached your desired size and then go into maintain mode from there.


      • Marshall

        Haha, my thoughts are you are a smart man. Here’s the only hangup I have; he preaches 3x a week somewhat minimalist routine, you seem to favor 5 days a bit more, though you say 3 is still good but not as optimal. Is the main reason for this that on the BLS 3 day routine, you will simply be a bit more tired when doing some of the accessory bodyparts like arms near the end of workouts? I know I shouldn’t be hung up on this, but for some reason I am just wondering your opinion.

        I like his GGP but I’m having issues with plateaus on pressing exercises specifically and I think it’s due to RPT; I’m simply not at a strength level where I should be doing that type of training, so I’m gonna run BLS 3 day option of chest/tri, back/bi and legs/shoulders while only doing one of squats/leg press instead of both.

        Also what are your thoughts on the snatch grip deadlift? Never done it but hear its phenomenal for upper back development

        • There’s that but also you can’t hit optimal volume across the board in just 3 workouts per week without basically dying, haha.

          And generally speaking, more volume = more growth (it’s not THAT simple of course, but that’s not entirely inaccurate, either).

          I do like RPT but recommend it for advanced weightlifters. I talk about it here:


          Definitely a good variation and one I haven’t done in a while. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

          • Marshall

            Makes sense! Looking at BLS 5 day vs 3 day routine the 5 day has just a bit more accessory work. How is this slight tweak to it for my goals then?

            Incline BB
            Incline DB
            Reverse Grip BP
            Close Grip BP

            Weighted Chins/Pullups
            One Arm DB Row
            BB Curl

            Squat/Leg Press (alternate every 2 months or so)
            Overhead Press
            Romanian DL
            Lateral Raises 3×8-10 seem to have issues going heavy with these =/
            Face Pulls 3×8-10

            Everything except for laterals and face pulls 3×4-6 of course.
            Ab work at home on off days – hanging leg raises, l sits and air bike

          • Looks good! Go ahead and do it and see how you do.

  • Miguel Carlo Day

    Hi Mike,

    I want to do the 4-day routine. I have a lot of belly fat right now but my arms and other parts of the body is fine. Should I stick to heavy weights(5 days) + 3 days of HIIT? When I tried cutting carbs, my other body parts became thin but my belly doesn’t. I appreciate your help on this.


  • Giles Sinclair

    Hi Mike,

    First of all I want to thank you for writing these insanely helpful articles that really make various things a lot clearer in the maelstrom of fitness advice that’s out there!

    I wanted to ask you about another 5 day scheme you posted in this article http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-build-a-workout-routine/ and compare it to the one here: I noticed that there are a few differences: the one here recommends doing Chest twice a week (as well as calves 2x ) whereas the one in the other article recommends a different muscle group for each workout day (and calves 3x etc.) Does the difference matter that much?

    I’m interested in trying out the 5 day plan whilst cutting (ideally whilst also gaining some muscle because I’m still a beginner) and would really appreciate any guidance.

    FYI: I’m 17, 5ft 9″, 155 lb, roughly 13.5% BF and have been lifting for a few months now but without great success.

    Thanks a lot man!

    • Hey hey! My pleasure! Happy to help. 🙂

      Both routines are effective and whichever one you prefer is fine. The one in this article, is the most up-to-date routine, though.

      Thanks for the info. Let’s get you some results then!

      Welcome! Talk soon.

  • jer

    Hello there,

    I’ve just finished 2 months of caloric/macronutrient counting and have seen huge losses w incessant cardio only, but I want to capitalize on my deficit w the proper workout and the science behind your programs is incredible, kudos.

    So as someone entirely new to weightlifting (looking forward to newbie gains!) I just have a few questions:

    First, how do you suggest doing a warm-up set and how many sets do you do? Again, complete neophyte here. Secondly, is there a ratio for doing a rep? I noticed with calves you suggested a 2:1:2 ratio but does that also apply to the other lifts? And lastly, stretch marks! Anything you can do to get rid of them or at least reduce them?

    Thank you again.

