Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout: Week 9

Welcome to Week 9 of the Strength Foundation 12-Week workout program from UC Berkeley fitness operations director and premier strength coach Devin Wicks. This is the first week of Month 3: Strength, the goals of which are listed below. So far, you've created a strength base, and built your skills. This month, you can start putting on some muscle mass. To get there, you'll do fewer repetitions per exercise (8 - 10), which will mean using more weight to reach fatigue. For some muscle groups, you'll also add a second exercise, meaning you'll do more sets per muscle group over all. So, where a muscle is worked by two exercises, we're making the third set optional. If you feel you can get a third set in, great - but it's more important to get to true fatigue in 8 - 10 reps, and push through two solid sets. You're also going to start lifting every day, in splits. Days 1, 3, and 5 you'll work your legs, arms, and abs. Days 2, 4, and 6 you'll work your chest, back, and shoulders. The idea is to let you lift more for longer with each muscle group, but still get out of the gym in a reasonable amount of time. By splitting up the days, you work every muscle thoroughly, and still keep adequate recoveries to rebuild. Finally, you're going to sprint on the treadmill on your leg lifting days, to completely wring out your legs. (See the FAQs for an overview of threshold cardio and sprints.) Time to go big, and get even bigger.
The Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout program is broken into three months, each with distinct goals. You are now in Month 3: Strength

Month 3 (Strength): Primary Goals
  1. Use the strength gains of Months 1 and 2 to safely build greater muscle mass through additional exercises, heavier weight, fewer repetitions, and additional sets.
  2. Begin using multiple exercises to target a single muscle group, thus changing the stimulus presented to the muscle. This creates more muscle teardown (which you need to build muscle) and requires the nervous system to operate at a higher degree of efficiency.
  3. Move to lifting in splits in order to work muscles harder while maintaining a manageable gym schedule and appropriate recoveries.
  4. Maintain correct form—keep all movements slow, controlled, and stable.
  5. Continue to improve cardiac efficiency by combining threshold and sprint training on 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 8 - 10 8 - 10 8 - 10 (optional set)
Forward Dumbbell Lunges Legs Rep Max 8 - 10 8 - 10 8 - 10 (optional set)
Preacher Curls Biceps Rep Max 8 - 10 8 - 10 8 - 10
Cable Rope Power Overhead Skull Crushers Triceps Rep Max 8 - 10 8 - 10 8 - 10
Stability Ball Band Crunches Abdominals (Center and Lower) Rep Max 20 20 20
Medicine Ball Wood Chops Abdominals (Obliques) Rep Max 20 20 20
Exercise Time Overview
Treadmill 30 - 40 Minutes Do 35 - 40 minutes of running on the treadmill. At each 5 minute interval, include 1 minute at your threshold, followed by a 20 second sprint, for a total of 4 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-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.
  5. Repeat the preceding interval each 5 minutes. So, at minutes 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 5 - 10 minutes.
See How to Calculate Your RPE for an overview of this heart-rate tracking methodology.
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.
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.
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.
Medicine Ball Wood Chops Stand upright with a medicine ball in both hands (you may also do this exercise seated on a stability ball). Extend your arms and bring the ball down to the side with arms straight, so that the ball is held over one hip. Contract your abdominals and turn slightly toward the ball to generate a moderate twist through your upper body. Then, keeping your arms extended, bring the ball across your body and upward in a rising, crossing motion to the opposite side, using your abs to turn your upper body to follow it. You are moving from low on one side to high on the other, keeping your arms extended and using your abs to cross. Bring the ball back to its starting point, following the same crossing trajectory with arms and shoulders, to complete the movement. Complete an entire set on one side before switching the ball to the other side.