Brutality: A Squat & Deadlift Centered Muscle Building Program

Steve Shaw
Written By: Steve Shaw
September 10th, 2013
Updated: December 7th, 2017
160.6K Reads
It's time to get nasty in the gym. This muscle building approach has you working both squats and deadlifts on the same day, alternating between heavy and volume days.
Workout Summary

Workout Description

This is not a secret: I love squats and deadlifts. They are the most potent and primal of all compound muscle building exercises.

Yesterday I asked myself a simple question: if you could design a workout and send it back in time to yourself, what would it look like?

  • I would design a workout that was squat and deadlift-focused.
  • Squat and deadlift intensity would be rotated weekly, allowing for a good synergy between rep work and strength gains.
  • The plan would be simple but brutal.
  • I wouldn't overkill direct arm or ab work.

Here is a sample split:

  • Monday - Squats, Deadlifts, Hamstrings and Abs
  • Tuesday - Chest and Triceps
  • Wednesday - Rest
  • Thursday - Back, Quads and Abs
  • Friday - Shoulders, Traps and Biceps
  • Saturday - Rest
  • Sunday - Rest

Brutality: Squat and Deadlift Muscle Building Workout

Monday Squats and Deadlifts

Rotate between the following 2 Monday workouts each week:

Monday Workout A - Heavy Squats
Squats, Deadlifts, Hamstrings & Abs
Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 4 1, 2, 3, 4+
Deadlifts 4 8
Leg Curls 5 12
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 3 5
Plank 4 60 sec
Monday Workout B - Heavy Deadlifts
Squats, Deadlifts, Hamstrings & Abs
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlifts 4 1, 2, 3, 4+
Squats 4 8
Leg Curls 5 12
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 3 5
Ab Wheel Roll Out 4 10-15

The Rest of the Program

Tuesday Workout
Chest & Triceps
Exercise Sets Reps
Bench Press 4 6
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 4 8
Pec Dec or Dumbbell Flye 4 12
Close Grip Bench Press 4 8
Cable Tricep Extensions 4 12
Thursday Workout
Back, Quads & Abs
Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Rows 4 6
Pull Ups 3 Failure
One Arm Dumbbell Rows 3 10
Leg Press 3 20
Leg Extension 3 12-15
Weighted Sit Ups 4 15-25
Friday Workout
Shoulders, Traps & Biceps
Exercise Sets Reps
Military Press 4 6
Seated Arnold Press 3 10
Dumbbell Side Laterals 3 12
Barbell Shrugs 4 8
Seated Dumbbell Curls 3 10
EZ Bar Preacher Curls 3 10

Workout Notes

Heavy Squats and Deadlifts. Start with 80% of your max. If you don't know what your max is, use a weight that allows you to perform at least 6 reps with.

Use this weight on each set (1, 2, 3, 4+). Do as many reps as you can on the last set, stopping the set shy of failure. If you are able to perform 5 or more reps on this last set, add 10 pounds to this lift the next time you train it heavy.

Other Lifts. For the other lifts, add weight when you can. Maintain good form, and do not train to failure.

Posted on: Mon, 08/17/2020 - 10:40

Can the 1,2,3,4+ system for strength also be applied for the bench press? I tried it for two consecutive sessions and managed to reach 5 reps on the last amrap set , thus adding 5 pounds next session.

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Posted on: Wed, 08/19/2020 - 09:35

Hey Apostolos

You can use that approach for bench press, but I recommend having a spotter when going to (or close to) failure on bench press.

Posted on: Fri, 09/11/2015 - 14:47

Would it be possible to put in some 5x5 back and front squats on Saturday? Just 5x5 back squats and then 5x5 front squats, would that be stupid?

Posted on: Sun, 12/28/2014 - 12:40

The 1,2,3,4+ for those asking is 4 sets of 5, but on the fourth set you do as many as you can. If you make it beyond 5 reps on the fourth set, add 10 pounds to that lift next time you do it heavy. Otherwise stick with that weight until you progress to that point.

Posted on: Fri, 05/29/2015 - 20:21

That is not true. The program on heavy lifts is calling for the following:
Set 1: 1 rep
Set 2: 2 reps
Set 3: 3 reps
Set 4: Try to get at least 4 reps. If you get 5 or more, bump up the weight.

If the program called for 4 sets of 5 then under the reps column it would say 5, 5, 5, 5+

Posted on: Mon, 12/15/2014 - 12:13

could i start of doing reps of 5 down 1 insead off 1-5?

Posted on: Tue, 10/21/2014 - 16:00

Hey steve, great article! For the light sets of 4x8 what percentage do you think would be best to start with?

Posted on: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 20:11


I just found this article while looking for a deadlift and squat based program after doing Strong Lifts for a few months. It's been a huge help to me. As a beginner moving into split style workouts, this a great place to start.

Thank you.

Posted on: Sat, 12/28/2013 - 17:41

Anyone help me when I do deads I know my max 1 rep is 155kg anything after that and I feel my lower back twinge once it went, it felt like my nerves where being ripped

Muhammad Omair Amin
Posted on: Wed, 11/27/2013 - 04:43

hi steve
how much rest should be done between sets?

Posted on: Thu, 11/07/2013 - 21:11

Hi Steve,

I just started this program 3 weeks ago. I have mostly just been a runner until now and am trying to bulk up a bit. I really like this workout thus far and will probably use this as my template for YEARS to come. I have read a few of your articles and have taken much of what you have said to heart. I read the super-8 three day bodybuilding workout and noticed the template for building bench press, deadlifts, and squats under 350. I feel the deadlifts and squats are covered in this workout just fine but im wondering if I should switch the bench press routine in this routine to the super-8 one? I really want to work my chest as i am 195ibs and my bench press is lower than my body weight. Would you recommend me switch my chest workout to the super 8? Or do you think this will suit my purposes just fine in the long run? Any other recommendations?

