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5 Best Strength Training Barbell Programs for Insane Gains

This extensive guide will help you pack on muscle and size, get stronger and program strength cycles into your own training. Which one will you try?

An extensive breakdown of 5 important strength training programs that have all helped many different athletes get exceptionally strong.


Who is it useful for?

Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program is a classic example of a beginner weight training workout routine. However, it can also benefit athletes who are not exactly new to the gym.

Newbie: If you’re a beginner or recently started, then this program is right for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re an aspiring lifter or don’t care about being strong. You still need a base of strength and technique to get huge.

Weakling: Do you consider yourself to be beyond the beginner weight training level, but just can’t seem to gain much strength? If yes, then this program can definitely help jumpstart your strength gains and catch you up to where you should be, relative to how long you have been training.

Frustrated: Disappointed with a lack of results from your routine? If so, then this program can get you out of the slump and on your way to the big guys. The typical routines work for the guys who look like what you want to look like. They can only do so much for less advanced lifters.

Programs for Muscle

Machinist. Probably you won´t find yourself in a Crossfit box but in a gym. When you have been training for a while, but never really focused on the major compound exercises, more you’ve been doing a lot of machine/nautilus exercises or isolation movements, then you’re limiting your potential. Starting Strength will help you gain dense muscle and functional strength.

Comeback. This is the most interesting part for a Crossfitter. Are you a seasoned vet who’s coming back from an extended break? Whatever your reasons for taking a layoff from pumping iron (injury, midlife crisis, baby mama issues, etc.), Starting Strength is a safe and effective workout routine for getting back to your previous glory.

female crossfitter squatting strength and conditioning
Squatting creates a powerful foundation for building strength


The letter “x” represents a rest day.  The letters “A” and “B” are workouts described below.  So, for example, the first week of workouts shown directly below is “AxBxAxx”, which means do workout A on Monday, rest on Tuesday, do workout B on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, Do workout A on Friday, and rest on the weekend.

Muscle Fuel

For the first 2-3 weeks:

AxBxAxx BxAxBxx AxBxAxx

  • A=3×5 squat, 3×5 press, 1×5 deadlift
  • B= 3×5 squat, 3×5 bench press, 3×5 Power Clean
  • x= rest day

Then, for 2-3 weeks do this:

AxBxAxx BxAxBxx AxBxAxx

  • A= squat, press, deadlift
  • B= squat bench press, power clean
  • x= rest day

For the remainder of the 6-9 months, do this:

AxBxAxx BxAxBxx AxBxAxx

  • A= squat, press, deadlift or power clean
  • B= squat, bench press, back extensions, chinups or pullups
  • x= rest day


Who is it useful for?

The 5/3/1 strength training program can be used for all experience levels but is generally recommended for intermediate athletes.

If you are looking for short training sessions, and slow but steady progress, then 5/3/1/ might be great for you. Jim believes starting light allows a lifter more room to progress forward.

CrossFit EMOMs

powerlifting deadlifts by mikko salo and annie thorisdottir strength and conditioningSource: CrossFit Inc
build that strength!

Brand new lifters are usually able to progress more quickly from a beginner routine due to practicing the lifts more frequently. Advanced lifters can benefit from its long term training focus.


  • Week 1: 3×5 (3 sets of 5 reps)
  • Week 2: 3×3 (3 sets of 3 reps)
  • Week 3: 3×5, 3, 1 (1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps, and 1 set of 1 rep)
  • Week 4: Deloading (3 sets of 5 reps)
  • Once the cycle (4 weeks) is completed you will start your next cycle using heavier weights.

 You train 3 to 4 times per week with this strength training program.

5/3/1 has you do one of four workouts on your training days:

  1. Squat and assistance work.
  2. Bench Press and assistance work.
  3. Deadlift and assistance work.
  4. Overhead Press and assistance work.
Overhead PressDeadlift
Assistance WorkAssistance Work
Bench PressSquat
Assistance WorkAssistance Work

When choosing your beginning weights you must first know your maxes for the main 4 lifts

Set 165% x 570% x 375% x 540% x 5
Set 275% x 580% x 385% x 350% x 5
Set 385% x 5+90% x 3+95% x 1+60% x 5


Who does it work for?

People with time! Training sessions can least 2 hours or more.

Lifters with a “Burgener” Style. Lifters that prefer other methods (Catapult etc) can struggle with this.

