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January 12, 2021 10 min read
There are a ton of workout programs out there—that much is obvious. For those of us who’ve been on the grind long enough, we know what works for us and what doesn’t work at all. It becomes relatively easy to sift through the muck.
Unfortunately, however, it’s those lifters that need the most help that are going to be most confused with the amount of information out there. This is where the Fierce 5 program comes in.
It’s beautiful in its simplicity and it’s got a good track record to boot. While not promising the world or any powerlifting or bodybuilding insanity, it promises consistent gains. And more importantly, it shows a path from beginner to intermediate—and a shredded physique.
As the name suggests, the Fierce 5 workout program is based around 5 workouts (one of them being a superset) for one of two training sessions that you switch between. Its simplicity and effectiveness has seen a good track record of successes—but where did this program come from?
Like many great things, it came from a post on the bodybuilding.com forums by a man called “davisj3537”. While not necessarily a famous coach or powerlifter that we often find ourselves writing about, this man’s workout program has definitely stood the test of time and produced real results for a lot of people.
As we already mentioned above, the Fierce 5 consists of an “A” workout and a “B” workout that you cycle through each week.
So, you would begin with the A workout on a Monday, complete B on Wednesday, and then Friday would be A again. The weekend would be yours to rest, and then the next week you would begin with the B workout.
This simplicity can’t go understated, especially for beginners. And even though there are only two types of training sessions, the sessions themselves don’t consist of a whole lot—allowing you to get out of the gym around an hour’s time, even counting warm-ups.
But we all know where the meat and potatoes are in any training program—the progressive overload. So, how does it work with the Fierce 5?
It sticks to simplicity by progressing from week to week with an extra 5 pounds for the upper body movements and 10 pounds for the lower body movements. Some important exceptions should be taken note of, however.
In terms of reverse flyes, they should increase by 5 pounds per month. Furthermore, if one uses dumbbells for them, they should never go increase 15 pounds over the starting weight. Another exercise to keep an eye on is the leg curls, if you decide to substitute them in (more on this later). These should be increased by 5 pounds from week to week, rather than the 10 pounds used for other lower body lifts. With ab exercises, just add a few extra reps each week.
If you happen to notice that you’ll be running into equipment limitations for the weight increases, then only increase the weight every other week. This will buy you some time before you max out the equipment—but only do this for that the movements that need it, not the other ones. Instead of increasing the weight, increase the rep count by 1 for movements that have a 5 rep count, and increase the rep count by 2 for movements with an 8 to 15 rep range.
The Fierce 5 is pretty firmly in the realm of beginners and first-time lifters.
This is for those that are looking to change their body’s composition consistently and are willing to stick to a program. Anyone who has less than 6 months of consistent and structured training will benefit from doing the Fierce 5.
While more so focused on strength rather than hypertrophy (muscle growth), this isn’t really a powerlifting program nor a bodybuilding one. For beginners, the gains in both the strength and muscle size departments will come hand in hand—for the most part. Focusing on one or the other won’t really change all that much unless you’re working out on more elite levels.
Another important aspect to note is that the Fierce 5 is targeted more so for males that are bulking. If you’re either a female beginner or you’re wanting to cut some fat weight with dieting, you’ll want to take the weekly progression a little slower.
While you still want to push yourself, it’s all about listening to your body and knowing when to stop. It’s better to start too low and slow than to gas yourself out too quickly.
Because of the nature of this program, you’re going to have to spread your wings and fly at one point. But when does that point come?
The average is apparently around 4 to 6 months of consistently sticking to the program and maintaining a bulking phase. If you want to get more technical, it will come when 2 out of your 4 core lifts—the bench press, rows, squats, or deadlift—stall. Davisj3537 is pretty adamant that this has to be a “legitimate stall”. This is defined as not being able to break through a plateau after a deload of 4 to 7 days that are completely off. Afterward, you’d drop the weight by 15% before working your way back up.
If you can’t break through your prior ceiling, congratulations! You’ve reached the top, and it’s probably high time that you try some other programs out there to push yourself to greater gains.
Before we get into the program itself, let’s take a look at some things that are key parts of this type of training.
Timing is always important, but it’s particularly important in this training program because of its supersets. See, while called the Fierce “5”, each session (A and B) contains 6 separate exercises—the last of which are combined into one superset workout.
Supersets are done back to back, taking as little time to rest in between them. These are usually two movements that don’t interfere with one another, so you can do them back to back without gassing out through the second one. Not only does this make your workouts a lot more efficient timewise, but there are also several benefits to supersetting exercises.
Otherwise, the rest times should be somewhere between 2 to 3 minutes between each of the heavy sets. This includes the bench press, rows, squats, Romanian deadlifts, incline press, and lat pulldowns. For the isolation exercises (those that only work a single joint/muscle group), you can shorten the rest time between sets to 30 to 60 seconds.
This includes the tricep pushdowns, reverse flyes, and curls. You won’t need as much time to rest for these more basic lifts, so it’s a good time to gas out your muscles for some extra hypertrophy.
You’re always going to hear this advice, so get used to hearing it: start with something that’s lower than what you think you can lift.
This is important for not gassing out too hard, it’s important for preventing injuries, and it’s important for making sure that you’re consistently developing and growing. But it’s even more important in a program like this that progresses so fast.
