Shaw 6 Week Strength Program

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Even though I am a competitive powerlifter, I am known for my powerbuilding programs. I like to help trainees build as much muscle and strength as possible. This is my passion, and always will be my passion.

This workout program is a little more different. Even though it functions as a quality powerbuilding workout, and can certainly help you pack on muscle mass as possible, it is aimed more at lifters who want to bring up their three lift totals.

Related: Steve Shaw’s Body Transformation Plan – Obese to Beast

My 6 week strength program is not a powerlifting peaking program. Let’s not pretend that it is. The point of this workout is to help beginners and intermediates build a muscle base and pack on strength in an optimal manner.

If you are looking for an alternative to Wendler’s 5/3/1, Strong Lifts, Starting Strength, and Candito’s 6 week program, this is it.

During each six week cycle you will be ramping intensity (weight relative to your one rep max) on your big lifts. This work will be backed with a quality assortment of assistance exercises designed to help you build a muscle and strength base from head to toe.

This program will help you get strong, and bigger too. I know you might not care about muscle size, but you have to respect that size will help with future strength gains. So you can say you don’t care about packing on muscle, but if you’re serious about strength it’s time to change the way you approach your training.

People often ask what my primary strength building philosophy is. I believe in making every muscle group from head to toe as strong as humanly possible. Simple. Brutal. Effective.

A video posted by Steve Shaw (@bendthebarman) on

Steve Shaw performing 395×10 on squats at the age of 49.

6 Week Strength Program

For the main lifts – Squats, deadlifts, bench press – you will be ramping up in intensity each week. Sets will be performed for as many quality reps as possible. There is no need to train to failure. This is counterproductive as it often results in a deterioration of exercise form and an increased risk of injury.

Push every set of squats, deadlifts, and bench press for as many reps as possible. Stop that set either when you feel like you might fail on the next rep, or when your form starts to slip. No sloppy reps. I repeat: No sloppy reps.

After your 6 weeks are up you can either repeat the cycle, or test your one rep maxes during week seven. I don’t recommended testing your maxes more than two to three times per year. It’s really not necessary. If you’re a powerlifter test your maxes on the platform. For the rest of us, you’ll be able to judge your progress by comparing your numbers to your previous cycle.

Week Six – 90% Sets and Adjustments

After completing a cycle, add the following weight to your one rep max and calculate new percentages for your next cycle. If your week six reps for your 90% set is/are…

  • 1 Rep – Bench press drop weight by 10 pounds, squats/deadlifts drop weight by 20 pounds.
  • 2 reps – Bench press drop weight by 5 pounds, squats/deadlifts drop weight by 10 pounds.
  • 3 reps – Keep a lift the same weight.
  • 4 reps – Bench press increase weight by 5 pounds, squats/deadlifts increase weight by 10 pounds.
  • 5 reps – Bench press increase weight by 10 pounds, squats/deadlifts increase weight by 15 pounds.
  • 6 reps – Bench press increase weight by 15 pounds, squats/deadlifts increase weight by 20 pounds.
  • 7+ reps – Bench press increase weight by 20 pounds, squats/deadlifts increase weight by 25 pounds.

First Cycle – Calculating Your One Rep Max

If you don’t know your one rep max before starting your first cycle, no worries. You can input a recent set into the following calculator:

Calculate Your One Rep Max

I suggest that when calculating weight for your first cycle you drop 10 pounds from your bench max and 20 pounds from your squat and deadlift max before applying percentages. Start a hair low. This won’t impede your progress in the least, but it will prevent you from overestimating your max and struggling right out of the gate.

