10 Weeks to Super Strength

Photos by Kevin Horton

Most of us care how strong we are because let’s face it, we all like to show off a little. But truth be told, our ultimate goals involve putting pounds on our body rather than putting pounds on the barbells we lift. Still, increasing strength should be a priority, as being stronger can lead to bigger muscles. Enter our Pure Power Program.

 225%: THE MAGIC NUMBER 

This is a 10-week linear periodization program guaranteed to make you stronger. At the end of the 10 weeks, expect a 225% increase in strength. That’s a 25% strength gain over nine exercises for a 225% overall strength increase. The numbers in each of the three stages represent:

  • Number of sets performed
  • Number of reps completed on each set
  • Number of weeks trained with that set/rep scheme
  • So, the entire program looks like this: 5 weeks of 5 sets of 5 reps; 3 weeks of 3 sets of 3 reps; and 2 weeks of 2 sets of 2 reps, for a grand total of 10 weeks.

 WHY STRENGTH TRAINING? 

Getting stronger now means that when you return to your normal workouts, you’ll use more weight than before, thus placing greater overload on the muscles for more growth.

Just take a look the thickest and freakiest muscled bodies on IFBB Pro League stages—men such as Ronnie Coleman, Mamdouh Elssbiay, and Branch Warren, to name a few. The majority of the most massive physiques in bodybuilding have their roots in powerlifting, and it’s no coincidence that these men sport muscles that really are as strong as they look.

 BEFORE YOU START 

  • To measure the gains made on the Pure Power Program, test your two-rep max on each of the nine exercises one week before starting the program. Have a spotter handy for safety.
  • Begin each exercise with two or three warmups of lighter weight for 2-5 reps. Then, guesstimate the weight you can likely do for two reps on that exercise.
  • If you completed two reps easily, rest for three to four minutes and try again with five to 10 more pounds.
  • If you missed the two-rep mark, rest for four to five minutes and repeat with five to 10 pounds less weight.
  • One week after completing the PPP, retest your two-rep max. Then go to FLEXonline.com and tell us, no, brag to everybody about how you did.

 225% STRONGER: THE EXERCISES 

  • CHEST | Bench press
  • SHOULDERS Overhead barbell press
  • BACK Barbell row and deadlift*
  • LEGS Squat
  • TRICEPS Close-grip bench press
  • BICEPS Barbell curl
  • TRAPS Barbell shrug
  • FOREARMS Barbell wrist curl

*Deadlifts hit the back, legs, forearms, and numerous other muscle groups.

 BLUEPRINT FOR POWER 

To get stronger, ya gotta go heavy. That means limiting reps to the 2–6 range. However, if you want to do it right, you’ve got to have a plan. That’s the beauty of the PPP. It forces muscles to adapt to heavier workloads, thus progressively increasing strength over time.

 

10wks-3

 THE POWER OF ONE 

You’ll do one major exercise per major muscle group. Here’s why:

  1. Your heaviest lifting is done first in your workout, when you are fresh and strong.
  2. After that first exercise, strength levels will drop, thus hindering any strength gains on subsequent exercises.
  3. Training an additional exercise for the same muscle group with the PPP scheme may cause overtraining.

 THE SPLIT 

We recommend the good ol’ Monday-through- Friday training schedule. However, you can train any five days per week to accommodate your individual schedule.

  • Day 1: Chest and abs
  • Day 2: Legs and calves
  • Day 3: Back and abs
  • Day 4: Shoulders and traps
  • Day 5: Triceps, biceps, and forearms

 A LITTLE HELP 

In addition to the major exercises themselves, you will do assistance exercises. Most of these will change from stage to stage, preventing stagnation and attacking the target muscle from multiple angles. As the stages progress, you will use more weight and perform fewer reps for these exercises, as well.

 TAKE IT HIGHER 

Two muscle groups that you can skip with the power-oriented set/rep schemes are abs and calves. Although it’s never a bad idea to train any muscle group for strength with heavier weight and lower reps, these two tend to respond better to a relatively higher rep range.

 THE RIGHT STUFF 

To get the most out of this program, you have to feed your body the proper nutrients. Follow a solid mass-gaining diet with plenty of protein, carbs, and healthy fats. While you don’t want to go crazy with the calories, you also don’t want to be in a deficit as if you were in a cutting phase. Adjust your macros and overall calories accordingly to keep from gaining extra body fat. And keep up your pre-workout and post-workout nutrition to stay on track.

 LESS IS MORE 

The weeks decrease in conjunction with the reps, because the heavier you go, the less time your body can handle such an extreme overload without risking injury and stagnation.

