The 35+ Workout Plan

by Lee Boyce

Injury-Proof Strength, Size, and Conditioning

If you're an experienced lifter who's feeling a little beaten up, this balanced training program is for you. Get the gains without the pains.

Many training programs don’t consider the realities of life. Many trainers write programs for lifters who are starting with a clean slate:

  • No injury history
  • No busy schedule
  • No prior surgeries
  • A training age that’s suited for the plan

That last point is the most important. When you’re experienced, it means you’ve spent several years under the iron. But spending years under the iron means:

  1. You’re probably a bit older.
  2. You may have accumulated a short list of injuries, uncooperative joints, or chronic pain you’re trying not to irritate.

I’m no stranger to setbacks. I’ve had three surgeries and degenerative issues in my spine that have affected many areas of my body by extension. The aim is to find ways to train hard while respecting your body, mind, and injury history.

There aren’t many “off the internet” programs that do this with intention, but this one does.

The Goal

Do this program if you’re focused on hypertrophy but also want a touch of heavier “strength” work. It combines moderate strength training (lower rep work and compound movements) and hypertrophy work (isolated split days rather than total-body programming).

Training that includes isolation lifts will make it easier to avoid aggravating key areas like the lower back. (Irritation there can occur when you do heavy compound movements every single lifting day.)

Since I don’t know your injury history, this program is a collection of the safest, smartest options to serve most people best. It’ll promote healthy elbows, shoulders, hips, ankles, and knees while also protecting the lower back.

Why is hypertrophy the main target? Because the older we get, the more our bodies need and benefit from muscle-development work. Since it’s usually full of higher rep ranges and lower absolute loads, there’s more room for progressive overload with fewer risks. And some of these training choices carry over into conditioning benefits that training heavy singles and doubles simply won’t access. You may lose fat and gain muscular endurance as a byproduct of this program.

As a disclaimer, this plan won’t absolutely maximize hypertrophy or get you as strong as humanly possible. At this stage in your life, you shouldn’t really want that. It’s a conscientious plan to enable hard, safe training, maintain a great physique, and expose yourself to heavy lifting in the best possible ways.

Mobility Matters: The Warm Up

You’ll need three things: A skinny-ish resistance band, a foam roller, and floor space:

Exercise Sets Reps
A1. Band Pull-Apart 1 20
A2. Band Shoulder Dislocate 1 10
A3. Foam Roller T-Spine Extension 1 8
A4. Half-Kneeling Dorsiflexion 1 5/leg
A5. Spiderman Walk 1 8 strides
A6. Squat Mobility 1 5

You only need one set for each. It’s a five-minute routine to get your load-bearing joints mobilized and ready to do their job. If you want to get some heart rate work into the mix, add three minutes of jumping rope or rowing, but this isn’t mandatory.

Regardless of the scheduled workout, do this entire warm-up every time. Even if certain muscles and joints aren’t being used, it’s still good to do because mobility matters, you old bag.

The Program

If you’re not familiar with some of the exercises in the plan, or need a form refresher, here’s a quick video:

Day 1 – Back (Pull) Workout

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A. Trap Bar Deadlift 3 3 3 min.
B. Weighted Pull-Up 5 6-8 2 min.
C. Stretch Row 4 12/arm 90 sec.
D1. Inverted Row 3 max
D2. Face Pull 3 12 2 min.

A. Trap Bar Deadlift (high or low handle based on mobility): Do 6 sets of 3 reps. On alternate weeks, perform 3 sets of 6. In each case, go true to your rep range maxes. Rest 3 minutes between sets.

Yes, I put deadlifts on back day. The reason is simple: First, deadlifts of all kinds are certainly as much a low-back dominant movement as they are anything else, and using a trap bar further brings the lats into play due to the wider carrying frame. Second, there’s no way I’ll make a lifter – even a healthy one – do a big deadlift and a big squat pattern (not to mention accessory movements) on the same leg day.

B. Weighted Pull-Up: Do 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps. Use a weight that allows perfect form for the chosen rep range. If that’s just body weight, check the ego at the door and do the right thing. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

C. Stretch Row: Do 4 sets of 12 per arm. Rest 15 seconds between arms and 90 seconds between rounds.

The single-arm row doesn’t require a bench for leg support for it to be effective, only a hand support. It’s a smarter option for beaten-up lifters. The standard version of a dumbbell row can take you out of a square and balanced pelvic position, inviting discomfort or rotation through the lumbar discs, which isn’t ideal.

