In this post I’d like to look at a basic full body program, and talk a little about three different aspects of putting it together. Those aspects are the actual moves to be performed, the sequence to perform them, and the set and rep scheme. I find a lot of programs to be overly complicated and spend too much energy for far less return than what can be achieved by keeping things a little less complicated.
The program I’ll talk about is a very basic, but nonetheless effective program that I based on Steve Reeves early Golden age program.
The Reeves Classic Physique routine.
bb row........3x8-12....DL 3x5* see note
dips............5x10@BW Try for sets of 10, but do what you can.
BB calf raise 3x15-20
**On Friday drop BB row and do 3x5 deadlifts**
The Reeves classic is a 7 move routine consisting of 5 major compound, and 2 isolation exercises. It covers most everything you need a program to cover until such a time that you are advanced enough to assess your own particular needs. For a lot of people they could continue to work the program for an indefinite period, with no need to change anything. Others may find the inclusion of certain isolation moves needed based on their body specific issues.
The linked articles below by Casey Butt lay out three important aspects of a routine. Exercise selection, sequence, and the set rep scheme to be used. If you are not familiar with them by now, you should read them. They are relevant to any routine, not just the Reeves classic.
Making A Strength/Size Routine Part I: Exercise Selection
Making A Strength/Size Routine Part II: Exercise Sequence
Size Routine Part III: Sets And Reps And How To Perform Them
Below you will find Casey Butts Summary of his first article on making a routine. I’ve included this as it really lays out the basics of what we are talking about.
Summary, Casy Butt
The first and foremost ingredient of any strength/size training routine must be the free-weight compound exercises. There may also be a need for specialized exercises for muscle groups that these exercises may not train adequately – primarily the biceps and calves. When these exercises have been decided upon, exercises that strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the body should be considered. Isolation exercises that place the majority of the load on the stretched position of the muscle should only be included if the weight trainer has the recovery abilities to tolerate and prosper from their inclusion. How do you know if you are one of those people? Judge everything by strength gains in the free-weight compound movements; if the inclusion of the stretch position exercises cause a cessation in strength progress (as measured by per-workout fractional strength increases) in the free-weight compound movements, then they must be eliminated. The ‘peak contraction’ exercises can be used to establish a mind-muscle link with a particular muscle/muscle group, but do little to produce size and/or strength gains directly.
I based the Reeves Classic on Routines that Reeves himself used. The difference is in the order of how I wanted to perform them. I choose to follow how Casey says to move through a program, with the exception of shoulder work. Reeves own programs worked generally from the top down, while I prefer to work from the bottom up.
Sequence of the program
I love to squat. It is probably my favorite movement to perform. It was not always so, but these days I absolutely love it. They are hard, and require large amounts of oxygen, but nothing makes me feel better than squatting. It is the first movement I do, because it is so hard. I want to squat first because I am fresh, and have all my energy. It serves as a great wake up call to my whole body that we have work to do. After squatting, I am ready to seriously attack the rest of my workout.
The second move is always a move for my back. Most people would choose to do some other smaller body part after having just done squats, but I like jumping straight into my back work. It is the 2nd heaviest body part I work, and I want to hit it while I am still fairly fresh, and energized and have more energy reserves. Other body parts don’t drain me nearly as much as legs and back do.
Some would have the program sequenced differently than I have written it. I like this sequence as I have the biggest amount of energy for the two largest body parts. I want to be my freshest for these two. As I work through a session my energy is less towards the end of the session. However as I work this way my own conditioning also improves. What was once much harder is now not nearly so. I know how hard I can work and complete a session. A couple other common ways to sequence this would be thus.
Legs, shoulders, back, chest, or even, legs, chest, back, shoulders.
Many of the routines I noticed from the Golden age had shoulder training before chest work. After working programs this way, I found that I also preferred this arrangement. It meant a change in how I viewed the weights I was lifting.
My bench numbers were much lower due to the delts being worked fairly hard already. After a few months of this arrangement, I checked by bench numbers just to see how my bench strength was holding up. I found that I was stronger in my bench. The weights you use are all relative. Come at benching fresh and the increase was readily apparent. Of course I had been adding weight to the bar, but my work set numbers were lower than what I had previously used. The plus side of this was much better shoulder development. By concentrating on shoulders first I was finally growing the shoulders I had wanted, and my bench numbers had not really suffered, nor had my chest development. I found that my upper body was being more evenly developed, than when bench was put first. It is my opinion that shoulder training should be given a higher priority than chest work. Others may disagree with this assessment. For a long time shoulders took priority over benching. For classic style bodybuilding I have moved to that aspect of training as well.