    • Hey hey! Great job on the weight you’ve lost. Yep, all that’s required for weight loss is a caloric deficit!

      I like the plan of the deficit combined with weightlifting. Let’s do it.

      Regarding the warm-ups, check this out:


      Yep, that’s the general tempo I recommend. You don’t need to count it out or anything. You just want to make sure you’re controlling the weight on the way down (not just dropping it), pausing slightly at the bottom and then going back up with it.

      Regarding the stretch marks, take a look at this:


      My pleasure! Hope those help. Talk soon!

      • jer

        Thanks for the help, it definitely did.

        If you would be so kind as to answer one more question; I completely agree with the science in compound lifting and working within certain ranges of your ORM, but as an absolute beginner, how do you go about finding out what your ORM would be? I’ve read that when just starting it’s hard to figure out but I’m assuming I should just go to a gym and see what I can successfully lift while maintaining proper form?

        Thank you again for the help.

        • Welcome! Good question! You’ll need to do at least a couple weeks on the routine so that you have an idea of how much weight you can lift for how many reps. Once you have that though, you can calculate your 1RMs here:



          Oh and if you need help finding starting weights, honestly, it’s just trial and error for your first week or two. As a general rule, for every 5 lbs you add to a dumbbell exercise, you’ll lose 2 reps. The same for every 10 lbs added to a barbell exercise. So if you put 100 lbs on the squat bar and do 10 reps, you should be able to get about 6 reps with 140 lbs.

          Just work with light weights at first and learn the form, and then increase. You’ll get your numbers within a week or two. 🙂

  • Danielle Fraser

    Hey Mike! I’m using my fiancee’s account to ask some questions. I need advice on some things. Keep in mind that I follow your beyond bigger leaner stronger 3 day workout plan and I track my calories deliciously on myfitnesspal. I’m having trouble with arm and shoulder development, no matter what I change or try it seems like I can’t get them to grow. I know this is vague but do you have any tips on how to deal with those deficiencies. Its something that’s bothered me for a long time and I feel like its holding my physique back from being fantastic.

    • Hey hey! Whatever account you use, I’m happy to help. 🙂

      Cool you’re following the BBLS 3-day split.

      Hmm. Honestly, if you’re trying add size specifically to your arms and shoulders, I recommend having a day specifically for those muscle groups. So, if possible, you should consider the 5-day split.

      In addition to that, you can also add 3 sets of bis to the end of your back workout and 3 sets of tris to the end of your chest workout.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Danielle Fraser

        The only thing is that I only have enough time in the week to fit in 3 days at the gym, possibly 4 at the most. Can that still be done in that amount of time?

  • Dan

    Hey Mike, awesome article again. I’ve been using this site as my information for weight lifting and proper nutrition. Can honestly say it’s been nothing but positive results that I can see week-to-week. However, now I’m doing a lot of soccer and have seen drops in energy levels, which has affected my motivation for lifting. Also, as someone who is skinny, trying to add muscle and size, isn’t it detrimental to have too much cardio? Any suggestions for someone who does a lot of cardio, but still trying to add muscle quickly? Is it as simple as eating more?

    Thank you!

  • Abhishek

    A wonderful article indeed. Explains very well. Thanks Mike. I’ll do the 5 day workout routine from Mon-Fri. N for cardio if I do swimming on Saturday n Sunday for around 45mins , is it alright???

    • You can do that, sure! Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Nick Louque

    hey mike, I just started this 5 day routine and today makes day 3. I wanted to ask what days I should be breaking? would it be better to do 5 days straight then break 2 days? or say 3 days, break, 2 days, break, repeat?

    • You can do 5 days straight with 2 days rest, or sprinkle in the two rest days as your schedule permits. Ideally, separate upper body day and chest day by 1 day break.

  • Alex

    So after 2 workouts of successfully completing my reps I should increase the weight?

    • You don’t have to wait 2 workouts. If you’re completing your reps after the first workout, you can increase on the second–or even on the same day.

  • Brian Fernandes

    Hey Mike, Just a small doubt…was wondering the reasoning behind face pull being included on chest day of the 5 day workout? Always thought it was more of a shoulder excercise?