 

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 POWER MOVES 

These basic, free-weight, compound exercises are the bread and butter of the PPP. Here are some general tips to apply to all of the exercises for maximum benefit.

  • Create a solid connection to the bar by squeezing it as hard as possible, transmitting the force developed by the target muscles to the bar.
  • On bench presses, overhead presses, squats, and close-grip bench presses, take a deep breath in and hold it as you lower the weight and start to push. This causes an increase in pressure in your chest and abdominal cavity to support your body and generate more power. Exhale after passing the most difficult stage of the lift or after you reach the top position.
  • Explode from the bottom. In reality, the bar will move slowly, but the neural drive that results from the force of effort will amplify power.

10wks-7

 CHEST: BENCH PRESS 

  • To determine the best grip for your arm length, make sure there is a 90-degree angle at the shoulder and the elbow when the bar reaches your chest.
  • Squeeze your scapulae together while lowering the bar to stabilize the shoulder girdle and recruit the lats.
  • As you press up, try to rip the bar apart by pulling your arms outward without changing your grip on the bar.
  • Press the bar up and back toward your face. This slight arc will allow you to use heavier weight.
  • As you’re pressing with your arms, simultaneously drive the weight with your legs by planting your feet firmly on the floor to transfer more force to the upper body.

 

10wks-8

 SHOULDERS: OVERHEAD PRESS 

  • Press the bar up and back so that it’s over the back of your head at the top. This will recruit more middle-delt muscle fibers and allow you to use heavier weight.
  • Similar to the movement in the bench press, as you’re pressing with your arms, simultaneously drive the weight with your legs by planting your feet firmly on the floor to transfer more force to the upper body.

10wks-2

 BACK: DEADLIFT 

  • Studies revealed that the staggered grip (one hand overhand grip and the other underhand grip) offered significantly greater strength output than the standard overhand grip.
  • Pulling your shoulder blades together tightly, isometrically contracting your lower-back muscles to maintain the natural arch in your lower back and keeping your abs tight throughout the entire exercise will help generate more power.
  • As you stand up with the weight, imagine pushing the floor away from you with your feet.
  • During the ascent and descent, the bar remains as close to the body as possible.

 

 BACK: BARBELL ROW 

  • Keep your torso just above parallel to the floor and your chest out to maintain the natural arch in your back.
  • Pull the bar into your lower abs to contract your lats and middle-back muscles.

VARIATION: POWER ROW

  • To turn up the intensity, do barbell rows in a rack.
  • Set the safety pins in a power rack at a point just below knee height.
  • Start with the loaded bar resting on the pins, and with a fast and powerful move, pull the bar up to your waist and lower it back to the pins.
  • Pause for several seconds with the bar on the pins and repeat for reps.

10wks-6

 LEGS: SQUAT 

  • For extra stability, bring you hands in as close to your shoulders as possible and press the bar against your back.
  • Find the foot position that is most comfortable for your individual biomechanics.
  • As you power up, force your knees out and push out on the sides of your shoes. This keeps the tension in your hips for greater strength.

 

10wks-5

 FOREARMS: WRIST CURL 

  • Curl the weights up until your hands are as high as possible. Hold this position for a second while forcefully contracting your forearm muscles.
  • Don’t let the barbell roll down to your fingertips. Keep the bar in your palms throughout the exercise for maximum strength benefits.

10wks-4

 BICEPS: BARBELL CURL 

  • A shoulder-width stance will keep you more stable on your feet, allowing you to produce more strength.
  • A shoulder-width grip will incorporate the two biceps heads fairly evenly for maximal strength.

 TRICEPS: CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS 

  • Don’t use a grip that’s closer than shoulder width. Research confirms that the shoulder-width version hits the triceps just as well as closer grips, minus the strain on the wrists.
  • Keep tension on the triceps and off the inner chest by flexing the triceps throughout.

 

Click "NEXT PAGE" for the workout >>

10wks-10

 WHY 5×5 WORKS 

The rep range is right on the border for building strength and size

STAGE I: WEEKS 1–5, 5×5

Start with a weight with which you can complete five sets of 5 reps, taking three-minute rest periods between sets. Attempt to increase this weight over five weeks.

