Squat - Bench - Deadlift - Press - Row - Pull Up
This is our beginners guide on what to do for your first 3 months (or more) in the gym. It covers the basic barbell lifts and how to get strong.
Moving well and getting stronger will benifit you more than anything else. If you've never had a proper workout routine then this is definitely the place to start.
If we can convince you of only a few things hopefully they are
This is the guide to the Troon Strength & Fitness training method. If you follow this through you will know what to do in the gym. We haven't invented any of the concepts here, they are tried and tested methods. See "Starting Stength" and "Stronglifts" websites also.
The main points detailed below are;
If you read the full guide to our training methodology you should have a good understanding of what to do in the gym. Coaching is advised because reading and understanding this method is good but a coach will help you implement the training programme. A good coach will be able to spot the most important things you should be working on right there and then, before you develop any bad habits.
We make progress in anything by specific actions, which challenge us and get progressively harder. When it comes to strength and fitness this means, specific exercises to achieve our goals, hard enough to challenge our bodies to have to adapt and progressively overloading these exercises to continue making progress.
Our training method is built around the principle of becoming strong first. Because when you are stronger everything else is easier. Other types of training have their place but do not be fooled into thinking that workouts are more effective because they feel hard or make you sore.
Improvements in cardiovascular fitness can be achieved in short periods of time. Real adaptations in strength require improving not only your muscles but bones and joints too. This takes much longer.
Although our training is not a body building programme it is the most effective way for beginners to add muscle mass. Everyone wants to look in shape. This will happen as a byproduct of being strong and fit. If your goal is bodybuilding I would still argue that you should take the time to improve your strength and skill in the basic barbell movements first.
Starting out, this is the template we want you to follow.
|Workout A||Workout B|
|Squat 3x5||Squat 3x5|
|Press 3x5||Bench 3x5|
|Deadlift 1x5||Row 3x5|
You train 3 days per week, each workout will be around 45mins and you should take 1 rest day between workouts e.g. Mon, Wed, Fri or Tues, Thurs, Sat. If your week dictates that you do Mon, Thurs, Fri for example this is ok but not optimal and you should aim to take a rest day between each workout and stick to the same schedule.
As you've probably worked out, the first week will go workout A-B-A on Mon, Wed, Fri and then the next week B-A-B.
We will programme specific weights for you to lift each week. These are not just random numbers for you to use as a rough guide and should be stuck to. If the workout feels too easy for the first couple of weeks, good! You will be able to put more focus on your form.
The three exercises should be done one after the other in the order set out. The squats are first because they are the most taxing and should be done when you are fresh. The pressing exercise comes second because they require the least leg involvement and give your legs a chance to recover before the pull at the end. Do not change the order of the exercises.
Three sets of five reps. This means you do the first exercise for 5 repetitions, rest and then do another 2 sets of 5 before you move on and do the next exercise. For your first 2-6 months of strength training this will work best. By this we mean proper strength training. If you are doing a 5 day split but you mostly miss "leg day" and really just do chest, back, shoulders and arms then you will be starting your first strength programme now.
We use 3x5 because it is the best combination of volume and intensity for beginners to increase not only strength and muscle mass but because it is most effective for improving your skill at the basic barbell movements. This is extremely important because it's the accumulation of training volume and the progressive overload from one session to the next which will allow you to make maximum progress.
For deadlifts you do 1 set of 5 repetitions. This is enough deadlifting.
An example warmup for a 130Kg Squat (3x5)
(You can use this template for all exercises)
Rest as long as you need to so that you do not carry fatigue from your last set into the next set. This could mean more than 5mins rest.
We use barbells because they work best.
The goal for building strength and muscle mass is to lift the heaviest weight, through the most effective range of motion, recruiting as much muscle mass as possible. This is why we use barbell training primarily.
Doing other types of training is fine but building strength first, using barbells, as your priority will achieve better results.
By Training using our method you can expect;
We won't claim this is the only training method that will work for you, there are probably many other programmes out there that will get you results. Over the past decade in the fitness business we have not found any that are more effective, but we have come across many that are not.
Many will say that beginners can achieve results from any programme, so it doesn't matter what you do. I would dispute that progress will happen at the same rate for every programme and secondly that all exercises are equally worth your time and effort. For example, anyone can use a leg press machine, whereas squats require much more skill, coordination and flexibility. So even if both , in theory, had the same potential for leg development, time spent squatting has more other benefits and strength built squatting will carry over to the leg press. The reverse is not true.
There are an infinite amount of training programmes out there, which makes it far too easy to programme hop, going from one workout to the next without seeing any real progress.
It’s important to realise that progress will be slower than you might like and probably less than what others claim is possible. But it’s better that you do not kid yourself or have someone lie to you. You won’t go from squatting 50Kg to 150Kg in a month, but this method will be your quickest route to it. Modest gains built over time on the compound lifts we use will add up over time to make you stronger and more muscular.
We’ll focus on actual objective improvements to your training load and not things like feeling a good “burn” or “pump”.
