Greyskull LP: Best Powerbuilding Routine for Beginners (GSLP)

Greyskull LP (GSLP) is a powerlifting program famous for its effectiveness at building strength and size rapidly. But what exactly makes it the best beginner weight lifting and powerlifting workout?

The answer lies in the name: LP or linear periodization.

Utilizing a simple but effective 3-day-per-week training plan, volume (the amount of sets completed) and intensity (the weight used) are constantly adjusted to provide the maximum possible training response. In this way, muscle growth and strength development are maximized.

But going even further, GSLP allows for consistent progress for a much longer period of time through the use of reset techniques, intelligent altering of sets and reps, and powerful plugins.

Contrast this with random workouts that don’t intelligently build upon one another—what most people unfortunately do when they enter the gym.

Developed by John Sheaffer who also goes by the name of Johnny Pain, Greyskull is considered one of the best linear progression plans available. It has several unique factors that make it stand out among alternatives like Starting Strength (SS) and StrongLifts 5×5.

In fact, the program actually formed after Sheaffer completed Starting Strength and found himself quite dissatisfied with the results. His complaints are not unique, as many feel SS does not do “enough” towards muscle growth and hypertrophy and leaves too much progress on the table.

How long can you use the program before moving on to a more advanced or intermediate program?

While it will vary from person to person and many factors come into play, beginners can expect consistent progress from the plan for several months or even a year before needing to switch things up.

The “reset” is a common item found in programs and is used when the lifter is unable to add more weight with each session. At its core, it is simply a deload—a planned time to lower the weights so that your body can recover and begin to make results again. And Johnny’s method makes it incredibly easy: once you stop making progress each workout, drop the weight by 10% and continue as normal.

For example, if you are benching 225 but unable to complete the required repetitions and sets of the base plan (outlined below), you would drop 10% and use 200 pounds (always round down to the nearest 5) and continue the plan as normal. Within a couple of workouts you will be back up to 225, except this time you will be restored and strong enough to dominate it!

To make GSLP better than the alternative novice plans, Johnny two additional elements to the program:

  • AMRAP sets: just as the name suggests, “as many reps as possible” sets are performed until failure. This is notated by a ‘+’ sign after the rep number for a given set. Arguably, this is the number-one thing that separates Johnny’s plan from all other beginner approaches. It allows for a constant way to progress, even if the weight used isn’t always increasing.
  • Plugins: these “add-ons” are included on top of the “base” plan and are chosen based on individual training goals.

In his own words, Johnny points out that it is absolutely perfect for beginners and even intermediate lifters, though more advanced trainees will require a different approach such as DUP.

Greyskull LP Workout

The base for the plan is simple. Squats are performed twice per week, deadlifts once, and bench press and overhead press are alternated.

  • Week 1
    • Monday
      • Overhead Press: 2×5, 1×5+ (AMRAP)
      • Squat: 2×5, 1×5+
    • Wednesday
      • Bench Press: 2×5, 1×5+
      • Deadlift: 1×5+
    • Friday
      • Overhead Press: 2×5, 1×5+
      • Squat: 2×5, 1×5+
    • Week 2
      • Monday
        • Bench Press: 2×5, 1×5+
        • Squat: 2×5, 1×5+
      • Wednesday
        • Overhead Press: 2×5, 1×5+
        • Deadlift: 1×5+
      • Friday
        • Bench Press: 2×5, 1×5+
        • Squat: 2×5, 1×5+

This provides the foundation for muscle and strength to be developed. A core tenant of the program, with each workout more weight needs to be added to the bar:

  • Bench Press and Overhead Press: 2.5 pounds
  • Squats and Deadlifts: 5 pounds

In order to progress effectively and quickly you will need to pick up microplates, an essential piece of powerlifting equipment for upper-body movements.

Additionally, trainees are encouraged to include “plugins” to accelerate progress towards any number of different goals. While this sounds complicated, they are simply additional accessory movements and other types of training added on top (such as conditioning for cardio).

He also included a two-day-per-week plan in his book, but we aren’t going to cover that here as a majority of our readers are interested in giving it their all for the best possible results (if not, you should leave our site—we build winners).

A list of accessories is provided in the book, but we have expanded upon it even further:

  • Rows
  • Pull-ups and Chin-ups
  • Pull-overs
  • Dips
  • Shrugs
  • Rack Pulls
  • Curls
  • Close Grip Bench Press (CGBP)
  • Abdominal Exercises
  • Lateral Raises
  • Reverse DB Flies
  • Face Pulls
  • Tricep Extensions
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls

When determining how many repetitions and sets to perform for the additional exercises above not included in the base, simply focus on progressing from workout to workout: whether that means more weight, more repetitions, or more sets. Johnny gives a general ballpark number to use in his book, but following this method works just as well if not better.

For each workout, pick 2-3 accessory exercises above to complete.

Not sure what this looks like? Let’s look at it in action with some added exercises for biceps and back:

  • Monday
    • Bench Press: 2×5, 1×5+
    • Curls: 2×10
    • Chin-ups: 2×6
    • Squats: 2×5, 1×5+
  • Wednesday
    • Overhead Press: 2×5, 1×5+
    • Curls: 2×12
    • Chin-ups: 2×8
    • Deadlift: 1×5+
  • Friday
    • Bench Press: 2×5, 1×5+
    • Curls: 3×8
    • Chin-ups: 2×10
    • Squats: 2×5, 1×5+

There are a couple of key things to notice:

  • With each workout, progress is made on the accessory exercises by adding more sets or repetitions—you can also simply add more weight. Regardless, you should be progressing somehow each lifting session.
  • The accessory movements are done after the main movement they complement—in this case bench press as they are upper-body movements. If you selected leg extensions and leg curls instead, you would do those at the end of the workout after squats or deadlifts (and not after bench press in the example above).

Sheaffer is also huge on including neck extensions and contends that champions from all sports have strong, thick necks. For this exercise specifically, he recommends four sets of 25 repetitions with a very light weight to start with.

Beyond the impressive injury-prevention benefits, neck extensions cause massive growth in the neck and upper shoulders. In many cases over an inch of growth is seen in the course of just two months. Johnny recommends these to be done with every session.

Phraks Greyskull LP

A common complaint of the traditional GSLP program is that it includes too much pressing with not enough pulling movements–which can lead to uneven development. To combat this, a popular variant of the program referred to as “phraks” was created.

Diagram of Phraks Greyskull LP including an even amount of push and pull exercises
Phrak’s Greyskull LP: a variation to the traditional GSLP that includes more pulling.

If just starting out, it is recommended that you stick with the traditional program. After 2-3 cycles of that, switch to this version for more variation and back development.

Greyskull LP Plugins

Beyond the base 3-day-per-week workout and accessory exercises outlined above, Johnny developed several different “versions” of the plan that are used for individuals seeking specific results.

Physiqz is a powerlifting site so our focus is on that aspect, but if you are interested in losing fat, getting better at sports, are a female, or also looking to become a runner—the book has you covered and gives several golden nuggets of information for each. Honestly, it’s so cheap that it’s worth it regardless (we have bought the first and second edition at this point).

Greyskull LP for Powerlifters

Powerlifters are looking to get strong—real strong. And unfortunately, following the program as-is won’t provide the best strength gains.

However, with a small adjustment it becomes an insanely-effective method for adding weight to your squat, bench, and deadlift.

In the normal plan, if you are unable to complete any given set for 5 repetitions you know it is time to reset and drop the weight 10%. However, this is best suited for those seeking general strength and fitness benefits.

If you are a powerlifter, however, the acceptable repetitions before a reset are lowered from 5 to 3 to place emphasis on strength. The base then looks like this:

  • Week 1
    • Monday
      • Overhead Press: 2×3, 1×3+ (AMRAP)
      • Squat: 2×3, 1×3+
    • Wednesday
      • Bench Press: 2×3, 1×3+
      • Deadlift: 1×3+
    • Friday
      • Overhead Press: 2×3, 1×3+
      • Squat: 2×3, 1×3+Week 2
  • Week 2
    • Monday
      • Bench Press: 2×3, 1×3+
      • Squat: 2×3, 1×3+
    • Wednesday
      • Overhead Press: 2×3, 1×3+
      • Deadlift 1×3+
    • Friday
      • Bench Press: 2×3, 1×3+
      • Squat: 2×3, 1×3+

That means, once you are unable to add weight and complete a set of three repetitions—it’s time to drop the weight and deload. However, instead of jumping into the next workout, take a day off from lifting completely.

By doing this, you will allow your body to fully recover so that it can reap the complete benefits of hard training. No one likes training hard for no results—this makes sure that never happens.

The book also gives insight into peaking for a meet. To do so, simply add an additional heavy single at the end of every set.

Diagram of Greyskull LP with linear progression plugin to increase muscle growth
Credit: PLTW.com

As you can see above in the example for bench press, after the AMRAP set there is an extra added heavy single. Additionally, on the final week no AMRAP should be performed. This will allow for increased recovery and dissipation of fatigue to give you a better performance on the day of the meet.

In the end, what makes GSLP so great?

One of the main reasons is very simple: it allows for intelligent auto-regulation on two levels:

  • Volume
  • Linear Progression of Weights Used

If you aren’t aware already, auto-regulation is simply the act of altering your lifting on any given day based on how your body responds to the stimulus (weights). Done correctly, it can greatly impact your results in a positive way.

But how does GSLP utilize auto-regulation so effectively?

Most programs simply rely on incrementally increasing the weight used with each session. While this is absolutely critical to continue making results, it often misses the bigger picture. If you aren’t able to add weight or can only go up slightly, is that truly the fastest and most optimized way to make results? Definitely not.

That’s where the AMRAP comes in.

Even if you don’t increase the weight, you can be sure that you will provide adequate overload stimulus to your muscles required for growth.

And when linear progression of weights and AMRAPS are included together as in the case of Johnny’s legendary program—magic happens.

If you have tried Starting Strength or another novice training plan and haven’t made much progress, it’s very likely that GSLP is perfect for you and can help jump-start your results.

But it should be made clear that at its core, the plan isn’t intended for just powerlifting or gaining strength. Because of the sheer volume and number of repetitions, there just isn’t enough specificity to translate to absolute, maximal strength.

With that said, hypertrophy is absolutely essential to beginners—even powerlifters—as it lays the foundation for true strength progression. Greyskull LP is, hands down, the best powerbuilding routine for beginners as it provides an increase in strength while also adding on serious muscle mass.

To make it better towards powerlifting and raw strength, there are several key alterations:

  • Bench Press to Overhead Press ratio should be adjusted to 3:1 instead of 1:1—for every overhead press workout you should have three bench press workouts
  • Do not perform sets of greater than six repetitions—simply increase the weight used to make sure less repetitions are performed

Both of these changes increase the specificity of the program towards powerlifting. In other words, if you want to get good at lifting heavy weights, you need to lift heavy weights. Taking a look at the graph below we can see that form and motor unit control begins to deteriorate significantly around the seventh repetition.

EMG study showing the effects of lifting weights on fatigue during Greyskull LP

By avoiding this, form is maintained so that each repetition performed is of much higher quality.

Overall, GSLP may be the best beginner plan out there given it’s intelligent, unique approach to overloading and linear progression. If you’re seeking the best way to pack on muscle and strength as a novice, it doesn’t get any better than this.