Weight Training Workouts: Intermediate


female performing seated dumbbell curls

This article assumes that you have been regularly and consistently performing the beginner weight training program for a period of at least 6 months or longer. There are two primary aspects associated with moving from the beginner to the intermediate weight training program.

The first requirement is that you have had sufficient time to develop your structural foundation and strengthen all soft tissue (i.e. muscles, ligaments, and tendons) to a point where they are able to endure the physical stresses derived from regularly performing a strength training routine.

The second aspect required is that you have a good understanding of the various primary muscle groups, their intended range of motion, and how they interact with the other muscle groups when performing the different exercises.

This being said, prior to advancing to the intermediate weight training program, be sure that you have a firm understanding of the following items:

  • Have developed a strong structural foundation (i.e. skeletal frame, muscles, ligaments and tendons).

  • Feel comfortable with performing the beginner weight training exercises.

  • Understand how the weight equipment works.

  • Are able to breathe correctly during each of the exercises.

  • Are able to perform each of the beginner weight training exercises correctly and with the proper form.

  • Have developed the cardiovascular/muscular endurance necessary to complete the beginner weight training workouts in a continuous fashion and in a reasonable amount of time (i.e. 30-45 minutes per workout).

  • Have learned to listen to your body and understand the difference between "good pain" and "bad pain."

Many individuals will choose to remain at the beginner weight training program indefinitely. There are no underlying requirements that an individual progress to the intermediate and advanced weight training programs, as the beginner weight training program is an excellent program for maintaining muscle density, tone and structural strength.

In fact, many of the individuals that remain at the beginner level do so because weight training is typically only one facet of their overall health and fitness routine. For individuals that wish to remain at the beginner level in terms of weight training, please review several of the additional beginner weight training programs on our website, as it is highly recommended that each individual modify their weight training routine at least once or twice per year

Intent of the Intermediate Program


The primary focus of the intermediate weight training program is to increase lean muscle mass and strength. To accomplish this goal, it will be necessary to modify the types of exercises performed, the number of exercises per muscle group, and the number of sets and repetitions per exercise. New concepts in weight training will be discussed (i.e. push/pull routines, pyramiding, etc.) in pursuance of this goal. Finally, it will be necessary to discuss the nutritional requirements associated with the intermediate weight training program as well.

As is evident when comparing the beginner workout program to the intermediate workout program, the latter is much more aggressive. The intermediate workout program focuses on working each muscle group to complete failure and from a variety of angles. All muscle groups are worked over a three-day period. At this level of weight training, the individual should train for 3 consecutive days, cycling all muscle groups, and then take one day off. Thereafter, repeat the 3-day workout program and rest on the fourth day. It is important that each individual take a day off after they have completed the 3-day cycle to allow each muscle group the necessary time to repair the muscle tissue that was torn during the workout.

For the most part, the intermediate workout program is a push/pull routine. For example, the muscle groups worked on Day 1 are chest, biceps, and abdominals. Chest is a push muscle group and biceps are a pull muscle group. The reason for this approach is that there have been clinical studies that have shown that individuals may increase their risk of injury when performing a push/push routine or a pull/pull routine.

An example of a push/push workout routine would be performing a routine where the chest and triceps are worked out during the same workout. During the chest portion of the workout, the chest muscles (pectoralis major & minor) are the primary muscle and the triceps are the secondary muscle. Hence, the triceps are pre-fatigued prior to actually performing the triceps portion of the workout. This makes the triceps are more vulnerable to injury. However, there are instances where it can be beneficial to perform a push/push routine or a pull/pull routine.

Pyramiding


incline bench press with a spotter

As the individual becomes comfortable with the intermediate weight training program, it is recommended that they alter their weight training routine every 5 to 8 weeks.

By doing so, you will keep your primary muscle groups "off balance" and force them to continually grow in size and strength.

An excellent weight training technique to consider adding to your workout routine is pyramiding. Pyramiding is defined as increasing the amount of weight per set while decreasing the number of repetitions per set for a specific exercise.

For instance, an individual may initially perform the flat barbell bench press as follows:

  • Set #1: 10 repetitions at 135 pounds (warm-up set)

  • Set #2: 8 repetitions at 185 pounds (warm-up set)

  • Set #3 through 5: 5 repetitions at 225 pounds (work sets)

Once the individual is able to successfully complete 5 repetitions for each of the 3 work sets, they can increase the weight for the work sets from 225 pounds to 245 pounds. The individual can repeat this process as they continue to increase their strength.

An alternative approach to pyramiding in the previous example would be to perform the flat barbell bench press as follows:

  • Set #1: 10 repetitions at 135 pounds (warm-up set)

  • Set #2: 8 repetitions at 185 pounds (warm-up set)

  • Set #3: 5 repetitions at 225 pounds (work set)

  • Set #4: 3 repetitions at 275 pounds (work set)

  • Set #5: 1 repetition at 300 pounds (work set)

Typical Exercises for Pyramiding


The approach of pyramiding can be incorporated into several different exercises and is an excellent technique for forcing the muscle to increase its lean mass and strength. Below is a list of several of the exercises that lend themselves to pyramiding:

Every couple of months, you should change the way in which you perform the exercises. For instance, you may add the pyramiding approach to one or two muscle groups and perform the exercises in this manner for one to two months. Thereafter, you may apply the pyramiding approach to one or two different muscle groups and eliminate the pyramiding approach from the initial muscle groups. 

