BY JIM SMITH Men’s Fitness
Build muscle, improve mobility, and bulletproof your joints with this routine.
Talk to enough big, strong guys with admirable physiques and you’ll notice that one complaint keeps coming up: They’re all hurt. There seems to be an unwritten rule that training to build muscle has to wreak havoc on your joints—but we’re about to break it. In fact, you can have a great-looking body without wrecking it along the way. This plan incorporates careful programming, mobility, and corrective exercise to help you safely build both muscle and strength.
How It Works:
Lifting weights compresses the joints and can lead to injury. There are two main ways to prevent lifting-related aches and pains: Master perfect technique so your body can bear the stress of heavy weights as safely as possible, and vary the loads you use so you never undergo too much stress for too long.
Our program improves technique by way of mobility, with exercises such as the face-pull that activate and balance out the muscles around the shoulder to allow for safe, efficient lifting. These moves actually help you perform your bench press better, so we tucked them in between your first few sets. We also change the sets and reps on your main lifts weekly to vary the stimulus.
All these safety precautions make you a better lifter, so it’s easier to add muscle.
Perform each workout (Day I, II, and III) once a week, resting a day between each session.
Perform exercises marked with a letter (“A,” “B,” and “C”) in succession. So you’ll do one set of A, then B, and then C before resting (unless otherwise noted). Repeat until all sets are complete for the group.
The sets and reps assigned to the first lift in each workout will change weekly. Follow the program as written here for the first week, and go to mensfitness.com/perfectprogram to see these additional directions.
1A. BENCH PRESS
Sets: 6 Reps: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, as many as possible Rest: 120–180 sec.
Grasp the bar just outside shoulder width and arch your back. Pull the bar out of the rack and lower it to your sternum. When the bar touches your body, drive your feet hard into the floor and press the bar back up. Perform five sets of five reps, and then use 75% of that load on your sixth set and do as many reps as you can. In between your first two sets only, perform the pushup and face-pull during your rest period.
Sets: 2 Reps: 10
Place your hands on the floor at shoulder width and extend your legs behind you. Your body should make a straight line; brace your abs. Lower your body until your chest is an inch above the floor and then push back up
Sets: 2 Reps: 20
Attach a rope handle to the top pulley of a cable station. Grasp an end in each hand with palms facing each other.
Step back to place tension on the cable. Pull the handles to your forehead so your palms face your ears and your upper back is fully contracted.
2A INCLINE DUMBBELL ROW ISO-HOLD
Sets: 4 Reps: Hold for 30–60 sec. Rest: 0 sec.
Set an adjustable bench to a 30- to 45-degree incline and lie on it chest down. Pick up a dumbbell in each hand and row the weights to your sides. Hold them there with your back fully contracted.
2B. INCLINE DUMBBELL ROW
Sets: 4 Reps: 20 Rest: 0 sec.
Keep the same setup but perform the exercise for reps.
2C. BENTOVER LATERAL RAISE
Sets: 1 Reps: 12–15 Rest: 90–120 sec.
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand and your hips back until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Make sure your lower back remains flat. Let your arms hang with palms facing each other. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and raise your arms out 90 degrees to your sides. Hold the top for a second.
3 WIDE-GRIP PUSHUP
Sets: 1 Reps: 50–100 Rest: As needed
Get into pushup position and place your hands outside shoulder width on the floor. Slowly lower your body to the down position—take three seconds. Press back up. Perform 50–100 reps as quickly as you can, resting as needed.
4 TRICEPS PUSHDOWN
Sets: 1 Reps: 100–150 Rest: As needed
Attach a rope handle to the top pulley of a cable station and grasp an end in each hand. Keeping your upper arms at your sides, extend your elbows and hold the end position for a second. Choose a load you can do 12–15 reps with and perform 100–150 reps as quickly as you can, resting as needed.
Sets: 5 Reps: 8, 8, 8, 8, as many as possible Rest: 120–180 sec.
Grasp the bar as far apart as is comfortable and step under it. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and nudge the bar out of the rack. Step back and stand with your feet at shoulder width and your toes turned slightly outward. Take a deep breath and bend your hips back and then bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can.