    • Good question, Brian. Face Pulls are an essential exercise for shoulder health and injury prevention, especially when presses are concerned.

      Totally fine to switch Day 4 and Day 5.

      You can do the optional exercises on the same day where they are listed.

      If you’re cutting, I wouldn’t “eat back” those calories. The whole point is to be in a deficit.

      • Brian Fernandes

        Thanks so much Roger

        About the optional excercise, what would be the deciding factor to include them on the day… like when do you include them in the day’s workout

        Also about the cardio… is there a limit on low intensity cardio per week if i eat back the calories burnt while bulking?

        And also about warmup is it enough to just do the warm up sets or should I do a bit of stretching and bodyweight exercise that work the muscle worked on the day?

        Thanks again so much

        • No problem!

          If you need more volume to stimulate more growth, then include them.

          Great question about cardio. There is! Even if you eat back the calories, there are other factors that are out of your control. Check this out:


          Just do the warmup sets. Only stretch after your workout.

          • Brian Fernandes

            Thanks so much for clearing so much up for me Roger!

            Just a bit unsure on the optional sets…so correct me if I’m wrong but what I understand is if i want maximum growth out of my bulk, i include all the optional exercises mentioned?

            Thanks so much for taking so much time to answer really appreciate it!

          • No problem! Yes, include the optional exercises.

  • Carl

    Hey mike, loved the article. Few questions for you though! I was doing quite a bit of powerlifting and got some good strength gains working with 3 reps rather than 6.

    I’m backing off really heavy maxes now and going to loose a bit of weight and get in shape.

    I’m an endomorph and am on quite an aggressive deficit (I can gain weight just by smelling food!) I’ve lost a bit of weight and am already looking better but am going to give your 5 day program a go.

    With weight loss should I still stick to the long rest times in between sets or shorten it a little? Or keep everything just as it is?


    • That’s great, Carl! 2-4 min resting periods are fine. What will matter most in weight loss is keeping your deficit consistent.

  • Dave_I

    Hey Mike,

    My apologies if I missed it, but if cutting and doing something like Starting Strength or a similar program, if/when your lifts stall should you keep going for 3×5 of your current work set weights (or 5/3/1 or whatever), or would you recommend adjusting either the weight by a certain percentage, lowering the number of sets/reps, or doing something like a work set then backoff sets? In other words, if you deadlift 400×5 and go on a cut, do you try to maintain (or improve upon) that for as long as possible then maintain it, or drop it down a few lbs. and maintain or work back up to your pre-diet weight?


    • Absolutely keep working on improving your strength.

  • Peter

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for a lot of great info!
    I have question regarding weight for reps and progression. Should I use the same weight for all sets and when I can do 4-6 reps in all sets, that’s when I add more?

    Or should I treat each set independently, let’s say 100lb for the first set let’s me do 5 reps, 2nd set at 90lb I manage 3, and 3rd set at 85lb I also only manage 3 reps. In this case I add 5lb to my first set next time I hit the gym but i stay at 90lb and 85lb respectively for set 2 and 3 until I manage to do 4-6 reps?

    • Sami

      Good question! I am wondering the same thing. Didn’t see this mentioned in BLS.

      • Hope that answered your question. Same weights, and increase when you hit 6 reps.

    • No problem! Use the same weight for all sets. When you hit 6 reps, increase weight.

  • elias

    hi mike

    another great article , thanks a lot

    i want to be lean and strong , i dont like that bulky type of body
    i ask a lot of people in gym and i got different answer,
    i want to know what should i do and what i shouldn’t do ?

    • elias

      i forget to ask

      3-6 reps pre set dint make me bulky ?

      what my diet should be for that goal?

      • Glad you liked the article. You can be in full control of how much muscle you want to build. The 4-6 rep range is ideal for growing muscle. But, in order for that to happen, you need to be in a calorie surplus. Both of these things are in your control, so you can stop whenever you feel like you’ve met your goal.

