Some time ago, we released an article called “A 5 Week Program To Build Massive Wheels“, a program designed specifically for those who were lacking in the lower-body. It had great feedback, and several people who tried it were happy with their results. Now it’s the time for the upper-body.
Keep in mind this isn’t the same program. I didn’t simply switch the exercises from lower-body to upper-body ones. The philosophy, exercise selection and periodization are totally different, because the upper body and the lower body have different characteristics which need to be addressed differently.
Legs are most commonly a weak point rather than the upper-body, mostly because the bench press is so popular. However, a lagging upper-body is far from unheard of. It’s more common in lifters who started with Strong Lifts or Starting Strength type programs. Even though they are wonderful routines both for mass and strength, sometimes the volume for the upper-body just isn’t enough, and the less genetically blessed ones tend to stay behind.
This program is for the people who have been training consistently for a while and have a very developed lower-body compared to their upper-body. If you haven’t been training for at least a year, don’t bother running this, just aim to get stronger at your core lifts and if needed, gradually increase the volume in the upper body lifts.
Nutrition is crucial to make sure you get the results you desire. If you aren’t eating properly, you won’t build any appreciable amount of muscle, regardless how hard and how smart you train. This program must absolutely be done in a caloric surplus. Muscle isn’t built out of thin air.
If you don’t know how many calories to eat to gain weight, here’s a guideline:
(11.5 x bodyweight in lbs x ((100 – estimated bodyfat ) / 100) x 1.5 (+ 300-1000))
It may sound complex, but it isn’t. I will guide you step by step:
1) 100 minus your estimated body fat
2) Divide by 100.
3) Now you multiply that number by 11.5
4) Multiply by your bodyweight in lbs. (In KG, it’s your bodyweight x 2.2)
5) Multiply by 1.5.
6) Add a number between 300 and 1000.
In the last step, if you feel you have a slow metabolism and you gain weight easily, aim for the lower end, if you feel you have a fast metabolism and you have a hard time gaining weight, aim for the higher end.
This is just a guideline to get you started. Regardless of that number, on average, you should be gaining roughly 0.5lbs to 1lb per week. If you’re gaining less than that, it means you’re not eating enough calories, and if you’re gaining way more than that, you’re probably eating too much. Adjust accordingly.
For protein intake, I recommend 1 to 1.2 g per lb of LBM (Lean Body Mass). To calculate your LBM, do 100 minus your estimated body, divide by 100, and then multiply by your weight. So if you’re 200lbs at 10% bf, your LBM is 180. In this case, you’d eat 180 to 216g of protein.
In terms of specific food choices, it’s your call. Eat everything in moderation, have plenty of vegetables and fruits every day, and that’s it. Don’t overthink it. Once the basics of nutrition are set up, put your effort into training and it will be rewarded.
Obviously not required, but they can give you a boost:
Creatine monohydrate: 5g/day (Post-Workout)
Beta-alanine: 3-4g/day (Spread across the day)
Caffeine: 3-4mg/kg (60 mins before training )
Fish oil: 3g of total EPA+DHA (Taken with a meal)
If you want some extra joint support (fish oil already helps a ton), you can take Glucosamine sulfate. Take 500mg 3 times per day with a meal.
You can view the program below: (Click for a larger image)
Remember that building muscle is a very, very slow process. So even though you will notice significant changes after the 8 weeks, I recommend running the program a 2nd time. Either back-to-back, with a little break in-between with another program of your choosing.
When there’s an * before a set, it means that set should be taken to failure. Failure meaning you only stop when you fail a repetition. However, if it’s a compound movement where it’s risky to fail a rep, then you can stop where you’re sure you wouldn’t have the next rep.
1 rep maxes and percentages:
To know your 1 rep max in each lift, when you’re about to do the first session of each movement, replace the first set to a set to failure with a weight that you think you can do for about 5 reps. Then use an online calculator to estimate your 1RM. Personally I like the Brzycki equation, although it doesn’t matter too much and they give similar results. So let’s imagine it’s my first day and I’m going to do 3×12 on dumbbell overhead press. Let’s say I think I can manage 55lb dumbbells for 5 reps, and I end up getting 7. I put that into an online calculator, which gives me an estimated max of 66lbs. It asks for sets at 65%, so 65% of a 66lb max is 42.5lbs. I’d round it to 40lbs since there are no 42lb dumbbells, and that’s what I’d use for the remaining 2 sets. You only do this once for each exercise for the entire 7 week program. As the program progresses, if you feel the weight is too light, feel free to add 5-10lbs to your estimated max, although the weight increases by default.
I highly recommend trying not to change the program as much as you can, especially in your first round, but sometimes it might be needed.
If you’re heavy and/or not very strong, you’re probably not going to be able to do the pull-ups and chin-ups within the rep ranges written. If that’s the case, replace it by dumbbell rows, and then replace the barbell rows by lat pull downs. You can replace it during the entire program, or only when the reps are too high for you.
If you want to bench press with a regular grip, do it as the main movement either on Wednesday or Friday. And if you don’t want to deadlift, simply do Romanian Deadlifts just like Tuesday, and remove the hamstring curls.
If there’s any other movement you want to replace, choose an exercise that targets the same muscle groups, and if possible, with a similar motor pattern.
Don’t skip any week, if you really have to, skip the 7th week, but don’t skip the 8th, no matter what.
Now you’re ready to go! If your nutrition is on point and you’re working hard, your upper body will soon catch up to your massive legs. When you finished the program, feel free to send me some progress pictures!
About the author:
Tiago Vasconcelos is a 20 year old competitive powerlifter currently living in Lisbon, Portugal. He is a cofounder of Kratos Strength and Conditioning, through which he coaches bodybuilders, powerlifters, and the general public for improvements in bodycomposition and strength improvements.