Muscle and Brawn Fast Start Beginner Workout Routine

Muscle and Brawn Fast Start Beginner Workout Routine

The Muscle and Brawn Fast Start program is for beginning to early intermediate lifters who want to maximize their gym time. This workout approach allows you to build muscle at an optimal rate while also increasing your strength. There are three phases to the Muscle and Brawn approach.

Before we begin, here is a brief explanation of the Rep Goal System.
  • Weight – For a given exercise, use the same weight or each set.
  • Effort – Perform as many reps as possible during each set. Stop that set when you feel like you might fail on the next rep, or when your form starts to slip.
  • Rep Goal – Each group of sets has a "Rep Goal." This is the number of reps you are after for ALL sets, not for each set. Add up the reps performed for each set of a given exercise. If it is equal to, or greater than the Rep Goal for that exercise, add weight to the bar the next time you perform that movement.
Don't train to failure. It's not needed. Focus on maximizing every set. Let's look at an example.

Bench Press – 3 Sets, Rep Goal of 20

Let's say you are performing 3 sets on the bench press, and the goal is to reach 20 total reps. Understand, this is not 20 reps per set, but 20 total reps. If you do reach this goal, you will add weight the next time in the gym.

Perhaps you are starting with 175 pounds. Your first workout goes something like this:
  • Set 1 – 175 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set 2 – 175 pounds x 8 reps
  • Set 3 – 175 pounds x 6 reps
Adding up 10, 8 and 6 reps you hit a total of 24 reps. This exceeds your Rep Goal of 20, so you will move up to 180 pounds the next time you bench press.

Phase 1 Workout

For the novice with no lifting experience. This phase lasts 1-2 month. Advance to Phase 2 when you have established training consistency, and feel comfortable enough with your squat and bench press form to start progressing in weight.

During this phase you can work out two or three times per week. The call is yours. If you lift twice a week, I recommend the following schedule:
  • Day 1 - Workout A
  • Day 2 - Off
  • Day 3 - Off
  • Day 4 - Workout B
  • Day 5 - Off
  • Day 6 - Off
  • Day 7 - Off
If you want to work out three times per week, consider the following schedule:
  • Day 1 - Workout A
  • Day 2 - Off
  • Day 3 - Workout B
  • Day 4 - Off
  • Day 5 - Workout A
  • Day 6 - Off
  • Day 7 - Off
  • Day 8 - Workout B
  • Day 9 - Off
  • Day 10 - Workout A
  • Day 11 - Off
  • Day 12 - Workout B
  • Day 13 - Off
  • Day 14 - Off
Workout A
Phase 1
Exercise Sets Reps
Squats  2  10
Push Ups  2  10-20
Lat Pull Downs  2  10
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press  2  10
Dumbbell Shrugs  2  10
Leg Curls  2  10
Close Grip Bench Press  2  10
Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curls  2  10
Planks  2  60-120 sec
Workout B
Phase 1
Exercise Sets Reps
Romanian Deadlifts  2  10
Bench Press  2  10
Goblet Squats  2  10
One Arm Dumbbell Rows  2  10
Upright Rows  2  10
Seated Calf Raise  2  10
Cable Triceps Extensions  2  10
EZ Bar Curls  2  10
Ab Wheel Roll Outs  2  10

Phase 2 Workout

Phase 2 is a full body approach designed to allow you to build muscle and strength at a rapid rate. Lifters should remain in the phase until you reach two out of the three minimum standards below:
  • Bench Press - 185 estimated 1RM
  • Squat - 275 estimated 1RM
  • Deadlift - 315 estimated 1RM
You may continue to use the Phase 2 full body workout longer if you wish. There is no urgent need to rush into Phase 3 if you prefer full body workouts. Phase 3 is simply an upper/lower approach that reduces muscle group training frequency slightly to allow for better recovery.

A typical Phase 2 workout schedule is:
  • Day 1 - Workout A
  • Day 2 - Off
  • Day 3 - Workout B
  • Day 4 - Off
  • Day 5 - Workout C
  • Day 6 - Off
  • Day 7 - Off
Workout notes:

AMAP - As may reps as possible.

