Minimalist Power and Bulking Routine

5x5 routines
If I told you that it was not only possible for you to make great gains in strength and muscle mass by spending two hours a week in the gym you would probably think I am trying to sell you on the latest fad or gimmick, but in actual fact, that is all the growth stimulation you really need to become larger and stronger – provided it is set up properly and intense.

The vast majority of people who wouldn’t believe this is possible have likely been led to believe that on has to be on one of those typical high volume, high frequency routines that we see in every issue of the most popular muscle magazine. The truth is, that the lion’s share of those routines would constitute overtraining for the average trainer with a fair metabolism. Sure, it’s likely true that everything works for a while, but over time, the body can only handle so much before stagnating. Volume and frequency are two variables with an inverse relation: raising one, means lowering the other.

The volume and frequency are too much and there are typically too many single joint exercises in them as well. A drug free weight trainer (90%+ of those in any given gym at any time) cannot cope with the volume laid out in the average routine laid out by pro, non-naturally trained bodybuilders. (consider Arnold Schwarzenegger’s split routine).

What his books and the magazines alike don’t mention is that he (and most other professional bodybuilders like him) were or are on 3-4 drugs at any given time and didn’t have full-time jobs. There is no way that even the average intermediate trainer can recover from this volume. The routine above is stereotypical of the same ones repeated ad nausem in the main “muscle magazines”: too much of everything, too often, too many needless isolation exercises.

Most people we see in any gym trying to pack on muscle also have “real lives”. Daily work coupled with domestic responsibilities, recreational activities etc., all take their toll on the body’s recovery abilities (and nevermind the huge stress that economic issues causes for the average person). Most pro bodybuilders do little else other than eat, sleep and train. Add drugs to the mix and it is easy to see how following their advice is a sure-fire way to halt your progress and train yourself into the ground. Even some of the most knowledgeable trainers today spend most of their time working with athletes, and often recommend training regimens that are too much for the average trainer who’s nervous system cannot fully recover from them.

Weight training to achieve optimal growth stimulation for the average trainer must be a) reasonably brief, b) intense, and c) infrequent. If you are looking to gain muscle while at the same time priming your metabolism, you must focus on compound multi-joint exercises. Strength training that uses these basic compound exercises is also key to burning body fat and providing the base for “functional strength” that spills over into any athletic activity you do on the side, whether its playing football on the weekends, martial arts, or when its your moving day.

Weight training using heavy compound exercises like squats and deadlifts entails that you need to exercise less frequently because when you increase strength and size, your recovery ability (neurological adaptation) does not increase at quite the same rate, so one needs to keep in mind that proper recovery entails resting the nervous system fully more than it does resting the soft tissues. The maxim “less is more” applies to many things, especially weight training. It is a myth that you need more than one exercise per “bodypart” if you are training heavy with enough intensity. A large part of our efforts are wasted with added sets of uncessary exercises. “Pareto’s Principle”, also called the 80–20 rule, states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the benefits come from 20% of the efforts.

Focusing on progressing your strength on the basic exercises, using compound movements with proper form, eating a slight surplus of calories and protein while limiting empty calories and garbage like refined/processed foods, finding time to rest properly, getting enough sleep, being consistent and most importantly believing in yourself to become the best possible you, coupled with the routine below – is all you need to grow and get stronger more than you ever thought possible. Consistency and intensity of effort, over time, will reap rewards for you that you’ve never thought possible. Its the slow and steady that wins the race.

Why An Upper-Lower Split?

For minimalist training I generally favor an upper lower split for several reasons. One, you are less likely to get overuse injuries, since all the movements which stress the same joints/connective tissues are generally hit on the same days. For example, when doing the lower body day, its squats and deadlifts which will stress the knees and lower back. On upper days, all the heavy bench pressing and overhead press will strain the anterior delts and tricep tendons, respectively. Hitting them all on one day and then having an extended rest period will allow you to hit them harder the next time, because you will have maximized recovery in those areas.

Contrast that with the famous 5×5 routines which have you squatting and benching on one day, and the 48 hours later, you are deadlifting and overhead pressing. See what I mean? Every 48 hours you are nailing the shit out of your tricep tendons, shoulders, knees, and lower back. I favor this type of training for beginners because they a) have better recovery ability since they are usually younger athletes, and b) beginners will typically not be strong enough to be moving serious enough weight to start tearing things.

