Introducing the AFLP Beginner Strength Program

AFLP: a Strength Program for Beginners and Intermediates

Friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, and so forth approach me every now and then and say to me “hey, I’m starting to go the gym again but don’t really know what to do – could you give me a basic program?” I usually inquire about what they’re goals are – the guys usually want to build muscle or “stay in shape”, and the gals want to either lose weight or “tone up”.

Being a strength-oriented person and knowing that strength training can accomplish way more than get your stronger, I always recommend the same thing. It’s a 3-days-a-week program that alternates two workouts – “A” and “B” – using 6 compound exercises total to strengthen the entire body in the shortest time possible. No, this isn’t some 15-Minute Abs schtick. This is my beginner strength program – a linear progression strength program for novice- and early-intermediate-level lifters that requires hard work.

It’s just simple. Anyway, let’s get to it.

PREFACE OF THE BEGINNER STRENGTH PROGRAM

The Anchor-Forging Linear Progression program is designed for the novice trainee. People who fall into the “novice” category, and may find success with this program, include: those with no experience in the gym, those with some experience in the gym with little strength to show for it, and those who were previously strong months/years ago but must start from scratch again.

The novice trainee is capable of adapting extremely quickly to strength training compared to an advanced trainee who requires anywhere from weeks-to-months to adapt. Because of this phenomenon, this program will use linear progression to allow the fastest progress possible. Linear progression is simply increasing the weight used for an exercise over-time in a linear fashion (meaning, it’s going up by a fixed amount in a fixed time period).

Compound movements incorporate a very large number of muscle groups to enable the body to move as much weight as possible. This makes compound movements more efficient for strength training than isolation movements would. Thus, the program will revolve around the compound movements. Isolation movements use a very small number of muscle groups, and should only be used as “the cherry on top” for the program.

Because compound movements are used, the core of this program only requires 6 exercises – enough to strengthen the entire body – broken up into two workouts. The two workouts consist of a “vertical” day and a “horizontal” day. There will be two upper-body exercises and one lower-body exercise per workout. A majority of the exercises will use sets of 5 reps, while one will use sets of 5-10 reps. In addition, accessory exercises to be included in the program can be done for sets of 10.

Why are sets of 5 used? This rep-scheme seems to be a “sweet spot” for novice strength training. It allows heavy weight to be used and increased frequently, yet isn’t so close to 100% 1-rep-max intensity that the risk of injury skyrockets. Numerous popular beginner strength programs exist that use sets of 5, and folks have used this rep-scheme to not only get stronger, but to either build muscle, lose bodyfat, or maintain body composition, as well. This makes these kinds of programs ideal for anyone, from any background, of any gender, with any goal.

Athletes, bodybuilders-to-be, overweight woman, underweight men, etc., should be able to use this beginner strength program as a way to progress towards their goals, while getting stronger at the same time. Even if strength isn’t one of someone’s goals for fitness, is should be understood that strength training is a catalyst for progress in a large number of physical attributes other than strength. Weight loss, weight gain, weight maintenance, explosiveness, speed, agility, endurance, injury prevention, and overall well-being are all positively improved with strength training. This notion may change the mind of someone who’s on the fence about such a program.

THE PROGRAM LAID OUT

Without further ado, here’s the actual program of Anchor-Forging Linear Progression. The simplicity of this kind of program makes it incredibly easy to understand and subsequently track one’s progress on.

WORKOUT A – “VERTICAL”

Deadlift – 3 sets x 5 reps (ramped)

Overhead Press – 3 sets x 5 reps

Pull-up – 3 sets x 5-10 reps

Optional: Accessory Exercises – 3 sets of 10

WORKOUT B – “HORIZONTAL”

Back Squat – 3 sets x 5 reps

Bench Press – 3 sets x 5 reps

Pendlay Row – 3 sets x 5 reps

Optional: Accessory Exercises – 3 sets x 10 reps

The training schedule

The workouts will run on a 3-days-per-week schedule. For example, in the first week, Monday can be “vertical”, Wednesday can be “horizontal”, and Friday can be “vertical”. The following week, Monday is “horizontal”, so on and so forth. Basically, it’s A-B-A then B-A-B. That’s easy enough to follow, right?

Warming up

Preceding each training session with a quick warm-up, in addition to performing warm-up sets for the respective exercise to be performed, would not be a bad idea and would decrease the likelihood of injury.

Increasing weight

The weights for each exercise will increase after each successful workout. That means, if the trainee squats 3 sets of 5 with the same weight without failing, the weight can be increased for the next training session using squats. The increments to be used when progressing the exercises will start out at 10 lbs for the squats and deadlifts, and 5 lbs for the bench press, overhead press, Pendlay row, and pull-up.

