The best strength training programs are the Beginner Strength Template by Barbell Medicine for beginners or those who are returning to training after a long break, the Strength I and Powerbuilding I Template for intermediate lifters, and the Low Fatigue Strength Template for more advanced lifters.
Of note, we’re using the terms “intermediate” and “advanced” to refer to the amount of time an individual has been lifting for and not any particular level of strength performance. We acknowledge that others may use these terms in different ways, but feel that they do not accurately predict an individual’s strength or how quickly they’re likely to see results. Rather, the terms are most useful in describing how long an individual has been lifting weights.
Exercise is a specific type of physical activity that is planned, repetitive, and structured to improve or maintain health and fitness. Health is the ability to adapt and self-manage in the face of social, physical, and emotional challenges, whereas fitness is a set of attributes that are related to this ability via performance and/or skills. [1,2]
There are more than a few reasons to use exercise to improve your fitness: better general health outcomes, improve weight management via weight loss or maintenance, to improve strength, to build muscle, to support your overall emotional and mental well-being, and/or to improve overall body composition. Strength training is a type of exercise that can positively support all of these outcomes. 
In this article, we’ll take you through how strength training works, why it’s great for your body, and share a collection of four handpicked workout programs that can help you get started — or get ahead in your strength training journey.
|Program||Beginner Template||Strength I Template||Low Fatigue Strength Template||Powerbuilding I Template|
|Duration||12+ Weeks||13 weeks||16+ weeks||10 weeks|
|Suggested Equipment||-Barbells, dumbbells, or machines||-Lifting shoes -Cross-training sneakers -Lifting belt -Barbell -Squat rack -Bench||-Lifting shoes -Cross-training sneakers -Lifting belt -Barbell -Squat rack -Bench||-Lifting shoes -Cross-training sneakers -Lifting belt -Barbell -Squat rack -Bench|
|Workouts Per Week||3-5||3-5||3-6||3-5|
|Main Focus||Strength and conditioning||Increasing strength in the Big Three powerlifts (Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift)||Strength and conditioning||Increasing strength in the Big Three powerlifts (Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift) and hypertrophy|
|Best For||Beginners or lifters returning from a long break.||Intermediate lifters (3+ months of experience)||Advanced lifters (12+ months of experience)||Intermediate lifters (3+ months of experience)|
Strength training, by nature, is a vigorous form of exercise that can do wonders for our bodies— if done right. However, the wrong training program may not produce the results you want, making it extremely important to work with professionals who know exactly what they’re doing.
This is where our team can help. We understand that the variables making up the right training program may differ from one person to another to fit their individual needs. 
At Barbell Medicine, we follow a science-based approach to nutrition and training, and we’ve got a team of licensed professionals who are ready to plan out your programs, make adjustments according to your current needs, and offer any sort of help you need along the way. We make sure to follow up on the latest developments in sports science, and all of our programs are evidence-based. And we’ve got the results to show for that.
But don’t take it from us. Hear it firsthand from our ever-growing family. Log onto our forum or follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to join our community of fitness enthusiasts and see what others have to say. You could also check out our YouTube channel, where we keep our viewers up to date with the latest developments in sports science.
To train mindfully, you should be aware of your current fitness level, goals, and needs before picking a strength program to proceed with. So, we want to introduce some of our finest strength training programs, each aimed at a different fitness level and ultimate goal.
Don’t worry if none of these seem to be the right fit for you — we also provide personalized strength training programs that can be tailored to your preferences and needs.
The Beginner Template by Barbell Medicine is aimed at three specific groups of lifters:
- Beginners who have less than three to six months of weightlifting experience.
- Lifters returning to strength training from an extended layoff of four or more weeks.
- Lifters returning to strength training after an injury recovery period of four weeks or more.
This program includes a training template, as well as a 25-page manual and 35 pages of content on health, programming, and specific performance outcomes such as strength, hypertrophy and cardiorespiratory fitness.
The Beginner Strength Template contains three different programs (e.g., blocks) that build upon each other. Each block can last anywhere from 4- to 12 weeks, depending on how an individual responds to the programming. Each block allows the individual to tailor the program to their preferences and needs by selecting their own exercises.
There are three days of strength training containing three daily exercises aimed at training the entire body, and two separate conditioning workouts to improve cardiorespiratory fitness that can be performed after the lifting is completed or on separate days. The program also includes one or two days of optional general physical preparedness (GPP) exercises to target the arms, core, and upper back.