Think lower body exercises: in three weeks’ time you’re going to have to be lifting 30 pounds more than you are in week 1. Are you going to be able to do that? Think ahead—but not too far ahead. You definitely want to be pushing yourself for progressive overload, but keep things within the realm of possibility.
If you’re completely new to working out, it’s best to start a significantly lower weight so you can get the basics and form down pat before moving onto heavier loads. If that sounds like you, try increasing the weight by 10% to 15% from week to week, instead of 5 or 10 pounds. You’ll likely be progressing much faster, and by week three you should switch over to the regular pound progression.
If you happen to fail any sets, and it happens two workouts in a row, drop the weight down by 15%. This will give you some breathing room to work on form and work your way back up to where you were before.
So, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s get into the actual details of the movements you’ll be performing in each of the training sessions. Altogether, it’s 12 different exercises packed into 10 workouts on 2 separate training days, with 3 days of training per week.
Here’s a handy spreadsheet that you can fill in your own information to see how fast you progress, sourced from here.
It also lays out the rep-set schemes and all of the workouts in a succinct way. Down below we’ll get into a bit more detail.
Squats: 3 sets x 5 reps
Squats are a juggernaut of an exercise and one of the best lifts you can be doing—hence why they’re twice on this list.
They target the glutes, quads, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, and calves. Along with those primary muscles targeted, they work a laundry list of other muscles in your body, especially a lot of the core muscles. Furthermore, the movement is extremely functional.
Bench press: 3 x 5
Tell someone you lift and one of the first questions will be, “How much do you bench?” The bench press is one of the best predictors of upper body strength and a bread and butter lift for any serious lifter.
It’s primarily an upper-body chest exercise, but even your core and glutes are activated.
Pendlay rows: 3 x 8
A stricter version of the barbell row, the Pendlay is a great assistance exercise for developing lift power in athletes.
Because of the stricter form and different positioning, this row is a great way to increase back strength for pulling movements—especially for certain Olympic lifts.
Face pulls: 3 x 10
The primary muscles worked with the face pull are the rear delts, along with the rhomboids and the middle traps.
This is a key area to train if you’re looking to maintain good posture, reduce the chance of shoulder injuries, and it’s a super functional exercise as well.
Calf raises: 2 x 15 with tricep pushdowns 2 x 10 (Superset)
This is the last workout of session A, and it’s a combined superset. So, you’d go from calf raises to tricep pushdowns back to back, and then take a break before doing the next superset.
Calf raises, as the name suggests, primarily work your calves. However, the movement also improves ankle strength and overall athletic performance.
Tricep pushdowns (or tricep pressdowns) are an isolation movement that target the triceps, so these are a must if you’re looking to fill out your shirt sleeves.
Front squats: 3 x 5
While front squats and back squats work many of the same muscles, front squats tend to place an emphasis on the quads and upper back with back squats emphasizing the hips, glutes, and lower back.
Furthermore, front squats can be easier on your back if that’s a problem area.
Overhead press: 3 x 5
The overhead press is one of the best lifts to build stronger and more muscular shoulders and arms. Your triceps, traps, and stabilizer muscles (obliques, spinal stabilizers) will all be engaged.
Romanian deadlift: 3 x 8
Deadlifts are one of the best exercises for full-body workouts, helping to build insane explosive strength.
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) differs from the conventional deadlift in that it makes the movement much more dependent on hip and hamstring strength, along with back positioning.
Lat pulldowns: 3 x 8
You guessed it, the lat pulldown primarily targets the lats—the large, broad muscle in your back. Not only does this translate to functional fitness, but it’ll also help out in a slew of other bigger lifts.
Lat pulldowns are also a great way to develop spinal stability and maintain good posture.
Ab work 2 x 15 with bicep curls 2 x 10 (Superset)
The superset for session B, the ab work in this can be whatever you want it to be. You’ll increase the progressive overload from week to week by increasing the rep count if you’re using just bodyweight.
Curls for the girls, as they say. But bicep curls will make sure to gas out your biceps, along with working your forearms to a lesser extent. Another great way to fill out those shirt sleeves.
While it’s always important to stick to the program to a T (especially when you’re a beginner), there are some substitutions that can be made if you have some sort of equipment or injury considerations. Compound lifts and the major lifts should generally be kept as similar as possible.
If you’re looking to spice things up a bit and you’ve developed past the need for a beginners program, there’s also a Fierce 5 Intermediate program that is based around an upper/lower body split.
The plan is to work out for two consecutive days, rest for a day, and then having two more consecutive sessions. The upper A session would be done on a Monday, followed by upper B on Tuesday, a rest day on Wednesday, and then lower A and B on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
For progressive overload, the weight goes up similarly with the 5 pounds for upper body lifts and 10 pounds for lower body. The difference is that this is done every two weeks.
Sticking to a solid beginners program is guaranteed to turbocharge your gains, that much is clear.
However, it’s going to take a solid commitment to the plan and enough support with diet and rest. You’re going to be working out hard and your body is going to need a lot of energy and rest—so that’s the last thing you want to be skimping out on.
Before you know it, you’ll have progressed into meathead territory where only specialized programs will be able to offer you the gains.