My Lifting Routine

Gabe at the track

I’ve had extraordinary success with my current weight lifting routine because it is one I can maintain with regularity. There is no substitute for consistency as it relates to workouts. A few sit-ups, pushups and pull-ups done several times a week invariably beat the most intricate, elaborate exercise program done on and off. A slow and steady climb like the one you take to the top of a roller coaster is the aim. If you start and stop with your programs, the big scary drop is inevitable.

I’ve always loved the feeling of having weights in my hands. Something about the way the metal starts cold and warms up as you train just does it for me. From my teenage years on, more days of lifting was merrier.  I split up my routines and broke them into muscle groups in an effort to spend more days in the gym.

During this time, my routine would be broken down to one muscle group a day. Chest on Mondays, back on Tuesdays, legs on Wednesdays, etc.; you feel me, the classic bodybuilder workout. The theory here is that you break each muscle down individually through isolation.

I certainly had my share of success with this routine, but it was due to my consistency, not my efficiency. I was spending 11 hours in the gym a week, but I was working harder, not necessarily smarter.

Now, I spend 4 hours a week getting after it (a little over an hour, three times a week.) Instead of isolating specific muscle groups, I focus on compound lifts that work several muscle groups at a time. I fill those extra hours reading a good book or sharing a meal with my loved ones instead.

Here’s my routine. The moves are completed with as much weight as I can handle safely. Each exercise is linked to a video to help you learn proper form. If you’re just starting, try these with just the weight of the bar and slowly increase the weight over time.




  • Warm up
  • Squats
  • Overhead presses
  • Deadlifts

I love weighted pull-ups as an alternative to the bent over rows. They give me a nice change of pace from time to time while still involving multiple muscle groups with one exercise.

I alternate from week to week performing these lifts, so the following week will see me doing one day of deadlifts and two days of bench presses and bent over rows.

Research has suggested that 4-6 repetitions of 4-6 sets, increasing weight on each successive set, resulted in the largest gains as the weeks and months pass. I do five sets of five repetitions each, building up to my working weight.

Here’s a great link to discover more detail about the virtues of implementing the 5×5 workout.

Strength often, though not always, correlates with muscle. In order to handle a larger, heavier load, our bodies develop more solid mass.

For me, a side benefit was getting leaner as I executed this training regimen. Whether or not this will be your end result will be highly dependent on the work you put into your nutrition program. I’m a big believer that changing body composition is more dependent on the food we ingest than our workouts.

I’ll hold back from guarantees but dare you to try this workout for a month and not come out on the other side stronger and with a significantly higher level of confidence. You know where to find me – let me know how you’re progressing.

  • Jim

    Challenge accepted! Two questions:

    1.) What do you do for a warm up?

    2.) Do you do anything on Tuesday/Thursday like cardio or stretching?

    I’ve been looking for a new workout routine to change mine up, so I’ll be starting this on Monday. Looking forward to it.

    • John R.

      I was curious about the warm-up as well, but he has mentioned in a previous post that he mixes in sprint and simply walking on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Just to keep the routine of his body having some sort of exercise.

      • Jim

        Good catch, I was late to the party so I’m still catching up on some older posts.

    • Eric B.

      I can’t speak for Mr. Kapler, but a 5-10 minute jog or warm-up on your favorite machine followed by stretching is good enough. Simple, but very important. Increasing your heart rate, body temperature, and circulation to muscles, tendons and ligaments is essential to maximizing your workout and avoiding injury. In other words, never skip the warm-up!

  • Colt

    @jim scroll down to his first post. I believe Kap sprints on Thursday and Sunday (workout posted earlier) and he walks on tues and Saturday my bet is he also does some foam rolling on those days but I’m sure that’s a future blog

    • Jim

      Thanks man, I still have a couple posts to catch up on so I’ll be sure to read that one.

  • Ryan

    Kap, I don’t see anything in your routine that works the biceps besides the rows…I fully believe you, but you have unbelievable arms on you and it doesn’t appear that many of your workouts isolate the triceps and biceps………is it possible to have arms like that just doing bench, rows and overhead presses?

    • Steen

      You don’t need direct arm work on routine like this to elicit growth. What do you think the biceps are doing during rows, pullups or deadlifts?

  • Adam

    Hey Gabe- have you researched kelly starrett’s recomendations? His recomended squat form is different than the video linked to above. Was wondering if there was a reason you preferred the above form. Here is a video from Kelly:

  • Crystal@TheFastFitRunner

    Hi, Gabe. Great blog, not least of all because it appears your views on diet and exercise closely align with my own (ie. consistency, no supplements, etc).

    Just curious if there are other moves you do on the days outlined above. Is that a sample of what you generally do, or is that a discrete list? I ask because 3 moves in 40-50 seems awfully slow. And, lets be real, it seems hard to believe that one could maintain your physique on those moves alone. But, if you say so, I will definitely take a solid 4 weeks and try it out. With a new baby, a busy husband, and my own career, I could always use more free time. =)

    • The Boss

      Crystal- this is how the original body builders trained pre steroids. This is the best way to build muscle. It appears Kap is following the strongest shall survive by bill starr it was written in1976 and is a great read. With a proper warmup this routine will take 35-45 minutes to complete

    • Joshua Shely

      moving heavier weights requires more time to recover, so yes it takes longer in the gym to complete.