When I finally get to the bench portion of my session my delts are properly warmed up, and I can still push a decent enough amount of weight to properly work my chest. I have included dips in this program due to the upper body compound effect they have. There is a reason they are called the upper body squat. Give the program time to work, and your strength will return. You will have gotten to the point where you are used to benching in this order of shoulders first then bench. All of the upper body moves support each other in developing your strength and size.
Another aspect is that, as I have it sequenced I find that each move works as a warm-up leading into the next move. Squats warm up the lower back for rowing, Rowing warms up the arms and shoulders for pressing, pressing warms up for bench work, and so on.
BB curls and Dips are sequenced so as to give a little recovery time between the compound moves that warmed them up, and to let them recover slightly. BB calf raises are done last for the same reason. There is the most recovery time before carrying a loaded BB again in the session. I prefer BB calf raises for the loading you are carrying. I like the feeling of the loaded BB, and the work it forces you to do. I find that to do BB calf raises properly really works your core as well. You must have a strong core to keep the bar under control.
The set rep scheme of the program.
This is taken right from Reeves own program. It falls right in line with the aspects of both a size and strength program. I like utilizing the variable rep scheme as it serves as a built in deload, as you slowly add weight after reaching the highest rep range. Deloads give you a chance to recover, and can help you from stalling. Stalling is just another part of lifting so it is not something that must be avoided at all cost. However there are ways to minimize how often you may hit a wall. Eventually you will have climbed as high as you’re going to go. By that time you will surely know when you have achieved that level.
An excerpt from Casey Butts article on sets and reps.
Getting more specific, here’s a table that you may find useful:
training goal rep range %age of 1RM required rep cadence (neg-pause-pos)
type I fiber sarcomere hypertrophy 15 – 50 < 70% 2 – 0 – 1
type I sarcoplasmic hypertrophy 50 + < 50% 2 – 0 – 1
type IIA sarcomere hypertrophy 6 – 15 70 – 85% 4 – 0 – 3
type IIA sarcoplasmic hypertrophy 12 – 25 50 – 70% 4 – 0 – 3
type IIB sarcomere hypertrophy 3 – 5 85 – 95% 3 – 1 – 1
type IIB sarcoplasmic hypertrophy 6 – 12 70 – 85% 3 – 1 – 1
neuromuscular optimization for absolute strength1 – 2 > 90% 3 – 1 – 1
You can see by the table our 8-12 rep range falls nicely in the range of work between 70-85% of 1 rep max. This is a good range to work within for both strength and size. There really is no magic rep range. If you have a favorite rep range beside the 8-12 you can apply it easily to the basic program.
What’s the difference between working a set rep scheme of 3x8 versus 2x12? In looking at the table above, it is evident that both fall into the same basic area of overall workload. The 2x12 will be done at a lower % of 1 rep max but it still falls within the same general intensity level as doing a 3x8. They do feel different to perform but all in all your total weeks reps are the same using either scheme. You’re still performing 72 reps a week no matter which scheme you were to perform.
Utilizing the full rep range of 3x8-12 3x a week does offer more of a gradual workload increase. At the bottom end of the 3x8 as we have already pointed out, you are doing 72 reps per week. At the top end, performing 3x12 you’re performing 108 reps per week. It may take 2-3 weeks to climb all the way to top of the rep scheme. This approach has been used for decades and works very well.
Working the program as a 2x12 scheme for a month or two is a great way to keep your work load a little lighter while you condition your body to this type of training. Generally when I am working a 2x12, it is really a 2x10-12. When adding weight it is common to need to drop the reps slightly until you can your strength allows for a straight set of 2x12. Then a minimal increase of 5lbs to the bar is added. These small weight jumps can be one of the most important aspects of working any program. One of the surest ways to stall your momentum is to add too much weight to bar.
When you have reached that top level of reps, and have increased the weight on the bar by 5 or maybe 10lbs for squats going back to the 3-8 is a welcome deload, and allows your body some time to recuperate.
You must keep in mind that it is not just your muscles that need time to recuperate. There are many systems of your body that you are stressing that need time to recover. Muscles, connective tissues, and nervous system are three of the primary systems you are taxing during your workouts. Muscles will gain strength faster than connective tissue, and without proper conditioning your nervous system will not recover sufficiently between each session. Working the program as a 2x12 scheme to start will allow you time evaluate how your handling working a full body program.
Next time we’ll look at a little more advanced version of this program and how you can make small changes to the program.