        • elias

          i think i got it
          but how should i stop ? you mean i should stop going to gym or stop adding weight ?
          can i become stronger after i met my goal without get bulky ?

  • Palmer

    Hey, Mike. What is the purpose of doing the incline barbell press on day 5 since it is not lifting heavy?

    • I’ve just found it to be a genetic weak point in most guys so I’ve included some extra sets for some more volume, and I’ve included them at a higher rep range to help prevent possible overtraining.

      You can still build muscle while working in a higher rep range BTW. Just gotta make sure you’re progressively overloading. 🙂

  • Art

    Hi Mike

    Thanks for another well explained article! I’m starting the 4day split and just wondering how % of 1RM to use on the 3rd day, for the incline bench press – lighter working sets?

    • Hey Art, great question! About 70-75%, or a weight you can lift for 8-10 reps.

  • Art

    Great thanks!!

  • NaijaMan

    Am i able to see results of the five day workout plan if i do that plan for more then 8 weeks?

  • Ryan Brain

    Hi Mike! Happy new year 🙂 just hoping for some advice with adapting the 5 day plan to fit my situation. Mon-Thurs I have access to a gym where I can do all exercises except for leg press, and Fri-Sun I have access to an EZ curl bar, dumbbells and a bench. I have found that doing 5 days back to back leads to overtraining, so 3 on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off and repeat works best for me. Since I can’t follow the plan perfectly due to the above restrictions, I was hoping you could recommend some alternative exercises for the leg press, and the days when the I am limited by my equipment.

    Also super looking forward to Stacked!


    • Happy New Year, Ryan! No problem if you don’t have a Leg Press. Do Front Squats in its place.

      Stay tuned for Stacked!

  • Orxan

    Hi Mike, thanks for sharing this with us great article and great tips…I’ve got one question, i recently got a slight injury on my back and shoulder while i was trying to pull/push heavier than i should. That’s because i was adding 5 kg to each side every time i hit the 6 reps..My question is how do i ensure that i’m working out with 85 % of 1 RM?
    By the way i’ve decided to work out let’s say bench press 60 kg for one month then add 5 kg to each side…Is that a good idea ?
    Thanks in advance

    • Ouch! Sorry to hear that. It probably wasn’t the weight that did you in, but rather your form. I’d definitely double check it!

      As long as you’re adding weight so that you fall within the 4-6 rep range, you’re fine. Do go easy when coming back from an injury though!

  • Michael James

    I’ve been doing a beginner’s two day split for a while but want to switch to your 5 day routine for some extra volume and variety.

    Where do hammer curls come into play? On Friday you do both barbell curls and alternating curls. Are hammer curls not as good as alternating db curls if you are only doing two biceps exercises? Or should I do barbell curls and hammer curls? Just curious. 🙂

    • Cool! Hammer curls are great. Put it at the end of your Day 5 arms/upper body.

      • Michael James

        Thanks! One more question, when the routine says to do dumbbell curls should they be standing, seated, or incline? Which is the preferred option?

  • MJ

    Which of these routines is best for cutting? If I am doing the 5 day split when bulking should I keep doing that when I start cutting or is the 3 day split the best option?

  • AB

    Hey Mike. I have a question about the 5 day routine. You have included face pulls for chest workout when they are actually for shoulders. Could you tell me why that is so?
    Thank you
    (P.S: This is a really great article)

  • Miz Eloise

    im a woman. liftinng properly only for 6 months. i have been using 6 rep range is that bad? honestly i jist get stressed out with high rep thats why i do low rep high intenstity

    how bad is that? i make sure i go up in weight though every week. people advising me to go down in weight. someone even said do suoer set of 12 to 16 reps omg.