Posted on: Tue, 10/08/2013 - 16:26

I really want to give this program a shot. The issue I have is I work 12 hour shifts and only have limited time available to lift on lunch. Would reducing the sets by one on all the lifts withthe exception of heavy deadlifts and squats compromise the program?

Posted on: Tue, 10/08/2013 - 16:10

Hey Steve,

I really want to give this program a shot, the problem is I work 12 hour shifts and on the days that I work I only have roughly 40 minutes to lift. Would reducing the number of sets by 1 on each lift with the exeption of heavy squats and deadlifts compromise the program much?

Jesse Pinkman
Posted on: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 01:20

Thank you for providing me with a reasonable, compound-focused training program. I'm a born-again hardgainer, and having a solid foundation for a four day split is very beneficial. I make minor adjustments to a few of the isolations, but that's just because I like to add variety

Posted on: Wed, 09/25/2013 - 22:51

whats the 1234 lift thing can someone explain

Posted on: Mon, 09/16/2013 - 11:36

You stated not to train to failure for other lifts why is that? I thought training muscle group to failure can increase muscle growth.

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Posted on: Fri, 09/20/2013 - 09:38

Failure is really not needed. In my opinion you are pushing yourself to the point where form starts to break down. Best to push for progression rather than punishment through failure.

Phillip Swartley
Posted on: Sat, 09/14/2013 - 18:27

I do not understand the 1,2,3,4+ thing please explain!

Posted on: Fri, 09/13/2013 - 09:37

Hey Steve,

Would Cardio be okay on your off days?

Posted on: Fri, 09/13/2013 - 00:36

Thanks for the great article(s). I currently do squat and deadlifts on separate days (per the rest-pause article you wrote). Is this workout "more effective" for developing overall strength in the two lifts than the separate day approach?

Posted on: Wed, 09/11/2013 - 18:52

I dont understand the set/reps for heavy squats... 4 sets of 1,2,3,4+ reps, does that mean you do a max single and then doubles and so on? or you use 80% of your one rep max and only do 1 rep? and also, what would be a maximum number of sets? Great articles, by far my favourit writter!

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Posted on: Wed, 09/11/2013 - 19:38

Thanks you. For the heavy sets:

Heavy Squats and Deadlifts. Start with 80% of your max. If you don't know what your max is, use a weight that allows you to perform at least 6 reps with.

Use this weight on each set (1, 2, 3, 4+). Do as many reps as you can on the last set, stopping the set shy of failure. If you are able to perform 5 or more reps on this last set, add 10 pounds to this lift the next time you train it heavy.

Cory G
Posted on: Wed, 09/11/2013 - 17:46

I sincerely think that this program has a huge fundamental flaw. In that, the central nervous system has autonomic processes which help to stimulate the correct neuromuscular pathways with technique oriented motions, such as the deadlift and squat. As you continue to progress in these movement patterns and increases in load the central nervous system compensates by essentially triggering the correct muscles to activate at the proper time to maxamize load while minimizing energy expendature. By doing 2 sequential complex moves that require proper neuromuscular coordination, one could expect a technical breakdown of the second motion as well as improper positioning the the first (i.e. if you squat first then your deadlifts are both compromised in form and weight since these 2 exercises are, technique wise, independent of each other).

I realize the idea of this program is to stimulate the primary mover muscles for hypertrophy. However, it's neither ideal nor is it safe to use heavier weights in this program. You would be better off doing some other program.

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Posted on: Wed, 09/11/2013 - 18:45

I've trained both lifts on the same day for years. The body adapts. Try it. It works just fine. In fact, I train all 3 lifts on the same day, 3 times per week.

It's all about fatigue management.

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Posted on: Thu, 09/12/2013 - 10:11

I disagree. I know tons of guys that train both lifts on the same day. Not seen an injury yet from a reasonable system like this.

I encourage everyone to evolve their training based on needs. I would caution you to research this. Right now you are speculating and not speaking from a place of experience.

The body handles both lifts quite well. Injuries don't come from doing 2 lifts back to back, they come from poor form and not listening to your body. If you're weak and lack the baseline to perform both of these lifts in the same workout you shouldn't be doing this workout. That's simply common sense, which is the cornerstone of injury prevention.

Cory G
Posted on: Wed, 09/11/2013 - 19:37

Steve, I have tremendous respect for your powerlifting accomplishments. I really only desire is too provide a contrast to this program to allow individulas to think critically about what's best for themselves. I have personally made some great accomplishments by sticking to a one complex, primary movement per workout (with the occasional exception of bench press after squat or deadlift). I can see the point of this program but really caution that using it for a heavy powerlifting program many lead to unintentional negative consequences, such as injury.

Posted on: Thu, 09/12/2013 - 08:49

the second movement is going to be using less weight since its 4x8 (essentially the volume work), while the first movement is the heavy work
plenty of great programs will have both squats and deadlifts in the same day
stop overthinking things and just do some work. you'd be surprised what the body is capable of doing

Posted on: Tue, 09/10/2013 - 23:18

Awesome thanks a lot, can't wait to start this workout.

Posted on: Tue, 09/10/2013 - 22:30

Any recommendation for heavy Squats and Deadlifts (1, 2, 3, 4+) rest periods?

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Posted on: Tue, 09/10/2013 - 22:43

Rest as long as needed; until you feel 100% mentally. This will likely be 3 to 4 minutes or so.