There is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting swole, and there are many different philosophies on weightlifting. That said, if your goal is to “get swole,” there are some scientifically-supported best practices that you can work into your lifting routine.
Getting swole comes down to muscle hypertrophy—the growth and increase of the size of muscle cells. And to get to The Rock’s level of swole, it takes moving some seriously heavy weight.
Building strength and increasing muscle size takes time—we’re talking years of consistent, regimented training. But to lift heavy, you need to first get strong.
The workout routine I’m featuring in this article is one that I used to break through some plateaus and increase my strength in several important lifts, including the bench press and back squat.
I am a former American College of Sports Medicine certified personal and have over a decade of strength training experience. Though I ultimately decided a career in the fitness industry wasn’t where I wanted to be, I still stay updated on industry trends. The purpose of this article is to simply share a weight training routine that was helpful for me in building strength. There is always a risk of injury with weight training, and understanding and lifting with proper form is the reader's responsibility.
Who this article is for
Immediate weightlifters who want to get stronger and lift heavier will benefit most from this article. You should have some experience lifting weights with good form. If you are new to lifting or need help mastering your form, it might be a good idea to consider working with a certified personal trainer or strength coach. For quality online coaching, check out Barbell Logic.
THE WEIGHTLIFTING ROUTINE THAT HELPED ME GET SWOLE
This routine is all about using large compound lifts that recruit multiple muscle groups. The bench press, for example, recruits the chest, anterior deltoids, and triceps. You can’t bench without using your triceps, so your arms are going to get bigger by default when you focus on boosting your bench press.
Functionality has always been an important factor for me in weight training. I prefer movements that are essential to everyday life—pushing, pulling, squatting, and lifting overhead. So the focus here is on building muscle and increasing strength in 4 compound lifts that involve those movements—the bench press, the back squat, the standing overhead press, and the barbell row.
This workout utilizes a three-day split where you are hitting all of your major muscle groups in one workout. There’s no breaking it up into upper body and lower body days or push and pull days.
The three-day full-body split is a favorite of mine because it maximizes the intensity of every workout—meaning you’re spending less time overall in the gym.
By staying in the 5 to 8 rep range on these lifts, you’re strictly focused on building strength. And by hitting all of these lifts three times a week, you’re maximizing your potential gains while still allowing enough rest and recovery time. The varied intensity of these lifts on each day gives your muscles a steady progressive overload. And a handful of supplemental lifts are added in to provide more balance to the overall workout.
I would do this routine three days per week with a minimum of one day of rest between each workout. For me, this typically was Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with rest days on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Since this routine mainly involves lifting heavy, I would not recommend doing it for more than 8 weeks, max.
After 8 weeks, I would take a week off and then spend another week or two focusing on mobility and flexibility. You could then return to this routine with a few tweaks added in, such as swapping the back squat for deadlifts.
|Exercise||Day 1 (Sets x Reps)||Day 2 (Sets x Reps)||Day 3 (Sets x Reps)|
|Bench Press||3 x 5 (85% of 1RM)||5 x 5 (80% of 1RM)||2 x 5 (90% of 1RM)|
|Back Squat||5 x 5 (80% of 1RM)||2 x 5 (90% of 1RM)||3 x 5 (85% of 1RM)|
|Standing Overhead Press||3 x 5 (85% of 1RM)||5 x 5 (80% of 1RM)||2 x 5 (90% of 1RM)|
|Barbell Rows||3 x 8-10||3 x 8-10||3 x 8-10|
|Bulgarian Split Squat||3 x 10||3 x 10||3 x 10|
|Pullups||3 x 8-10||3 x 8-10||3 x 8-10|
|Skullcrushers||3 x 8-10||3 x 8-10||3 x 8-10|
|Barbell Curl||3 x 8||3 x 8||3 x 8|
|Dumbbell Reverse Fly||3 x 12||3 x 12||3 x 12|
|Core Work||Core Work||Core Work||Core Work|
1RM = 1 Rep Max.
Warming up in a way that prepares your muscles and joints for the work ahead is critical to keeping you in the gym and out of the doctor’s office. For this routine, I built my warmup around calisthenics utilizing the same motions I would be using during the workout.
For my warmup, I would do three circuits of the exercises below:
- 12-15 pushups
- 15-20 air squats
- 3o second plank
- 12-15 lying rotator cuff external rotations
I like adding a little bit of core work, such as the plank, to my warmup since the core is used in every heavy lift in this routine. For me, isolating and warming up my rotator cuffs has been essential in maintaining shoulder stability, which is crucial for lifting heavy.
HEAVY LIFTS - BENCH PRESS, SQUAT, STANDING OVERHEAD PRESS
The first 3 lifts in this routine—bench press, back squat, and standing overhead press—are about building pure strength.
For these movements, I would cycle through two to five sets of five reps, allowing two to three minutes of rest between each set. The heavier the weight, the more rest time I took between sets.
Let's say my 1RM on the bench press was 250 pounds. Here is what my lifts would look like:
Bench Press Day 1: 2 sets x 5 reps at 225 pounds (90% of my 1RM)
Bench Press Day 2: 3 sets of 5 reps at 215 pounds (a little above 85% 1RM)
Bench Press day 3: 5 sets of 5 reps at 200 pounds (80% of my 1RM)
Regardless of what your 1 rep max is, completing 2 sets of 5 reps at 90% is hard, and I didn’t always successfully complete all 10 reps. Some weeks I would get 5 reps on the first set but only 3 or 4 on the second set. If that was the case, I wouldn’t increase the weight the following week.