    • As long as your form and technique are correct, there is no problem. I’d use the 4-6 rep range for:
      Overhead Press
      Bench Press

  • Alejandra Oropeza Clark

    What about women’s I have five children oldest 20 years old youngest 14 years old and when in the last 3 years a gained about a hundred pounds… my arms my leg and my midsection look horrible sagging and fat I never looked this bad in my life not even after having children

  • Alejandra Oropeza Clark

    It will Be a good for me ? To do heavy lifting for losing fat gain muscle in kinda tied up my skin some a little

  • Daniel

    Hey Mike, this is great stuff! I’ve been training on and off for 6 years and haven’t seen that great results, so I’ve really decided to push myself recently 😄 I’ve got a Fitbit charge 2, and based on my weight, BF, age etc, plus I commute to work (12 miles a day) by bike, and lift weights 4 days a week, its calculating my total energy expenditure around 4000 calories burned per day…so I should be consuming around 3000 to burn some fat? That seems like quite a high number, as other folks seem to be eating closer to 2000 and below? Any reassurance that I should keep eating that amount? 🙂

    • Hey Daniel, that’s awesome you’re taking it to the next level. I’d suggest starting with a 2200cal/day cut and see how it goes. Adjust based on results.

      • Daniel

        Cheers Roger 😄 Turns out the charge 2 over calculates calorie burn by about 10-15%, so 2200 seem like a more reasonable number to consume 🙂 thanks ! 😊

  • dobop712

    Hey Mike, I’ve read the article twice and read the entire comments section but can’t find the answer to my question which is: how many reps are we doing for the isolation exercises, specifically on day 5 upper body. You state that lifting heavy for the compound exercises should be done in the 4-6 rep range, but what about the barbell curls, alternating dumbbell curls, and seated tricep press? Thanks!

  • Mik

    Hey Mike, I’m confused about something. In this article, you say “If you were training exclusively in the 80 to 85% of 1RM range, like you do on my Bigger Leaner Stronger program, you’d want to be around 60 to 80 total reps per major muscle group per week.” However, in your book, your program is 9 work sets per muscle group with reps ranging from 4-6 reps where the first set is 6 reps and the next 2 are 4. That adds up to 42 reps. But here you say 60-80 reps. So is 42 too little? Should i do more?

    • Hey Mik, that’s because you’re training muscle groups more than once per week. For instance, squatting still hits your glutes, as does deadlifting, even though you’re doing them on different days. So by the end of the week, it’s close to 60-80 reps.

    • Mik

      I’m still confused.

      • Check this out: Squats, 3 sets. Deadlift 3 sets. That’s 12-18 reps per exercise, or 24-36 combined.

        Now throw in the leg press–another 12-18 reps. The total count is now 36-54.

        Add the RDL or another lower body exercise, 12-18 reps. We’re now at 48-72. You’re set!

  • Austin

    Hey Muscle for Life,

    Unfortunately my gym only goes up to a certain weight in DBs. The max weight I can easily get 6 times. Would you recommend doing more reps if the weight isn’t enough? Should I do more work with the barbell?

    Thanks in advance.

    • You can switch to barbell work in the meantime. No problem!

  • Jamie Hibbert

    Mike, really enjoying reading your blog – nice writing style.

    I do have a question or two. I am in my early 40’s not having trained properly for getting on for 20 years – in those days I trained similar to what you say here, big heavy compound movements 4-6 rep range. Now I have some significant back damage ( disc and bone L4, L5 & S1) due to falling through a roof and an iffy left rotator cuff.

    Should I start with low weight high rep/sets to start conditioning and increasing muscle endurance in those weak areas for a few months and then consider moving to your schedule depending on how I feel?

    Any advice appreciated as I would love to feel strong again…

    • Thanks Jamie! I’m glad you like the blog.

      I would check with your doc to make sure you’re cleared for training. From there, I would ease into it to make sure nothing is hurting and figure out what weight to use.

      For the rotator cuff, check this out: http://www.muscleforlife.com/rotator-cuff-exercises/

      • Jamie Hibbert

        All good with the Doc after nearly 8 years of messing around. I will follow that link and employ some of the exercises there. Thx.

      • Jamie Hibbert

        A month in now and bought your book! Great read and strengthens my beliefs from many years ago! Making gains in weight on the bar (more from technique and confidence I think). Loving it and believe in this method. Thank you for getting me lifting.

