I have devised a resistance training program designed to improve health, strength, muscle size, connective tissue health and encourage skeletal integrity and stability. I provide it for free to all my faithful readers. While the name may seem like something you see stamped on a generic pharmaceutical, it perfectly represents the basic ideology behind the architecture of this plan, for you will alternate Upper and Lower body movements, working in a strategic range of repetitions between 8 and 3.
The masterwork you will find here is composed of the most effective concepts I have found and utilized in over a decade of researching and experimenting in training with weights for the sole purpose of getting stronger and looking and feeling better. This is not a program designed for a sport of any particular stripe, nor to make you more athletic or more intelligent, but rather something to get you as strong and muscular as you can get. All that is required is a basic understanding of how to perform the lifts. If you’re unsure on any of them, Google is your friend. Your current strength level is irrelevant: you can still do UL83. Male, female, young, old, infant: you can still do UL83.
First, what you can expect. You can and should expect to enjoy yourself, have enough variety to stave off boredom and loneliness, and to make incremental progress in strength, which will pay off by allowing your body to add muscle to your frame to the extent that the DNA you got from your parents will provide. Pursue improvements in the lifts and your body will adapt. You will become a more muscular and fitter you. Train for strength, diet for health and body composition, and you will be pleased with the results.
These are the lifts that will form the structure of the plan:
Upper Body lifts:
- Bench Press
- Paused Bench Press
- Bench Press off Pins
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Paused Close Grip Bench Press
- Incline Bench Press
- Paused Incline Bench Press
- Weighted Dips
- Overhead Press
- Behind the Neck Press
- Behind the Neck Push Press
- Snatch-grip Behind the Neck Press
- Pendlay Rows
- T-Bar Rows
- Barbell Shrugs
- Pull-up’s ¹
Lower Body Lifts
- Paused Squats
- Bottom position Pin Squats
- Front Squats
- Paused Front Squats
- Bottom Position Pin Front Squats
- Conventional Deadlifts
- Paused Conventional Deadlifts
- Sumo Deadlifts
- Deficit Deadlifts
- Sumo Block Pulls
- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
- Rack Pulls from below the Knee
- Linear Progression
- RPE’s (Rate of Perceived Exertion)
- Fatigue Stops
- AMRAPs (As Many Reps as Possible)
Pick two Upper Body lifts for your first workout. Mix and match to your heart’s delight, but I will drop a few of my favorite combinations to spark the imagination.
- Bench Press & Pendlay Rows
- Overhead Press & T-Bar Rows
- Weighted Dips & Snatch-Grip Behind the Neck Press
- Behind the Neck Push Press & Barbell Shrugs
The following day, pick two Lower Body lifts, for example:
- Squats and Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
- Sumo Block Pulls and Front Squats
- Paused Squats and Paused Deadlifts
- Deficit Deadlifts and Bottom Position Pin Front Squats
To begin, you will select a weight that you feel fairly confident of being able to complete 8 reps to an RPE between 9 & 10. The RPE concept I utilize belongs to Mike Tuchscherer of Reactive Training Systems (RTS). To paraphrase RTS, a 9 RPE means you could have done one more rep. Be honest in your evaluation. If you know you had one more, that’s a 9. If you’re pretty sure you could have gotten one more, that’s a 9.5. If there’s no way you could have done one more, that’s a 10. I personally strive for 9.5 more often than not. I take the set to the point where the next rep is in doubt, and stop. That’s my definition of AMRAP. I find it difficult to stop at an RPE of 9, knowing I had one more in me. Not 100% sure of the next rep? Not going to try, and neither should you.
If you use a training log, finding your starting weight should be pretty easy, unless you rarely hit 8 reps on the big lifts you will use in this program. I understand; these lifts just cry out for low rep sets. If you don’t know a starting weight, you can just take a guess, or you can use 77.67% of your one rep max.
