Advanced powerlifter completes a deadlift while following a 6 day workout routine for strength and muscle mass

When it comes to all of the possible routines out there, the 6 day workout routine is arguably designed the best. Why might a 7 day routine be better? If you are training hard, you need at least 1 day to recover. This doesn’t mean you can’t do low-intensity exercises for certain muscles based on their maximum recoverable volume. Biceps and calves are two examples of muscle groups with the ability to handle higher volumes.

A 6 day workout split is not to be taken lightly, however. It is an intermediate-level program. If you are still a beginner it is important to use a more appropriate program.

How do you know if you are still a novice? If you are still making consistent strength gains while on a simple linear periodization plan, you are still considered a beginner. This is not a bad thing in the slightest—on the contrary, it means you will make progress much quicker than an intermediate and advanced lifter.

If you are still a novice, choose from an optimized beginner powerlifting program to select an appropriate routine:

It is worth repeating: this plan includes multiple days of bench press, squats, and deadlifts each and every week. Working out 6 days a week is overkill for someone just getting started out. If you are a beginner, you will net much more progress from the above routines until you stop seeing progress.

Evidence Behind the 6 Day Workout Plan

You may be wondering why there is a focus on powerlifting routines. In natural strength athletes—those who do not take performance-enhancing drugs—a focus on heavy, compound lifts is most conducive to dramatic positive changes in one’s physique, posture, strength, and health.

While it may stir mental images of dark, dungeon gyms and loud grunts as weights are slammed against the ground, powerlifting is simply the intelligent optimization of strength and muscle in an athlete towards the goal of lifting more weight. In recent years, the sport of raw powerlifting where only a belt and knee sleeves are allowed has grown tremendously as more and more individuals find that powerlifting and powerbuilding programs provide incredible results.

And if you aren’t already aware, numerous studies point to the ideas that lifting weights provides powerful benefits over losing weight using low-intensity, steady-state cardio like jogging. Additionally, an increase in muscle mass necessitates a higher caloric diet, making it easy to understand how muscular people stay muscular: the more muscle you have, the more you can eat as fuel.

You don’t have to compete or lift weights in front of others to benefit from a powerlifting plan either. Many who begin powerlifting come from bodybuilding backgrounds and make the switch after learning first-hand how powerful the programming techniques can be to increase muscle mass and strength.

Furthermore, when most people truly consider their end goal–a great physique–it is clear that building muscle is a fundamental part of achieving the best possible outcome. Muscle creates the “right” kind of curves and contributes to better, more attractive posture. Not to mention how convenient it is to be strong, agile, and healthy as the requirements of daily life necessitate manual exertion.

As always, it is important to back up any claim with scientific evidence. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology tested two groups of amateur soccer athletes:

  • One group performed single-joint (SJ) exercises:
    • Peck deck machine
    • Incline dumbbell fly
    • Biceps curls
    • Leg curls
    • Leg extensions
    • Lateral dumbbell raises
    • Pull-overs
    • Read delt fly
    • Tricep extensions
    • Calf raises
    • Crunches
  • One group performed multi-joint (MJ) exercises:
    • Bench press
    • Incline press
    • Deadlifts
    • Leg press
    • Squats
    • Overhead barbell press (OHP)
    • Lat pull-downs
    • Seated rows
    • Calf raises
    • Crunches

At the conclusion of the case study, they measured changes in a variety of areas:

  • Neither group has a change in bodyweight (but both groups lost fat and increased muscle and lean body mass)
  • Both groups decreased body-fat to a significant degree: 6.5% for the SJ group and 11.3% for the MJ group.
  • Both groups increased in fat-free mass (muscle and other soft tissues and supporting structures): 3.5% for the SJ group and 4.9% for the MJ group
  • Both groups experiences a large increase in their VO2 max (rate at which an individual can consume oxygen): 5.1% for SJ and 12.5% for MJ
  • Both groups increased in their Bench Press one-rep-maximum (1RM): 8.1% for SJ and 10.9% for MJ)
  • Both groups increased in leg extension/quad strength: 12.4% for SJ and 18.9% for MJ
  • Both groups increased in squatting strength: 8.3% for SJ and 13.8% for MJ
  • For all results, the increased results of the multi-joint group were all statistically significant (p < 0.05)

Several observations can be made from these findings. Immediately noticeable is the incredible increase in cardiovascular benefits obtained from lifting with compound movements (bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press).

