A New Way to Work Out
Credit: Kai Wiechmann / Getty Images

Whether you're totally new to strength training or coming back from a long layoff, this stripped-down program is ideal for the initial four to six months, when the gains come fast and big. After that, a greater understanding of your own body will allow for customizing. But as for the first few months, these are not rough templates, nor should you add anything else: These are the workouts.

You see, cardio and endurance training work at odds with strength training. You simply cannot simultaneously train for a marathon and push your pure strength upward. In fact, long-distance endurance training shrinks and weakens precisely the muscles you're trying to build and strengthen. Plus, lifting heavy demands real recovery time, such that if you squat hard on Monday you're going to feel it big-time during Tuesday's 20-mile mountain-biking ride.

For some, this is going to sound like a huge bummer: a little boring, a little restrictive, like something a big power-lifting gorilla would do, even if it means he can't run a mile. It's true that this method is so effective you'll put on some size immediately, but after building the intended foundational strength, it's easy to shift focus from muscular mass to muscular endurance by simply increasing reps and decreasing weight accordingly. Once you've gained an awareness of how your body reacts, it's also easy to back off and reintegrate cardio (more about integrating cardio below).

The truth is, strength training is a whole lot more interesting than it sounds, for a couple of reasons: First, because it works – you actually get incredibly strong incredibly fast. Second, because the lifts take practice to get just right, and practicing any athletic technique is interesting, as it forces you to understand your body in a new way. Think of it like learning how to serve a tennis ball.

Technique is the key to efficient (as in short) workouts and in preventing injury (these big moves can lead to big injuries if not done properly). One great reference for form is Mark Rippetoe's 'Starting Strength' DVD, available on Amazon for $20. You can also find an excellent online library of form videos at the website of CrossFit, a training methodology.

While most trainers are a costly crutch, if you can find a true power-lifting pro – a guy who has actually competed in the power lifts, or in any strength sport that demands learning them properly, like football or track-and-field throwing events such as the hammer and the discus – pay for a couple of sessions. It'll be worth it, and the benefits will last a lifetime.