Routine created and demonstrated by Kristin Dalziel, CPT, Strength & Conditioning Coach in Toronto, Canada | Photography by Paul Buceta

It happens to the best of us: You work out consistently all year and you’re pretty fit, but somewhere along the way your results came to a screeching halt. And while there’s nothing wrong with training for maintenance and overall health, this year, you want to be fitter and stronger than ever before.

What you need is a plan. And not just any plan, but a progressive overload program (meaning a gradual increase in load over time) specifically designed to deliver noticeable results and build super strength.

This particular program focuses on your upper body, so get ready to see strength and muscle gains in your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, calves, and yes, even your core. Work this routine into your weekly workouts, keeping your spin class or yoga, and active rest days. To make this a full-body program, find the rest of this eight-week program in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of STRONG.


How to: Perform this workout on whatever day you typically train your upper body. For lower body and HIIT workouts to complete this program, pick up the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of STRONG. In order to progress over the next eight weeks, your rep scheme on your heavy lifting day will be based on a percentage of your one rep max. Every two weeks, the weight you are lifting and the number of reps will increase.

Don’t forget to track it! It’s very important you log your reps and loads for each week so you can track your progress.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN: In order to properly perform this program, you will first need to determine your one-rep max of each exercise. This refers to the most weight you can lift for one rep of a single exercise. There are several 1RM calculators online for calculating the number of reps you should be doing in each phase (we like the one at

Weeks 1-2

Weight is @ 70% of your 1 rep max for each exercise. Complete 3 reps from failure for 3 sets of each. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Example: If 100 lbs is your max deadlift, you would lift 70 lbs. If you fail at 8 reps with this weight, then your reps for weeks 1-2 would be 5.

Weeks 3-4

75% of 1 rep max. Complete 2 reps before failure for 3 sets of each. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Weeks 5-6

80% of 1 rep max. Complete 1 rep before failure for 4 sets of each. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Weeks 7-8

85% of 1 rep max until failure. 4 sets of each. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Week 9: DELOAD

It is recommended that in week 9 you perform a deload: Go back to weeks 7-8 and perform the same reps with 50% of the weight. Rest 90 seconds between sets.


Assisted Pull-Up

Reverse Close-Grip Pulldown

Superset 1:

Bent-Over Reverse Grip Row

Single-Arm Row

Straight Arm Cable Pulldown

Seated Cable Row


Overhead Press

Upright Row
Reverse Fly

Chest Press

Superset 2:

Chest Fly

Decline Push-Up

Assisted Pull-Up

Using an overhand grip, hang below a pull-up bar with a resistance band attached to the bar then looped under one foot. Engage your legs and core. Bend your arms and pull your body up until your head clears the bar. Slowly lower back down and repeat.

Modification: Do seated lat pulldowns instead.

​Reverse Close-Grip Pulldown

Sit at a pull-down machine with a bar attachment and grasp the bar with a narrow, underhand grip. Bend your arms and pull the bar to your chest. Raise back up with control and repeat.

Bent-Over Reverse Grip Row

Holding dumbbells, hinge from the hips and lower your torso so it is about parallel to the ground and extend your arms downwards in front of your legs, palms facing out. Bend your arms and pull the weights up to your sides, keeping your back flat. Lower back down and repeat for all reps.

Single-Arm Row

Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and place the right hand and knee on a bench. Lower the dumbbell towards the ground so your arm is straight. Bend your arm and pull the weight up to your side, making sure to engage the shoulder blade at the top of the movement. Lower back down to the starting position, then immediately repeat. Complete all reps than switch sides.

​Straight-Arm Cable Pulldown

Stand at a cable machine with a handle attachment positioned at the top. Lean your torso forward slightly and hold the handle overhead. Keeping your arms straight, pull the bar down to your body. Pause at the bottom, then return to the starting position. Repeat for all reps.

Seated Cable Row

Sit at a seated cable machine with feet on the platforms and hold the double handle attachment with arms extended. Keep a slight bend in your knees. Bend your elbows and pull the handle towards the middle of your torso. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for all reps.

Overhead Press

Sit on a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your shoulders with palms facing forward. Keep your core engaged and extend your arms, pressing the weights overhead. Lower back down and repeat for all reps.

Upright Row

Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body. Raise the dumbbells straight up towards your shoulders by bending at your elbows and thrusting them up and out to the side. Pause for a count and then return to the starting position.

Reverse Fly

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand in the same starting position as the bent over row but with your palms facing each other. Keeping only a slight bend in the arms, raise the dumbbells out to the sides, squeezing your shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Lower back down and repeat.

Chest Press

Lie face up on a bench holding dumbbells in each hand on either side of your chest. Extend your arms to press the weights straight above your chest. Lower back down then repeat for all reps.

Chest Fly

Lie face up on a bench holding dumbbells in each hand with arms extended and palms facing each other. Open your arms and lower the weights out to each side. Press back up to the starting position and repeat for all reps.

Decline Push-Up

Get into push-up position with your feet on a bench. Bend your arms to lower your chest towards the ground. Extend your arms to return to the starting position. Repeat for all reps.


Superset 1

Leg Raise

Toe Touch

15 per exercise

3 sets

Superset 2

Heel Reach

Weighted Mason Twist

20 per exercise

(both sides count as 1 rep)

3 sets

Superset 3


Military Get-Ups

30 sec per exercise

3 sets