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January 12, 2021 10 min read

Other than being the evolution of the best starter, why would we be talking about ivysaurs on a supplement website?

The answer has to do with beginners and gyms—and we’re not just talking about bulbasaur’s type advantage against the first gym.

An evolution from earlier beginner fitness programs, the Ivysaur training program seeks to fill in the gaps that a lot of these weight training routines leave open. Taking its name from user “Ivysaur” on Reddit, this powerlifting program focuses on strength training while also being an overall great program for beginners.

This will be largely based on the original thread, but the spread of this program and the success stories should be enough to convince anyone of its clout.

The StrongLifts Program

Since the Ivysaur workout emerged as a critique, let’s first take a look at what exactly it was critiquing.

One of these programs is the extremely popular Strong Lifts program. It’s widely used by novice lifters and many people get good results from it.

The premise is that there are two different workouts alternating each week for three days. For example, there’s workout A and workout B. On Monday and Friday you would do workout A, and then B on Wednesday—taking a break in between. Then, the next week you would begin with workout B.

The lifts are broken down as such for Day A:

  • Squats
  • Bench press
  • Bent-over barbell row

And for Day B, they are:

  • Squats
  • Overhead press
  • And deadlifts

Each one of these is to be performed with 5 sets of 5 reps—except for the deadlift. The deadlift is only done using 1 set of 5 reps due to the fact that you’re already doing squats 3 days a week. The argument is that these lifts work similar muscle groups and it’d be too difficult to perform a 5x5 deadlift scheme.

A two-week scheme would look like this:

Week 1

  • Monday: Day A
  • Wednesday: Day B
  • Friday: Day A

Week 2

  • Monday: Day B
  • Wednesday: Day A
  • Friday: Day B

When it comes to progressive overload, you’re supposed to be increasing each lift by 5 pounds after every gym session, for as long as you’re able to.

Since the weights get pretty heavy really fast, the program usually begins with 50% of your 5-rep max. In order to figure that out, you’ll first need to see how heavy of a weight you can use for a max of 5 reps.

Once again, the deadlift is the exception. For this lift, you’ll be adding 10 pounds each time.

And once you hit a point where you’re failing set counts, you deload 10% for your next workout and keep trying after.

It’s pretty obvious that this is a simple program, which is one of its largest strengths. For beginners, it pretty much guarantees gains while also being simple and easy to follow for people new to the gym. This is compounded by the fact you’ll only need five lifts.

However, this program also has a lot of weaknesses, similar to the Starting Strength workout program.

Man doing weights in gym

The Starting Strength Workout Program

Starting Strength is similar to the StrongLifts program shown above, so we won’t spend a lot of time on it.

It’s slightly more complicated with 3 phases (in terms of weeks), but all of the set-rep counts stay the same, with most either being at 3x5, 1x5 (deadlift), or 5x3 (power cleans). The exercises involved are the squat, overhead press, deadlift, bench press, power cleans, and chin-ups.

What the Ivysaur Offers

However, while the two programs above are extremely popular with beginners, they do have some major pitfalls. These are the pitfalls that the Ivysaur program tries to address.

The creator of the program gives 6 reasons why these programs are not necessarily the best choice—and what sets the Ivysaur apart.

For one, there is a noted lack of frequency with these programs. In most cases, making your workouts frequent rather than infrequent will lead to better muscle mass and strength gains. This is especially true for the upper body lifts in these programs. Ivysaur’s fix in this department is to make the bench press and overhead press a lift in every workout.

Another issue is the lack of training volume.

The difference between bodybuilding and strength training programs is usually the discussion at hand, however, but it hardly matters for beginners or even amateurs. At the novice level, the best way to gain strength is to gain muscle (hypertrophy), and the best way to gain muscle is to increase the amount of movement you do. That’s why the Ivysaur program significantly raises the rep-set counts, using a high frequency and higher volume overall.

Muscular Bicep

Overlooked Muscle Groups

The Ivysaur program looks to fix two weaknesses of conventional beginner programs by spending more time on the biceps and changing how the lower body is worked.

When it comes to the biceps, wanting to fill out your shirt sleeves is universal. Unfortunately, the aforementioned beginners’ programs don’t really fill this need, since rows and cleans aren’t that great at working the bis. Both of those lifts don’t use the bis as the primary mover, and so they’ll never come as close to failure as they should.

