How many guys do you know who go to the gym regularly but still make no progress? They get to a certain level and stay there. Forever. As hard as it is to admit it, you may be one of them.

The problem is usually because the same things that worked when you were a beginner don’t work anymore—you can’t just add weight to the bar every week or go to failure. The solution is to alternate heavy lifting with weeks when you use lighter loads for more reps. Follow our plan for 5-10 weeks, and start breaking barriers again.

How it works: Lighter loads and more volume (sets x reps x load) provide a hard workout without being too stressful, and they help you recover after weeks of highly intense training (low-rep sets with heavy weights). So you’re getting the best of both worlds in this program—big pumps one week and big weights the next.

On volume weeks, the weights will feel easy, since you’re coming off a week of heavy training. On intensity weeks, you’ll feel strong and focused because you’ll have to work up to only one or two hard sets. This back-and-forth undulation not only keeps your muscles guessing and prevents overtraining, it also provides a mental break and makes training more fun.

Find your number: A lifter conservatively assumes his bench press max is 235lbs. Based on the chart, that gives him an eight-rep max of around 190lbs (80% of 235). In Week 1, a volume week, he’ll use 85% of 190—which is 160lbs—for all his sets. In Week 2, an intensity week, he’ll use percentages of his one-rep max (235lbs).

Frequency: Perform each workout (Day 1, 2, and 3) once per week.

Time needed: 45 minutes

How to do it: Perform the exercise pairs (marked A and B) as alternating sets. Complete one set of A, rest, then one set of B, rest again, and repeat until all sets are complete. Do the remaining exercises as straight sets.

Day 1

Exercise 1

Bench Press

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Exercise 2a

Off-Set Split Squat

Sets: 3 Reps: 10 (each side)

Hold a dumbbell with your left hand at shoulder level, standing with your right foot in front of your left. Keeping your torso upright, bend both knees and lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor.

Exercise 2b

Dumbbell Push Press

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder-level. Dip your knees, and then explosively straighten your legs and press the weights overhead using the momentum from your lower body.

Exercise 3a

Staggered Stance Bentover

Sets: 3 Reps: 15 (Each Side)

Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, and stand with your left leg in front of the right (your weight should be on your front leg). Bend forward at the hips, and, with your back arched, row the dumbbell to your side.

Exercise 3b

Cable Woodchop

Sets: 3 Reps: 15 (Each Side)

Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of a cable station. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and split your legs so that one foot is a few feet in front of the other. Rotate your torso diagonally downward until the handle ends up at the outside of your opposite leg.

Day 2

Exercise 1

Deadlift

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, bend down, and grab the bar outside your knees. Your shoulders should be over the bar. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, drive your heels into the floor and push your hips forward, lifting the bar until it’s in front of your thighs.

Exercise 2a

Cable Row

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Sit at a cable station with your knees slightly bent, and your feet braced. Keep your lower back in its natural arch, and grab the handle with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and pull the bar until it meets your lower chest.

Exercise 2b

High-incline Dumbbell Press

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Set an adjustable bench to a steep incline (until the back rest is almost vertical). Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder-level, and sit back against it. Press the weights straight up.

Exercise 3a

Single-leg RDL Row

Sets: 3 Reps: 15 (Each Side)

Hold a handle attached to the low pulley of a cable station in your right hand. Balance on one foot. Keeping the arch in your lower back, bend at your hips and lower your torso. Extend your hips to come back up, and then row the cable to your side.

Exercise 3b

Swiss Ball Punch

Sets: 3 Reps: 15

Rest your forearms on a Swiss ball, and spread your feet out behind you so your body forms a straight line. Extend your arms, rolling the ball forward.

 

Day 3

Exercise 1a

Front Squat

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Start with the barbell on the supports of a power rack at about shoulder-height. Grab the bar overhand, and raise your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Now lift the bar off the rack, letting it roll toward your fingers—as long as you keep your elbows raised, you will balance the bar. Squat as low as you can.

Exercise 1b

Reardelt Flye

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Set an adjustable bench to 45°, and lie facedown on it with a dumbbell in each hand. Your thumbs should touch. Raise your arms straight out to your sides, so your thumbs face the floor at the top.

Exercise 2a

Front Squat

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width grip, and, keeping your lower back arched, bend over until your torso is parallel to the floor and the bar is resting on the floor. Row the bar to your belly, and return it to the floor after each rep.

Exercise 2b

Off-Set Swiss Ball Press

Sets: 3 Reps: 10 (each side)

Hold a dumbbell in one hand, and lie back on a Swiss ball. Bracing your abs for balance, press the weight over your chest.

Exercise 3a

Close-grip Pulldown

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

Sit at a pulldown station, and grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands inside shoulder-width. Pull the bar straight down to your collarbone.

Exercise 3b

Swiss Ball Knee Drive

Sets: 3 Reps: 15

Set up as you did for the Swiss ball punch, but keep your arms steady and drive one knee at a time up to the ball and back. Keep your balance, and brace your core.