A note about the deadlift

Deadlifts are incredibly taxing and are hard on the body. 3 sets of 5 reps with the same weight will feel like hell once the trainee uses a heavy enough weight. “Ramping” the sets for deadlifts is recommended sets. This is accomplished by using the intended weight for the first set, then 90% of the original weight for the 2nd set, and then 80% for the 3rd set. This can even be performed in reverse, saving the heaviest set for last. Either way, this method will still provide a great amount of stimulus, but not destroy the body.

A note about the pull-up

Notice that pull-ups in this beginner strength program use sets of 5-10 reps. This is because most novice trainees can hardly perform pull-ups at all. Once they’re able to do 5 pull-ups, they’re already fairly “advanced” in this particular exercise, and adding weight frequently will not be feasible. Progress for the pull-up will be slow at this point. So, instead of workout-to-workout progress, the trainee should achieve 3 sets of 10 pull-ups with bodyweight first before adding additional weight. When adding weight, one should start with 3 sets of 5, work up to 3 sets of 10, then increase the weight once again, and so on.

More on increasing weight, and plateaus

After a few weeks or months, the trainee will hit a wall and not be able to increase the weights at the same rate. When this happens, it will be apparent because the desired reps and sets for a lift will NOT be possible to complete. At this point, the stalled lift should be deloaded for the next workout (decrease by 5-10 pounds for upper-body exercises and 10-20 lbs for lower-body exercises), and then increased with each successful session at the half of the rate of before. Meaning, it’ll be 2.5 pounds per successful workout if it’s an upper-body lift, and 5 pounds if it’s a lower-body lift. Most gyms don’t have plates lighter than 2.5 pounds, but clips or collars can be used instead, as they weigh a few ounces each.

If progress stalls once again later down the road while using half the rate of progression, deload once more, and now 5 sets of 5 reps become the new “goal” before adding weight to the respective lift (pull-ups are excluded from this). So, when the trainee successfully performs 5 sets of 5 reps, he or she will use 3 sets of 5 reps with the new weight for the next workout. The workout following that, 4 sets of 5 reps will be used. Finally, the workout after that will be with 5 sets of 5 reps. Then, the weight will be increased for the particular lift, and so on. At this point, progress will occur much more slowly but will still happen regularly.

When using 5 sets of 5 reps for deadlifts, “ramped” sets should still be used. The trainee can start with the desired weight, then 95% of that for the next set, then 90%, then 85%, and finally 80%, making it 5 sets total. For 4 sets of 5 reps, either the set using 85% or the set using 95% can be removed. Once again, it can be performed in reverse as well.

After most of the lifts stall using 5 sets of 5 reps as the goal, substantial progress will no longer be feasible on a beginner strength program, the trainee will have to consider a more advanced strength program.

To summarize:

  • increase the lifts by 5 lbs or 10 lbs (upper-body or lower-body, respectively) each time 3×5 is performed without failure;
  • after the first major stall, deload and then increase the lifts by 2.5 lbs or 5 lbs each time 3×5 is performed without failure;
  • after the second major stall, deload again, and then increase the lifts by 2.5 lbs or 5 lbs each time 5×5 is performed without failure, going from 3×5 to 4×5 to 5×5 after each session;
  • finally, after the 3rd major stall, switch to a more advanced program.

Accessories, Odds and Ends

What is provided above intends to serve as a “template” for the trainee. It can be modified through different variables – training frequency, accessory lifts, variations of the primary lifts, etc. – which would somewhat change the direction the trainee heads in terms of goals.

Want to develop power? Then alternate deadlifts or Pendlay rows with power cleans, every other workout. Want to build mass? Then throw in some isolation exercises as the accessories for your arms, calves, abs, traps, etc. The thing is, this program is adaptable to anything. It should be noted, though, that the novice should just do the core of this beginner strength program WITHOUT the accessory lifts until he or she has a greater understanding of training. After progress has been made and lessons have been learned, the trainee is welcome to experiment by tweaking the program.

Update: PDF Available with Variations of the Beginner Strength Program

I’ve decided to make some minor changes to the program, mainly with the exercise order.

More importantly, I’ve created variations from the core of the Anchor-Forging Linear Progression, as a means to meet various goals people may have. the variations fulfill the needs for the following:

  • Hypertrophy
  • Athleticism
  • Injury-Prevention
  • Increased Work Capacity

If you’re interested in these variants, feel free to download the free PDF copy of AFLP (which includes the information in this article, along with the additional updated stuff and variations).

AFLP beginner strength program

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5 Comments

  1. Hey! Thanks for the program. I’ve recently been thinking about what I’d like to to if I had access to barbells (I’m using kettlebells at home) and you seem to have posted right on the topic. Personally, I couldn’t decide on whether to start from 5×5 then drop the set count to 3×5 and then perhaps to 3×3 in a semi-peak fashion. Why did you decide to go for 3×5 instead of 5×5 in the beginning? I’m asking out of sheer curiosity, and don’t know what’s “better”.
    Also, what accessory work would you suggest, and where would you add “lower body” accessory work and where “upper body”? What exercises would you choose? Would you go for “vanity stuff” here, like curls? Quad work?