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  • Wallace

    I have been following Kap’s workout and diet advice for 3 weeks (except sprints) too cold seeing great results although the diet has been changed the most I eliminated all powders and replaced with quality food. I realy think whey protein is a scam

  • Chan

    Kap- do you deload or take a full week off every 5 weeks?

  • Eric

    Just start this week and my body is already screaming, especially with the squats! No more two hours in the gym!

    • Colt

      One thing I noticed with this workout is that I am not that sore after squats. When I squatted 1 day a week I could barely walk the next 2 days. My strength went up 25lbs on the squat so far

  • Eric

    I was pretty sore after the first day and still had it yesterday while working out, but I am feeling much better today.

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  • Justin

    Just subscribed and love the blog, Kap. Noticing that since early Fall, paying more attention to better/more recovery and diet, along with a very similar routine has yielded the best results of any programs I have done. That includes high school and college athletics.

    Thanks, and keep the posts coming. Inspirational and almost always right on the money.

  • Kyle

    Gabe, love your blog. I see why you believe in the 4 big lifts, but how about the bench and overhead press for baseball players? I have heard from many that the bench and overhead press can be bad for one’s throwing shoulder, but I also see how beneficial those two lifts are to overall strength. Did you perform these two lifts when you were playing? Would you recommend any modifications? Thanks!

  • Spencer

    Gabe do you have any specific exercises or routine geared towards baseball/softball players to develop a more powerful throwing arm? Did U perform anything specific in developing your arm? Maybe an article for the young athlete or weekend warrior wanting to improve their throwing arm ?
    Thank you

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  • dbreer23

    An alternative to bent-over rows that I enjoy is the lying pull-up; I think Kap mentioned this exercise in his post about exercising outdoors. I prefer the bar method, though some enjoy the rope/strap (TRX?) method.

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  • Ray

    Great blog Kap, I finally caught up on all the posts as I was a little late to the party.

    My question to you or anyone reading this: Would this 5×5 routine be ok to use while trying to lose fat? I know that diet is most important, but not sure if I should go with this 5×5 or with a routine of more reps, lighter weight to get the heart rate up.

    I think the 5×5 will be my choice along with Hill Sprints 2 days per week, but wanted to get some feedback.

    Great seeing you and the ’04 boys back at Fenway the other night !

    • Gabe Kapler


      Squats and dead lifts definitely helped me lose body fat, and I never go past a 5th rep.

      Thanks for chiming in,


      • Ray

        Thanks for replying Kap. I am going to start the 5×5 on Monday and will keep you updated!

  • devorama

    great routine! it’s interesting to me how brief, intense workout regimens like the 5×5 aren’t more popular. mike mentzer’s ‘heavy duty’ program, which plays out even shorter and more intense, was developed in the late 70’s. it propelled mike to several pro bodybuilding titles. dorian yates used it to win mr. olympia multiple times in the 90’s. my best guess is that common opinion still seems to lean toward over-training because of the addictive nature of neurological stimulants released during hard exercise. i have to admit, i probably prefer endurance style training for just that reason.

  • Zack

    I row in college and am looking to cut down and get that six pack I’ve always wanted. Do you think with the routine it can work? Also, what type of bench presses do you do?


  • professorjason

    First time reading this blog, and I’m glad I found it. I always respected your approach when you where playing and obviously envied your ridiculous physique. This post really hit home, as I followed the same lifting pattern through my 20s…one muscle group per day, extreme isolation to bring out different aspects of each muscle. Now during my early to mid 30s, I have done much the same as you, integrating more compound motions and body weight exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, planks, etc. I have also slowed down my reps and become absolutely ruthless about proper form. I have found myself able to maintain my physique with half the time I put in during my 20s.

    So many factors have changed from then to now. My diet is much improved and I spend more time doing endurance exercise, but I don’t lift nearly as much weight or as often as I used to. I often wonder if the ease of maintenance is reward from the hours I put in over the previous decade, or if my diet has played the larger role.

    I also think, having been training for 15+ years now, you learn how to extract more and more work out of every rep, so putting in the long gym sessions and lifting the heavier weights becomes less necessary. And rolling…my goodness has rolling/massaging my muscles kept me from feeling tight all the damned time.

    Any thoughts about the differences in your mental approach now as opposed to when you were playing (baseball specific requirements aside)?

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  • Pete

    Gabe. Im having a hard time picking between the bodybuilder type workout routine(chest, back, shoulders, etc…) the 5×5 routine. When i’m on the 5×5 I feel as though i’m missing certain parts of the muscle for instance chest flys for chest or lateral raises for shoulders for example. Please give me you opinion. Thanks, Pete

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  • Pek


    I have been doing the 5×5 and I really enjoy it. I started with a bit of imbalance between my biceps and triceps which I attributed to typical body movements at work (firefighter/paramedic). The imbalance hasn’t lessened and looks like it may be increasing. Any thoughts/suggestions?