If for example you are looking for bigger arms, then yes, we can add some direct arm work, but the core training principles should remain the same because the most efficient way for you to build muscle is to add weight to the bar over time.
Widely regarded as the king of exercises and for good reason.
Bench (Flat Bench Barbell Press)
Not an underrated exercise (Monday isn't known as international chest day because the bench is unpopular) but it is excellent for building strength.
Picking things up off the ground, what’s more “functional” or fundamental to human movement than that? If you’re not strong, flexible or robust enough to do it then surely it has to be a priority. Not to mention it is generally the exercise you will be able to lift the most weight on.
Press (Strict Standing Barbell Overhead Press)
Our favourite upper body exercise (it looks like an arm exercise but it's really a full body exercise).
Not only great for your upper body, including arms, back and shoulders this exercise also builds your lower back, legs and core. There are a few popular variations, we use barbell rows from the rack.
There are few things more rewarding in the gym than being able to pull your entire bodyweight for the first time.
We use 6 fundamental movements (using barbells) for the majority of our programming. These include; hip hinge, squat, vertical push/pull and horizontal push/ pull.
Yes, we have not included lunge or carry. This is not an accident, we are aware of them and they might have them in as accessory exercises, but we will not be programming them as foundational exercises for the workouts, to use the same progressive overload on, we don’t think it’s necessary for our beginner programme.
Small Incrimental Increases Every Workout
The main theme of our beginners training method is to add a little weight to the bar every workout. 2.5kgs is standard but even smaller increments can be used. We regularly use as little as 0.5Kg increments.
The pro’s of “mixing up” your workout to "shock your muscles" are greatly outweighed by the fact that you can neither track your progress or programme as effectively. Also not all exercises are as effective as the barbell movements we use, so while they might feel hard or make you sore you are unlikely to make the same sustained progress.
A lot of the initial progress you make on an exercise is simply by learning that skill. Once you’ve mastered it you can push yourself harder on that exercise and force your body to get stronger. If you jump about between too many exercises you will not get past the stage of learning the movement and you won't make any real strength gains.
Variations of exercises should only be selected where absolutely necessary.
It's better to be a beginner because you can expect faster progress. Don't be tempted to switch to a more "advanced" programme until you have taken linear progression as far as you can. Why would you switch to a programme where you increase your squat by 2.5kg a week when you could still be progressing by 7.5Kgs?
With our programmes we will calculate the correct weights for you to start with, so you are challenged at the right weight and can make progress over time. We are not looking for a short unsustainable improvement through short term intensity but rather a long-term consistent approach.
To build strength you do not always need to go to your maximum. In fact, it's much more effective to use weights that are submaximal, so you can accumulate enough training volume, not just over one session but over weeks, months and years to make real strength gains.
For beginners we use a linear progression, everything gets slightly heavier every session. For intermediate and advanced lifters things get a bit more complicated. Once you have reached certain levels of strength progress will slow down and it is both too taxing and also unrealistic to continue to add 2.5kgs every session for 5x5. At this point we use different methods to continue increasing strength where you may be doing only 1 set of 5 and also the increase in weight is no longer linear but comes in waves. So some sessions are lighter than the one before.
Linear progression involves simply adding 2.5Kg to each lift every session. In an ideal world this would continue forever but eventually you will plateau. Before you do though, make sure you take full advantage of the quick progress a beginner can make.
Initially working out what weight you should be lifting is simple. We do 1 of two things;
With option A we would look to hit the current PB’s/ estimated PB’s at week 10-11 and surpass them at the end of the program. We then work backwards 2.5Kg on each lift to get our starting weight for week 1.
The exception to this would be someone with a 5rep max too low to work back 2.5kg each session for 10 weeks. In this case we would start off with 20Kg bar for bench press for example.
This should allow 10 weeks of progression, for a lifter who is not used to doing large compound lifts, at submaximal weights before there is any chance of failing a rep. In weeks 11 and 12 you should be able to beat your 5RM and lift it for multiple sets.
When continuing on the 3 Day 5x5 programme and once the weight has gotten heavy and you’re struggling to complete the workouts. Basically, because you are now lifting enough weight that it is unrealistic to expect to keep lifting more each week for 5x5 because it’s just too taxing, we will move on from linear progression.
If you stick to our methods precisely and for whatever reason you do not see results, there are many factors which can affect progress.
There are a few common reasons for not seeing results;
These are all generic reasons why any programme might not work. More specifically to this programme you might be struggling because of.
You are using the wrong type of loading strategy. E.g. a beginner trying to use a more advanced programme when they haven't gone through a minimum of 12 weeks of 5x5 using a linear progression. Similarly someone very strong and proficient in all of the exercises starting with a weight that is too light for 5x5 could go backwards slightly and should be using a more advanced loading strategy.
Ideally everyone should be able to squat, with decent form, after a few weeks. An exception to this is if you have an old injury that limits your movement. If it is something that cannot be improved on with squatting and mobility/ flexibility work then we might have to try replacing squats for something like trap bar deadlifts.
When you eventually cannot keep up with the increase in weight, which will hopefully take at least 8 weeks we can change the programme.