The first set is your most important set, so warm up sufficiently to be ready, but don’t wear yourself out in the warm up. I will do some light mobility stuff before I head to the gym, mostly because I train first thing in the morning and my body doesn’t feel like doing anything but getting back in bed. Once at the gym, I like to use an empty barbell for 10 reps or so (unless I’m feeling lazy, in which case I don’t even get to 10), then add some weight and do 2 or 3 reps. Then keep adding some weight and doing singles until I feel ready to go. Warming up is dreadfully dull and I just don’t have the patience for it. Again, warm up until you feel ready, but the warm up shouldn’t be a workout in itself.
Take the first set to an RPE of 9 or 9.5. Now, it’s decision time. Determining how many sets to do is a real conundrum. There’s no hard and fast rule that makes much sense when you consider that you are a living, breathing biological organism. We aren’t designed to force ourselves into a set of physical parameters that are immovable and unchangeable. We do know from multiple studies that total volume of training; i.e. the total work performed, is a major contributor to the adaptive stimulus we’re trying to provide our body. But how much is too much, or too little for that matter? Here, we will use the Fatigue Stop concept, which I also swiped from Reactive Training Systems. I think it’s pure genius.
7% fatigue stop = high workload / heavy fatigue
5% fatigue stop = moderate workload / moderate fatigue
3% fatigue stop = light workload / light fatigue
0% fatigue stop = low workload / deload
After the first set, you will reduce the weight from that first set by one of the percentages listed above for your subsequent sets. Most of the time, you will use 5%. But if you’re feeling feisty and want to really get after it, use 7%. If you’re feeling beat up and sore, use 3%. If you need a bigger break than that, you will use 0%. In other words, you’re doing your first set and that’s it.
Here’s how this works in practice:
Bench Press: You choose 165 lbs for your first set. After warming up, you got after it and managed 7 reps to a 9.5 RPE. You probably could have gotten an 8th rep, but you weren’t 100% sure, so you stopped the set at 7.
You’ve been feeling good. You’re well rested and not particularly sore or nursing any bothersome strains or sprains. So you decide you’ll put some work in and use a 7% fatigue stop for some heavy fatigue inducing volume work. 165 lbs x .93 = 153.5 lbs. If you have microplates (1.25 lb plates), great. If you don’t, you’ll round. I do carry microplates with me in my gym bag, so I’d round this to 152.5 for my next set.
- You will continue to do sets of the same number of reps from your first set; in this case 7, with 152.5 lbs until you can’t get 7.
Some days, that might be 3 more sets. Some days it could be 4 or more. Some days it might only be two, which should tell you that you overestimated your state of feistiness. No worries though; you got your work in. Rest as much as you need between sets, but I wouldn’t go beyond 2-3 minutes. If you rest 10 minutes between sets because you were scrolling through Facebook or watching ESPN, you will be in the gym a long time and the Fatigue Stop concept won’t work very well.
Once you are done with the Bench Press, because you couldn’t get 7 reps on a set, you move to your second lift of the workout and repeat.
You must log your training somewhere! The next time you choose a Bench Press as one of your Upper Body lifts, you will add a little more weight to the amount you used for your first set of the last time you trained Bench Press. For example, you Bench Pressed the above workout on Sunday. Thursday rolls around and you feel like Benching again. You check your trusty training log and recall you used 165 lbs last time, so this time, it will be more. How much more depends again on whether you carry microplates. I’d use 167.5, but if I didn’t have microplates, my gym has lots of 2.5-lb plates laying around, so I’d use 170. This is linear progression and it’s a tried and true method of ensuring you are giving your body something new to contend with, which will force adaptation. You will continue this linear progression until you can only muster 3 reps on your first set. You can probably calculate that it will take some time to arrive at a 3 Rep Max set as you are not Bench Pressing every Upper Body day since you have so many fun and productive lifts to choose from. Keep things spicy by using as much variety as you can. Don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere on one particular lift.