And when it comes to muscle growth and strength gains, the multi-joint group reigned supreme as well. Interestingly the MJ group made more strength gains even in an exercise not included in their workout program: leg extensions.

It is also important to note than with volume kept the same across both groups, an increase in strength is directly correlated with an increase in muscle mass. This is also proven by the fact that the group doing squats, bench press, and deadlifts gained more lean body mass and lost more fat.

There are three essential elements of any successful training plan. But first, what separates training from simply a workout? A training program has a definitive goal in mind that is SMART:

  • Specific: the goal should be specific, and an increase in strength for a given exercise is one of the most objective options—and again is highly correlated to an increase in lean body mass (more muscle).
  • Measurable: it must be easily measurable—a goal such like “ripped abs” is not easily measurable unless you define specific body-fat levels and have an accurate way to track your progress (calipers and other commonly-used methods are not accurate in determining body fat levels).
  • Achievable: set a goal that you can actually achieve; this means something within your control that can allow you to achieve what you set out to do—and lifting weights/living a healthy lifestyle are both completely within your control and work to accomplish the goals of a better physique and increased strength.
  • Realistic: make sure your goal is considered reasonable, but also don’t create self-imposed boundaries on what is possible; genetics play an incredibly-important role in your potential—what is possible for you will most certainly be impossible for others and vice versa.
  • Time-based: set a concrete timeline for accomplishing your strength and fitness goal; the use of 6 week and 8 week powerlifting routines are excellent for this and both include 6 days of lifting as well.

As you can see, training goes well beyond just “showing up” to the gym and doing some exercises. It requires a commitment to the process, but pays dividends later down the road as you watch your strength and muscle skyrocket.

In order to structure a workout routine effectively, it must intelligently account for periodization in the form of intelligently-designed microcycles and mesocycles. This is done by altering volume and intensity on a weekly and sometimes daily basis (as is the case in a well-structured DUP program). Tudor Bompa, a Romanian PhD regarded as the “father of sports periodization,” was the first individual to introduce the idea of periodization using microcycles and mesocycles when he published his book titled Theory and Methodology of Training.

By decreasing volume while increasing intensity (the amount of weight lifted) over a set period of time—usually 5-8 weeks—the body enters a state of super-compensation. In simplest terms, this means pushing the body just past its “limit” to elicit maximum results before backing off and deloading to allow for full recovery before starting another training cycle.

Supercompensation, as defined in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, refers to the phase of Selye’s General Adaptive Sydrome where the body adapts to become stronger than necessary to accommodate for external stress. In the case of lifting weights, this is seen clearly. After weeks of lifting in a progressively heavy manner, the body becomes much stronger and new personal records are set as each workout sees more weight added to the bar. Eventually the body enters the exhaustion phase, which is where deloading and recovery become absolutely essential.

Any effective 6 day plan will have several elements, some of them already explained:

  • Focus on compound lifts: bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, and other heavy barbell movements serve as the foundation for exercises done
  • Intelligent periodization that alters volume and intensity over a set time period to push the body into a phase of overcompensation for maximally-optimized results
  • Conjugate exercise selection from mesocycle to mesocycle; each time you complete the workout program you should select different accessory and secondary exercises based around your current weaknesses and sticking points (view this chart)
  • Slight caloric surplus of 200-400 calories to accommodate for maximal gains in lean body mass without an excessive increase in fat; using this program on a cut is possible, but adjust your expectations accordingly—strength and muscle hypertrophy (growth) will not progress as quickly in order for the fat loss process to take place within a hypocaloric diet (eating less calories than you burn)
  • Adequate sleep every night; 6 hours of sleep should form a bare minimum with 8 or preferably 9 hours of sleep as the goal (to wake up within the optimized boundaries of REM sleep)
  • Autoregulatory aspects in programming that accommodate for inevitable fluctuations in daily performance
  • AMRAP sets: one of the fundamental concepts of the Juggernaut method strength training program, AMRAP sets refer to doing “as many repetitions as possible”