    • Bartek,

      Glad you found my program dude. I actually started with kettlebells myself, plus bodyweight stuff, before moving onto barbells.

      Why start with 3×5? For a novice lifter who doesn’t start with too heavy weights, 3×5 is really all that’s needed to drive progress. Why do more, unless hypertrophy is of utmost importance? Anyway, you can see that after there’s two major stalls, the program calls for 5×5.

      When progress slows, you can take advantage of increasing the total number of sessions and volume between each increase in the lifts. 5×5 provides the extra stimulus to get stronger when progress slows down, and the extra sessions allows for enough time to adapt/recover from that stimulus.

      Peaking is used for periodization programs, or used to totally milk a program before switching to periodization, and isn’t necessary so early on. Peaking could work when the 5×5 phase of AFLP starts to plateau. At that point, a person using the program should be at least an intermediate level lifter. So, 3×5 -> 5×5 -> peak, would work out.

      Accessory stuff is totally up to you.

      Vanity? Throw in barbell curls and shrugs one day, and skullcrushers and calf raises another day.

      Injury prevention? Glute-ham raises and planks on vertical day, dead-hangs from a pull-up bar and facepulls on horizontal day.

  2. Thanks for the answer! I’m a regular reader of your blog and think you’re really putting out valuable content.
    If, and when, I do switch to barbells I’ll give your program a go. I have to say I’d be tempted to do hip thrusters as one of the accessory exercises.
    If you don’t mind going off topic, I’d love to hear a bit more on your early kettlebell days. What programs etc. did you do?
    I decided to go by the book and started with Program Minimum (did if for almost half a year with some pushups and ab work, which I had started before embarking on the PM), then did a month of EDT (a little treat! loved it), did a month of Simple and Sinister and decided to finally do the RoP. I’ve been doing it for the last four months, but since I started working with the 24 kg bell I seem to have gotten stuck at 4 ladders of 3 rungs. I’ll give myself some time and take things slowly hoping that the stall happened due to some lifestyle related factors (I was focusing on fatloss, so I did spend most of the time in a calorie deficit which maybe responsible for the stall when things got heavy; also, stress at work) that I can correct for, but… What’s your experience with the RoP etc.?

    • Hip thrusters are great.

      I’m a fan of Pavel’s works, but have never read Simple & Sinister or RoP (I actually don’t know what RoP stands for). I’ve read Power to the People, PttP Professional, and Beyond Bodybuilding. everything I learned about kettlebells has been from Youtube videos, forum discussions, articles, and coaches. I do essentially understand Pavel’s hardstyle approach to kettlebells and have followed it.

      I grew interest in KBs and bodyweight training a few years back because I had a large number of injuries. I didn’t take time to learn the hip hinge technique and screwed up my back using kettlebells, which took a year to rehab – I read Dr. McGill’s Ultimate Back Fitness (which Pavel is in, actually), taught myself how to use my hips and lock my spine, did a bunch of core stability work and KB swings, then got into deadlifts and barbell training.

      I used KB deadlifts, RDLs, and swings to strengthen my back during that time, and later on learned the clean, snatch, and Turkish get-up. I used to swing a 16 KG kettlebell for 150+ reps, with sets of 15-20, and later on used a 24 KG kettlebell for sets of 10 in the sub-100 rep range. My training revolves around barbells and some bodyweight movement nowadays, but I still use kettlebells now and again to shake things up.

      As for caloric deficits.. yeah, they slow things down and cause early stalls.

  3. RoP stands for Rite of Passage. Basically the goal of the program is to let you press a bell closest to half your body weight (I weigh 154 pounds, so I should aim for the 70 pound bell, or 77 if there was one!) and snatch the 24 kg bell for 200 reps in 10 minutes. I thought snatching would be the problem, but I do feel it can be done. The pressing though… yawza!
    The training plan features a heavy/light/medium split in which the volume, not weight, varies. You are supposed to go from 3 ladders of 3 rungs on your heavy day across a few weeks all the way to 5 ladders of 5 rungs (that’s from 18 reps to 75) or whenever you can press the next bell up for at least 5 reps. I’m thinking I might have switched to the 24 kg bell too soon (even though I did easily reach the 5/5 goal with the 20 kg bell). Anyway, I’ll see what my next heavy day brings. If I fail to do 4 ladders of 3 rungs I’ll switch to something else (it’s already my second attempt to go through this part after my initial failure to do so and a 1 week off to maybe rest a bit).

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