Deadlifts - Your final 3 sets, excluding your initial warm-up sets, are:
  • 80% of final set working weight x 5 reps
  • 90% of final set working weight x 3 reps
  • Working weight x 8 reps
So if your final set working weight is 220 pounds, your 3 sets would be:
  • 180 x 5 reps
  • 200 x 3 reps
  • 220 x 8 reps
Add 5 pounds to deadlifts when your final 8-rep set feels manageable. This means that the last couple reps did not feel close to failure.

Squats, Workout C - Subtract 15% from your workout A squat weight. Try to perform 3 sets of 8 reps.
Workout a
Phase 2
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Squats  3  25
Incline Dumbbell bench Press  3  30
Pull Ups  3  AMAP
Seated Overhead Barbell Press  3  30
Leg Curls  2  25
Close Grip Bench Press  2  20
Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curls  2  25
Ab Wheel Rollouts  2  10-15 reps
Workout b
Phase 2
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Deadlift  3  5, 3, 8 reps
Leg Press  3  40
Dips  3  AMAP
Dumbbell Upright Rows  3  30
Barbell Shrugs  2  20
Seated Calf Raise  2  25
Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions  2  25
Rope Cable Crunches  2  20
Workout c
Phase 2
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Squats (Workout A Weight Minus 15%)  3  8 reps
Bench Press  3  25
One Arm Dumbbell Rows  3  30
Seated Alternating Overhead Dumbbell Press  3  30
Leg Curls  2  25
Cable Triceps Extensions  2  25
EZ Bar Curls  2  25
Planks  2  60-120 secs


Phase 3 Workout

Phase 3 is an upper/lower split that can be run indefinitely. You will be training 4 days per week as follows:
  • Day 1 - Upper A
  • Day 2 - Lower A
  • Day 3 - Off
  • Day 4 - Upper B
  • Day 5 - Lower B
  • Day 6 - Off
  • Day 7 - Off
If your schedule only allows you to train three days per week, use the following style of cycle:
  • Day 1 - Upper A
  • Day 2 - Off
  • Day 3 - Lower A
  • Day 4 - Off
  • Day 5 - Upper B
  • Day 6 - Off
  • Day 7 - Off
  • Day 8 - Lower B
  • Day 9 - Off
  • Day 10 - Upper A
  • Day 11 - Off
  • Day 12 - Lower A
  • Day 13 - Off
  • Day 14 - Off
Workout notes:

Squats, Lower A - Perform 4 sets of 5 reps. When this weight feels manageable, add 5 pounds to the bar.

Squats, Lower B - Perform 1 set of 20 reps. When this weight feels manageable, add 5 pounds to the bar.

Pull Ups - If you are unable to perform pull ups, perform inverted rows instead.

Deadlifts - Perform as many quality singles as you can in 10 minutes. This is a rest-pause set, which means you can take as much or as little time as needed in between singles. After each rep release the bar, gather your senses, set up proper form, and perform another single. When you can perform 10 or more singles in 10 minutes, add 5 pounds to the bar.
Upper a
Phase 3
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Bench Press  3  20
One Arm Dumbbell Rows  3  35
Seated Alternating Overhead Dumbbell Press  4  40
Lat Pull Downs  2  25
Machine Chest Press  2  25
Lying Triceps Extension  3  30
Hammer Curls  3  30
Lower a
Phase 3
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Squats  4  5 reps
Romanian Deadlifts  3  30
Hack Machine Squats  3  30
Power Shrugs  3  30
Standing Calf Raise  3  40
Ab Wheel Roll Outs  3  10-20 reps
Upper B
Phase 3
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Seated Overhead Barbell Press  4  40
Pull Ups/Inverted Rows  3  10-20 reps
Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press  3  30
Seated Cable Rows  2  25
Incline Dumbbell Flyes  2  25
Close Grip Bench Press  3  30
EZ Bar Curls  3  30
Lower B
Phase 3
Exercise Sets Rep Goal
Deadlifts  1  10 minutes R/P
Squats  1  20 reps
Leg Press  4  50
Leg Curls  4  50
Seated Calf Raise  3  40
Planks  3  60-120 secs

What I Don't Like About Beginner Programs

Let's cut to the chase. Novice lifters have no shortage of workout options. They all work, if you work them, but I've never believed these programs were the best possible options.

