Tyler Robbins Fitness

Tyler Robbins has his B.Sc. in Biochemistry: Pre-Medical, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), is certified through USA Weightlifting, and a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer.

Back to Basics

Back to Basics is a program based on gaining maximal muscular strength, size, and function. This program is based on the program StrongLifts. If you haven't heard of StrongLifts then I highly recommend heading over there to check out that program. It may very well be the perfect program for you, as-is. There have been many individuals who have greatly benefited from such a program, and you can too.

Over the past couple of years, I have experimented with a program like StrongLifts on not only myself, but clients of mine as well. I have personally found that the program is missing a couple key elements or need a few adjustments made to the scheduling or programming to suit my needs. I believe that these changes and adjustments will benefit many of you as well.

Here are the main additions/adjustments that I have made:

Dynamic Warmups - I have taken some of my favourite and most useful movements to warmup the body through various planes and wide ranges of motion. The key areas of focus are the hips and shoulders. The shoulders and hips are the link, connecting strength and power from the core, out to the limbs. It is smart, and in good training practice to make sure they are warm and prepared for the work.

Warm-up Sets - I am not a big fan of the warm-up sets that StrongLifts recommends you do. Instead, I have included my own variety.

(Optional) Accessory Work - I have included some of my favourite and most useful accessory sequences to aid the main primary lifts. Especially when just starting a program like StrongLifts, I have found that many users can get the feeling of "not doing enough" by just doing 5, 5-rep sets of the primary lifts. There are a couple key aspects to note here:

  1. The emphasis and energy for the day (on strength days) should be to focus on improving numbers on the main lifts. The accessory work is there to work as a supplement. The original StrongLifts program was designed with some accessory work but too many people were focusing too much on trying to improve their numbers with their accessory lifts and neglecting the main lifts.
  2. Some days, if you are pushing for a personal best on bench press, for example, you may not even have the strength or energy to do the accessory lifts, so either don't do them at all for that day, or back off on the weights you have previously used.
  3. If you fail at getting 5x5 for your lift for the second straight workout, then skip the similar accessory for for that day (discussed in more detail below*). One may think that plateauing or stalling on a weight should require more volume/intensity, but in actuality, you probably need more recovery.

*Let's say you fail at a lift for the second consecutive workout (for that lift) and are forced into a de-load:

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs.
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 4 reps (fail)
Set 5 - 3 reps (fail)

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs. (2nd attempt)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 4 reps (fail)

On that second workout, in this case - Strength Day 3, skip both the incline press to bent over row and dips. Both of these accessory lifts use the shoulders, triceps, and chest just like the bench press does so taking extra recovery time will benefit you more than trying to fight through the accessory lifts. You would only skip those accessory lifts for that one workout. Alternatively, if you failed on the squat for the second time on Strength Day 3, then you would have the option to do the incline press to bent over row and dips.

Exercise Selection - Just a small change to the warmup sets for deadlifts on Strength Day 2 & 4 (utilizing snatch deadlifts).

Recovery Days - I have included recovery days that focus on "active recovery" for the muscles that have been worked the previous day. I am a firm believer in active recovery, as an increase in circulation can aid in repair and recovery. This includes some flexibility training, some mobility training, as well as some core and assistance work. Keep in mind that the point of the recovery days is to allow your body to move through various ranges of motion to aid in recovery as well as strengthen your synergists.

Front Squats - When starting this program, it is great to back squat 3x/week to build up your strength. However, I really like the front squat for a number of reasons, including preparing your body for Olympic Lifts down the road, improving posture, and most importantly, making your back squat that much better. Once you are able to back squat your own body weight 5x5, I recommend you start front squatting 50% of your 5x5 back squat on Strength Days 2 & 4, in place of back squats. So, if you are 180lbs and can squat 180lbs 5x5, start front squatting 90lbs on Strength Days 2&4, increasing in weight the same way you would with the other lifts by adding 5 pounds to the next workout, every time you successfully lift 5x5.

Who is this program for?

Still making progress, 370lbs #deadlift for 5 reps #motivation #exercise #lifting

A video posted by Tyler Robbins (@trobbinsfitness) on

Men, women, young, and old. If you are interested in lifting heavy weights, gaining strength, increasing muscle mass, and just being a total fuckin' badass, then this program is for you. Keep in mind, however, that if you are wishing to gain, you must commit to the program and not worry about gaining weight. The way I see it, there are 3 types of people reading this blog right now:

  1. For some of you, gaining weight is a tough thing to do and you are willing to do anything to put on some size. Well, get ready to eat a lot and lift a lot!

