If you’ve lifted for 6 months to a year or more using a program like 5×5 or Starting Strength you might find yourself ready for something different. If your goal is to primarily build a better physique and secondarily to continue building strength it’s hard to beat Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine.
This is the routine I’m using and have used it in the past for 6-month to one-year stints with great results. Before we get started, I highly recommend you check out Lyle McDonald and his website Bodyrecomposition, Lyle knows his stuff and his website is a wealth of information for any weightlifter.
Here’s what Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine looks like:
Squat: 3-4X6-8/3 €² (3-4 sets of 6-8 with a 3 €² rest)
SLDL or leg curl: 3-4X6-8/3 €²
Leg press: 2-3X10-12/2 €²
Another leg curl: 2-3X10-12/2 €²
Calf raise: 3-4X6-8/3 €²
Seated calf: 2-3X10-12/2 €²
Abs/low back: a couple of heavy sets apiece
Flat bench: 3-4X6-8/3 €²
Row: 3-4X6-8/3 €²
Incline bench or shoulder press: 2-3X10-12/2 €²
Pulldown/chin: 2-3X10-12/2 €²
Triceps: 1-2X12-15/1.5 €²
Biceps: 1-2X12-15/1.5 €²
For the Thu/Fri workouts either repeat the first two or make some slight exercise substitutions.
It’s a very straightforward and easy to follow program. Let’s break it down a bit.
The exercise selection and variety for Lyle McDonald’s program is a bit more interesting than a standard 5×5 routine or Starting Strength. The program adds a bit more targeted and isolation work and a decent amount more volume. That said, it’s hardly earth shattering. The bread and butter here are still the basics; squat, bench press, chin-ups. One big feature of the program is that it’s easier to rotate exercises, which reduces the boredom factor a ton and that can have a huge impact on motivation.
If you consider the “lower” workout, for example, you could easily do squats on Monday and swap them for deadlifts on Thursday. Likewise, you could swap leg press for lunges or split squats. Similarly, the “upper” workout has room for adjustment. I like to do heavy flat bench at low reps with light incline dumbbell bench at high reps one day and do the opposite the other. I also found that I needed a little extra help with deltoids so I add lateral raises on “upper” day and face-pulls on “lower” day.
When we talk about beginner programs we leave no room for negotiation, you’re new you need to stick to the script. Now that you’re moving to a more intermediate routine, however, there’s a lot of room for you to sub in what works best for you as you should now have a better ability to monitor progress and feel out what’s working and what isn’t
What you will notice, is that there isn’t a ton of unnecessary arm work here. All of the lifts in the upper body program indirectly hit the arms, twice a week for 1-2 sets is plenty of additional work to build good arms.
Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine allows you to hit every body part twice a week, for natural trainees this is the optimal way to train as it balances volume with time to rest and recover very well. The program has a lot of leeway in how you schedule your workouts. For example, if you find yourself struggling to recover and give your best effort due to the nature of back to back workouts (M/T & R/F), you can alter the frequency so that you get a day off after each workout:
You can also alter the program and make it a 3 day program instead of 4 days a week quite easily. Lyle McDonald’s routine can be modified into a 3-day-per-week program (ABA/BAB) like so:
2nd Monday: Upper
2nd Wednesday: Upper
2nd Friday: Lower
You’ll notice that all the exercises in Lyle’s program have set and rep ranges. The program is designed so that you can dial in volume based on your individual needs. That might mean you’re having a shitty day so you’ve only got it in you to do the minimum sets and reps, it might mean you’re ready to kill the weights and do the max. It also gives you room to
Having set and rep ranges also gives you room to ensure you are always progressing by way of progressive overload. If you’re benching 185 pounds for 4 sets of 8 reps and add 2.5 pounds you might have to drop down to 3 sets of 6 reps, then the next workout you do 3 sets of 8 reps, then you add back in the 4th set, etc… This, of course, requires that you’re tracking your workouts closely and monitoring progress.
Unlike 5×5 or Starting Strength, you get to work in a couple of different rep ranges with Lyle McDonald’s routine.
Compound exercises (squat, bench press) are worked in a heavier 6-8 rep range, while accessory work (bicep curl, triceps) are worked in a lighter 10-12 rep range.
The 6-8 rep range allows for you to lift 80-85% of your 1 rep max, which stimulates a good balance between muscle growth and strength gain by placing sufficient tension and fatigue on the large muscle groups.
The 10-12 rep range is more of a true “bodybuilding” rep range. Anecdotally, it’s where you’ll feel a pump as blood fills the muscle. Scientifically speaking, there is some evidence to support the claim that a 10-12 rep range may be superior in building muscle size at the expense of increasing strength as quickly as say a 5×5 range. Lyle actually calls this “metabolic work” as the higher reps tax the muscle’s metabolic system.
Call it what you will. I find that the mix of rep ranges keeps things fresh, allows for good growth and has the added mental benefit of giving you a good pump.
Progressing with the Program
Lyle’s recommendation for the program is to start with 80-85% of your current best 8 reps (ex. if your 8 rep bench is 200lbs, then start with 160lbs). Then you just build up over the workouts from there, until you get a new PR (personal record). Once you’ve hit a point where you’re not adding any more weight to the bar, you reset down to 80-85% of your new best and start over. So if you climbed to 225 for 8 reps, then you might start at 180lbs this time around. Rinse and repeat.
I work through the progression with a bit more precision. Volume is finicky; it takes experience with your body and how it responds to figure out how to strike a balance between too much and not enough. Typically, I’d say if you’re in doubt start lighter and at the lower end of sets and reps. It might feel slow or easy to start but if you go the route of progressive overload you’ll find the optimal point between not enough and too much where real growth occurs. My suggestion for progression is as follows:
- Work at the bottom of the set range and add reps until you reach the top of the rep range (ex. Bench 185lbs 3 sets of 8)
- If you can complete all the reps at the low-end of the set range, add a set (ex. Bench 185lbs 4 sets of 6)
- If you can complete all the reps at the high-end of the set range, add more weight (ex. Bench 187.5lbs 3 sets of 6)
Lyle recommends that you run this program for no longer than 6-8 weeks before deloading. Deloading might be a new concept coming from a beginner’s program, but it’s very important. Most intermediate lifters will run into problems around the 6-8 week mark. A deload will help your body reset, avoid injury and rest and will pay off dividends in the long run.
Starting Strength and 5×5 programs are the best of the best as far as routines for beginners go but if you’re an intermediate lifter looking to focus more on physique and bodybuilding, or are simply bored of what you’re doing Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine is the perfect next step.
I’m not advocating switching up your routine every couple of weeks, however, Lyle’s program is great if you’re willing to commit to it for 6-months to a year or more. It might just be what you need to reignite your passion for weight lifting, but if you