Any workout system that focuses on heavy compound movements and progressive overload will forge results. There is no doubt. With that said, there are many aspects of these workouts I do not like.

Without presenting an exhaustive, mind-numbingly dull list, here are some training principles commonly shoveled at beginners that I don't personally believe are necessarily optimal.
  • Linear Progression - Progression is rarely linear. Forcing a trainee to stick to some arbitrary advancement plan, no matter how clean and tidy it feels, simply isn't the best plan of attack for the average trainee.
  • 5x5 Obsession. Yes, they work. Yes, 5x5's can work well. I use a variation of them in this program. Still, the obsession with 5x5's has turned them into some sort of mythical, magical strength and muscle building set and rep scheme. They aren't. Pushing sets for as many (safe) reps as possible is a much more efficient method of packing on muscle mass while building strength.
  • Frequent Deloading. Simply not needed. Forcing a lifter to take a deload every 4 to 6 weeks is a colossal waste of time - and progress. Why take 8 to 13 weeks away from hard training each year? Novice to intermediate lifters don't need this much recovery time. Most aren't lifting heavy enough to require frequent time off.
  • Minimalism Obsession. Major compounds work, but the modern obsession with minimalism doesn't lend itself to well-rounded strength and muscle develop. I prefer trainees focus on making every muscle group from head to toe as strong as humanly possible. You can't lose by basing your program on heavy compounds and then fleshing it out to build a better base.
  • Squatting 3x Per Week. Not needed. I prefer to flesh out leg development and strength with some direct quads-focused movements. Many squatters aren't quad-dominant. By adding exercises that help to build quad strength you will not only improve leg size, but also bolster your squat and your deadlift power.
  • Intensity Periodization. When a lifter is still relatively weak there is little to no need to cycle intensity. Intensity is the weight lifter relative to your one rep max, or how heavy the weight is. Periodization for beginners and intermediates is simply unnecessary over-complication.

The Muscle and Brawn Program Training Philosophies

So now that I've detailed some of the aspects of beginner programs that I don't like, let's talk about the training philosophies that go into this approach.
  • Maximize every set, maximize your progress
  • Auto-regulated progression
  • Make every muscle group from head to toe as strong as possible
  • Intuitive rest days or deloads
  • Save forms of periodization for the intermediate years
  • Use squats, bench, and the big compound lifts... But don't rely only on the big hitters

Maximize every set, maximize your progress

The deeper into a set you get, the more muscle fibers you recruit. This is not only common sense, but also back by science.

If you stop a set with two, three or more reps left in the tank, you aren't maximizing the set. You are failing to recruit a maximal amount of muscle fibers. This not only slows your muscle mass gains, but it also forces you to rely on linear progression to tell you when to add weight.

To maximize a set, I tell trainees to do the following:

Push every set for as many reps as possible. Stop that set when you feel you might fail on the next rep, or when your form starts to break down.

By using this simple approach you make every set of every workout count. Maximize every set, you maximize your progress. Simple, and common sense.

You also learn to perform only quality reps. This will not only reduce the risk of injury, but also allow you to perform at a natural pace. You'll also begin to learn your body, and what it can take and what it can't. Learning to properly shut down sets, and better learning your body's capabilities, will help you during your intermediate and advanced training years.

On the other hand, if you arbitrarily stop sets with several reps left in the tank, you slow strength and muscle gains. The slowing of strength gains creates a double-edged sword. Muscle mass is fueled by progressive overload, or increasing the amount of weight you use during an exercise.

Slow your strength gains, you slow your muscle gains. Slow your strength gains AND fail to maximize sets, you are slowing your muscle mass gains every further by hitting them with a double hammer.

Auto-regulated progression

Linear progression forces you to add a predetermined amount of weight each week, regardless of how the previous week's effort felt. Let me state for the record...

I hate this approach.