Coach Mike Burgener’s generic beginner program is the starting point for most of Mike’s programming for his own lifters. Exercises will change on a daily basis to fit what the lifter most needs to work on and to take into account individual variation.

crossfit girl emom workouts outside beachSource: RX'd Photography
Stay strong!


Four days split

  • Day 1 largely devoted to the Snatch and derivative exercises
  • Day 2 to the Clean & Jerk
  • Day 3 to power snatch and assistance exercises

Day 4 as a max out for the competition lifts.

Mike Burgener strength training programSource: alltheheavylifting
The breakdown for each day

One aspect of Burgener’s program that sets it apart from other beginner programs is that it makes use of 3-position snatch and cleans. It also includes assistance exercises like snatch-grip shrugs. Burgener heavily emphasises the “jump and shrug” in his preferred technique.

Sets and reps generally involve five sets of triples for the main lifts and power variants and five sets of five for most of the strength lifts.
Weights used are left to the lifter/coach. Coach Burgener says that he often increases the load one week and drops it back a bit the following week before increasing again.

  • Front Squats are performed on Day 1 at 3×5 and back squats on Day 2 at 5×5.
  • Overhead squats are done as part of a complex with snatch-grip push presses on Day 3.
  • Max back squats may also be performed on Day 4.

Coach Burgener’s template is very much a jumping-off point for individualisation and exercises will generally vary from week to week depending on the trainee’s needs. However, he notes that many lifters and coaches have seen impressive gains just sticking to the generic program as laid out.


Who does it work for?

Beginners to intermediate. It is the next logical step after Starting Strength.

Very easy strength training program to follow but can be taxing both mentally and physically if followed for a prolonged period. Concentrated Sessions can least two hours or longer.

cara sigmundsdottir crossfit athlete overhead walking lungeSource: RX'd Photography
We all start as rookies, even the top pros


5×5 includes two progressively heavier warm-up sets and three sets at the same weight

When you can complete the last 3×5 at a given weight, increase the weight on all five sets 5-10 pounds. Test for one-rep max at the end of each phase of the strength training program.


 Train three days per week for three months

  • 45-degree back extension 3×10
  • Back squat 5×5
  • Bench press 5×5
  • Deadlift 5×5

Rest 3-5 minutes between the last 3 sets of each exercise.


Train three days per week for three months.

  • 45-degree back extension 3-4×10
  • Front squat 5×5
  • Back squat 5×5
  • Bench press 5×5
  • Standing barbell shoulder press 5×5
  • High pull 5×5
  • Deadlift 5×5
  • Standing barbell calf raise 5×25

Rest 2 minutes between sets.


Train three days per week for three months.

  • 45-degree back extension 4×10
  • Front squat 5×5
  • Back squat 5×5
  • Standing barbell shoulder press 5×5
  • Bench press 5×5
  • Bent-over barbell row 5×5
  • Deadlift 5×3
  • Behind-the-neck press or one-arm dumbbell press 5×5
  • Barbell curl 5×5
  • Lying triceps extension 5×8
  • Standing barbell calf raise 5×25

Rest 2 minutes between sets.


Who is it suitable for?

Beginners. The program is simple, reflecting John’s reductive approach to training. It describes the methodology as essentially ‘Bulgarian’ meaning that the lifter focuses on the competition lifts and squatting to max.

First the back squat is mastered at which point the clean is introduced, followed by the snatch. Once the lifts are learned, the athlete performs the snatch, clean & jerk, military press and front squat every day three days a week.

Dmitry Klokov with a Split Jerk Barbell liftSource: BOXROX
Klokov the beast


The rep scheme is equally non-complicated – eight sets of doubles for the snatch and 8 sets of doubles for the clean & jerk. Weights used should be as much as the lifter can handle and maintain good technique, with small increases each session so long as form remains consistently good.

dan john strength trainingSource: alltheheavylifting
Breakdown of the structure

The strength training program highlights front squatting but assumes the ability to perform a deep back squat. Front squats are done for five sets of five and loading follows the same progression scheme as the Olympic lifts, though could be modified to a volume/intensity model depending on the lifter’s level. Presses are performed for five sets of three.

The strength training program can be done for as long as the lifter continues to make progress, though it is possible that some beginners may crave more variety sooner rather than later. But for the same reason, it could get boring after a while and concentration on the lifts could sink. Also, the missing back squats are something a Crossfiter should not face at value.

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