I’m a big believer in high training frequency. There’s no reason you can’t move your body around every day for the 45 minutes or so that these workouts take. There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that regular and frequent stimulus creates a more anabolic environment. In UL83, you will train your Upper Body one day, Lower Body the next day, Upper Body the day after that, and so on. I like training 6 days a week, but what usually happens is that I need to take a day off somewhere because of other commitments or because I am dealing with physical or mental burnout from training. If you find yourself in the same predicament, take the day off. It’s a remarkably flexible scheme, so take a day off when you want to and then pick up where you left off. For example:
Sunday: Upper – Bench and Pendlay Rows
Monday: OFF (I don’t like Monday’s)
Tuesday: Lower – Squats and Stiff-legged Deadlifts
Wednesday: Upper – Overhead Press & T-Bar Rows
Thursday: Lower – Sumo Block Pulls & Front Squats
Friday: Upper – Weighted Dips (I was tired so I didn’t do a second exercise)
Saturday: Lower – Paused Squats, Paused Deadlifts
Sunday: OFF (Saturday kicked my ass so I skipped training today)
Monday: Shit, I hate Monday’s but I feel like lifting. BTN Push Press & Barbell Shrugs
I felt great so I did a few sets of pull-up’s too.
¹ A word about pull-ups. I love them, but I find they’re hard to fit into the progression and they aren’t as synchronistic as some of the other lifts. In other words, Overhead Press has a nice carryover to Bench Press. Rowing has a nice carryover to Deadlifting. Pull-up’s don’t seem to have that effect. If you can manage 8 pull-up’s with your body weight, that’s awesome. Then it will work nicely as you can use a belt and add incremental weight and continue adding weight until you can only get 3 reps. If you can’t get 8, which I can’t, then throw them in whenever you feel like it, either on an Upper or Lower day, for AMRAP, but don’t consider them one of the main lifts.
3 Rep Set: Now What?
You’ve followed your program and each time you selected a lift, you’ve checked your log and added a little weight from the last time you did that lift. As it’s gotten heavier, your first AMRAP sets have started to decline from that 7 or 8 reps you started with. Today, you warmed up and hit Squats hard but only got 3 reps before you called it. You did your Fatigue Stop sets of 3 with reduced weight, using a 5% Fatigue Stop. What do you do the next time you decide to Squat?!
No need to be filled with existential dread here. The first thing we must accept is that we can’t just keep getting stronger indefinitely. If we stuck ourselves in the ass with a syringe filled with illicit muscle building cocktails, we’d prolong the point where we hit our strength ceiling, but we’d still get there. You can try hammering away by adding more weight beyond 3 reps. There’s nothing magical about the number 3. I’ve done lots of doubles and I love singles. However, there’s a risk / reward tradeoff to consider. Lifting weights at close to your true 1 repetition maximum increases the risk of injury. Injuries are part of the iron game, but you can minimize them by limiting your all out maximum effort lifts. If you’d like to hit some doubles and singles, by all means, have at it. But here’s what I recommend for UL83:
- Take 90% of the weight you lifted for 3 reps and use that for your next session on that lift.
In practice, it looks like this:
Squats: 265 x 3. That was a 9.5 RPE. Maybe I could have gotten a 4th, but I wasn’t 100% sure so I stopped at 3. I used a 5% Fatigue Stop so I did a set of 252.5 x 3, then got only 2 for the third set. Next time I Squat, I will take 90% of 265, or 240, and begin again with AMRAP.
Sometimes, even 90% still feels heavy. If the next time I Squat, I use 240 and only get 5 or 6, I may stay at 240 for multiple Squat workouts to see if I can move that to 7 or 8 reps. But ultimately, you have to start adding weight again. Don’t forget that total volume is a big component here. So even if strength gains start to slow, you can use 7% Fatigue Stops and get more sets in. Progress is still progress.
I’m not a fan of wasted effort, so I’ve basically given up on anything that doesn’t feel productive in the gym. I rarely do curls or lateral raises or any machine work at all. I find dumbbells an annoyance. I’m not saying you can’t do these things within UL83, but they’d be in addition to the base lifts. I’d rather do 4 or 5 productive sets of Squats or Overhead Press and go home and eat, than hang around doing Face Pulls, Tricep Rope Pressdowns and Band Pull-Aparts.
