Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout: Week 7

Welcome to Week 7 of the Strength Foundation 12-Week workout program from UC Berkeley fitness operations director and premier strength coach Devin Wicks. This is the third week of Month 2, the goals of which are listed below. You’re still doing 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions, reaching fatigue in each set, and pushing hard to get through all of the reps. The theme of this week is control: you have a whole new set of exercises requiring you to balance and stabilize your body’s own weight even as you lift. For instance, Wicks has added Squats, Bench Press, and Assisted Pull-ups on a Gravitron machine, all functional training exercises that push your body as a whole. Your abs work is similarly aimed at challenging your core by repositioning your weight, and demanding that you find a stable center. For shoulders, however, you’re backing off slightly this week, and using Lateral Raises as a recovery; shoulders are delicate, and we want to bring them along carefully. They’ll push hard again in Month 3. For cardio, the treadmill moves to your lifting days, to really blow out your legs, and you’re going to get yourself to threshold on the treadmill, starting with three times. (See the FAQs for an overview of threshold cardio and sprints.) Dig in. We’re just hitting our stride.
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)
Barbell Squats Legs Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Flat Bench Barbell Press Chest Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Gravitron Speed Neutral-Grip Pull-ups Back Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Dumbbell Lateral Raises Shoulders Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Reclined Dumbbell Hammer Curls Biceps Rep Max 10 - 12 10 – 12 10 - 12
Rope Tricep Press-Downs Triceps Rep Max 10 - 12 10 - 12 10 - 12
Medicine Ball Russian Twists Abdominals (Obliques) Rep Max 20 20 N/A
Stability Ball Pike-ups Abdominals (Center and Lower) N/A 20 20 N/A
Exercise Time Overview
Treadmill 30 Minutes Do 30 minutes of running on the treadmill. At each 5 minute interval, include 1 minute at your threshold, for a total of 3 intervals.
  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—use a balance of incline and speed to achieve greater intensity.
  3. At minute 11, return to your RPE of 6 - 7.
  4. Repeat the preceding interval twice more, at minutes 15 and 20, each time achieving and maintaining threshold for a full minute, and returning to an RPE of 6 - 7 until the next interval.
  5. At minute 25, 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.
Note: We have shortened your cardio time for this week to allow for the increased intensity of thresholds on the treadmill, especially now that the treadmill is on your lifting days. But if you want to push harder, feel free to run for longer!
Exercise Overview
Barbell Squats Rack an Olympic bar at shoulder level. Stand upright in front of the barbell so that it is resting across your shoulders and behind your neck. Your feet should be hip-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward at a natural angle. Hold the barbell on either side of your neck about one foot more than shoulder-width apart, with your palms facing forward. Lift the barbell off the rack and step back to give you room to squat. You may want to practice with a dowel or weightless bar if you haven't done this exercise before. Slowly lower down toward a fully squatted position, pulling your weight down through your leg muscles as you descend, and thinking about sitting down rather than back. Push your chest out very slightly in front of you to counterbalance the heavy load on your heels. Your back should maintain a natural arch; do not over-arch. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, you will have reached the depth of the squat. Reverse motion and drive up through your feet to return to the starting position.
Flat Bench Barbell Press Lie on your back on a flat bench with a barbell on the rack over your upper body. The barbell should be at a level corresponding to the distance from your elbow to your hand when your elbows are bent at right angles at your sides. Take the barbell in your hands with your hands wider than shoulder-distance apart and your palms facing toward your feet. With the barbell still on the rack, contract your shoulder blades together and downward to raise your chest toward the bar. Engage your abdominals by pulling them in toward your spine to create a muscular "weight belt". You will use this technique to keep your back flat throughout the exercise—do not, at any time, permit your back to arch. Lift the bar off the rack and, keeping it steady, bend and lower your elbows to the side until they are at the level of your back. The bar should not touch or bounce off of your chest at any point. Keeping your head and neck in line with your spine and your back flat on the bench by engaging your abs, slowly press the bar directly toward the ceiling. Controlling the motion, return the bar to the position just above your chest, with your elbows at the level of your back.
Gravitron Speed Neutral-Grip Pull-ups Stand on the platform of a Gravitron machine, holding the parallel pull-up handgrips in each hand, with your palm facing inward in a neutral position. Step off of the platform and onto the foot rests, allowing your body weight to bring you down until your arms are fully extended. Quickly and powerfully pull yourself vertically upward while keeping your elbows close to your ribs, retracting your shoulder blades, and opening your chest. Try to keep your entire lower body (hips, knees, ankles) stable and still as you lift to ensure that you isolate your back muscles. At the top of your motion, your head should be above your hands, your chin level with the bars, and your neck in line with your spine. Your shoulder blades should remain retracted. Reverse motion and lower yourself with controlled speed back to the starting position while keeping the movement in the muscle; do not simply let go or allow your elbows to lock. Exhale on the flexion (the upward movement) and inhale on the extension (the downward movement). If you can manage a full set of these at the assigned number of repetitions, try adding a belt and a weight plate for an added challenge.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises Stand on the floor with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at your sides. Your knees should be slightly bent, and your palms should face in toward your hips. Raise both dumbbells up from each side and away from the body, keeping your elbows straight. Keeping your trapezoid muscles relaxed, continue raising your arms until they are horizontal with your shoulders. Slowly lower the arms back to starting position and repeat.
Reclined Dumbbell Hammer Curls Lie on your back on an incline bench set at an angle 30 degrees behind the vertical. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms extended straight down toward the floor from your shoulders and your palms facing each other. Bend one elbow to lift your arm into a curl. Keep your upper arm at your side and your wrist flat, and do not turn your hand over as you lift. Your shoulders should remain steady and pressed against the bench. From the top of your motion-when your hand is slightly past vertical (making sure your bicep stays flexed even at top of movement) lower your hand back to the starting position, keeping the hand in the same orientation throughout. You should feel a good stretch through your bicep in the extended position. Immediately repeat the same curl with the other arm, continuing to alternate throughout the set.
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.
Medicine Ball Russian Twists Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a medicine ball in both hands at chest level. Engage your transverse abdominals (the horizontal band of muscle below your belly button) and keep your back flat as you lean your upper body behind vertical, no more than 30 degrees. Keep your chest lifted so that you don't slump, and rotate sideways to bring the ball around to the side as you extend your arms. Touch the ball lightly to the floor beside your hip, and then bend your elbows and bring the ball back to your chest as you straighten your body. Immediately repeat on the other side, rotating your upper body as you extend your arms and tap the ball to the floor beside your other hip. You have now completed one repetition.
Stability Ball Pike-ups Take up a push-up (plank) position, with your hands under your shoulders and your back flat, but with a stability ball under your legs. The ball should be beneath your shins and the tops of your feet, with your toes pointed. Engage your abdominals so that your hips do not droop toward the floor. Use your abdominals to fold your body upward, pulling your hips and buttocks straight toward the ceiling. Keep your feet pointed, so that the ball comes under your toes as your hips rise. At the top of your lift, the ball will be held under your pointed toes, and your back will nearly be in a straight line with your arms. Your shoulders should remain above your hands or slightly behind them—never in front. From the top of your lift, lower your hips as you press the ball back carefully with your feet, allowing it to be captured by the tops of your feet as you return to the starting position. Do not allow your hips to dip below a flat line with your shoulders and feet.


Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith