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The primary training plan

Der Primärschema Trainingsplan

Here is a brief summary

  1. A movement pattern based training program is efficient. It focuses on the exercises that offer the most gains, while still allowing for less important exercises when time and energy allow.
  2. For gains in muscle and strength, you should rely on 4 primary movement patterns. These are squats, trunk flexion, presses and pulls.
  3. Perform the 4 mandatory movement patterns in every training session. These are followed by 1 to 2 optional exercises (arms, calves, abs, etc.)

Primary scheme program structure

This system represents a training style that creates metabolic havoc on the greatest amount of muscle mass with the least amount of exercises with the least amount of redundancy.

The emphasis is on "big" exercises that stimulate a large amount of muscle tissue, there is room for smaller exercises and whatever else you want to do, but we are trying to differentiate between big and small exercises in terms of what those exercises will give you in terms of gains.

The movement patterns you need to know

The best way to get the most muscle stimulation - and the metabolic effects you need to get and stay lean - is to ensure that the primary movement patterns are present in each of your workouts.

There are differing opinions on how many of these movement patterns actually exist, but I like Dr. John Rusin's approach:

  • Squats: any type of squat variation: high bar squats, low bar squats, front squats, overhead bar squats, goblet squats, etc.
  • Hip flexion/"hinge exercises": Exercises for the posterior muscle chain such as Romanian deadlifts, back extensions with added weight, hip thrusts, etc.
  • Lunges: this includes many variations of lunges, as well as step-ups and split squats with elevated foot position.
  • Presses: All forms of pressing movements including barbell and dumbbell flat bench presses, incline bench presses, push-ups, standing barbell shoulder presses, handstand push-ups, etc.
  • Pulling: Pull-ups and rowing
  • Loaded Carries: Loaded Carries ( with one or both hands with all types of equipment. Think Farmers Walks and the like.

There are other possible movement patterns and certainly some of your favorite exercises will not fit into the above categories - curls, ab exercises, calf raises, etc. However, you should realize that the exercises that fall into the above categories are some of the tried and true standard exercises - exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses and rows that work a lot of muscles at once.

This is what makes a movement pattern program so super efficient. It focuses on the big exercises, while still allowing for lesser exercises and exercises that work fewer muscles at once when time and energy allow.

4 primary schemes for muscles and strength

Even though the idea of the six movement patterns is sound, there are many people who simply want to build muscle and strength and are not particularly interested in corrective exercise or sport-specific athletic attributes. For these people, we've shrunk the list of primary schemes down to four:

  1. Squats
  2. Trunk flexion/hinge exercise
  3. Press
  4. Pull

What we are doing here is identifying the exercises that provide muscle and strength to the greatest extent.

Example primary scheme program

One of the best ways to do this is to do a microcycle that includes three different workouts:

  • Each training session includes 4 mandatory exercises: Squats, trunk bend/hinge exercise, press and pull.
  • These 4 exercises are followed by 1 to 2 optional exercises such as direct arm training, calf training, abdominal training or anything else you like, such as power punches, kettlebell swings, loaded carries, whatever.

Training session 1

  • Romanian deadlift
  • Dumbbell flat bench press
  • Front squats
  • Pull-ups
  • Plus 1 or 2 optional exercises

Workout 2

  • Hip Thrusts
  • Dumbbell incline bench press
  • Leg presses
  • T-bar rows
  • Plus 1 or 2 optional exercises

Workout 3

  • Back extensions with additional weight
  • Standing barbell shoulder press
  • Classic squats
  • Pull-ups with close underhand grip
  • Plus 1 or 2 optional exercises

Once you've put together your plan, you should perform this system for 4 to 6 weeks with progressively increasing weights, followed by an off-load week. Then change the exercises and repeat.

What about sets and repetitions?

Repetitions and sets are functional elements that depend on your training goal. Strength adaptations tend to be the result of lower (1 to 5) repetition numbers with relatively heavy weights, while hypertrophy tends to respond best to higher repetition numbers (usually 8 to 12). Therefore, choose your reps based on your current goal.

The sets are a slightly different matter and this is ultimately about identifying what Dr. Mike Isreatel refers to as the Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV), which represents the total amount of work you can perform and still recover sufficiently from. The MRV is usually expressed in sets per muscle group per week.

For example, if you use a 4/1 loading program (where you increase the weight every week for four weeks, followed by an unloading week), you try to reach or even exceed your MRV in week 4, after which you reduce the volume by 50 to 60% and also the intensity slightly in week 5.

During week 1, your training session should therefore not be too strenuous. Use a perceived exertion rate of 6 to 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 during week 1, which means that you finish your sets 3 to 4 repetitions before reaching muscle failure. Then move to a perceived exertion of 7 to 8 in week 2, a perceived exertion of 8 to 9 in week 3 and a perceived exhaustion of 9 to 10 in week 4, followed by an unloading week.

How important are the optional exercises?

These optional exercises are important, but not as important as the mandatory exercises. There is a distinction between these types of exercises for two reasons:

  1. This distinction makes it unmistakably clear that some things are more important than others. This lets you know what to prioritize when time and energy are tight.
  2. In contrast to performing a training session with 6 exercises, a primary scheme training session with 4 mandatory and 2 optional exercises seems less daunting. Ultimately, you only have to perform 4 exercises, which means less pressure.

The right exercises for mass gains

If hypertrophy is your main goal, then you should choose exercises that allow a wide range of motion and work well with higher repetition ranges or slower eccentric tempos (negative reps). Examples include:

  • Squats: deep classic squats and goblet squats. Safety bar squats, Hackenschmidt squats on the machine, hip belt squats.
  • Trunk flexion/hinge exercise: Romanian deadlift with dumbbells, barbell hip thrusts, back extensions with additional weight (45 degrees and/or flat), good mornings, kettlebell swings
  • Presses: Flat bench press, incline bench press, dumbbell shoulder press, push-ups with additional weight
  • Pulling: Lat pulldowns, seated cable rows, pulldowns with arms extended, dumbbell rows

The right exercises for strength gains

If strength gains are your goal, you should prioritize exercises that allow you to use heavy weights:

  • Squats: low bar and high bar barbell squats, front squats, leg presses
  • Trunk flexion/hinge exercise: Romanian deadlift with a barbell, deficit deadlift
  • Press: Presses with a barbell or on a machine (flat bench, incline bench and/or overhead), Floor Presses
  • Pulling: Pull-ups (all grip variations), T-bar rows, bent-over rows

How to choose the optional exercises

Optimal exercises include:

  1. Exercises that you love or need but don't fit into the four movement pattern categories. This could be anything from loaded carries, sled pulls or pushes, step-ups, Olympic weightlifting exercises, direct arm training, abdominal exercises, trapezius exercises, calf exercises or even mobility exercises.
  2. Anything that is not well represented in the previous 2 to 3 workouts. This usually means direct arm training.

And now try it out for yourself!

If you are not impressed with your current training, then you should give this concept a chance for 5 to 6 weeks. There is plenty of room for personalization based on your individual needs and goals and it is truly amazing how much meaningful training you can do using this method within short time frames.

By Charles Staley

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