Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout: Week 3

Welcome to Week 3 of the Strength Foundation 12-Week workout program from UC Berkeley fitness operations director and premier strength coach Devin Wicks. This week has some familiar exercises, and some new ones as well. For this week, you should notice an increase in difficulty level that is challenging but still manageable. Your job: Do three full sets of each exercise. You should have to really push out that third set, but we want you to get through all three. If three sets at the weight you were using last week seems easy, add five to seven percent more weight this week, but only if you can get through all three sets at the new weight. For cardio, you'll add sprints after your threshold training (see the FAQs for an overview of threshold cardio and sprints).
The Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout program is broken into three months, each with distinct goals.

Month 1 (Base): Primary Goals
  1. Familiarize yourself with the gym.
  2. Identify large muscle groups.
  3. Develop understanding of correct form—keep all movements slow, controlled, and stable.
  4. Break down and rebuild muscle and connective tissue (expect some soreness).
  5. Learn your limits—and how to appropriately challenge them.
  6. Practice pushing through resistance—both physical and psychological.
  7. Improve cardiac efficiency by maintaining an elevated heart rate for a sustained period.


Exercise Muscles Weight (Goal) Set 1 Reps (Goal) Set 1 Reps (Actual) Set 2 Reps (Goal) Set 2 Reps (Actual) Set 3 Reps (Goal) Set 3 Reps (Actual)
Seated Leg Presses Legs Rep Max 12 - 15 12 - 15 12 - 15
Standing Cable Chest Flys Chest Rep Max 12 - 15 12 - 15 12 - 15
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns Back Rep Max 12 - 15 12 - 15 12 - 15
Front Dumbbell Raises Shoulders Rep Max 12 - 15 12 - 15 12 - 15
Standing Dumbbell Curls Biceps Rep Max 12 - 15 12 - 15 12 - 15
Dumbbell Skull Crushers Triceps Rep Max 12 - 15 12 - 15 12 - 15
Floor Crunches Abdominals (center and lower) N/A 3 sets of 20 3 sets of 20 3 sets of 20
Superman Hold with Freestyle Kicks Back (lower) N/A 2 sets of 20 2 sets of 20 N/A
Exercise Time Overview
Spin or Stationary Bike, or Elliptical Machine 30 Minutes Do 30 minutes on the spin or stationary bike, or on the elliptical machine.
  1. For the first 10 minutes, achieve and maintain an RPE of 6 - 7.
  2. At minute 10, spend one minute at threshold—an RPE of 8 - 9. Don't just go faster—add both resistance and speed to gain intensity.
  3. At minute 11, go directly from your threshold minute to a 20 second sprint. This is an RPE of 9+, an all-out effort.
  4. Recover at an RPE of 6 – 7. It will be tempting to crash after the sprint, but try not to go below an RPE of 6 at any point. Maintain your RPE of 6 - 7 until minute 20.
  5. At minute 20, again spend one minute at threshold—an RPE of 8 - 9.
  6. At minute 21, again go directly from your threshold minute to a 20 second sprint. Go hard in the sprint, with everything you’ve got.
  7. Recover at an RPE of 6 - 7 until minute 25.
  8. Cool down at an RPE of 5 - 6 for your last five minutes.
See How to Calculate Your RPE for an overview of this heart-rate tracking methodology.
Exercise Overview
Seated Leg Presses Lie on your back on a sled leg press machine, with your feet about hip-width apart and your hands lightly grasping the handles for balance. You should have enough engagement through your leg muscles that you can engage the weights throughout the exercise, never completely releasing the resistance. From the starting position, push strongly with both legs to press the foot plate away from you. Come all the way to a full extension, with your legs straight. To focus the work of this exercise in your quads, press the plate with the balls of your feet. To focus on your glutes and hamstrings, press more from your heels. From the extended position, bend your knees to return to the starting position.
Standing Cable Chest Flys Stand in front of the cable machine with your back to the machine and with a handle in each hand. Hold your arms extended out to the sides, slightly in front of the line of your chest, with your palms facing forward. Stagger your feet for stability, so that one leg is forward, with the forward knee remaining behind the ankle. Breathe in deeply and as you exhale, press your arms together in front of you until your arms are extended forward and your hands meet. Pause momentarily, and then allow your arms to return to the starting position, maintaining a controlled movement. Your arms will be straight for this entire exercise, but you should be careful not to lock your elbows. Keep your elbows soft, with a slight bend in them, throughout the entire movement. Your wrists should remain straight.
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns Seat yourself at a cable station, facing the machine, beneath a long-bar attachment suspended from the cable. Stabilize yourself using the pads above the knees. Reach up and grip with bar with palms facing away from you, hands a little more than shoulder width apart. Pull the bar downward toward your chest, keeping your shoulders down throughout the movement. As you pull down, broaden your chest, pull through your pinkies and slightly tuck your elbows a little bit forward to isolate your lats. When the bar comes close to your chest, pause momentarily and then reverse the motion, slowly resisting the upward motion of the bar as it rises.
Front Dumbbell Raises Holding dumbbells in both hands, stand with feet hip width apart. Hold the dumbbells with arms extended straight down just in front of your hips, so that the dumbbells are just in front of your thighs, with palms facing you. Bring your right arm straight up in front of you, keeping the elbow straight but “soft” (not locked) and your hand flat, with palm facing toward you or the floor (never sideways or upward). Lift without shoving forward with the shoulder on the lifting side; keep your shoulders down and back, with your chest lifted. Raise the arm only as high as your shoulder level, and no higher than your chin under any circumstances. From the top of your lift, lower your arm back to your starting position, maintaining a slow and controlled pace. Repeat with the left arm, continuing to alternate through the set.
Standing Dumbbell Curls Stand with arms extended downward in front of you and your palms facing forward away from you. Hold your elbows in front of and gently against your ribs to engage the biceps muscle and stabilize your upper body. Curl both weights up at the same time until you fully flex the muscle. Keep your core engaged, your wrists straight, and your elbows in front of your ribs throughout the movement: no swinging! From the top of your range of motion, reverse direction and bring the weights slowly back down to the extended position. Be sure to keep your biceps engaged as you bring the weights back down.
Dumbbell Skull Crushers Lie on your back on a flat bench with your head near one end and a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms toward the ceiling, but at a 30 or 45-degree angle behind the vertical, such that even in the starting position you can feel tension in your triceps. Your palms should be facing each other. Cross your feet at the ankle and bring your knees toward your chest, so that your upper legs are perpendicular to the bench, your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, and your lower legs are parallel to the floor. Now, keep your upper arms immobile as you bend your elbows and lower your forearms toward your head. Do not hit yourself in the head with the weights— that’s how this exercise gets its name! Instead, keep your hands at shoulder width throughout. Keep your shoulders back and your elbows high as you do these. At the bottom of the movement, reverse direction and bring your hands back to the starting position, again without changing the position of your upper arm. Your tightest flexion will be at the top of the movement, so be careful to control the upward movement as much as the down.
Floor Crunches Lie on a floor mat or on the floor with your feet on the ground approximately hip-width apart, your back flat and your elbows bent with fingers just cupping your head on each side. To avoid straining your neck, do not fully support your head in your hands. Use a rolling motion to lift the upper body up off the floor until your shoulder blades are off the floor. Be careful to lift with your abdominal muscles and not with your arms—you should feel no pull in your neck. At the top position, you should feel a complete squeeze in your abdominal area. Hold the squeeze, and then reverse the motion and slowly lower yourself down again until your back is once again flat on the floor or mat.
Superman Hold with Freestyle Kicks Lie face down on the floor with your legs extended and your arms straight on the floor in front of you with palms facing down. From the starting position, raise both your legs off the floor as you retract your shoulder blades and lift your arms, shoulders, and chest off the floor as well. Keep your head and neck in line with your back. Once only your stomach and hips are on the floor, maintain the elevated position as you perform freestyle kicks: Kick from the hip with alternating legs, keeping your toes pointed and your knees straight. Be careful not to fling your legs or bend your knees—your kicks should be small, quick, and controlled.


Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith and Andrew Giammarco