Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout: Week 5

Welcome to Week 5 of the Strength Foundation 12-Week workout program from UC Berkeley fitness operations director and premier strength coach Devin Wicks. This is the beginning of Month 2, which has a new set of goals, listed below. In Month 2, you’re going to start focusing on full-body strength, beyond just the biggest muscle groups. You’ll start training your stabilizing muscles, teaching your body to work as a unit, and lifting heavier weights. Even though there are several new (and harder) exercises, you’re going to do fewer repetitions per set, down to 10 to 12 from last month’s 12 to 15. But you need to get to fatigue in that 10 to 12 reps, which means noticeably increasing how much you lift. For your cardio, you'll go slightly longer and complete a fifth threshold and sprint interval. (See the FAQs for an overview of threshold cardio and sprints.) Finally, you’ll start endurance work on the treadmill, since in Month 3, you’re going to sprint on it.
* The Preacher Curl video is being reshot and will be available April 5.
The Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout program is broken into three months, each with distinct goals. You are now in Month 2: Skill

Month 2 (Skill): Primary Goals
  1. Build on the foundation laid in Month 1 using greater intensity and heavier weights.
  2. Improve strength base by training smaller stabilizing muscles in addition to large muscle groups targeted in Month 1. This is key to moving on to heavier lifting in Month 3.
  3. Create a platform for greater strength development through functional training – teaching the body to work as a unit rather than a series of individual muscle groups. This involves closed kinetic chain and balance exercises, which make lifting, holding, and stabilizing your own weight a significant part of your workout. For example, lunges replace the leg machine exercises.
  4. Develop understanding of correct form—keep all movements slow, controlled, and stable.
  5. Train nervous system to fire more efficiently by using exercises that target muscles in new ways.
  6. Improve cardiac efficiency by developing threshold and sprint training, and integrating more challenging cardio equipment (i.e. the treadmill).


