December 29, 2020 10 min read
I’m not a mind reader, but I know exactly why you’re here. You’re here because you want to get stronger. You’re looking for a routine that’s easy to stick to, flexible enough to mold to your body, and easy to understand. Maybe you’re just starting out, and you’re looking for a foundation to build your routine on, or you’re stuck in the throes of intermediate syndrome and searching for a way to crack that ceiling.
It sounds like you’re looking for the Greyskull Linear Progression Program.
It’s not quite like raising a sword and invoking the mysterious magics of Greyskull, but the Greyskull LP (GSLP) is an excellent starting point and powerful tool for lifters looking to push past their novice stages.
John Sheaffer aka Johnny Pain has been living and writing about bodybuilding, lifting, and fitness in some form since, at least 2007 when he was blogging about training clients and giving birth to monsters in the Greyskull Barbell club. The desire to train folks into the best versions of themselves morphed from a hobby to a career, and from a career in the gym to the shelves of bookstores as he published a few tomes on dropping fat, conditioning, and, most famously, The Greyskull LP.
Like many of the greats, Johnny Pain and his Gladiator Academy came from humble beginnings. The Gladiator Academy was a backyard gym where John Sheaffer and a select few were put through the paces. They trained hard and tracked their progression until eventually a pair of 12-week programs were born. These were eventually published into the books Gladiator: Stage One, and Gladiator: Stage Two. However, despite this, the thing that really put him on the map was publishing the Greyskull LP.
He calls “quite simple it the most flexible and user-friendly system for anyone interested in building strength and muscle,” and it’s hard to argue with that. At its most basic level, the Greyskull LP is about starting with the basics, marginal increases, and adding on “plug-ins.” It’s less like a set of rigid rules and more like a Lego set. The pieces are there, you have a manual, but it really shines when you move the parts around for yourself.
When John Scheaffer was getting started on a training program, he started with the Starting Strength program, where a lot of novices did at the time.
The Starting Strength program is similar to the Greyskull LP routine in one aspect, it’s simple. It’s your standard overload method. The Starting Strength program was a thrice-weekly program, and you would alternate an A and B day back and forth. Each week you would add more weight, and that’s about as far as it went.
If you’re curious about what that looked like, on your “A” day you would squats, bench presses, and top yourself off with a couple of deadlifts. On the “B” day you would squat, overhead press, and power clean. The alternation would roll over from week to week so you’re never doubling up on one set of exercises. Say you had a Monday, Wednesday, Friday routine, your first week would look like this:
Then your second week would be:
Then week three you’d be back where you started. Pretty simple, all you need to remember is what you did the last day you were in the gym and how much weight you lifted the week before.
There’s nothing really wrong with this. It’s great for novices looking to start lifting. It’s not overly complicated, and they’re all exercises that are easy to pull off without injuring yourself. No terribly tricky forms required, no steep learning curve, or any huge pitfalls. All of these positives can also be the downfall of the Starting Strength program.
The Starting Strength really is just that. It’s for starters and doesn’t really give you anywhere to go. Eventually, you hit a wall, because you can’t just keep throwing on five pounds and doing the exact same number of reps and sets forever and ever. You start to run up against the limits of what your body can do. Try as you might, you won’t be lifting four hundred pounds in a few months with simple linear progression and targeting the same few muscle groups week after week. Realistic expectations aside, your workout should be holistic. Your body is pulling and flexing with opposing sets of muscles that constantly exert tension on every single part of your body. If you find yourself overtraining a crack team of four or five muscle groups, your posture will suffer, and your hips will be in agony in no time.
Another problem with the Starting Strength program comes from a common misconception. It’s not a powerlifting routine. This means that novices will be looking for a way to work their way into powerlifting might have someone suggest this to them, and they’ll hack away at it without knowing any better. They might even find some decent results starting off. In fact, the rapid growth they’ll see starting out will allow them to constantly make personal bests, and if they decide to pop into a competition they may see themselves doing well the first few times.
There’s not really anywhere else to go, though. The Starting Strength program doesn’t offer any ways out of the Starting Strength program. You’ll plateau, and maybe when you plateau you’ll unload the weight you’ve been packing on and work your way back up. But that’s not the only problem you’ll run into.
The Starting Strength program lacks nuance. Nuance will make or break your routine. If you find a trouble spot you can’t always just lift your way out of it. Sometimes you’ll want to increase your grip strength when you pack on weight for those deadlifts, and the Starting Strength program doesn’t have a solution for that. Your muscles are all sorts of shapes and sizes, which means all of their functions are incredibly specific, their rate of growth is varied, and their maximum loads are all different. Power cleaning forever isn’t going to tone your calves the way you want, all of the bench presses in the world will never make up for your missed chin-ups, and you can’t squat your way into a stronger core.
