Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout: Week 6

Welcome to Week 6 of the Strength Foundation 12-Week workout program from UC Berkeley fitness operations director and premier strength coach Devin Wicks. This is the second week of Month 2, which has a new set of goals, listed below. This week, the exercises get harder and the expectations more serious. No sandbagging! You should be pushing hard on each set, and watching your form—get your knee above your hip on each Step Up with Alternating Knees, for instance. For the exercises that repeat from last week—Preacher Curls and Dumbbell Military Presses—see if you can add a little weight. For cardio, you’ll stay with 5 intervals—but be sure to get up to speed on the treadmill on your cardio days, even adding a few minutes to your run. Next week, you start threshold training on the treadmill. (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. 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 stability 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 function 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)
Step-ups with Alternating Knees Legs Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys Chest Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Flat Bench One-arm Dumbbell Rows Back Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Dumbbell Military Presses Shoulders Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 N/A
Seated Reverse Flys Shoulders Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 N/A
Preacher Curls Biceps Rep Max 10 - 12 10 – 12 10 - 12
Cable Rope Power Overhead Skull Crushers Triceps Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Stability Ball Band Crunches Abdominals (center and lower) N/A 20 20 20
Stability Ball Superman Holds, Weighted Variation Back (lower) 3 lbs. 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
Step-ups with Alternating Knees Stand upright facing a box, or an aerobics step on multiple risers, or a flat bench, and take an Olympic bar or appropriate fixed barbell across your shoulders, behind your neck, letting the bar rest on the dip between your deltoids and trapezius, and lightly balancing it with your hands. With your right foot, step up onto the box, simultaneously lifting your left knee, such that your knee is above your hip when you are all the way on top of the box. Lower your knee and step down, then switch sides, stepping up with your left foot as you lift your right knee. Your knee must come higher than your hip in this motion. Do not twist—keep your chest lifted and your shoulders square. Continue to alternate throughout the set.
Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys Lie on a flat bench with your feet on the floor and dumbbells held in each hand and arms extended above you, with your elbows slightly bent and your palms facing inward. Hold the dumbbells approximately shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulders retracted and your chest high. Engage your abdominals to prevent your back from arching. Open your chest and, keeping your arms held in the same position with elbows slightly bent, lower the dumbbells down into a fly. Do not arch your back. Make sure to keep your chest flexed and engaged all the way to the bottom of the movement. Go deep but not too deep-do not allow the dumbbells to go below the level of your back or you'll risk shoulder injury. When you have reached the bottom of the fly motion, reverse and bring the dumbbells back up together to the starting position. Make your chest do the pushing; don't let your shoulders kick in. Remember not to bring the dumbbells closer than shoulder-width apart. After you have completed your reps, bend your elbows, bring the dumbbells to your chest, and then sit up and simultaneously drive the dumbbells down towards the tops of your thighs in one motion. This will help prevent you from twisting your back unnaturally as you set down the dumbbells.
Flat Bench One-arm Dumbbell Rows Stand beside the long side of a flat bench, such that the bench is on your left. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Bend your left knee and rest it on the bench as you bend over and brace your left hand on the end of the bench, such that your back is flat. Fully extend your right arm toward the floor, with your palm facing inward. Bending your elbow, slowly pull the weight up to your side, until your elbow is level with your back, keeping the elbow pressed against the body. Hold the weight at the top of the movement very briefly, then slowly lower it. Do an entire set with the right arm, then switch sides of the bench and repeat with the left arm. While one side is working the other is recovering, meaning that you can do your sets immediately back-to-back, without stopping.
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.
Seated Reverse Flys Holding dumbbells in each hand with your palms facing in toward you, sit on a flat bench your feet together on the floor in front of you. Lean your upper body over your thighs, allowing the dumbbells to hang down on either side of your legs. Tilt the dumbbells at a slight angle so that your pinky will lead the hand in the outward movement. Your elbows should stay soft (slightly bent) throughout the exercise. From the starting position, simultaneously extend both arms up and out to the sides using the back of your shoulders to do work. Maintain the position of your arms as you lift and keep your traps relaxed throughout movement (do not shrug). Extend out until your arms are level with your back, and then reverse direction and slowly return to your starting position, maintaining flexion in your rear deltoids as you lower the dumbbells back down.
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.
Cable Rope Power Overhead Skull Crushers Attach a double-handled rope attachment to the high setting on a cable machine. Take the handles in each hand and take them overhead as you turn around, so that you end up with your back to the machine and the rope handles in each hand behind your neck. Stand tall with your elbows bent but held high, and your hands together. Straighten your elbows to bring your hands straight up into the air, ending with your arms fully extended above you and slightly in front of vertical. Your motion should be controlled but swift and powerful, as though you were throwing the handles toward the ceiling; focus on engaging your triceps. Bend your elbows to return your hands to the starting position, letting your triceps stretch at the bottom of your movement.
Stability Ball Band Crunches Pull a resistance band around an upright post, or the leg of a flat bench that is bolted into the floor. Put a stability ball one half of the band’s length away from the band’s point of attachment on the pole or bench leg. Taking one handle of the band in each hand, sit down on the ball with your back toward the band’s point of attachment. Slide down on the ball until it is under your lower back, midway between your sacrum and scapula. Your legs will be bent with feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Holding a handle in each hand, extend your arms straight down, until your palms cover where your front pockets would be if you were wearing jeans. The tube will be stretched over your shoulders, extending to the pole. Now, keeping your arms locked straight (no bending your elbows!), use a transverse abdominal contraction to draw your navel inward as you lift your shoulders and slide your palms down your thighs until you nearly touch your knees. Then, reverse the motion, resisting the band’s pull as you slide your hands back up to your “pockets”, keeping your elbows straight all the while.
Stability Ball Superman Holds, Weighted Variation Take a three-pound dumbbell in each hand. Lie down on a stability ball, 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 your palms facing you. 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 (with the weights), shoulders, and chest off the ball. Keep your head and neck in line with your back and your arms straight. 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