If steps are taken to meet all five requirements, incredible results can be made in short periods of time as the high frequency aspects of the 6 day workout routine provide maximum stimulus for gains in muscle mass and strength. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research conducted on 20 trained men found that higher frequencies (working out a muscle group more than once each week) provided for a subtle but measurable benefit when compared with a low frequency of training each muscle group (once per week).

The plan consists of 5 weeks that build upon one another followed by a final sixth week intended for full recovery and preparation for restarting the routine. During each week of training, special care should be given to understanding RPE and maintaining the proper levels of effort to know when to increase or decrease weight.

In simplest terms, RPE refers to the perceived difficulty of the last set completed. It is a subjective measure to perform to your most optimized level each day. Notice this does not say perform your “best”. Lifting at your peak each day is actually a bad idea and will lead to overtraining or missing out on the benefits of periodization. Instead, the program is designed to increase in difficulty over the course of 5 weeks before deloading on week 6.

RPE Scale (Understanding RPE Training)

The RPE scale is utilized by a very large amount of high-level strength and muscle athletes.

  • 5.5: too easy to count as a working set
  • 6: warm-up weight
  • 6.5: almost heavy enough to count as a working set—still just light enough to be considered in the warm-up weight territory
  • 7: weight moved quickly
  • 7.5: could have possibly done 3 more repetitions with the weight
  • 8: could have most definitely done 2 more repetitions
  • 8.5: could have possibly done 2 more repetitions
  • 9: could have definitely done 1 more repetition
  • 9.5: could have possibly completed 1 more rep
  • 10: maximal effort—true “grinder” that moves slowly and requires all of your strength to lift

At its core, the RPE system is simply an autoregulation tool. Autoregulation is the practice of making small adjustments to the specific weights used (regulating intensity) based on one’s own daily perception of strength and performance. Simply put, it’s lifting more on days that you feel great and lifting less on days where you don’t feel as energized or strong. This allows you to make more progress and lift heavier when you feel mentally and physically equipped to do so. The Texas method training program is another example of an intermediate routine that is based around an autoregulated top set on bench press and squats each week.

Additionally, for non-compound exercises (accessory and secondary exercises) it will be much harder to track your 1RM. Using autoregulation allows you to select the best weight on any given workout to best stimulate the muscle in accordance with the pre-planned schedule of the overall training plan. Regardless, you should keep a lifting journal to document all sets and repetitions completed including the weight used and the RPE.

By including RPE you can more accurately judge progress in more discrete lifts, like rear delt flies for example. Consider viewing two workouts with the same amount of sets and repetitions completed at the same weight; this might appear to be a lack of progress, but with RPE included could tell a fuller story. If RPE dropped then it would show clear progress—the exercise was easier. On the other hand, if RPE increased or stayed the same it would be a clear indication to lessen the weight used or consider deloading early.

To make the switch to RPE-style training if you are currently unfamiliar, consider using a percentage conversion chart to establish a baseline. From there you can adjust the rough percentages up or down depending on your personal interpretation of heavy lifts.

RPE scale showing conversions to percentages of 1RM

One study published in 2010 found that, in a group of college athletes, autoregulation proved to be more effective at increasing upper-body strength than a more rigid program of linear periodization. This would make sense as college athletes are highly unlikely to fall into the beginner territory in the realm of muscle and strength.

One aspect of RPE not often talked about is the aspect of using periodization for the floor and RPE for the ceiling. What does this mean exactly?