Yes, hate. Progress is rarely linear. The body simply doesn't add strength at a linear rate. To take this a step further, each lifter, and each lift, is different. You may be a naturally strong deadlifter and weak squatter. Forcing all major lifts into a linear progression box makes little sense.

Linear progression also comes with an inherent danger. You are completely focused on adding weight to a lift, and hitting the required set and reps, come hell or high water. This creates a dangerous environment. Beginning lifters who are still mastering exercise form are forced/taught to push for reps and weight at the expense of form.

While linear progression programs do not directly tell lifters to hammer forward at the expense of form, this is what typically happens in the real world.

Linear progression is also an unsustainable tool for late beginner to early intermediate lifers. Weekly weight additions simply won't last for very long, unless you're a freak of nature.

Auto-regulated progression allows you to reap all the benefits of maximizing sets, while also letting strength gains come to you naturally. Auto-regulated progression is sustainable, safer, teaches you to learn your body and its limits, and allows each individual lift to progress along its own strength-gaining curve.

I repeat... Strength gains are never linear. If you are able to progress in a linear fashion for an extended period of time, odds are you're currently progressing slower than you would with auto-regulated progression.

Think about this point for a minute.

If you were able to easily add 10 pounds to your squat over the course of 10 weeks, it's safe to say that you could have likely added more. Why?
  1. Because you were not challenged as hard as you could have been during these 10 weeks. You were just blindly following a plan.
  2. No sets were maximized, or pushed to the limit. This reduced muscle fiber recruitment, impacting muscle growth and future strength gains.
Just tossing this out there... If you are able to add 10 pounds to a lift each week for the next 10 weeks, there is a 99% certainty that you could have lifted a little bit more using auto-regulation. This may equate to only 5 pounds, or possibly 30 pounds. Hard to tell how much you may have progressed, because linear progression forced you to follow an arbitrary path.

At some point you will hit a wall with linear progression. This wall will totally kill the concept. You will go from cruising along one day, to linear progression being totally useless the next. Things are relatively easy early on, but when things become difficult... They become difficult in a hurry.

When using linear progression you'll spend your early weeks cruising along, not pushing yourself as hard as you would when maximizing sets and using auto-regulated progression. Then, boom, You hit a wall and linear progression becomes completely unsustainable.

It's either too difficult or too hard. This point sums up why I feel it's an inferior approach.

Make every muscle group from head to toe as strong as possible

This is the heart and soul of my powerbuilding approach. It's also not a concept you hear preached by any other coach.

Make every muscle group from head to toe as strong as humanly possible.

You want to build muscle mass at a rapid and optimal rate? Make every muscle group from head to toe as strong as humanly possible. You want to increase at a rapid and optimal rate? Make every muscle group from head to toe as strong as humanly possible.


I don't lift to be weak, and I don't like weaknesses. I am often asked why, despite seemingly awful genetics (small bones, naturally skinny fat and far from an endomorph), I am able to sustain an impressive amount of strength as I approach the age of 50. The answer is easy. I've always aimed to make every muscle group as strong as possible.

Too many beginning and intermediate lifters worry about what their weaknesses are. Instead, they should be treating every body part like a weakness. Attack calves, hamstrings, and triceps. Attack them all.

There is no downside to treating every body part like a weakness. This also simplifies training and streamlines your focus.

Intuitive rest days or deloads

Another concept wrongfully force-fed to newer lifters is deloading. There has become an obsession with deloading.

How often should I deload?

I had a bad workout I'm going to deload.

I'm switching program. I;m going to take a deload week first.

Fine. Go ahead and deload. If you want to waste time and slow progress.

Most lifters won't need frequent deloads for quite some time, if at all. Unless you are an advanced-level powerlifter who is training using high intensity week in and week out, deloading is probably unnecessary.

I do recommend taking a light week, or week off from training, every 8-12 weeks. But this is optional.

I think it's a better option to simply listen to your body. If you feel mentally fatigued or physically battered, take a few days away from the gym. If you're not ready to go, take a few more days off.

Why schedule a complete week off when you might not need it?

And why in the world would you schedule a deload every fourth week? This is the same as taking 13 weeks away from quality training each year. This is pointless, slows progress, and is a colossal act of paranoia and over-application of the concept of deloading.