Changing to a bilateral stance can be a saving grace, especially for people with a history of back stuff. Moreover, it’s a better stretch to optimize the length-tension relationship.

D1. Inverted Row: Go for max reps.
D2. Face Pull: Do 12 reps per set.

Do these as a superset for 3 rounds, focusing on the pump. The other lifts focus on typical progressive overload protocols, but this one’s a less quantifiable “finisher” that’s also great for shoulder and back health. The added volume for your postural muscles will be welcome for both performance and physique.

Day 2 – Push Workout

Now that the scapular muscles are nice and tight from the pull workout before, you’re ready to press – and that’s the reason program pull days or back days before push days.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A. Barbell Pin Press or Floor Press 5 5 2 min.
B. Incline Dumbbell Press 4 8-10 2 min.
C. Weighted Dip 4 6-8 2 min.
D1. TRX or Gymnastic Ring Push-Up with Loaded Pec Stretch 3 10-12
D2. Pec Deck Flye 3 15 2 min.

A. Barbell Pin Press or Floor Press: Do 5 sets of 5. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

Limiting the range of motion can protect bad shoulders while still exposing the chest and triceps to heavy loads. The good news is, you can make up for those last 4-6 inches of ROM using the next lifts.

B. Incline Dumbbell Press: Do 4 sets of 8-10 reps. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

Dumbbells allow for more play at the elbow and wrist. You’ll need this to optimize shoulder positioning, which is something you can’t do with a barbell.

C. Weighted Dip: Do 4 sets of 6-8 reps. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

Same principles from the weighted pull-ups apply here. At this point, your chest and triceps will likely be fatigued, so body weight alone may be sufficient.

Pro tip: Try using Fat Gripz (Buy at Amazon) on the dip handles. They’ll make the elbows and shoulders feel even better.

D1. TRX or Gymnastic Ring Push-Up with Loaded Pec Stretch: Do 3 rounds of 10-12 reps supersetting it with the pec deck flye.
D2. Pec Deck Flye: Do 3 rounds of 15 as the second part of the superset. Rest 2 minutes between rounds.

Day 3 – Leg Workout

The squat pattern is the biggest hindrance for most people who struggle with lower body work. It’s important, but too many people put themselves in a box with the exercise variations available. This can perpetuate problems or frustrations. So, I’m creating some options. We’re looking for a comfortable, knee-dominant pattern you can train with progressive overload.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A. Knee-Dominant Pattern*
B. Dumbbell Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat 4 8-10 2 min.
C1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 3 10
C2. Kettlebell Ski Swing 3 15 90 sec.
D. Hip Thrust 3 12-15 as needed

A. Knee-Dominant Pattern: Choose any ONE of the following and perform for the recommended sets and reps, using progressive overload principles as usual. Rest as long as needed between sets.

  • Hip Belt Squat: Do 4 sets of 8-10 reps.
  • Paused Squat (front or back): Do 4 sets of 3 reps.
  • Safety Bar Box Squat (to parallel): Do 4 sets of 3-5 reps.
  • Safety Bar Hatfield Squat: Do 4 sets of 8 reps.

B. Dumbbell Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat: Do 4 sets of 8-10. Rest 15 seconds between legs and 2 minutes between rounds.

C1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: Do 10 reps.
C2. Kettlebell Ski Swing: Do 15 reps. Perform as a superset for 3 rounds. Rest 90 seconds between rounds.

D. Hip Thrust: Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

This should be lightly loaded. Use an actual hip thrust machine if you can. Rest as long as needed between sets.

Day 4 – Shoulders

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A. Seated Barbell Military Press 5 5-8 2 min.
B. Snatch-Grip High Pull 4 3 2 min.
C1. Kettlebell Single-Arm Z Press 4 10
C2. Standing Lateral Raise 4 12 2 min.
D. Face Pull 3 15 as needed

A. Seated Barbell Military Press: Do 5 sets of 5-8 reps.

Rest 2 minutes between sets. Be sure to slide forward in your seat with your back still against the backrest. That will change your torso angle to accommodate your shoulders’ comfortable range of motion.

B. Snatch-Grip High Pull: Do 4 sets of 3 reps. Rest two minutes between sets.

C1. Kettlebell Single-Arm Z Press: Do 4 rounds of 10 reps as a superset with C2.
C2. Standing Lateral Raise: Do 4 rounds of 12 reps as a superset with C1.