When you have been training for some years, or are an older trainer starting out, it is highly advisable to use an upper-lower split for the above reasons.


The 2 Day a Week Minimalist Power and Bulking Routine:

Lower – Mondays

Squat – 3×5 (followed by 3×15 with 50% 1RM)
Step-Ups, Split Squats, or Lunges – 3×10
Stiff-legged Deadlift – 3×8 (followed by 2×10 50% 1RM)
Calf Raises 3×15
Hanging Leg Raises (pikes) 3×10


Upper – Thursdays

Close to Medium Grip Bench Press – 3×5 (followed by 3×15 with 50% 1RM)
Overhead Press 3×5 (followed by 3×15 with 50% 1RM)
Kroc Rows (elbow out) 3×15
Pullups or Chinups 3xFailure
DB Curls 3×12


The Parameters:

  • The routine is to be done with a minimum of 2 days off in between sessions, on a one on, two off rotation.
  • 3 sets (so called “working sets”) of 5 reps are to be done, not counting warm-up sets!
  • Where specified, there are 3 sets of 15 done with 50% of your one rep max. These “down sets” will facilitate hypertrophy
  • When it is possible to do a 7th rep on the last set, raise the weight
  • Strive to raise the weight regularly
  • Schedule a “deloading week” every 4th – 6th week, where the weight is dropped 20-25% on every exercise for that week
  • Throw in 2 days a week of energy systems training like skipping, sprinting, running stairs and work on flexibility. It might not be a bad idea to hit yoga 3x a week and then do 15-20 minutes of cardio after.

What to Avoid:

  • Adding exercises. Believe me, there is more than enough work here to build big arms!
  • Adding extra sets and reps. Ditto. There is more than enough here with 3×5 on all the exercises.
  • Not resting enough in between sessions. This routine will work best for most people done on a one on, two off rotation. Especially for old guys like me!

The Benefits:

  • You can expect increase in your basal metabolic rate
  • You will loose bodyfat, getting leaner you gain muscle
  • You will have more free time which will pay off in opportunity cost alone
  • You will notice improved energy levels
  • Being an upper-lower split, you will gain a more proportionate, athletic build
  • You will have more time on your off days to pursue other activities, like energy systems training, GPP, MMA, sports etc. Imagine the shape you would be in doing MMA or other martial arts, boxing or similar 2-3 times a week and hitting the weights with this routine twice a week!


I firmly believe that besides the excellent 5/3/1 routine and the “push/pull/legs” routine, this routine, is the most productive one I have ever used. It is also a perfect program for someone doing another activity on the side, be it cycling, climbing, MMA or whatever.

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22 Responses to Minimalist Power and Bulking Routine

  1. Simon September 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    I’m going to try this program as written. I’m coming back to weight training after not lifting regularly for about 6 months. I have been training kickboxing about 3-5x per week.

    What do you think about adding rest/pause sets instead of the 3×15 @ 50% of 1RM?

  2. admin September 22, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

    I wouldn’t recommend trying to implement rest-pause into this routine on every exercise. maybe try switching the starting order of exercises each week and then applying rest-pause to the first one and 3×15 @ 50% of 1RM for the rest.

    Remember, rest-pause is pretty hard on your nervous system.

  3. robert September 25, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    thank you for posting this routine. i’m a (50yo) beginner in this field and i think i like this one.

    Q1: for the “energy systems training” i’m thinking of (stationary, indoor) rowing – would that be a good idea? if so, how long and on what resistance would you recommend?
    Q2: at what days would you throw in this energy systems training?

    thanks again,

  4. John November 12, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Thanks for posting.
    I will be practicing kickboxing twice weekly and do this program twice weekly with one day for yoga.
    Will I build on this routine?
    BTW my kickboxing sessions are 1 hour non stop(air, bag, pads, and sparring)with yoga lasting 45 minutes.
    Thanks for response!

