Back To The Basics – Mass & Power Barbell Workout

When Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers everyone asked him what he was going to do:
“Are you going to change the playbooks?”
“Are you going to change the players”
“What are you going to do differently?”

To these questions he replied:
“I’m not going to change anything, we’re just going to get brilliant on the basics. Our opponents may be able to predict exactly what we’re going to do, but we’re going to be so good at the basics that they won’t be able to stop us.”

The Back To Basics Mass & Power Barbell Workout

When it comes to building a muscular physique the one key element that you must focus on is getting stronger. A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle (and vice versa). When you are at the gym just look around at the regular members. I’m willing to bet that the guys who are the biggest and the most muscular are also the ones who are lifting the heaviest weights.

One of the problems that a lot of people run into when training for strength gains is doing way too many exercises. They are spreading themselves too thin and burning out on the sheer volume of training. Part of the problem is the environment that most of us train in.

Most commercial gyms these days have so many fancy padded machine exercises all over the place that people are getting away from the basic bread & butter barbell exercises.

Commercial Gym Equipment

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of machine exercises and I feel they have their place in the gym. Machines are great for isolating specific muscles, good for working around injuries, and they can help add variety to your training. Plus there are some exercises that can only be done on machines that can’t be duplicated with free weights (i.e. pull downs, push downs, leg press, leg extensions, etc.).

However, over reliance on machine exercises will actually make you weaker, instead of stronger. The reason I know this is because I’ve personally fallen into this trap myself several times over the years. Opting for Leg Press over Squats. Doing the Hammer Strength Bench Press instead of the Barbell Bench Press. Machine Rows instead of Barbell Rows, etc…

Now you can still make “strength gains” in these machine exercises. However, those strength gains don’t always carry over into your free weight exercises. Machines balance and support the weights for you, all you have to do is push or pull along a guided track, it’s not a true strength builder.

But when you make strength gains in basic free weight exercises, those gains almost always carry over into your machine exercises. Free weights put you in a real 3 dimensional environment where you not only have to push or pull the weights, but you have to balance and support them as well.

Barbells and dumbbells can twist, turn, wobble, etc. and this all leads to a higher level of neuromuscular activation and thus more stimulation for building strength and muscle mass.

Old School Barbells & Dumbbells

For our Back To Basics Mass & Power Barbell Workout we’re going to put the machine exercises on the back burner. Instead we are going to focus on only doing a select few powerlifts and working the crap out of those lifts!

The goal for each workout is simple:
To Lift More During This Workout Than You Did For Your Last Workout.

If you can consistently beat your previous best lifts over and over again, even if it’s just getting an extra rep or adding an extra 5 pounds to the bar, it will all add up overtime and equal some Big Lifts and some Big Muscles. Now what we consider “big” is all relative, I’m not saying that within in the matter of weeks you’ll be ready to pose down on the Mr. Olympia stage or anything like that. But by getting stronger on the basic lifts you’ll be able to blow past your own training plateaus and set some new personal records in size and strength.

So without wasting anymore time, let’s cut the small talk and get right into the “Meat & Potatoes” of the program…

Focus On The 3 Basic Powerlifts…

The workout will consist of:
– Squats
– Bench Press
– Deadlift

That’s it, nothing more, nothing less!

The 3 Powerlifts Squat, Bench, Deadlift

These are the core powerlifts. The big 3 (squat, bench, and deadlift) are the competition lifts in powerlifting. Nothing else can sum over up overall brute strength and power like those 3 lifts. They lay the foundation to any good muscle building program.

Workout 3 Days Per Week…

The workout itself is very simple. You’re going to hit the gym 3 days per week (or every second day). The main thing is that you take a full day of rest after each workout before training again.

Warm Up Before Every Workout…

Before each workout you’re going to do a proper warm up. I suggest doing 5-10 minutes of cardio such as a rowing machine or an elliptical with the moving arm handles. Ideally you would do something that moves your entire body, elevates your core temperature, and gets the blood flowing.

After your cardio you’ll do some rotator cuff rotations, arm circles, bodyweight squats, etc. to make sure all your major muscles are limber. I’ve got a good video on YouTube that shows how to do a proper warm up routine posted below…

Note: if you can’t see the embedded video clip above,
you can watch it directly on YouTube at:

Once you are all warmed up you’re going to head over to the power rack and get set up for your first set of squats!