If you start too heavy you will reach this point too soon and the programme will be less effective because you have not given yourself enough time to accumulate the training volume and practice of the exercises required before you are pushed to your limit.
When you have reached the end of 3x5 linnear progression and can no longer continue, it's time for a new programme. The basic movements should still make up the majority of your training but we will need to modify the sets nd reps at this stage.
Our preffered method for most follows many of the same principles as the beginners 3x5 method get in touch for more info.
With our training method, using big compound lifts, you will not increase in only strength but fitness too. You will not get too “bulky” or inflexible and slow. The programme will have the opposite effect, you will get leaner and much more flexible.
If you only do the main 5x5 programme you will also get fitter. The squats and the deadlifts will get your heart and lungs working and you will have enough endurance for most tasks.
If you play a sport, it will take care of your fitness for that specific sport. For example if you play volleyball, you will get the specific requirements for that sport from playing it. The explosive jumps and movements for it will be developed by the sport itself. Our strength programme will give you better potential to convert the strength you have built into explosive power.
Most sports have specific injury/ overuse issues connected with them. A good strength programme, tackling all muscle groups should help to limit this. For example, cycling is very quad dominant which can lead to an imbalance between quads and hamstrings. Deadlifts and rows will develop your hamstrings and help to tackle this imbalance.
If you eat well and follow our training methods you should be able to go and run a 5k at any time. Your muscles and joints will be strong enough and your cardiovascular system developed to a degree that this should be no problem.
In cycling, swimming and rowing where carrying extra muscle mass is less of a penalty than running you should do even better.
If you want to run a marathon then there is no question that you will need to go and train for it. At this stage strength training may be counterproductive for this one specific goal. Unfortunately so is anything else that requires energy.
We won't argue that you should be doing this programme in the last stages of your preparation for a marathon because it will be too much stress on your body. We will say that this type of programme vs. Running only will definitely make you more useful at any other situation in life.
If you want to increase your fitness more we recommend short bursts of interval training at the end of your strength session. These sessions should be both short and intense enough to result in huge gains in aerobic fitness whilst also having minimal impact on your strength training and ability to recover between workouts.
Your body can only respond to and supercompensate from so much training stress. If you try to do too much you end up getting better at nothing because your body’s ability to keep up with the training load is surpassed. A walk or a light jog/ cycle can aid in your recovery but too high an intensity will slow your progress.
The types of interval training we use at the end of your session tend to last only up to 5mins. You'll be amazed the fitness you can gain in this time, whilst not impacting on your increase in the weights room.
We use equipment such as; spin bikes, rowing, battle ropes, slam balls, skipping.....
Short sprints with rests can result in a massive boost to your fitness. E.g. bike sprints for 4 minutes, 20secs of sprinting follow by 10secs of rest repeated 8 times is a standard set of intervals we will use.
While these bits of conditioning are fun and very productive, strength is still the main goal. If I want to row faster for a minute, increasing in strength will help achieve this.
How long should I rest between sets?
When the weights feel light rest approx. 90secs, when you start to struggle rest for as long as you need to, this could be 3-5mins or more. Remember the goal is to lift more weight, so there is no benefit from rushing and carrying fatigue from one set to the next.. At the end of the session you will have accumulated the same amount of training volume.
Why 5 sets of 5?
We didn’t invent this. Through programming various different rep schemes over the years we have found this to be the most effective, for beginners. There are many possible reasons for this but when you combine 5x5, barbell exercises and linear progression, beginners tend to see better results.
When do I go from Beginner to Intermediate or Advanced?
It really doesn't matter tbh. There is never a time where we would use this type of language to categorise someone in the gym. As a rule a beginner would typically just be someone knew to the gym, who we would expect to make much faster progress than someone who has been training consistently for years.
I am weaker than my last session why is this?
Assuming you did everything right and had also; slept well, were hydrated, weren't feeling tired at the start of the session, ill, stressed, hungry or anything else that would generally affect performance, all we can say is that you will naturally have some off days. You do not need to look for anything drastic to change before your next session. Just do anything you would normally to put you in a good position for the next session.
Can I do workouts on my rest days using isolation exercises?
No. If you follow our programmes and start with the correct weights you will need a rest day between workouts so that you come back stronger after your rest day. We can programme a few accessory moves in to your training days but these are in addition and not as important as the main exercises.
The weight feels light, can I just go heavier?
It's good that the weight feels manageable but don't worry it will get heavy. When it does you will be glad of the extra practice you got of the exercises at the lighter weights. Stick to the process and have the discipline to wait for the heavy weights.
Do I not need to go to failure to make progress?
You will but not until you have accumulated more training volume. Going to failure on day one or every session for 5 reps puts us into the category of testing strength, we are trying to build it.
I’m not sore after the workout but I am after other workouts. Will they not work better?
Any workout could make you sore and you might get a boost once you recover but over the course of 12 weeks or more this will not be more beneficial. You will need to do more random/ ridiculous things to keep making your muscles sore and this will take its toll and be unsustainable.