        • That’s awesome, Jamie! Keep up the great work, and keep me posted on your progress 🙂

  • John

    Hi Mike & et.al.,
    I have your BLS book and have been working out for 10 weeks or so and am about to start the 5 day BLS program exclusively. My question is should I adjust it at all being that I’m 47 y.o.? 5’11” 152 lbs. Thanks, John

  • AB

    Hello Mike,
    I read your bigger leaner stronger book and it helped me a great deal with workouts and especially the bulking diet requirements. However, I have a couple of questions:
    1. In the book, in the 5 day routine, you said that I have to do a couple of incline bench presses after the shoulder day. But I read on some websites that since the anterior delts are involved in incline pressing, its not advisable to work chest the day after shoulder day. What is your opinion on this?
    2. You advised in the book to have 2 cardio sessions a week of 30 mins each. But I ride my bicycle everyday as means of transport and I ride for atleast 30 mins everyday. Do you still suggest I do additional cardio?
    Thank you.

    • I’m glad the book helped you out!

      Are you referring to the incline pressing on the Upper Body day? It’s true that incline pressing will hit your front delts, but that’s not a reason to refrain from doing it. The point is to get a little extra volume for your upper chest with a slightly higher rep range (8-10). Plus, Day 4 is for Legs, so there’s actually a day of rest in between Shoulders and Upper Body 🙂

      I recommend doing as little cardio as needed to support your training and reach your goals. If you’re doing cardio every day, you don’t have to add additional HIIT if you don’t want to. Check this out: https://www.muscleforlife.com/how-much-cardio/

      • AB

        In the book day 4 is meant for upper body. And also in the leg day some lateral raises and bent over delt raises have been included. Wont switching the days still lead to lesser rest for delts?

        • Gotcha. As I mentioned, it’s not a big deal to train the incline press the day after shoulders. Sure, you won’t be 100% fresh with your shoulders, but we’re just getting in some additional volume here mainly for the chest. Since Chest is on Day 1, your chest should be recovered by Day 4. Remember, we’re using the 8-10 rep range for the incline press on Upper Body day, so it won’t be as fatiguing. Does that make sense?

          • AB

            Yes. I will continue working as it is in the book. Thanks Mike. Appreciate it.

          • YW 🙂

  • Jay

    Hey Mike, I had a couple of questions about what I can expect from following the split you have proposed.

    1) What sort of numbers can I expect in my squat, bench, deadlift and OHP if I were to bulk using the 4-day split for 6 months? Lets say I’d be starting with roughly:
    Squat: 70kg for 3×5
    Bench: 60kg for 3×5
    Deadlift: 100kg for 1×5
    OHP: 40kg for 3×5

    My calories etc are dialled in and I’ve got down the form for the major exercises. I’d do something like Sarting Strength but I hate full body workouts and I can only work out on Mon, Tue, Thur and Fri so I’d struggle with a 3 day routine.

    2) Would your program be compatible with some sort of 3×5 linear progression? For example, I’d pick one exercise from each workout to progress for 3×5. On chest day, I’d hit 3×5 with a weight on the flat bench (then do my other exercises with the 4-6 reps you mention), then next week add 2.5kg to my flat bench for 3×5. Would you say, in your experience, that that sort of progression could be sustainable?

    Thanks a lot for any input!

    • Hey Jay! Everyone responds differently to training, and your particular anatomy can have a huge influence on your strength. So, it’s not really possible to say what numbers you should expect. The goal is simply to achieve progressive overload. Once you hit 6 reps, you add weight to the bar, and work with that until you hit 6 reps again. Over time, you’ll get stronger, build muscle, etc.

      You can try incorporating linear progression on your main compound lift of the workout. Adding 2.5kg to the bar on your bench each week may be possible when you’re first starting out, but once you’re past the newbie stage, you wont necessarily be able to add weight every week. At a certain point, progression becomes a non-linear grind, and even gaining one rep on an entire workout is an achievement 🙂

      • Jay

        Hey, thanks for the response!

        I do understand that linear progress is not really possible beyond the beginner stage, I just figure that my numbers are low enough at the moment to facilitate a pretty rapid increase in strength.