Workout Guidelines


When you review the intermediate weight training program, you'll notice there are several exercises that call for six to eight repetitions. The reason for this is that, in order to effectively build lean muscle mass, it is necessary to force the muscle group to perform the exercise with a heavy amount of weight.  

Below are a few guidelines to follow during your workout:

    weight trainer drinking water
  1. Perform each exercise at an intensity level greater than 50%: In other words, you should be at or near failure when you perform the last repetition of each exercise.

  2. Stay hydrated: In addition to water, it may be beneficial to consume a natural carbohydrate drink and/or supplement prior to your workout. Although this approach is not required, it can provide you with the energy needed to aggressively perform all of the exercises associated with the workout.

  3. Breathe correctly: It is important to supply each muscle group with an abundance of blood and oxygen when performing each exercise. In addition, it is important to inhale and exhale at the appropriate times during each repetition to improve the overall synergy of the human body.

    In general, when performing a resistance based exercise it is appropriate to inhale during the easy portion of the exercise and exhale during the difficult portion of the exercise.

    For example, when performing the flat barbell bench press, inhale when lowering the barbell to your chest (easy portion) and exhale when pushing the barbell from your chest (difficult portion).

  4. Maintain proper form: Although a little cheating is acceptable when lifting extremely heavy amounts of weight or when performing an exercise to failure, it is important to maintain proper form as best you can. This will minimize the risk of injury.

  5. Understand how to perform the exercise: It is important to understand how to correctly perform the exercise prior to actually performing it. If you are unsure about how to use a piece of equipment or perform a specific exercise, always ask another weight trainer or one of the employees that works in the weight training area of your fitness center.

  6. Listen to your body: Performing an aggressive weight training program places a large amount of stress on the muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Because of this, there is pain associated with aggressively lifting weights. It is imperative that you understand the difference between good plan (tearing down of muscle tissue) and bad pain (damage to soft tissue, joints and cartilage).

Prior to Each Workout


Prior to each workout, it is important that you ready your body for the upcoming workout. By doing so, your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints will be warmed up and ready for the stress that the weight training program is going to place on them. In addition, this approach will greatly reduce the risk of injury. Below is a recommended warm-up routine that should be performed prior to performing the actual weight training program:

  • Warm-up: Perform a light cardiovascular activity prior to performing the weight training routine. For example, ride the stationary bike for 10 to 15 minutes. Other cardiovascular activities include the stair climber, elliptical and rowing machines.

  • Stretch: After performing the warm-up exercise, it is important to stretch the muscles, ligaments and tendons prior to actually performing the weight training routine. This will flood the soft tissue with blood and oxygen, readying the body for the strenuous workout that is to follow. Perform the stretching routine for approximately 5 to 10 minutes. It is recommended that you perform a stretching routine after you have completed the weight training routine as well.

  • General Guidelines: Perform the intermediate weight training program for three consecutive days, take a day off, then repeat the cycle. Each exercise should be performed to near or complete failure. The rest time between each exercise should be no longer than 90 seconds. Ensure that the appropriate apparel/gear is used during each workout. For instance, if the your elbow or knee tend to give you problems, then wrap the joint during the actual performance of the exercise. To minimize the risk of injury when exercising to failure, or lifting an amount of weight that is near or at your maximum, it is important to utilize a spotter during the actual exercise.

Sample Routine


Below is a link to a sample routine with the specific exercises associated with the intermediate weight training program. Remember to focus on the correct breathing technique and controlled movements and form for each exercise.

Intermediate Full Body Weight Training Routines

seated biceps dumbbell curls weight training

Intermediate weight training programs are intended for individuals that have been regularly and consistently lifting weights for a minimum of 6 months and have a firm grasp of each of the major muscle groups, how they interact with the other muscle groups, and how to correctly perform the various exercises for each primary muscle group.

In addition, it is also important to understand how each of the different exercises target the various primary muscle groups (i.e. designed to build mass or develop definition). Likewise, it is also important to understand what secondary muscle groups are involved when performing each of the primary muscle group exercises.

Another aspect that is important to the intermediate weight trainer is that they understand the difference between "good pain" and "bad pain" as weight training places a large amount of stress on the joints. To this end, it is critical that you identify any exercises that may be detrimental in terms of damaging your joints and either lighten the amount of weight used, modify the angle that the joint is placed in during the exercise, or discontinue the exercise altogether.

To view the various intermediate weight training routines please click on the hyperlink below. In addition, feel free to download any of the weight training exercise routines that you would like to perform.


As is evident from this article, there are many items to consider when advancing to the intermediate weight training program. For individuals seeking to increase their muscle mass and strength, it is important to focus on all aspects of weight training.

This includes aggressively performing each and every weight training exercise, always using the appropriate form, performing the workouts with a high level of frequency, getting the appropriate amount of sleep, rest and relaxation, and feeding your body with the nutrients it needs to fuel new muscle growth and development.

After you become comfortable with the intermediate strength training program, you'll have the option of graduating to the advanced strength training program. Remember that this is optional, and that many strength trainers will be satisfied with routine variations of the intermediate program.