This is fixed in the Ivysaur regime by employing chin-ups. This has the double benefit of hitting your biceps and your back, which is going to be essential for balancing out the extra chest work you’ll be getting.

The next big fix is the lower body work.

Especially Strong Lifts places a very large emphasis on squats—which is understandable. Squats are an amazing lift to have included in any workout plan. However, it’s not very well optimized for those either looking for aesthetics or for strength.

If you’re going for aesthetics rather than strength, all the squatting will be cutting into the time you could be using for upper body work. And if your aim is to develop strength, then the program really skimps on deadlifts while favoring squat work.

The justification for only doing a single set of deadlifts is that fatigue will begin to set in from all of the squatting being done. However, Ivysaur argues that for one this isn’t a good use of time; racking up for a single set is not efficient. And secondly, the fatigue in question isn’t likely to set in for total newbies. The program is designed (in terms of linear progression) to drive lifters to form breakdown anyway, so trying to avoid that by avoiding deadlifts is pointless.

The Ivysaur program fixes this oversight by including significantly more deadlift work at the expense of squatting, but the added deadlifts should make up for any lost squat development.

Rep Schemes and Weights

Another negative with most beginner programs is the over-emphasis on simplicity.

While a certain level of simplicity is always good (and even beneficial, even at higher levels), sometimes the benefits of complicating things even slightly will be paid off in dividends when it comes to strength and muscular development. We’re talking in particular about the periodization schemes of beginner programs.

Both StrongLifts and Starting Strength have a very static set-rep scheme, for the sake of simplicity.

There are a limited number of lifts and each one is associated with a certain set-rep scheme—sometimes just one set-rep scheme as is the case with strong lifts (5x5, other than deadlift). While this makes things easy to figure out, as you can essentially memorize your program fairly quickly, it doesn’t allow for any periodization.

This is fixed by varying the rep ranges that you’ll be doing week in, week out. While it complicates things a bit more since there’ll be a host of new set-rep schemes to remember, it should get you results more efficiently.

This leads to the next point of progressive overload and initial starting weight.

The starting weight for the beginner’s programs above is pretty low for anyone who’s relatively healthy—even if they might just be getting into lifting. This means that it can take quite a while to escalate the weights to where they’re actually challenging since it’s based on a linear progression model (going up 5 pounds per workout).

Ivysaur attempts to fix this by adding in “as many reps as possible” (AMRAP) sets to the last workout of every week.

The progression rate is still linear in sense, although more complicated. For the squats and deadlifts, you’re meant to add weight 15 pounds per week, the bench press and rows escalate by 10 pounds, and the overhead press by 5 pounds per week.

This is the “base” linear progressive overload, but there’s a stipulation that if you hit 8 reps or more on your AMRAP set of the week, you’re supposed to double the progression rate for the upcoming week. For example, if you hit 9 reps of your bench press at 170, next week’s would be set at 190 (instead of 180).

When it comes to initial starting weight, Ivysaur puts your initial 8 rep weight at around 90% of your 4 rep weight. If you want to begin with just the bar for the 8 rep sets, you’ll want to start by using 50 pounds for the 4 rep sets. This, of course, needs some more fine-tuning for each individual since it’s just a ballpark range.

The Ivysaur 4-4-8 Beginner Program

So, with that being said, how does the program actually look like in the end? Here’s a week by week breakdown:

Week A

Day 1:

  • Bench press: 4 sets x 4 reps
  • Squats: 4 x 8
  • Overhead Press: 4 x 8
  • Chin-ups: 4 x 8

Day 2:

  • Bench press: 4 x 8
  • Deadlift: 4 x 4
  • Overhead press: 4 x 4
  • Barbell rows: 4 x 8

Day 3:

  • Bench press: 3 x 4, 1 AMRAP set
  • Squats: 3 x 4, 1 AMRAP set
  • Overhead press: 4 x 8
  • Chin-ups: 4 x 4

Week B

Day 1:

  • Bench press: 4 x 8
  • Deadlift: 4 x 8
  • Overhead press: 4 x 4
  • Barbell rows: 4 x 4

Day 2:

  • Bench press: 4 sets x 4 reps
  • Squats: 4 x 8
  • Overhead Press: 4 x 8
  • Chin-ups: 4 x 8

Day 3:

  • Bench press: 4 x 8
  • Deadlift: 3 x 4, 1 AMRAP set
  • Overhead press: 3 x 4, 1 AMRAP set
  • Barbell rows: 4 x 8

As you can see, the lifts themselves still follow:

Week A:

  • Workout A (Monday)
  • Workout B (Wednesday)
  • Workout A (Thursday)

Week B:

  • Workout B (Monday)
  • Workout A (Wednesday)
  • Workout B (Friday)

It’s only the set-rep schemes that change from week to week, while the layout of the workouts themselves stays largely the same.

Ivysaur also includes some “extra credit” in the original programming.

This includes increasing the sets to 5—more in line with the original beginner programs. Obviously, more volume will equal more gains, but this can be exhausting and time-consuming, especially considering the increased overall volume of workouts.

Another way to up the ante is to include chin-ups with every workout. Once again, this will offer a terrific bicep workout while also making sure your back stays up to snuff with your chest. Chin-ups (and pull-ups) are terrific upper body workouts in general.

The last extra credit option that Ivysaur gives us is to add an additional 2 squat sets to the deadlift days.

The reason these are split up in the first place is due to time constraints and efficiency—and also, doing both on the same day doesn’t feel that great. If you count warming up and loading the bar, doing just 2 sets won’t seem worth it to a lot of people—especially beginners.

Lastly, we’re offered some special considerations.

If you’re not able to do chin-ups, bent over rows done at a 30-degree angle are a good substitution. You should use an underhand/supinated grip, with palms facing you. What if you can blow the chin-up rep counts out of the water? Do them weighted.

Deloading after failure works the same way as the other beginner workouts. After failing 3 workouts in a row, deload by 10% for one workout and then try again the next workout.

Chin ups

Why Ivysaur Works

The biggest advantages of the Ivysaur workout are its focus on newbie gains and periodization.

Beginners gain strength and muscle fast, so linear progression makes sense a lot of the time with beginner workouts. After a while, you will hit a “ceiling”. However, that also means these workouts start slow and don’t adapt to the individual.

The Ivysaur program fixes this by making progression not just linear, but also adaptable to AMRAP sets—and therefore, adaptable to the individual’s progression.

This hits the second major advantage of Ivysaur’s program: varying set-rep schemes.

It’ll not only make your workouts more interesting and add some variance, but it should also allow you to progress more efficiently, especially with the AMRAP sets.

Ivysaur’s Moveset

Before we leaf you to your training, let’s quickly tackle some of the lifts that’ll be whipping you into shape.

The program consists of six moves.

The bench press is pretty much the benchmark for upper body strength. If you want to have a bangin’ upper body physique, benching is going to be how you get it. It also has a ton of functional benefits that translate to real-life motions.

Squats and deadlifts are the two major lower body movements of this workout program—and for good reason. 

Squats are a massive compound movement, working the glutes, quads, adductors, calves, and even your core. Getting good at squatting will translate to many other activities, both in and out of the gym. Deadlifts are necessary for building explosive power, and they also help to hit the hamstrings significantly—something that squats do a poor job of.

The overhead press is another juggernaut of an upper-body exercise. It works the shoulders, triceps, traps, and engages core muscles to a great degree as stabilizers. And as any lifter knows, your shoulders can never really get too big.

Rows in general are a fantastic exercise, but barbell rows provide even greater benefits. They help to develop a strong back, improve your posture, balance out chest exercises, and also easily transfer over to lifts such as the deadlift.

Chin-ups are the last exercise, and there’s a reason that the “extra credit” Ivysaur gave was to add these to every workout. They’re an amazing bodyweight exercise, and they’ll do wonders when it comes to balancing out a very chest-heavy workout routine. Not to mention the fact that they’ll fill out your shirt sleeves.

The Path to Venusaur

Just like the Ivysaur workout program was an evolution of prior routines, you’ll one day develop past the things that a beginner routine will give you.

It’s absolutely key to keep your body well taken care of, both in terms of rest and macros. Even if you’re not into the conventional meat proteins, there are ways to get what you need from plants as well.

Work hard, stick to the plan, and you’ll be blooming into your full potential in no-time.