The Greyskull LP workout takes the pitfalls of the Starting Strength program and hammers them away into something much more helpful for lifters of all skill levels.
Right off the bat, the Greyskull LP differentiates itself from the Starting Strength program with variables. They’re all over the place. You’re not just doing different exercises on different days. You’re varying intensity and volume, which will harness hypertrophy and allow you to build mass and strength at the same time. Larger muscles aren’t just for show, with proper training, you’ll be able to utilize the mass you’re packing on and you’ll find yourself lifting more and more weight seemingly in no time at all.
The Greyskull LP program focuses on upper and lower body exercises, much like the Starting Strength program, but it tosses in a piece of advice. Since your intense lower body exercise can affect your upper body performance it asks you to do your upper body first. This little tweak means that you’ll always be getting the best performance out of your routine when you hit the gym. Better performance means better results, and better results mean quicker gains.
The increments are also a little different in the GLSP. The use of microplates for your upper body exercises means that you’re going to be able to hit those targets more effectively. This means you’re not going to be running face-first into an early plateau. Your goals are spread out over a more manageable timeline.
There are also plug-ins for the Greyskull LP program. The program realizes the shortcomings of focusing only on a select set of exercises. During each one of your workouts, you’re encouraged to supplement your growth with these plugins. Do you find your core failing you when your arms are still ready to go? Do you feel like you could hit your legs a little harder? These plug-ins mean you’re constantly working on any of your weak spots.
A huge part of the Greyskull LP program is the AMRAP set. AMRAP stands for “as many reps as possible,” in case you don’t know what that means. This is a brilliant addition to a workout because it doesn’t require you to push so far past your limits that your form suffers. You’re also not failing a set by not hitting a fifth or sixth rep when you’ve packed on more weight than you could have realistically handled. However, this doesn’t just get you off of the hook. You still have to, you know, do the reps. So you’re always pushing your body, you’re getting that microtrauma in and building muscle each and every single day you get underneath that bar.
Let’s break this down. What does your week look like with the Greyskull LP? As we mentioned earlier there’s a base program.
That base Greyskull program consists of an alternating upper body exercise followed by a lower-body exercise.
Your upper body will always be trained first in order to squeeze out your maximum performance every session. You’ll be doing three sets every time. First two sets of five, and you’ll top off with an AMRAP set.
Those upper body exercises are:
Your lower body is similar setwise. On squat days you’ll be doing the same two sets capped with an AMRAP set, and your deadlifts are always just an AMRAP day. The relative intensity of deadlifts more than make up for the seemingly low number of reps, trust the process.
In case you want some review:
Squats: There’s a lot to learn about squats if you’re unfamiliar. Maybe you’re worried about the impact they’ll have on your knees, or you’re worried about screwing up your back. No worries, we’ve got you covered
You can’t just scrawl a bunch of exercises onto a piece of paper and expect to cover every single person’s needs, and that’s fine. The Greyskull LP solves this with a number of plug-ins designed to be added onto the template. These can be slotted into your routine anywhere. It might be best to do them after your upper body exercise to preserve your efficiency, but you can make them part of your warmup or slap them on as a cool down. They’re there to serve you. If you find the Greyskull LP lacking, then you might want to look into the appropriate plug-in.
You may have also seen a variant on the Greyskull LP program by somebody named Phrak that sprang out of Reddit. This is mostly just the Greyskull with some plug-ins already built in like pullups. They also include a provision for deloading. If you find yourself unable to crest five reps in your AMRAPS then Phrak’s Greyskull LP asks that you reduce your weight by ten percent and work yourself back up. This variant is a good place to start because of the inclusion of a pull exercise for your back from the beginning. You don’t need to remember to add them on or find out that you’ve overtrained your chest the hard way.
The Greyskull LP program is one of those strength training programs that comes along and totally reworks the way you approach your gym experience. The focus on efficiency and meticulous tracking of your progress pays off in spades. You’ll find yourself packing on more weight than you ever thought possible in no time. The flexibility of the program means you won’t have to abandon it halfway through when you find an aspect of it isn’t working for your personal needs and the solid foundation it builds for you means you’ll never have to dismantle your progress. Dedication to the Greyskull LP program is all you really need to harness your body’s potential, and carving out the muscle definition you’ve been really wanting.