  5. admin November 16, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    I am looking at this same challenge myself with muay thai twice a week on Tues/Thurs and strength on Fri/Sun. I couldn’t recover from more than that at my age – 51. The muay thai workouts are 1 1/2 hours each of skipping, boot camp conditioning and then bag and pad work etc.

    One approach might be to use what Jim Wendler in 5/3/1 for Powerlifting referred to as the “grey pubes template”. This approach would take the four main exercises: bench, squat, deadlift, and overhead press and do them (with accessories) over a two week period, with only two workouts a week.

    Week one is bench on Monday (with accessories) and squat on Wednesdays (with accessories). Then week two is press on Monday (with accessories) and Deadlift on Wednesday (with accessories). On Thursdays of every week, there is a whole day devoted to mobility, stretching and conditioning.

    I am looking at doing this and am also planning on writing about this in the next few days as well. You can make better progress than ever training two days a week if you do it right.

  6. Tormod December 2, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    I like your program and will give it a go as I think it’ll help me stay stronger running and playing soccer.

    One question though: How much rest do you recommend between sets?

  7. Alex December 5, 2014 at 5:15 am #

    What do you think of doing this routine in a reverse pyramid style?

  8. admin December 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    Alex, I think it is a great way to build mass. One thing you have to be careful with RPT is the increase of injury when you’re getting up to your max quicker.

  9. admin December 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Tormod, I would say 2-3 minutes and its best to vary this. You could also do conditioning like jump rope in between sets, depending on your training environment.

  10. Cris January 3, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

    This looks like something I can consistently do, thank you! For the working set, how much % of 1 Rep Max weight should we use?

  11. admin January 8, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

    Cris, I would say to vary with around 75-80% as a training weight.

  12. Kay January 12, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    Thanks for this solid workout. However, i did it for 4 weeks now and starting to feel that my body is too used to the workout. Do I have to change the workout or add some new exercises?

  13. admin January 12, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    Kay, you could slightly vary the exercises. For eg, change bench to incline, military to standing one-arm dumbbell or seated dumbbell press, dumbbell rows to chins, back squats to front squats or leg press, step up to Bulgarian squat, etc. But keep the volume/parameters the same.

    Find out which alternate compound movements work for you and make two versions of this and switch it up whenever you feel staleness setting in.

  14. Cris January 20, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    Ok thanks! Now in your plan is the lunges working set fine to do with just the empty bar?
    Pull-ups are fine with just bodyweight on your plan?

    And how much weight should I use on the barbell with the calf raises? Also is it alright to do them on flat surface or do I need to do them off an edge?

  15. paul July 6, 2015 at 11:52 am #


    which routine to choose Minimalist Power and Bulking Routine
    or Training For The Older Trainer for better gains


  16. Rory July 13, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    This is the most sound workout routine I’ve found that is both intense and could easily fit into a busy lifestyle.

    One question about the “Upper” work out: Will the whole back be worked in the routine? I didn’t see an exercise that focused on the lower back, please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Thanks for the article, interesting stuff.

  17. J0ker July 27, 2015 at 4:10 am #

    Hmm so your doing only 1 chest excersice, 1 shoulder excersice, only 1 direct biceps excersice, no direct triceps excersice etc PER WEEK. I dont think that will build any muscles. Your muscles are also rested 2 days later and after that they will start becoming weaker.

    Think it would be a lot better if you do 2x the lower parts en 2x the upper parts. And with 2 excersices per body part instead of only 1. Then you have still 1 full rest day!

  18. HDH October 9, 2015 at 8:03 pm #

    Anyway I could incluse traditional deadlift?

  19. admin October 20, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

    HDH, sure you could. You could sub conventional, sumo, RDL, SDL, hex bar deadlift.

  20. Jordi November 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

    in the exercise of 12-15 repetitions of weight is 75/80 % 1RM ? And also breaks 2/3 minutes ?


  21. Matt November 16, 2015 at 8:58 am #

    This routine looks great. One question: What do you mean when you can get a 7th rep, increase the weight? Does that mean the third set of 3×5 should actually be done for as many reps as possible (not just 5 reps), and when you can get 7 reps or more, you increase the weight next time?

  22. admin December 19, 2015 at 1:08 am #

    Matt, sorry for the delay – yes, that’s it!

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