Another pet peeve of mine has to do with scheduling deloads every time a lifter has a bad workout. This is idiotic. Bad workouts happen. They are part of the process. Using a bad workout as an excuse to schedule a deload is simply a misunderstand of why bad workouts happen, and why deloads should be taken.

Keep your time off and rest days intuitive. This will help you to maximize progress.

Save forms of periodization for the intermediate years

During their first several years of training lifters don't need to periodize weight intensity. They aren't strong enough, in a relative sense, to require more moderate training weeks or periods.

While periodization isn't aggressively pushed upon beginners, it is a training concept featured in several prominent training systems that have been adopted by beginners. The result has been, de facto, a belief by many that periodization is required and/or provides some inherent additional value to lifters during their first couple years of training.

It doesn't.

While there is certainly no downside to cycling weight intensity as long as you are maximizing sets, it's not required. Priodization acts as more of a distraction from the primary goal of attacking the weights than it does an enhancement of the process.

Once you've built an appreciable amount of strength, then periodization may have value. But let's be honest. Most of us aren't seasoned powerlifters trying to squeak out additional pounds and ounces. The demands of the weight we are pushing each week rarely commands anything more than non-linear periodization, or an evolving of our training routines based on needs and experiences.

If heavy 5-rep bench press sets are grinding your elbows into bone dust, then try higher reps. If the demands of this bench press intensity is still too much for your body to handle, try guillotine presses, pre-fatigue, dumbbell bench presses, rest-pause training, or some other quality protocol that still allows you to attack your chest with heavy, compound movements.

I've been lifting for 30 years and consider myself reasonably strong. During this time I've rarely had to utilize any form of complicated periodization. Instead, I've simply altered volume, frequency, or intensity over a period of time to see how my body responds.

For the average intermediate (plus) powerbuilder who isn't working with sets under 5 reps, periodization rarely needs to be complicated. And 4 week periodization schemes for beginners? They need to go the way of the dinosaur.

Use them if you like, but know that they serve no urgent purpose.

Use squats, bench, and the big compound lifts... But don't rely only on the big hitters

Volume training has corrupted beginner programs.  Lifters (and trainers/coaches) have been beaten to death with the mantra that volume training and bro splits are only for steroid-using bodybuilders. As a result programming has had a tendency to gravitate towards the other end of the spectrum:

Minimalistic programs that rely primarily on the major compound movements, and little else.

I don't believe that compound movements are all you need to build strength and muscle. And heck, I'm one of the biggest proponents of bare-bones training methods. I love the big compound exercises, and they have been the cornerstone of my training for 30 years.

But compound exercises alone don't necessarily create a perfect, well-rounded program. They are superior lifts, but compound exercises certainly don't have magical, mystical powers.

Several years back I made the switch to a minimalistic-style of powerlifting training. The only lifts I performed were squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, and rows. I stuck to this style of lifting for 3 years and made quality strength gains.

But guess what happened?

I lost size on my arms, calves, hamstrings, back and shoulders. While I was stronger, it was evident that my body needed a more well-rounded approach.

Though I have competed in powerlifting, I am much more of a powerbuilder. I want as much size and strength as possible. The best way to achieve both is by adding complementary exercises that work well with heavy, compound movements. This includes arm work, exercises for calves and hamstrings, a proper amount of shoulder and back training, exercises that challenge the quads, etc.

Neglecting body parts not only leads to a potential loss in muscle size, but it also opens the door to create weaknesses. Anything that is a weakness is not a strength. Anything that is not a strength is making you weaker.
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Dan - December 10, 2019

Hey Steve,
I’ve followed you for quite a while, back to when I was on your forum. After a few years away I started lifting again using your power building program and was making good progress when I broke my neck 5 months ago. I have lost pretty much all strength and am looking for a program now that I am out of PT. My question is do you think it will cause any imbalances or other issues if I replace squats with front squats, face pulls for upright rows, and Romanian deadlift with GHRs until I can get comfortable with weight on my back and better mobility? Also, any flexibility or mobility program ideas

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