  2. For others, you may be stuck in this limbo zone where you are lean and have a decent level of strength, but just haven't reached that ripped level you are looking for. You find yourself stuck between not wanting to lose any more weight and lose muscle, yet you don't want to gain weight either because you are afraid of getting fat. Well, I was stuck in that zone too until I started to eat more and lift more. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at all hours of the day (see: resting or basal metabolic rate).

  3. Finally, there may be some of you looking to lose weight and gain some strength. Fine. This program can still work for your, but if you are over 20% body fat, you may wish to start the program at a caloric deficit (eating less than you burn) which will work for a while, and you will definitely gain strength, but your strength gains may plateau quicker than others who eat at a caloric surplus. That, however, is based on the individual.

For folks who fall into category 1 or 2, all I can say is, if your goal is to gain size and strength, stick to the goal and eat and lift. There will be time to "cut" body fat later. I recommend that you partake in a program like Back to Basics during the winter when you are probably going to be covered by your clothes for much of the time anyways. That is, if you give a shit about what others think about what your body looks like.

By the way, if this program becomes popular enough, I will have a follow-up program in the spring specifically focused on getting you more lean while maintaining muscle.

The Workouts

Strength Day 1
Strength Day 2
Strength Day 3
Strength Day 4

Recovery Day 1
Recovery Day 2
Recovery Day 3
Recovery Day 4

Back to Basics Schedule

The schedule runs on an 8-workout, repeating rotation. Here is how you would incorporate the 8 workouts into a 3 week schedule.

Week 1
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 2
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 2
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 3
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 3
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day

Week 2
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 4
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 4
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 2
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 2
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day

Week 3
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 3
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 3
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 4
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 4
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day

Etc.

Diet

With a quick internet search, you can find a number of Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) calculators. TDEE calculators are a good place to start to get yourself a ballpark figure as to how many calories you should be consuming. If you are interested in gaining weight, aim for at least 250-500+ calories a day over your calculated TDEE. Although I recommend putting away quite a few calories, remember that too many calories isn't necessarily ideal.

In order to grow muscle and improve your strength, you need a surplus of calories. More often than not, individuals get stuck in a limbo zone between not wanting to gain body fat so they don't eat at a caloric surplus, yet they want to increase the size and definition of their muscles.

Future edits of this blog will have some of my favourite recipes linked here.

Supplements

This is going to be a hotly-debated topic. My personal opinion is that majority of the supplements on the market are full of empty promises. Most supplements are designed to make you think that they are the "latest and greatest" in the world of health and fitness. Don't listen to the salesperson at the supplement store.

Don't pay attention to the marketing materials. I almost guarantee you that the supplements that some of these extremely fit (and/or muscular) folks who are trying to sell you supplements either don't use the supplements they are marketing themselves, or have other *ahem*....help with their results. I really like using the site examine.com to check the latest research on specific supplements. Feel free to search for some of the products or supplements you are currently taking and see if it/they are worth as much hype as you've been made to believe.

Having said all of that, I know folks will ask me what I use for my supplements, so I will share what I use. All of these are absolutely optional and should not be taken as a prescription from me.

Creatine Monohydrate - one of the most widely-researched supplements in the history of exercise science. Nothing fancy here, no other products carry any additional benefits or "perks," regardless of what someone may have told you...I promise. I take 5g in my post-workout recovery drink. More questions/info needed? Check here.

Whey Protein - Again, nothing fancy. I take a basic vanilla flavoured whey protein that I buy at Costco. You don't need any "state-of-the-art" delivery matrices or any other marketing mumbo jumbo like that. Whey isolate digests quick enough, and your body only transports so much protein per hour so don't worry about all of this marketing promising faster muscle absorption or uptake, etc. It should be noted that actual food always takes precedence for me. I never have more than 1 whey shake per day. I try and get at least 90-95% of my calories and protein from whole food sources and then have a shake when I either run out of time or am busy with other things.

Fish Oil - Fish oils (EPA and DHA) have a wide range of benefits.

Coffee - My pre-workout stimulant. Not much to say here. Caffeine - that's about it.

Vitamin D - I take 1000IU in the form of a pill during the fall/winter months (I live in Canada). During the summer I try and get as much sun exposure as I can, so along with Vitamin D in Shakeology I feel like I have my bases covered. Lots of benefits to supplementing with Vitamin D as well.

Strength Journal

Whether you use Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, some sort of journal app on your phone or tablet, or even just plain old pen and paper, I highly recommend you keep track of your 5-rep max (5RM) weights for your lifts. You can then use this information to keep track of your theoretical (calculated) 1RM.

Why is this important? Well, knowledge is power, and whether you are moving on to another program that involves using a certain percentage of your lift or just your buddy asking how much you bench, you will know your numbers. 

Q&A

What weights should I start with?

Understand that strength training is training not only your muscles, but your central nervous system as well. The goal here is not to "pump" up your muscles, like what happens during hypertrophy training. Instead, we are working to not only strengthen the muscle fibres themselves, but to also improve the mind to muscle connection. We are focusing on training the nervous system to be more coordinated and effective at recruiting high amounts of motor units to "fire" together and generate maximum force.

From StrongLifts: If you start too heavy, you’ll get sore legs which can make you feel like skipping workouts in the first week. Better to start light so your body get used to Squatting three times a week. The weight will increase quickly anyway since you’re adding 2.5kg/5lb per workout (that’s 30kg/60lb per month on your Squat). If you’ve done the Squat, Bench and Deadlift before, with good technique, you can start with 50% of your five rep max. If you’ve never done these exercises, or you haven’t lifted in years, or you have no idea what I mean with a “five reps max”, just start with these weights:

When should I increase weight?

If you can get 5 repetitions of the same "working weight" without breaking form, then increase your "working weight" by 5 pounds for the next workout you do that exercise. For example, if you squat 135lbs 5x5 during Strength Day 1, increase to 140lbs on Strength Day 2. If, however, you get 135lbs, 5x5 on the bench press on Strength Day 1, you wouldn't increase to 140lbs until Strength Day 3. The one exception to this is on the deadlift. You can increase weight by 10lbs from workout to workout. For example, if you can deadlift 95lbs for 5 repetitions without breaking form, the next workout you complete deadlifts, you can increase to 105lbs.

What if I don't lift the same weight all 5 sets?

First of all, you should at least attempt to lift the exact same weight for all 5 "working sets." Even failed sets have you lifting 1, 2, 3, or 4 reps of a weight you have probably never lifted before; that's still progress!

If you don't get 5 reps during a set, make sure to rest for 5 minutes before attempting the same weight on the next set. Remember that you are only increasing by 5 pounds on an exercise from workout to workout so your body is making gradual changes. You should not be failing by more than a rep or two unless you are seriously short on sleep, not eating enough, or drinking enough water.

Shit happens, however, so some days just won't be as good as others. Let's say you get all 5 reps for your first 3 sets and then only 4 reps on your 4th set, and finish off with just 3 reps on your final set, fine, this is still progress. The next time you do this exercise, attempt the exact same weight. If, you still can't get 5 reps in all 5 sets, then you need to de-load by 10%. After you de-load, work your way back up 5 pounds per workout as you did before. Here is how it looks:

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs.
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 4 reps
Set 5 - 3 reps

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs. (2nd attempt)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 4 reps

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 180lbs. (10% de-load from 200lbs.)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 5 reps

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 185lbs (180lbs. was successful)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 5 reps

The key to this program, and any other strength program to be honest, is that each individual must keep the integrity to stick to as perfect form as possible. I am telling you right now, it is far more beneficial (and impressive) to do full squats at 200lbs than to do half or even 3/4 squats at 250lbs. If you can't do a repetition with near-perfect form, it doesn't count. Either try the same weight again next time or de-load, and work your way back up!

Keep in mind, you only de-load in weight on the exercise(s) that you failed to achieve 5x5. If you de-load on the bench press, for example, still attempt weight increases on your other lifts (squat, barbell row, etc.)

Can I use dumbbells instead of a barbell?

The primary lifts (squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, barbell row, Romanian deadlifts) are designed to utilize a barbell for a number of reasons including weight optimization (you can move more weight with a barbell than a pair of dumbbells) and safety. You may be able to start this program with dumbbells, however, I would highly recommend either investing in a squat rack/cage and barbell for your home gym or become a member of a gym that has the appropriate equipment.

Can I adjust the schedule to lift more often or less often?

You should allow at least 1 full day "off" from lifting between lifting days. There are many similar muscles worked during every single lifting day, so proper recovery is a must. If, however, you only lift every 3 days rather than 2, that should be fine. I wouldn't allow too many days between lifting days, however, as that could hinder progress.

Do I have to use front squats?

Of course not! This is the program that I have used. This is what I consider to be the best fit for me and should work for many of you. To be honest, you don't really have to follow anything I recommend here. I have 2 goals with sharing this information.

  1. A few people will use this program and have great success.
  2. A few people like some of the ideas and changes my program presents and uses them for their program.

I believe that front squatting, combined with back squatting will make you a stronger and more well-rounded athlete. Even if you do not play sports, keep in mind that well-rounded and physically fit "athletes" tend to do everything better and more efficient. If you can front squat and back squat efficiently and effectively, I believe it will improve your overall health and fitness.