I believe in using tools to repair shoulder mobility, and the Z-press can do that. Keep the movement unilateral and keep your trunk upright and stable.

D. Face Pull: Do 3 sets of 15. Rest as long as needed between sets.

Day 5 – Locomotion and Accessory

Conditioning is a major sign of being in shape, not just strength. This workout does the trick. If you don’t have access to all of this stuff, use this as a guideline and design something equivalent to it.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A. Farmer’s Walk 5 50m 90 sec.
B. Sled Push 5 50m 90 sec.
C1. Hanging Leg Raise 3 10
C2. Sled Thrusts 3 25m 90 sec.
D. Rowing Machine 6 500m

A. Farmer’s Walk: Bodyweight equivalent minimum. Do 5 sets of 50 meters. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

B. Sled Push: Bodyweight equivalent minimum. Do 5 sets of 50 meters. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

C1. Hanging Leg Raise: Do 10 reps.
C2. Sled Thrusts: Go 25 meters. Perform as a superset for 3 rounds. Rest 90 seconds between rounds.

D. Rowing Machine: Do 500-meter sprints and repeat 6 more times. On alternate weeks, time a straight 3000-meter row and pace yourself. Aim to comfortably improve times in both week to week.

Post-workout: Incline walk or low-intensity steady state cardio of choice for 20 minutes.

Wise Up and Gear Up

If you’re over 35 or you’ve rehabbed a handful of injuries before, get off the “raw training or die” bandwagon. It’s cool to be a purist, but it’s even cooler to respect your body and give it the support it needs to meet the demands of what you’re throwing at it.

If you’ve got a bad back and love to deadlift and squat big weight, it’s time to wear a belt. There’s no more room for error, and your joints aren’t getting any younger. Likewise, if wrist straps, elbow, or knee sleeves (Buy at Amazon) help you perform pain-free or reduce joint stiffness after your workout, take advantage of them.

You don’t need to wear gear for every exercise or even for every set of a bigger lift. And you’ll still have plenty of ramping sets and other exercises to experience raw lifting. Save the gear for the more testy sets and exercises.


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Love it. I recently turned 38, and I feel like I’m coming to terms with this (apparently I keep stress in my knees now?!).

Thanks for this article, Lee! I’ve always appreciated your program design, and I plan on giving this a run.


Huge fan of the warmup here. At 54 (yes, I know I look 35 cough cough)…I had to come to grips with the fact that I cannot train as I did when I was younger, but still love to train.

Greatly appreciate your posting this.


This looks like a very solid routine. Thanks!

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Warmups are so essential as progression in age. Key stuff.

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Just confirming the trap bar is 6 sets of 3? For Day 1 the diagram shows 3 sets of 3.

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What about the overload progression in compound and accessory?

It’s a solid routine, I’m 43 and like it :blush:

I’m 33 and have been doing Coach Thib’s 'The Best Damn Program for Natural Lifters ’ since years (4 -5 and counting) and I’ve put on muscle and added a bit of strength and I really enjoy the split. As you may know, that workout includes 1 exercise per body part in each workout, with a push-pull split between days. So in every workout I’ll do upper body and lower body. I’ve just been doing it for so long now that a single body part split feels strange. Would you have comments on advantages or recommendations between these two workouts?

Sorry I’m not OP but I wouldn’t worry about the advantages/disadvantages. If you’ve run the same program for 4-5 years, freshening up with something completely different for a while could be amazing for both your body and your mind. Give it 2-3 months and see how you get on… You’ll probably see some really quick gains because it’s so different from what you’ve been doing.

'The Best Damn Program for Natural Lifters’ will be right there waiting for you if you decide to go back. If you enjoy the new program it could be a nice idea to phase through them both.


Thanks for your response. This makes sense to me, and I do agree.

I’ve been excited with The Best… Natural lifters because it has two versions, and it lets me progressively overload, and I mix things up every now and then with different variations of a targeted body part to stay interested, along with heavy carries and some other conditioning work at the end of workouts. I’d get terribly bored if I had to do the same thing for years on end!