On days that you feel excellent, use an RPE scale to allow yourself to lift more weight. But on the days that you don’t feel so great, use the static percentages to hold yourself accountable. If you are only relying on the RPE approach is can become easy to rationalize decreasing the weight. This blending of the two methods holds you accountable while allowing for the possibility of increased performance and results.

With necessary background information explained, it is time to reveal the actual 6 day plan.

6 Day Workout Routine: Full Plan

As explained in detail above, make sure to incorporate the periodized floor, RPE ceiling approach by utilizing the RPE to percentage conversion chart above. The routine is designed to be completed over the course of 6 weeks and can be repeated indefinitely.

Ideally you should have basic powerlifting equipment including a belt, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and powerlifting shoes. These items will help to provide support to avoid injury. However, they will also allow you to lift more weight by allowing you to get into a more biomechanically-advantageous position. A pair of Adidas powerlifting shoes, for example, has a tall heel that can accommodate for ankle mobility issues and also place the body in a more quad-dominant squat stance.

Finding the correct gear for your body type comes from understanding unique limb lengths and biomechanics. However, it is well worth your time and effort as the end result can easily include a large increase in poundage on all of your lifts across the board.

Additionally, it is best if you have a belt to hold weight for pull-ups that will allow you to progress with periodization techniques explained above. If you don’t have one you can estimate repetitions using RPE.

As you complete the full 6 weeks, things will compound and get harder. This strength and hypertrophy program is specifically designed this way to challenge you and push your body to the limit, resulting in the maximum positive stimulus possible: more muscle mass gained, more strength developed, and more fat lost.

Full 6 Week Workout Plan: 36 Total Workouts

Week One:

  • Monday
    • Back squat: 5×3 at 75%, AMRAP set with 1-2 “left in the tank” (don’t go to full failure)
    • Front squat: 5×10 at 60%
    • Snatch-grip RDL: 5×10 at 60%
    • Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts: 3-5×10 at 7 RPE
  • Tuesday
    • Bench press: 5×3 at 75%, AMRAP set with 1-2 left in reserve
    • Close-grip bench press: 5×10 at 60%
    • Pull-ups: 5×10 or RPE 7 if unable to complete sets of 10 repetitions
    • Dumbbell bench press: 3-5×10 at RPE 7
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation (elbows pointed towards the ground at the top): 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Wednesday
    • Deadlifts: 10×3 at RPE 7
    • Bicep curls: 5×10 at 70%
    • Tricep extensions: 5×10 at 60%
  • Thursday
    • Bench press: 5×5 at 70%
    • Back squat: 5×5 at 70%
    • Incline dumbbell bench press: 5×10 at 70%
    • RDL: 5×5 at 70%
    • Dumbbell fly: 5×10 at 70%
  • Friday
    • Front squat: 5×5 at 70%
    • Overhead press: 5×5 at 70%
    • Pull-ups: 5×7 or RPE 6
    • Rear Dumbbell flies: 3×15 at 70%
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Saturday or Sunday:
    • Bench press: 3×5 at 70%
    • Deadlifts: 5×3 at 60%
    • Dumbbell rows: 3×10 at 70%
    • Bicep curls: 3×10 at 75%

Week Two:

  • Monday
    • Back squat: 5×3 at 77.5%, AMRAP set with 1-2 in reserve
    • Front squat: 5×8 at 70%
    • Snatch-grip RDL: 5×8 at 70%
    • Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts: 3-5×8 at 7 RPE
  • Tuesday
    • Bench press: 5×3 at 77.5%, AMRAP set with 1-2 left in reserve
    • Close-grip bench press: 5×8 at 70%
    • Pull-ups: 5×8 (RPE 7 if using additional weight)
    • Dumbbell bench press: 3-5×10 at RPE 7
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Wednesday
    • Deadlifts: 10×2 at RPE 7.5
    • Bicep curls: 5×8 at 75%
    • Tricep extensions: 5×10 at 70%
  • Thursday
    • Bench press: 5×5 at 72.5%
    • Back squat: 5×5 at 72.5%
    • Incline dumbbell bench press: 5×8 at 75%
    • RDL: 5×5 at 72.5%
    • Dumbbell fly: 5×8 at 75%
  • Friday
    • Front squat: 5×5 at 72.5%
    • Overhead press: 5×5 at 72.5%
    • Pull-ups: 5×5 or RPE 7
    • Rear Dumbbell flies: 3×10 at 75%
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Saturday or Sunday:
    • Bench press: 3×5 at 72.5%
    • Deadlifts: 5×3 at 62.5%
    • Dumbbell rows: 3×8 at 75%
    • Bicep curls: 3×8 at 75%

Week Three:

  • Monday
    • Back squat: 5×3 at 80%, AMRAP set with 1-2 in reserve
    • Front squat: 5×6 at 75%
    • Snatch-grip RDL: 5×6 at 75%
    • Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts: 3-5×6 at 7.5 RPE
  • Tuesday
    • Bench press: 5×3 at 80%, AMRAP set with 1-2 left in reserve
    • Close-grip bench press: 5×6 at 75%
    • Pull-ups: 5×6 (RPE 7.5 if using additional weight)
    • Dumbbell bench press: 3-5×8 at RPE 7.5
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Wednesday
    • Deadlifts: 10×1 at RPE 7.5
    • Bicep curls: 5×8 at 80%
    • Tricep extensions: 5×8 at 75%
  • Thursday
    • Bench press: 5×5 at 75%
    • Back squat: 5×5 at 75%
    • Incline dumbbell bench press: 5×8 at 80%
    • RDL: 5×5 at 75%
    • Dumbbell fly: 5×8 at 80%
  • Friday
    • Front squat: 5×5 at 75%
    • Overhead press: 5×3 at 80%
    • Pull-ups: 5×5 at RPE 7.5
    • Rear Dumbbell flies: 3×10 at 75%
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Saturday or Sunday:
    • Bench press: 3×5 at 75%
    • Deadlifts: 5×3 at 65%
    • Dumbbell rows: 3×8 at 80%
    • Bicep curls: 3×10 at 75%

Week Four:

  • Monday
    • Back squat: 5×3 at 82.5%, AMRAP set with 1 in reserve
    • Front squat: 5×5 at 80%
    • Snatch-grip RDL: 5×5 at 80%
    • Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts: 3-5×6 at 8 RPE
  • Tuesday
    • Bench press: 5×3 at 82.5%, AMRAP set with 1 left in reserve
    • Close-grip bench press: 5×5 at 80%
    • Pull-ups: 5×5 (RPE 8 if using additional weight)
    • Dumbbell bench press: 3-5×6 at RPE 8
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Wednesday
    • Deadlifts: 10×3 at RPE 8
    • Bicep curls: 5×10 at 80%
    • Tricep extensions: 5×8 at 80%
  • Thursday
    • Bench press: 5×5 at 77.5%
    • Back squat: 5×5 at 77.5%
    • Incline dumbbell bench press: 5×6 at 80%
    • RDL: 5×5 at 77.5%
    • Dumbbell fly: 5×6 at 80%
  • Friday
    • Front squat: 5×5 at 77.5%
    • Overhead press: 5×3 at 82.5%
    • Pull-ups: 5×5 at RPE 8
    • Rear Dumbbell flies: 3×10 at 80%
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Saturday or Sunday:
    • Bench press: 3×5 at 77.5%
    • Deadlifts: 5×3 at 70%
    • Dumbbell rows: 3×8 at 85%
    • Bicep curls: 3×10 at 80%

Week Five:

  • Monday
    • Back squat: 5×3 at 85%, AMRAP set
    • Front squat: 5×3 at 85%
    • Snatch-grip RDL: 5×5 at 85%
    • Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts: 3-5×5 at 9 RPE
  • Tuesday
    • Bench press: 5×3 at 85%, AMRAP set
    • Close-grip bench press: 5×3 at 85%
    • Pull-ups: 5×5 (RPE 9 if using additional weight)
    • Dumbbell bench press: 3-5×6 at RPE 9
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Wednesday
    • Deadlifts: 10×2 at RPE 9
    • Bicep curls: 5×10 at 85%
    • Tricep extensions: 5×10 at 85%
  • Thursday
    • Bench press: 5×5 at 80%
    • Back squat: 5×5 at 80%
    • Incline dumbbell bench press: 5×6 at 85%
    • RDL: 5×5 at 80%
    • Dumbbell fly: 5×6 at 85%
  • Friday
    • Front squat: 5×5 at 80%
    • Overhead press: 5×3 at 85%
    • Pull-ups: 5×5 at RPE 9
    • Rear Dumbbell flies: 3×12 at 85%
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Saturday or Sunday:
    • Bench press: 3×5 at 80%
    • Deadlifts: 5×3 at 75%
    • Dumbbell rows: 3×12 at 85%
    • Bicep curls: 3×12 at 85%

Week Six:

  • Monday
    • Back squat: 3×3 at 75%
    • Front squat: 3×5 at 70%
    • Snatch-grip RDL: 3×5 at 70%
    • Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts: 3×5 at 7 RPE
  • Tuesday
    • Bench press: 3×3 at 75%
    • Close-grip bench press: 3×5 at 70%
    • Pull-ups: 5×5 or RPE 7
    • Dumbbell bench press: 3×6 at RPE 7
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Wednesday
    • Deadlifts: 3×3 at RPE 7
    • Bicep curls: 3×10 at 70%
    • Tricep extensions: 3×10 at 70%
  • Thursday
    • Bench press: 3×5 at 70%
    • Back squat: 3×5 at 70%
    • Incline dumbbell bench press: 3×6 at 70%
    • RDL: 3×5 at 70%
    • Dumbbell fly: 3×6 at 70%
  • Friday
    • Front squat: 3×5 at 70%
    • Overhead press: 3×3 at 70%
    • Pull-ups: 5×5 at RPE 7
    • Rear Dumbbell flies: 3×8 at 70%
    • Face pulls with external shoulder rotation: 3×15 with resistance band or light weight
  • Saturday and Sunday:
    • Rest

What About a 5 Day Weight lifting Routine?

It is very easy to modify the program if a 5 day split workout routine is desired instead. The easiest way to do so is to cut out all lifting on Saturday and Sunday. These training sessions are purposefully designed to be less intense to provide those with extra motivation the option to benefit from working harder. If you opt to skip them, you can still expect to make great results. Completing the full 6 day gym workout schedule is always preferred of course.

Final Notes on the 6 Day Workout Routine

Any of the exercises that are not one of the four compound lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press) can be swapped out for another similar movement, however these movements are powerful, multi-joint accessory exercises chosen for a reason—they work. It is recommended that you complete the 6 day routine 2-3 times through before considering making any changes to the exercises.

It can be completed at home but requires roughly $1,000-$1,500 in gym equipment to provide for a bench press setup, power rack, barbells, dumbbells, and weights. A local powerlifting gym in your area is another great alternative and provides a much better training environment than a commercial gym. In the end, however, the most important aspect to success is a dedication to consistently follow the plan–regardless of where you lift.

Due to the 6-week structure of the routine, it is very easy to turn into a 6 month workout plan: each 6-month period includes a total of 4 training cycles and 144 individual workouts.

In just 6-12 months of this training program, you can make radical changes to your physique and strength levels. Sleeping enough and maintaining a diet that has adequate protein, fats, and helpful carbohydrates is essential to maximizing progress. Nothing worth doing is ever easy though; dedication to the plan and staying consistent with your nutrition and training will yield incredible changes.

Once you start to see the dramatic changes for yourself, you will likely be hooked and staying motivated from that point onward is easy: you see the clear line between working out hard and building an amazing, healthy body.