Sample Workout Routine…

For each exercise in our basic mass and power workout you’re going to do a few progressively heavier warm up sets, pyramiding up to your top working weight, then you are going to do 2 sets of 5 reps with your top working weight.

Now for example purposes, let’s assume your top working weight in the squat is 225 pounds for 5 reps. Your weights, sets, and reps may go like this:

Sample Squat Workout:
1st set – 95 pounds x 10 reps (warm up)
2nd set – 135 pounds x 8 reps (warm up)
3rd set – 185 pounds x 5 reps (warm up)
4th set – 225 pounds x 5 reps (working set)
5th set – 225 pounds x 5 reps (working set)

After squats you’ll move on to the bench press. And for our example, let’s assume your top working weight in the bench press is 185 pounds for 5 reps. Your weights, sets, and reps may go like this:

Sample Bench Press Workout:
1st set – empty bar x 10 reps (warm up)
2nd set – 95 pounds x 8 reps (warm up)
3rd set – 135 pounds x 5 reps (warm up)
4th set – 185 pounds x 5 reps (working set)
5th set – 185 pounds x 5 reps (working set)

After bench presses you’ll move on to the deadlift. And for our example, let’s assume your top working weight in the deadlift is 275 pounds for 5 reps. Your weights, sets, and reps may go like this:

Sample Deadlift Workout:
1st set – 135 pounds x 10 reps (warm up)
2nd set – 185 pounds x 8 reps (warm up)
3rd set – 225 pounds x 5 reps (warm up)
4th set – 275 pounds x 5 reps (working set)
5th set – 275 pounds x 5 reps (working set)

That’s it, those are the 3 basic lifts that you are going to do 3 days per week. Your training goal is very simple, each workout strive to add 5 pounds to the bar and still perform all the sets and reps. If you are able to up the weight by 5 pounds and still get all the required sets and reps with good form, then up the weight again for your next workout and keep progressing in this fashion. However, if you get stuck and don’t hit 5 reps on one of your working sets, or you had to get help from a spotter, keep the same weight for your next workout.

When planning out a program like this it’s a good idea to be little conservative when selecting your starting weights. I’d much rather you go through the workouts feeling strong with the weights and knowing that you could do grind out an extra rep or two if you really had to. This will allow you to build momentum in your training and allow you to keep increasing the weights by those 5 pound jumps for several workouts in a row before hitting a plateau.

The slow and steady approach to strength gains is much better than starting off too heavy and hitting failure right off the bat and having to drop down in weight. Getting “beaten by the weights” and having to lighten the load is no fun. But feeling strong and making those small frequent jumps in weight helps keep you motivated. A lot of people ignore this aspect of training, but being motivated, feeling strong, and actually looking forward to your workouts is half the battle. That’s what keeps you on track towards your muscle building goals.

Advanced Training Tips…

If you are a more advanced lifter and can handle heavier weights than what I have listed in the examples, than you’ll most likely need to perform more warm up sets. The heavier you lift, the more warm up sets it will take in order to reach your top working weight.

You may also want to cycle the order that you perform the exercises, so overtime you can hit each exercise at the beginning of your workout when you are fresh and at your strongest. For example, you may start your first workout with squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. The next workout you could do bench presses, deadlifts, and squats. The following workout you could do do deadlifts, squats, and bench presses, etc. And just keep rotating through the exercises like that.

The use of a good powerlifting belt and lifting chalk will really help, especially as you build up the poundages for those top heavy working sets. You could even use lifting straps to help re-enforce your grip on the deadlifts if needed. But make sure to do all your warm up sets without lifting straps so that you’ll still be able to build up your natural grip strength.

What About Working The Rest Of The Body…

As I’m writing this I can already hear the comments coming from the peanut gallery:
– “What about all my other muscle groups?”
– “What am I going to do for biceps?”
– “What about calves?”
– “Shouldn’t I be working my abs?”
– Etc…

The biggest problem that people run into when following a basic mass and power workout program is that it “Seems Too Basic”. Most people don’t see the forest for the trees. They over complicate things by always looking for new exotic exercises, magic formulas, unique training theories and new age programs. Meanwhile, the answer to their problem is very often staring them right in the face, but they overlook it because it seems too obvious.