That being said I think there’s an irrational fear somewhere of losing my muscle if I don’t give them enough frequency every week while switching to a single part split :sweat_smile: what if after week one my deltoids shrink again :rofl::sweat_smile: (exaggeration)

I think I’ve been conditioned a little bit by familiarity and by something which has worked for me, but I’d like to switch it up a bit, see what happens…I realize I should have a better relationship with something that I absolutely love and hope to be doing for the rest of my life

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This is funny. Over 35? I only wish.

Lee- please write a plan for those 50+. That would be terrific.


People have built amazing bodies with all kinds of splits, it doesn’t matter as much as the industry will have us believe. Separating days by body parts has had periods where it was all anybody did. The only thing we really know is everything works and this “evidence/science-based” stuff can just distract us from the more important things like consistency, nutrition, and working hard.

The novelty factor of changing a split is just one of many tools in our arsenal to reignite gains.

Switching from high-frequency/low-volume to low-frequency/higher volume could potentially see you make the best gains you’ve had in ages.

With that said, if you’re still enjoying and progressing in the way that you like with what you’re doing. There’s nothing saying you have to change.

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Makes sense. The aspect of focusing on one body part is exciting. I wonder if the frequency of workouts should also be a factor considered. I am able to churn out 4(min)-5(max) days of workout per week so I’m also considering the thought of a longer break between week 1 and week 2 of a workout. With the other program, I hit my all my muscles regularly and don’t have FOMO even if I get 3 workouts a week on rare occasions.
While all my ifs and buts may seem like overthinking, I just want to put out there that I’m making these considerations in a very relaxed way :slight_smile: I enjoy tweaking my approach and I also enjoy exploring aspects before diving into it.

A higher level need is to get Coach Lee Boyce to train me :sweat_smile: I know he works out in the same gym I go to occasionally but I’m just supporting both me and my partner right now so it’s kinda hard to manage the expense. It’s gonna happen though! I’m super lucky to have someone like him so accessible and close. It’s gonna happen coach! Watch out for me :smiley:

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This is a solid program, but based on my experience, the issue is that the 35+ lifter needs a very different approach mentioned here. Here’s why…

Generally speaking, the 35+ lifter that has a fair amount of mileage on their bodies and has likely spent the better part of a decade using a body-part split does not need more volume to areas that are already likely very tight (in this program that amount of upper pull volume is significant and will only exacerbate tightness, particularly in the lattisimus.) In my own experience, I’ve seen a full-body approach to better a fit to open these guys up vs. driving higher amounts of volume into already tight areas.

Of course, this full-body approach would look very different and certainly isn’t the ‘end-all’ but with mileage and experience often comes an approach that is dissimilar to what they’ve done in the past (the old adage of ‘what got you to where you’re at likely won’t be the thing that gets you to where you want to go’ rings true here.)

Moreover, this provides an opportunity to implement more aerobic conditioning (one session, specifically strongman style endurance that is listed is simply not enough not is it the right modality to really drive aerobic adaptations.) More time needs to be spent in the 60-70% of MHR done cyclically. This will allow for improved recoverability (better aerobic fitness you can bring more oxygen and nutrients to skeletal muscle.)

Something to certainly think about!

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People lift for different reasons. But first, why should more older people be exercising?

  1. Sarcopenia is generally defined as a loss of skeletal muscle. It can be caused by aging, disuse, starvation, several wasting diseases, or secondary to ischemia or neuropathy. Lean body mass can be quantified by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. Similar to osteoporosis, amounts below two standard deviations from gender matched controls are considered significant.

  2. Intrinsic muscle aging is now thought to start around age fifty with losses about 1% per year. It initially affects 2B fibres, later all types. There is atrophy but no necrosis. For many, the loss is clinically significant once in their 70s or 80s. This loss is thought to be due to changes in muscle metabolism and the endocrine system, nutrition and levels of physical activity. (From Hazzard’s Geriatrics and Gerontology).

  3. Muscle loss - due to disuse, deconditioning, wasting due to diseases like cancer, AIDS, inflammatory conditions or chronic disease, protein malnutrition, or localized neural or cardiovascular disease - can be approximately 1% per day. The point is aging is a small factor compared to not doing enough activity, though even ten minutes of moderate intensity gives very significant benefits.

  4. Exercise can cause hypertrophy of muscle cells and increased function to compensate for the decrease in muscle cells and minimize the clinical impact of the loss of muscle over time.

  5. Exercise to increase muscle strength involves movements performed against resistance. While low loads are used at first by those new to strength training, optimal results are obtained using 60-80% of lifting ability, also taking bone strength into account. Adequate muscle is essential for balance and gait.

