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Analyzing Strength Programs: Part II

Or maybe you are.

So it’s been a solid week and a half since my most recent post. I left off talking about strength training programs and how analyzing them can provide us with a basic structure for programs going forward. This comes on the heels of a time period where I defined myself by my simplicity in training. It’s too easy nowadays to get confused by the endless amounts of mindless training advice out there, telling you to perform 6 sets of tri-hexagonal-intergalactic bicep curls to make sure you’re pumped before the weekend.

Even good advice is becoming so prominent that it can be tough to digest and figure out which recommendations to utilize. Paralysis by analysis. Bodyweight is good. But I want to get bigger. What split should I use? Maybe if  I just train for strength it will all fall into place. But what strength program should I purchase? Ah, screw it, I’ll just buy them all and analyze them myself before I make a decision.

Well I’m here, once again, to digest these programs for you, allowing you to continue on with your training career a bit smarter and less confused. Here’s the second lower and upper days of the four day split programs (WSFSBIII, 5/3/1, Westside, & Maximum Strength).

2nd Lower Body Day

Much more of a toss-up than the first lower body day, the second lower body day in each program has only one similarity: core work.

From there, three programs included dynamic effort lower body, hamstring, and single-leg work. And just as another side note, hamstrings could mean in a knee flexion or hip extension dominant pattern.

Only 5/3/1 and Maximum Strength included a second max effort day, though Wendler’s max effort days may not truly be max effort until your work capacity exceeds your recovery ability. Cressey’s max effort days are not always present and are usually variations of the main lifts anyway.

Not these speed squats.

These speed squats.

From there, only Westside performs lower back work twice in a week, probably because the hip-dominant style of squatting demands more from the lower erectors than Olympic squatting.

So what does this say about the second lower body day? For starters, core is performed twice a week, no matter the program. This doesn’t just include “abs” or crunches, but should address core in all three movement planes. Hamstrings and single-leg work are also frequently performed twice a week, I suspect because nobody every gets enough work on the hamstrings and leg strength is optimally developed with single-leg work.

The volume is similar to the two max effort days, with Westside and Wendler utilizing much higher repetition ranges. Cressey and DeFranco use lower rep ranges to accomodate the competing demands on their athletes. Additionally, DeFranco has a little bit lower volume on this fourth day because he includes jumping in the program in place of a standard main lift.

2nd Upper Body Day

The second upper body day probably showed the most variation of all four days. The programs, once again, agreed on push/pull assistance work and upper back/external rotation work. Even arms showed itself three times, with DeFranco working the biceps and Westside/Wendler working the triceps as they’re powerlifting influenced.

From there, the main work for the day was split up into two showings of dynamic, one repetition, and one max effort upper body work. DeFranco uses a repetition day for upper body for hypertrophy. Wendler uses four “max effort” days across the board, so both upper body days include max effort work. And Cressey and Westside both use dynamic effort upper body days.

I think the second day really showcases where you can include variety in your program. Many people don’t like the idea of dynamic effort work in novices, attributing their distaste to the fact that novices aren’t excellent at recruiting motor units. Multiple max effort days each week can be tough to recover from, but Wendler likes to use a three day per week structure to alleviate this.

As far as volume goes, Westside and 5/3/1 are extremely high compared to the other two programs, but DeFranco’s can get pretty taxing when you take into account the max repetition work.

Other Differences

So there you have it. When you pare everything down to the bare essentials, some of the greatest four day per week strength programs ever written have more commonalities than can be seen with the naked eye. What seems like large differences in exercise selection actually is just slight variation.

As for warm-ups, Cressey definitely has the longest warm-up program, while Wendler uses DeFranco’s Agile 8 for those that don’t have a substantial warm-up routine already. Admittedly, I haven’t found much information about warm-up routine at Westside Barbell, but Louie Simmons is no slouch and I’m sure he’s accounted for this.

Ugh, the Prowler.

For General Physical Preparedness and Conditioning, there is much crossover between the programs. They all utilize sled and Prowler pulls and pushes as available and most do some kind of jumping  or sprinting. Cressey uses more med balls then the rest and DeFranco seems to do a bit more in terms of speed and agility, but even the powerlifting-based programs have some sort of power and/or conditioning work.


So there (actually) have it. Like I mentioned in Part I, I’ll tie up the loose ends, as well as go over rep ranges, mental stress, and my personal thoughts in Part III.

But for now, there are all the commonalities between my four selections under the four day split category. To summarize, the max effort lower day should definitely contain a ME lower and core exercise, should probably contain a single-leg movement, and might include some lower back or hamstrings, depending on your goals.

The max effort upper body day should include a ME upper, push and pull assistance, and upper back/external rotation exercise, as well as maybe some arms for vanity.

The second lower body day should definitely include a core exercise, but also probably a single-leg and hamstrings-dominant movement. It could also include a ME lower movement, but I’d err on the side of lower intensity and go with some dynamic lower body movement, whether that’s speed work, an Olympic lift, or some sort of jumping.

Finally, the second upper body day should include another push/pull assistance and upper back/ER movement. It might also include some arms (again, for vanity). After that, it’s up to you to include a dynamic upper, repetition upper, or max effort upper body lift. As with the other days, your choice should largely be determined by your goals.

Boom! I’m out. Look out for the third part to this trilogy,as it will bring all of this together.

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