I recently read an article in Men's Journal:

[A] guy who hasn’t trained in a long time, if ever, will get stronger faster on the simplest program of squats, dead lifts, and presses, three times a week.

and it has changed my views somewhat on what I should be doing in the gym. Basically the author claims that those 4 exercises are basically all I need to get stronger and buffer and that all the gym equipments are bad since they focus on a single muscle set. I'm resolved to follow his method, is this the right way to go?

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    This is a case where the OP was pretty clear about goals: strength, size. Info on what @mugetsu is doing now could conceivably help. Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 19:08
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    @JohnP While I share your low opinion of fitness magazines, this article is a rare exception. It's not perfect but it's solid advice. Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 19:12
  • @mugetsu try Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program. It addresses squats, deadlifts, presses (bench and military) with an extremely simplistic setup. Perfect for people who just want to get strong and "buffer". Follow the program for 5 years, dedicate yourself to eating right then come back to this forum and let us know some updates. ;-) Commented Jul 14, 2012 at 0:32

3 Answers 3


You might have additional needs to address specific imbalances or mobility issues, and I'd do a standing press instead of bench, but deadlift/squat/pull-up/press is a great basis for a minimal strength training breakfast. It's a fine approach. If you follow that program well, with good form, using near-maximal weights, and get good food and sleep, you'll get much stronger. If need be, you'll add or change exercises in a few months.

It's also important to keep in mind the caveats he puts on this recommendation:

It’s true that you cannot do the same workout forever; you’ll go stale, and then you’ll go crazy, and then you’ll quit. It’s also true that the stronger you get, and the closer to your genetic potential, the more you have to mix in new lifts and switch up the numbers of sets and reps you’re doing, just to make a little gain each week, or even each month.

...[C]oaches like Shaul throw in the Olympic “quick lifts” — the snatch, the clean-and-jerk.... When you’re ready to add muscular endurance, it’s all about body weight: push-ups, pull-ups, chins, dips, and sit-ups.

This simple formula is 90 percent of what you need to know

NB: 90%. Not 100%. But for the vast majority of generally fit people looking to get stronger, yes, "squat/deadlift/press/pull-up heavy 3 days a week" is the shape of the best approach.

Sidebar: I also like the minimal program of clean+press/clean+front squat/deadlift (done as one set, being forced to switch to the next exercise as one adds weight), plus pull-ups. It adds an exercise, power cleans, which help develop strength into power for the purposes of athleticism.

  • so I shouldn't be alternating days back to back? I've been so far working out 5-6 days a week. So 3-4 means that I can rest 1-2 days in between workouts correct?
    – mugetsu
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 19:13
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    @mugetsu Right. (As Meade points out, the Starting Strength book is the best source of robust detail on how to follow a simple program like this.) Lifting 3x/week with rest days in between (e.g. Monday-Wednesday-Friday, or Monday-Wednesday-Saturday, or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday) is often ideal for developing strength. Less can be more, particularly since you don't grow muscle by lifting things--you grow muscle by lifting things and then recovering with a ton of food and sleep and taking it easy for a day or two. Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 19:18

I fully agree with the approach of sticking with the basic strength building exercises and working out 3-4 times a week. I would highly recommend getting the Starting Strength book by Mark Rippetoe (http://startingstrength.wikia.com/wiki/Starting_Strength_Wiki). He focuses on strength more than endurance or muscle size.

The real answer is, what are you looking to do? what are your goals? If you're looking to get in great/general health, than yes, this is a great approach. If you're looking to loose weight you need to also focus on nutrition. If you have a specific sport/hobby that you perform (swimming, cycling, etc.) you probably want to modify your program with the focus on your specific interest. Write down your goals, stay with an approach (it could take 8-12 weeks to see improvement). Good luck.


This depends on what you mean by even and odd days. If you're having it as even workout days and odd workout days, and are including enough rest days in between, then sure. But if odd means days 1/3/5 of the week and even means days 2/4/6 of the week you're not giving yourself a chance to recover.

Those 4 exercises aren't necessarily all you need, but they are a very important foundation. If you're not doing any of them and are doing other exercises instead, you're probably not getting the results you could be getting (unless you've got a particular reason for being unable to do squats, deadlifts, pullups or presses, in which case doing the next best exercises would give you the best results you could get).

While the 3 workout per week schedule is popular, and is way better than the 5-6 workout per week schedule, I don't think it's necessarily that ideal. I'd suggest 2 workouts per week or even 3 workouts every 2 weeks instead.

  • Can you point me to any 2-a-week or 3-every-2-weeks programs? The only ones I've seen were oriented towards elite powerlifters or people playing other sports. Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 20:28
  • Just take Stronglifts 5x5 and increase the rest days. Workout frequency is pretty arbitrary, as people have different recovery times based on the workouts they do, so it's necessary to adjust your workout frequency to your recovery time. Almost anyone starting a workout program could do 3x/week for the first few weeks as they're mostly making neuromuscular adaptations and the loads aren't that heavy. But once you start going into hypertrophy territory with heavier loads, it's advisable to add another rest day (or three).
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 21:21
  • I guess I was looking for a program or source that espouses this view, not a method for creating such a program. Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 22:53
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    Oh, Mike Mentzer's High Intensity Training program. It doesn't specifically say 2/week or 3/2 weeks, but it does say take a lot of rest, to the order of 4-6 days, which pretty much comes out to that.
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 22:58
  • after about a year of doing it, I am pretty happy with 1-2x a wk "starting strength" workouts and find that it maintains around 90% of my strength compared to 3x/wk as prescribed
    – J. Win.
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:52

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