Primary Day Lifts:

  • Week 1 – 65% x As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) for 3 sets
  • Week 2 – 70% x AMRAP for 3 sets
  • Week 3 – 75% x AMRAP for 3 sets
  • Week 4 – 80% x AMRAP for 2 sets
  • Week 5 – 85% x AMRAP for 2 sets
  • Week 6 – 90% x AMRAP for 1 set

4 Day Per Week Schedule

  • Day 1 – Deadlift Primary
  • Day 2 – Press Primary
  • Day 3 – Off
  • Day 4 – Squat Primary
  • Day 5 – Press Secondary
  • Day 6 – Off
  • Day 7 – Off

Press Days – Primary & Secondary

Primary Workout
Press Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Bench Press (See above)
Lat Pull Down or Weighted Pull Ups  3  12
Superset: Bulldozer Laterals + DB Upright Rows  2  10+10
Alternate: Push Ups & Dumbbell Flyes  2  AMRAP/15
Seated Cable Row  2  12
Face Pulls or Reverse Flyes  2  15
Cable Triceps Extensions  3  15
Dumbbell Curls  2  12

Weighted Pull Ups. Use weight pull ups if possible, Progress slowly. When you can perform 3 sets of 12 reps, add 2.5 pounds to your total resistance. If you can’t perform 5 pull ups per set, stick to lat pull downs. If you can perform 5 or more pull ups per set, progress until you reach 12 per set, then start adding weight.

Bulldozer Laterals: See the tutorial below. Perform one arm at a time, alternating back and forth between arms.

Tiger Fitness Editorial Director Steve Shaw explains an exercise variation he created: The bulldozer lateral.

Push Ups & Flyes. Perform push ups one week and flyes the next. You are alternating week in and week out between the two exercises. For push ups, perform up to 30 reps per set, or knock out as many reps as you can in 45 seconds. For flyes, add weight when you can perform 15 reps per set.

Seated Cable Rows. Add weight when you can perform 12 reps per sets.

Face Pulls or Reverse Flyes. Use either exercise, or alternate between the two week in and week out. Add weight when you can perform 15 reps per sets.

Cable Triceps Extensions. I prefer an EZ curl bar. You can use a rope, V-bar or straight bar attachment. Add weight when you can perform 15 reps per set.

Dumbbell Curls. These can be performed seated or standing, alternating or two-arm, and even as hammer curls if you prefer. Add weight when you can perform 12 reps per set.

Secondary Workout
Press Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Overhead Press Variation  3  10
Dumbbell Rows  2  15
Alternate – Dumbbell Bench Press & Close Grip Bench Press  3  10
Machine Row or T-Bar Row  2  12
Alternate: Weighted Chest Dip & Low Cable Crossovers  2  15
Power Dumbbell Shrugs  2  20
Dumbbell Skullcrushers  2  15
Reverse Grip Lat Pull Down or Chin Ups  3  12

Overhead Press Variation. You can perform any seated or standing, dumbbell or barbell variation – including push press but excluding Smith machine presses. Add weight when you can perform 10 reps per set.

Dumbbell Rows. Add weight when you can perform 10 reps per sets. Use straps or Versa Gripps. You want to row big weight. This isn’t a grip-building competition. We want a big, strong back. Strap up.

DB Bench & Close Grip. Perform dumbbell bench one week and close grip the next. You are alternating week in and week out between the two exercises. Add weight when you can perform 10 reps per set.

Machine or T-Bar Row. Use either exercise, or alternate between the two week in and week out. Add weight when you can perform 12 reps per sets.

Chest Dips & Cable Crossovers. Perform chest dips one week and crossovers the next. You are alternating week in and week out between the two exercises. For dips, perform up to 15 reps per set. When this gets easy, start to add weight in slow increments. For crossovers, add weight when you can perform 15 reps per set.

Dumbbell Shrugs. Use straps. Again, this exercise is not a competition to see how strong you can get your grip. We want to challenge your traps. Forget mind muscle shrugs here. You’ll be doing explosive power shrugs. Add weight when you can perform 20 reps per sets.

Skullcrushers. Use dumbbells here. Palms should be facing your ears as you lower the dumbbells towards your head. Add weight when you can perform 15 reps per sets.

Reverse Grip Lat Pull Downs or Chin Ups. Use either exercise, or alternate between the two week in and week out. Add weight when you can perform 12 reps per sets. For chin ups, add a small amount of weight once you can perform 12 reps per set.

Steve Shaw Deadlift

Deadlift Day – Primary

Primary Workout
Deadlift Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlift (See above)
Superset: Leg Extensions & High Box Step Ups  3  10+10
Reverse Hack Squat Good Mornings  3  10
Leg Press  3  10
Seated Calf Raise  3  15
Planks  3  Max

Extensions and Step Ups. This is a superset. Add weight to extensions when you can perform 12 reps per sets. the box should be below knee level but not so low that it doesn’t present a challenge.

Reverse Hack Good Mornings. Place your feet on the back of the platform. Take a wider stance, and perform reps in a good morning style. Make sure to keep your lower back tight and in a neutral position. Add weight when you can perform 10 reps per set.

Leg Press. Add weight when you can perform 10 reps per set.

Calf Raise. Add weight when you can perform 15 reps per set.

Planks. Perform for max time. 2 to 3 minutes max is about all that’s needed per set.

Squat Day – Primary

Primary Workout
Squat Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Squats (See above)
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts  3  10
Goblet Squats  3  12
Leg Curls or Glute Ham Raise  3  12
Standing Calf Raise  3  15
Ab Wheel Rollouts  3  12-15

Romanian Deadlifts. Use straps or Versa Gripps. You don’t want a dumbbell to slip and risk tweaking your lower back on this movement. Only sink until your lower back wants to break. Keep it tight and in a neutral position. Do not allow your lower back to round in the hole. Add weight when you can perform 10 reps per set.

Goblet Squats. Add weight when you can perform 12 reps per set.

Leg Curls or GHR. Use either exercise, or alternate between the two week in and week out. Add weight when you can perform 12 reps per sets.

Calf Raise. Add weight when you can perform 15 reps per set.

Shaw Strength Program FAQ

Is this workout good for strict muscle building?

Yes. You are making your assistance work count, pushing for progression. While I designed this workout for strength, it’s also amazing for building muscle.

What if I don’t like a specific exercise?

Use a different one. As long as your substitution is reasonable, it’s all good. Just don’t go swapping out compound lifts for isolation movements.

Can I use this workout while trying to cut fat?

Yes, but don’t expect to gain strength. Beginners might be able to gain strength during a cut, but intermediates will likely lose some. Don’t get discouraged. remember your primary goal during this time is to get your body healthier. My workout will help you to maintain as much strength as possible.

Can I train only 3 days per week?

Yes. Simply train every other day, cycling between workouts. You can train either 3 days per week, taking the weekends off, or about 3.5 days per week if you stick to lifting every other day.

What if I want to squat twice a week?

Good question. You can squat again on deadlift day. Dump the leg extensions and work in squats. I suggest either of the following options:

  • Option 1 – 70% of your squat max for 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Option 2 – 75% of your squat max for 3 sets of 6 reps

A second squat day would exist more to get volume in than to push yourself to the limit on each set. Save the “pushing” sets for your primary squat day.

Isn’t this just a 6 week percentage-based cycle?

Yes and no. It’s far more than that. By maximizing sets you are pushing in a natural way, and maximizing the muscle building process which will assist with future strength gains. The harder you push a set, the more muscle fibers you are recruiting. The more muscle fibers you recruit, the greater your muscle and strength gains.

That is the heart of this program. The percentage rotation simply exists to cycle intensity and continue to test yourself at different rep ranges.

Your goal should be progress and improvement. This program is not linear progression, it’s auto-regulated progression. You will add weight to lifts as your body allows. You won’t be forcing random linear weight additions each week at the expense of form.

This is a safer method of training compared to linear progression. During linear progression the focus is on weekly weight additions, often at the expense of form. With my method, you will never push reps with bad form. The goal is to improve safely, never at the expense of form.

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Name: Steve Shaw

Bio: I don’t believe in magic training systems or rep ranges. My philosophy is simple: remain consistent, use the best possible exercises, focus upon progression and enter the gym looking to maximize each set. When you maximize each set, you maximize progress. Easy, obvious, insanely effective.