Perform four sets of eight reps, and then use 75% of that load on your fifth set and do as many reps as you can. In between your first two sets only, perform the goblet squat and hip mobility during your rest period.
1B. GOBLET SQUAT WITH PRYING
Sets: 2 Reps: 3-5
Hold a dumbbell (or kettlebell) by one of its ends under your chin with both hands. Stand with feet at shoulder width and toes turned out slightly. Take a deep breath and bend your hips back. Lower your body as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back. Now push your elbows into your knees and squeeze your knees into your elbows so you feel tension in your legs.
Do this for five seconds and then relax. You’ll sink deeper into the stretch. That’s one rep.
*PRYING YOUR KNEES OPEN IMPROVES MOBILITY IN YOUR HIPS, WHICH CAN REDUCE THE RISK OF BACK INJURY.
1C. HIP MOBILITY
Sets: 2 Reps: 30–60 sec. (each leg)
Place the top of your right foot on a bench behind you and allow your body to sink into a deep lunge so you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Then turn around and place the bottom of your right foot on the bench. Lower into a lunge and hold the stretch. Now push your right knee onto the bench so your lower leg lies flat and bend forward to feel the stretch. Hold each position at least 10 seconds and then repeat the whole sequence on the other leg.
2A. ROMANIAN DEADLIFT
Sets: 4 Reps: 8–12 Rest: 0 sec.
Hold the bar at shoulder width and stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend your hips back and bend your knees slightly as you lower your torso toward the floor. Go as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back. Squeeze your glutes and extend your hips
to come up.
2B. DUMBBELL SPLIT SQUAT
Sets: 4 Reps: 15 (each leg) Rest: 0 sec.
Hold a dumbbell with both hands under your chin and stand with feet staggered. Bend both knees and lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor.
Sets: 4 Reps: 8–12 Rest: 90–120 sec.
Hang from a pullup bar with hands at shoulder width and palms facing you. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
Sets: 1 Reps: 50 total (each leg) Rest: As needed
Place one foot on a bench or box so your thigh is parallel to the floor. Step up onto the box, pushing through your heel, but let the trailing leg hang off the box. Take three to five seconds to lower yourself back down to the floor, keeping your weight on the front leg. Perform 50 reps, resting as needed.
4. EMPTY BAR CURL
Sets: 1 Reps: 100 total Rest: As needed
Grasp an empty barbell with hands at shoulder width and palms facing up. Keeping your upper arms against your sides, curl the bar. Perform 100 reps, resting as needed.
Sets: 9 Reps: 3, as many as possible Rest: 120–180 sec.
Stand with feet at hip width and bend your hips back to grasp the bar so your hands are just outside your knees. Keeping your lower back flat, pull the bar up until you’re standing. Perform eight sets of three reps, and then use 75% of that load on your ninth set,doing as many reps as you can. In between the first two sets, do the shoulder quad set and plate halo from the next page.
1B. SHOULDER QUAD SET
Sets: 2 Reps: 5
Grab a pair of light dumbbells and perform five lateral raises, raising the weights out to 90 degrees. From there, perform five front raises, lifting the weights straight out in front of you to shoulder height. Now do five overhead presses, and then finish with five bentover lateral raises. That’s one set.
*PERFORM EACH REP WITH PRECISION. DON’T RACE THROUGH.
1C. PLATE HALO
sets: 2 reps: 10
Hold a weight plate with both hands and make a big circle around your head. Switch directions and repeat. Each change of direction is one rep.
2A. SEATED OVERHEAD PRESS
Sets: 4 Reps: 10–15 Rest: 0 sec.
Sit on a bench with a back support and hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Press the weights overhead.
2B. FULL ROM FRONT RAISE
Sets: 4 Reps: 10–12 Rest: 0 sec.
Hold an EZ-curl bar with hands at shoulder width and let your arms hang in front of your thighs. Raise your arms straight overhead.
2C. BENTOVER LATERAL RAISE
Sets: 4 Reps: 15–20 Rest: 90–120 sec.
See the shoulder quad set above.
Sets: 1 Reps: 100 Rest: As needed
Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides and shrug your shoulders as high as you can.
4. WIDE-GRIP PUSHUP
Sets: 1 Reps: 100 Rest: As needed
See Day 2.