A Simple Strength Template

When I was first exposed to quality programs for strength, the first thing that struck me was how few exercises were recommended. I was used to programs that recommended 10-15 exercises per session. These strength templates proposed 3-5. There are some good reasons for this. First, when building strength the focus should be on free weight exercises that challenge the entire body as a unit. Second, training for strength is about quality work. One would be hard pressed to put real effort, quality, and time into 10 different exercises in one day. A very simple way to structure a strength training workout is to schedule 3 primary movements: a squat, a press, and a pull.

The Squat is arguably the best exercise one can perform in training. As such, it is essential for strength development. The average trainee will most benefit from the Barbell Back Squat. This can be used as the only squat throughout a training week with no regrets. However, there are some other options depending on the person. For beginners, a Dumbbell or Kettlebell Goblet Squat (where you hold the implement in your hands tight to the chest) may be the best option to start. If someone isn't ready to squat a 45 lb bar, or if they don't have the shoulder mobility to but a barbell on their back, this option is best. Along those lines, if a trainee has built enough strength for the bar but still lacks some shoulder mobility, a Safety-Bar Squat may be the next step. The Front Squat can be a good change-up for those who want to emphasize the Quads more during the exercise. Regardless of the person, progressing to or using the Back Squat is the ideal scenario.

Pressing exercises are great for development of the Pecs, Delts, and Triceps. For those who want to keep it simple, rotating the Bench Press and the Overhead Press will yield quality results. Other options mainly include variations of these basic movements. For bench, using a close-grip version will place more emphasis on the triceps. Dumbbell Bench Press demands more neuromuscular coordination and shoulder stability as there are now two implements to press instead of one. A Push Press will allow you to overload the delts by adding hip and knee extension to the movement. The Incline Bench Press is another good variation, specifically for those who are looking to build the upper chest musculature.

A trainee's greatest flexibility in exercise selection will likely lie with pulling exercises. The Conventional or Sumo Deadlift should be the number one option in each program. Unlike the Squat, the Deadlift creates a lot more stress and can be trained for as little as once a week with good results. Pull-ups and Chin-ups are two great exercises to focus more on the Lats, Biceps, and Delts. They can be done using only bodyweight, or with weight added to a belt. Barbell and Dumbbell rows are another good way to develop the same muscles and can be used on a day in place of the deadlift. For those focused on power or athletic ability, using the power versions of the Olympic Lifts (Clean & Snatch) can be a great option.

You can add some variety in terms of the order. Squatting first can warm the body up for pressing and pulling, but can also affect performance on the pressing exercise when weights get heavy. In that case, pressing before squatting could be ideal. Pulling is often best performed last (especially deadlift), but think of that as a guideline and not a hard rule. When the goal is development of strength or general fitness, using these exercises and template will yield quality work, more efficient sessions, and great results.