WORKOUT 1 (MONDAY): CHEST AND ABS

  • Bench Press | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5
  • Incline Barbell Press  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Dumbbell Press  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Incline Dumbbell Flye  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Crunch  | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure
  • Reverse Crunch  | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure

WORKOUT 2 (TUESDAY): LEGS AND CALVES

  • Squat  | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5
  • Leg Press  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Leg Extension  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Romanian Deadlift  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Leg Curl*  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Standing Calf Raise  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 12-15
  • Seated Calf Raise  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 15-20

WORKOUT 3 (WEDNESDAY): BACK AND ABS

  • Deadlift  | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5
  • Bentover Row†  | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5
  • Lat Pulldown  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Seated Cable Row  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Hanging Leg Raise  | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure
  • Cable Crunch  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10

WORKOUT 4 (THURSDAY): SHOULDERS AND TRAPS

  • Barbell Overhead Press  | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5
  • Barbell Upright Row  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Bentover Dumbbell Lateral  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12
  • Barbell Shrug  | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5

WORKOUT 5 (FRIDAY): TRICEPS, BICEPS AND FOREARMS

  • Close-grip Bench Press  | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5
  • Lying Triceps Extension  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Triceps Pushdown  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Barbell Curl  | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5
  • Seated Incline Dumbbell Curl  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Preacher Curl  | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Barbell Wrist Curl  | SETS: 5 | REPS: 5

*Lying, seated or standing

†Or power rows

 

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10wks-9

 WHY 3×3 WORKS 

Strength coaches consider this to be the sweet spot for gaining pure strength

STAGE II: WEEKS 6–8, 3×3

Choose a weight you can handle for three sets of 3 reps with three-minute rest periods between sets. The goal is to increase the amount of weight you use over three weeks.

WORKOUT 1 (MONDAY): CHEST AND ABS

  • Bench Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Incline Dumbbell Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Decline Barbell Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4–6
  • Low-pulley Cable Crossover | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Decline Crunch | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure
  • Reverse Crunch | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure

WORKOUT 2 (TUESDAY): LEGS AND CALVES

  • Squat | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Front Squat | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Leg Extension | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Romanian Deadlift | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Leg Curl* | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Leg Press Calf Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12
  • Seated Calf Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 12-15

WORKOUT 3 (WEDNESDAY): BACK AND ABS

  • Deadlift | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Bentover Row† | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Reverse-grip Pulldown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • One-arm Dumbbell Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Hanging Leg Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure
  • Cable Crunch | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10

WORKOUT 4 (THURSDAY): SHOULDERS AND TRAPS

  • Barbell Overhead Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Dumbbell Overhead Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Rear-delt Machine | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Barbell Shrug | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Dumbbell Shrug | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8

WORKOUT 5 (FRIDAY): TRICEPS, BICEPS, AND FOREARMS

  • Close-grip Bench Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Dumbbell Overhead Extension | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Triceps Pushdown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Barbell Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Preacher Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Hammer Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Barbell Wrist Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 3
  • Barbell Reverse Wrist Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10

*Lying, seated or standing

†Or power rows

 

10wks-1

 WHY 2×2 WORKS 

It’s as close to maxing out as you can get without doing singles

STAGE III: WEEKS 9–10, 2×2

Choose a weight you can handle for two sets of 2 reps with three-minute rest periods between sets. The goal is to increase the amount of weight you can use over two weeks.

WORKOUT 1 (MONDAY): CHEST AND ABS

  • Bench Press | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2
  • Incline Barbell Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Decline Dumbbell Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Pec deck or Machine Flye | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Decline Crunch | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure
  • Reverse Crunch | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure

WORKOUT 2 (TUESDAY): LEGS AND CALVES

  • Squat | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2
  • Leg Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Leg Extension | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Romanian Deadlift | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Leg Curl* | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Standing Calf Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Seated Calf Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12

WORKOUT 3 (WEDNESDAY): BACK AND ABS

  • Deadlift | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2
  • Bentover Row† | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2
  • Pullup | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure
  • Machine Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Hanging Leg Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: to failure
  • Cable Crunch | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10

WORKOUT 4 (THURSDAY): SHOULDERS AND TRAPS

  • Barbell Overhead Press | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2
  • Dumbbell Overhead Press | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Cable Lateral Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • One-arm Cable Rear-delt Raise | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8
  • Barbell Shrug | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2, 2
  • Smith Machine Behind-the-back Shrug | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6

WORKOUT 5 (FRIDAY): TRICEPS, BICEPS, AND FOREARMS

  • Close-grip Bench Press | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2
  • Lying Triceps Extension | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Triceps Pushdown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Barbell Curl | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Hammer Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 4-6
  • Barbell Wrist Curl | SETS: 2 | REPS: 2
  • Barbell Reverse Wrist Curl | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-8

*Lying, seated, or standing †Or power rows