Important note on sets: for each of these three lifts, you should gradually work up to the weight you’re going to be working at. If you are doing 2 sets x 5 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press, you shouldn’t just jump right in at 225 pounds. Work in a few buildup sets at lighter weight first. I would do something like this:
1 set x 10 reps at 155 pounds
1 set x 8 reps 185 pounds
1 set x 5 reps at 200 pounds
2 sets x reps 225 pounds
Once I could successfully complete 2 sets of 5 reps at the given weight with good form, I would marginally increase the weight the following week.
Continuing the example above, let’s say that I successfully completed 2 sets of 5 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press during the week. The following week would then look like this:
Bench Press Day 1: 2 sets x 5 reps at 235 pounds
Bench Press Day 2: 3 sets x 5 reps at 225 pounds
Bench Press Day 3: 5 sets x 5 reps at 215 pounds
I would then apply the same progression to my squats and standing military press.
A note on increasing weight: Consistent, gradual weight increases are the goal with this workout. For the upper body moves (bench press and military press), I would increase weight in 10-pound increments. For squats, I would increase the weight in increments of 15 or 20 pounds.
A FEW NOTES ON EACH HEAVY LIFT
Bench Press: I prefer to use a flat bench over an incline or decline when bench pressing. But whichever one you choose, be consistent with it throughout the routine.
Back Squats: I performed back squats in this routine because I was specifically trying to increase my back squat numbers. For this routine, you could swap back squats for deadlifts.
Standing Barbell Overhead Press: Yes, you can lift more weight by doing a seated barbell or dumbbell overhead press, but I opt for the standing barbell overhead press for three reasons:
1. Standing overhead presses recruit more muscle activation in the mid and rear deltoids.
2. Standing overhead presses force you to engage your core and legs to form a stable base.
3. In my opinion, a standing overhead press is more functional in everyday life. I have a hard time imagining many scenarios where I would sit and lift a heavy object over my head.
It’s essential to choose your weight based on your 1 rep max for the standing overhead press, not based on your 1 rep max for a seated overhead press.
HOW TO FIND YOUR 1 REP MAX
The 1 rep max is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for the given exercise one time with proper form.
There are a couple of different ways to find your 1 rep max:
1. Go old school and work your way up to it by increasing the weight on a lift until you can only do 1 rep. You’ll need a spotter for this method. Here’s a primer from Men’s Health on how to work up to your 1 rep max.
2. You can calculate it based on what you currently lift. Let's say, for example, that you know that 10 reps at 185 pounds are the most you can put up with good form on the bench press. Drop those numbers into the calculator linked above, and it will give you an estimated one rep max of 247 pounds.
To create more balance in this routine, I added barbell rows, Bulgarian split squats, pullups, skullcrushers, barbell curls, and dumbbell reverse flys. Too much pushing and not enough pulling will ultimately lead to rolled shoulders, bad posture, and annoying back pain (a lesson I learned the hard way).
I would complete 3 sets of 8-10 reps of each move in this group—still within the target range to increase strength.
I didn’t spend too much time worrying about what my one rep max was for these lifts. I primarily focussed on what felt challenging for eight reps but that I could complete with good form. But if you’re curious, 8–10 reps will fall between roughly 67% and 80% of your 1RM.
A FEW NOTES ON EACH SUPPLEMENTAL LIFT
Bent-Over Barbell Rows: I used an overhand grip as opposed to an underhand grip. I wanted the focus to be more on my back and less on my biceps. Once I could do 3 sets of 8 at a given weight, I would increase to 3 sets of 10. Once I hit 3 sets of 10, I would increase the weight.
Bulgarian Split Squats: If 3 sets of 10 feel easy, add a dumbbell in one hand. Once that is easy, put a dumbbell in both hands. From there, you can always increase the weight of the dumbbells.
Pullups: I would alter my grip throughout the week between wide, narrow, and chin-up. You can put a dumbbell between your feet or get a weighted vest to make these more difficult.
Skullcrushers: Triceps make up the bulk of your arm mass. Skullcrushers are one of the best tricep exercises for building muscle.
Barbell Curls: Heavy weight, slow reps, and good form were my focal points.
Dumbbell Reverse Fly: I would use a lighter weight and focus on really holding the squeeze in my back for one to two seconds.
I typically leave core work open-ended because I like to frequently change it up. The key takeaway is to do a few core-isolating exercises at the end of each workout.
This 9-set abdominal circuit from professional big wave surfer Laird Hamilton is a core workout that I return to time and time again.
WHAT ABOUT CARDIO?
Typically, if you’re trying to get swole, you’re going to want to ease up on the cardio. But it’s a little more complicated than that and really depends on what your body type is.
If you are naturally skinny and struggle to put on weight, keep your cardio to a couple of short sessions per week. If you are naturally bigger and pack on muscle and weight relatively quickly, you’ll want to add more cardio throughout the week than someone skinny.
Avoid doing cardio before you lift. You want to lift as much weight as you safely can with good form, and doing cardio first will sap your energy.
EATING TO GET SWOLE
You need to eat to make gains, but again, it will depend on what your body type is.
I am not a nutritionist, so I won’t offer suggestions on what to eat, but here are some great articles that can help:How to Eat to Bulk Up
Nutrition for Lifting 101
23 Best Foods to Build Muscle
THE WRAP UP
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Keep on Growing.
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