The Strength I Template by Barbell Medicine is a strength and conditioning program designed to cater to people who would like to improve their strength in the “Big Three” powerlifting exercises, e.g., the squat, bench press, and deadlift. We’ve designed this program for lifters who have some experience (three months or more) with lifting barbells. It includes a 13-week training program that builds to a testing week where the lifter will test their 1-Repetition Maximum on the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Each week includes three lifting workouts and two GPP days comprised of conditioning and direct arm, upper back, and core work. The GPP workouts can be performed after a lifting session or on separate days.
The Strength I Template is great for those who would like to focus purely on powerlifting, however, if you’re a seasoned lifter, don’t expect to see dramatic physical development from using this program. If bodybuilding is one of your goals, we suggest you pair this template with an hypertrophy-focused program, such as Hypertrophy I, or a powerbuilding program such as Powerbuilding I Template.
If you’re a more advanced lifter looking for a customizable and evidence-based program, this one is the one for you. The Low Fatigue Strength Training Template is a program that has been carefully crafted using the latest research in exercise science and has been tested on over 1,000 lifters. It’s best for individuals who have a significant history of training (12 months or more) and who are looking to maximize their strength performance using a lower fatigue approach. But just what does “lower fatigue approach” mean?
Fatigue represents the subjective experience of negative exercise-induced changes in the individual such as muscular soreness, muscle damage, reduced force production, tiredness, etc. The main components of a program that determine how much fatigue is generated are the volume (sets and reps), the intensity (weight lifted), and how close each set is taken to failure. In general, fatigue goes up as these variables increase.
Managing fatigue is the bedrock of proper exercise programming, as too much fatigue tends to reduce performance and increase the risk of injury, whereas too little fatigue tends to occur when the program doesn’t generate enough stress to actually improve fitness. Similar to Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we want to get the stress and fatigue just right for the individual.
Prior to the creation of this template, the science on improving strength convincingly showed that higher intensity training generated greater strength gains than lower intensity training.  Additionally, there appeared to be a dose-dependent relationship between training volume and strength improvement, where higher volume programs tended to produce more strength gains, provided the intensity was sufficient. [6,7] However, when sets are taken closer to failure, the amount of fatigue generated is much higher than when we stay further away from failure. [8,9]
This led to multiple studies comparing exercise programs with the same volume, same intensity, but different proximities to failure, which have shown that the improvements in strength and hypertrophy are actually greater in compound lifts like the squat and bench press when the subjects stayed further away from failure. [10-13] Due to this emerging evidence, we formulated the Low Fatigue Templates.
This program offers a lot of variety, as it includes four different 16-week strength and conditioning templates with three blocks of programming. These templates are as follows:
- 3-Day per week Low Intraset Fatigue Template
- 3-Day per week Medium Intraset Fatigue Template
- 4-Day per week Low Intraset Fatigue Template
- 4-Day per week Medium Intraset Fatigue Template
While the medium ISF templates are slightly more intense than the low ISF templates, both are optimized to help you achieve maximum strength enhancement while keeping fatigue at lower levels by training away from muscular failure. The best part of this program is, that once purchased, you will receive lifetime updates free of charge. The program also comes with an 80-page eBook on programming theory and design, as well as tips on overcoming plateaus and managing progress.
If you want to build strength while increasing muscle size, this program may be the right fit. The Powerbuilding I template is one of the more entry level ones on our list, but we’d still recommend it to those who have at least three months of experience with lifting.
The Powerbuilding I Template is a 10-week program that was designed as a fusion of powerlifting and bodybuilding training. It includes three lifting workouts consisting of both strength- and hypertrophy-focused exercises and rep schemes, along with two GPP workouts that include conditioning and direct arm, upper back, and core work. The GPP workouts can be performed after a lifting session or on separate days.
Strength training, also known as resistance training, is a type of exercise where the muscles of the body create force via contraction against a load or weight. The load or weight may be external or internal to the individual, e.g. barbell (external) or body-weight (internal) exercises.
Strength is defined as the amount of force produced measured in a specific context. For example, a powerlifter completing a heavy 1-Rep-Maximum (1RM) squat is displaying force production in one context (e.g. a maximal, single-effort squat) whereas a gymnast or shot-put thrower is displaying force production in a different context. In sum, there are many different types of strength that are linked together by the common feature of muscular force production.
All of what we mentioned so far are the basics of strength training. But what’s the science behind it? There are a few biological phenomena that occur as our bodies build strength. Let’s find out what those are.
For strength training to work, multiple, complex adaptations must occur across many tissues including the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, muscle, tendons, and bones.