Too many guys get bogged down in the minor details before they even have a solid foundation to work with. To give you a real world example of this, let’s look at the process of building a house. If you were building a house would you start off worrying about what color you are going to paint the walls before the foundation has been laid and the house has been framed? Probably not… Now I’m not saying that the color that you paint the walls isn’t important, but it’s a very specific detail that only really matters way down the line once the rest of the house has been built.

The same applies with building your body. It makes no sense to focus on the details of your physique and doing specialization training when you weigh a buck fifty soaking wet. Focus first on putting some meat on your bones and building up your base strength.

A good goal to strive for is to get your strength up in the core powerlifts so that you can bench 1 and 1/2 times your bodyweight and squat and deadlift 2 times your bodyweight. Focus on hitting those numbers before worrying about how to bring out the detail of your serratus anterior or isolating your vastus medialis.

It makes no sense to worry about sculpting your bicep peak or isolating the lateral head of your triceps if your arms barely stretch the tape measure to 13 inches. Pay your dues in the gym with some hardcore training on the basic powerlifts and you’ll pack more meat on your guns than biceps curls ever could.

Skinny 98 Pound Weakling

“But Lee I just have to work my… (arms, abs, calves, etc.)”

If the thought of not directly training a particular muscle group is just driving you nuts and keeping you awake at night. Then you can follow a modified version of this Back To Basics Barbell Workout and take 1 day per week to do whatever muscle isolation exercises you feel that you absolutely “must do”.

If you just have to do bicep curls, tricep push downs, side lateral raises, crunches, calf raises, etc… Simply take 1 day per week to do those exercises.

For example, if you are working out 3 days per week this is how your training split may look:

Monday – “Back To Basics” – train the 3 powerlifts
Tuesday – Rest
Wednesday – “Isolation Workout” – do your isolation moves
Thursday – Rest
Friday – “Back To Basics” – train the 3 powerlifts
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest

This way you’ll be able to satisfy your urge to isolate specific body parts. But in all honesty it probably won’t be any more effective in the long run than simply doing the 3 basic powerlifts.


You’ll be amazed at the improvements you can make in your overall muscular development if you just take a few months and really focus on improving the 3 basic powerlifts. If you were to add 30-50 pounds to each of these lifts over the course of the next several months, just think of how that would impact your overall muscle density?

And when you zero in and target all your training efforts on just a few basic lifts, making these kinds of strength gains within a few months is very realistic. Especially if you have been doing “marathon workouts” and trying to work the muscles from every angle possible with every exercise imaginable.

So if you are looking to take your physique to the next level of muscular development, give this Mass & Power Barbell program a try. Simplify your approach, focus on making strength gains, and get brilliant on the basics!

About The Author


Lee Hayward is a former competitive bodybuilder and muscle building coach who has been online coaching people since 1997. His work has been featured in several international magazines such as: FLEX, Muscle Insider, Muscle Mag International, Testosterone, Ironmag, and Forbes. Lee's main focus right now is with helping men over 40 - who don't want to be fat anymore - lose the gut, build muscle, and get back in shape. If you're ready to "Start Again" for the last time and finally build a lean healthy body that you can be proud of, just e-mail Lee to discuss a realistic action plan that's right for you...


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  • Mark

    Anthony Bosnar,

    For the love of mankind, I’ve gotta step in. Lee knows his biz, he has taken a weekend day out of his life to CLEARLY spell it out for everyone, yet you all still ask “can I exchange benches with vibrating ass curls every sixth Tuesday of the month?” Just listen to the guy or go home.

  • Juan Ramirez

    Hey Mr Lee, in all honesty I don’t have much time to work out and when I do I like to finish quickly, go in get out. Been working out on and off for a few years now my question is at 55 years old is this workout a good idea for me? Appreciate your time and GOD bless you sir.

    • If you are able to do basic barbell exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts – then you can follow this program.

  • Kha

    Hi, shoudl we add some row ? thanks

  • Drew Hamilton

    how can I contact Mr. Hayward (Lee)

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