The one miscellaneous movement I do recommend is Ab Wheel Rollouts. Done correctly, these will give you strong abdominal and lower back muscles. They’re basically the only Ab-specific movement I do with any regularity. Do them whenever you want at the end of a workout for AMRAP.
Only Two Lifts per Workout?
If you want to do more work, go for it. But remember that you’re training often, like daily. If you trained 6 days next week, alternating Upper and Lower days, you will have likely done Close Grip Bench Press, Overhead Press, Rows, Squats, Deadlifts and Front Squats over the course of the week, for lots of sets. If you want to add a third lift, you certainly can, but I find after hard fought bouts with lifts like Squats and Deadlifts, I don’t really want to do anything else. Again, nothing stopping you, but follow the basic Fatigue Stop concept so that your volume is managed in a way that allows you to recover. You’ll find that as you get into heavier and heavier sets, occasionally using 7% Fatigue Stops, you will be fairly well thrashed after doing 5 sets of Bench Press and 4 sets of Pendlay Rows. But on days where you feel strong and want to do more, do some Pull-ups. Hell, I even did Face Pulls at the end of this morning’s workout because the rope was hanging there tantalizing me in perfect Face Pull position as I walked by on my way out of the gym.
There’s no diet suggestion inherent in UL83, but I will warn you off of the bulking up concept. If you eat more calories, you will certainly get bigger, but your new size will be composed of adipose tissue; i.e. fat. Adding new lean muscle mass is a labor intensive process and your body is not inclined to cooperate. Billions of years of evolution have made it hard wired to survive, not be a fitness cover model. Get enough protein every day–and .82 grams per lb of bodyweight is enough–and fill the rest with quality foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and dark chocolate and monitor your weight and the mirror. The goal is to look and feel as strong as you’re getting from lifting heavy weights. If you’re lifting like you mean it and getting your protein in, you will add muscle. Keeping the fat at bay requires consistent monitoring of your intake and making good choices every single day. If you’ve read any of my diet posts, you know I’m a strong proponent of limiting carbohydrates for both health and body composition. I don’t care if you eat carbs or not, but eating more carbs than you need–and you don’t need much–will make being a lean, mean lifting machine a lot more difficult. If you get up to and/or over 40% of your calories from carbs, it’s more than just your abs that will suffer; your heart will too.
Rotating Fatigue Stops
This is a concept I’ve toyed around with, but I haven’t stuck with it very long, mostly because of that whole being a biological organism stuff. It’s just too difficult to predict how you’ll be feeling any given day, let alone weeks in advance. But if you want to monkey around with it, this is the concept:
- Rotate Fatigue percentages to better manage recovery.
In practice, it would look something like this:
Week 1: 7% Fatigue Stops (High Workload / Heavy Fatigue)
Week 2: 3% Fatigue Stops (Light Workload / Light Fatigue)
Week 3: 5% Fatigue Stops (Moderate Workload / Moderate Fatigue)
Week 4: 7% Fatigue Stops (High Workload / Heavy Fatigue)
Week 5: 0% Fatigue Stops (Low Workload / Deload Fatigue)
The reason I’m not too crazy about it is because you may feel great on a week when you’ve decided well ahead of time that you’re only going to use 3% Fatigue Stops. You’re doing maybe one set after your first set and moving on, even though you feel full of piss and vinegar. That would have been a great day for a 7% Fatigue Stop so you can get lots of volume in and use that energy for good instead of evil. Still, it’s something to consider. Personally, if I’m beat to hell, a day or two off is all I really need before I feel like lifting again. I’m more likely to use a 0% Fatigue Stop if I’m pressed for time than because I need to “deload.” Just get that one all-out AMRAP set on two big lifts and get out of the gym because I have to make a living or something.
UL83 is a basic strength training idea made up of the most effective methods I’ve tried. If you give it a whirl, let me know what you think.
If you’d like a PDF version, help yourself.