It all starts with muscular contraction, where the muscle produces enough force to overcome the resistance and move it through the desired range of motion. In order to generate enough force to lift the weight, the brain sends a signal to the muscles to contract, which results in muscle fibers shortening through actin-myosin crossbridge production.
The actin-myosin crossbridges are at the core of muscle contractions and, by sliding past each other, allow us to produce the force necessary to (hopefully) overcome the resistance. As its name suggests, an actin-myosin crossbridge is a compound of two proteins; actin and myosin.
- Actin is the protein that the thin filaments within muscle tissue are composed of.
- Myosin is the protein that makes up the thick filaments between muscle tissue.
When a muscle is activated by the signal from the brain, the proteins in these filaments react with each other, creating crossbridges.  To improve strength performance we need to improve muscular force production. To do that, we need to form more crossbridges in a coordinated way and have them transfer force more efficiently to the bones to cause movement.
From a muscle loading perspective, we need to make sure we use enough weight so that the muscles are required to produce high amounts of force in an efficient manner. We know that heavier loads (e.g. higher intensity) does this better than low loads.  This is somewhere around the 60 to 70% of someone’s 1-Repetition Maximum (1RM), though even heavier loads (> 90% 1RM) should be used to improve maximal strength. 
Repetitions that are too light do not require the muscles to form more crossbridges in an efficient way. But with the appropriate amount of resistance, muscle contractions will occur in a manner that builds strength over time.
Another factor that allows our bodies to build strength is muscle fiber recruitment, which is the phenomenon that occurs when our nervous system recruits motor units.
Motor units consist of a single motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers they activate. All muscle groups contain motor units that come in a variety of sizes, and the smaller motor units are always activated first. As the mechanical load increases, the movement starts demanding more force, which is when bigger motor units are activated. This is referred to as Henneman’s size principle.
While it may seem logical that heavier loads require more motor unit recruitment than lighter loads, recent evidence suggests that during dynamic movements, most motor units are recruited similarly during both light (<50% 1RM) and heavy (>85%) efforts.  For example, one study showed that there was similar activation of the quad muscles when doing single repetitions at loads ranging from 50% to 90% of a 1RM squat.  Rather, the major difference between lighter and heavier efforts does not appear to be the amount of muscle mass used, but rather how frequently they get the signal to contract, which is known as rate coding. 
When the muscle is continually trained, the nervous system sends the signal to the motor units to contract more frequently, which both recruits more motor units total and increases the force each one produces. This allows the muscle to react better to increasing mechanical loads through a process called neuromuscular adaptation.
Lifting weights at challenging loads generates a strong signal within the muscle to make more muscle, a process called muscle protein synthesis. Increases in muscle protein synthesis rates are helpful in repairing the muscle protein breakdown that occurs with resistance training. When more muscle protein is being synthesized than broken down, muscle size increases, which is called muscle hypertrophy.
In humans, muscle size can change by altering the number of muscle fibers or the size of existing muscle fibers.  Increasing the number of muscle fibers is termed hyperplasia, whereas an increase or decrease in the sizeof existing muscle fibers is called hypertrophyor atrophy, respectively. At present, hyperplasia has not yet been demonstrated in adults, rather changes in muscle size over a lifetime appears to be the result of hypertrophy and atrophy. [18, 19]
While some believe that muscle protein breakdown from lifting weights is key to causing the muscle to grow, the scientific evidence shows that very little muscle growth takes place when levels of muscle protein breakdown are high. Instead, muscle growth seems to mostly happen when relatively little muscle protein breakdown occurs from training.  Reduced levels of muscle protein breakdown from exercise occur if the program is well-suited to the individual’s, e.g. not too much or not too little stress, and as they get used to the demands of the program.
All of these phenomena play into the strengthening of the muscle. However, there is a specific set of factors that a training program must have to help lifters achieve the maximum amount of strength. We’ll now look into a few of them.
Strength training is heavily reliant on consistently challenging the body with a training load that matches the individual’s current fitness level, goals, and resources. The responses to training are heavily influenced by genetics, but not so much by age or sex based on current evidence. For example, one study looked at how men and women ages 19 to 78 responded to the same 6-month lifting program. Some people got a lot stronger, improving their strength by 60%, while some others actually lost strength (-8%) when following the same program. The response to the training programs varied independently of the sexor age of the subjects. 
Individuals respond uniquely to exercise, which is why applying the same programs to everyone would be unreasonable at best and detrimental at worst. If you are considering a strength training program, it’s essential that you get help from a licensed professional first — but more on that later.