  6. Exercise to increase endurance often involves 10-20 minutes of continuous exercise at 50-80% of an individuals maximal oxygen consumption to increase cardiopulmonary health. Exercise to increase flexibility are needed with some diseases like Parkinson’s. Going up and down stairs requires 90 degrees of knee flexion, reaching overhead 120-150 degrees of shoulder flexion (frozen shoulder = use it or lose it). . Exercises to improve balance reduce risks of falls. Task oriented exercises improve function.

The more interesting newer data…

  1. Many of the longevity genes that are turned on by exercise are also responsible for its health benefits, at the cellular level. Extending telomeres, growing new micro vessels to deliver oxygen and boosting the performance of mitochondria. These can be brought to youthful levels (equivalent to those in their 20s or 30s) in elderly patients who exercise. But only 10% of those older than 65 push themselves, and intensity matters somewhat. Those who run 4-5 miles a week (about fifteen minutes a day) can reduce death from a heart attack by 40% or from all causes by 45%. Even ten minutes of moderate exercise a day can add years to one’s life. (D. Lee, Leisure Time Running, JACC Cardiology, 54 no. 5 (August 2014), 472-481.)

  2. The longevity regulators - AMPK, mTOR and sirtuins - are all improved by exercise regardless of caloric intake. Exercise can improve telomere lengths by about ten years (NHANES, LA Tucker, Preventive Medicine 100 (July 2017). Cyclists between 55 and 79 had memory and metabolic profiles more closely resembling 30 year olds than sedentary peers (G. Reynolds, New York Times, March 14 2018).

Most adults do not get any strenuous exercise. Almost every adult able to do so would benefit from a mixture of strength training and a social team sport or some aerobic exercise, with some balance and flexibility stuff. Especially if they have never strength trained.

You can debate about full body or splits, I guess. But lifters still in the gym after decades are there because they like to lift. It greatly reduces the nasty consequences of sarcopenia, maintains mobility, increases longevity and quality of life. Sure, some cardio is helpful. But the premise of the article is to lift in a safe and productive way, especially given previous injuries. I like TCs dictum where the only concession he makes to aging is to stop going for the 1RMs that cause most injuries. But Boyce’s approach has a lot to recommend it. Namely:

  1. It still uses the major lifts folks want to do.
  2. It sensibly balances volume.
  3. The exercises are useful, especially stuff like hip thrusts not enough men do. They greatly reduce back pain, and keep old people able to walk by strengthing spinal and paraspinal muscles…
  4. It seems challenging but doable - with no day hard enough to require longer than usual recovery times (this is the biggest thing with aging and intensity for my money)
  5. Lots of helpful advice - will try dipping with FatGripz!
  6. Most routines do not address injury, cortisol from other stressors or surgeries, as mentioned. This one does. But while healthy balance is good, in the absence of injury there is still something to be said for pushing oneself reasonably hard. There should be aerobic stuff, sure. Let it be extra in addition to this intelligent routine. I’ll bet Boyce has been putting this into practice for some time.

Do you have an example of how you would set up a training week for a 53 year old with a stressful job?

I prefer full body and would be interested


Here’s an example:

Hit four-five foundational movement patterns in three sessions per week.

A session might look like:

One upper pull
One upper press
One squat (or single leg)
One hinge

Carry patterns can be mixed in as well 1-2x per week.

Use a 3-10 rep range, leaving 1-2 RIR for every set.

Here’s a sample:

  1. RDL: 3 x 6-8. Rest 2:00
  2. Front Squat: 5 x 3 @80-85%. Rest 3:00
    3a. Inc DB Bench: 3 x 10-12. Rest 60s.
    3b. T-Bar Rows: 3 x 10-12. Rest 60s.
  3. Single Arm Front Rack Carry: 4 x 100 ft. each. Rest 90s.

Your next session 48 hours later you could flip this and press heavy and perform hinge/single leg for accessory work.

Your aerobic sessions should be done cyclically ie. bike, rower, treadmill, etc. staying in the 60-70% (conversational) of MHR for the duration. These can be done on opposing days x 30-60 minutes.

Hope that helps!


What would be a good alternative for sled work? I was thinking substituting with broad jumps or step ups, any thoughts?

Hope @T3hPwnisher reads this.

He needs to tone it down a bit and take his age into consideration

Just joking mate😂

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