        Would you say the program would still be suitable for me if I were to do a pure strength program (focused purely on rapid progress on S/B/D/OHP) for 3-6 months to lay a foundation before moving onto a more bodybuilding style routine like the one you outlined?

  • Brad

    Fantastic article. Thanks for the info.

  • david

    Would you say a 6-day PPL routine is superior to a 3-day PPL routine for building strength assuming you are performing the same number of reps per muscle group on a weekly basis and are staying within the 4-6 rep range?

  • Alex M

    Hi Mike, a couple of things before I get to my question:

    1. In this article, you write that research shows the “optimal volume appears to be in the range of 30 to 60 reps per major muscle group per workout when 2 to 3 workouts were performed each week.” So the research says this range is optimal *when* workouts are performed 2-3 times a week. Perhaps if done all on one day, the volume would need to be higher to account for the decrease in frequency? It’s not clear from the study. And BLS is set up so that the frequency is only 1/week with all of the sets occurring on the same day.

    2. You go on to say that “If you were training exclusively in the 80 to 85% of 1RM range, like you do on my Bigger Leaner Stronger program, you’d want to be around 60 to 80 total reps per major muscle group per week.” HOWEVER, in this article https://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-build-a-workout-routine/ you write that “If you look at many of the popular, tried-and-true routines out there, the weekly workout volume generally falls somewhere in the range of 30 to 60 reps per 5 to 7 days… so the [BLS] workouts range between 45 and 60 high-intensity reps.”

    So I’m confused, because: 1. BLS only gets in 45-60 reps instead of 60-80 reps, and 2. It’s not splitting up the individual muscle workouts over 2-3 days, in which case one may need more than 60-80 reps, which it’s not even currently reaching.

    Can you please provide some guidance on the conflicting advice? I’m not trying to call you out, I’m just trying to understand if I should be adding in more sets to the BLS routine, since currently it seems to be lacking in both frequency and volume. Thanks so much for your help, and I look forward to your feedback!

    • Hey Alex!

      You’re right; you’d probably want to increase the volume if you were truly only hitting a muscle once a week, but that would make for a very long, very difficult workout. However, with BLS, since we’re focusing on compound movements, there’s significant overlap in muscle groups worked, and everything’s getting hit at least twice a week.

      For example, your legs get hit not only on Leg day when you squat, but also on Back day during the deadlift. Similarly, you work your chest not only on Chest day, but also the Upper Body day.

      There’s a limit to how much heavy lifting you can do each week, and it’s a matter of balancing intensity, volume, and frequency. I’d give this article a read:


      I hope this helps!

      • Alex M

        Hey Mike, thanks so much for the fast reply! I did notice that legs and chest get worked twice, so I guess my concern is with back, shoulders and arms. Is there a reason those don’t get hit directly more than once a week? Would it be beneficial to add in a set of shoulders on chest day, and a set of back on leg day etc (perhaps in a higher rep range like the chest gets on the second day)? Thanks!

        • No problem man! You shoulders get quite a workout on Chest day as well (bench pressing involves not only the chest but shoulders and triceps as well), so no need to add any additional sets.

          Honestly, I suggest giving the routine a shot as is. People make amazing gains by following it as I’ve laid out. Once you’re more experienced, you can assess your progress and address any weak points.

  • Gdurc

    Hello Mike, I changed today my workout to the 5 day split, I was doing an upper and lower workout(frequency of 2 ). Is there any reason why you placed flat barbell bench press last? I am asking this because I was doing 6-8 reps with a certain weight,but today I had to use the same weight to complete 4-6 reps while the logic should allowed me to add more weight in order to complete the rep range you recommended. I think that happened beause I used to do bench press as first exercise.

    • Most guys want to put extra emphasis on their upper chest, and putting two incline movements before flat bench works well. It’s not surprising you got less reps on flat bench since you’re doing it third instead of first when you’re more fresh.

      Keep me posted on your progress!

  • Hi Mike!

    I’m currently following your example 5 day routine, but need to shorten my work out times on the chest and upper body days.