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)
Forward Dumbbell Lunges Legs Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Dumbbell Press Chest Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Seated Cable Rows Back Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Dumbbell Military Presses Shoulders Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Preacher Curls Biceps Rep Max 10 - 12 10 – 12 10 - 12
Rope Tricep Press-Downs Triceps Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Weighted Stability Ball Crunches Abdominals (center and lower) 10 lbs. 20 20 20
Stability Ball Superman Holds Back (lower) N/A 20 20 N/A
Exercise Time Overview
Spin or Stationary Bike, or Elliptical Machine 35 - 40 Minutes Do 35 - 40 minutes on the spin or stationary bike, or on the elliptical machine. At each 5 minute interval, include 1 minute at your threshold, followed by a 20 second sprint (for a total of 5 intervals).
  1. For the first 5 minutes, achieve and maintain an RPE of 6 - 7.
  2. At minute 5, 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 6, 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.
  5. Repeat the preceding interval each 5 minutes. So, at minutes 10, 15, 20 and 25, spend 60 seconds at threshold, followed by a 20 second sprint, and use the remainder of the time to recover at an RPE of 6 - 7 until the next interval.
  6. At minute 30, cool down at an RPE of 5 - 6 for your last five to ten minutes.
See How to Calculate Your RPE for an overview of this heart-rate tracking methodology.
Exercise Overview
Forward Dumbbell Lunges Stand upright with feet hip width apart and a dumbbell held in each hand, with arms hanging at your sides. Step forward with one foot, then drop your back knee down toward the floor. Keep your upper body vertical and your arms hanging straight down. Bring your rear knee as close to the floor as you can control, without allowing your front knee to come ahead of your front toe at any point. From the bottom of your lunge, press back to your standing position. The dumbbells should not swing around during this exercise; they are being used as dead weight, to increase the intensity.
Dumbbell Press Lie on your back on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand and both your head and hips on the bench. Your feet should be flat and light on the floor. Hold the dumbbells with palms facing your feet, and arms extended toward the ceiling, straight up from the shoulder. Your hands should be shoulder width apart—and they will stay at that distance throughout the exercise. Bend both elbows as you pull the weights straight down toward the floor. As you do this, try to keep your chest high, isolating the pectoral muscles rather than using your shoulders. When your elbows are level with your back, press back up toward the ceiling, keeping your chest open and shoulders back even as your arms straighten upward. Do not let the weights touch at the top of your motion—they should come straight toward the ceiling, not in an arc.
Seated Cable Rows Sit on the floor or on a flat bench at a cable row station holding a double-handle attachment with your elbows tucked in and your arms extended with palms facing. Your hands should be slightly less than shoulder distance apart. Your back should be flat, your chest out, your abs engaged into your spine, your posture tall, and your legs slightly bent. Pull the handles in toward your stomach, leading with your pinkies and squeezing the shoulder blades together as you pull. Imagine you are trying to wrap your elbows around behind your back. Keep your back flat, your abs engaged strong into your spine, and a tall posture as you pull. When you have pulled the handles all the way in to your abdomen, reverse direction and return to the starting position, resisting the pull of the cable through your lats as you extend your arms. Do not let your elbows come wide as your arms extend.
Dumbbell Military Presses Holding dumbbells in both hands, stand with feet hip width apart. Bring the dumbbells to just above your shoulders, with your palms facing forward and your elbows bent down and to the side. Press both weights straight up from the shoulder toward the ceiling until your arms are extended and your elbows straight. Try to keep your shoulders down as you do this: no shrugging. Do not bring the weights around in an arc — they should not touch at the top of your lift; rather, push straight upward. From the top of your lift, bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells, again in a straight vertical line, to just above your shoulders.
Preacher Curls Set a preacher bench facing the pre-stacked or stackable bent bar. Sit at the bench with your armpits dug completely down onto its peak, and your upper arms pressed against its face. Hold the bar with an easy grip with your palms up and your hands about shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows to bring your forearms to vertical, and to engage the tension on the bar. Now, do a bicep curl, lowering both forearms down toward the bench. As you lower your arms, keep the engagement in the biceps muscles and resist the downward pull of the bar. At the bottom of your motion, your elbow should not be completely straight—keep a very slight bend in the joint to keep the bicep muscle engaged. From the bottom position, slowly curl the bar back up to the starting position, keeping your upper arm against the bench throughout. Be careful not to go too far in either direction—at both the top and bottom of the curl there is the risk of going beyond the range of the biceps. To stay within the range of the muscle, don’t bring your hands so high that they touch your upper arm or shoulder.
Rope Tricep Press-Downs Hook a rope triceps attachment to the highest position on the cable machine. Stand facing the machine and take one rope handle in each hand. Stagger your feet with one in front of the other. Keep your body tall and your shoulder blades together as you bring your hands directly down beside you, ending with your hands held at either side of your hips. Your elbows should stay squeezed in toward your sides throughout. From the bottom of your motion, bring your hands back to the starting position, but do not bring your elbows much beyond 90 degrees, such that you maintain tension on the cable. After you have completed one repetition, immediately move into your next rep.
Weighted Stability Ball Crunches Sit on a stability ball with your feet on the floor in front of you, approximately hip-width apart. Lie back on the stability ball so that your body is supported between the top of your buttocks and your shoulder blades, your abdominals are centered right at the top of the ball, and your head is hanging off the other side of the ball. Take a weight plate in both hands and place it behind your head with your head resting lightly on the plate and your elbows out to the side. From the starting position, engage your core muscles and roll your upper body up until your shoulder blades are off the stability ball and your upper body just breaks the plane of being flat. Your head should still be resting lightly on the weight plate, but the plate should not be pulling your head up—use your arms to support the plate, but your abs to lift your upper body. Reverse the motion and, with your core engaged, lower yourself back to flat. Throughout this movement, you should keep the weight plate right behind your head, and keep your abdominal muscles engaged.
Stability Ball Superman Holds Place a stability ball on the floor in front of it and lie down on it, face down. The ball should be under your belly and hips, with your head and shoulders extending in front of the ball and your arms hanging straight down toward the floor, with fingertips touching the floor for balance. Your legs should be extended behind you and your feet wide on the floor. For greater difficulty, bring your feet closer together. From the starting position, retract your shoulder blades and lift your arms, shoulders, and chest off the ball. Keep your head and neck in line with your back. Once only your stomach and hips are on the ball, maintain the elevated position for a deep breath. Then, slowly lower your chest back to the ball and repeat.


Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith