Ivysaur’s 4-4-8 program takes two of the most popular workout programs for beginners – Starting Strength & Stronglifts – and transforms it into something that is arguably better for newer lifters who are able to recover from excess volume.
In just 6 steps, new lifters can get the best of both worlds from two of the most popular strength training programs and effectively maximize their “noob gains”.
The Basis of Ivysaur’s 4-4-8 Program (Starting Strength & Stronglifts)
Before one can understand why the Ivysaur 4-4-8 program can help them see gains quicker, knowing the foundation of the Starting Strength and Stronglifts programs can provide insight into these workout routines.
By making minor adjustments here and there, new lifters can make their workouts more efficient and change their programming as they progress over time.
Fundamentals of Starting Strength
The Starting Strength Routine is a beginner’s workout program by Mark Rippetoe that focuses on five primary lifts that hit major muscle groups in the body. The main lifts include the back squats, bench press, overhead press, and deadlifts, all performed with a barbell.
The purpose of this program is to slowly increase the weight used per week to build strength slowly over time – also known as progressive overload. Instead of focusing on other exercises that hit smaller muscle groups, this beginner program aims to build full-body strength by hitting the larger muscle groups through foundational, multi-joint movements – which gives new lifters the most bang for their buck.
The rep scheme for this program starts very low, with the squat, bench, overhead press, and power clean only coming to 15 reps total per workout (squat, bench, and overhead press are 3 sets of 5, whereas the power clean is 5 sets of 3). The deadlift is extremely low-rep, utilizing only 1 set of 5 reps for the first two weeks.
Core Concepts of Stronglifts
The Stronglifts program is very similar to the Starting Strength program. This program consists of just two workouts:
- Workout #1: Squat, Barbell Bent Over Row, Bench Press
- Workout #2: Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press (Barbell if possible)
There are a few golden rules to follow while using this program:
- Beginners must train 3x/week
- Avoid training two days in a row
- Alternate between workout A and workout B every time they train
The rep scheme of this program is 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise. After an individual can successfully complete 5 sets of 5 reps, they can increase the weight by 2.5kg or 5 pounds for the next workout. Beginners should use very low weights, whereas those who know their one-rep max can start at 50% of their 1RM (1-rep-max).
As you can see, there are fundamental similarities between Starting Strength and Stronglifts. Both workout plans focus on the big muscle groups in the lower body (quadriceps and hamstrings) and the upper body (pectoralis, deltoids, and latissimus dorsi/rhomboids), and utilize only a few exercises.
However, the rep scheme is the main difference between the Starting Strength Routine and Stronglifts. The Starting Strength program uses very low reps for all exercises, especially the deadlift. The highest number of seats for an exercise is for the power clean (5×3).
The Stronglifts program starts with 5 sets of 5 reps per exercise, with each exercise having the same amount of reps (25). This could indicate a greater focus on hitting each muscle group equally.
Therefore, by understanding the differences and similarities between these two beginner programs, individuals can begin to tweak their workout routines to make quick gains.
Step #1 – Increase Volume to Take Advantage of Beginner’s Recovery Abilities
Ivysaur suggests that increasing volume in a beginner’s program by including higher reps (through AMRAPs) can lead to bigger gains than the SS and SL programs.
Beginner lifters can see immediate gains by simply staying consistent and increasing their volume — their muscles aren’t used to stimulation from weight lifting so they’re able to endure more volume right off the bat.
One of the best ways individuals new to lifting weights and following an exercise program can see immediate gains is to stay consistent and increase their volume. Since beginners’ muscles are not used to constant fatigue, stress, and strain which is typical with seasoned athletes and bodybuilders, they have an ability to have a higher volume load right off the bat.
Beginners who are not used to lifting weights can take advantage of their improved recovery abilities. However, beginners need to avoid overtraining to prevent injury or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Finding the balance between the correct number of hours, sets, reps, and volume in the weight room is key to staying consistent.
The Ivysaur program highlights the lack of volume incorporated in the Starting Strength and Stronglifts programs. Studies have shown that a minimum of ten weekly sets is required to see adequate results after workouts.1
This set range stays well below the maximum recovery volume for most body parts, preventing burnout, overworking, and fatigue. Therefore, increasing the number of sets and reps per set can facilitate quicker muscle growth, strength, and definition more effectively than lower volume programming.2,3
For example, the RP Strength Training Guide offers training volume landmarks for muscle growth that helps beginners understand the correct volume in relation to their “working sets”. This program considers a working set to meet the following criteria:
- Between 30-85%1RM
- Between 5-30 reps per set
- Between 4-0 reps away from muscle failure
Step #2 – Increase Frequency in Comparison to Starting Strength & Strong Lifts
Ivysaur suggests that an increased frequency can build muscle and strength simultaneously, compared to SS and SL that have larger time gaps between training the same muscle groups.
The Stronglifts program mainly focuses on the “mirror” muscles and aesthetic muscle groups 3x in two weeks. While the Starting Strength Program focuses on a 3-exercise workout, 3x per week, with the majority of the focus on lower body power and strength.
For example, the Stronglifts program only focuses on the upper body three times during the first two weeks. Since muscle synthesis lasts approximately 36 hours post-workout, the long gaps between hitting muscle groups are sub-optimal for growing upper body strength and muscle hypertrophy.4,5
In addition, the Ivysaur 4-4-8 realizes that higher frequency typically is better for consistency and efficiency gains than low frequency. Frequency is the number of resistance training sessions performed in a time period and the number of times a muscle group is worked during this period.6
Those who want to build muscle and strength simultaneously should focus on a higher frequency, even if they need to control the intensity. Therefore, a high-volume exercise program can create bigger gains in strength and size than a program that stagnates in terms of sets and reps.
Step #3 – Perform More Isolated Bicep Exercises Like Most Powerlifting Programs
Ivysaur recommends that beginners should perform more isolated bicep exercises to aid in accessory movements and help with powerlifting motions.
The Starting Strength and Stronglifts programs both solely focus on the big muscle groups. The majority of the smaller muscles are not isolated. Neither program uses accessory lifts to target the biceps, triceps, glutes, adductors, abductors, or calves.
Accessory exercises are crucial in helping with muscle thickness and peak torque for complicated, multi-joint lifts.7 One exercise that will benefit from accessory exercises to help with overall performance, muscle growth, and strength is the deadlift. Deadlift accessory exercises help avoid overtraining while simultaneously growing strength, size, and power.8
In comparison, the Ivysaur 4-4-8 program recommends using accessory lifts to hit the smaller muscle groups. For example, the Ivysaur 4-4-8 Program recommends more bicep movements, such as chin-ups, to bring your muscles closer to failure, create protein synthesis, and facilitate quicker muscle growth.9
Step #4 – Reprogram Lower Body Exercises for Aesthetics Over Strength
Ivysaur states that reprogramming the lower body exercises can help beginners see the results they are after, incorporating exercises that hit the smaller leg muscles other than the quads and hamstrings.
This can be done by changing the Starting Strength Program or Stronglifts program to fit their needs and prioritize aesthetics since SS and SL only address the biggest muscles — the quadriceps and the hamstrings — and forget about the smaller agonists that can help beginner athletes look better, move better, and feel better.
Instead of hitting just squats and deadlifts week after week, changing the routine can help target smaller muscle groups, such as the adductors, abductors, calves, glutes, and lower back. Consider adding other lower-body exercises, like calf raises, lunges, step-ups, and deadlift variations, to change the proportion in which the exercises are taxing the lower-body muscles.
For example, squats do not target the posterior chain and hamstring to a very high degree.10 Therefore, adding more posterior chain work, even with simple movements such as lying hamstring bridges or single-leg hip lifts, can create the aesthetic look a beginner wants.
Step #5 – Take Advantage of Periodization to Maximize Beginner Gains
Ivysaur recommends utilizing periodization to help facilitate incremental and consistent gains instead of hitting plateaus through the same number of reps in the SS and SL programs.
This is one of the most straightforward fixes beginners can make to the Starting Strength (SS) and Stronglifts (SL) programs. The lack of periodization is concerning, as keeping the rep ranges the same week-in and week-out can lead to stagnation and lack of growth.11 The Ivysaur 4-4-8 Program recommends small incremental progressions between workouts to meet new goals and facilitate muscle growth.
Step #6 – Have More Fun With Novice Powerlifting Programs
The same workout and program every week can be dull and unexciting — those who are new to the gym may find it hard to motivate themselves to continue their program.
Thus, Ivysaur suggests that incorporating interesting additions to a workout (such as AMRAPs (as many reps as possible) and other methodologies) can help beginners stay focused and committed, instead of just utilizing the same rep schemes and exercises week-in and week-out in the SS and SL programs.
Beginners can avoid this early burnout by creating new workouts and looking up different plans, such as incorporating AMRAP, EMOM (every minute on the minute), and WOD (Crossfit-inspired workout of the day) into their weekly programming.
Tips to On How to Do Ivysaur 4-4-8?
For beginners who want to enjoy a varied workout routine that incorporates both big and small muscle groups, remains exciting week in and week out, and helps target muscles effectively, the Ivysaur 4-4-8 Program can be a smart choice.
Individuals can follow these tips to correctly do the Ivysaur 4-4-8 program during an upcoming training cycle.
A) 5 sets can be used instead of 4: If a person has extra time to complete more sets, they can do so. The Ivysaur 4-4-8 program recommends doing 4 sets of 4 reps to start — but prides itself on flexibility.
B) Substitute 30-degree bent-over rows with supinated grip for chin-ups: Most beginners cannot do a chin-up correctly or with proper form. To avoid injury or inability to do the workout, beginners can substitute a bent-over row (preferably with a supinated grip on the barbell) to hit the same muscle groups as chin-ups.
C) Add weight to chin-ups: Once a beginner has progressed past using supinated barbell rows and bodyweight chin-ups, they can increase the intensity of the exercise by adding weight by using a weight vest or holding a dumbbell in between their feet.
D) Deload 10%: Beginners do not have to focus on extreme de-load weeks. A de-load week is where an athlete will reduce the intensity and volume of their sessions to allow for extra recovery. During the Ivysaur 4-4-8 program, beginners only have to deload up to 10% to allow for their muscles to recover.
E) Alternate squats and deadlifts: Doing heavy lower-body exercises back-to-back can lead to quicker fatigue and the inability to produce high numbers. Ivysaur recommends alternating deadlift and squat days to avoid taking too much time and prevent extremely long warm-up sets.
F) Choose between overhead press and bench: The Ivysaur program doesn’t alternate overhead press and bench, as the exercise can hit the same muscle groups and cause premature fatigue in a beginner program. Although the program recommends beginning with a bench, the beginner can choose the compound movement they would prefer to start with.
G) No RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) Rating: RPE and Rate of Perceived Exertion is another way to think about RIR or reps in reserve. Ultimately, they both signify how many reps a person has in reserve at the end of a set or workout. So if a lifter thinks they can perform 2 more reps, they’d have an RIR of 2. And RPE is the inverse of this so the RPE would be an 8 out of 10.
Beginners may not have a starting point to gauge their tiredness or muscle fatigue. Therefore this program does not use RPE, or perceived exertion, to determine the extent of their workout.12
Ivysaur’s Reddit Program & Spreadsheet
Ivysaur’s Reddit Program focuses on using a more complicated weight progression but can lead to varying results compared to the SS or SL. For beginners new to the gym and who want to build foundational strength, the SS and SL require less thought and planning. However, for beginners who want more variety and “extra credit” exercises that can help their compound lifts, the Ivysaur Program could be a wiser option.
The Ivysaur Program only uses compound lifts in their Beginner 4-4-8 Program, ensuring that multiple muscle groups are taxed at the same time to lead to a higher chance of muscle stimulation. Plus, the Ivysaur Program still respects the compound lifts, such as the squat, bench, and deadlift. These multi-muscle movements are ideal for building strength, increasing hypertrophy, and leading to gains in a shorter amount of time.
Furthermore, the Ivysaur Program keeps a few key principles in the program — it still only uses three workouts per week to avoid overtraining for beginners, utilizes 48 hours of rest between workouts, and keeps the rep scheme simple and intelligent.
Here is the Ivysaur Beginner Program:
|Week #1 of the Ivysaur Program||Week #2 of the Ivysaur Program|
|Week 1: Day 1||Sets and Reps||Week 2: Day 1||Sets and Reps|
|Bench Press||4×4||Bench Press||4×8|
|Overhead press||4×8||Overhead Press||4×4|
|Chin-ups||4×8||Barbell Rows 4×4|
|Week 1: Day 2||Sets and Reps||Week 2: Day 2||Sets and Reps|
|Bench Press||4×8||Bench Press||4×4|
|Overhead Press||4×4||Overhead Press||4×8|
|Week 1: Day 3||Sets and Reps||Week 2: Day 3||Sets and Reps|
|Bench Press||3×4 + 1 AMRAP set||Bench Press||4×8|
|Squat||3×4 + 1 AMRAP set||Barbell Rows||4×8|
|Chinups||4×4||Overhead Press||3×4 + 1 AMRAP set|
|Overhead Press||4×8||Deadlift||3×4 + 1 AMRAP set|
Along with the 3x weekly workouts, Ivysaur has added “extra credit” add-ons: do 5 sets instead of 4, add chin-ups to every workout, and add 2 sets of squats to deadlift days for enhanced efficiency.
The progression of the Ivysaur workout is to increase 15 pounds per week in squat and deadlift, 10 pounds per week in the bench press and barbell rows, and 5 pounds per week in the overhead press.
To calculate the starting point for an 8-rep set, beginners need to calculate their 1-rep-max using a higher-rep range. For example, beginners can do 5 reps of an exercise (ex: squat) and then use the Epley formula to estimate a 1-rep-max using a submaximal testing method.13
Lastly, during the AMRAP sets, beginners should double their progression for the following week if they can perform more than 8 reps during this “to failure” set.
Beginners who are new to programming, going to the gym, and exercising may find solace in using premade training programs to help them facilitate quicker muscle growth. After doing research online, new athletes can decide between basic, strength-based programs, like the Starting Strength and Stronglifts programs, or choose something more innovative, like the Ivysaur 4-4-8 Program.
Check out some of today’s most commonly asked questions regarding the Ivysaur Program and beginner strength training programs.
Differences Between Ivysaur 4-4-8 vs Strong Lifts (SL)
Stronglifts is a basic beginner’s program that is easy to follow and hits the main muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, pectorals, and deltoids. The Ivysaur 4-4-8 is similar in the exercises used (ex: squats, deadlift, bench press, etc.), but changes the rep scheme and adds AMRAP sets to tax the muscles in a different way and maintain user engagement.
Comparing Ivysaur 4-4-8 vs Greyskull LP
The Greyskull LP workout program is a powerlifting program that uses linear periodization to build muscle and strength over time. By utilizing a 3-day per week workout routine that constantly adjusts the training volume and intensity, it helps build muscles efficiently.
The Greyskull LP Variant workout routine mainly goes by 3 sets of 5 reps for alternating compound movements, such as overhead press and bench press, chin-ups and barbell rows, and squats and deadlifts.
The “rules” of this workout routine is what sets it apart from other beginner programs. The rules include adding an AMRAP for the last set, progressing by 2.5 pounds for the upper body and 5 pounds for the lower body per week, adding 2.5 pounds of weight for chin-ups after completing unweighted chin-ups successfully, and doubling the weight increase if a beginner can hit more than 10 reps in the last AMRAP set.
Beginners could use either the Ivysaur 4-4-8 workout or the Greyskull workout to add variety to SS and SL programs. When compared to the Ivysaur 4-4-8 workout, the Greyskull is similar. Both programs use compound movements, the same exercises (ex: squats, chin-ups, deadlifts, bench press, barbell rows, and overhead rows), linear progression, and AMRAP sets.
What Are Some Good Alternative Accessory Exercises or Ivysaur’s 448 Program?
Along with the compound movements that simultaneously tax multiple large muscle groups, beginners can also utilize accessory exercises to work smaller muscles and help with larger lifts.
Some examples of accessory exercises include skull crushers to hit the triceps (to aid with the overhead press), bicep curls (to help with chin-ups), shrugs (to help with barbell rows), dumbbell floor press (to help with the bench press), reverse lunges (to help with deadlifts), and leg press (to help with squats).
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2Darden, E. (1990). The nautilus book. McGraw-Hill/Contemporary. <https://www.bookfinder.com/book/9780809240746/>
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7Gentil, P, Soares, S, Pereira, M, Cunha, R, Martorelli, S, Martorelli, A, & Bottaro, M. (2013). Effect of adding single-joint exercises to a multi-joint exercise resistance-training program on strength and hypertrophy in untrained subjects. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. <https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2012-0176>
8Luna, D & Dominick, D. (2022). Deadlift Accessory Exercises: Sticking points Explained. Inspire USA Foundation. Retrieved from <https://www.inspireusafoundation.org/accessory-exercises-for-deadlifts/>
9Atherton, P, & Smith, K. (2012). Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. J Physiol, 590(5), 1049-1057. DOI <https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14697793>
10Paoli, A., Marcolin, G., & Petrone, N. (2009). The effect of stance width on the electromyographic activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(1), 246–250. <https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181876811>
11Bryan, M, Thyfault, J, Ivey, P, Sayers, P. (2010). The Effect of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization on Strength Improvement in College Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(7), 1718-1723. <https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/pages/default.aspx>
12Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17450-rated-perceived-exertion-rpe-scale>
13Epley, B (1985). “Poundage Chart”. Boyd Epley Workout. Lincoln, NE: Body Enterprises. p. 86. <https://www.unm.edu/~rrobergs/478RMStrengthPrediction.pdf>