    Can I remove the face pulls from the chest day and the high rep incline bench presses from the upper body day, or is that a bad idea?

  • Jesse Self

    Hi Mike, I’ve been doing the 3 sets of 4 to 6 rep range, and increase the weight when I hit 6 sets, but I’ve always done descending sets instead of sets across. Are sets across superior to building strength than descending sets? Today, my bench looked like this (I’m 150 lbs):
    205 lbs x 6
    195 lbs x 5
    185 x 6
    I probably could’ve pushed out 1 more rep on my 2nd or 3rd set. I generally drop the weight when needed to stay in the 4 to 6 range (and increase it on my first set when I believe I can get more than 6). I follow this same method on my other big lifts.

    • Hey Jesse! Reverse pyramid sets like you’re doing can work well too, especially if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter. I’ve written about it here: https://www.muscleforlife.com/reverse-pyramid-training-workout/

      • Dima T

        Have same issue trying to stay with 4-6 range. If I keep same weight my sets look like this – 4, 3, 3; or 4, 3, 2. Which is below 4 recommended. What should I do? Should I lower the weight? I am giving 4 min rest in between sets.

        • You can either stick with it, or if that’s not working, drop the weight a bit and work up to 2 or 3 sets of 6 before increasing the weight again.

  • Hey Shane! It really just depends on your priorities. If you’re happy with your overall chest size and want to bring up your lats, you can replace the extra incline sets on Upper Body day with pull-downs, standing pushdowns, or something similar. Seems like you have a good plan for bringing up your rear delts and hitting them directly twice a week.

    Another option is following this routine for a bit:


    Lemme know how it goes!

  • Tyler

    Hi Mike, it seems that your workouts consists only of a small number of excercises. I’m used to seeing people spending lots of time in the gym doing tons of sets and reps!

    Thanks !

  • Olivia Meiners

    Hey Mike!

    I’m currently working on getting my legs caught up to my upper body in strength. I just started bulking about 4 weeks ago and was wondering if you had any tips for that. How did you go about catching your legs up with your upper body? Closing that gap while still seeing improvements in upper body as well.
    Thank you! 🙂

      • Olivia Meiners

        Thank you Mike! I plan on starting that 30 day leg plan after this weeks deload week.
        I’ll let you know how I progress 🙂

        • Awesome! Sounds good 🙂

          • Olivia Meiners

            Hey Mike, hope you had a Jolly Christmas!

            I’m starting on the leg plan today and after reviewing it am wondering if I should add on any other upper body work, specifically the biceps, triceps, posterior deltoid & forearms, since there is only one day for that. I still want to work on those as much as I can without overtraining of course.

            My 2 questions are:

            1) Should I add on any extra upper body work? such as bicep curls, hammer curls, one-arm dumbbell row..etc.
            2) How would you implement the 6-9 ab circuits every week into this, if needed?

            Thank you!

          • Hey there! The purpose of the 30-day Legs workout is specifically to emphasize the lower body. If you’re looking for something a little more balanced, check this out:


            As far as the abs go, I’d just do 3 to 6 circuits 2 to 3 times a week at the end of your workout.

            Happy New Year! 🙂

          • Olivia Meiners


            Will do! I must be extra eager to improve everything lol especially now that I know exactly what I’m doing. I’ll just stick to the leg workout so I can get them up to speed. I’m barely squatting my weight for my max and struggling. I’ll keep at it and update you on improvements!

            Thanks again for your time & happy new year! 2018 will be life changing.

          • Haha no worries. Sounds good!

            Happy New Year and let me know how it goes! 🙂

  • AB

    Hello Mike. Can doing HIIT with bulking diet burn belly fat?

    • Hey there! If you’re in an energy surplus, then you’re not going to lose fat. That said, I do a couple sessions of HIIT while bulking just to keep up my conditioning (and because I enjoy it). I hope this helps! 🙂

  • Daniel Atondo

    I purchased bigger leaner stronger through audible. Was wondering if there’s a way to get my hands on the hard copy of the bonus content for quick reference?

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