We’ve mentioned that building strength requires continually challenging our muscles, and this is achieved through what we call progressive loading. In other words, as people get stronger, the weight or reps completed must increase to match this improvement so that all the biological phenomena are signaled to improve strength.
While challenging the muscle is crucial to building strength, we can’t force strength gains to occur. Rather, the weight we lift week-to-week should track with an individual’s performance potential. On days where someone is feeling strong, adding weight is likely the right call in order to match their current uptick in performance. On days where someone is not performing as well, reducing the load would be the move in order to match their current performance potential. We call this autoregulation.
In addition to matching the training to what the individual needs based on real-time feedback, there are a few techniques that can help with recovery and adaptation rates.
Here are some that can help us get back on our feet in a shorter period:
- Getting at least 6-8 hours of sleep daily.
- Taking 30-minute naps, especially on days when we feel particularly fatigued. The usefulness of a nap can vary by individual, so be mindful if it works for you or if it disrupts your normal sleep. Either way, don’t nap too long or too close to your normal sleep period. 
- Having a nutritious and balanced diet.
- Consuming enough protein to support muscle protein synthesis.
- Managing stress and mood.
- Autoregulating training using real-time feedback during exercise. Some days will be lighter- a type of active recovery day where training is lighter- and other days will be heavier.
Remember, building strength doesn’t happen overnight, and can only be achieved through continually putting the right amount of stress on our muscles and allowing them to adapt over time. For individuals who are new to the world of strength training, or who don’t have the necessary amount of knowledge to create the perfect program, this can be a lot to handle.
This is why we stress how crucial it is to get help from licensed professionals. So, this brings us to our next point— how can Barbell Medicine assist you in your strength training journey?
Obviously, enhancing our physical strength is a massive benefit on its own, but the advantages of following a strength training program don’t stop there. Strength training has the potential to offer a variety of physical and mental health benefits
This is the area that strength training specifically targets, and as so it is the area in which an individual will experience the most benefit. However, when we think of muscle strength, we shouldn’t only consider a muscle group’s ability to create maximal force in the gym. In fact, strength training has proven to improve power, endurance, and speed as well, in accordance with muscle adaptation and development. [24,25]
Participation in strength training has long been associated with lowering the risk of many health issues such as type II diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.  It also appears that individuals who get stronger seem to have greater improvements in health compared to those who still lift, but don’t get as strong. [26,27]
While a strength-focused training program is unlikely to increase muscle size as much as a hypertrophy-focused program, strength training does drive large improvements in muscle size when programmed appropriately, especially in someone new to lifting.
Strength training can improve cardiorespiratory fitness in those with lower levels of aerobic capacity, as well as improve performance in endurance-based sports. [25,28] Getting stronger also lowers resting blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Strength training can strengthen bones and promote bone growth, which is crucial for individuals who are at risk of osteoporosis, such as menopausal women. 
It is well-known that strength training increases muscle mass, reduces risk of weight regain, and tends to reduce waist circumference by reducing abdominal fat.  Exercise training also appears to increase many individuals’ sensitivity to feelings of fullness when eating, thereby potentially helping with weight maintenance or loss. 
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common disabling conditions related to joint pain. It most often affects the knees, hips, and hands of middle-aged and older individuals.
Strength training tends to produce clinically significant improvements in muscle strength, functional ability, and pain scores, even in patients with advanced disease  Additionally, starting to lift earlier seems to not only reduce loss of strength associated with osteoarthritis, but also slows down or even stops progression of the disease. 
Regular strength training has been proven to reduce the risks or symptoms of some mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. These effects seem to occur regardless if the individuals actually get stronger, but rather a different mechanism that’s currently unknown. [30, 31]
Strength training has also been proven to improve sleep quality in individuals, which is a huge plus, as getting enough sleep is pivotal to having good mental health. 
Anyone could benefit from becoming stronger. One obvious advantage would be the ability to perform daily tasks, such as carrying heavy objects or opening stubborn jar lids easily (which is a total flex, in our opinion).
But jokes aside, strength training hosts a myriad of benefits for all groups of people, regardless of age, sex, and fitness level. From helping individuals with mood stability issues or anxiety to allowing us to age better, strength training is an enjoyable and healthy solution to many health issues.
We’d also like to stress that although strength training has historically been perceived as a masculine sport, women can benefit from strength training even more than men, as it reduces the risk of skeletal problems such as osteoporosis, which many women face as they get older.
So, there are really no who’s and how’s when it comes to starting strength training, but only when’s. And our answer to that is, what better time than now?
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